travel

Trowels and tape; hangovers and side-streets.

I’ve always tried to keep my travelling mixed up – a party here, a home-stay cultural immersion there; volunteer placement and aimless wandering – but, as I’m faced with a trip a bit different than what I’ve done before, I’m beginning to wonder about how to mix – authoritatively, presumptively, intentionally – work and pleasure. It’s one thing to step out of the office and into your social circle; it’s one thing to take your spontaneous adventure and twist it back, folding and editing, into a story – or even a study – when you realize in retrospect that there are larger ramifications; its wonderful to have a private room or two that isn’t fodder for analysis and its shielding to be fortified within a uniform as you work; it’s entirely a different thing, a wonderful and lucky thing, to be have your “work” and your “passions” so intertwined as to be the same thing.

It’s also terrifying me. And confusing.

While the travel I’ve done before may yet still hopefully turn itself into something of anthropological merit (I hold that travel writers and backpackers are doing the work that anthropologists have been distracted from – the authors may hold fewer degrees, the articles come out with better pictures and less references – for the burgeoning yet-unpublished travel writers out there – consider adding footnotes and submitting to journals instead; I’m dead serious. The more post-modern anthropology call-to-arms I read, the more they ring familiar to any conversation I’ve overheard in a traveler’s watering hole… ) This feels different. This feels. Real. Real research! Not an “it sounded interesting and I figured why not spend two weeks in Burma?” or “well, the family invited me, so I went out to the village and stayed with them” or “I like primates; I wanted to see them in the wild!” – but, perhaps, the start of a (the?) career I hope to spend the rest of my life doing.

I’ve been accepted on an archaeological dig with a professor from my university’s department. We’ll be excavating 16th century Swahili ruins on Songa Mnara, a UNESCO site on an island off the coast.

It’s technically a training dig for arch students at Rice University – but they’re letting me tag along without paying a small fortune. I’m not entirely certain how it happened or if I deserve it, but – I just got confirmation a few days ago! At some point in between final exams and post-exam parties, I went from trying to sort out what continent I’d be on in a few weeks (how on Earth I could afford to stay in the UK and whether I could really handle working service-industry-temp-office jobs again in the states all summer) and having an existential-life-plan-crisis (barely having been a student this year, feeling guilty about not doing anything course-career-directed; other students chattering away about digs and projects and research; old friends from high school talking about their internships with census bureaus and the ILO) to frantically comparison shopping for water-proofs and looking at outdoor gear.

(There was, perhaps, a scholarship-reception dinner party and a “Big Man” of my department whom I happened to talk to about the random impulse I was feeling to take off to Tanzania… From small talk in a garden I was, next thing, dragging myself down the halls of my department, trying not to feel like a guilty undeserving lay-about (who may have turned half her papers in late this term) and interrupting Skype-calls from a woman trying to organize three digs and an international conference who smiled, joked, said she’d been waiting for me, and told me that if I could just send her an email – would I be able to get myself there – now, what’s your speciality again?)

I sent a CV. I sent a few emails at insane hours of the morning. And. AND. I’m going!

I’ve bought a trowel. I’ve taken the steel-toed boots out from under my bed. The backpack’s down from the top of the wardrobe. Shopping and to-do lists are running through my head and keeping leaking out into conversations with my friends: “Sunday sounds great – measuring tapes, anti-malarials, restock the first aid kit –  it’s your friend’s band playing? How much to get in? I need to remind my brother to mail me my Kiswahili dictionary – ooh, should buy a ton of those to give as gifts – Wait, he said what to her? Well, he’s always been a bit of an ass when he gets drunk… Forget the tshirts and chocolates, the dictionaries would be better. I’d love to but I’m not sure I can afford it… (They’ve just about finished being amused with me. The men who work in the hardware shops, though, are more entertained.)

I’ve contacted the family that I stayed with in Dar es Salaam the first time that I went and I’ll be renting a room from them. I want to go back to the orphanage and school I’d lived in last time, too – maybe volunteer again, if nothing else, just say hello. I need airplane tickets. I need travel insurance. I need to take out loans before I go, in order to pay for the next few years of my college education (debt, here I come). I’m not even going to try and sort out where I’m going to live next year; I can do that when I come back.

I don’t know what I’ll do the rest of the time – wandering would be nice – and I’ve people to visit.

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