Re: Getting to know one's self in the field

John Pastore (venture@CANCUN.RCE.COM.MX)
Thu, 25 Apr 1996 15:39:08 +0000

On 25 Apr 96 at 21:27, John McCreery wrote:

> Dear Friends,
... I wonder if those who have done fieldwork in what
> were, initially at least, exotic places would be willing to share
> personal anecdotes that illustrate how this may work in practice?

Here may be an example of where physcial or cultural differences can
make a difference, though my "fieldwork" may be something other than
a trained anthropologist.

On several occasions I visited a Mayan village which houses the
barracks of the remnants of the Mayan "La Guardia" or army from the
period of the Caste Wars. There they maintain a 'vigil'.

I was always welcome and confided to. On two different occasions I
brought Mexicans (I am an American?). On each occasion they invited
those Mexicans to visit a small bar where they were left with the
sole Mexican (a union-organizer type) who resided in the village,
while welcoming me into their barracks and pursue some very
enlightening discussions. One of the items that came to light was the
idea among the Maya that they are expecting an ally "redmen from the
North". While I have often speculated since that this might stem
from some possible alliance in the long distant past, such as using
the Comanche or such as mercenaries, what they were definitely doing
was suspecting the visitors or 'tourists' from the North with their
red, sun-burned faces to be those expected allies. They even asked
me if the government from the North was going to be that ally, and if
not, why not?

This is just one example. But I am often, and routinely, taken into
confidence, such as visting altar sites, in places other than barrack
sites, which the Maya would not show their non-Mayan countrymen.
After awhile, with all this selective confidence, it truly makes one
stand outside of their own shoes to take a look at theirselves, to
try to see what they see.

When I first arrived here to Quintana Roo some 17 years ago, by the
way, the region had been isolated for so long, that because of my
coloring, blue eyes and blonde hair, I would often hear Maya say to
each other "Chaac" when we might have passed eachother walking. Chaac
is the God of Rain. Since those very early years though, as the Maya
of the region became more, and more accustomed to strangers in their
midst, I have not heard such repeated.

Insofar as how this helped to getting to know one's self in the
field, its the only place, at least for my experience, to really get
to know one's self: among a people and culture so different to be
"exotic". Its like how an outsider visiting a foreign country can
often be more objective about the culture of a country than its own
inhabitants, by virtue of being so immersed in their own culture to
not see the leaves for the trees, on a more individualized level.

As much as I learn about them, I learn about myself. And the first
lesson is how absolutely stupid it is to think oneself something
special because of what one may think one knows, or from whom or
where one came.

Ka Xiik Keech Ya Utzil,

John Pastore
Writer/Guide in 'El Mayab'
("The Mayan Homeland")