Mei Bi & Me: Re-writing Ethnography, Bringing the Ethnographer Back In

Recently I had to bring a little bit more of my very own self into the ethnography, through a seminar on Writing Ethnography and its genres, and the auto-ethnography model of Zora Hurston ‘’Mules and Men’’. I took up the challenge by revisiting an old piece from the Clichés Chams column that I was, back then, writing for the online news media Kaset. The article was all about Mei Bi, a character completely real, gone complete legend over Cham-landia. At the time, and within the journalistic frame, it would have been irrelevant and out of place to bring my own experience in the foreground of the story. But as the tale unfolds, as I was following up all through the years – all through the roads – all through the legends – the life of Mei Bi, it became more and more personal. Until the end revealed to be nothing else but a close up on this entirely personal quest, without me even knowing about it… Continue reading

Advertisements

Chams Clichés (7) – The prayer rooms at Pochentong airport

Read the Pdf: English | French

The stress of last-minute preparations is palpable. Suitcases and passengers get all piled up with precipitation in a Toyota Camry heading towards Pochentong airport. Ahmat leaves Kilometre 9 in a bad mood: he did tell the women not to be long as he wanted to pray one last time before departing… “Once there [at the airport], there is nowhere to pray. When we depart for Hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca], there are so many other Muslims that we all end up praying in the car park, but now, today, it’s different, what am I supposed to do now, pray alone on my own?!!” Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 4: Closing notes

An intro first? Here. | Also: Day 1 & Day 2 & Day3.

The final day of opening and reading. Two notebooks today, and here I am: done. The last notebook is of a different kind, a different genre, a different stock: a notebook of ‘‘déplacements’’. A notebook title that can not be translated, or if it was, it would be translated into an hybrid notion of movement, travel, and displacement. Out of place. Because the field was the place: doing fieldwork out the field was going away, going around, going out. A notebook not from the usual fieldwork, not from the home-work, but from the ‘’around’’ fields, from the travels, from the roads, from the journeys[1]. That last notebook calls for a different opening, at a different time, a separate moment, along with the lost-yet-not-so-lost notes excavated on day 2: notes that were not only displaced, but made of displacements to start with. So indeed, if that notebook is left aside for a later reunion, then that’s it: I am done. I guess this calls for a little stepping back in and out of the notebooks and see what can maybe, perhaps, eventually, be taken away from the alignment of the notebooks wide opened on a table, after years of dusty closure (yes, closure…), and from the lines coming out of that sight. Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 3: When all we need is Love & Memory

An intro first? Here. | Also: Day 1 & Day 2.

 In a very beautiful text entitled in all simplicity – and then again all beauty – ‘’Par coeur’’[1] (‘’by heart’’), Charles Malamoud talks about the inseparability of love and memory in the vedic concept of Smara. From poetry to classical foundational texts, from theatre to the actual learning process, ‘’what is present in Love, is the memory and the consequence of its destruction, and therefore its absence. Its own body denied, it is nothing but the very flame that consumed it’’ (299)[2]. I thought about that text today and how much I remembered loving it, back when it was assigned in my université days. Of course. I had to remember and love it. Again. The multiple references to flames, fires, combustions, burnings, made me also look back to yesterday’s reflections on Mysore Narasimhachar Srinivas’ ‘’Remembered Village’’[3], and the loss of his field notes in a fire. The ethnography was finally forged in the burning memory of Srinivas. From the ashes of his notebooks. Reading my own notebook today (the third one), with ‘’Par Coeur’’ on the side, I thought about just that: love and memory, and the love and memory that the notebooks are made of. Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 2: Filling / Feeling the Gaps?

An intro first? Here. | Day 1: There.

A weird thing happened this morning as I opened the second notebook (a certain ‘’Cahier Cham Vc. Juillet 2006. Les Déplacements’’). 30 pages in, the notebook goes… blank. Nothing. Pages and pages of giddy grid paper. Fears from the loss of the fetish, abyssal confrontation with the never-to-be-scientific proof – and self. Exhilarated relief from the liberation of the moment zero, and then somewhere in between, filling the gaps or not… I will go for the overused cliché: that is still the question… Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 1: Ordering the Disorder.

An intro first? Here.

Finally opened… The first notebook even read cover to cover… Well, what a trip… In time, in space and in my former me-self’s own expectations / hopes / interpretations of what ethnography should have been. There is so much in the 228 pages I read today, so much stuff all around, in all kinds of directions, that I am not even sure where to start. But an interesting thing though: what I see in those lines is my constant search, at the time, for order. There was a thing going around, like a virus, probably contagious: that a good ethnography would require an index, categories, color codes, key words… And sometimes, I think that it is probably right: given the amount of ‘stuffs’ that I had collected, ordering that mess in time could only have only been productive. But I didn’t. I did try to put a system together, that I don’t have the codes for it anymore. And the system doesn’t do much if it stays just that: a system. You need to apply it systematically, as in a batch, in order for it to work, to make sense. I didn’t get to that. So now I have a system and no translation. So, today, I am going to attempt one. To gather the pieces, and try deciphering it. Continue reading