This post is a tough one because it shows how thin the line is between being a social anthropologist and just a an “ordinary” person who is raised in her own specific culture.
Yesterday, I was witness and participant of an incidence of something I feel difficult to put into the right words. It just happened in my backyard.
There live lovely people. A young woman, her little baby of less then one year of age and her younger brother, a smart teenage boy of fourteen years.
The father of the baby, who never took care of the baby, was threatening her several times during the day. All of a sudden he wants to take his baby away. Take what – so he says – belongs to him. As far as I know, if one couple is not married, the baby belongs to the mother.
So he came during the evening again – drunk. She chased him away and locked the gate. A little later he came back. He just jumped over the fence, just to claim that he will take the baby with him.
The teenage boy knocked at the door and asked for help. We went over. I told this guy to leave this yard, because it is also mine. He refused, of course. I told him that I will call the police. And he said: “Yes, do it: they will tell you that the law is on my side”. So I did, but the number was not working. How crazy. So I went to our neighbour asking for help as well. She kept on trying to call the police, but no reception (Later, we found out, that they changed the number). So I called my hostfather, the only person I could think about in this situation, as he is a person of respect. He rushed to our place and tried to mediate in that case. It didn’t help. This guy was just insulting the mother of that baby and me as well. I think, he didn’t like that this white woman told him to go.
So he got more furious and said he will take then at least what else belongs to him: his chicken. He went to the cage to get them. They made incredible noise. He was holding them on their legs. In the meantime another neighbour came to mediate and he wants to talk to him to let the chicken there. All of them were trying to calm him down. But his person was full of anger because he didn’t get what he wants. A fights start between him and the neighbour. I can’t tell exactly how one step leads to the other, but all of a suddne the drunken guy beat the chicken to death by smashing them on the ground, again and again ( I can’t find other words for that). Long before, I stepped aside because I think I couldn’t handle it. Even if I tried to show civil courage to a certain point. There were happening some things which go beyond my understanding. This I had to realise because of being a social anthropologist. In my head was just one question: “What is going on here?”.
Finally the guy went away. Disapered into the darkness carrying his dead chicken and a stone with him. We decided to go alltogether in our house, so that our neighbours are save.
Ten minutes later, the guy came back to take more chicken. We called my hostfather again and he rushed straight to the police. After ten minutes they were here at our place. They were three policemen. I felt like they were rather suspicious then they wanted to help. Maybe they also didn’t like that there where white people involved. One of them was in my eyes very unprofessional because he scanned me from the top to the toe. Later, when he passed by me to go the house of our neighbours he was kind of whispering: “How are you?”, still watching at me. The only answer I could give was: “I’ve seen better days”. But I thought: “Really? What is that guy up to in that situation?”
The police went away without doing anything. They said, that they can’t do anything. And my hostfather said as well. “We can’t do anything. This is a family issue.”
“Is it?” I am asking myself.
Now, that this incident happened one day ago I still ask myself what exactly is bothering me about that.
Foremost it is because this woman is treated from this guy like she’s not worth anything. He – because he is a man – has all the right to claim what he wants, even to the extend to get abusive. This is not meant to blame men, but someone who would deny this is an issue of gender didn’t get the point. How can a man just claim something? With all that social-anthropological background I know how a man can claim, but that doesn’t mean that it has just to be accepted. What is gender equality? This situation is not about me, but even me I felt insulted on the one hand of the drunken guy and on the other hand of the policemen who was scanning me. So, I know that I can leave this country if I don’t like how I am treated, but what’s with that women who live there? Where does gender equality start? Who is responsible for that?
This post is not supposed to be neither analytical nor really self-reflexive. It is a drama what happened to this neigbour woman. And I am compassionate about it, not just because she is my neighbour or I am a woman, too. I am compassionate because I am already part of the network I am searching about. So the life of social anthropoligists is far away from being like a satellite who flies around the earth. This incidence stroke me personally and professionally. It raises different questions of how and why things happened the way they happened. Especially it challenges my understanding of gender roles and how to get along with such different understandings between the sexes?
And I ask myself what kind of responsibility I do have to get along with that thin line of being a social anthropologist and a woman born and raised in Europe.