Sunday, April 20, 2014

antropologia – experiences of a bicycling tribe

We ride our bikes a lot. Riding your bike a lot affords you a lot of hours, days even months with only the space between your ears to entertain you. It surprises us how much thinking we can do when we are not distracted by work emails, mom’s emails, Facebook status updates, twitter posts and old school music & TV. In a group of ten someone always seems to be hanging around, yet we spread out over miles during the day. You can ride with someone, but if you want to be alone it is only the push of a pedal away.

Right now many of us face internal tests of one kind or another. I recently felt I was missing my life in Seattle, my friends, my capoeira, my home. I have been living away from Austria for nearly 20 years but I never felt homesick. When I told my mom that I miss her the other day she said “Vell, but you get to see all zese zings zat other people never veell have a chance to see”. Mom’s the wonderful word.

We all miss our Capoeira routines because we don’t have the energy to ride and train. We did some rough riding recently – over tall mountains, back into the pacific side heat, long days with heavy head winds. And we have been on the road for nearly eight months. We feel physically exhausted. We miss home. The desire to keep riding is not as strong as it used to be. After going through eight countries, the newness of crossing borders is not as exciting as it used to be. This side of Centro Americo is dry. The other side is wet.

The work we do can be challenging. What to shoot? When to shoot? Is the light good right now? Often the sound is the deciding quality factor of a recording. Funneling the tons of material through various processes to be categorized and analyzed - hopefully, turning into stories at the end takes up much of our time.

Group dynamics also create difficult situations. We are a strange traveling bunch. You can not call it a democrazy, because in the end there is only one person that makes decisions about the direction of this journey. So it doesn’t happen that we fight over which ruins or city to visit or how long to stay at a beach instead of pushing on. These decisions are usually not up for discussion. It takes out a lot of potential conflict.

As a result, and because we all have a shared Capoeira background we understand each other well, except for some cultural differences that we usually resolve in the roda. However, no matter how well we understand each other - “No, it is my turn to get the bed”, how much we disregard our own opinions to follow our fearless leader - “Why did you not tell me that you would turn here”, at times we make each other mad “What, you are still here?!?”

Sometimes we need to get a way. This, most of you would agree, is completely normal. Spend 24/7 with a person for 8 months, throw in a mélange of personalities and cultures… If you don’t try to beat each other over the head every once in a while you are probably weirder than we are.

Today this made me think of cavewo/men. The closeness amongst us and the absolute amount of time that we spend together make at least me feel like I should be picking the lice out of someone’s fur. This is quite the modern day approximation to a hunter gatherer life style. How would science look at us? Would they make us fill out punch card type pages of questions, put us into focus groups, check our pulse during stressful interactions? If you follow the news loosely, it seems that in this beautiful brave new scientific world new sub categories like Genetic Anthropology, explaining our past, present and future sprout like mushrooms - the good kind. I am of course completely jealous of this as back in my day you could mostly stare at monkeys or dig around dusty bowls for bones ‘n shards if you were interested in unearthing some of our deep human past. The diversity of research fields available today is astounding. We are trying to understand your brain, the exact location of your soul and everything in between.

The articles you can read in popular science magazines make you think that Anthropologists have access to Stone Age GQ or Time Magazine, they tell us today what the trends were back then. I once saw a representation of an ancient vase. Beautiful, long-necked, had complicated patterns. Like a woman you love. Next to it was the one (!) shard that had let someone understand the entire design. But in reality, we have some rocks here, a shard of a spear tip there, and a couple of wall paintings spread around a few European caves. Shards, like the tops of icebergs.

From these measly evidential matters we presume to discover why humans have language. Why we like to laugh. Why we invent things. Why we cooperate, when evolution demands competition. And further mostest why we didn’t just stay up in the damn tree happily munching on mangoes instead of crawling down into cubes and boxes. Now we need to learn that happiness is living in the now and that it us who have to be ok with any situation. When your zen is centered the shittiest situation is paradise manifest. Michel Foucault would have a field day with this internalized discipline thing.

Anyway, back to the cavewo/men. Even presuming that anthropologists have added genetics, nucleus level microscopic examination and unfrozen Mammoths and Ötzis to their arsenal we still need to ask how much of this science comes from infusing the past with the present? Outside of geiko commercials when is the last time you observed a hunter gatherer tribe? What happened in that cave, when one tribe member just could not stand that dude smelling like rotten eggs anymore? Did he learn how to cooperate? Did he take the other guy’s cavegirl? Did he just punch him out? What happened?

So, dear Antropologia, when you write that article about the necessity of cooperation do you experience cooperation in the close quarters of a tribe? While you write of the past, that you have seen in the deep bones of the earth do you know the joys of no escape from your family - ever. We are not just speaking of your wife and kids, but also of drunken Uncle Jimmy who always loses your car keys and Aunty Betsy with her three baby daddies. While you speak to us of us, while you tell us why we need to desire the things that we need do you have the pleasure of experiencing body odor problems or is it a focused group that you observe? Have you lived this? This ancient that you speak of. Your truth that makes us so.

Did you see the shard of a spear tip?