02 January 2010

Found via Chris Blattman’s blog written by Olumide Abimbola, a Nigerian anthropology PhD.  Pretty much sums up what happened to me over the past year in Kenya.  Seeing my first bribe was shocking.  By the end, I knew it happened but did not think twice about its occurrence.  There are many other instances of this from the year.  Being back home it feels as if they are missing.  A police officer passes by and does not stop a car to collect money.  I ask myself if he is even doing his job.

Now, it is silly to think this way, but I can’t help but feel as if he is doing it wrong.  I know that is not the case, but my first thought betrays reason.  Below is an excerpt of what I have been referring to:

There is a thing about being so close to something that one does not see it anymore. Anthropologists normally refer to it as going native. You have gone native when you no longer see the obvious things anymore, when the things that an outsider notices stares you in the face but you are no longer able to see them. This is usually because you have developed a blind spot for them, and they have become normal, almost natural.

There is also the other kind of blind spot, the kind that comes from being native. Anthropologists know about that too very well. Since we study people, we know that studying people of ones kind comes with the added requirement of being able to stand back and look critically in order to see things that would be obvious to foreigners, but that are not obvious to the native.