Summer Update: Andrew Gardner

Hi all,

Me, Ali Al Shawi (center left) with relatives and friends. That’s hash, or baby camel, on that platter. It was delicious!

It’s been a busy summer for me. After wrapping up the semester, I headed off to Qatar to touch base with the two research teams I’m working with over there. Both of our projects are entering their final year, and it seems like there’s just a million things that need to be addressed in order to get them across the finish line. That said, while I was there I had a chance to visit with my Al Shawi friends — my good friend Ali Al Shawi and his brothers hosted me at their house. We had a great feast, and I had the chance to meet some of his elderly uncles whose lives began in the remote deserts in what now seems like a different era. I visit Qatar so much that the sorts of days I have there seem normal, but when I step back and think about it, it’s so strange: sleeping in well appointed friends’ apartments high in the new skyscrapers, days interviewing men in the South Asian labor camps on the outskirts of town, and my evenings talking with Bedouin friends about camels, deserts, and tradition.

In addition to those two research projects, two of my colleagues — Silvia Pessoa and Laura Harkness — and I recently agreed to take on a small project for George Soros’s Open Society Foundation as part of their International Migration Initiative. More specifically, we’re conducting interviews with migrants about their experiences in the labor courts in Qatar, with the hopes of discerning patterns that would allow us to make practical recommendations about how to improve the responsiveness of the existing justice system there. That mini-project won’t conclude until next year, but already we’ve been hearing some very interesting things from the migrants we’ve spoken with, and we’re looking forward to pulling together our findings in the coming months.

I also have a couple of publications to announce. First, as I already announced earlier in the summer, Autumn Watts and I recently edited and published an eBook of migrant narratives produced by a small group of students we worked with in Qatar. The book — Constructing Qatar: Migrant Narratives from the Margins of the Global System — contains eighteen meticulously crafted stories our students penned after multiple interviews with labor migrants in Qatar. I’m really excited about this publication. While I’ve been collecting stories like this for years as the foundation of my ethnographic work, oftentimes those stories end up corralled in verbose academic papers that only a handful of people in the world care to read. In this book, we avoid scholarly analysis altogether, and aim merely to present the life stories of the transnational migrants who took the time to share their experiences with us. The stories are really quite poignant, and I’m proud of the students’ work.

I also had a chapter published this month in a new collection called Migrant Labour in the Persian Gulf (I. B. Tauris and Columbia University Press). This book is the first collection focused specifically on labor migration on the Arabian peninsula, and I’m extremely grateful to Georgetown’s Center for International and Regional Studies for pulling this project together. My chapter, entitled “Why Do They Keep Coming? Labor Migrants in the Gulf States,” has an interesting story behind it. Years ago, I was asked to give a presentation about my research here at the University of Puget Sound. In that presentation, I spent most of my time talking about the extraordinarily challenging and difficult circumstances many of the South Asian labor migrants face in Qatar and the other Gulf States. During the question and answer session, my colleague and friend Dr. Bruce Mann (from the Department of Economics) asked what I now think of as the “Bruce Mann question”: if things are so bad, then why do they keep coming? Since then, I’ve heard that question often, and this chapter is an attempt to answer it. To make a long story short: in part, they keep coming because they’re desperate, and in part, they keep coming because of a highly structured transnational system that really fosters misinformation and disinformation about the possibilities of work in the wealth states of the Arabian peninsula.

One of Kristin’s migrant portraits from the show.

Additionally, my wife Kristin Giordano and I are working on a show that will go up in the library next month. Kristin is a photographer and artist, and during the two years we spent in Qatar, we collaborated on a couple different projects. The show is entitled Skyscrapers and Shadows: Labor and Migration in Doha, Qatar, and our goal was to build something compelling at the junction between art and the social sciences. I worked with friends in the labor camps to assemble a collection of migrant “material culture,” which will be accompanied by migrant portraits, interview transcripts, narratives, and a collage of photographs that were taken by our labor migrant friends. While I’ll post a separate announcement closer to the opening, here’s the key information: the show goes up August 17, 2012, and we’ve scheduled an opening for Wednesday, September 12 at 6:00 PM.

The Campervan on the shores of the Pacific.

Outside of work, we’ve been camping here and there in Washington. We spent a few days on Lopez Island, and we’re excited about fishing season underway. I’m also filming a movie with my daughter, Astrid, and two of her friends. We’re excited about that. The movie — Galactic Troll Invasion — is about two girls and a boy who successfully defend the earth from an invasion of mind-controlling trolls. What more could you want from a movie than that?



Photo Essay: Central Java (by Erika Barker)


Erika Barker sent in these photos and accompanying captions from her time in Central Java, Indonesia, this past May as part of Professor Gareth Barkin’s course on Southeast Asia (Asia 399). Her previous post describing her experience can be read here. Thanks for taking all the great shots, Erika, we appreciate it!

“Aside from tempeh (an Indonesian staple), one of the best things I ate while in Indonesia was young coconut. I’d never even heard of “young coconut” until this trip. The juice tastes pretty different from old coconut — more tangy than sweet, and fresher — and the coconut meat on the inside is, for lack of a better word, slimey. But in yummy way!”

“This is the entrance to the radio station of Atma Jaya University, where the Indonesian students we spent time with attend college. As I’ve been a DJ at KUPS, the University of Puget Sound campus station, for the past couple of years I was interested in the facilities at Atma Jaya Radio. They have some really cool stuff, like a studio for creating and editing video. Atma Jaya Radio is an example of one of the ways in which UPS is much more similar to Atma Jaya University than I thought it would be.”

“Right now it’s pretty hip to ride one’s bicycle to school and work in the States, and especially in the Northwest. In Jogja, motorbikes are the hip thing. People are zooming around on them literally everywhere (even through our hotel’s open-air hangout area) and at all hours of the night and day. This is a line of students’ motorbikes in the parking lot at Atma Jaya University.”

“We found this monkey in a pet market in Jogjakarta. Seeing so many animals, especially ones that we tend to think of in American culture as intelligent and almost human-like, was uncomfortable and upsetting for many of us on the trip. At the same time, everything that I came to think of as positive or negative in Jogja was interesting to me; it’s all part of getting to know the culture.”

“The group went on a bike ride through the more rural areas on the outskirts of Jogja one day. We got to visit a number of workshops where Indonesian artists are hand-making pottery or beautiful shadow puppets like the one in this photo. Professor Barkin pointed out that, as these are shadow puppets that remain behind a screen during performances, there’s no reason for them to be so intricately painted except to make them more desirable as souvenirs for tourists. This is an example of the way Indonesia is adapting earlier traditions to meet the demands of a growing tourism and export-oriented market.”

“Rice growing in a quintessential Southeast Asian rice field on the outskirts of Jogja. Indonesia is one of the world’s foremost rice producers, though they still have to import millions of tons many years. Some of their more premium rice crops are nevertheless exported, and it kind of blew my mind that I might’ve been looking at rice that could fly thousands of miles around the world to end up on U.S. dinner plates.”

“This is Willy, one of the students we got to hang out with in Jogja. He was about to take a photo of me just as I was about to take a photo of him. Here Willy is sitting in the same rice field from the previous photo.”

“A behind-the-scenes look at the upkeep of the World Heritage Site, Borobudur, a ninth century Buddhist temple. A cleaning person is spraying the temple to clean it off. Places like Borobudur seem to be so totally from another time period that it feels odd to witness them being cleaned and taken care of with modern tools. Borobudur is something from the past and the present, though, as evidenced by the signs around the temple reminding visitors not to litter and the huge floodlights that surround it.”

“This is Sinta, another one of the Atma Jaya University students we spent time with. She asked me to take this photo of her sitting at the top of Borobudur where she wasn’t supposed to be sitting.”

“On the bike ride through the outer edges of Jogja, we visited a pottery workshop. Behind the open-air workspace there was a room with a TV and couch inside. In the doorway was this pile of kids’ shoes. This image illustrates to me some similarities and differences between my society and the one in which some Indonesians live. For one, the Crocs suggest that brand recognition is a part of life for some Indonesians now, just as it is for many Americans.”

“This temple is part of the complex at Prambanan. Surrounding the main structure were piles upon piles of ancient stones that must once have been part of a similar building. One of my favorite things about visiting places like this is that it made me realize how little we learn in (most) U.S. schools about the extraordinary history of the people of regions like Southeast Asia. Currently, Indonesian authorities seem gradually to be restoring World Heritage sites in their country like Prambanan and Borobudur.”

“I met this group of girls at the Hindu temple Prambanan, built about the ninth century. When they saw me they immediately whipped out their cell phones and started giggling and snapping photos of me. I thought it was fair for me to take their photo in return, and they didn’t seem to mind.”

“The rooftops of Jogjakarta, Indonesia with Mt. Merapi in the distance. What I like most about this image is that satellite dishes, billboards, and a set of speakers for broadcasting the call-to-prayer throughout the area are discernable. These things are all representative of the way in which the lives of people in Southeast Asian cities like Jogjakarta are being altered by globalization and their countries’ growing economies.”

Summer Update: Dr. Denise Glover

Denise with her children, Dr. Ma and his daughter, and a friend with her niece, in Dr. Ma’s office at the Tibetan Hospital in Rgyalthang, China.

[Note: Every summer we ask faculty in the department to tell us about their summer activities. Here’s Denise’s reply]

A few days after turning in grades for spring semester, my two kids (ages 14 and 7) and I headed to China. It had been ten years since I finished fieldwork in Rgyalthang (also known as Shangrila), in China’s southwest corner and on the southern reaches of cultural Tibet. I had returned in 2009 but not to conduct research; this time I had a research agenda, protocol, and lots of questions. It was great to be able to reconnect with the doctors I had worked with earlier. Overall I wanted to explore areas of change in the practice of Tibetan medicine at the Tibetan hospital in town. I discovered that there is a brand new, slightly oversized (to my sensibilities) Tibetan medicine hospital that has been constructed (although it is not open yet). I found out which medicinal materials are much more difficult to obtain now than they were ten years ago, and discovered that people in Rgyalthang now suffer from disorders of eating too much, according to at least one Tibetan doctor. It’s not only that some people are overweight, Doctor Ma explained to me, but that many simply eat too much, which disturbs proper digestion. I plan to write up some of my findings, as soon as I work my way through them. In November I will be presenting at AAA in San Francisco on the difficulties of cultural relativism when it comes to children’s health in the field and, perhaps not so unexpectedly, my daughter was sick for part of the time we were there so that added to my (research) concerns!

For summer fun, we have been working on our house (re-roofing…well, not many would say it’s that much fun actually….), visiting with family and friends, and playing music. Last week we spent a few days up on glorious Lasqueti Island in B.C. with friends (my good friend Dana Lepofsky and her family—Dana is an archaeologist and works with First Nations in Canada). The band that I’m in, Rosin in the Aire, has been busy this summer as well with gigs and practices—and for me, with website design and venturing into the use of social networking. An exciting day was hearing our music played on 90.7 KSER—next stop is KUPS!

Enjoy the rest of summer.


Erika Barker on Islam and Globalization in Jogjakarta, Indonesia

Erika with Indonesian friend Ertina Anggraeni, and a chicken foot.

Erika sent us these thoughts on her recent visit to Jogjakarta. Coming soon, her photo essay!

As part of the class “Southeast Asia in Cultural, Economic and Political Context” I got to spend the last week in May in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. There were some things about Jogja that seemed exactly as I expected them to be, like the traffic, how nightmarish crossing the road was, and how crowded the streets felt sometimes. But there were also so many things that were absolutely great that I hadn’t been expecting.

For one, it was a very interesting experience being in a country that’s primarily Muslim rather than primarily Christian. Being around so much outward expression of Muslim religiosity (tons of women wear headscarves there) really reinforced the idea for me that Islam and its worshippers are just as diverse as worshippers of any religion we’re familiar with in the States. Muslims are like anyone else, and the way they understand their religion likely varies from person to person. There are some extremists, but that’s true of Christianity and most other religions. Also, people kept saying to me that the call to prayer, which happens several times a day, might get on my nerves (especially if it woke me up at 4 AM), but I never found it annoying. Even though I couldn’t understand what the guy was singing, I was drawn in by his gorgeous, mournful-sounding voice. Every time I heard it, it felt as sudden and surprising as when I’m doing homework in the piano lounge in the SUB, and someone randomly comes over to the piano and starts playing it beautifully.

Something else that was great about my visit to Jogja was the group of Indonesian college students who came to most of our activities with us, acting as our guides during our time there. It seems kind of silly to me now, but I was initially quite surprised to find that we have a lot in common. I had conversations with two of the girls I spent the most time with in Jogjakarta about the character Sheldon from the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, and about how we liked the band Paramore in high school (and still kinda do…). Moreover, it turned out that we had a number of the same kinds of hopes for our futures. It was just really cool to be talking to these women from a country that’s thousands of miles away from my own about things I imagined were confined to my own cultural background. In general, the Indonesian students were super down-to-earth, intelligent, and funny, and I hope that I get to see them all again someday.

For now, I’m pretty excited about being Facebook friends with them and having statuses in Indonesian pop up on my newsfeed. My trip to Indonesia is going to be something I remember for the rest of my life. Being there and getting to know the Indonesian students has helped me to begin seeing places and people for what they really are rather than what I imagine them or want them to be. I’m very grateful to them and the trip for that, and I hope I can see more of Indonesia someday.

Jillian Whitehill’s Indonesia Experience

After completing the Asia 399 course in Indonesia and Thailand this June, Jillian sent us this update!

A small wet rice paddy.

After molding to the seat of an airplane for over 20 hours, I stepped into the hot air of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Over the course of the following week I would experience a beautiful and insanely diverse culture. To be completely honest, it was only once I saw the posters advertising the class Asia 399 that I even considered traveling to Southeast Asia, but boy am I glad that I did.

The very first thing I noticed in Indonesia were the swarms of bikes flying down the streets, and yet despite the seemingly chaotic road customs, I did not see a single accident. Equally as impressive were the number of vendors on the sides of the roads. In the little street stalls you could find anything from SIM cards to nasi goreng, a traditional fried rice dish that is bound to make your taste buds explode with a heap of spicy sambal.

Anna Sable with durian juice, bought at a street stall.

During a bike tour we saw numerous wet rice fields, some squeezed between buildings and others filling large acres. On another day we visited the Hindu and Buddhist temples Prombanan and Borobudur. The detailed carvings on the temples were mind blowing, as were the excessive demands we received by the local kids that wanted to take pictures with us. Possibly my favorite event was when we learned some “traditional” Javanese dance. While our patient mentor glided to the music with ease, the rest of us floundered through the movements like strange flying reptiles. Priceless.

At Alun-Alun Selatan with some of our Indonesian friends.

Every day was a blast made even more memorable by the people involved. I really enjoyed getting to know not only my class mates and professors, but Indonesians as well. During the trip there were a handful of Indonesian college students that joined us on our activities and they definitely put the icing on the cake. The students showed us the best places to eat, helped us communicate with other Indonesians and answered all of our questions about life in that beautiful region that I so desperately wish to return to.