Somewhere on the Spectrum

Reprinted from Ursa Minor: UC Berkeley Extension’s Art & Literature Review, Vol. 2, “Dark Matter,” 2017.

When I was a teenager, my mother told me that her doctor expected me to be born “blind and retarded.” She only mentioned it once, her voice low and taut. My father never spoke of it at all. Why I never asked more questions about this prenatal event, I’m not sure, other than the realization at some deep level that the subject was taboo.

Sometime in her pregnancy my mother had caught rubella, or German measles as she called it. Dr. Carl, our family doctor, thought it best to shield her from the truth, saying nothing about risks to the baby. But in a grand gesture of patriarchal brotherhood, he told my father everything and said to keep quiet about it until after the baby was born.

Inexplicably, from my mother’s point of view, my father began going to Mass every day at 5 a.m. before leaving for work. At the same time, he stopped paying attention to the pregnancy and seemed indifferent to the growing baby. My mother felt emotionally abandoned and deeply hurt.

“Well, if you’re not interested in this baby,” she told him, “it’s a bit late to figure it out.”

Still, he kept his terrible secret. Continue reading

Divorce Paid in Pigs

Reposted from “Single at Heart,” Psych Central and Huffington Post

Women’s roles in Papua New Guinea. By M. J. Coreil, CC BY-NC 4.0

When Jocelyn Teke, a Huli woman from Papua New Guinea (PNG), wanted to get divorced because of her husband’s infidelity, she had to refund the bride price paid by her husband when they married—thirty pigs and 300 Kina (about $100 US). Not an easy task. Despite having a good job as Ambua Lodge manager in the Southern Highlands, it took the help of Jocelyn’s extended family plus sympathetic coworkers to amass such a bundle.

Today, with her children grown, Jocelyn lives on her own, makes her own plans, wears the clothes, makeup and jewelry she likes, and answers to no one. This post-divorce life, she insists, beats being married and obligated to obey one’s husband and his kin, all the while managing the exhausting household needs of a subsistence farming family.

Continue reading

Snuggling with Peers—Reflections on Platonic Touch in Portland

Artwork by Kristen Reynolds

Reposted from Single at Heart, PsychCentral

A foot rested in my lap, and I had no idea to whom it belonged. I nestled in a “puppy pile,” the cozy assortment of people who snuggle together at a cuddle party. Lights dim, eyes closed, and heads resting on pillows, we occasionally talked or laughed or even fell asleep, but mostly we basked in the comfort of tactile bliss. Later, we regrouped into a spooning formation, one arm draped over the side of the person in front. Along the edges of the living room, more people snuggled in pairs and trios. These configurations morphed for a couple of hours before the party ended, our touch needs sated for the evening.

Into my fourth year with this affectionate group, I felt at ease in the cluster of overlapping limbs and torsos. I had come a long way from my first tentative forays into the touch community of Portland, Oregon, shortly after moving here from Florida. In fall 2012 I attended my first event, called a Rub and Grub, which combined a potluck in one room with massage from several pairs of hands in another. Soon after, I found myself at Free Hugs Day at the Farmers Market and at cuddle parties with themes: game nights, movie nights, beach snuggles, and Cuddle Cafés, complete with menus offering tactile selections. But mostly I’ve enjoyed the simple cuddle parties where the focus is on lots of hugging. After these incredibly soothing encounters, I sleep like a baby.

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Papua New Guinea Journal

dscn2786October 13-26, 2016

I have wanted to visit New Guinea since my first semester of graduate school at the University of Kentucky in 1973, when Professor Phillip Drucker assigned this culture area to me for his ethnology class. Reading all the classic ethnographies of the island, including those of Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and others, thrilled my budding anthropological mind and planted the seed of a bucket list experience.

Forty-three years later I found myself on a cramped Quantas flight to Brisbane with nine fellow Road Scholars and a tour guide, toting a carefully packed bag weighing less than the 22-pound limit for the small planes that would carry us across vast expanses of jungle. Continue reading

Margaret Mead and the Single Life

Congres Wereldraad van Kerken in Utrecht, antropologe Margaret Mead *15 augustus 1972

Margaret Mead, age 71 years, Congres Wereldraad van Kerken in Utrecht. Photo by Rob C. Croes/Anefo, Nationaal Archief, 15 August 1972, CC BY-SA 3.0

Reposted from the Huffington Post 07/06/2016

How much have societal attitudes toward the single life for women changed in the past forty to fifty years?  Clues can be found in Margaret Mead’s Redbook column from 1963 to 1978.1 One of the best-known anthropologists of the twentieth century, Mead commented on wide-ranging issues, from politics, education and religion, to child-rearing, gender relations and population control.

Mead is most remembered for her progressive views on contentious issues, particularly those related to sex and reproduction. For example, she espoused pro-choice policies, advocated for birth control, championed women’s rights, and accepted homosexuality and bisexuality as normal. Indeed, Mead was widely hailed as a moving force behind the sexual revolution of the 1960s, a reputation for which she was both admired and maligned. However, on the topic of single women and their life choices, Mead endorsed surprisingly conservative positions.

Read More. . .

The Impending Flood

Moving waters Flickr

Photo by flickr user Ishmaelo,

In the Fall of 2015 I had been feeling out of sorts, for no particular reason. I began to wonder if it was somehow tied to hurricane season, which I paid apprehensive attention to most of my life. My roots in three states bordering the Gulf of Mexico – Louisiana, Texas and Florida – echo with memories of storms past, both menacing and exhilarating. They are woven into the fabric of my life and serve as a backdrop for many retold stories. I believe they are the source—along with early childhood Bible reading and Lina Wertmuller’s 1978 “end of the world” film—of my recurring dream, the terrifying impending flood. Continue reading

Hurricane Jeanne, Haiti, September 2004

By Gladys Mayard

Haitian anthropologist and Field Director for projects described in above post, “The Impending Flood”


Hurricane Jeanne

Haiti has seen many hurricanes, but the most catastrophic of my lifetime was Hurricane Jeanne of 2004, which devastated the Departments of the Artibonite and the Northwest. In the Artibonite, Gonaives was the city most affected by the storm. All of its more than two hundred thousand inhabitants suffered the effects (direct and indirect) of the landslides and flooding. The number of rural families affected by the hurricane was close to thirteen thousand, including about ten thousand in the low lying areas of Gonaives. Close to half of the three thousand deaths occurred in Gonaives, while other affected communities included Ennery, Terre-Neuve, Gros Morne and Anse Rouge. Port-de-Paix was the city most damaged in the Northwest Department, where about 34 percent of its population was affected, along with Bassin Bleu and Chansolme. In the North Department, the towns of Plaisance and Pilate were also impacted. Continue reading

Soul Repair

Machine stitching

Photo by Susan Perez

Reprinted from Oregon Humanities, Posts:Fix, Spring 2015

The faded cotton robe is old and frayed, so threadbare it can scarcely hold a patch.  I carefully pin the fabric, hoping it won’t tear when I sew the pieces together.  It holds.  The old man smiles gratefully; I let out a sigh of relief.  Around me the metallic rumble of 4 sewing machines provides the sound track as I take a sip of water and pick up the next item.

Thirty years of cerebral toil in the academic trenches leaves me thought-weary and craving the use of my hands for craft, not for pecking out words.  I am volunteering at a repair event. The skills I bring are modest at best.  And yet I find enormous satisfaction in doing this simple thing of mending clothes. I feel competent, in command, even hip.

Never mind that my old Singer portable rattles like an old jalopy; it works fine for hemming, stitching, patching. Elsewhere in the spacious room a volunteer takes apart a toaster while another sharpens scissors on a small sanding belt; a new clasp makes a necklace whole again while a broken bike is hoisted onto a stand.  Let no object enter a landfill that can be saved.

I smile earnestly at a new customer, a young woman in a hurry.  “My parking meter runs out soon so please be quick,” she says.  Of course she would hand me a zipper to fix, one of the most complicated tasks that many workers refuse to accept.  I take my time to do it right, and the client becomes agitated.  I don’t react.  I have entered the sweet, serene sewing zone.  The woman makes it out the door just in time, repaired dress in bag.  I sigh even louder this time, and gulp down more water.

By the end of my three-hour shift, I have repaired six garments. I am tired and weary, but feel incredibly accomplished.  After-visions of seams coming together, threading needles, hand stitching, edges trimmed, all blur together in a soothing balm.  The background din recedes.  I can relax because I have done enough.


Reprinted from Oregon Humanities, Spring 2015, p. 40.


Organ of Jean-Claudism

Duvalier_0002-3When I read about the recent death of former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier, I was transported back nearly four decades to my first and longest field trip to that beleaguered country.  What stood out in my memory was the fact that I helped to promote a fledgling Haitian rock band inspired by the words of the young ruler.  This recollection stood in contrast to the usual portrait of a maligned leader, and gave me pause to reflect on the man and my nuanced image of him.

Jean-Claude was the youngest head of state in modern times.  And he was a ruthless dictator.  Only 19 when his father, “Papa Doc” Francois Duvalier, died suddenly in 1971, he inherited a legacy infamous for its repression and brutality.  However, hope abounded that the new leader would usher Haiti into a more progressive era of political and economic reform.  Young people were particularly attracted to the new president, who in earlier years was often seen riding his motorcycle through the streets of Port-au-Prince.  It took a while before people became fully disillusioned, but in the early days of Duvalier’s leadership there was heart-felt optimism in many quarters. Continue reading

Commentary: Jean-Claude Duvalier

By Gladys Mayard

Haitian anthropologist, researcher, consultant and Director, Centre de Research et de Service Socio-Humanitaire (CRESHM). 

It was the Duvalier regime that produced Jean-Claudism, and in the end it simply became the Duvalier doctrine.  My views are based on having read and heard about these events, as well as having friends who had family members who were victims of the regime.  It is necessary to speak of this doctrine as a complex ideology and mentality.

As an ordinary physician Francois Duvalier knew quite well to install his doctrine little by little.  He began by involving himself with the rural population before his presidency in the eradication of yaws, and through this made many friends.  Once in power, he understood the importance of establishing a corps of supporters, the macoutes, recruited from the peasantry, the poor and the middle class.  He conferred titles and diplomas on people who could neither read nor write.  He gave the poor legitimacy by eliminating social barriers to education, power and wealth.  Very quickly he made allies everywhere, and a strong macoute force was installed at every socio-economic level.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

The VSN in formation, Abricots, 1977

The brutal aspect of the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier was largely the work of the tonton macoutes, officially known as the VSN, Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale.  This unpaid militia resorted to ruthless and violent means to earn a living and to enforce the regime’s agenda.  Through them he eliminated the young intellectuals who opposed him.  When he realized that the families of the disappeared were working together and seeking ways to organize outside the country, he began monitoring all mail from outside.  My brother-in-law, one of the regime’s targets, had to speak in code even to close family members. Continue reading