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15 Mar

Did we lose a hero today?

I had been meaning to reflect on the topic of “heroes” for a while now, then Pi Day came and Stephen Hawking left. As they say: “for a theoretical physicist you can hardly pick a better exit date than Pi Day and the birthday of Albert Einstein” (John Moffitt).

For those of you who don’t know about Pi Day (I just found out last year): It’s when 14th of March, written the American way (so: 3/14), resembles π … And then there’s this coincidence:

The news of Hawking’s passing was a surprise. I somehow expected him to survive us all. Surely his consciousness was uploaded previously up into a cloud somewhere.

Then again, this is the man who outlived his life expectancy, and every other expectation after that. His death is immediately a celebration of the life he had that no one said he would have.

But I don’t want to focus on Hawking today. If you want a nice article on goodbyes to Hawking (where I got the opening image from), go here:

As I began, I had been meaning to reflect on heroes for a while. International Woman’s Day brought it up, followed by Mattel’s release of real-life inspiring women as Barbie dolls, and why some people got very angry about that. (Link alert! In case you missed this, I’ve linked articles that will catch you up.)

I realized recently that growing up, I didn’t have female heroes I could relate to. My Barbies were white-skinned and blonde, and I didn’t really like Barbie anyway (I played with Ninja Turtles). I grew up in Nigeria so TV programmes were limited. I read a lot of books by Enid Blyton, telling stories of British girls in British boarding schools savouring scones. All this was entertaining, but it wasn’t a world I could relate to – and I really tried.

Growing up, this was my hero:

An intelligent, kind and culturally savvy European man, with his lovable, smart, and slightly alcoholic dog. I loved Tintin because he had no prejudice, made friends with “commoners”, learnt languages and wanted to understand cultures. He was always on the go, always on an adventure. He preferred not to solve with violence, but if he had to throw a punch, he hit mighty hard.

I still collect the comics and when I visited Belgium a few years ago, my main goal was to visit the Herge museum.

Summer 2014

But when Disney produced Pocahontas, I finally understood what identifying with a role model could be. She looked like me, spoke about values I could relate to, she was strong, she was kind, and she could speak to trees. In the Disney film, she didn’t fight (she only stopped a war) but I was sure if she had had to fight, she would have sent them all running.

Do our young girls growing up today have enough role models? Do we agree that they are good? How do girls today aspire to be? Until Pocahontas came along, my goal was to be an intelligent and kind European man, and I’m aware it sounds ridiculous, but deep down I know I still aspire to be him.

The #MeToo movement is changing the world. I see it in the media and hear it in conversations on campus. The most used phrases are “gender binary” and the criticism thereof. For the first time in history, female characters in film are beginning to resemble us women, our conversations, and our agenda.

I study anthropology: a field largely dominated by men, but the few female voices in our hall are loud. Just to name few: Nancy Scheper-Hughes, the one who demands the discipline go hand in hand with activism. Donna Haraway, the one who demands we think through the eyes of our companion species. Anna Lowenhaupt-Tsing, the one who explores the anthropocene through mushrooms.

There is no lack of women available for the job of role model. So it is an exciting time to be human in this re-imagining of genders. For women like myself, who grew up wanting to be just like Tintin and are in our mid-30s, we get to start over.

What kind of women do we want to be?

In my profession as an aerial instructor, we teach our students to “have clean lines”. We tell them there is no ideal body, no ideal age, but there are ideal lines. Pointed feet, extended legs, externally rotated shoulders. I justify this by saying, this is to help them develop proprioception: an awareness of their body in space. If you can remember to point your toes while you’re lifting yourself in the air, you got it.

I don’t like lines because they are rigid, block my creativity, and aren’t symbolic of movement but of rigidity. In a line, I have arrived. I am not going anywhere from here. In a line, I present.

Photoshoot with Kara Isabella Shepherd (Aberdeen, 2017)

They can be very satisfying to observe, and it is uncanny how quickly we will mould our bodies into lines. (Watch an aerialist do a sit up: his/her toes will be pointed.) Once we’ve moulded ourselves, lines prove herculean to exorcise.

Today I prepared for an aerial photoshoot for this weekend with a friend. As a trained dancer and aerialist, she has an eye for lines and a wicked knack for breaking them. I wanted to pose in moves I had created / found. Here are a few of the ones we found:

How have we changed since we last spoke? I was still learning the language of lines and desperately wanted to learn to embody them. After my radio silence, I can tell you I am now working to break free of them.

The female anthropologists I mentioned briefly don’t sound linear. They are not even circular; crisscrossing disciplines, borrowing metaphors and theories in order to sharpen and weaponise their points.

What kind of heroes do we want? In the end, Hawking wasn’t a hero for being a theoretical physicist. He crisscrossed the media, from The Simpsons to The Big Bang Theory. He wove his web all around us, binding unlikely friendships.

I’ve said a lot tonight, so I leave you here. I want to thank everyone who wrote me after my last post. Your replies of encouragement lifted me greatly!!

For my next post, I plan to share a paper that I wrote during my undergraduate years in Aberdeen that was accepted for publication, so you can get a feel for what I was writing when I was not writing here!

I leave you with this. If you watch any documentary, watch this. It’s on netflix.


Hello (a Summary)

10 Mar

Do you remember me?

I remember you very well.

I left Germany 4 years ago in a “glass half empty” kind of way. I had said everything I could say, and although I wasn’t done speaking, I had run out of energy to form words.

So I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Anthropology because I needed to fill my glass. Anthropology would help me understand the world again, its people and their madness, and feed me.

But I became fascinated. The more I studied, the deeper I wanted to go. Before I knew it, 4 years were up, and I felt I had just begun. I became passionate about zoonotic infectious diseases (illnesses that are transmitted from animals to humans) and when I graduated from the University of Aberdeen…

…I was accepted at the University of Edinburgh for an MSc in Medical Anthropology. That’s where I am now.

I also accidentally opened a circus space. In 2015, I pitched the idea of the benefits of such a space to the City of Aberdeen, to the Scottish Institute for Enterprise. I won the Young Innovators Challenge 2015 and, with two amazing fckn fantastic friends, Theo and Elsie, founded a company called “Inverted: Circus and Pole Fitness Ltd”.

I became a director, and taught aerial silks and acrobalance at all levels, to adults and children. If you want to know more about our company, go here: Inverted website!

So I spent the last 3 years being a director, finishing my undergrad, and writing my undergrad dissertation on how movement creates an identity, with focus on aerialists.

I made incredible friends. I gained an acro and aerial partner with whom I performed around Scotland: Elsie.

And now, my glass is filling up again.

I thought so often of writing you, telling you everything, but the longer I was away, the more I had to say, and the snake’s tail became too long. So I’ve just dumped this summary on you and I’m off again.

But I’ll be back, with photos and videos.

Until then, hello! I hope you’ve been well!

We’ll speak again soon.