For some of us in the world today it can seem easy to make connections to others far from us. We travel widely and our young people, in and out of school, are making virtual and real journeys to other places and cultures. Having had my own time in another culture as a young Peace Corps Volunteer in 1970s Sierra Leone, I’m aware of how tricky it is to make assumptions about those who live differently than we do. And so I just hope that these easy virtual and real visits do not give these young people presumptions of understanding. I hope that unlike some of us back in the 1970s, they are not making simplistic assumptions, are not overly focusing on the exotic, are neither romanticizing or villianizing cultures different from their own. I hope they are aware of how incredibly complicated it is, that there are aspects of humanity that are the same, but so much that is different. I hope they stay humble.
This was just brought powerfully home to me by the BBC article “Return to the Rainforest: A Son’s Search for his Amazonian Mother.” It relates the complicated story of David Good, son of anthropologist Kenneth Good and Yarima, who is of the Yanomami people that Good senior lived with for many years starting in the 1970s. I was moved by David’s story, but troubled by its presentation, undoubtably well-intentioned, but still somewhat to my mind an exoticising of the Amazonian people, say by the use of stock photos and uneven captioning of the Good photos where not everyone is identified and sometimes no one is.
Wondering if there was more elsewhere about David Good’s journey I searched and came across this powerful video he made. Being of the generation of his father and remembering the Peace Corps Volunteers in Sierra Leone who fathered children there, some of whom were left behind when their fathers returned to the US, I am incredibly moved by his story.