I know I owe a post on our last two weeks of excavation at Mlambalasi. As I am still trying to process everything that happened (we had an amazing but busy and exhausting last few days), I thought instead I'd free my mind of some other debitage that's been floating around in my head.
This is my fourth trip to Tanzania in five years. This means a number of different things which I have recently been thinking about. First and foremost, I am super lucky. I often forget how incredible it really is that I have traveled here so frequently and do so in order to pursue my passion - archaeology. This is definitely one of the perks of the job - frequent travel to very cool places. As extended periods of time are required to conduct research this means I really get a feel for the environment and people around me. I get to interact with people in totally different ways than a tourist would, and in many ways, become part of the day to day fabric of life the places in which we work and live. Although we will always be visitors, we do effectively live in the places we work. We greet people we pass on the street and chat with the many people that work in the many places that we visit in our daily rounds about town. Since we've worked here for three years now, my supervisor and I are recognized by many people not just in Iringa town where we live, but in offices and villages throughout Iringa region. We discuss our work with everyone - from officials representing many divisions within all branches of government to students in small rural schools to random local individuals who drop by the site to see what is going on in their backyard. Although not everyone gets what we are doing, never mind the why's of it all, we do our best to explain and use as much of our baby swahili (or swinglish as we like to call it) as possible. We have created posters in both english and swahili to demonstrate that the knowledge we are acquiring is to be shared with all - that we are striving to make a contribution not just to academia but to the cultural heritage of the communities we live and work in.
However, there is a major downside. My comings and goings fail to make a big impression on friends and family any more. This isn't to say that they don't care if I'm around or not, but rather that they are so used to me having to travel to do fieldwork or attend conferences that they don't mark my departure with the same gusto anymore. Honestly, I don't blame them. In fact, I'm so lucky to have family and friends that are so accepting of my frequent long-term absences. I have missed an unspeakable number of milestone events in the lives of my friends and family: birthdays, weddings, births, anniversaries, showers, stagettes, holidays. This year I miss yet another wedding anniversary bringing the grand total of wedding anniversaries missed to four out of five. The fact that no one has ever held a missed event against me says a whole lot about the generous and forgiving nature of my friends and family. It is this amazing support network that has not only made long periods away from home tolerable, but have also made my entire career as a graduate student possible.
Simply, I am an extremely lucky individual. First because of the opportunities I have had to see the world, and second, because of the amazing people who are my home who have made it possible for me to take advantage of all the opportunities that have been thrown my way. I can only hope I am deserving/worthy of this luck.