A few notes on ethnography, cinema and 3 films by Simone Rapisarda and co- creators.

Dara Culhane
Professor, Anthropology
Co-Curator, Centre for Imaginative Ethnography (CIE)

Simone Rapisarda makes films with people who are confronting radical changes in their ways of life and the places they call home. External forces from climate change, to land speculation and movements of global capital, to corrupt governments and “humanitarian” international development agencies, orchestrate these changes. I come to Rapisarda’s work not as a filmmaker but as an anthropologist/ethnographer and teacher who shares interests in peoples’ entanglements with places, times, power, and each other, and who brings questions about how ethnographers and artists may co-create stories with other sentient beings. I offer here brief reflections on my viewings of three films that will be screened in the retrospective on Rapisarda’s work to be presented by The Cinematheque and Simon Fraser University, with support from the Center for Imaginative Ethnography (CIE) on January 24 & 25, 2019, and entitled “Spirit of Place.”

At a screening and director’s talk hosted by the CIE in Vancouver in 2018, Rapisarda described what he means by the “spirit of place”:

“Sometimes when you go into a space, there’s this energy, and you don’t know where it’s coming from. My ancestors called it the “spiritus loci.” In English, the “spirit of place.” If you want, its soul. It remembers all that happened there …All the people being born and being killed, all the people making love, even the animals and whatever else lived there or passed through there, belong to the spirit inhabiting that place. In my films, I try to get a glimpse of what the spiritus loci may hold. All that can never belong to us… So ultimately I can’t really claim credit for what I film beyond my initial intuitions. I’m just here to witness it…if I’m lucky.”

Rapisarda describes his first feature film, El árbol de las fresas (The Strawberry Tree, Cuba, 2011) as inspired by anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch’s work in “shared ethnography,” what we might now call “collaboration” or “co-creation.” The film opens with a segment shot in 2009, a year after the rest of the film was recorded. Four people who we will later see in the film describe how Hurricane Ike has wiped their village, Juan Antonio, off the map. The village continues to live in memory, but no longer exists as a geopolitically named place. Their stories of loss and dislocation are punctuated by one of the four when he satirizes dominant themes in classical ethnographic films by describing the “igloos and tipis” of Juan Antonio as having “vanished.” This man’s banter evokes more laughter when he enacts a stereotypical Italian accent so that he can be better understood by Rapisarda, the Italian filmmaker.

We do not encounter Rapisarda directly in the film. Rather, he shows more moments of joking and “leveling” as Juan Antonio collaborators tell him what to film and how to interpret their lives, cajole him about doing dishes, and dispense other instructions for living, and filmmaking. Rapisarda’s experiment in “seeing ourselves as others see us” with humour offers some unique challenges to contemporary ethnographers who are striving to move beyond introspection and confession into a more critical reflexivity.

Watching El árbol de las fresas (The Strawberry Tree) I feel myself easily “hanging out” with the filmmaker as people in Juan Antonio go about their lives cooking, eating, hanging laundry, preparing squid, minding children, mending nets, playing volleyball. and organizing a children’s festival with games and sweets. Perhaps too easily lulled by the filmmaker’s skill at rendering a sense of the rhythm of lives lived with sun and wind and water and fish, I feel myself “there,” yet at a respectful distance: an observer, yes; but not a voyeur.

Rapisarda’s second feature, La creazione di significato (The Creation of Meaning, Italy, 2014) opens with the visual majesty of the Apuan Alps in Tuscany. This is a film co-created by two men: Simone Rapisarda and Pacifico Pieruccioni. Unlike his position as an “outsider/ ethnographer” in Cuba, here Rapisarda has returned to his homeland. We follow Rapisarda following Pieruccioni through his daily routines that include work, listening to talk shows where political conflicts in Italy and beyond are the subjects of controversy and furious argument, visits from neighbours, and enjoying a gathering of friends and relatives with food, wine and songs.

Rapisarda says that his intentions with La creazione di significato, unlike in his previous film were not to explore and push the boundaries of conventional ethnographic film’s commitments to realist observation, but rather to return to his earlier interests in fiction. He draws inspiration again from Jean Rouch when he plays with the possibilities of working in the generative zone between ethnography and fiction where many contemporary anthropologists also locate themselves.

History appears early in the film with the arrival of a group of students accompanied by two teachers talking about the second world war, when German soldiers and Italian partisans fought along what was called the “Gothic Line.” The future arrives in the form of a German man interested in bidding on Pieruccioni’s land at a state auction to use it as a vacation place for his young family. He is willing to keep Pieruccioni on as a custodian during the winter months, and Pieruccioni, the German man and his impatient 2-year-old son discuss this around a kitchen table. Spectators may laugh and cry —as I did—finding this negotiation over land becoming real estate eerily strange and familiar to a contemporary settler in British Columbian.

Rapisarda works with a small budget, minimal gear, and a strong commitment to a process- driven, co-creative methodology. As both filmmaking and ethnography increasingly involve big budgets, large crews, multidisciplinary teams, expensive equipment, and considerable institutional and other political constraints, Rapisarda insists that his rejection of that approach is necessary for him to work closely with people, to rely on them, and thus to “walk the talk” about sincere collaboration and material reciprocity. When asked why he “works alone,” Rapisarda rejects the description. He does not “work alone,” he insists, but rather his one-man-crew approach allows him to work more intimately with the people on the other side of the camera, to engage with them as co-creators instead of just subjects.

Rapisarda’s third and most recent feature film, Zanj Hegel La (Hegel’s Angel, Haiti 2018), was made with his former students at Ciné Institute in Haiti between 2014 and 2017. The film opens with boats filled with people and supplies landing in Haiti. A young white woman is carried to shore on the shoulders of a young black man, and she proceeds to wander around a local street market, shopping. As the scenes unfold we are not spared witnessing the sexual exploitation foundational to colonial regimes across time and around the world, the demeaning of Haitian women and men by local middlemen, and the poverty that is rampant throughout the island. I am uncomfortable, watching. I want to be a conscientious witness, and I feel myself a complicit westerner.

In this film, Rapisarda moves further into ethnofiction, working with non-actors, and still without a script. The protagonist is a young boy named Widley. We follow Widley as he moves between playing football, swimming, working with his father on odd jobs, and visiting with a local editor who is putting together a “film within a film” while lamenting the director’s disappearance. Throughout, Widley observes what is going on in his Haitian homeland as the island and its people struggle under what has been called “the charitable- industrial complex”— international “humanitarian” development agencies—in league with the American-controlled “military-industrial complex.”

As in the other films, Rapisarda’s commitment to collaboration, or “shared ethnography” infuses his work. All participants including crew, actors, and consultants are credited as co- writers of the film. “It takes a lot of work to make the kind of films I make,” Rapisarda observes when asked about reciprocity in his relationships with co-creators. “And it’s just normal that when you work with people you respect, the mutual respect becomes a friendship. So you are asking me about reciprocity, but I’m not sure I think in those terms. I think about friendship and I don’t see anything special in wanting to be a good friend.”

Rapisarda’s films join other work emerging from places and people living on the edges of empires, conventions and canons, pushing more conceptual and political border transgressions. His work is thought provoking, simultaneously inspiring us to imagine new possibilities that may be realized by transgressing conventional boundaries between fiction and ethnography, and among artists, ethnographers, and co-creators; and, challenging us to confront the inevitable risks and dilemmas that ensue.

Cinematheque: The Spirit of Place


Please read and distribute

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As you may be aware, three commercial salmon farms located in Kwakwakw’wakw Nation territories (Broughton Archipelago, Northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada) are currently being occupied by Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists who are demanding that the fish farms close.

Injunctions have been served on some fish farm occupiers, and more are threatened. On December 22, 2017 the B.C. Supreme Court granted Marine Harvester (fish farm company) injunctions to remove the occupiers. We can anticipate more injunctions, more resistance, and more arrests over the coming weeks and months. Read:


At the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography (CIE) we compiled a very short list of links offering background into debates about fish farming locally and internationally, specific information about the history of Indigenous peoples’ and environmentalists’ opposition to fish farming on this coast, connections to sites where regular updates on the current salmon farm occupations are provided, and information about how you may offer support.

Stand With Us (Cleansing Our Waters) – how to support


Please consider making this information available to your students, and please circulate the link to this blog to your networks.

Very brief summary:

The people occupying three of the twenty fish farms in the area are demanding closure of these farms that have been operating without Indigenous consent, and are responsible for significant environmental damage, constituting a threat to wild salmon. The movement opposing ocean-based salmon farming on this coast has been underway for 30 years.

Swanson Island is the largest fish farm occupation. It has been underway since August 27, 2017. Watch Ernest Alfred’s first report, “Occupation of a Salmon Farm, why?”



The Swanson Island Occupation Facebook page posts regular reports and updates on this and the other occupations currently underway. You can stay up to date by checking in with this page regularly.

For more information, search “Swanson Island Occupation” on Youtube and Vimeo for a number of reports on the current occupations, and on the history of this political struggle.




Wild Salmon, Sovereignty & Resistance (A Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw Mural Story)


October 17, 2017 injunction

Posted by Swanson Occupation on Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Idle No More Metrotown


Posted by Corrie Hachim on Saturday, December 23, 2017


The Wild Salmon Matriarchs’ Camp 

Tsastilqualus Ambers Umbas is a 64 year old Kwakwakw’wakw grandmother who has organized a Wild Salmon’s Matriarchs’ Camp in Victoria, B.C. in support of the fish farm occupations. Tsastilqualus has been living in the Matriarch’s Camp outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans since October 24, 2017.

On December 17, 2017 Tsastilqualus was arrested and removed from this site. She has been charged with trespassing and will go to court on February 5, 2018. Tsastilqualus has now reestablished the Matriarch’s Camp outside British Columbia Premier, John Hogan’s, office.






Listen to Tsastilqualus Ambers Umbas, Matriarch Camp, December 27, 2017 podcast:




For an introduction to the issue of salmon farming in Kwakwak’wakw territories, watch:



For background on Salmon Fish Farming industries, watch Alexandra Morton’s 2013 film, “Salmon Confidential”



Salmon Wars (International)



Other good sources of information are the Salmon Guardian Show Facebook page

and https://www.seashepherd.org/virus-hunter/

“The Creation of Meaning” by Simone Rapisarda – a review by Cristina Moretti


It has been several days since I have seen “The Creation of Meaning”, but the view of the mountains and the sounds of the protagonist ‘s footsteps on the forest ground are still vivid in my mind, and I can still hear his heavy breathing as he carries stones to build a path. Simone Rapisarda’s film invites the viewers to follow the everyday life of Pacifico, a shepherd in the mountains of Tuscany, and to immerse themselves in the sensual immediacy of the landscape and of his everyday tasks. With its attention to detail and to everyday gestures, the film shows an ethnographic sensibility, and conveys the complexity and richness of ordinary conversations, dilemmas, paradoxes, and relationships in the mountains. It is interesting here to note that the film does not privilege sight. Sounds and textures – from the crackling of fire, to the splashing of water, and the surfaces of objects – are all part of Rapisarda’s careful observation, documentation, and reflection on time, place, and lived realities. Importantly, some of the key characters in the film are keen observers themselves. In an illuminating scene, for example, Pacifico and another local inhabitant point to the mountains and discuss hidden forms they can see in the rock face – in turn inviting the viewer to engage in careful observation. In this context, the two interlocutors’ musings over the identity of the hidden figure is not just a playful exchange, but can be seen as a reminder that what we notice, see, hear, and comprehend includes zones of shadows and always yields partial understandings.

Rapisarda’s film is also an intimate and complex reflection on memory and the echoes of history. In the film, while the contemporary lefts and rights hurl insults at each other on a radio talk show, everyday life on the mountains still seeps with stories, events, and monuments from the Second World War, and the clashes between German troops, Fascism, and the Italian Resistance. Pacifico’s life and the landscape in which he moves is full of traces of these conflicts – from the landmarks of events, to left-over gun projectiles, to groups of young actors who impersonate the Partigiani in the making of a film. Stories abound too; it is not just Pacifico and other elderly inhabitants who can share their recollections. Here even the children can tell stories about the war. To complicate matters, the Germans who are still remembered as the enemy are now visiting as tourists and buying the farmhouses as recreational properties. Pacifico’s land is no exception.

Presenting the negotiations between Pacifico and the German buyer of his property, the film also documents the sense of crisis in this region of Italy. As the economic downturn continues, the local inhabitants might have to give up their homes and their work. Even more tragically, Pacifico and his neighbours denounce the hardship and unemployment that are leading some of the young people in their community to commit suicide. Keeping both remembered history and contemporary conflicts and tensions in focus, the film shows how the past seems to resonate through the present in many complicated and interconnected ways.  To say it differently, the history recalled in the film is not simply something that happened a long time ago and is still remembered, but rather a tangle of threads pulling at the present. Borrowing Pipyrou’s insightful commentary on history and collective memory in the Italian region of Calabria, we may then ask if in the Tuscan mountains too, the “crisis that torments Europe is experienced as a massive temporal vortex within which other pasts (…) indistinguishably swirl, intermixing with each other and intensifying the lived experience of the present crisis by becoming what Daniel Knight terms ‘culturally proximate’ (…) embodied and felt in the present despite being disjoined or disparate in linear time” (Pipyrou, 2016: 48, quoting Knight 2012 and 2015). One of the most interesting aspects of the film is then its ability to capture the moments in which the present seems to acquire an uncanny and dizzying depth, and to depict so carefully the lived spaces in which everyday encounters and conversations can become vantage points from which to interrogate past and current questions and dilemmas.


Pipyrou, Stavroula (2016) Adrift in Time: Lived and Silenced Pasts in Calabria, South Italy. History and Anthropology, 27:1, 54-59

In a Guerrilla Warfare, the One who cheats the Most is the One who leads the Way by Lina Beatriz Pinto García

The following experiment in writing was first presented at the Cuando el Quehacer Investigativo se torna Imaginativo Workshop on October 27, 2017 in Bogotá, Colombia. Lina Pinto Garciá is a PhD candidate in Science and Technology Studies at York University and a CIE member.

This post is available in both English and Spanish.

In a Guerrilla Warfare, the One who cheats the Most is the One who leads the Way

Lina Beatriz Pinto García


I locked the door of the room. I made sure it was tightly closed, that no one could enter. I also closed the curtains, unloaded my backpack on the floor, checked that the shower was working and sat bewildered on the bed. I had not been alone for four days, had not had a second of privacy. And now, in that hotel room in San Jose del Guaviare, finally by myself, I began to digest everything I had seen, felt and heard for four days, at the end of February 2017, in the Transitional Local Zone for Normalisation[1] of Colinas; or, as the FARC guerrilla prefers to call it in honor to the Unión Patriótica presidential candidate assassinated in 1987, the Jaime Pardo Leal Zone.

My heart was still beating fast. On the way back to San Jose, the driver and the guerrilla members who were with me in the car –one man and two women– had seen armed people on motorcycles in a small village, just minutes away from the Transitional Zone. Then, we were stopped by an improvised and shady police checkpoint, in the middle of nowhere, well into the night, looking for who knows what or whom. Luckily, the policemen did not ask us for our IDs. Our driver, with a clever glibness, managed to make them clear that they were worse off than us, and that it was better if they let us go without asking much. Once in San Jose, the driver drop the other passengers in different places of the municipality, and finally arrived at the hotel where I had managed to make a reservation to spend a night. Early next morning I would get on the plane that would take me back to Bogota.

I could not yet assume the fieldwork was over. I was still in San Jose, a municipality that –it was evident– was breathing largely in relation to what was happening in Colinas and Charras, the other Transitional Zone in Guaviare where hundreds of FARC members were also grouped. However, having a bathroom, a bed and a space for myself meant that I was already more here than there, and that this episode of my research on leishmaniasis and the Colombian armed conflict was coming to an end.

I took a shower and, under the cold and low-pressure water coming out of a sad tube, I remembered with nostalgia –and with the certainty of having witnessed a unique and wonderful scene– the Colinas water tank: a sort of rectangular pool of running water around which many guerrilla men and women, at any hour of the day or night, bathe and wash their clothes and rubber boots. Talking, laughing, singing, throwing water at each other, minding their own business, passing blue soaps from hand to hand, enjoying their fragrance and taking all the time in the world. These five hundred inhabitants of Colinas, in transit to civilian life, most of them full of youth and vitality, still have a collective life that seems a rarity today, especially for those of us who come from an urban context where the closest to that experience is found, perhaps, in some student residence. The extraordinary spirit of community and solidarity that sprinkled this scene made me forget, for moments, that hundreds of rifles and many other armed conflict remnants surrounded me as well. And that all these vigorous bodies were radiating youth because others, wearier and with less luck, had been severely disabled or had lost their lives in the war.

Few meters away from the water tank was located a row of showers that were separated from each other by a white plastic tarp. However, there were few of us who used them, and the guerrilla men and women who opted for this more urban alternative did not use it like I did: they left “open” the tarp that served as a door, they were wearing clothes under the water, shared the shower with one, two or more people, washed their clothes right there, and took at least thirty minutes each. Andrés, one of the FARC mid-level commanders with more power in this Transitional Zone, told me that one of the biggest sacrifices a person makes when joining the guerrillas is losing his/her privacy and intimacy. That is why the construction of the 250-houses town that FARC members and civilians hired by the State were building when I was in Colinas responded, in large part, to the idea that in the transition to civilian life –in the so-called “normalization” phase– restoring privacy and intimacy to ex-combatants was a necessary step. In other words, they had to create infrastructures that would allow them to unlearn how to bathe in the water tank and learn how to bathe under the shower. However, Andrés thinks, the spirit of collective life is fundamental for what follows, that is, for FARC’s political life in legality and without arms. And restoring the private and intimate sphere to the ex-combatants cannot be to the detriment of the community sense that is still there and from which should be nurtured the political party with which the organization will seek access to power by democratic means.



Restoring. I kept thinking about that word. “Put a thing back to the state or circumstance in which it was before,” says a dictionary and puts the phrase “restoring peace” as an example. I wonder about what should be restored after a war? Or rather, what can be restored and what cannot? And after at least 50 years of uninterrupted violence, taken to inconceivable limits, is peace simply something to be restored? Did we have peace before and lost it? Or was there a state before the war to which we would like to return or could return to?

Then I remembered many members of the Army and the FARC with whom I have talked to, as well as civilians who have lived close to the armed conflict and its associated dynamics, and I think of all that they have lost, of all the unrestorable that war has left them. I thought of Raúl, for example, a guerrilla member who has spent 30 of his 50 years in the ranks of the FARC, who scarcely knows how to read and write, and who was shot on one of his feet and had to be amputated: more than half a life put headlong into the war, years that cannot be restored; a foot mutilated by a bullet and a precarious surgery in the jungle that, no matter how much prosthetics Raúl manages to get, will never return to the state in which it was before, nor to transport to Raúl as it used to do.

He tells me that he has faith in the peace process, that the State has to comply with what it promised in the Havana Peace Accords. Raúl hopes to study, whatever, because that is the main thing, he says. And I also want to believe that it is going to be like that, I want to imagine that soon Raúl will be studying and forging a peaceful future for himself, and I want to be touched by that hope; but it has been more than seven months since that conversation and I can well imagine that Raúl should no longer be so sure of what he said to me that day. And that, perhaps, he too has been taken over by the uncertainty and fear brought by a peace that is far from being fulfilled –a word that, from being repeated over and over again without becoming visible, has virtually turned into an empty signifier.

Raúl has high uric acid and cholesterol levels. He was told so in one of two State health brigades that have so far reached the Transitional Zone. This is something that, given his weight and age, seems relatively normal, an illness that is not necessarily related to the war. Or maybe yes, we’ll never know. But Raúl also has a round sore on one of his hands, hollowed out in the center and raw, somewhat moist and suppurating. He also shows me a scar on his arm, with a similar shape and size, that he has had since 1995. They are marks of leishmaniasis, one scarred and one open, both originated in the jungles where Raúl has spent most of these 30 years with the FARC. They are legacies of war. And if the leishmaniasis and the scars left by the disease are, like several marks on Raul’s body, vestiges of war, how is it possible to restore health to these bodies? Was health something that was misplaced in the war? How do these impressions, those embodied forms of violence and absence of peace, can go away?



The jungle’s leprosy. The war’s disease. The disease of the kidnapped. The guerrilla disease. The subversive disease. That is the imprint with which leishmaniasis has been inflicted in Colombia, a stigma that has fallen heavily on guerrillas and civilians affected by the disease all along the armed conflict.

A few hours after arriving in Colinas, I was with several guerrilla commanders in the shed located in front of the temporary house –la caleta– of ‘Mauricio Jaramillo’, commander of the FARC’s Eastern Block. Leishmaniasis gained space in the conversation little by little. More than anything else, these men pointed at the drug –Glucantime– as the link that connects the armed conflict with leishmaniasis. They were referring to the State’s restrictive control over the drug, which they described as a perverse anti-subversive strategy. One of them, Francisco, with 28 years within the FARC, told me this: “The disease itself has no relation to the armed conflict, the relationship with the armed conflict is the medicine to cure a tropical disease that affects the military, peasants, guerrillas, all the inhabitants of the Colombian rurality. The involvement of leishmaniasis with the armed conflict is fictitious. It is the medicine, the way in which the disease is treated, that in an irregular conflict like ours, like all irregular conflicts, is full of traps, trickeries, feints. And the one who cheats the most in a guerrilla warfare is the one who leads the way.”

We kept talking about leishmaniasis when they sent for a young man. He had a colorful hat, a long-sleeved pink t-shirt, jeans and rubber boots. He was accompanied by another man, also very young, wearing rubber boots, jeans and a blue t-shirt. They told him to show me what he had, appealing to the legitimacy I was supposed to have from having seen hundreds of leishmaniasis lesions during my fieldwork. He took off his hat with some shame, gently grab his the left ear and moved it a little forward. He had a huge, supremely infected lesion that was about to perforate his cartilage. Worried, I thought he could lose his ear and told them that the young man needed medicines as soon as possible. In San Jose –he said– he had been diagnosed with the disease but had not been given the drugs because they were not available. He was not a guerrilla; the guerrilla member was the other, his cousin. The commanders sent him to the health brigade that had come on that day from San José to ask for Glucantime. “Tell them that you are guerrilla collaborator, not a guerrilla member, but without any hesitation, go” – said one of them.

The boy, like many other civilians, had approached the FARC to obtain Glucantime ampoules because, if anyone has had medicine for leishmaniasis in this country, it is the Army or the guerrilla. The former obtains it directly from the Ministry of Health, who provides the military almost half of the Glucantime they buy to supply the entire national demand. And the latter is supplied through a black market that brings Glucantime from Venezuela or Brazil, but mainly through corrupt military or guerrilla friends infiltrated in the ranks of the Army, who sell the drug to guerrillas at exorbitant prices.

But now we are supposedly in peace times. That means that it is the responsibility of the State to provide Glucantime to guerrilla members and that the FARC should no longer scramble to get the drug. However, Raúl has not yet been treated despite having been sampled to confirm the diagnosis more than 15 days ago, and Glucantime continues to circulate in a controlled and restricted way. This is was something that was not discussed in Havana, I am told. “It is still necessary that, as a result of the peace process, the veto against the medicine that cures leishmaniasis is lifted, it should not be restricted anymore,” says Francisco. The other commanders nodded and an ominous silence stayed suspended in the air.

Two battered and dusty boxes of Glucantime, one with 5 and the other with 3 ampules of the drug, is all that is left in the FARC infirmary in Colinas. Both came from Venezuela, were produced in January 2013 and will expire in less than a year. Like all Glucantime that is produced in the world, these ampoules were manufactured in Suzano, Brazil, but to get from the Sanofi-Aventis production plant to Colinas, passing through Venezuela, they had to travel, of course, through a convoluted path. Alexandra, the guerrilla member who leads the Transitional Zone infirmary, does not know how they arrived, she only knows that “when the drug is needed the comrades manage to get it and then it arrives”. Perhaps they came on the back of a solitary mule that walked mechanically through the jungle at night, as it already knew by heart the way to some guerrilla camp. Or perhaps they travelled hidden in the middle of mattresses and managed to go unnoticed in the eyes of the Police and the Army. Or maybe the cops and soldiers turned a blind eye, for they were already bribed.

“Those are the good ones,” Alexandra tells me. “Not like the ampoules that were arriving here one time, which were passing through extremely easily and were very cheap”. They were not as cheap as what the State pays for them, $ 2,400 pesos. But they were at $10,000 each –$ 2,000 pesos below the price that the corrupt military had standardized. “We used to buy five hundred, eight hundred ampules, easily,” Francisco told me, “until we realized that what we were getting was not Glucantime –the military had set up a fictitious factory and we were being sold saline solution.” Ampoules of saline solution at $ 10,000 each. The trap. The deception. The cheater took the lead for a while. In many other moments, the guerrilla took the lead too. For example, when the Army ended up at a place where everyone would get leishmaniasis, a highly endemic area. Knowing this, the FARC made them stay there for one month, letting the troop be gradually diminished by virtue of leishmaniasis. The helicopters went down frequently to pick up sick soldiers, one by one, until they all had completely withdrawn without the need of firing a single shot.



Leishmaniasis sometimes heals by itself, it “self-resolves” as scientists like to say. But this only happens if certain conditions are met: if the person has a strong immune system, if he or she is eating well, if the parasite is of one type and not of another, if the person is in a cold environment; in other words, if the body has that what is needed to do it. And like leishmaniasis, war only resolves if the conditions for healing are provided or created. Given the complexity of the disease and the enormous diversity that it involves –diversity of parasites, flies, niches, cycles, clinical manifestations– thinking about developing a drug that kills the parasite or a vaccine seems to be an endless task, always incomplete, iteratively problematic. But if the body is helped to heal itself, to close the wounds and heal the sores, it may be that its restoration becomes more lasting and that the eruption of new ulcers and other legacies of war becomes more unlikely. It is through thinking with leishmaniasis, with the potentialities of the body to understand the disease and self-restore, that we can perhaps imagine how to begin to heal. The parasite and the flies, like violence and conflict, will always be there; their presence, as their ability to make us sick and lacerate will not fade, we cannot make them go away. But we can give the body some conditions to restore itself.

This conflict has been made of tricks and feints, an irregular conflict that ironically Colombia has been going through, regularly, for more than 50 years. The balance has tended to lean towards the side that has better used the trap, the one who has managed to get the best out of a situation, the one who has been more skillful at cheating the other. In an irregular conflict, as some Army officers told me, applying human rights, in practice, it is only about continuing to use the same dirty war techniques, but covering them with an aseptic language, one full of technicalities. In an irregular conflict it does not matter if blocking the circulation of food or medicines is considered a war crime, because that is exactly how military revenues are obtained –reducing the health of the other, whether opponent or a compatriot. There is not a clean way to make war, let alone an irregular war. In this war, which has celebrated above all a culture of fraud and deceit, no one is left unharmed, no one comes out clean, and we are all cheated, marked with scars, sores and pustules.

In that game of cheating, cheating became the game itself, the way in which we do things here, regardless of what was agreed or signed. It seems that peace has been bogged down in that muddy and purulent deception that we have violently cultivated here for half a century. At times it seems as if instead of taking care of sores to help them heal, we were throwing salt at them to make them burn. And how is that restored? The bodies of those who heal leishmaniasis by themselves, because they have how to do it, because they have that what is needed to do it, can perhaps illuminate us about it. But the key is that we become able to provide everyone and each of us with the conditions to do so, to be able to heal and, above all, not to get ripped off in that attempt.

[1] During the early implementation of the peace deal signed by the Colombian government and the leftist FARC guerrilla group in November 2016, 26 so-called “transition and normalization zones” were established in rural areas of Colombia for FARC members to gather for months and lay down the arms. Two of these zones –Colinas and Charras– were located in Guaviare, a department (state or province) whose capital is San José del Guaviare.


En español:

El Más Tramposo en la Guerra de Guerrillas es el que Lleva la Delantera

Lina Beatriz Pinto García


Cerré la puerta de la habitación con llave. Me cercioré de que estuviera bien cerrada, que nadie pudiera entrar. Cerré también las cortinas, descargué mi morral sobre el piso, revisé que la ducha estuviera funcionando y me senté pasmada sobre la cama. Hacía cuatro días que no estaba sola, hacía cuatro días que no había tenido un segundo de privacidad. Y ahora, en esa habitación de hotel en San José del Guaviare, finalmente a solas, comencé a tratar de digerir todo lo que había visto, sentido y oído durante cuatro días de finales de febrero de 2017 en la Zona Veredal de Transición y Normalización de Colinas, Guaviare; o, como la llaman las FARC en honor al candidato presidencial de la UP asesinado en 1987, la zona Jaime Pardo Leal.

Aún me latía rápidamente el corazón. En el camino de regreso hacia San José, el conductor, el guerrillero y las dos guerrilleras que iban conmigo habían visto personas en moto y armadas que se encontraban en un caserío a tan solo unos minutos de la zona veredal. Luego nos paró un improvisado y turbio retén de la policía, en la mitad de la nada, ya bien entrada la noche, buscando quién sabe qué o a quién. Afortunadamente no nos pidieron papeles y el conductor, con una labia astuta, logró dejarles en claro que ellos estaban más mal parados que nosotros y que era mejor que nos dejaran ir sin preguntar mucho. Al llegar a San José dejamos a los demás pasajeros en diferentes lugares y, al fin, llegamos al hotel en el que yo había logrado hacer una reserva para pasar una noche y abordar temprano el avión que me llevaría de vuelta a Bogotá.

Aún no podía dar el trabajo de campo por terminado. Aún estaba en San José, una municipalidad que –era evidente– estaba viviendo en gran parte en función de lo que estaba sucediendo en Colinas y en Charras, la otra zona veredal del Guaviare donde estaban agrupados cientos de miembros de las FARC. Sin embargo, el hecho de tener un baño, una cama y un espacio para mí sola me indicaba que ya estaba más acá que allá, y que este episodio de mi investigación sobre leishmaniasis y conflicto armado estaba llegando a su fin.

Me di una ducha y, bajo el agua fría y sin presión que salía de un tubo afligido, rememoré con nostalgia –y con la certeza de haber presenciado una escena única y maravillosa– la alberca de Colinas: una especie de piscina rectangular de agua corriente alrededor de la cual numerosos guerrilleros y guerrilleras, a cualquier hora del día o de la noche, se bañan y lavan su ropa y sus botas de caucho. Vestidos apenas con ropa interior, todos disfrutan de ese festín acuático sin pudor: hablando, riendo, cantando, lanzándose totumazos de agua, concentrándose en lo suyo, pasando jabones azules de mano en mano, disfrutando su fragancia y tomándose todo el tiempo del mundo. Esos quinientos habitantes de Colinas en tránsito hacia la vida civil, en su gran mayoría rebosantes de juventud y vitalidad, seguían manteniendo una vida colectiva que hoy en día es una rareza, especialmente para quienes venimos de un contexto urbano donde lo más cercano a esa experiencia se da, quizás, en alguna residencia estudiantil. El extraordinario espíritu comunitario y solidario que salpicaba esa escena me hacía olvidar, por ratos, que también me rodeaban cientos de fusiles y muchos otros remanentes del conflicto armado. Y que esos cuerpos rozagantes desbordaban juventud porque otros, más trajinados y con menos suerte, sí habían quedado severamente discapacitados o habían perdido su vida en la guerra.

A unos pocos metros de la alberca había una hilera de duchas que se encontraban separadas unas de otras por una lona plástica de color blanco. Sin embargo, éramos pocos los que las usábamos, y los guerrilleros y las guerrilleras que optaban por esta alternativa más citadina no lo hacían como yo: dejaban ‘abierta’ la lona que hacía las veces de puerta, se metían vestidos bajo el chorro, compartían la ducha con una, dos o más personas, lavaban su ropa ahí mismo y se demoraban al menos treinta minutos cada uno. Andrés, uno de los mandos medios de las FARC con más poder en esta zona veredal, me decía que uno de los mayores sacrificios que una persona hace al ingresar a la guerrilla es la pérdida de su privacidad, de su intimidad. Por eso, la construcción del pueblo de 250 viviendas que las FARC y civiles contratados por el Estado estaban levantando durante mi visita a Colinas respondía, en gran parte, a la idea de que en el tránsito hacia la vida civil – en la llamada etapa de ‘normalización’–, restaurarle la intimidad y la privacidad a los y las excombatientes es un paso necesario. En otras palabras, debían crear infraestructuras que les permitieran desaprender a bañarse en la alberca y aprender a bañarse en la ducha. Sin embargo, piensa Andrés, el espíritu de la vida colectiva es fundamental para lo que sigue, es decir, para la vida política de las FARC en la legalidad y sin armas. Y restaurarle la esfera privada e íntima a los excombatientes no puede ir en detrimento del sentido comunitario que allí aún se respira y del que debería nutrirse el partido político con el cual la organización tratará de acceder al poder por vía democrática.



Restaurar. Me quedé pensando en esa palabra. “Volver a poner una cosa en el estado o circunstancia en que se encontraba antes”, dice un diccionario y pone como ejemplo la frase “restaurar la paz”. Me pregunto ¿qué se debería restaurar después de una guerra? ¿O más bien, qué se puede restaurar y qué no? Y después de al menos 50 años de violencia ininterrumpida y llevada a límites inconcebibles, ¿es la paz simplemente algo que se restaura? ¿Acaso teníamos paz antes y la perdimos? ¿O existía un estado anterior a la guerra al que quisiéramos o podríamos volver?

Entonces me acuerdo de muchos miembros del Ejército y de las FARC con los que he hablado, así como de civiles que han convivido cercanamente con el conflicto y sus dinámicas asociadas, y pienso en todo lo que han perdido, en todo lo irrestaurable que les ha dejado la guerra. Pienso en Raúl, por ejemplo, un guerrillero que ha pasado 30 de sus 50 años en las filas de las FARC, que apenas sabe leer y escribir, y a quien, por un tiro, le tuvieron que amputar un pie: más de media vida metido de cabeza en la guerra, años que no se podrán restaurar; un pie cercenado por las balas y por una precaria cirugía en el monte que, por más prótesis que Raúl logre conseguir, nunca volverá al estado en el que se encontraba antes, ni a transportar a Raúl como lo solía hacer.

Él me comenta que tiene fe en el proceso, que el Estado tiene que cumplir con lo que se comprometió en los Acuerdos de Paz de La Habana, que espera ponerse a estudiar, lo que sea, porque eso es lo primordial, dice. Y yo también quiero creer que eso es así, quiero imaginar que pronto Raúl estará estudiando y forjándose un futuro tranquilo, y me quiero contagiar de esa esperanza; pero han pasado más de siete meses desde esa conversación y me puedo imaginar bien que Raúl ya no debe estar tan seguro de lo que me dijo esa vez y que, a lo mejor, de él también se han apoderado la incertidumbre y el miedo traídos por una paz que está muy lejos de concretarse, por un vocablo que de tanto repetirse y no verse se ha convertido en un significante prácticamente vacío.

Raúl tiene el ácido úrico y el colesterol elevados, así se lo confirmaron en una de las dos brigadas de salud que hasta el momento han llegado por parte del Estado a la zona veredal de Colinas. Esto es algo que, dado su peso y su edad, pareciera relativamente normal, un mal que no necesariamente viene atado a la guerra. O quizás sí, nunca lo sabremos. Pero Raúl también tiene una llaga redonda sobre una de sus manos, ahuecada en el centro y en carne viva, algo húmeda y supurante. Además, tiene una cicatriz en el brazo con forma y tamaño similares que le quedó desde 1995. Son marcas de leishmaniasis, una cicatrizada y otra abierta, ambas originadas en las selvas donde Raúl ha pasado la mayor parte de estos 30 años con las FARC. Son legados de guerra. Y si la leishmaniasis y las cicatrices que deja la enfermedad son, como varias marcas corporales de Raúl, vestigios de guerra, ¿cómo restaurarle a esos cuerpos su salud? ¿La salud fue algo que se les refundió en la guerra? ¿Cómo se borran esas impresiones, esas formas encarnadas tanto de la violencia como de la ausencia de paz?



La lepra de la selva. La enfermedad de la guerra. La enfermedad de los secuestrados. La enfermedad guerrillera. La enfermedad subversiva. Esa es la impronta con la que ha cargado la leishmaniasis en Colombia, un estigma que ha caído pesadamente sobre guerrilleros y civiles afectados por la enfermedad en el trasegar del conflicto armado.

Unas pocas horas después de haber llegado a Colinas, estaba reunida con varios mandos guerrilleros en el cobertizo ubicado frente a la vivienda temporal –la caleta– de ‘Mauricio Jaramillo’, comandante del Bloque Oriental de las FARC. La leishmaniasis fue ganando espacio en la conversación. Más que cualquier otra cosa, los guerrilleros señalaron al medicamento –al Glucantime– como el eslabón que conecta al conflicto armado y a la leishmaniasis. Se referían al control restrictivo que ejerce el Estado sobre el medicamento, algo que ellos describen como una perversa estrategia antisubversiva. Uno de ellos, Francisco, con 28 años al interior de las FARC, me lo explicó así: “En sí, la enfermedad no tiene ninguna relación con el conflicto armado, la relación con el conflicto armado son las medicinas para curar una enfermedad tropical que padecen militares, padecen campesinos, padecen guerrilleros, todos los habitantes del campo. El involucramiento de la leishmaniasis es ficticio. Es la medicina, es la forma de tratar, que en un conflicto irregular, como el nuestro, como todos los conflictos irregulares, está lleno de trampas, de mañas, de fintas. Y el más tramposo en la guerra de guerrillas es el que lleva la delantera”.

Estábamos conversando sobre el tema cuando mandaron llamar a un muchacho. Tenía un gorro de colores y una camiseta de manga larga rosada, jean y botas de caucho. Venía acompañado por otro muchacho, también muy joven, con botas de caucho, jean y camiseta aguamarina. Le dijeron que me mostrara lo que tenía, apelando a la legitimidad que supuestamente me daba el haber visto cientos de lesiones de leishmaniasis durante mi trabajo de campo. Se quitó el gorro con algo de vergüenza, suavemente se tomó la oreja izquierda con los dedos y la movió un poco hacia adelante. Tenía una lesión enorme y supremamente infectada que ya estaba por perforarle el cartílago. Pensé angustiada que podía perder la oreja y les dije que el muchacho necesitaba medicamentos como fuera, inmediatamente. En San José, según contó, le habían diagnosticado la enfermedad pero no le habían proporcionado el medicamento pues no había disponibilidad. Él no era guerrillero; el guerrillero era el otro, su primo. Los comandantes lo mandaron a que le pidiera Glucantime al personal de salud de la brigada proveniente de San José que estaba ese día en la zona veredal. “Dígales que usted es ayudante de la guerrilla, no guerrillero, pero sin titubear, vaya” –le dijo uno de ellos.

El muchacho, como muchos otros civiles, se había aproximado a las FARC para conseguir ampollas de Glucantime pues, si alguien ha tenido medicamento para la leishmaniasis en este país, es el Ejército o la guerrilla. Los primeros lo obtienen directamente desde el Ministerio de Salud, quien proporciona a las Fuerzas Armadas casi la mitad del Glucantime que compra para abastecer toda la demanda nacional. Y los segundos se surten a través de un mercado negro que trae Glucantime de Venezuela o de Brasil, pero sobre todo gracias a militares corruptos o a amigos de la guerrilla infiltrados en las filas del Ejército, quienes les venden el medicamento a precios exorbitantes.

Pero ahora estamos en tiempos de paz, se supone. Eso significa que es responsabilidad del Estado proporcionarle Glucantime a la guerrilla y que las FARC y los civiles ya no deberían tener que darse mañas para conseguir el medicamento. Sin embargo, al muchacho no le dieron Glucantime en el hospital de San José del Guaviare y a Raúl aún no lo han tratado a pesar de que le tomaron una muestra para confirmar el diagnóstico hace más de 15 días. El Glucantime sigue circulando de forma controlada y restringida, fue algo que no se discutió en La Habana, me dicen los comandantes guerrilleros. “Pero –opina Francisco– estamos en mora de que, a raíz del proceso, se levante el veto que hay contra la medicina que cura la leishmaniasis, ya sin conflicto no debería estar restringida”. Los demás comandantes asienten y un silencio aciago queda suspendido en el aire.

Dos cajitas maltrechas y empolvadas de Glucantime, una con 5 y la otra con 3 ampollas de medicamento, es todo lo que queda en la enfermería de las FARC en Colinas. Ambas provienen de Venezuela, fueron producidas en enero de 2013 y están a menos de un año de vencerse. Como todo el Glucantime que se produce en el mundo, estas ampollas fueron manufacturadas en Suzano, Brasil, pero su recorrido desde la planta de producción de Sanofi-Aventis hasta Colinas –pasando por Venezuela– fue, de seguro, una enrevesada travesía. Alexandra, la guerrillera que lidera el manejo de la enfermería, no sabe cómo llegaron, solo sabe que cuando se necesita Glucantime “los camaradas lo consiguen y la droga llega”. Quizás venía sobre el lomo de una mula solitaria que en medio de la noche camina por entre la selva de forma mecánica, pues ya conoce de memoria el camino hacia algún campamento guerrillero. O quizás las ampollas viajaron escondidas en medio de unos colchones y lograron pasar desapercibidas ante los ojos de la Policía y el Ejército. O quizás los policías y los soldados se hicieron los de la vista gorda, pues también –como el Glucantime– estaban comprados.

“Esas son de las buenas”, me dice Alexandra. “No como las ampollas que nos llegaban en una época, cuando estaban pasando facilito y se conseguían baratas”. Nunca se las han vendido a un precio cercano a los $2.400 que el Estado paga por cada una de ellas. Pero en ese momento sí llegaron a pagar $10.000 por ampolla, es decir, $2000 por debajo del precio que los militares corruptos habían estandarizado. “Uno compraba quinientas, ochocientas ampollas, fácil”, me contaba Francisco, “hasta que nos pillamos que lo que nos estaba llegando no era Glucantime, sino que los militares tenían montada una fábrica ficticia y nos estaban era vendiendo pura solución salina”. Ampollas de solución salina a $10.000 el frasquito.

La mala maña. El engaño. El más tramposo llevó por un rato la delantera. En muchos otros momentos la guerrilla fue más tramposa y ganó por ratos la partida. Como cuando el Ejército dio a parar en un lugar donde el que se metía salía con leishmaniasis, un área altamente endémica. A sabiendas de esto, las FARC los hicieron aferrarse al terreno y lograron que, durante el mes que estuvieron allí, la tropa fuera disminuyéndose poco a poco por cuenta de la leishmaniasis. Los helicópteros bajaban y se llevaban uno a uno los soldados enfermos hasta lograr su completa retirada, sin necesidad de disparar un solo tiro.



La leishmaniasis a veces se cura sola, se “auto-resuelve” como dicen los científicos. Pero esto solo pasa si las condiciones lo permiten: si la persona tiene un sistema inmune fuerte, si está bien alimentada, si el parásito es de un tipo y no de otro, si está en un ambiente frío; en otras palabras, si el cuerpo tiene con qué hacerlo. Y como la leishmaniasis, la guerra solo se resuelve si se dan o se crean las condiciones para sanar. Dada la complejidad de la enfermedad y la diversidad enorme que involucra –diversidad de parásitos, de moscas, de nichos, de ciclos, de manifestaciones clínicas–, pensar en desarrollar un medicamento que mate al parásito o una vacuna parece ser una tarea interminable, siempre incompleta, iterativamente problemática. Pero si se le ayuda al cuerpo a que él mismo sane, a que cierre las lesiones y cicatricen las llagas, puede que su restauración sea más duradera y que la erupción de nuevas úlceras y otros legados de guerra sea más improbable. Es en ese pensar con la leishmaniasis, con las potencialidades del cuerpo para entender la enfermedad y auto-restaurarse, que podemos quizás imaginar cómo comenzar a sanar. El parásito y las moscas, como la violencia y el conflicto, siempre estarán ahí; su presencia, como su capacidad de enfermar y lacerar no se desvanecerá, no podemos hacerlos ir. Pero podemos darle al cuerpo unas condiciones para restaurarse.

De mañas y fintas se ha hecho este conflicto, un conflicto irregular por el que Colombia irónicamente atraviesa, de forma regular, desde hace más de 50 años. La balanza ha solido inclinarse hacia el bando que mejor haya usado la trampa, aquel que haya logrado sacarle el mejor partido a una situación, el que haya sido más hábil timando al otro. En un conflicto irregular, como bien me lo decían algunos oficiales del Ejército, aplicar los derechos humanos, en la práctica, se trata de seguir usando las mismas técnicas sucias de guerra, pero revistiéndolas con un lenguaje aséptico, uno lleno de tecnicismos. En un conflicto irregular da igual si bloquear la circulación de víveres o medicamentos es considerado un crimen de guerra, pues justamente así es como se obtienen réditos militares, mermando la salud del otro, sea contrincante o compatriota. No hay forma limpia de hacer la guerra, mucho menos una guerra irregular. En esta guerra, que ha celebrado por encima de todo la cultura del fraude y el embeleco, nadie sale ileso, nadie sale limpio, todos salimos engañados, marcados, con cicatrices, llagas y pústulas.

En ese juego de la trampa, la trampa se volvió el juego mismo, la forma en la que aquí hacemos las cosas, independientemente de lo pactado o de lo firmado. Pareciera que la paz se ha quedado empantanada en ese engaño fangoso y purulento que hemos cultivado violentamente por medio siglo. A ratos pareciera como si en vez de empezar a cuidar las llagas para ayudarlas a que cicatricen les estuviésemos echando sal para que ardan ¿Y cómo se restaura eso? Los cuerpos de aquellos que cicatrizan por sí mismos la leishmaniasis, porque tienen cómo hacerlo, porque tienen con qué hacerlo, pueden quizás darnos algunas luces al respecto. Pero la clave está en que seamos capaces de brindarles a todos y a cada uno de nosotros las condiciones para poderlo hacer, para poder sanar y, sobretodo, para no salir timados en el intento.

Supriya Ryan, more experiments from grad school

Supriya Ryan is Graduate student in Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, at Simon Fraser University located on unceded Coast Salish territories. She is currently enrolled in SA 875: Graduate Seminar in Ethnographic Methodologies, taught by Prof. Dara Culhane. In the following three pieces, Supriya explores various writing styles and techniques inspired by assignments from ‘A Different Kind Of Ethnography: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies’, edited by Denielle Elliott and Dara Culhane.

[From CIE blog moderator: Supriya sent us beautifully formatted experiments but our platform is limited in formatting.]

Assignment 5: Interview/Conversation Project Poem

The civil rights movement, women’s movement, trans movement, queer movement, Indigenous sovereignty movements and working class and labour movements, all contributed something new to a changing socio-political landscape and the upheaval of American society during the 60’s and 70’s.

My focus is the women’s movement. More specifically, when I began working in the non-profit sector in my early twenties, I learned that Women Centres (distinct from women’s shelters) operated from a feminist perspective and maintained that women have the right to equal access of society’s resources, fairness in the administration of justice and safety and security of their person.  One of the first women’s centres – Vancouver Status of Women – was established in 1972 with an aim to improve the social, economic and political status of women, to advocate self-determination in all aspects of their lives and freedom from all forms of discrimination.  By 2003, there were 37 women’s centres across BC supporting women with issues ranging from financial independence, health, housing, navigating legal systems and intimate partner violence.  As this network grew, so too did the fast-burning wildfires of neoliberalism. Spreading across the welfare state, neoliberal policies eventually turned the radical endeavors of 60’s and 70’s movements, to ashes. Finally, in 2004 the provincial government cut 100% core funding to all 37 women centres in BC, saving the government $1.2M annually.  This poem is a fictional account of the struggle to establish and legitimize the presence of women’s centres, their subsequent mass closure and the vacancy of left behind.

Battle of the Big Guns: The Campaign Toward Building Safe Spaces

Taking down the Master’s House using the Master’s Words

She was drop-dead gorgeous with a killer smile and dynamite legs, but never learned to take a hit.  He told her to roll with the punches, until finally, knocked-up and broken-hearted, she left the son of a gun and hit the road in the dead of night.

Weary, at the end of her rope, a thousand sisters appeared, fired-up and ready to rally the troops.  We were ‘vanguards of peace’, we told ourselves, and came to the table, guns blazing, armed with bullet-point facts, cutting-edge tactics and ruthless cutthroat competitiveness. We would tear down stereotypes and myths, demand all-women’s spaces – many spaces.  Our argument packed a punch and we nailed it and women’s spaces across the province sprung up like weeds.

We spent the next three decades biting the bullet, working tirelessly under the gun, with backbreaking hours to meet arbitrary deadlines, we spent more time surviving funding crises than supporting her.  What kind of workforce labours just to keep its head above water? We are drowning in paperwork. What did we think was going to happen?  That we could ride shotgun down the beaten path to freedom?

Then they came back screaming bloody murder.  They said we were just ‘shootin’ the breeze’, killing time and that we were loose cannons, shooting off our mouths, not being pushovers but picking our battles carefully and they wanted it under controlPush came to shove and the dollar won.  Even though they were already making a killing and getting away with murder – cheating the system with financial loopholes and tax cuts.  They were still not getting enough bang for their buck. Unless our bodies (or spaces) were exceptionally exploitable, we were deadweight.

So – what now?  What do we shoot for now?  What’s our next big break?  No joke – because there’s no punchline – we are smack in the middle of incorporation or erasure and much of our initiatives are dead in the water.   Did we shoot ourselves in the foot by demanding in the first place?  Maybe we should have funded it all ourselves, this could have softened the blow.  But how do we talk about safe spaces …now that we are homeless?


Assignment 3: Ethnographic Haiku

ethnography of an escalator

we are assigned one

platform to travel only



an awkward human

means of adjusting

one’s elevation


sharp steel teeth

glide us fluidly along

cycling folding stairs


assorted scents of

cold metal flesh and human

mechanics linger


brief glances exchanged,

humanity recognizes

itself and parts ways


a glass escalator

will indeed distort the course

of your brief journey


do not let the last

step throw you, anticipate

your disembarking


Assignment 2: ‘Noticing’ Photo Journal

“Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge.  A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary “.

– Anzaldua, Borderlands

 I took these photos with my iPhone 6 and edited, cropped and added filters to them using the Camera+ app on my phone. I chose to focus on capturing images of fences and gates—the arbitrary borders of separating and dividing spaces. I used black and white compositions to represent the dichotomy between open/public spaces and closed/private spaces.

I went for walks, drove around and explored new neighbourhoods, and on occasion, took a couple pictures when something stood out to me on my routine journeys around the city. I am struck by how much city space is relegated for private use. I found myself taking pictures quickly even in “public” spaces as to not look suspicious. I am not sure what would be suspicious, but I felt noticed as I snapped random photos of locked gates and unwelcoming fences.

Places I captured images from include Gastown; my high school baseball field in North Burnaby; a field near Ashcroft, BC which was spared by the recent wildfire; the Main Street overpass; a Ferry to Bowen Island; and a lookout at Lonsdale Quay park.

The questions that riddled my mind include a curiosity about how we separate our spaces and who gets to decide these divisions? It is hard to say whether any of these gates/fences are to keep certain people in or to keep others out.  Perhaps a combination of both.  My mind also considers whose hands made these stairs, dug up the soil, poured the concrete, secured the rails, or carefully positioned the stones or bricks? Who built the borders cutting through these otherwise open spaces? And what is the relationship between those who built the structures and those who access the private/public spaces?

I think of the land – and what it says about being poked and prodded into human order. I think of the concrete poured over breathing soil, and spikes stabbed into landskin, choking and scraping the surfaces of a presumed inert earth

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Excerpt from the poem ‘What They Did Yesterday Afternoon’ by Warshan Shire

After reading the article, ‘Culture on the Ground’, (Ingold, 2004), I reflected over the photos I had taken, and one photo is distinctively different than the others. For it is through feet I allow the energy of the earth to rise through my body. The only place I could be barefoot and thus, it is my favorite of these images.  I suppose it may be because the rest of the photos are all in urban spaces. Instead, this image is the only one that captures a wide, open country and includes a thin prickly band of metal and wood as a reminder that someone, somewhere is still calculating the ownership of vast landscapes.

Still, I felt soft earth below my feet and the soft tickle of fresh grass between my toes.  Plus, this image is beautiful to me, except for the subtle threat of violence is more visceral than in the other photographs I captured.  No one seems to be around for miles, yet the barbwire here looks sharp and hostile.  If I did hop this fence for whatever reason, would it really be necessary to physically harm me?  It did not even look like it was protecting anything, no buildings or animals, just a thin line of metal threatening violence should I choose to enter a section of grassy land on a small hill in the Chilcotin valley.  I leave confused and curious but with the vibrant feel of earth under my self.  I drove home barefoot that evening.

Another graduate student experiment from Tanya Boyanova, SFU

Tanya Boyanova, is a student in SA 875: Ethnographic Methodologies: Graduate Seminar, taught by Dara Culhane. This assignment invited students to write a poem about preparing to begin an “Interview/Conversation” assignment.


“…the antropoeta …





… attending with PATIENCE and CARE”

… she knows “MEANING… is waiting TO BE FOUND.”

(Rosaldo, 2014, p. 107)




How do I find the person

who speaks in a foreign tongue

the language of images close to the heart,

the language of images close to the soul.

The language, the language,


The mother tongue.

How do I find the person

who speaks in a foreign language the mother tongue?



Rosaldo, Renato (2014)  “Notes on Poetry and Ethnography,” in The Day of Shelly’s Death: the poetry and ethnography of grief.”  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, pp. 101 – 113.



CONVERSATIONS WITH UNUSUAL SUSPECTS: Pacifico, Rapisarda, and Elliott By Lindsey Freeman


By Lindsey Freeman

Simone Rapisarda in conversation with Denielle Elliott after viewing Rapisarda’s film The Creation of Meaning (2014). Sponsored by Centre for Imaginative Ethnography and the Institute for Performance Studies at Simon Fraser University. The conversation took place in downtown Vancouver on September 21, 2017.


The Film

We are tossed in the Apuan Alps in Italy. Our guide through this world is a shepherd called Pacifico. We follow him in his color block shorts, which look like a kite on the taut strings of his legs. He is Ariadne’s thread in human form. We follow him through memories, radio reports of political and economic decline under Berlusconi, past ghosts and goats, and the Gothic line. We eavesdrop as he talks to a German. We take a shower with him. We save the donkey’s share with him.

We are tossed in the Apuan Alps, or is it the Aleph that we know from Borges’ story? In the story the Aleph is kind of like Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, but amplified—not multiple spaces opening in a space, but all spaces opening all at once—a hyper-heterotopia. In The Creation of Meaning, we are in a more localized Aleph-like place; we are in situ, in the mountains, and also the realm of memory—majestic memory, the memory of everything in that place. In the film, the Tuscan Alps open up and and time unfolds, coughing up fossils from World War II, the bones of suicides, the traces of European hikers, and the increasing presence of wealthy Germans hungry for land. Our guide through this world is called Pacifico.

The Conversation

We step onto an elliptical or into ellipses, everything already in motion. Our guide is an experimental ethnographer called Elliott. The spirit of Lauren Berlant is there too on a thought-machine nearby; we can feel her, even if we cannot see her. Avery Gordon is conjured briefly, and we think of her lifting heavy things, lightly, in a corner of the conversation—making the ghostly matter. I mention Susan Lepselter’s The Resonance of Unseen Things, because it seems to rhyme with the ways in which those of us in the room are thinking separately, together.

As the conversation continues I begin to think more about ellipses, but I come to the conclusion that for thinking about mountain places, they are too flat, just in a little line like this …

Rapisarda and Elliott make me want for new punctuation, to write and to think with, maybe something like this ^^^^^. Maybe these marks can represent the continuation of the mountains (Pacifico’s Alps, my Appalachians, Banff where I began this review, and Burnaby where I finish it). Maybe a new punctuation, along with new ways of writing and making film, like Elliott and Culhane’s A Different Kind of Ethnography and Rapisarda’s The Creation of Meaning can get us to experiences of synesthesia, a more sensuous way of storytelling. This is why conversations like this are so important to remind us of the pleasures of thinking, feeling, and talking with, about, and around places saturated with meaning.


Berlant, Lauren. In Artforum, 30 January 2014, https://www.artforum.com/words/id=45109

Borges, Jorge Louis. “The Aleph.” The Aleph and Other Stories. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane. A Different Kind of Ethnography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité October, 1984.

Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997

Lepselter, Susan. The Resonance of Unseen Things. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016.


More graduate student projects from A Different Kind of Ethnography

This week on the CIE blog we have a second installation from SFU graduate students using the CIE collection, A Different Kind of Ethnography, in student experiments:

LINYING HU is a PhD student in Anthropology at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University. She is currently enrolled in SA 875 Ethnographic Methodologies: Graduate Seminar, taught by Dara Culhane. Here is her blog post assignment drawing from:

Boudreault-Fournier, Alex (2016) “Recording and Editing,” in Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane, Eds. A DIFFERENT KIND OF ETHNOGRAPHY: IMAGINATIVE PRACTICES AND CREATIVE METHODOLOGIES. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 69-89, Exercise: Soundwalk.


Rosaldo, Renate (2014) “Notes on Poetry and Ethnography,” in THE DAY OF SHELLEY’S DEATH: the poetry and ethnography of grief,” Durham NC: Duke University Press, pp. 101-113

A Soundwalk on Dunbar Neighbourhood

Time, in an unexpected way, has extended its isthmus between life and myself. Twenty years of forgetfulness were required before I could establish communion with my earlier experience, which I had sought the world over without understanding its significance or appreciating its essence.

——-Claude Levi-Strauss

When I was a child, I had a pair of quick ears. I heard wind blowing leaves, leaves falling on the ground; I heard crickets singing in bushes, fishes bubbling up in the water; I heard blossoms dropping on the river, the river meandering to the far away; I heard the moon rising from the back of the village, the mouses chatting under my bed; I heard my grandma staggering her bound feet to the window, and the candle she was holding dancing in the wind.

When I grew up, my ears become dulled. Car running on the road, engines roaring, crowd noising, music deafening, I wish I don’t have ears. Generally, but eventually, I forgot I have a pair of ears.

This is a warm afternoon in late summer. I went through the noises of Dunbar Street, walked on the alleys, where I heard the wooden door crunching. I stood still, listened to my neighbour fixing his fence, the stockings of a hammer echoing through the quietness. Two blocks away, someone is cutting grass in the backyard. A helicopter is buzzing a field. A dog is barking. A basketball is bouncing merrily. I heard children running, chasing, playing around the playground. I listened crows calling the sunset on the top of the woods. I hold my breath, listened the wind blowing the soft, beautiful melody of the guitar through the park.

I am delighted. My ears are waking up….

My Google Earth Project on soundwalk is as below:


PS: I gave my son, Shenru Hu, credit for helping with creating the PPT and hyperlink. Due to some technical problems, the display is probably slightly different from the original version.


Entrapped (I)

As a bioethicist, I had been working on psychiatric ethical issues in China since 2010. To observe the process of families sending women with suspected mental disorders for involuntary hospitalization, I conducted a survey and interviewed some patients in three women’s wards within a leading psychiatric hospital in Beijing during July to December 2012. After six months’ intimate interaction, observation and communication with patients, I was greatly struck by the predicaments of women with mental disorders. The project finished three years ago, but some scenes have been hanging over my mind. I do not think I get ready to write them out yet. But ethnographic poetry “may offer a new possibility for knowing and representing the world in a way that is not only more lyrical, but also more affective in the way that emotions can be portrayed and evoked.” (Culhane & Elliott, 28) Here I am telling you the story of a woman, who was diagnosed with bipolar. Patient does not have her name in the hospital. She is called her beds’ number. The woman is # 403.


An aging woman sits alone by desk,

motionless, watching the sky go

from light to dark.


She has a filial son and

a well-behaved daughter-in-law.

They give her new clothes and cotton socks,

but she never bothers to take a look.


Her room was full of trash,

plastic sheets, shoe boxes, wooden boards, and

hundreds of dirty glass bottles.

Her son once said, this place makes him choke,

she shouted at him and asked him

to never come back.


She would have never gone out to eat, she said,

the food was poisoned. Do not fool me with a honeyed word.

She likes taking medication

more than any food in the world.


She has a filial son and

A well-behaved daughter-in-law.

They sent her to the white ward,

cleaned up her room, and

sold it out.


She sits alone by the desk,


Why the house did not catch on fire yet,

that is the right ending I can accept.

Entrapped (II)


I consulted my diary of August 16, 2012, which briefly recorded a woman’s depiction of how her only son and her daughter-in-law hoaxed her and sent her to a psychiatric institution. She is # 403 in my last blog.

Due to the long-stand lack of legal basis for the protection of patient rights and the lack of criteria and procedures for involuntary admission, the standard practice in China’s psychiatric institutions is that the signature of her family member is the warrant for the involuntary hospitalization of a suspected mental disorder patient.  And only the person who sent the alleged mental disorder patient for admission has the legal authority to submit the application for discharge. Even the new national mental health law, which took effect on May 1, 2013,  does not change this situation.


Stepping out the taxi,

You find yourself in the front of

a gray building. Black characters on whiteboard

shinning, your eyes are stabbed with pain.


“You offer me a lunch at a restaurant,” you ask your son,

“Why do you take me to this place?”

He gives an oblique look to his new wife, and

said, “I get nostalgic, mother, cannot sleep day and night.

Please accompany me to the doctor.”


The lobby is crowded,

like flies buzzing around.

Sad faces are everywhere.

You are led as a blind, turning



and right.

Stairs are steep, corridors are long.

You are thinking to escape, but

your legs feel desperately weak.


Your son gets in an office.

Through the filthy door curtain,

you see he is talking to a white coat, while

pointing out.

White coat nods.

Two nurses come your way.

They both are young, good look, smiling at you,

“Auntie, please get in! We can give you a tour. ” (1)


You are trembling, trudging,

with ashen face, feeling like a fish

on a chopping board.

You know

you cannot flee away any longer.





(1)   In China’s society, it is a polite way for young people to call the females of the last generation, who are younger than their mothers, auntie, even though they do not have any family relations.


graduate student experiments

This week on the blog – graduate student experiments inspired by a Different Kind of Ethnography!

Tanya Boyanova is a PhD student in the School for Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., Canada. She is currently enrolled in SA 875: Graduate Seminar in Ethnographic Methodologies, taught by Dara Culhane. For this class, Tanya is completing some assignments set out in A DIFFERENT KIND OF ETHNOGRAPHY: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies, edited by Denielle Elliott and Dara Culhane.


Friday, 29 September 2017

Assignment 2: “Soundwalk”, in

Boudreault-Fournier, Alexandrine (2016) “Recording and Editing,” in Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane Eds. A DIFFERENT KIND OF ETHNOGRAPHY: IMAGINATIVE PRACTICES AND CREATIVE METHODOLOGIES. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Pp. 69-89

please see my video here.

This has been video-recorded at Mountain View Cemetery in East Vancouver, the original sound has been kept. One can hear the water drops hitting the ground, as well the construction noise in the background of a new house being build on one of the side-streets bordering the cemetery. I can also hear some birds and the sound of the dog sniffing the wet grass, also the wind brushing the microphone. I experienced the concept of how a video recording can act as a catalyst (Boudreault-Fournier 2016:71) in my research. Objects in the frame, movements, light, sounds created associations and relationships that otherwise would have not occurred to me, and aided my understanding, pushed further inquiry. When I started taking the video, the only thing that I could think of was to be very still, then I thought I should show some more context. Quite honestly, Chara’s presence (the dog) in the background is a complete accident, but a beautiful one. She performs strikingly as she draws your attention to the graves in the background of the action (the action being the dripping of the water). The video ends with the viewer’s attention being drawn back to the “drops of time”. Complete beginners luck…


Monday, 9 October 2017

Assignment 3: Write an Ethnographic Haiku, (38) in

Elliott, Denielle (2016) “Writing”, in in Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane Eds. A DIFFERENT KIND OF ETHNOGRAPHY: IMAGINATIVE PRACTICES AND CREATIVE METHODOLOGIES. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Pp. 23-44


Haiku and more…

bare feet on warm ground

wet dog, glistening black eyes

sunset in cherry tree

falling leaves, graveyard,

drip, drip, dripping water tap,

low sunray in droplet

tic tac toe!

die and in a square you go

black crows, white seagulls, too

in a kitty-corner showdown,


but… without you





We invite contributions in all languages!

Please join us in this work in progress and in building the CIE. We invite contributions in all languages. Become a member. Tell us about your work. Share your commentaries, insights, questions, interventions, and suggestions. Send us notices about events and publications for posting on our Facebook page. Peruse our pedagogy section and share your own syllabi and ideas about teaching in multiple venues, and/or offer your experiences as a student. Propose new CIE activities.


Joignez-vous à nous et contribuez au développement du CIE. Nous invitons des contributions dans toutes les langues. Devenez membre. Parlez-nous de votre travail. Partagez vos commentaires, idées, questions, interventions et suggestions. Envoyez-nous des avis sur les événements à venir et les publications en cours pour afficher sur notre page Facebook. Visitez notre section “pédagogie” et partagez vos plans de cours et idées sur l’enseignement dans des lieux divers et / ou offrez vos expériences en tant qu’étudiant. Proposer de nouvelles activités CIE.


Dołącz do naszego projektu budowania CIE. Zapraszamy do udziału we wszystkich językach. Zostań członkiem. Powiedz nam o swojej pracy. Podziel się komentarzami, spostrzeżeniami, pytaniami, interwencjami i sugestiami. Wysyłaj nam powiadomienia o wydarzeniach i publikacjach do umieszczenia na naszej stronie Facebook. Przejrzyj naszą sekcję pedagogiki i podziel się własnymi konspektami i pomysłami na temat nauczania w różnych kontekstach, lub zaoferuj swoje doświadczenia jako student. Zaproponuj nowe działania CIE.


Partecipa al nostro progetto! Diventa socio del centro: parlaci del tuo lavoro e della tua ricerca. Condividi con noi le tue domande, riflessioni, idee, commenti e suggerimenti. Proponi una collaborazione. Mandaci articoli, immagini e video per il nostro sito. Segnalaci progetti, eventi e dibattiti – pubblicheremo queste informazioni sulla nostra pagina Facebook. Puoi contribuire al nostro sito in varie lingue, tra cui l’italiano.


Werde Mitglied, und lass uns wissen woran Du arbeitest! Teile deine Ideen, Kommentare, Fragen, Interventionen und Anregungen. Sende uns Ankündigungen von Veröffentlichungen, Events, die wir auch auf unserer Facebook Seite teilen können. Wir laden dich ein, unsere Lehrpläne durchzusehen, und deine eigenen Lehrpläne und Ideen zum Lehren sowie Erfahrungen als StudentIn mit anderen teilen. Weiters kannst du auch neue CIE Aktivitäten präsentieren. 


Haz parte de este trabajo en curso y participa en la construcción del CIE. Contribuciones en cualquier idioma son bienvenidas. Conviértete en miembro del CIE. Cuéntanos sobre tu trabajo. Comparte tus comentarios, ideas, preguntas, intervenciones y sugerencias. Envíanos anuncios sobre eventos y publicaciones para divulgarlas a través de nuestra página de Facebook. Revisa nuestra sección sobre pedagogía y comparte programas de cursos que hayas desarrollado, ideas sobre enseñanza en múltiples ámbitos y/o experiencias como estudiante. Proponer nuevas actividades para el CIE.