Surreal moments in the field

Posted on April 14, 2011


Sometimes I have really surreal moments in the field where I think to myself “Is this really happening?”  That feeling is usually a good sign that something awesomely anthropological is going on.  As an example, during my latest trip to the field I discovered that one of the families in Integrationville had newly purchased a television.

You may recall that Integrationville doesn’t have electricity yet.  Instead they buy a car battery and power the TV off of that.  They aren’t the first family to buy a television, there are at least 4 in town.  Some are operated by battery and some by generator.  This particular family lives in a small adobe house with a tin roof – the walls are stabilized by thin tree trunks and branches and packed with mud and dried plant matter.  It felt strange to watch TV against that backdrop:

TV in a small adobe house

I stopped by just to say ‘hi’, but soon realized that the girl talking to me was really eager to finish talking to me and get back to the house.  I asked if something was going on: “we bought a TV!”.  I asked if I could join them: “yes!”.  So I followed her into the house and was surprised to see at least 25 people crowded into the tiny 25 square metre house.  At least half of them were under the age of 12, and the only adults were 3 women (2 of them very young women).  The youngest kids were sitting on the floor and the older people on various pieces of furniture.  A young kid was kicked off a stool so I could sit there right in front of the TV.

There was lots of talking and laughter when I first joined them, but it quickly quieted down as the audience was mesmerized by the happenings on the TV.  And this was the content of the DVD they were watching:

I have never heard of this band before, although I do enjoy a lot of 80s music, and the owners of the DVD couldn’t tell me either, it wasn’t written on the case.  I wrote down some of the lyrics so I could Google them later and figure out the name of the band: Modern Talking.

It took me 2 full minutes to realize that they were singing in English (that’s what happens when you’ve been immersed in another language for months).  I passed on that tidbit of knowledge and started translating some of the lyrics into Spanish.  That got old fast.  And the audience didn’t really seem interested in what the strange foreign men were saying.  I was slightly horrified while watching all the 80s cheese before us and wondering what the other people present were thinking about it all.

The DVD exclusively contained Modern Talking videos.  It started off with their older 80s work, and then after a while switched to 90s remixes of their original songs.  Like this one:

And then I regretted mentioning that they were singing in English, and thereby culturally associating myself with these videos.  I wonder if they think I go to dance parties like this when I’m in my home country.  Dance parties where the girls flash their butt cheeks.  The Nivacle are pretty sexually liberal – a woman who has a lot of lovers isn’t looked down on – so I’m not overly concerned about a clash of cultural values.

And the videos went on.  Some of them with rap lyrics from this Eric Singleton fellow:

I think we were about an hour into music videos at this point, and I excused myself to go visit with nuns.  Which also felt weird, after watching those last videos.

Why, of all the different English language music in the world, would Modern Talking find its way to rural Paraguay?  Globalization works in strange ways.

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