Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm (more or less) firmly back under my hat, but just barely -- at times ...

Had no idea what it would mean to have to deal with the less disciplined part of myself (the artist), but maybe it was for just this reason that she remained buried for so long.  I'm daydreaming and fantasizing, and "what-iffing" for long periods of time, except for those times when my work -- which is so compelling -- intervenes.  That's when all of my "Bettys" come to full attention, and my mission takes precedence.

... as on a recent day when members of the ROHO (Regional Oral History Office) of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley brought a small delegation from the United Arab Emirates to visit the park and a bus tour with me as interpreter.  Aisha Bilkhair, Ph.D., Director of Research & Knowledge Services, headed the group.  When I learned that it is Dr. Bilkhair's responsibility to re-create and document the history of her young country through the capturing of oral histories of those still living, I felt the current of new excitement.  I learned that she and her assistants travel to Berkeley to work with the ROHO staff, and that this was one of those purposeful trips.

I recognized this as precisely the task before us in recapturing the history of the Home Front years 1941-1945 of WWII, a period only now being documented and recorded through the work we're engaged in, in collaboration with the Bancroft Library and its staff of researchers and historians.

I felt a surge of pride and a deep sense of the privilege we're being given by the National Park Service, and a new appreciation for the responsibility this demands to be accurate and honest and to imbue the work with authenticity -- a fading resource available to us mainly through the still-living veterans of the great home front mobilization of WWII.

... the fact that this Muslim woman from the Middle East has been given this important mission to accomplish at a time when the impression in the West is that women would not be chosen for such an important work was a revelation to me.  That a woman of color at such an advanced age in the West -- would be working for a federal agency in a position such as mine was undoubtedly as surprising to her.

We do live in a time of collapsing stereotypes, do we not?

Meanwhile, I'm working hard to climb back into my box, but each day I discover ribbons, sparkles, and confetti spilling out as I find myself humming under my breath ... re-imaging that road not taken ... but maybe this, too, shall pass ... .  (a gig at some upscale oasis in Dubai might not be too shabby, right?)

Note:  Aisha Bilkhair Khalifa, Ph.D., a Fulbright Post-Doctorate Fellow at Harvard University (2005–2006) holds degrees in Filmmaking, Electronic Engineering, and Ethnic Studies and a doctorate in Arab Gulf studies. Her main research interest is the African diaspora in the Gulf region. Specific areas include spirit possession, women, youth, and the transformation of identity. Recent publications include “Spirit possession and its practices in the United Arab Emirates” and “Secrecy and the circulation of knowledge among Gulf African Musical Groups”. 

Oh what I wouldn't have given for a leisurely evening probing the mind of this amazing scholar from faraway exotic lands!  My work allows me to touch lives with oh so many fascinating scholars from an increasing number of other cultures.  My options at this stage in life seem limitless.

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