Academic precarity and transient intimacies in 28 Tweets.

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A series of brainfarts about the most memorable ten-minute cab ride in the history of forever:

I am an anthropologist at a social media conference, literally half the globe away from where I live.

Hopped into a cab tonight. Made small talk with the driver. He learns I’m an anthropologist on an academic conference and becomes excited.

Dude did his first MA in heritage conservation, and his second MA on museum ethnography. I start to squeal and explode inside.

He studied a Swahili belt of cultures and conservation practices focused on Tanzania. We start to geek out about museums.

He tells me he left his hometown in Ethiopia for Toronto in hopes of better academic work to no avail.

“The market is very hard here. I tried for very long and looked every where but there was nothing open.”

Dude says he eventually gave up looking for academic work because he felt guilt and responsible towards his wife and three children.

We chat a lot about how he misses pursuing his passion but how it was no longer practical. I see how this could be my future.

Dude became a cab driver: “I wanted to do any thing for my family to have a good life, to be responsible to them.” I realize my privilege.

Dude asks about my thesis. We trade stories. He reminisces his research days: “I wrote many papers. In [grad] school I got many As. But…”

We trade mini flash lectures about how indigenous cultures are being studied and archived in our countries.

Dude stops the cab for a while so he can face me to chat. He laments the erosion of ethnic archives & artifacts because it’s a dying trade.

To make up for giving up his dream, he volunteers at the museum as a guide on top of his cab driving.

He tells me guides are bilingual in French and English, but he can only manage in “not so good English” as a non-native.

And then he embarks on a magical spiel about how he enjoys watching museum patrons appreciate artifacts and art.

He has a brother who similarly left Ethiopia for Melbourne in search of better work and living conditions.

And they haven’t met in ages because of the travel distance and time and cost involved. But he hopes to bring his family there one day.

At this point it has only been ten minutes since I got in the cab. We’re at my destination.

Dude volunteers to take me to the museum later in the week but I fly off soon and am unable to. He makes me promise to come back.

He wishes me all the best for my PhD, and hopes I finish and get a job I enjoy.

I feel so much respect for dude, but also a lot of vicarious heartache because he dropped out of this precarious route I’m still attempting.

I tell dude to keep trying, that maybe some thing might come up in the future. He tells me he will try, and that I must too!

I don’t know how to close this magical chance interaction I have with dude. I do the awkward “by the way my name is x” and he reciprocates.

I shake his hand and tell him I’m really glad I met him tonight. He tells me that ethnography is very beautiful. I want to cry inside.

So here I am sitting by the door of my room and serial tweeting this magical encounter.

I can’t stop thinking about our mutual liminal optimism: “When you come back to Toronto, come here into my cab!”

We’re probably never going to see each other again. But I’ll keep this magic in my pocket forever. Transient intimacies indeed. End.

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