I’ve made it a real goal this quarter, in all of it’s all nighter, non-stop homework, Oreo gorging glory, to explore the beautiful corners of Savannah.
This seed was planted on the first weekend of the April when I took an early morning walk with Frances down to the park. We walked the streets that I drive on every single day, but by slowing down and having time to look at the houses and the trees and the people, I saw completely new streets. The small backyards full of antique treasures and tightly wound ivy, the artfully chipped paint on the Victorian homes and the intricate wrought iron that curved it’s way around the church steps all gleamed at me in a knowing light. The notion of noticing all of the undiscovered– or perhaps, discovered, but forgotten charm of the Savannah that isn’t in the tour guide books was then cemented in the equal parts challenging (the good kind of challenging) and frustrating (just good, old frustrating) Urban Ethnography Class that I am taking.
Urban Ethnography is quite the conundrum.
My expectations for this Anthropology class were as follows:
-To take part in an interesting, one time only elective.
-Get to be in an extremely small class with optimum learning and open discussions.
-To take part in some sort of community project.
-To find out what “Urban Ethnography” actually is.
-I am, in fact, taking part in an interesting, one time only elective because I doubt this class will ever be allowed to be offered again.
-It is an extremely small class (started off with 9 students– one kid dropped the class. Thus, there are now 8. Please remember that one of the 8 is me.) Not so much discussion, though.
-And we are taking part in an observation style survery of ethnographic data collection of Water’s Avenue– a notoriously dangerous, troubled and predominantly African American area within the Eastside district of Savannah.
-Still not really knowing what the goal of this quarter is.
-Still not really knowing what the phrase “Urban Ethnography” means.
-Finding relatable ground with the amazing people we’ve been working with while coming into their lives as a white, upper class, college aged, college attending, female.
-Working with a professor who’s passion for her subject is so strong, that it’s impossible not to notice. She and I agree on almost nothing.
-Working in a discussion based, philisophically open ended, exestentialism heavy environment where words like “community” “group” “them” “us” “under-privileged” and “fix” are not allowed.
The really, really cool parts:
-Getting to see a part of Savannah that I was previously afraid of.
-Learning that spending time with people that are intimidating makes them less and less intimidating and before long, they become just people and not intimidating people.
-Community involvement, in most cases, solves actual problems.
-Friendliness is SO not overrated or outdated. Especially when the friendliness is genuine.
-We’ve gotten to spend time with people and hear their stories. Stories about 80 year old women who have lived in Savannah their entire lives. Stories about the evolution of a struggling neighborhood to a thriving community of person to person support and long term goals. Stories about failures and broken promises from a system that has failed them.
-Savannah is a city of beautiful layers and people. This sentiment becomes truer and truer with every new month that I spend here.
With all of the gusto for learning and exploration that I have developed over the past month or two, I have really felt that committing to the exploration of a strong understanding and appreciation of the place is you live is such an important part of ones involvement in a place. And challenging yourself to view the streets of Savannah in way that is different than what I am inclined to see is sometims uncomfortable and challenging, but always rewarding and wonderful. Whether I am talking to the men at the Muffler Center or sneaking my way through the halls of the abandoned Romana Riley School or standing in awe of the beautifully tired homes lining Ott Street, I feel a wonderful sense of presence. Of ownership. Of timing. Of history. Of understanding.