In the role of an anthropologist, I have to be many things at once: a researcher, a translator, a psychologist, a confidant, most often an actor and listener. There are also many characteristics that come to my mind: educated, interested, structured, prepared AND spontaneous and God, Allah, Buddha, Ram or whoever knows. But most of all, as an outstanding anthropologist that people tell me to be, I have to be one thing: unbiased.
Relativism, or a little bit more precise, cultural-relativism is the master tool of an anthropologist. Due to the very delicate history of our discipline it is appropriate to look at the lives of other people from the perspective of their culture. Anthropologists should not project their subjective values on others, but try to understand them and bring their actions into line with what we know about their culture. That is time- and energy-consuming.
I do not want to be an anthropologist every second. Sometimes I want to be me. I want to be Nils, the carefree, cheeky boy from a Wester-German family. And Nils is straightforward, he can be rough, spiteful and insulting. At times he is arrogant and contemptuous in his words, but also helpful and trusty. He bets on the underdogs, helps the weak and is impulsive and unpredictable. He ist not an anthropologist by nature, but an actor.I doubt that there is any true relativist by heart. And if there is, I’d probably call him or her a bad human being. A human is a social being, a zoon politicon (Nils can also be a know-it-all, as his mum will always remind him) and in an ideal case, he or she has a good idea about good and evil. A good human being has ethics and moral. And if he or she is even willing to fight for these, the better he or she is as a human being. If he or she even shares my own opinion, it’s best (remember the arrogance part?).
I am a good actor, I play the anthropologist with a lot of joy and hopefully success. But sometimes this mask becomes too tight, it starts to pinch, especially at my oversized nose. If you add hunger and tiredness, I will rip it off. I do not want that to happen in a cultural space, which has not a lot of experience with west-german straightforwardness and I also do not want to disrupt that amazingly friendly hospitality that people show towards me. But it is hard.
When people are treated so unfair, that I cannot even imagine how it feels like (which also happens in our countries), when I do not understand why some work is not done just because some neighbour came to the house and wanted to have a chit-chat, when people won't leave me alone but try to pamper me, then sometimes a little devil in a very German uniform sits on my shoulder and tells me about everything that is going wrong in this country and how it could be improved. Then a little relativist dies in me and out of his ashes raises another anthropologist. He is wearing a tropical helmet, maybe even a monocle. He is always smiling, aware of the misery in this poor area and he feels superior.
In these moments, I have to be careful to not do or say things, I don't mean or things that I will regret later, because I am not in any position to criticise culture. It happened before, I do not want to repeat it. So sometimes, I have to write things away, call friends, talk all the shit off in my own language, use as many swearwords as I could and even say things that I do not mean at all. It is good to know there are people who understand you. And sometimes, I is even enough to shoot some selfies with little dark-skinned children. Then I can laugh (mostly about myself), I calm down, and the real Nils sees that the world over here is beautiful as well. He grabs his anthropology mask and continues working.