Harlow: From the Mound of the People.
Her bags by her side, Harlow Alderman looked at the mix of nature and peace around her. She tugged at her Brown University tank top and pulled her iPod’s earplugs from her ears. Her fellow anthropology students were around her, clutching their luggage, and looking around with the same mixture of buzzing excitement and anticipation. The Sudanese sun was scorching and the rough dirt crunched under her knee-length gladiators. Harlow smiled and mentally joked that the sun was darkening her rich caramel skin.
Traveling abroad had been her stepfather’s idea after he’d recognized her combined joy for anthropology and archeology. She was a double major and had taken multiple ancient studies classes to prepare for this semester in Sudan. Her time would be divided between her anthropological and archeological work, which sounded like Heaven on earth to her. Her eyes took everything in, the sun, the flat, featureless plains, and the lack of people. They had driven to South Sudan, which Harlow knew was the poorer half of Sudan. Through research she had discovered that after the war, the south had become a decrepit and pitiable place.
“Alright people, settle down. We are going to settle into our living arrangements today; tomorrow, we are interacting with the northern officials.” Professor Cole Knightly, an African-American anthropological genius, surveyed his array of students: African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian; males and females; rich and poor, all eager for the same thing: knowledge. The kids before him bounced like silly schoolgirls, not aware of the true reason they were there. Knightly had discovered the hard way that anthropology was sometimes hard to study; you analyzed everything even anguish and sorrow. Of course they understood that they were entering an area where post-war bitterness infested Sudanese minds but they didn’t know that it was their job to analyze this, to poke and prod the hibernating bear. He often said that anthropologist were the worst types of reporters. And were usually liked less.
The students followed Knightly, the twenty-something crowd surrounding him as he talked about the history of Sudan and the war.
They arrived at the house and stared, amazed. The house was run-down and old with rust. Harlow just knew that the front steps weren’t sturdy and she dared not glance at the roof. The windows had lost optical transparence, the door was off its hinges. She turned to Mr. Knightly who wore a smirk around the corner of his lips. Harlow forgot her vanity and walked forward ignoring the chatter behind her. She hopped on the small porch without preamble. Her fellow classmates followed suit. The inside was dark and musty. Dust motes swam around the air and the faint aroma of gunfire was clogging her air tubes. She went to a window and opened it, coughing at the tornado of dust that hit her in the face.
“Be careful, we don’t want any radioactive dust killing us off. I fear that if you are a smoker, you wont be allowed to do it on site because I smell gunpowder everywhere and that could be a disaster.” A couple of students grumbled at the command, but Harlow and a few others were far more interested in surveying their surroundings. Everything was interesting to her—she was a new-born, knowing nothing but curious about everything.
“Curiosity killed the cat Ms. Alderman. Tell me, what do you see?” Mr. Knightly challenged. Harlow took no exception to her stepfather’s comment and immediately began to look around. She wondered at her stepfather’s formal behavior, everyone knew he was her stepfather even if she did prefer to keep her mothers maiden name.
“I see anger sir. Harsh living arrangements made the people here agitated. You can tell from the antsy cuts across the wall. There meticulous straightness suggests a long wait for something.” Harlow ran her fingers across the marks as she spoke and then looked at her father figure and teacher. She was overcome with the sadness in these marks. They were eerily straight and confessed a certain amount of anticipation that usually comes when one fears death.
“Speak you thoughts Harlow.” Mr. Knightly ordered.
“This woman was insane.” She said; her voice was thick with sadness. She’d estimated “woman” by strands of hair too well-tended to be a males. Dust covered the floor everywhere but at a specific spot, a place that was perfect to hold a ladies bottom had she been sitting to keep something between her legs safe. A small child. Her eyes looked around again and she saw telltale signs of agitation in many places. Her eyes shot up the ceiling where a rope lay. Without thinking, she grabbed a nearby chair and poised it under the rope to grab it. As she did, something white flashed down before Harlow let her hand catch it on instinct. When she saw it she almost dropped it. It was a bone, the one that sat at the base of the head. It had likely been embedded in the rope that someone so inconsiderately left for her to find. Her senses were overwhelmed with each her discoveries and she felt rather choked by realizations.
“This was some sort of holding area, or prison area, where people waited to die.” Her eyes marbled to hide the gathering mist. “Or killed themselves first.”
“Find a relation, Ms. Alderman.” He ordered.
Harlow didn’t think, she didn’t need too, “The French Revolution, the Dauphin Louis XVII. The tortured boy.” She had studied this kind of dementia before. She had never seen it though, or felt it as she did now. Death stank around her, heating her face and irritating her skin.
“Very good, Ms. Alderman.” He studied his class now. They had somber expressions and looked around with a good dosage of dread and curiosity. “I am happy to report that this semester you will learn first hand the true job of an anthropologist. You don’t just study human reactions but also the emotions and reasoning’s behind them. Sudan is in its post-war state, and it is your job to strip the Sudanese of their covers and read between their lines. Find the true feelings about the war, analyze post-war actions, and examine the people. They will hate your intrusion, but your dissertation is due by the end of this quarter semester.” He reminded them.
“Mr. Knightly, what if they get mad and start attacking us or something?” A student asked. He shook his head. “I am not liable for you, but I’ll not have you in danger. Do not intentionally provoke the natives, and when provoked, retreat. In some cases a push is necessary, I expect you all to know when you no longer need to push.”
Harlow’s fellow students nodded their agreement. She just fingered the bone in her hand.