Sometimes there are people in your life that give you direction and inspiration. Even more than they ever realize, as it is an inward realization. That happened to me when I was in college. I had a wonderful college professor at the College of Charleston who was that inspiration for me. It was many years ago, but his influence is still alive within me. He was my cultural anthropology professor and while he passed away a few years ago, he is not forgotten. He was internationally renowned for his expertise in the socioeconomic and political affairs of the Caribbean. With me being a very shy student and not having a clue about what I wanted to do in life, his guidance made some things crystal clear.
As a result I grew to love anthropology and ended up having a double major with that being one of them. It was also how I developed my wanderlust. The exposure to different cultures and to a professor who made learning truly an adventure was priceless. I remember after the four years of classes with him, he invited his four students in the senior independent study over for dinner before we all graduated. We had a lovely evening. In addition to words of wisdom for the future, we also got parting gifts. They were gifts that only an anthropologist could give or receive and appreciate.
It has been awhile and I do not recall any gifts that anyone else received. I only recall mine and I still have it. Let me tell you about it. I got a hand carved gourd. Not just any gourd but a gourd that contained the soul of a dead fisherman. That night he told all of us the story of the gourd. This is what he said. My professor had been living with a family in Suriname (that was where he did his research and study) and became a member of the family chewing and spitting betel with the best of them. One of the family who was a fisherman died. Because of the belief in animism in that culture, exorcisms were held whenever someone died to capture their soul.
On a side note, my professor brought in a tape of a possession into class for our Magic, Ritualism and Symbolism class a year or two earlier and played it. It was the most awful thing you would ever want to hear. He said that the shaman held a small bowl of water in his outstretched hand for as long as he could. All the time he was chanting and praying. The soul of the deceased family member would be captured when one drop of the water in the bowl spilled over the side. After 15 minutes of listening to demonic sounds there was a loud yell and silence. He told us that the drop of water had spilled over the side and the soul had been captured. He told us the soul was placed in a gourd for safe keeping in the home.
After living among the people and families in Surinam during his studies he was very well integrated into the families and way of life there. It was close to his departure back to the states when this family member died and since he had become like a brother to this man, the family presented the gourd to him for safekeeping since he was leaving and may not be back. He accepted his friends soul and kept that gourd for about 15 years. He said that he could not ever get rid of the gourd unless he was able to present it to someone else who would understand the meaning and take care of it; thus, it was presented to me as a gift.
The gourd itself has been designed so that the top of the gourd acts as a lid attached with some sort of native twine. Throughout the years whenever I have had to move, the gourd was the first thing packed and traveled with me in the car. It has a permanent location of the highest bookshelf away from the cat. I have never even thought about throwing it away for fear of some strange thing happening with the soul.Thoughout the years strange things have happened with the gourd. As I said earlier, it has a permanent home on a shelf and is never touched. Sometimes when I come home the lid of the gourd is off. I put it back on and a few months later, it may be off again. Kind of eerie.
Well, I was all fired up to go see the world after college. Unfortunately, I did not. I chose to work and ignore the wanderlust. It never went away. It has just been dormant just below the surface ready to erupt. That feeling of wanting to explore the world and meet different people has never left. It is just that I realize, you can’t put things off forever. You must “go with it” sometimes as life is way too short. And in the very near future I may just have the chance to do just that!