Thursday, December 6, 2007

More on Inequality

Not only is inequality present throughout the world, but it also is present in our own country. The United States is considered one of the wealthiest nations, but nonetheless there is drastic inequality among the people living here. As discussed in lecture, inequality can be studied by individual experience or by a social matrix in anthropology. We all contribute to inequality. Whether we realize it or not, the decisions made by us, people outside of Appalachia have direct impacts the inequality the people of Appalachia experience. Even though it may be unintentional, inequality exists on a large scale, which is a direct result of decisions we make.
For instance, on a basic level, some people in Appalachia are forced to live in geographically unsafe locations because we have chosen to occupy geographically safe locations. This is not meant to imply that you should put yourself at risk and occupy geographically unsafe locations so others do not have to, but the truth of the matter is, that all of our decisions impact those around us, often in unequal ways.

A short clip of some of the geographical scenery.

Not a cloud in the sky

It was in repairing a foundation that had completely decayed as a result of flooding, or repairing rotted walls, or a collapsing roof was when I came to understand the culture and values of Appalachia, in addition to my own culture. The bare minimum structure of a home revealed the complex truth of the situation many of the families were in. Before this point I simply did not understand or even notice how a collapsing home could be valued like it was to the people who owned it. They valued it because they had so many memories there and every morning they could see the sun rise over the mountains before they saw anything else. I came to understand that it is not what we have that is important at all, but the pleasure we are able to find in our surroundings. After a period of time I came to feel that the best parts of my day was the people around me and seeing the leaves of the trees swaying with the breeze. As long as you are getting through the day and finding how to make it fulfilling and satisfying to you, what else matters?
Now that I am no longer in Appalachia, I am distracted from a beautiful blue sky, but I find the same fulfillment and value in other ways. At the end of the day, we are looking for the same thing and we can find this fulfillment and purpose in more ways than one.

Description of Homes

In terms of a general description of the homes I came across while in Appalachia, they were all single storied, usually slightly raised from the ground, they all had front porches which contributes to the social life in Appalachia, and they were often situated at the base a steep, forested incline. One house we worked on, we were repairing the foundation and floor that had rotted due to extensive flooding. Before repair the floor was soft to the touch and even when walking carefully along the joists it you could very easily fall through to the ground. Once we removed the rotted floorboards, rotted joists made of logs were revealed. In the construction world, building a basic foundation is relatively simple, however in our situation the entire house, including the walls and the roof were supported by a foundation that could give way at anytime. Throughout this repair, we had to keep the house supported while replacing what it was supported on.
On another house I worked on, we were repairing a roof that was no longer safe because termites and carpenter ants had invaded. In this instance we always had to be aware of our surroundings and careful not to step where the wood had decayed. In the beginning this was very difficult and we essentially had to make repairs from a ladder because such small portion of the roof could hold our weight. As the project proceeded we could work from the portions we had repaired, however the angle at which we tackled each task was dictated by what part of the roof was strong enough to hold our weight.

Time to let go

My initial encounter and interaction with the Appalachian culture did not leave me in complete shock. In fact, ignoring a few seemingly obvious differences like geographical location and accent variations in language, the culture seemed very much like my own. For example when meeting someone for the first time we smiled and shook hands, and even engaged in light conversation; all of which was familiar. Once we began work on the homes, I did begin to experience some form of culture shock. Aside from the occasional paint job, I have never done work on my home, let alone construction, which I know very little about. When working on the homes in Appalachia though, it was clear to me, someone who is essentially clueless when it comes to construction that these homes were in severe disrepair. Sometimes they were so damaged that it seemed time would be better spent and it would have made more sense to demolish and rebuild.
Just because I happen to think rebuilding would be a better strategy is a null point, not to mention the fact that the residents of these homes need a place to live before, during, and after the repairs. Despite damage or disrepair, these homes were not just homes; they belonged to someone and are valued just as much as anyone values a home. Who am I to determine what is valuable and worth fixing? At this point my understanding of my own culture was not allowing me to understand or relate to the Appalachian culture.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


My experience in Central Appalachia was with a group repairing the home for a family. The family whose home we were repairing interacted with us on this basis. On some occasions we had more interaction with the family than on others. Our interaction however was not necessarily one of total cultural engagement because the family obviously knew what we were there to do and other locals usually could extrapolate what we were there for as well. We were certainly in Appalachia because we wanted to be there, but at the same time we were there because some of the people needed help and we had the resources to help them. The unequal access to resources is a primary example of inequality.
Before traveling to Appalachia, as a group, we addressed the issue that we may come across encounters where inequality is very present. As a group, one of our most important goals was to be sensitive to inequality. Inequality was present in both the social matrix and our individual interactions partly due to the fact that we were directly providing them with resources that they did not have. The families living in the homes we repaired, had to reach out, admit they were in need, and ask for help. Realizing you are in need and then asking for help it is a difficult task. The presence of this inequality may have influenced the cultural encounter, but at the same time since the effects inequality are so prevalent in culture, depending how you look at it, it may also have strengthened the encounter.

Monday, October 29, 2007


One of the most valuable parts of the experience was interacting with the people of Appalachia and encountering their culture. The methodology utilized was an ongoing cultural encounter with the region, but the encounter with the family was mostly limited to the time spent working on their home. In most instances the families would interact with us while we worked on their home and almost always eat lunch with us. On one occasion the father and some of his children helped us make repairs, which allowed for maximum interaction and teamwork. Spending time with the families was always fun. We had the opportunity to make new friends, learn about their values, and way of life.
One family we worked for played horseshoes together every day. As you can probably imagine they were very good. I have essentially no experience playing horseshoes and I had a great time learning how to play the game from experts. Each week the group we were with had a picnic for the volunteers to invite the families to. This family brought their horseshoe set to the picnic and I will never forget the exciting camaraderie we had. Another man’s whose home we repaired was very involved in the competitive cock fighting circuit. I had never heard of cock fighting before, and I learned that it is essentially 2 roosters fighting each other in attempt to kill the other. One afternoon, this man displayed his valued roosters some of which had one him a significant purse. It is unlikely that I would come across similar experiences in other contexts, but they were both mind opening and fulfilling.