My Summer 2016 Internship in Amman

As I am writing this blog, I have been in Amman, Jordan for about five weeks. I arrived with many expectations, like most new anthropologists entering their first field work experience. With this in mind, I consider how much I’ve accomplished (and how much I’ve adapted as well!) since I have been here, not just in terms of my work for my internship but in other aspects of my life in Amman as well.


View from my apartment in Jabal al-Weibdeh

The organization I am interning for is My.Kali Magazine. This is an LGBT magazine based in Amman that focuses on topics such as gay films, fashion tips, and embarrassing dating stories. Reading and editing many of these articles has provided me with a window into cultural similarities and differences between the LBGT community in the US (broadly speaking) and in Amman. Believe it or not, there are many similarities.

Right now I am working on three articles that will be published in My.Kali’s upcoming issues. One article is going to discuss gay women and pornography. Specifically, why do gay women prefer gay men porn to gay women porn? Another will be about a cross-cultural comparison of common terms and phrases used in the LGBT community, sort of like an LGBT dictionary. For example, what is a postmodern lesbian or a twink? The latter article will focus on short reviews of books and articles on sexuality in the Middle East that would be of interest to readers.

While my day to day internship activities may not be routine and maybe even be unconventional to some, I’ve managed to engage in a lot of social work that will end up helping me in my thesis research next summer in Amman. Most of my duties are online where I work from home or from a café. However, I do go out often with people at My.Kali which I believe is all part of the internship as well! Doing this internship in Amman is not just about fulfilling a certain number of hours a week, but also about adapting and participating in new cultural activities as well, which can be difficult at first!

Considering this, I’ve made a lot of great connections since I have been here, many thanks to the people I know from My.Kali. This will aid greatly with my research next summer—I’ve met so many people in the LGBT community here! Perhaps more than I ever have in the US.  As I said, socialization has been a primary activity for most of my stay here so far. With this socialization in a new culture comes the partaking of eating food, which is a central activity here, as well as drinking tea, Nescafe, Arabic coffee, orange juice, and rosemary water. Aside from eating, drinking, and practicing Arabic as part of my daily social activities, I have also taken a few trips to other parts of Jordan. I’ve been (along with some friends here) to the Dead Sea, Irbid, and the Roman Theatre. Soon I plan on going to Petra, and Wadi Rum. Of course there are more activities to come!

Caitlin 4

Many different dishes! From left to right (then down): hummus, falafel, ful, kunafa, shawarma, dolma, maqlooba, mansaf.


Caitlin 5

At the Dead Sea with a mud mask

Caitlin Ostrowski

Cultural Anthropology MA student


In the Animal Archives: A Trip to London

20150602_104045 SPANA’s offices in Bloomsbury, central London

In June I traveled to London for 10 days to conduct archival research for my project on human-animal relationships in Jordan. One of the main animal welfare organizations working in Jordan, SPANA, or the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad, is in fact a British-based NGO, founded in 1923 and active in Jordan since 1986. During my time in Amman last year, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork with SPANA and other animal welfare and wildlife conservation groups; my trip to SPANA’s headquarters in London was designed to provide a broader historical context to the work of SPANA and to understand shifts in their messages, goals, and methods over the past century.

Founded in 1923 by a mother and daughter team, Kate and Nina Hosali, after witnessing what Kate described as “a vast sea of neglected animal suffering” during a trip to North Africa, SPANA (at that time, the Society for the Protection of Animals in North Africa) was one of the earliest organizations promoting European-style animal welfare, veterinary care, and protective legislation in the Arab world. Though it was the French who controlled the territories in the areas where SPANA initially worked (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria), SPANA staff maintained close ties to London, worked in cooperation with French officials, and managed to quickly grow through donations from British supporters. A large part of their success was due to strategic marketing campaigns, including brochures in English, French, and Arabic; positive press on the radio and in newspapers; and animal welfare ‘exhibitions’ mounted in North Africa and England, designed to showcase the work of SPANA and the need for animal protection.

20150601_164405 A 1929 SPANA fundraising advertisement. Thanks to SPANA for permission to use images of these materials.


Part of SPANA’s early success was due to their constant advertising of their work, and their insistence on the urgency and scale of the need to help animals. This photo, from the 1950s, shows staff advertising the work of SPANA at an event in Tunisia.

In London, poring over SPANA’s archival materials – boxes of photos, reports, and scrapbooks – I kept a close eye out for examples of early educational documents used by SPANA staff in North Africa. In Jordan, I studied how NGOs, including SPANA, communicate ideals of animal protection, welfare, and conservation to the general public – how, for instance, empathy for animals is taught to schoolchildren, or how the importance of particular veterinary care is conveyed to rural villagers – and how these ideals are connected to models of human morality and welfare. Interestingly, I found that, ahead of their time, the Hosalis termed SPANA’s early educational work “humane education” – a kind of holistic approach to both animal and human welfare that, almost a century later, has grown into a thriving international movement. Early SPANA staff saw the education of local populations as an integral part of their work. But what exactly did this entail? What kinds of methods did they use to change local perceptions of animals? Which practices were deemed cruel, and why? And how did SPANA’s work throughout the region influence Arab-colonial relationships?


A SPANA story illustrating the value of being kind to animals: after Ardil rescues a cat, the cat reciprocates by capturing a snake in Ardil’s home.


Leaflets from the 1950s show a moral reasoning for being kind to animals.

These are all questions I am still attempting to answer, but the archival material in London yielded some interesting clues. Much like it continues to do, SPANA in the early days mounted campaigns directed at both the prevention of animal cruelty and the correction of what were perceived as bad animal husbandry practices. Brochures, booklets, and educational ‘cards’ were distributed to local schoolteachers to teach children models of animal kindness, and posters and plaques were hung in marketplaces and foundouks, or stables where animals were kept during market days. Many of these early messages focused on the value of domestic animals, and their positive contributions to humans. For instance, two brochures told the story of a boy named Ardil who, after rescuing a dog and a cat, was rewarded by the dog by catching a burglar and by the cat by catching a snake in the house. Other educational leaflets paired images of humans and animals with short Arabic captions like “Be kind to your donkey, as you perform pilgrimage (haj) on him” and “The dog is a friendly animal; be kind to him and God will be kind to you.” These moral entreaties were designed to persuade people towards animal protection: being kind to animals may reap reward. They also demonstrate the argument that animals are useful and productive, and therefore deserving of kindness. The use of religion in these materials was also an interesting find, as all animal-based NGOs I worked with in Jordan regularly use Islam to construct these kinds of moral arguments for improved treatment of animals.

Dr. Kate McClellan

Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology


Similar Pressures, Different Places: A Preliminary Visit to “the Island” of Puerto Rico

From May 11th to May 16th, I had the pleasure of conducting a preliminary visit to Puerto Rico as part of an International Research Working Group that was funded by Mississippi State’s International Institute in the spring of 2015. I traveled to Puerto Rico with Dr. Brian Counterman (Biological Sciences) and Dr. Francisco Vilella (Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture). The intent of the working group and this trip is to establish and amplify the existing research and teaching collaborations between the University of Puerto Rico and Mississippi State. More specifically, the working group intends to develop a study abroad course in Puerto Rico next academic year, as well as researcher and student exchange programs in the near future. Both programs will focus on the “science and culture of protected areas in Mississippi and Puerto Rico.” This report will provide a glimpse into what we did on this brief trip.

This was my first trip to “the Island” as Puerto Ricans call it; a deliberate semantic move that separates Puerto Rico as a politically, economically, and culturally distinct place from the “the main land” (the United States). My first reaction to Puerto Rico, especially San Juan where we spent our first few days, was that of being in some sort of liminal space; neither here nor there. It was obvious to me that this was Latin America; things were in Spanish, the flora and fauna were neotropical (albeit limited due to its island ecology), colors were somehow more vibrant, the architecture was that unique blend of Spanish colonial and modernist concrete block, and the music and food were most definitely more aligned with my past travels in Mexico and Central America. On the other hand, the layer of U.S. territorial and cultural colonization laid blatantly on the surface; the economy runs on the U.S. dollar, cars are predominantly from U.S. manufacturers, road signs follow most of the U.S. patterns (albeit in Spanish), and there are all the familiar federal institutions that were involved in the governance of natural resources and protected areas. I was glad we were able to escape the “bubble” of San Juan and get into the countryside where a deeper layer, one that is more distinctly Latin American, was on display. Yet, the oddity of the last vestiges of colonial structures, and the liminality it bestows on the economy, politics, people, and culture was something that stuck with me.

My second reaction was a bit of frustration due to having trouble communicating! I wasn’t prepared for people to struggle to understand my Spanish. Clearly the years I have been living and working in Costa Rica affected the way I speak, which threw many of our interlocutors in Puerto Rico for a loop. As well, I was underprepared for the whole series of new vocabulary words I encountered—from food to car components—that are just different. It reminded me of this funny Youtube video, “Que dificil es hablar el Español”, which explains the myriad dialects and semantic shifts that occur within the wonderful Spanish language :)!

First impressions aside, there was important work to be done. Thanks to Dr. Vilella, who is Puerto Rican and has worked on wildlife conservation and endangered species projects there for over 30 years, our agenda was full of meetings and visits to important protected areas, projects, and organizations. Again, the end goal was to get a sense of how we could best develop a basic structure for a cultural/biological protected areas course for next year. That said, our first day in the field we went and visited with a civil society organization (Centro Para la Conservación del Paisaje) that is working with local communities on the outskirts of El Yunque national forest, the Island’s crown jewel of forest conservation and a place that is incredibly important biologically, culturally and historically. The meeting was immensely informative and there are a myriad of ways that socio-cultural anthropology students could help them in their mission to conserve biodiversity and provide livelihood sustainability to local communities, both in the buffer zone of El Yunque and connecting to newly developed conservation corridors on the northeast corner of the island. Later in the day we visited Humacao Nature Reserve, which is a former sugar and coconut plantation that is being restored back to its former wetland and coastal forest.

Humacao humedal Humacao Nature Reserve

humacao vista al mar Humacao Nature Reserve

There are excellent lessons here regarding restoration ecology, alternative economic development, and community organization. Day two saw us visit the actual El Yunque forest where we met with folks from the International Institute for Tropical Forestry at their “La Sabana” station.

la savana el Yunque “La Sabana” station

We also had the pleasure of meeting with Pedro Rios, the Ecosystem Management Team and Forest Planner for the Forest Service there, who was very excited about our course and potential projects. Day three was an inspirational visit to the civil society organization named “Casa Pueblo.” It is hard to sum up what Casa Pueblo is, but simply put it is an environmental/social movement that has been fighting hard to create sustainable, empowering, and alternative approaches to livelihoods in the Adjuntas region of the island. We visited their headquarters and their “Bosque Escuela” (Forest School), which were both incredibly inspirational and will make excellent visits for our students.

casa pueblo Casa Pueblo Headquarters

bosque escuela Bosque Escuela

Students will be able to see an organization that is taking a total approach to changing minds, hearts, and outcomes whether it be via outdoor teaching, sustainable community coffee, or organizing against threats to the people and environment of Puerto Rico. At the end of the day we changed our home base to the western city of Mayaguez, which was much less “Americanized” and felt a whole lot more like Latin America.

mayaguez Mayaguez

Day four saw us visiting the Maricao National Forest Reserve, Guánica National Forest and Cabo Rojo. Maricao is another example of an excellently conserved highland forest, albeit with very different environmental, flora, fauna, and community conditions from those at El Yunque. Guánica is a tropical dry forest with an attached marine reserve, which provides a great example of connecting healthy coastal ecosystems to healthy forest ecosystems! Finally, we ended our day with an almost sunset visit to the southwest tip of the island, Cabo Rojo, which is the home of not only an important estuarine ecosystem for migratory birds, but is also the home of the island’s still-maintained artisanal salt extraction.

Guanica Forest Guánica National Forest

cabo rojo Cabo Rojo

In the end, the groundwork was laid for what promises to be an excellent student experience for next year. We are very much looking forward to developing this class and to getting back into the field there next year in May/June. In addition, it became abundantly clear that, just like Mississippi, conservation is facing a number of social, economic, and ecological pressures that need applied anthropological and biological science work. We are fairly certain that we will be able to develop collaborative research with the organizations and agencies that we met. They are often short on funds and expertise that could be supplied by our students and faculty.

So, it was a short trip, but one that was incredibly productive and that leaves me with a desire to return so that we can get to know more about the place and its people!! As they say in Puerto Rico… ¡Chévere! (Cool!)

– Dr. David Hoffman

Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology


Building Bridges by Bringing it Back: A Final Note on Our 2014 Field Season in Costa Rica

Greetings from Northern Minnesota where I will be spending the rest of the summer months getting some much needed rest and relaxation (as well as catching up on writing that I need to get done!).

In this post, I am going to offer some thoughts and reflections regarding our trip to Costa Rica that began on May 23rd and finished on June 8th. Our (myself and my MA students Jessy Arends and Sallie Dehler) mission during this two-week trip together was to present preliminary results from our prior research trips back to the communities, organizations, and individuals that contributed to our data collection or would have interest in the findings we are developing.

Before I discuss this trip and what we were up to, it’s important to briefly review the theoretical and applied anthropological goals of this National Science Foundation-funded project. In a nutshell, the project is aimed at understanding the movements and motivations of Costa Rican migrants to the 10 kilometer buffer zones of three Costa Rican national parks: Arenal, Carara, and Barra Honda. In the past two summer field seasons we used cognitive anthropological methods, also referred to as cultural consensus modeling, to elicit and test whether there is shared cultural knowledge (a model) among migrants to these zones. As well, we employed more traditional interview and survey methodologies to gather data regarding migrants’ backgrounds and opinions about the environmental and economic conditions in their prior and current communities. The project was developed as a response to several publications that used global-level data to demonstrate that populations in park buffer zones are growing at higher levels than in comparable rural areas, likely due to internal migration. Thus, the project is relevant to the continued anthropological conversation regarding the social, cultural, environmental and landscape impacts of creating parks and protected areas. As well, our work can be applied to the theoretical and practical discussions regarding the ways to manage protected areas in ways that both protect biodiversity and improve the relationship between parks and local human populations via conservation-based development (i.e. ecotourism).

With this in mind we had three main groups with whom we wanted to share our findings: the national park administrators, local government offices, and conservation organizations. Another main goal of our trip was to return and share our data with individuals that expressed particular interest in our project during our prior research trips. I was proud of our efforts to contact these folks in our very short time in each community. In all I gave six formal presentations: one at each of the national parks, two Asociaciónes de Desarrollo (Development Associations, the most local level of Costa Rican governance), and a formal presentation at the University of Costa Rica in the city of San José. Forty-two people showed up to our presentation at the University and they peppered me with over 30 minutes of questions at the end!! My favorite was, “Based on what you’ve learned in this project, what would you do to improve things between communities and parks if you were the director of the Ministry of the Environment?” That, was not an easy question to answer!! We also delivered printed formal reports to two municipalities and five other development associations. Finally, we visited with a number of individuals to both deliver the formal report and maintain our friendships (see our prior post by Sallie Dehler regarding the community of Abanico in the buffer zone of Arenal National Park for a good example of such an interaction).

Image  David Presenting at the University of Costa Rica

While we were very successful at contacting folks and sharing our data, we could always do better, and this is one of the main lessons from this year’s field season. While it is not surprising to anyone that has worked in rural places in Latin America (and elsewhere), contacting and planning presentations from the U.S. was difficult to accomplish, so we had to leave much of our planning to the last minute when we were actually in the communities. Of course, with such short notice, many people and organizations were occupied, which then limited our ability to provide formal presentations and deliver reports. So, while we were certainly able to present to people, more lead time and better communication on our part would have provided more chances. In particular, the municipalities where we dropped off our preliminary reports would have loved a presentation, but needed formal notification to fit us into their weekly meetings. The lesson learned is to do more of the lead work (finding contacts within the organizations) to establish better connections for planning purposes. As applied anthropologists, we are obliged to share our data back to the people whom we study, and we learned a number of lessons about how to do this in a more effective manner in the future.

While we could have done more, we were very happy with the receptions we had at all the formal presentations and with the other organizations we contacted. The park administrators all thanked us for providing an essential service for them, and they were all very interested in continuing to find ways to not only understand the communities around them (something they have very little time and money to do), but to also engage them in ways that are mutually productive. They were also quite excited about the GIS-based website that our partners as the University of Costa Rica’s Observatorio de Desarrollo (Development Observatory) put together (to check it out go here: The municipalities and development associations were also very attentive and interested in our results. They showed keen interest in the ways our data can help them to manage their communities’ growth in the future. Finally, it was incredible to appear “out of the vapors” for many of our informants to show them what our collective data had to say. It was not only fun to discuss our work, it was so nice to visit with people that taught us so much. A personal highlight for me was a visit with Don Mariano and Doña Norma in the buffer of Barra Honda. We caught up on recent events in our lives and, as always, they showed us around their property and shared the bounty of their lovely rural plot.

Image David and Don Mariano, Barra Honda National Park Buffer Zone

Lastly, I wanted to share an observation that will likely be no surprise to those that have worked in rural development, but one that was reinforced during our time in the field this past few weeks. One thing that was surprising during our presentation at Barra Honda was–despite the fact that Barra Honda has the smallest number, most distant, and poorest communities in its buffer zone–there were more community members present at their presentation than at either of the other, more developed, parks. This, as became obvious during a later conversation with one of the assistant park directors that we gave a ride back to town, is due to her efforts in involving the communities in the park. Her hard work to develop a positive relationship with the communities meant that she not only contacted them to let them know we were coming, but that they also showed up. She even said that if transportation were better organized, even more community members would have shown!! So, again, the relationship between parks and communities is something that is fostered, developed, and grown, and it is often the work of committed individuals that makes it happen.

Image David presenting at Barra Honda National Park

So, in the end, we had a very productive, fun, and educational trip. It was a VERY different sort of fieldwork than any of us had conducted before, but it was one that left all of us feeling proud and excited about continuing to develop our relationships between Costa Rican parks and their surrounding communities. It was very fulfilling to be able to have a “broche de oro” (golden pin) for our project. I think that Sallie and Jessy were able to learn a lot about bringing information back to communities and organizations. As well, it was a nice way for our research team to reflect on the collective adventure we’ve been on for the last two years, and we even got to fit in a bit of exercise and fun in the parks!

Image Jessy and Sallie at the Overlook/ Mirador at Barra Honda National Park

Image David, Sallie and Jessy at the Barra Honda Mirador

We hope everyone else in the AMEC family is having a productive summer and that Costa Rica continues its success in the World Cup (it is only their second time to the round of 16)!!!! ¡Apoyamos la Sele, vamos Costa Rica!

See everyone back at the Cobb at the end of July!

David Hoffman
Assistant Professor



Arenal: “A” is for Applied Anthropology

Our journey continued on to Arenal National Park, a park famous for its perfectly conical volcano that reminds me of the pointy mountains that I used to draw as a child. It’s located northwest of San Jose, and is one of Costa Rica’s most frequently visited tourism destinations. Activities around the area include natural hot springs, zip-lining, horseback tours, and hiking.
We started our mornings by visiting the small towns that we did our interviews in last summer. While La Fortuna is the tourism hub of the area, census data gathered from the University of Costa Rica’s Development Observatory showed that the “hotspots” of recent population growth were in these smaller, more distant towns, where the majority of residents worked in agriculture or commuted towards the park for work in tourism. These are the places that tourists never see. One of our more interesting sites in Arenal was a small town called Abanico. This quiet “pueblito” of about 200 residents changed dramatically in 2009, when the Costa Rican government made plans with Habitat for Humanity to relocate refugees from the Cinchona earthquake. People who were displaced from the Caldera highway construction were also included in the housing development. In total, 58 houses were built, and the population of the town tripled almost overnight. However, Habitat and government planners did not take into account crucial factors like access to work and transportation services. Limited and seasonal agricultural jobs in the area, combined with an inadequate bus system to take people elsewhere, left residents with little agency to make successful lives for themselves in Abanico. The government has been largely unresponsive to their concerns. As a result, at least half of the houses are deserted, and the people who remain are understandably frustrated and despondent at times over the situation.

Image View of Arenal Volcano from La Fortuna

So, what role could anthropology play here? In David’s international development class last semester, we spent a long time critiquing development projects and understanding why they fail. Abanico is an unfortunate example of what can happen when planners rely too much on a one-size-fits-all development model and then don’t stick around long enough to see the project through. While Habitat accomplished the obvious goal of building houses, they failed miserably at fostering a healthy, viable community. People always ask me what I could possibly do with a degree in anthropology, and this is exactly where we fit in! First of all, we know how to talk with people and build trust and relationships within a community. Our methodology is all about observation and attention to what is happening on the ground, while also considering the important social, political, and historical factors that influence how people live their lives. Anthropologists also know that:
1. Every project is different and requires its own unique considerations. Development plans must take a holistic look at a situation and figure out the most contextually appropriate method to achieve its goals.
2. The desires, needs, and concerns of the community must be prioritized, and their participation must be integral to every stage of the development process.
3. Successful projects require an investment of time, not just money.
The remaining residents of Abanico face challenging circumstances, but we met some wonderful families there while doing fieldwork last summer. It was great to be able to return and see them again on this trip.

Image 2013

Image 2014 (Side note: the little boy is missing from this year’s picture due to a frijole (bean) in the ear incident. Whoops!)

The rest of our time in Arenal seemed to fly by. David did a bang-up job presenting to La Fortuna’s asociacion de desarrollo and to Arenal’s park officials. We even managed to fit another waterfall hike in there.



We hope that everyone is having a great, productive summer, and we’re looking forward to hearing about your adventures too!

Sallie Dehler
Graduate Student


Better Together in Costa Rica

¡Hola desde Costa Rica! Hello from Costa Rica! We (Dr. David Hoffman and MA students Sallie Dehler, and Jessy Arends) are keeping busy with presentations and sweating out the toxins built up from stress of the semester in humid Costa Rica. The team is here presenting the preliminary analyses we performed on data that we collected last summer. The data we are presenting is part of David’s NSF grant that investigates human migration to the borders and three national parks in Costa Rica. This blog entry will detail what the team was up to in their first park destination, Carara National Park.

Carara National Park is located along the central pacific coast near tourism centers known for coastal recreational activities (such as surfing and scuba diving). The park itself is most frequently visited by birders looking for the scarlet macaw (interesting fact: the scarlet macaw mates for life and eats almonds) that is abundant in the area. This project worked within communities in the 10 kilometer buffer zone of Carara National Park that had demonstrated a statistically significant increase in population due to in-migration of Costa Ricans from other parts of the country. The communities around Carara National Park included parts of Orotina and Quebrado Ganado. Orotina is known as an agricultural and commercial hub while Quebrado Ganado is a destination for migrants who want to access coastal development and the tourism employment opportunities.

We began our work at this park by contacting informants who had participated in the interviews that were conducted last summer. While we couldn’t reach all of them (there were 41 across the buffer zone) the ones we did come into contact with were happy to see our preliminary results on paper and we were happy to see them again! It is very rewarding to visit old friends and contacts. Another big part of this trip is presenting our preliminary results in a more formal setting back to the development associations of the communities and to the park officials. We were able to drop off a copy of our preliminary data report to the mayor of Orotina and briefly chatted with the vice-mayor about potential collaboration and presentations in the future. David did a great job presenting to the development association of Quebrado Ganado and to the park officials at Carara National Park! Jessy and Sallie’s courtesy laughs played an integral part by lightening the mood! The presentation at the park was briefly interrupted by a surprise guest appearance; a park official had wrangled a gigantic boa constrictor from the nearby town we were staying in and had brought it by the presentation in a doggie carrier. We were shocked and terrified but thrilled to see such a magnificent creature of the wild. The presentations were a hit; the communities and the park were pleased with the results and eager to utilize them in improving upon policies and projects relating to community development and relations.

David presenting for Carara National Park Officials

David presenting for Carara National Park Officials

The boa constrictor

The boa constrictor

While the team has certainly been working hard this trip, the pressure of collecting massive amounts of data is off, and they’ve been able to balance work with some fun! We went to an amazing, expansive beach one afternoon and today completed a grueling and steep waterfall hike. We are enjoying our last fieldwork trip together and have come to the conclusion that everything is better, together. We hope you are having an awesome summer and we will check back in when we are finished with our work at our next park destination, Arenal National Park.

Sallie and David in front of Carara National Park Office

Sallie and David in front of Carara National Park Office

As they say here, pura vida mae!

Jessy Arends

Graduate Student