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New York City

New York City

(p.52) 6 New York City
The Power of the Between
University of Chicago Press

This chapter details the author's visits to New York City in the 1990s, meeting with Nigeriens in central Harlem. The visits reinforced his connection to West Africa and West African culture. After more than one year some of the West African traders began to call him the anasaara alfaggah, the white cleric, a reference to the writing capacity of Muslim priests. In West Africa, literate clerics write letters for clients. During many visits to New York, the author would often perform this service. Being an anasaara alfaggah on 125th Street in central Harlem changed his anthropological assumptions about doing fieldwork. For starters, he had to rethink the intellectual context of his work, realizing that he could understand little about the lives of Nigeriens if he lacked at least a partial understanding of the global forces that propelled them to emigrate from West Africa. He also realized that he would have to study the economic and social context—the transnational informal economy of New York City—to grasp how conditions of the New York street set the texture of their social and cultural lives in North America.

Keywords:   anthropologists, West Africa, West African culture, clerics, Nigeriens, fieldwork

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