Gail carrying wood in the traditional Baining way

Baining dancers

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Lost Among the Baining: Adventure, Marriage, and Other Fieldwork
A Travel Memoir

In this wry travel memoir, a fiasco of an anthropological field trip leaves the writer and her husband haunted by the Baining of New Guinea, a people who upend Western theories as well as the couple's young lives. Years later, they return to the jungle to make peace with this very different culture and their past.


In the late sixties, I spent sixteen months in New Guinea on a field trip with my husband, who was a graduate student in anthropology at the time. We lived in two remote villages with the Baining people, about whom very little was known. The noted anthropologist, Gregory Bateson, had lived with the Baining in 1928 and considered his trip a "miserable failure." He advised us not to go. But just two years out of college, we were too young to take his advice.

Our trip was a fiasco: we couldn’t make sense of this enigmatic people’s lives. Returning home, we couldn’t make sense of our own lives. And the experience never seemed to lose its hold: we felt we had embarked on a journey that wouldn’t end. In fact, it took decades--and a return to New Guinea--to arrive at an appreciation of the Baining, some compassion for our younger selves, and the humor necessary to write about the experience.

My memoir, Lost Among the Baining: Adventure, Marriage, and Other Fieldwork, looks back--with a good deal of humor--on this journey to the bush. It follows our intense months in the jungle, as we confront huge beetles, slide in mud, argue with each other, and try to understand our hosts, whose very different culture seems to undermine our own. The narrative moves briskly through the years back home, where we struggle to absorb this experience that comes between us and yet binds us together as aliens in our own society. And the story concludes with our return to New Guinea--nearly 40 years later--and our warm reunion with the people who so upended our lives: a redemptive voyage that finally brings our journey to a close.

In this memoir, I've returned to the world of travel I wrote about in reviews for the Christian Science Monitor and in travel essays for the New York Times. In fact, Lost Among the Baining was inspired partly by an essay I wrote for the travel pages of the Times. The essay, like the book, brings a comic eye to the story. But for all its humor, this is a book about culture shock that deals with the profound differences between cultures: the assumptions that we bring, the fears that we have, and the judgments that we make.

Selected Works

Travel Memoir
"Loved this book, which appears to be but is more than an account of an anthropological expedition, more than a travel book, more than a memoir."--Barbara Beckwith, author of What Was I Thinking?: Digging Deeper into Everyday Racism,
"It is undoubtedly the best written account of, and reflection on, fieldwork I have read, and --perhaps -- the best book on fieldwork (period) I have come across. --Joel Savishinsky, Professor of Anthropology (Emeritus), Ithaca College, author of Trail of the Hare.
“An impressively insightful, deftly written, accessibly articulate, expertly knowledgeable, and decidedly analytical survey of…book reviewing today.”
Midwest Book Review
“Captivating stories in an anthology of epistolary fiction from the last 50 years.”

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