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 set off with my husband to live with the Baining, an isolated people in Papua New Guinea. He was a graduate student in anthropology; I was an aspiring writer. Many people warned us against this trip, pointing to the stresses of the rugged mountain terrain, our own isolation, and the mystery of the Baining, about whom little was known. But just two years out of college, we were too young to take anyone's advice. We felt thrilled by the challenge.

We stayed for sixteen months--slogging through mud, battling huge insects, arguing with each other. But we never felt we understood the very different culture of our enigmatic hosts. Back home, I put away my journals; my husband left the field of anthropology. We viewed the trip as a fiasco. Yet this powerful experience stayed with us; it had never come to a close. Decades later, we knew we had to return to the people who had changed their lives.

My memoir, Lost Among the Baining looks back with wry humor on this journey to the bush. Writing at a distance, I could laugh at our youthful innocence, appreciate the Baining who took care of us--and welcomed us back, and comprehend the limits of knowing another culture.

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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