Call her a world traveler, call her a juggler, call her a musician or just call her professor. Kathryn Keith has taught anthropology at Pierce College for the past nine years, but her passions for anthropology and life make her more than just an everyday teacher.
Keith’s globetrotting started in Nagasaki, Japan, where she taught English for four years in her early 20s. She didn’t learn much Japanese while she was there, though. Keith was only allowed to speak in English to her student’s, and when she was outside of class the locals wanted to practice their English with her.
Though she didn’t get much culture from the language, or even the food since her favorite place to eat in Nagasaki was an authentic Indian restaurant, Keith took in the culture through the scenery.
“The most memorable thing about Japan was the landscape and the architecture,” Keith said. “It’s very different from here in the U.S.”
In later travels, Keith visited Stonehenge expecting to be amazed by its architecture, but the famous site let her hopes down.
“It was just a big circle of rocks,” Keith said. “It wasn’t nearly as mystical as I thought it would be. It was actually kind of a disappointment.”
In her anthropology career, Keith worked at excavation sites in both Arizona and Turkey. She has many memories from the digs she’s worked on: some good like the time local Turkish women hosted a henna party for Keith and other female anthropologists, and some bad such as the times she encountered snakes and scorpions at dig sites.
What Keith remembers the most though is the history she dug up and the connections she felt to centuries dead people. Beveled rim bowls Keith found at Hacinebi Tepe in southeastern Turkey best illustrate her feelings towards the items she excavated.
“They were hand-made and many have fingerprints on the sides, left by their makers. You can fit your own fingers into the indentations,” Keith said. “It’s impossible to see things like that and not be powerfully aware that you aren’t just digging up stuff; you’re digging up traces of real human beings who lived real human lives long ago. It always gives me a bit of a chill.”
On 9/11, Keith was on a bus from a dig site to Istanbul where she planned to board an airplane and return to the states. Since she was the only American on the bus, as well as the only one who didn’t speak Turkish, she was the only one on the bus full of people that didn’t understand the radio broadcast reporting on the twin towers falling.
“Everyone on the bus turned around to stare at me, which was kind of frightening,” Keith said.
After the twin towers were hit, Keith’s flight home was canceled and she had no other choice than to stay in Istanbul for the couple weeks it took to get a flight back home. Luckily, she had friends living in Istanbul and was able to stay with them. While she waited for a flight, she went shopping and read the only book she had available to her: Harry Potter.
Keith hasn’t flown since 9/11, mainly because of the increase in the amount of security there was in response to the terrorist attack. Today she’s content to teach at Pierce College during the school year and spend the summers helping her parents in Idaho.
Just because Keith’s settled into a life of teaching doesn’t mean her life is any less interesting though. Outside of the classroom she’s a percussionist in the Pierce College band and in her spare time she knits and juggles.
“I first learned how to juggle scarves a little in a PE methods class I took as an undergrad,” Keith said. “It wasn’t until I saw the Flying Karamazov Brothers on cable that I was inspired to get a set of balls and really learn.”
Keith has juggled on and off since her twenties and can now juggle balls or clubs. She says that when she’s practicing her juggling at home, her cat Sir Wads-of-Fur is quick to run and hide.
Students of Keith may recall her wide selection of wigs that she likes wear. Keith explains that sometimes the clothes and wigs she wears are a sort of social experiment, and other times, wearing a wig is easier than doing her hair in the morning. The wig that draws the most stares is her bright blue one, but Keith takes the stares with good humor.
“Some people think that I’m copying Katy Perry, but it’s actually the other way around,” Keith said.
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