Jatin Dua and Sanne Ravensbergen
Love in the time of the coronavirus
by Sue Maguire
From the February, 2021 issue
It's hard to keep up with Jatin Dua. Polite and upbeat, he first showed up in Ann Arbor in 2014 as an assistant professor of anthropology at the U-M. Before that, he spent his childhood in India and California, completed his undergraduate degree at Reed College in Oregon, studied law in Cairo, did research in London and East Africa, and got his PhD at Duke before coming to Ann Arbor. He teaches classes on piracy, history, anthropology, and anthropology of law.
In 2016 Dua took a residential fellowship at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in order to have time to write a book on maritime piracies in Somalia and the Indian Ocean. Netherlands native Sanne Ravensbergen was finishing her dissertation there on criminal law in Indonesia under Dutch rule. A specialist in Dutch colonialism, she was looking at the colonial regime's 'multiethnic courts, which included Dutch presidents, Javanese judges, and Islamic and Chinese advisors.
Ravensbergen was also interested in the many different legal traditions governing maritime conflicts in countries bordering the Indian Ocean. So in 2016, she and a University of Leiden colleague organized a conference of scholars working on issues dealing with law in the Indian Ocean region. It drew attendees from the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and at some point, Ravensbergen's colleague suggested inviting their visiting American scholar to chair the panel in which Ravensbergen was a presenter.
Something came up, and Dua had to switch with another chairperson--but not before reading Ravensbergen's paper and letting her know that he had comments.
"That has never changed," Ravensbergen laughs. "He is still commenting!" Their professional interaction led to a personal one, and then to three years of back-and-forth visits between Leiden and Ann Arbor.
The book Dua was researching at Leiden, Captured at Sea: Piracy and Protection in the Indian Ocean, was published in 2019. Ravensbergen, meanwhile, continued her postdoctoral research at Leiden. Last March, she stopped in Ann Arbor for what was supposed
to be another short visit before she attended an Asian studies conference in Boston.
A few days after Ravensbergen arrived, the conference was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. With borders closing and international flights halted, she was stuck here.
Dua and Ravensbergen had been trying to decide for years where to settle. Now, pinned down together, they figured the time and place had come. They bought a little bungalow with a cheerful front yard of flowers in the Ardmoor Gardens neighborhood--but, as Ravensbergen points out, not until after ruling out a Dutch Colonial first.
The home inspection in May came just one day after a backyard wedding presided over by a friend who had quickly managed to get ordained online. A Zoom reception followed just one day after that. It never would have occurred to them to hold an online reception if not for Covid, but now they happily remember all the tiny Zoom screens showing friends from around the world.
Their home is within walking and bicycling distance to shops, downtown, and Central Campus, where Dua taught social theory to first-year PhD students last fall. Overcoming earlier challenges of grad student strikes and restricted travel of international students (see Inside Ann Arbor, p. 11), the class finally settled into an online mode.
His goal became one of achieving cohesiveness among the students, and he was happy that they were able to work together online--often using Zoom breakout rooms. He believes that the experience of being physically distanced motivated them more than they might otherwise have been to reach out and connect with one another. He expects the winter semester to be more predictable and easier on everyone.
Despite the Detroit INS offices being closed for two months, Ravensbergen managed to get her work employment authorization document. It was a "big moment," she says. She had to quit her research position at the University of Leiden while waiting for it, but now has that position back and will finish her postdoc work from Ann Arbor while awaiting her green card.
Currently a visiting scholar in U-M's history department, Ravensbergen hopes to continue to work in the U.S. after getting her green card. And she and Dua are both happy that the universe decided to pin them down together.
[Originally published in February, 2021.]
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