Thursday, February 08, 2007

III Conference on Multidisciplinary Environmental Research, Managua

I was to write about my fruitful week in the last post, but of course I changed the subject. Last week I did what I had to do – ha ha, did you think about Sinatra right now?! I did! “I did what I had to do….. I did it my way…”. I have no idea where it came from! It’s so inappropriate to sing New York songs here ;). I did what I had planned – sounds better and free from associations. I went to Managua to participate at the conference I was writing about before. Frankly speaking, I expected a lot while going there. Actually, I was waiting with all my decisions (like for instance choosing a specific place for my fieldwork) until this event. I hoped to talk to people I mailed from home and to get all information needed to start my real work. I can say that this meeting has come up to my expectations. Of course I hoped for a real enlightenment, that all my questions would be answered and that I wouldn’t stand on a desert of the a great unknown any longer. Wishful thinking! It’s like when in bed, we love to think that tomorrow will solve everything for us. It doesn’t happen.

The conference had three parts: geosciences, environmental medicine, and biology and ecology. I was listening both presentations in geology and medicine. Extremely interesting! Both subjects that were raised and the character of a scientific meeting in Nicaragua. It’s so different than in Norway.

The event was inaugurated with a national anthem, something that gave a dignity to the event. And the opening words seemed to go on endlessly. Every member of the organizing committee was welcomed and mentioned by name, academic title, organisations and institutions one belongs to and a post one has. Importance of this courtesy is similar in Poland, I think. The titles don’t mean so much in Norway. At least they are not mentioned so often and for sure use of them is not compulsory like it is in Poland. Where does it come from? Norwegian equality again? (Some words about meaning of det folkelige and how it influences, or may influence Scandinavian academia at

The other difference between the South and the North (generally speaking of course) is the idea of TIME. Yes, we all have read about buses that go when they want, meetings when we have to wait hours for somebody to come just to hear “I came now, because I came now and didn’t come earlier”. When I came to Norway it surprised me, and even drove me crazy at the beginning, that people there have everything planned days, even months in advance. Every meeting has its own schedule and every change is announced, if not – people just get angry. At the conference, seminars and such, you are obligated to speak only 15 minutes if the plan allows only 15 minutes. The moderator gives you an ark which says “3 minutes left!” and so on. The organizers make plans that you demand and as such they require that you obey to their rules. Now I am used to such a play and it works for me. Of course, it can be frustrating in some situations, but generally the Norwegian owns the art of planning.

In Managua I saw the opposite. The plan was to start at 8 A.M. and nobody is there at 8:15 A.M. NOBODY. When I asked one guy if the presentations weren’t to start at 8, he said: “Sí, a las 8, más o menos” (Yes, at 8, more or less) and smiled and added: “Yeah, don’t care, they are going to come”. Well, I wasn’t mad at all, but it was something new. Especially at place like that, under the flag: science for development. Everybody has his own rhythm… Forget “3 minutes” sheet as well! They are talking! And do love it. And people hear, or not, but they don’t get impatient. All in all, I was at home at least 2 hours later than estimated every day. So funny how it all works. Of course, it has disadvantages, like for example: Yey! Let’s make a meeting with a respondent. We are waiting a third day to go with one guy to his mother who owns a farm and wants to show us how to process sugar cane. Well, I know that he really wants to show us this, but “today is not the day”. At one point I’ll get used to this.

The presentations were incredible interesting. Especially those in medicine. A lot staff about water contamination with lead and mercury, about methanol intoxication and respiratory problems. And most of them concerned Nicaragua, which meant a huge flow of new and essential information for me. Every presentations was followed by a discussion that almost always ended with talk about politics, the new government and changes in policy that are essential to improve the health condition for the people. Representatives for the Ministry of Health was talking a little bit about some projects they are conducting (like education at the country side about health hazards connected to using pesticides), but right away they were criticized for not being sufficient. What I observed was that presentations from Sweden (the conference was organized in cooperation with Lund University) were more “society friendly”. I mean that they presented not only results from their research, but also suggestions for how to apply this knowledge into society. They were talking about communication with people, about easy solutions, about first and small steps that can be done to improve the situation. They weren’t neither afraid to say that “You guys are responsible for all this!” while talking about pollution for example. They didn’t mince their words while talking about Nicaraguan policy. It was really obvious that they have much more experience with working with people (who are not experts) than the Nicaraguans and that they know that closed meetings are not enough. Of course, the Nicaraguan researchers are aware of this also, but I had an impression that they don’t know exactly what has to be done in practice to make a difference.

I can say that I made my first observation. I have (not much, but some) material from this experts meeting. And I did my first interview! 40 minutes! It was pretty strange, because we discussed some issues in a break between presentations and suddenly I had 40 minutes recording. And everything in Spanish so I didn’t talk too much, my questions wasn’t sophisticated at all, but I am still satisfied and happy that I found the courage to approach those people and talk to them (I still fight with this). I also talked with a lady from the Ministry of Health and some geology students which are working on improving communication between the experts and local people on the Ometepe Island that suffers from the Concepción volcano. I am going to Managua next week to meet them and maybe I could participate at one of the evacuation that is planned this year.

All in all, last week was really great. I am a little bit nervous about not having decided a place to go yet. I really don’t know. Have some options and hopefully next week will bring me enlightenment! :) I’m finishing my school Friday and I want to spend next week in the capital finding “my way”! :)

Personal/methodological implications/questions: How to say our hosts that we are moving?!

Labels: ,