Sunday, April 29, 2007

Pros and cons

I miss jazz, but I felt in love with baseball :)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Village fieldwork?

I wrote in the last post that I am doing ”village fieldwork”. It’s not exactly that. The place isn’t what we can easily call for the village, and my study is not what we can call “classic/traditional fieldwork”.

The place

People themselves while talking about this place don’t use a term “village” neither. One of the habitants tell me: “We are not a village like you can see other places. There is one house here, one house there. I don’t know how to call it (…) They say comarca (region) or just comunidad (community), but I don’t know (…) No, we’re not living together like this [when I explained how the most villages look like (or what is MY image of them)]. It’s because of the mountains…”. And this pattern of settlement is surely common in other mountainous regions.
I don’t know if I’ll use the real name of the region in my thesis or I’ll keep it anonymous so for now I’ll call it ambitiously for X :). At the same time I am publishing pictures from this area so I don’t know if it stays anonymous anymore :). Luckily (for me) the area influenced by the gases of Masaya is pretty big and it’s doesn’t matter actually where I took pictures (they are also from places where I don’t have informants) as long as I don’t write what has happened in this or that household and I don’t present any important information.

The whole region is about 7 kilometres from the nearest town and is situated more than 800 metres above the sea level. X consists of about 40 households on the terrain about 15km2. As you can imagine 40 households on such a relatively big area doesn’t make the region a densely populated. That also means that the houses are sparsely spread and the mountainous character of the region doesn’t help in communication between households. This has a lot of consequences for how both the social and personal life of these people looks like, how the social relations are shaped and how the values and priorities are created. This has also methodological implications for me. The limitation of social relations and the dynamics social contacts and communication is a challenge for everyone who is going to sketch a system of relationships. The households are relatively far from each other and while I am visiting one, there is almost no time to visit another the same day. It means that I am doing the participant observation but within one household per day.

The work

To make things clear – I don’t live in the X which is situated about 7 kilometres from where I live and this also has consequences in the way I conduct my work. This can be also the reason of the problems I described in the last post. I think this subject deserves separate post, but I need to spend more time with these people to see how being non-live-in guest from the town influences our relations.

Anyway, there is no regular transportation here. I resolved this problem by borrowing a motorcycle from the District Council. This helped a little bit. I have 5 kilometres less to climb to the top of the hill :). Of course it was extremely tiring to go these kilometres in a dust, heat and volcanic gases everyday (especially that I’m not a sporty type! :). This was also frustrating at the beginning since I knew I wasn’t at the excursion, but that I had things to do. I felt like I wasted so precious time. But I didn’t have a choice and for over 1 month now I’ve been taken the same route up almost everyday. Being a supporter of the phenomenological perspective on the landscape (Tilley, Ingold) and theories about the bodily experience of the world (Merleau-Ponty) I think that this what I first had perceived as a problem has increased my knowledge and understanding of how it is to live “in the gases”. Often I’ve also shared some meters or kilometres with people who were heading home or work and this turned out to be an incredible way to experience how the communication on the way looks like. I couldn’t have get to know it if I had taken a car whole the way. Now I am glad that I’ve decided not to rent a vehicle to get there every day without any trouble. I’m not saying that “martyrdom” is the best and most effective way to work, but sometimes it pays.

So, I can’t say that I am doing the typical fieldwork “round a bonfire” (H. Wike) that gathers villages members that are connected by a net of complex relations. Surprisingly, people that have the same experience (the destroying influence of the Masaya volcano) can live so separately and within one’s own family. They say so themselves: “No, we’re not living much together (…) we like each other, but we don’t have time to visit. And we like to spend time with our families”. It’s also amazing how many different ideas about the volcano, health, poverty and life in general can be found up there in the hills.

The fact that I’m not living there, the landform features and the transportation “problem” makes my visiting time highly limited. And I don’t live their life 100 % like the “traditional fieldwork” likes to demand.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Field break. Back to myself

This will be a really messy post. Some thoughts without an order…It’s really hard to express everything I feel now in words…

After 3 months I took a one week break. We went to Guatemala and visited Tikal – the old Mayan capital. In spite of 3 days in a bus, it was so worth it. And I am not talking just about the tourist, aesthetics and travel experience in general. This tour made me remember of who I am and that I AM. Really, after 3 months of being “nobody” it was high time to restore the inner me. I am writing “nobody” because I am, at least I was, nobody for the community I am working with. I meant nothing to them, I am and I’ll go – this is how we all start, I think. Do I have anything in common with these people?!

Where is the boundary between the tolerance, acceptance and kindness, and the unhealthy acting, the unfair for our informants spectacle the anthropologist arranges? Does the end of this theatre depend only on time we spend in the new place? I don’t think so. I’m really trying to do my best. I’m not judging these people and I don’t feel better than them. Not at all. I’m listening and I’m talking. But I’m not myself. I just can’t. I don’t feel the thread of mutual understanding. Have you all been yourself totally and deeply during your fieldwork? Did you feel uncomfortable with the situation you’ve created? How did you deal with the feeling of absurdity of your thoughts while being with your informants?

I can’t neither tell these people what I am really thinking, I could heart them. Am I not trusting them or they are not trusting me? Maybe here the time would help. But I don’t have time. 6 months is really nothing, especially when someone uses more time to find a place to plunge her ethnographic tentacles for a longer time! :) (bad me!). I know that these people don’t need to “get me”, but how I am supposed to get to know and understand them if they don’t know me? Is it fair? Have you ever thought that your personality is an obstacle for your work?

The break was important to me. And I think that this is why the new chapter of my work started much better. I was remembered of who I am, what I like, how I live and where I belong to. I was so concentrated on how the people live and what they think that I forgot why I actually came here and what I want to achieve… Total immersion? No, not at all. You are just sinking in the search of the nucleus of their life… You are not living their life. At least not at beginning where I still am, I think. It’s been more like desperate searching for answers that maybe don’t exist. Asking those who don’t know. Finding what you didn’t come for. I needed this one week off to start again. It may seem naïve and stupid, but now I know that nothing happens if I don’t find the answers. Why was I so stressed out?! I needed to be reminded that there is a world out there such as it used to be and that MY WORLD is still waiting for me. I think I don’t believe in the unity of the worlds… Does it make me a bad anthropologist?

I just have to say that it’s not because of the “cultural shock” or the language problem. I don’t have neither problems with being “exotic” to the natives. Having come to Norway some time before the “polish invasion” there, I am used to being “the other” and “the exotic”. I am used to all those sometimes irritating small questions (come on, it’s not fair, we’re asking them the same irritating small questions). Living in a foreign-language country toughened me also up so I don’t suffer from the classic frustration a lot of us have when coming to the field. These people didn’t surprised me. I surprised myself…

I’ve never wanted to do “the village fieldwork” and it turned out to be so. Maybe this fact put me off my stroke… I just wanted to work with something that was impossible here and this could be the main reason to my disappointment. But now, go me! I have to use the time I still have and try to learn a lesson and keep doing what I am expected to and what I really dreamt about.

The heat drives me crazy! :)