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.