Blog Archives

Plant Foraging – IRL and Online

Summer has finally started, now that my grades are in. This summer my focus is back on green things, plants in particular. I am a terrible gardener, and would most likely make a bad farmer, but I love to forage.  Sometimes for food, sometimes to collect for fun or research, and sometimes just for the fun of identifying old friends outdoors.  Wild plants, mushrooms, invertebrates, fossils… I can spend an entire day bent over scanning the ground or neck stretched back scanning above, and never get bored.  After a few weeks of this, I can spot species – well at least trees and flowers – driving by at 55mph.  It might not be the most useful skill in a globalized world, but it’s good for impressing drivers.

My research this summer is taking me back to old datasets – opening old files of plant photos, botanical surveys, fieldnotes, and interviews with livelihood experts on how they use and manage wild plants.  Foraging of a sort on data collected from foragers in the foraged landscape of southern Mozambique.   I’m also foraging plant knowledge from online archives and the digitized reports, surveys, and dissertations I’ve collected about this same region.  What wild plants do people use?  What parts of the plants are important?  For what purposes?  How do they manage these plants, and the habitats where they are found, for long-term, sustainable use?  How do peoples’ preferences and livelihood activities influence where the plants are found?  Is the plant diversity (presence, abundance, diversity) in places where people live similar or different to that of nearby protected areas?  Why might that be?  These are just some of the questions I am thinking about as I attempt to synthesize ecological and ethnographic research results.

Tinhueve (Manilkara discolor), Madjadjane, Mozambique. Fruit edible, wood used for timber and xylophones, roots used as a medicine, larval food for butterfly Pseudacraea boisduvali trimeni.

But why is this work important?   As the human population grows, we are breaching our planet’s protective boundaries and find ourselves in the midst of the 6th great extinction.    We are creating this extensive biodiversity loss through overexploitation of resources,  expansion of agricultural production, habitat modification, and increasing urbanization to support rapid population growth, as well as invasive species, pollution, and climate change (among other reasons).   At the same time, we depend on other living beings – plants included – to survive.  Life on Earth will survive – we’ve had 5 previous extinction events – but will it be a place where we Homo sapiens can live?  Want to live?  As much as I dream of interstellar travel, it won’t be me going to the stars, and we shouldn’t leave behind a planet that looks like a sack of unrecyclable garbage.   Today or in the future.

My overarching research question asks, can biodiversity and ecosystem services be supported and maintained in landscapes where people live and work, i.e. in so-called human-modified landscapes (HMLs)?  I’ve been interested in this question since I started graduate school.  Well, technically since I was old enough to understand that when the farmer up the road in NNY plows their field, it changes the kinds of plants and animals you find in the field.  Where I work in sub-Saharan Africa, this question must be definitively answered in the next decade if the species and ecosystem services that people depend upon, and the iconic plants and animals we associate with this continent, are to survive this century and beyond.  Only 12% of sub-Saharan Africa landscapes have protected area status at present. Increasingly, ecologists and conservation managers are asking whether measures to support and maintain biodiversity and ecosystem services can be undertaken in HMLs, the other 88%.

Milho (Zea mays) field in Madjadjane, Mozambique. Note the tree left standing to provide wild fruit and other benefits to the family in addition to their maize harvest.

Anthropologists, and other social scientists, working with native peoples across sub-Saharan Africa have documented an extensive range of traditional ecological knowledge and environmental management practices that allow communities to access and use natural resources, often plant species, for livelihood production sustainably in HMLs. Their research shows how daily household needs for hundreds of years have guaranteed that nearly every plant species finds some use as food, fodder, medicine, construction materials, hunting and fishing gear, clothing, household goods and tools, ritual items, and/or fuelwood. While modern materials may provide excellent substitutes, personal preferences, tradition, and, most significantly, poverty help preserve the traditional ecological knowledge people need to access and use wild plant species effectively and sustainably.

Interdisciplinary synthesis of ecological data with ethnographic research on traditional ecological knowledge and environmental management practices is a growing area of interest for both biophysical and social scientists. To date, botanical data collection in sub-Saharan Africa has focused primarily on diversity assessments in protected areas for ecological research and conservation management purposes. Ethnographic research, like that described previously, has not always been integrated into conservation planning and policy. Synthesis work becomes increasingly necessary as we confront threats like habitat loss and modification, overexploitation, pollution, and climate change, and seek ways to reduce, mitigate and eliminate their impacts on our planet’s diverse human and non-human communities.



Stay on target! We’re too close! Stay on target!*

by Rachel Ridley

     After all the weeks of coding, re-coding, exporting, and now pulling it all together in a final analysis, we are finally at the end. We went through elephants, fences, and machambas [agricultural fields] all the way to standing water, hospitals, and weather (for Health in the SES Model, at least). It seems like we covered so much ground in so little time. I find myself still thinking back to coding interviews about elephant damage and realizing just how extensive this research was and is. I’m continually amazed by it as I sit down and try to bring it all to a close.
     One of the biggest struggles was having to organize all of the exported codes together and find themes in them. The problem is, not all of us (in my group) coded the same things in the same way. At first, this seemed immensely problematic. I kept thinking, “How is this going to add up to make any sense together at all?” But in the end, I think it was important that we had experience working on a project such as this in a group. I know I gained a lot from looking at the way the same thing could be interpreted in multiple ways.
     But now that we’re working on our final analyses, I realize that that wasn’t the hard part. Somehow we’ve got to pull all of what we’ve done through the whole semester into one analysis paper. I keep going back and forth, worrying that I won’t have enough to say and then realizing I probably have too MUCH to say to be concise! How to pull together these complex, interrelated themes without minimizing them or making them larger than life?
     Not to mention it’s the end of the semester (finally!) and there’s all kinds of absurdly long papers and cruel, unusual final presentations to do, and it’s hard to keep focus. I want to make sure that the material I create to finish up this project does the full experience and research justice. I keep stalling by making more and more maps or finding some new way to tie them together (I’m using online mapping software) and waiting around, as if I expect that if I do enough maps, a beautifully crafted full-length analysis will pop into my head, fully formed.
     In all, I think it’s bittersweet. Of course, here in this moment, I want everything I have to do for the semester to just be over and done with. I want to move on to holiday celebration, sleeping until 2pm, and not having any deadlines to even consider. Yet there’s a whole other part of me that wants it to continue. I want more time and more space to write about it, because in many ways, the interviews – the issues themselves – that we studied became important to me personally. I find myself regularly thinking about the problems and subject matter that I spent so much time organizing and analyzing. In some ways, it has become larger than life for me.
     We’ve all got until Friday to pull our masterpieces together, and I’m hoping we can make them just that! It has been more than fulfilling to spend so much time with this research, so here’s hoping we can all produce some worthwhile thematic analysis from it.
     The KRAC Lab research assistants this term have struggled mightily to work though a ton of crazy data.  They’ve ridden a rollercoaster from learning how to code all the way through to their final analysis.  Their learning process is very much the same that socio-cultural anthropologists of all levels go through – down to the part of having so much to say and so little space to say it.  Their analyses has contributed to one submitted NSF proposal and two more in the works.  Their work will also go into a report for the Mozambican government and local communities, as well as multiple anticipated articles (and depending on how much work they’ve put in may include their names as co-authors).  I’m really proud of all of them.  ~ JS
* Gold Leader to Gold Five, Star Wars: A New Hope (Ep. IV)

The Home Stretch

by Hayatt Mohamed

So we’re in the home stretch! After weeks of coding we have finally reached the analysis phase, which feels like even more coding. While coding had its own share of frustrations between deciding whether or not a segment fits the criteria of the description of the code, the tedious re-reading, or the constant insecurity that you’re doing absolutely everything wrong (something that I personally always am worried about and anyone who is the lab with me probably gets tired of me asking and re-asking to make sure) it has been interesting. That’s the funny thing about coding though, what you may interpret the definition of a code may be different than how someone else may think the code to be. And you won’t even know that they are looking at it differently than you until you ask them a simple question, or until you are organizing and analyzing a code. Coding for the Health in the Social-Ecological model proved to be hard because I couldn’t help but think SES stood for socio-economic model, and I couldn’t help but focus on that. Even when coding I would look at the blockers that affect the community’s health like lack of infrastructure or transportation. I had to constantly re-remind myself to also look at climate and ecological factors. Though often ecological factors tied in with infrastructure at times (for instance in regards to quality of water and sanitation both factors in the spreading of malaria and cholera). There were times where I didn’t even use certain codes and times where I felt like something should have been created into its own code rather than lumped in a broad code but was overruled. The thing about coding is that it’s subjectively objective; the facts are there but are very open to interpretation.


The analysis has proven to be just as daunting as coding-if not more. Here is where we see if our coding was even remotely similar to our group members and also comparing how we coded and what our interpretations of the codes were. In my personal group when I have analyzed codes I noticed slight differences in what each member has found to be appropriate to code. Also some people tend to be more generous with their coding-something I tend not to do but the great thing about working in a group is that they might have caught something you intended to code and didn’t but it also becomes frustrating when you feel like maybe that should not have been coded and it is (once again these are times where it is great to have someone else in the room working beside you so you can ask them a few questions). Color coding the analyses by comment has definitely made these excel spreadsheets easier to look at and more fun and I just feel like color makes everything better. I’m still not quite done with my analysis but it’s oddly comforting. It feels good to turn disorder to order so although it’s tedious, I’m enjoying the process.

Coding has changed my life…

by Catherine Soriano Luna

Coding itself is not a hard task at all. That is, if the sentence under scrutiny falls neatly into a category, which is almost never the case. I have had a hard time determining whether or not a certain remark should be coded. I have spent, what has felt like hours, staring at the screen and deciding whether to code something this or that. The process can be frustrating, but it can also be rewarding. At the end, once the coding has been finished, I begin to see patterns and I catch a glimpse of the lives behind the codes. I remind myself these words belong to a group of people far from here, who are experiencing life in a different way than I am. Can I imagine myself going through their day-to-day lives? I cannot, but I beginning to understand where they come from and to appreciate their lifestyle. It is not the type of insight I experience in the classroom where we spend most of our time talking about theory (which is not my strongest suit). If classes dealt more with how things are (and with real, living people), then I’d be much more engaged. As it is, I have only a screen to turn to for a deeper understanding of human life.
As much as I would like to spend my time just reading the interviews, I have to deal with the technical side of things. The program we are using (MAXQDA) has done a good job of providing us the tools for coding, however, I wish I could organize things just a bit more than is currently allowed. I spent an hour ‘playing’ with the program and pressing random buttons in the hope that I would get the hang of it. Needless to say, an hour passed and I was no more informed than when I had started (though to be fair, I did learn how to alphabetize codes and use memos…really useful stuff). Spending more time on video tutorials will be necessary in the foreseeable future. I just hope it’ll be a lot easier to navigate the website than the program itself. If there is one great pleasure I partake in, it is in choosing the colors for the codes. I am easily amused. “Should I choose light blue or sky blue?” Very important decisions to be made for sure. And as the margins fill with color, the patterns begin to rise. And that has made all the difference.
real life safari

Navigating the Process of Team Work

by Jordan Tompkins

As Bryan Gerard mentioned in a previous blog post for our lab, we’ve now split our rather large research team (7 undergraduate students, 2 graduate students, and 1 professor/researcher) into three separate teams for data analysis. In this blog post, I want to talk about how we’ve navigated the process of data analysis thus far, and where we’re headed.

At the outset, each of the undergraduate students spent three weeks learning about text analysis, helping to create a codebook for the wildlife conflict project, and coding interviews and field notes. Then Jen made them go back to the original documents and recode everything they’d already coded. Why would she do this? Is she some sort of sadist who enjoys making others complete the same task multiple times?* While I can’t speak to the second question (don’t fire me, Jen!), there are several reasons to wipe the slate clean and start again: (1) anthropologists review our field notes multiple times to get a feel for different patterns that emerge from our data. Being familiar with the data is part of the job. (2) Codebooks often change during the course of data analysis. Patterns emerge, codes need to be collapsed together or separated from one another, etc. Our codebook went through multiple changes during the first phase of coding. We could have gone back and just added the new codes, but we needed to look at the data from the slightly modified direction of research. (3) Although I’m very familiar with MAXQDA, the qualitative data analysis software we use, I’ve only used it on projects where I’m the only person coding. Working as a team may seem like it’s simply an extension of a one-person project, but there are intricacies in the software that I never realized were there until we encountered problems. For instance, when the students began importing their coded documents, many of the codes were duplicated in the codebook on the program even though they had the same names. We had to figure out how to merge those codes and prevent this from being a problem in the future. Additionally, everyone had to learn about some of the more technical aspects of MAXQDA. Although I wouldn’t classify this as the fun part of data analysis, it’s absolutely essential to understand how/when/why to do things when working on a team. A small mistake made while importing a document can create a lot of unnecessary work.

Now the undergraduates have finished the second round of wildlife coding and have been assigned to analysis projects based on their interests. We’re still part of the larger team, of course, but I’m excited to work in a project with only three other people (Shout out to Bryan, Hayatt, and Rachel!). We meet on Monday to discuss aspects of socio-ecological systems theory, and how to incorporate those into our coding and analysis. Wish us luck!

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Goethe 1797/Dukas 1896/7

* I suppose having students recode something they’ve already done might seem sadistic.  Jordan pointed out 3 very good reasons.  I would like to add to this.  Learning new software and new analysis skills requires making mistakes, failing, and just general mucking about to see what happens when you push a button.  This is a process all of us face when we learn new skills; our first product out of the box is meh but the next one is better because we learn from experience.  While all of the students working in our research group are bright, this was their first time using both the software and coding text.  The wildlife conflict interviews were the most concise group of interviews to work and had a set purpose.  I wanted students to learn new skills and new software simultaneously, which meant that I was expecting mistakes, miscoding, etc.  However, this data is important.  It will be used to write a report and make recommendations about resolving human-wildlife conflict, as well as explore connectivity and elements in a complex social-ecological system.  Therefore the data prepped for analysis has to be in it’s best possible form.  Ergo, requesting students to recode the interviews with a set of codes once they’ve learned the skill and the software.  I have faith they’ll do a good job of it and I won’t come back to a lab full of brooms sweeping up an ocean of water.

Responding to a changing fieldwork situation

A good field researcher is relatively flexible and plans for the inevitable change of plans.  You still try to accomplish what you planned for – particularly when funding is attached.  However, ethnographic fieldwork is not bench laboratory work.  There is no real control, no do-overs, and your study subjects talk back.  This past summer I went to the field expecting to explore indicators of climate change, even though I wrote my research questions to be open to the possibility of discovering other sorts of environmental change indicators.  And while I did get to ask a few questions about responses to climate change, most local residents wanted to talk about elephants.  So I did.  It was a risk to go off “script”, but given the stakes for my friends and others living in this place, a risk I think worth taking.

I think this seemingly abrupt change of plans initially made Jordan, my graduate assistant, uncomfortable.  However, as I said there was some flexibility built into my research plan.  When anthropologists go to the field to work with people, that means we work with them where they are.  Pushing and pursuing questions that have no relevance makes immediate research difficult, and future research darn near impossible.  This is something they don’t tell you in school (and why pilot studies are so important).   The ongoing human-elephant conflict at my field site in Mozambique has entered a new phase, and as such, definitely constitutes a major environmental change to the social-ecological system.  Jordan finally got it when during one of her malaria interviews a woman told her that folks in the community wouldn’t even be speaking to her if I weren’t present.  They knew me and I was asking relevant questions (despite my anxiety that this wasn’t going to pan out).   Right now, their focus and attention was on the elephants raiding their agricultural fields not malaria.  The health clinic in Salamanga provides free treatment for malaria so this wasn’t really an issue.  Not having food to eat was an issue.

Feet taken from problem elephant. The animal harassed local residents outside a reserve area and would not return to live within protected area boundaries despite multiple attempts to chase him back inside. Image by L.J. Shaffer 2008.

This fall seven anthropology students are working with Jordan and I to code our summer interviews, field notes, and digital images.  I can’t take them to the field with me and given the elephant issue that might not be wise anyway.  However, they can learn how to use basic ethnographic tools and we are getting a serious lot of data organized in preparation for full analysis.  They will also help with some of the analysis, but the primary goal is to provide some hands on training on what it is that anthropologists actually do.   One of the first products we will produce is a report on the state of the human-elephant conflict in Matutuine District based on the data we collected this summer.  This will be sent to various Mozambican government agencies and the local communities.  Report writing is an important part of applied anthropology.  I would also like to put together a short piece for Mozambican newspapers, and maybe something on living with charismatic megafauna for American newspapers.  Elephants are one of the coolest animals ever, but they are also incredibly destructive if they are running loose in your maize and cassava fields.

We had a lot of visual data this summer – mine and some from local photographers who are participating in a PhotoVoice project documenting local changes to the environment.  Yesterday I used some of this data to put together a short video for my ANTH 222 course (Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology).  We are currently talking about biotic and abiotic factors and processes that influence evolution and shape landscapes.   Given that every term students ask me to talk more about my research, I thought the human-elephant conflict a good example.  Competition for food, water, & space resources, population growth, keystone species, fire, shifting climatic factors, national & international laws, cooperation, etc.  I’ve posted it below.  Please note there are some graphic depictions of animal butchering if you are squeamish.

Field Updates (long post)

I’m finally in the field. It was a struggle this year between dealing with personal life issues – some major milestones – and all of the last minute baloney that comes with teaching large courses – final projects, final exams and whinging about grades that would have been better had students put in the time earlier in the term.

This past week I (and my trusty field assistant Jordan) ran a workshop on quantitative and qualitative methods at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane.  Five intense days of lectures and activities that were scheduled to run from 9am to 1pm every day but usually lasted until 2-2:30 as people had questions about coding or interpreting data.  Jordan gave 2 brief lectures in all of it on coding interviews and quant methods (freelists and triadic comparisons).  She did a smashing job and gave me a short break to rest an increasingly sore throat.  Our topics ranged from writing good interview questions to turning interview texts into numbers to visual research methods, social network analysis, and participatory methods.

The Dept. of Biology hosted our workshop and its 15 attendees were faculty, research staff, and graduate students from biology, botany, geography, sociology, economics, environmental education, and agricultural engineering.  One of my best moments came at the end of the workshop when one of the botanists, a professor and research, stated that “Social scientists really have to know a lot.  You use so many different methods and analyze your data in many ways and you then have to interpret what people say.  Plants are so much easier.  Your sort of research is really complicated.  Plants are so much easier.”  She took a lot of notes, and given that her research involves plant distribution, use, and conservation, I think she was very interested in trying out some of the methods we discussed.  I shared her statement with Jordan, who laughed and agreed.  It isn’t just anthropology graduate students who find our tools complicated.  🙂

When not working, we’ve been enjoying the World Cup – people here get together to watch everywhere.  Oh, and what is up with Spain?  Boo!  There’ve also been new experiences like going to Xipamanine Market, where you can buy anything from used clothes, to food, to AK-47s, stolen tech, flip flops, capulanas, etc.  listening to new music, making new friends, and trying new foods.  Okay, Jordan’s done most of the new stuff since I lived here for a year and a half and have been coming to Mozambique since 2004.  But for me, it’s fun to see someone encounter Mozambique for the first time.

Initial field experiences from our lab members have been trickling in.  I also prodded Jordan to write a little about her initial thoughts on Mozambique.

From Rebecca at START (19 June):

I am finishing up the third week of my internship and I thought I would send you a quick update on how things are going.

I have thus far been working on several different projects and attending enrichment sessions/trainings that are offered through START. The nice thing about START is that they realize that their internships are unpaid, therefore they offer as many opportunities to their interns as possible to gain stills that are relevant to future employment, so that they can become employable and get a paying position once the internship is over.

Things I have been working on:

  • Literature Review: Learning APA (and becoming a master!)
  • Meetings: Brainstorming, updates, informational – you name it.
  • Interview Transcription: This is a skill that I am learning. It’s not easy and pretty much makes me feel like my brain is leaking out my ears, but this is the tedious end of qualitative methods, is it not?  [Yes, this is tedious but it could always be worse.  I prefer transcription to measuring spines on bryozoans under a microscope and then entering the data into a computer.  Yep, did that for a whole year once.  But that’s what scientists do when they start out – the grunt work.  I’m sure you’re doing a great job though.  You are really detail-oriented and that is exactly what is needed in transcription work.]
  • Proposal Work at START

 Additionally I have begun to reach out to Anthropologists in the government, to set up informational interviews. I haven’t worked on this portion too much yet but plan to in the coming week.

From Maria at SESYNC (4 June):

I started work with Dr. Hadden this week–she’s very nice! Right now I’m doing a lot of background reading–social movements, methods of social movement research and environmental policy. She hopes to interview 10-15 environmental groups this summer and I am to help her prepare for the interviews (writing up profiles for the organizations/people). After they are done, I will be transcribing them. I’m also to do “Protest Analyses”. We haven’t exactly talked details, but I will be using Atlas.ti to code news stories about environmental protest from the past five years and looking to see how media portrayal of protests has changed. Its an interesting complement to my work this past semester with comparing pictures!

SESYNC itself is really great. Their office is in Annapolis, and its super nice (they’re doing some construction/expansion right now, but its very cool). The other interns also seem great–a lot of variety. Materials engineer, marketing, environmental science and policy students…I’m excited to get to know them! We meet either on campus or in Annapolis once a week, which will be a nice break for my independent work.

I’m working on my own for the most part, and Dr. Hadden doesn’t care if I’m physically working in the office or not. Except for the Atlas.ti stuff, because that’s only on the office computer but I haven’t started that yet. None of my roommates are living in our apartment this summer, so I’ve been mostly in solitary confinement. Definitely a weird change, but I’m not that sad about it!

From Jordan in Maputo, Mozambique (18 June):

The first 4 days in Mozambique have been exciting and exhausting. There’s so much I could write about, but I thought I’d make this entry about funny things I’ve learned in Mozambique, so far.

Disclaimer: This is coming from a foreigner who has been in Mozambique for a total of four days.

The first rule I learned in Maputo is to always carry my own packet of toilet paper. It’s not uncommon to come across a bathroom without toilet paper. And don’t flush said toilet paper. If you do, you might clog up the system (this is common in many countries). No one wants to be that person. Also, check to see if you can find a stall with a trashcan inside it. The reasoning here should be evident.

The second rule I learned is that you should speak Portuguese or travel with someone who speaks Portuguese (the official language) when travelling in Mozambique. There aren’t many Mozambiquans who are fluent in English, although many can hold a short conversation. But when you need someone to tell you where you can buy a bottle of wine, or you’re trying to understand how much said wine costs, finding a Mozambiquan who can tell you (in English) is a gamble. So learn some Portuguese before you travel, or carry a Portuguese dictionary if you don’t want to be attached at the hip to your Portuguese-speaking travel companion (shout out to my travel companion!). Here are the words I’ve learned so far, spelled according to what I’ll call Jordan-phonetics.

  • Bom dia: good morning
  • Bom tarde: good not-morning (I think it means good afternoon) [that would be boa tarde]
  • Ob-ri-gado: Thank you (I use this one a lot, especially since it’s the only word I remember consistently)
  • Tudu beng: How are you? [tudo bem]

o   Ee tu: and you? (you ask this when someone manages to ask how you are before you ask how they are) [e tu?]

  • Esto beng: I’m well (there are many ways for people to respond to “tudu beng”. My rule of thumb is to smile like I know what they’re saying, hope they added “ee tu” somewhere in there, and respond with “esto beng”) [Estuo bem]
  • Na-o falu Por-tu-gesh: I don’t speak Portuguese [Não falou português.]

Here are the phrases I want to learn next:

  • I’m sorry (I need this one several times a day) [desculpa me]
  • How much does this cost? (not everyone has a cash register, yo) [Por favor, cuanto custa?]
  • Do you speak English? (I usually ask this in English, but in an effort to be less obviously foreign, I shall learn the translation) [Fala ingles?]
  • Where’s the bathroom? (I probably should’ve learned this one first) [Onde esta es la banho? o toilet?]

[Jordan has the phonetic spelling here. Pretty awesome for someone who doesn’t speak the language and was thrown to the lions 4 days ago.  She has been really taking it all in stride and is not afraid to just dive right in.]

Finally, I’m beginning to learn the road rules here. Roads are always interesting in other countries, and Mozambique will not let you down. There are very few roads with lines or stoplights here. The strategy works well for Mozambicans; everyone knows which side of the road to drive on, when to swerve out of someone’s way, and how to just generally keep from causing a traffic accident. But as a foreigner who is used to stop lights, pedestrian crosswalks, and cars that stop just to let you cross the road, it’s a bit terrifying. But then again, it’s an adrenaline rush…kinda like cliff diving, but with cars. From what I can tell, the rules of the road are as follows:

  1. Drive on the left side, not the right.
  2. When there is no one on the right, you can drive there too.
  3. Passing is fair game almost any time.
  4. If you’re driving down a narrow road, be ready to swerve as far to the left as possible when another car (coming in the opposite direction) gets within 10 feet of you.
  5. When you see pedestrians in the middle of the road, slow down enough so as not to hit them, but drive fast enough to hurry them along. (Side note—if you see someone running across the road, they’re probably a foreigner. Mozambicans generally walk).
  6. If you ride a motorbike, you do what you want.

I hope you enjoyed today’s “Taste o’ Mozambique”. We’ll be back soon with another entry.

From Alyssa in The Gambia (17 June):

I figured you would be interested in having a link to my summer blog. I started this site when I went to Gambia last time and will continue to use it over the next few months.

I am on it, slowly slowly…

These past two weeks I’ve been wearing my “program assistant hat” much more than my “research assistant hat.” My primary responsibility has been to train nineteen University of The Gambia students in SPSS (for those who don’t know – a statistical program utilized to store and analyze data in the social sciences). The students have been doing very well, reaffirming my conceptions of UTG students as passionate and engaged learners.

The purpose of training the students is to utilize their skills in a nearly decade-long project surveying Gambian high school students on their health, social lives, and risky behaviors. Each survey takes approximately three hours to administer and contains over 550 variables in the SPSS database. This summer, 300 surveys are being collected and in an effort to enter all of the data before leaving The Gambia, I have been working with three shifts of UTG students over eleven hour workdays.

Needless to say, these days have been exhausting, but it is exciting to observe the students’ progress and help them to successfully enter enough data each day to keep up with the flow of incoming completed surveys.

For Americans, living in Gambia is constantly one massive exercise in patience. Changing the abbreviation GMT to “Gambia Maybe Time” may be funny, but it is also a reality. Things just tend to move at a slower pace here, often frustrating Westerners. But it’s important to recognize that in keeping with the worldview of many if not most Gambians, God is in control. If a scheduled meeting doesn’t happen today or a professor doesn’t show up for class or you’re running two hours late…it just means that all of those things were meant to happen. It isn’t a human’s place to argue with the way things are, so they accept the amount of work that is successfully done each day and only make long term plans with the caveat – inshallah, or God willing – added to the end.

I think that living here in 2011 made me a bit more understanding on days when things didn’t go my way back home, but it’s nice to have this refresher course and remind myself that I can always be a little more patient, and it’s not always my place to question why things aren’t happening at the pace I would like them to. This data entry process has been tedious at best, but it is absolutely worthwhile and it is meaningful work that the UTG students and I are doing.

In both of the predominant local languages, Wolof and Mandinka, a common greeting is to ask someone how the work is – “Naka ligeey bi?” – in Wolof. The response is a phrase that I tried to make my personal motto throughout my first year of graduate school – “Mangi ci kowam, ndanka ndanka” – I am on it, slowly slowly. This phrase is a great reminder to take a breath, slow down, and realize that the things I’m stressing about probably aren’t as serious as I am building them up to be in my head.

As long as I am on it ndanka ndanka, I will continue to make progress…and probably maintain a bit more of my sanity along the way.

Students in the field

Our lab’s masters students have begun their summer research projects.

Rebecca is close to home at START.  She is based out of College Park, but will be working in Washington, DC.  Rebecca sent me an updated proposal last week with an extensive section on risk, vulnerability and risk communication.  The work she does now on the lit review will come in handy for discussion at her internship but also during her internship write-up.

Alyssa has left the continent.  She is posting to a blog, Seahawk in the Gambia, while in the field.  I hope she enjoys herself.  Alyssa’s proposal was ambitious – always good – but Africa is Africa.  Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.  I look forward though to reading about a place I have not been to but have heard much about.

Jordan is still with me in College Park.  With my dad’s illness and death, our departure date was set back two weeks.  In the end it has all worked out because it gives us a little more time to prep.  We’re both going to try and post from the field to this blog over the June/July field season.

ANTHRO+ Conference Participation – Final Schedule

It recently came to my attention that pretty much most of our lab is participating in the ANTHRO+ conference on Saturday, 6 April 2014 in the Stamp at the University of Maryland.  Presenters and a panel discussant.  Here’s how we’re participating:

Maria Sharova

Public Heritage: A visual study of changing environments in Mozambique and Angola

Mozambique and Angola gained their independence from Portugal in 1975, but subsequent political and economic events have significantly affected the governance of their natural resources and landscapes. Chambers (2006) notes that governments and other institutions often craft specific images to promote a public heritage that will “drive broader socio-political and socio-economic aims.” Others have used such public heritage imagery to assess the success or failure of national and international programs like poverty elimination or crisis management. In this presentation, I compare visual public heritage images produced by Mozambique and Angola on the cusp of their independence with contemporary images of the same or similar locations found on the Internet to analyze how differences in politics and economics at the national level have affected local natural environments over the past 30-40 years. What did these countries make available about their environmental public heritage in the late 1960s – early 1970s? What does this say about what they valued as public heritage? Have these places flourished or deteriorated? Are these places still valued as public heritage today? What, if any, connections between broader political and economic events and environmental governance can be made through this analysis?

“Changes”: Navigating Relationships in a Changing Environment, Margaret Brent A, 9:30-10:30am

Amelia Jamison & Jordan Tompkins

MODERN LOVE: Biomedicine and Public Health

A close reading of both history and theory has redefined our approach to medical anthropology. In this presentation, we seek to apply our new anthropological knowledge to our current research with public health interventions, at home and abroad. Jordan will discuss how concepts from medical anthropology can contribute to our understanding of infectious disease, specifically malaria. Amelia will explain why the critical perspective is a necessary lens to understand the success/failures of national immunization campaigns. Together we’ll argue that medical anthropology is terrific XXXXX.

“Station to Station”: Dialogues Across Disciplines, The Atrium, 10:30-11:45am

Alyssa Nutter & Rebecca Alberda

Who Says Quidditch is for the Nerds? Quidditch and Traditional Sport Culture

In late 2013, five graduate students at the University of Maryland completed an ethnography to describe the university’s quidditch team and analyze how the team defies or reinforces the traditional culture of sport. Quidditch, based on a game in the fictional Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, is a niche sport that is unique for several reasons, but most notably because it is mandatorily coeducational and players must keep a ‘broom’ between their legs at all times. These qualities and the perception of the sport as ‘nerdy’ inspired the researchers’ exploration of quidditch, utilizing ethnographic observation, survey, interviews, and participant photography. Analysis demonstrated that while the quidditch team does defy the traditional sport narrative, they also want to be perceived as legitimate and purposefully conform to specific cultural expectations of collegiate athletics. The data was analyzed across five core themes: athleticism, gender, connection to Harry Potter, community, and outsider perceptions.

“Young Americans”: Ethnographies of the College Campus, Margaret Brent A, 12:30-1:30pm

Katie Chen

A Mix and Match of Data and Dimensions

Organizations around the world define “food security” in a variety of ways, but usually derive their version from the World Food Summit in 1996. Food security from this meeting is defined “as existing when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The amount of change to this definition varies from organization to organization so I attempt to compare the definitions from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to understand how the definitions are shaped and how this impacts the information they collect. In an extensive search through documents, survey data, reports and published works, I found that the surveys conducted may not give an adequate idea of what food security is. I am also comparing Dr. Shaffer’s household survey conducted in Tanzania to the information collected by the FAO to see if the the data sets are comparable and representative of food security definitions.

“Underground/Better Future”: Anthropological Approaches to Food Recreating the Past, Making Change in the Present, Margaret Brent A, 2:30-3:30pm

Jen Shaffer, Discussant

“Let’s Dance”: How We Collaborate — Questions of Scale, Perspective & Creativity, Margaret Brent B, 1:30-2:30pm



Real or Not Real?

This post, written by MAA student and lab member Rebecca Alberda, describes her experience on 29 March with a Red Cross Global Refugee simulation in Washington DC.  She participated as a refugee.  The day was cold and rainy at Bull Run, VA where the exercise took place.  ~Dr. Jen Shaffer

By Rebecca Alberda

TRIGGER WARNING: Due to the nature of this topic and my decision to use exact quotes, foul language will be present in the following blog post. Additionally, while I do not believe there to be anything that would be too disturbing, anyone who has experienced a refugee situation may find the following to serve as a trigger.

Quickly I pull up my hood, keep my head facing forward, with my eyes on the ground tracking the movements of the person in front of me, submissive. Soldiers, carrying guns, run up and down our single file line, screaming, “Where the FUCK do you THINK you’re going?!” and shove whomever falls out of line. The girl in front of me mistakenly starts laughing or smiling, I am not sure which as I am more focused on not tripping and falling into the muddy stream at my feet. Her laugh results in the halting of our line, a combatant gets in her face asking “What THE FUCK do you find so funny?” She doesn’t respond and luckily he moves on. In that moment I am strongly reminded that I too, at times, respond to stress inappropriately by laughing. I quickly bite my cheeks so that I do not make the same mistake. Soon we are past this latest obstacle. We do not look back, knowing that there are more like this to come.

photo (1)

“Tennis shoes or rain boots? Tennis shoes or rain boots?”, It’s a debate I have with myself for a good two days. I know that it’s most likely going to rain, but do I really want to hike for two miles in my rain boots? In the end I decide that, yes, rain boots are the correct choice. I’d rather have achy feet than soaking wet and cold feet. “What should I pack? They said anything in my bag could most likely get stolen or traded…what would I be okay with parting with?”, I choose some mismatched socks, a pair of old gloves, some food (granola bars) that I planned on dropping in the graduate lounge, an old sweatshirt from my ‘to donate’ pile, and some band-aids. I have the distinct advantage of knowing that I will most likely lose my possessions along the way, do real refugees know this when they pack up their bags to flee? I’m nervous, my nails and lips are a wreck, I don’t know what to expect, this part at least seems very real. I don’t sleep well the night before, dreaming about all the situations and scenarios I *might* find myself in. This too, is very real.

Est-ce votre famille?” The border guard screams at me in French. I don’t speak French, but I recognize the word family and go to respond “Yes,” however in that moment, my brain fails me and instead I answer “Si!” – thanks a lot brain. Fail. Despite answering in Spanish, the guard simply puffs his cigarette smoke in my face, hands back my rain soaked passport, and seemingly satisfied that I was not a combatant, waives me through to refuge.

photo 3 (1)

I am assigned a family when I arrive at the check-in point. There are seven of us, six females and one male. We are each given a story to memorize, a new name, a passport, and some (fake) money. We make decisions on who will have what, who will be in charge, and if we will talk to the press (we do not). We learn the nature of the conflict back home, why we are fleeing, which side we support, where we are going, what that country is like…the situation is dismal. We have it memorized. This will be important later, however, when under stress, our memorization will often fail us.

“Follow the footsteps of the person in front of you!”
“Look, right there, one is buried right there!”
Landmines. We step carefully, knowing that every step could be our last. So that’s why there were danger signs.

photo 1 (1)

This stupid wood is far too wet for the nails to stick properly, but somehow we manage to build our shelter. We all pile in, eat our now cold rice and beans, and watch while others struggle to build their own shelters in the pouring rain. We’ve promised one another that we wouldn’t touch the “tent,” not confident in our building skills, and have mini-heart attacks every time a UNHCR official moves the tarp to speak to us. Yet, the shelter stands firm.

photo 2 (1)

I’m cold. I’m wet. I’m very very muddy. My right rain boot has a leak in it and I’ve had to change my sock twice. But, I’ve survived. The same can’t be said for many along the journey. In fact, we have three missing in our family alone. But, we aren’t sick, or hurt. And we are together. The same can’t be said for many in this situation.

“Get off the fucking bus!”
“Move! Move! Move!”
Solider’s everywhere, pounding on the windows, shoving guns in our faces, there is smoke.
It is made clear that choosing to sit at the back of the bus was not a good choice as the soldier screams “YOU IN THE BACK, FUCKING MOVE IT! YOU’RE MOVING TOO SLOW!”
And when we finally move past him he gives us a little shove down the stairs.
We are running for our lives.

My heart starts to race with adrenaline. And though I know this is only a simulation, I am a bit nervous. I don’t know what to expect.

For more information on the Global Refugee Simulation by the American Red Cross Visit:

For more information on ways to help or get involved in the Refugee Crisis: