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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.

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A successful catch

Just as March came to a close, Adriane Michaelis, a first year PhD student in the KRAC lab, received word that she’d been awarded a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  The award covers tuition and provides a stipend for up to 3 years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period – a huge investment by the US government in its young STEM researchers.  Essentially, a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution for study leading to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering.  According to the NSF website, they received approximately 16,500 applications for the 2015 cycle and awarded 2,000 fellowships to a diverse group of individuals.

Adriane has proposed to study what factors contribute to effective, and ineffective, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) of Mozambique’s artisanal fisheries. As part of her comparative ethnographic study she intends to work with local fishermen to develop a community-based monitoring plan and assess the efficacy of this activity in improving CBNRM.  Within a broader framework, Adriane writes “[t]he motivation of this study is to enhance natural resource management dynamics by providing agency to those without. This need is not exclusive to Mozambique, and results can be applied elsewhere, including the United States.  Important to this project will be sharing results with relevant groups, such as community fishing councils (CCP) or the Ministry of Fisheries.”

Artisanal fishers, Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Artisanal fishers, Maputo Bay, Mozambique

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.

Initial Fall 2014 Updates

Well it was a thankfully brief and interesting summer.  While most of my colleagues wish that their summers were longer (and don’t get me wrong, most years I do), I was so happy for the Summer of 2014 to end.  It came after an equally interminable year of riding a mental, emotional, and physical roller coaster.  I hit 5 life milestones in one year – something I would never recommend – getting married, buying my first home, buying my first car (without my dad checking it out first to make sure it is safe enough), and the deaths of both my parents (they died exactly 6 months to the day apart).  The first three are exciting and certainly the first is a very happy occasion, but all this was marred by the loss of two people I have loved, and who have loved and believed in me through thick and thin, my entire life.  But I study resilience.  I know what it takes to walk on.  And despite the cliche, as my mom would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  So I’ve climbed back up on my horse and I’m charging back in to the battle.

Belief, Optimism, Connection, Humor (Leadership Elements blog)

Belief, Optimism, Connection, Humor (Leadership Elements blog, 9/16/13)

As I take a look around, I see that my students are doing and have done well.  Phew!  That is a huge relief.  Katie Chen is working full time and being paid at University Research Co., LLC where she took a chance on an unpaid summer internship last spring.  Raquel Fleskes is thriving as a brand new doctoral student of molecular anthropology at Penn.  Maria Sharova is back after a successful summer being paid to analyze environmental protest text at SESYNC.  Jordan Tompkins survived not only her crazy supervisor (me), but also killer elephants, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and hoopty transportation in Mozambique’s bush.  Rebecca Alberda learned a lot about a new (to her) type of disaster – terrorism – and working for the US government as an anthropologist in her masters internship at START.  Her blog post about the experience highlights the many connections in natural and man-made disaster risk, as well as the large group of individuals working to improve communication during catastrophes to protect more lives.  Alyssa Nutter received rave reviews for her work with the Peace Program field school in the Gambia, and her supervisor assures me that she remained safe from potential Ebola infection.  I have not heard from Amanda Hathaway though.  I hope that she is working at a job she really enjoys and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of Colorado.  All in all a good group of women going places.  Seeing their success boosts my optimism that things are looking up!

In the meantime, I have seven new students, and one doctoral student, working in the Shaffer lab.  Each of them brings a new perspective and fresh ideas.  This term the undergraduates will be learning how to do text analysis.  Jordan is taking the lead on their training (learning and practicing her people management skills), and I am learning how to step back and delegate.

Research Metaphors

The bolts completely sheared off.

The bolts completely sheared off.

This is what happens driving on sand tracks out in the bush with large holes.  I’d call them potholes, but they’re more like permanent swales.  They fill with water in the rainy season and breed malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  It is quite normal to hit one of these or have one tire drop down the edge of one when driving in this part of the world.  It would not surprise me at all if the repeated impacts finally took their toll and broke the bolts that the lug nuts screw onto.  Our tire flew off while going ~45km per hour over a sandy, straight flat.  No one was hurt, and we didn’t need to overnight it with a bonfire, watching the elephants pass by as we huddled inside the car.

It does seem an apt metaphor through for this research trip.  The challenges Jordan and I have faced in getting out to the field, dealing with near freezing temperatures at night (0-5C; we do have winter sleeping bags but it is still really cold in a tent), getting permissions from the chief and other community leaders, getting people to agree to even short interviews, language barriers for Jordan (and that I have dealt with in the past), a potential malaria scare (just some digestion issues), and ongoing requests for things that we cannot give and have no access to (like building a hospital) offer a bumpy ride.  Domingos, our research colleague who doubles as a translator and driver has been super helpful in getting the work we need to accomplish done. So, we’ve done pretty well all things considered.  

With the tire coming off however I’ve had to make some hard choices.  Jordan and I did a quick reassessment of the data we collected this morning.  We have enough.  Four more days in a vehicle that may or may not have additional problems is not a risk I am willing to take with a student along.  There are too many things that could go wrong and my current emergency fund to pay for exigencies is already low from the previous problems.  There is some relief in this decision for all of us.  I think we were all pretty tired from 3 weeks of camping out and it is time to go home.

 

Research Obstacles

Jordan and I have slowly been getting fieldwork done here at the Maputo Special Reserve.  A number of obstacles have popped up along the way that have provided us with some learning opportunities, but also have me thinking about the feasibility of continuing research here in the future.  

Field office at Maputo Special Reserve. This is a patch of electrical outlets foraged closest to our base camp.

Field office at Maputo Special Reserve. This is a patch of electrical outlets foraged closest to our base camp.

1. Transportation – this has always been an issue.  The reserve is located on coastal sand dunes and has no paved roads.  4WD is absolutely necessary.  Despite shelling out to repair the car we are using, there is still no 4WD.  We were told this after we got to the field, with the promise that if we returned to Maputo we could get it fixed and then…  Our time is very limited so this is not really an option.  I was also unaware that the vehicle needed repairs until 3 days after we arrived.  So I had not planned for paying or waiting while the repairs were made.  My arrival date was known more than 2 weeks in advance.  The estimates could have been done while I was in the US so that I could have the proper amount of cash ready.  Then the repair work could have been done during the week I conducted a workshop at the university.  Hey presto!  No waiting around an extra week in Maputo for car repairs and spending money out of my own pockets that I don’t have. While we do get use of the car from the university here free in exchange for some of the repair work, any future research trips will require me to either rent or purchase a vehicle.  I cannot take students out with a vehicle that is iffy.

2. Students – As part of the agreement I have with Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, I take the occasional Mozambican student with me to the field for practical hands-on training.  To date, this has been fine but now that I also have my own students coming from Maryland this situation needs to be clarified more.  Conducting ethnographic work requires building rapport with the interviewee and trust with the community.  Having more than 1-2 people in addition to a translator while conducting an interview can make the interviewee uncomfortable and unwilling to participate – when the extra people start asking questions, they can slow interviews and create confusion.  We hit the limit on this trip our first week.  In addition to Jordan, Fatima – a sociology student at UEM – also came out with us.  I have been working with her on her MS research project.  She also brought her own translator.  All 5 of us worked well as a team, but I think we overwhelmed the folks we interviewed.  Between having 5 people sitting in on one of my interviews and then both students needing to collect their own data on top of my research, it was too much.  And so horrible for the shy people I occasionally interview.  There were other issues and additional problems I can foresee if the group was larger.  Any future student training will require advance preparation and paperwork on my part, as well as that of the students.  While I recognize that students may not have the hands-on practice before they come out to the field with me, there are many things they can do in advance to prepare that didn’t happen on this trip.  I cannot be responsible for everything.

Shooting the breeze about elephants and other problems - Jordan Tompkins, Prof. Adriano, Prof. Candido, Domingos Cuna.  Taken at Madjadjane Primary School

Shooting the breeze about elephants and other problems – Jordan Tompkins, Prof. Adriano, Prof. Candido, Domingos Cuna, Joseph Mucombo. Taken at Madjadjane Primary School

3. Costs – Doing research is a funny thing.  Some of the questions I get from non-scientists back home – or both scientists and non-scientists here – indicate that folks really think the US government pays for everything I do in the field.  They don’t.  I am not a scientist because I can make a lot of money.  I am a scientist because I am intensely curious and would not be happy not-knowing what’s over the horizon or why people do what they do and why it is different in one place/time versus another.  I create a budget for my research project.  There are costs that the organization who pays for the research will cover – certain types of equipment, housing, some food, fuel, some ground transport, translators, office supplies/photocopies, airfares – and a whole lot that they don’t cover – some food, “non-monetary gifts” that may be given as thank yous for interviews or other types of assistance, emergency repairs, emergencies,…  Okay, that makes sense.  But then I often have to pay upfront out of my own pocket and then get reimbursed.  Actually, some of this could be paid in advance by credit card, however, most of Mozambique where I do research doesn’t use credit cards.  So I am out until I get reimbursed.  My bank account looks miserable, and every time I go to the field I worry.  I have a mortgage and car payments, but that is the extent of my debt.  Graduate students have it much worse with tuition debt and then often putting everything on a credit card.  Anthropologists have traditionally traveled abroad to conduct research in hard to reach places with significant problems, and I still want to, but I see the advantage in working in the United States.  

Southern entrance on main road between Ponto d'Oro and Salamanga.

Southern entrance on main road between Ponto d’Oro and Salamanga.

4. Communities – I love this place where I work.  The people of Matutuine District are very kind and friendly, and hard-working.  But, based on their comments, they are getting burned out with visiting researchers.  “Many people come Dra. Jenny, like you.  They ask questions and write, but then what?  Where does this information go?  What does it do for us?  We are still having problems.  There is no hospital.  We have elephants eating all our machamba [agricultural crops].”  Jordan has been told flat out that if she were not with me, no one would be answering her questions about malaria.  “That is not the problem.  The elephants are the problem.”  I have been able to rework my questions a little since I am here to ask about environmental change and response – elephants killing people and destroying agricultural fields is a change that requires response.  Yet, tiring people out with constant questioning doesn’t advance our knowledge of how the world works or how we might make people’s quality of life better.  And they need to see the results.  I have presented my work to the community and given them results from past work.  I will be writing a report on this project for the community, the reserve, the government conservation agency, and anyone else who I can hunt down and hand it to.  But not everyone does this.  Publishing in journals doesn’t do anything for the communities where we work.  Governments don’t read journal articles and sometimes other scientists don’t either.  Communities take on many forms.   I will be able to get my research done, but I need to rethink and definitely think larger for the next project. 

The interviews are coming slowly.  We are getting great data though – when we can get people who have a little time to talk.  The PhotoVoice interviews have been fantastic!!!  Madjadjane and Gala have some great local photographers.  We have one more week in the field, my fingers are crossed.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned from working with my friends in Mozambique – be they in Maputo or Matutuine or Maputo Special Reserve – is that obstacles can be overcome, they just require time and hard work and patience.

Jen Shaffer and Domingos Cuna interview local photographer, farmer, and community secretary, Sra. Albertina Mondlwane of Gala, Mozambique.

Jen Shaffer and Domingos Cuna interview local photographer, farmer, and community secretary, Sra. Albertina Mondlwane of Gala, Mozambique.

A Day Off In Mozambique

winter on the praia

Beach at Inhaca Is, Mozambique

Welcome to winter here in the Southern Hemisphere! It’s just cold enough to stay out of the water between the breeze and the cool water temperatures at 30C. Although if this were in northern NY, where I grew up, there’d be no question of sitting on the beach. This is bikini weather in NNY.

beachinhaca portuguese
Yesterday, 25 de Junho, was Mozambique’s 39th Dia de Independencia. The equivalent of the USA’s 4th of July, except their parties are accompanied by loud, danceable music not fireworks. The party started on Tuesday night and continued on through the following day. We heard the sound systems of the Baixa in our hostel up the hill all night long – loud enough for me to distinguish the lyrics. I’d have put in my ear plugs except that Jordan and I needed to catch the ferry boat to Inhaca Island at 7am, er 7:45am. African time.

I'm on a boat. :)

I’m on a boat. 🙂

working fishermen

Fishermen and dhow, Bahia de Maputo, Mozambique.

Most businesses and institutions are closed on Dia de Independencia. We did see women selling foods on the street, fishermen and sailors, police, and the bars (the World Cup isn’t over). Knowing that we would be FORCED into a day of rest, we decided to get out of the city. Inhaca Is. is about a 3.5 hour boat trip. The island is located just north of Maputo Special Reserve, and is home to about 6000 people – Mazingiri Ronga, other Mozambicans of Portuguese and other ethnic group descent, and visitors. In 1951, the first marine research station in southern Africa was established on the island due to its location and biodiversity – some of the southernmost coral reefs, dugongs, mangroves, many fish and invertebrate species, along the East African flyway for birds, beaches, etc. Many opportunities for research. There is also Portuguese Island to the north. If I recall correctly, that is the island where the Portuguese originally used to come in to trade with the locals for ivory. Although I’m not 100% sure and I don’t think any test pits have been tried.

classroom
We worked pretty steady all last week at the workshop, and as we had to wait a week to get the research car fixed, we’ve been taking field trips around the city and out. Dra. Helena and her husband Wilson drove us out to Pequenos Libombos Dam – which supplies the agricultural area of Boane/Massaka with water and regulates the Umbeluzi River flow. Nuria and Islatina took Jordan and I to Xipanene Market. You can buy anything there. Anything. We stuck to the clothing and food sections, but I know you can get the latest phone technology recently liberated from careless travelers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could purchase other things for a price. Jordan bought some extra clothes and I got 2 capulanas in lovely shades of orange.

inhaca mangrove

Mangroves and fishing boats, Inhaca Is.

Only the size of my thumb

Back to work today. It’s time to pick up field supplies for the research and food. And then spend time in quiet and alone. Once I get to the field, it will be people all the time with me and constant translation. I expect to be exhausted so I’ll store up on energy now.

proof we're alive

Proof we’re alive!

maputo skyline night

Maputo skyline at night from the Bahia

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.

http://seahawkinthegambia.tumblr.com/

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.