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!
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:
- Drive on the left side, not the right.
- When there is no one on the right, you can drive there too.
- Passing is fair game almost any time.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.