Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reorientation and Research Preparation

This week, I’ve been getting reoriented to life around here. I forgot how long it takes to do things, but normally it shouldn’t take as long as the first time. Today we went to Khumsalaba (it means cross, and is located at the junction of two roads) to take my computer for charging. I was very nervous when Aggrey told me that we would take it there and leave it while we went to the market, but once we arrived, I saw it was totally fine. There’s a lady who comes from our area and who was one of Aggrey’s students who has a shop in Khumsalaba. Most shops like that in places where there is electricity charge cell phones, so it wasn’t a big deal to charge my computer too – a lot easier than I anticipated. Hurray! I set it all up charging and then we went on to the market at Yala - where Tuesday is market day - to buy vegetables, fruit and a couple used dresses for me to wear around the house. I think it was quite the spectacle to see the mzungu digging through the pile of clothes discussing the options in Swahili. I had 5 or 6 ladies helping me find good ones in the pile. One of the dresses had a pocket on the back (it would have been a normal chest pocket on the front) and we couldn’t decide what it was for. I suggested that maybe it was there so that when you carry children on your back, they can put their things in the pocket! Anyway, we were gone about 7 hours, but we did a lot more than I would normally do if I were just taking my computer to charge. Normally it might be 5 – an hour to get there and back on a boda boda and 4 to charge my two batteries – but I would hopefully be able to take some work with me to do. It would be easier if there were a way to charge the batteries without them needing to be in the computer, an external charger, but I don’t think there is.

I’m definitely enjoying myself here so far. I’ve been so happy reuniting with old friends and renewing relationships. I’m enjoying greeting everybody again, although this time half in Luhya (the local language) and half in Swahili. I’m definitely thankful to know Swahili this time around. Although most people use Luhya for their everyday business and conversations, almost everybody knows Swahili. The environment is nice. The rural area is very peaceful. So far all my relationships have been good, especially with my host family. I feel very much at home. All of this is a big relief because the week that I was in Nairobi, I was very nervous about it all. So far it seems that I was getting worked up over nothing, but I will also remember that I will have harder days too. I don’t mind not having electricity. If I live here on my own, I think I would prefer to have it, but I’m doing fine for now. I also haven’t minded wearing skirts and dresses all the time. The bucket baths are fine too. Actually they’re great. I have warm water and a lot more of it since having a bore hole with easier water access right at home. My hair is still braided, so I don’t have to wash it much. I don’t mind the hole in the ground. The only thing that’s a bit difficult is food. If you’re not around for lunch, and there’s not a place to buy a meal, you either go without or you eat bread and maybe soda. I think my caloric intake the last 2 days has been about 80% carbs. Lots of bread and things like bread. Also lots of sugar in the tea, although not always. At least it is not refined white sugar. (Sarah's note while posting: my host mom has started leaving the sugar out and letting people add their own, mostly for me! She's really sweet.)

Speaking of food, when I was here before, I cooked spaghetti for my host family, among other things, and once roasted marshmallows for them. Every day, my host brother Mukuna has been talking about spaghetti and marshmallows and how much he enjoyed them. I told him I would definitely make spaghetti again and that I would look for marshmallows. I’m really looking forward to being with Dave in Malawi in a place where I can cook all the time, which also means being able to go to the market and buy lots of fresh produce! As I see things in the market and in the fields, I keep thinking of the things I could cook, either in Malawi with Dave or for my host family here. I think I will try spaghetti and maybe another vegetable dish in the next couple weeks.

I’ve been discussing my research a lot with my host dad and the logistics of it all are becoming clearer. I think he will be very helpful in forcing me to think through and plan out all the details. I still need to find a research assistant and to decide for sure how big an area to include (which also influences the research assistant because I need someone from nearby, but outside the research area). The division, about the size of a county, is divided into locations, each comprising a number of villages. At first I was planning to focus on one location, which includes both the village where I live and the village where I was teaching before, but realized after I arrived that I really needed a bigger area to see the variety of development activities around. The next location north of us includes a slightly bigger town with electricity and a hospital and I think I would see different things there. I think I will also include a third area that is more rural like my area, but different in other ways. The tradeoff will be between depth and breadth. If I look at all three locations, I won’t be able to talk to as many people in each one as if I looked at only one or two locations, but if I only did one or two, I don’t think I would have enough of the big picture developed for the extra depth to make sense. (Sarah's note again - I think it
will actually be the smaller area and I'll try next time to post a short description of what the research actually is.)

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