Through mutual friends I got to know a monk who called me yesterday, so that I spontaneously visited today. I expected to learn more about Buddhism and monastic schools. Instead I learned about his fascinating drive to establish a school beyond the local notions of a school, including more than demanded by the regular curriculum and emphasizing English training, so I was able to easily talk to all the teachers working there as well.
I heard that he comes from a village where weaving is one source of income. Thus I happily agreed to visit it, too. But also here I was surprised to find myself in a village strongly influenced by exactly the kind of weaving that I study. With his excellent translation abilities we managed to receive so much further leading contacts, clues and ideas that I now write this instead of facing the amount of new knowledge that I should right away document in my field notes…
But the motorbike rides take their toll and my concentration won’t suffice this activity. My sleeping rhythm has meanwhile adjusted to the myanma daily routine so I will do this in the early morning instead.
On our way back from the village, the monk on the mototaxi in front of me – in the background Sagaing Hills.
For the time being, I am still not able to conduct in-depths conversations in Myanma. And the very specific terms necessary for my research have to be collected at various points, like dictionaries, materials of the weavers and schools as well as orally transmitted and written down by whom ever happens to be around.
Sometimes it helps just to point at words if my pronunciation is not understandable – so my personal dictionary is very useful at the moment.
At the weaving school there is also a scheme with basic Acheik patterns and their Myanma names that I was allowed to photograph. The next step is to print these out to take along and show whenever necessary and to learn them by heart to hopefully get closer to talking conversations soon.
Some impressions of Mandalay’s night market. The night starts as soon as it is dark – which is as early as 6 p.m. here. So the night market is perfect to buy fresh fruit and vegetables after the heat of the day.
Several street stalls also offer a variety of freshly prepared dishes. One of my favorites is this version of Shan noodle soup served still sizzling from the heat in a ceramic pot.
In the past week the first field visits took place. Luckily Z. knows two weaving workshops close to her home and could introduce me. I used my best Myanma to participate as much as I could – nonetheless at this stage I am happy that Z. could give an explanation who that Foreigner is that stands now in the middle of their looms and what she could possibly want here.
But it seems my research is no problem and my request of future attendances of workshop life granted.
My plan is to take it slow (and it’s not like I am not already panicking that time is running out), to give everyone some time to adjust to another person’s presence, especially a Foreigner – whom most are still quite shy about – with insufficient communication skills. And also some time for me – it’s not like reading can ever prepare you for real life situations and it’s not like being used to meeting new people makes it a matter of course. Also, I don’t want to give people the impression that I am rushing into their lives, asking questions, take what I can get and am gone again.
The ideal is a mutual understanding that gives room for questions in both directions and a long-lasting friendly relationship rather than a professionally distanced data collection as occurs within other disciplines – and I see this as the greatest strength and most unique feature of cultural anthropology. And most likely the greatest challenge at the same time, as we go way beyond our professional selves and need to give in a lot of our personal selves as well.
Myanmar has a system of licensing hotels and guesthouses for accommodating “foreigners”. This means that not all guesthouses and hotels here are able to take in foreigners even if they want to – unless they can afford to get the licence.
As a researcher the issue is the same, the category “foreigner” still applies. As anthropologist the ideal working condition includes staying with a guest family to reach a deeper understanding of language and culture as active participant of family life.
The University here has a guesthouse, so for the moment I am fine. But it also means a 30-45 minute motorcycle ride to my field sites. Without motorbike there is a dependency on mototaxis and due to my current stage of Myanma language this does not always work out. Discussing times and meeting places at an unfamiliar place with a less systematic approach to street names and house numbers can mean some pitfalls.
So in total, I see my situation critical as I cannot involve completely at field sites but also the campus life doesn’t offer a chance to do so: Especially after 6 p.m. when the pitch black night has already arrived and there is no street lights on the surrounding roads it gets difficult to go out without a motorbike or the like. Not even the hostels of the other teachers on the other side of the campus seem in reach and they return home before the dark. And at my guesthouse I am the only guest because it is exclusively for foreigners. There is also no kitchen or shared room, so inviting others for more then a tea doesn’t work either.
Possible solutions would be finding another place in the city, where there are street lights and neighbours (which is difficult as mostly a contract of minimum 6 months is necessary and I had the spectacular idea of doing fieldwork at two sites, so staying here less than 4 months and making my research life a little harder) or a mix of sleepovers in nunneries and temples, where they also host pilgrims, and my staying at the guesthouse and being mobile with a motorbike.
It consumes quite some time and I hope it is normal that it takes a while until one is settled and things run more smoothly…
Not a day without a list.
This one is new, after a week here suddenly I have to be checked in and out of the guesthouse by the one who “takes” me…
Does it mean they are “responsible” for me during that time? Hopefully I don’t get anyone in trouble then…
Thought things in Germany were quite complicated. But how many numbers, dates and characteristics of my person exist and need to be gathered together in order to transfer my International driver’s licence into a Myanma license still surprised me. As well as the extent to what I needed to explain my research to people in the copy shop for translating my name into Myanma (no idea why relevant, according to sound, not using my Myanma name plus my father’s name was also necessary; don’t even think of data protection all official documents I have with me having at least been seen and copied by 15 people only today) and finally after 2 more office visits the lady issuing the licence also needed to know exactly…I understand that anthropological studies are not her main occupation and so it took quite a while to explain (also she doesn’t speak much English).
I thought now everything is clear, I had signatures from 2 offices and thought it’s just about printing it now – but it wasn’t. Now she requested a statement of the University that my German licence is a real one. I guess I don’t need to mention that I brought my passport, German licence, International licence as well as the Invitation letter from the local University with me. At that point I protested – how and why should the University be able to check the authenticity of my German licence?
I am still at the office… The discussions don’t include me anymore but I am busying 4 women with this – and it’s not like I don’t also feel a little bad about causing so much work to them…
Now 70,000 Kyat were to pay, but as I asked for a receipt it’s 60,000 Kyat now. I hope that’s it for today, so many people asking and discussing in a Myanma-English mix is actually a little stressful.
While still waiting the tough lady starts to be absolutely excited about my dictionary – be ready to be surprised again and again…
Some hours later I really hold it in my hands!