Village Visits Vol. 4

Time for Good-Byes

 

Fieldwork itself is limited to a certain amount of days. But the field will not just disappear then. I have my difficulties to accept that in two ways.

The first part being the realization that you did not get all information, that you still want to gather more data to understand everything. I am aware of the impossibility of ever knowing all – but as a researcher exactly that is my drive, so it is just natural that it is hard to stop right here, right now. But I tell myself it is not stopping forever, now is the time for a pause in order to be able to look back and reflect. Then I can continue again.

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Attending the last sunday mass in one of the Christian villages

The second part is to leave the field. And as my field is constituted by people, it means leaving friends and families that I just started to feel part of.

The last two weeks did not make that easier. Rainy season came earlier than expected, limiting access to some villages already. Nonetheless, we did our best to go out as long as rain was not too heavy to give some last gifts of appreciation and properly say good-bye for now, explaining that I will not visit for a while.

Every rainy day we used to work together on transcribing the interviews.

Time for a Future

 

At the same time I was trying to find ways in which I can continue to be in touch with my source communities from faraway. It is not only a matter of installing communication channels that work for all sides: most do not have a mobile phone, many of those who have cannot read and thus calling is the only way…For all those that I cannot directly talk to because of the language barrier, the only way is an indirect communication trough Ahbeay, who will continue to visit the villages and hopefully help both sides to keep in touch.

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My gratitude to the great people I met, who always welcomed me so warmly into their homes and lives

As much as I learned about different people, lives and communities through our conversations I tried to explain whatever they wanted to know about my/the “Foreigner” way of life, too. Often I reached my limits, even reaching a point of thinking: how crazy must the rest of the world sound to them…I can see that.

The most recurrent questions were concerned with: how can we make a living? Clearly, that is not an easy thing to answer. So far I could just give some general ideas about what others do. But is this all that I can do? Is that all that I should do? Or is it already more than I should do?

I am aware that I have at least two main stakeholders: Source Communities and Academia. While the access of Academia to my findings is quite clear and immediate I need to find a similarly immediate way of using the acquired knowledge for the source communities.

Anthropology does not work in a neutral way. It works under the premise of an acknowledged subjectivity. The provision of self-reflexion is part of an ethnographer’s work and exactly what I want to realize in form of this blog. That is why I want to let you know that I decided to continue engaging for my source communities in the future. I know that I influence the field by that. But I would have in any way, so why shouldn’t I try to influence it in a positive way then, helping with what they asked me to help with.

I have arrived back to Mandalay now and will bring this rough idea into a format – soon you will find an update here on what exactly will be going on.

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My good-bye picture of research at Enn villages: Enn women usually wear big metal Earrings – or like in this case sometimes textile ones

 

 

 

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Village Visits Vol. 4

Village Visits Vol. 2

Catching Glimpses and Losing Sights

 

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Not all villages we visit still produce hand-woven fabrics, compared to those mentioned in the (mostly anyhow outdated) literature. My overview gains contours but still leaves a lot of blank spots that need filling… The looms and materials differ, as do patterns and techniques, so that is what I started with. At the moment the schools are closed for summer holidays, as this is the hottest time of the year and find it’s height of the season from today on in the Thingyan (New Year Water Festival). That also means, that all children are present in the villages at their parents’ houses (many of them live at boarding schools in town during the school year, as there is no school or no high school in their village) and so it’s a very interesting time to follow my questions on knowledge transfer between the generations.

 

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The warm welcomes are even warmer by now. If we are not quick enough in refusing, immense lunches are cooked for us and if we said we are full already (true or untrue) – we receive fresh or dried vegetables to take home. I start feeling bad, especially as I know that they sometimes do indeed not have enough food for themselves. Can you believe how hospitable everyone is nonetheless? I barely can, although it is demonstrated everyday! We try to bring things, but it is never an easy decision to make. In some villages falang seems to be synonymous with physician. I face some problems – who am I to refuse painkillers if I do have them with me and someone needs them // who am I giving out medicine without a physician’s examination?!
I would be glad to get some thoughts on that dilemma…

Our conversations in the villages are all recorded – as you can never know in advance what you will learn. There is no useful data background on this area, so I consider pretty much everything as worthy of being documented. And that is where my problem starts: although my focus is clearly on hand weaving, so many general facts have to be collected as well. Starting from the names of the villages, which sometimes have changed, sometimes are new, sometimes are spelled differently, sometimes are in Myanmar or in English phonetic notation and are all only to find on maps completely outdated. The most useful map dates to the 1960s, it does have villages on it but no roads. The others have roads, but barely villages and another one has only those villages considered interesting for tourists. Thus, I am trying to match them up in order to make historical written records useful for today, too.
Anyhow, I try to keep up with transcribing right away, although it is so tempting to let those records rest a few days – and then they already piled up into 7,8,9,10 hours of material that mostly take the same time plus some extra rewind and forward time, when you try to listen to the conversation being drowned in animal sounds, playing children or motorbike drivers honking. Often I think: is it really necessary? Then I start writing down and realize again how many bits of information are entailed that I am not fully aware of afterwards anymore. So a clear yes for audio records and transcribing.

 

Hands and Feet

 

The use of hands is increasing more and more. While I already got used to gesticulating more when speaking Myanmar to make myself clearer – it is now sometimes my sole way of direct conversation without translations of the spoken word. To improve the situation, we are collecting phrases in Lahu, Palaung, Loi, Akha and Enn – but an understanding of the language, its grammar and an adequate vocabulary are out of our hands. Learning material for these languages can barely be found, and if so, it is usually not for an ‘as a foreign language’ learner but most likely produced in a missionizing context. The list I produce contains the same phrases in all those languages and is written down in a terrible attempt of German phonetic transcription and in Myanmar phonetic transcription – raise hands if interested or have material on that or know a better way to do it. Luckily, most of our hosts speak some Shan or some Myanmar. And we all use our hands…

…and arms… It is a little awkward at times, but after losing some shyness (on both sides) my arms are of interest, too. I don’t know the reason, it may be their colour being a matter of doubt, which is examined by touching and squeezing resulting in a general consent on the ‘softness’ of falang arms – not sure if that’s a great compliment – and a preference for this pigmentation, with which I try to make my disagreement visible. Although it is strange, I prefer this more direct investigation to the staring that sometimes intimidates me, although I know people are (in nearly all cases) just too surprised and unsure what else to do with that falang crossing their paths. For today I have to add the first dissenting vote though: those falangs, male and female, they look terrible! So big, so white, huge noses, just really not beautiful! I loved that straightforwardness!

…and feet… Losing one of the flip-flops from the motorbike basket the other day was just the last sign to support this. And I always wondered who would not notice a lost shoe – I know now.
Already in the past year I noticed the contrast between those visiting the hills for a vacation and those who have to walk up and down every day. One group equipped with trekking boots, long trekking pants, fanny pack (that one I had to look up, I hope it’s correct), walking sticks and backpacks for their one-hour walk up the hill. The others passing by quickly and relaxed barefoot or in flip flops.
It’s very dry now and the ways are coated with a thick layer of slippery dust, and those I saw in walking shoes slipped anyhow. On top of that you enter houses all the time, taking shoes and socks off and on is a little annoying, and the heat has arrived here as well by now. Turns out, it’s a fantastic ice breaker: our hosts notice my missing shoes immediately, get nervous, look concerned and expect explanations and as soon as they understand it’s on purpose they happily show their bare feet, we all look down and before anyone thinks of anything again, for a short moment we are just the same. So, I gave up on shoes.

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Village Visits Vol. 2

Self-Censorship and Secrets

To fulfill the idea of transparency, it needs to be added that some issues are excluded from being passed on absolutely transparent.

Myanmar is in a state of transition, which means the government has not yet been installed although the elections have been conducted in November and the legal situation has thus not significantly changed either. So I will not disclose related matters, neither facts that can sound too critical nor my own opinion on these. I also don’t think it is necessary for this blog, I just wish to be clear about its limitations in terms of transparency.

Another point is that it is professional business networks and competition between the weaving stores I visit. Several of these links I can understand now, but I am asked not to publish them (kind of clear anyway) – and I wouldn’t do any other place either.

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And if you don't censor yourself - maybe your computer helps on that 🙂 still working on a solution how to save myanma font in Word

Self-Censorship and Secrets

Wisdom and Loving Kindness. Lessons as taught by Uzin Agga

This is not a Christmas post – but it is a post about Christmas nonetheless. I didn’t plan this one, really, but also here in Myanmar Christmas is all around. Some of the shops along the streets display only clothes in a white and red colour combination and at the big mall they do play Christmas songs and sell plastic christmas trees.

But I was not prepared (okay, by now we all learned that every day I keep being surprised) for my Myanma lesson this day:

Uzin Agga*,  my highly appreciated teacher and friend, started our today’s session with a Bible quotation! And I have to admit it’s not only because my Myanma is still not that good – but also my catholic education has not really helped in recognizing this. Full of enthusiasm – as always – he wrote it down and here it is:

အဆိုိးအားဖင့္အရႈံးမခံနွင့္။ အေကာင္းအားျဖင့္အဆိုိးကိုနွင့္ေလာ့။

                                                          ေရာမၾသ၀ါဒစာ။ ၁၂ :၂၁ (Romans 12:21)

မေကာင္းမႈေရႈာင္၊ ျဖဴေအင္စိတ္ကိုထား။              

                                                           ဗုဒၶ   (Buddha’s teaching)                                  

To extend our dialogue he also added this teaching of Buddha. Both of them say – in different words – that one should continue to do good and conquer the evil in this way.

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Uzin Agga’s lesson of the day

Uzin Aggas teaching is always prominently featured by his enthusiasm and positivity. And now he explains that he enjoys reading bible quotations for their literary style and poetic word usage that is a valuable addition to the Myanma language!

I feel somewhat relieved: Brought up Christian, even though my personal beliefs may differ from the classical canon now, I have internalized Christmas as the time of reflection and gratitude. So, in the past days I went around to my field sites and friends and brought some small presents to show my appreciation and by this bringing in something that is part of my culture as well. Not without asking the typical anthropological self-reflexive questions though: “Is that an okay thing to do?” and what consequences this cultural exchange may have in the short run and for the long term?

But when I think of Uzin Agga’s delight about the beautiful sentences  we read today I try to see the good in things like this, it is possible that they transcend the religious background and bring a little more happiness and peace.

Thank you so much Uzin Agga, for the wisdom and loving kindness (yes, your words) you share with me: the time and effort for the preparation of the sessions and our slow motion mobile communication, your patience in listening to my mistakes repeatedly and your constant encouragement!

Dankeschön!

 

 

*Full name not displayed.

Wisdom and Loving Kindness. Lessons as taught by Uzin Agga

Myanma Apps, Mobile phones and Messaging

There is not a day without using the mobile phone. It’s not necessarily me – but it is everyone around me, too. It is an all-encompassing presence in daily life and in the professional life of the people I talk to as it is in mine.
The preference of oral personal communication is now held up and extended through mobile communication technologies in form of calls. It is perfectly fine to take calls at all times and places, in the office, during conversations, on bus rides and at the pagoda. It seems there is no particular difference to talking to a person next to you physically or virtually.

With the Internet access becoming cheaper during the last year also the usage of messaging apps has increased. Facebook is immensely popular and for most people it even equals the world wide web. It is a primary source of information – at the moment mostly for interpersonal exchange – but at the same time posts that are rumours or propagandistic more than anything else become difficult to differentiate from news.

Now it may seem that my primary research focus has nothing to do with that. I thought of my mobile phone as a necessity of getting into touch and being reachable – the phone number is the first thing that is exchanged wherever I go – so for me it is a part of my equipment. But I have the feeling that there is more to it – it makes me a real person here, someone you can contact on your own initiative and reach anytime. I am happy that in this way the communication is two sided right from the beginning and my idea of an exchange has realized with much less effort than I thought.

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SMS without and with the specific app

But not effortless at all on the technical side: it took quite a while to find out why I cannot write Myanma on my phone or read anything I receive on one of the channels. It’s not like I have no clue about technology – but installing whatever Myanma keyboard or font – no chance. I learned that my phone has a European root and another Asian one is necessary (don’t ask me about exact terms here). But no mobile shop was able to change my phone’s software to be two-rooted.
Finally I went to the Sony store where I was told that no one can do it, not only because the Sony Software is somewhat particular… no exactly my phone model Sony Z3 Compact cannot have this second root in general (at least that is what I understood).
I explained that I really want to read and write on my phone and asked if there is no way around buying a new phone in order to do so?
And tadaa there is! Actually there are many: my phone now has a Facebook for Myanmar app,  a SMS for Myanmar app and a Browser for Myanmar app. So with the help of these I can now communicate in myanma. 

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To make it a little more complicated: not every font works with each app...so it's an accumulation of keyboards now

Unfortunately it doesn’t work for other messengers to that I need to use Facebook all the time. It is my personal skepticism that usually leads me around using it, especially the messenger that wants to access just about everything – but for research’s sake I comprised on that one 😉

So in the field I found several ways how the mobile phone is now used for conducting business and exchanging ideas. Photographs of designs, books with a desired pattern and fabrics seen elsewhere in the world are sent to the local workshops. Ordering fabric, having a first look on the colour combination and receiving the information that you can now come and pick up your fabric that has been in process for around 3 months – all this takes place through mobile communication technologies. Mobile phones have been passing by computers without second thoughts. It is just the way how things have always worked – via direct personal communication,  only that now you can even send pictures. In the domain of the material culture, in this case the production process of fabrics, it would be an error to ignore this important tool and it’s functions and the consequences that arise here from using it. Cutting it short and simple: Demand and supply are connected faster and even more direct without intermediaries.

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How images immediately wander

And not to forget: mobile phones are great calculators, dictionaries and many weavers I visited enjoyed listening to music while at work. In this regard there is another app that I didn’t know earlier but everyone here uses to exchange music and apps: Zapya. I figure it’s popularity has to do with the restricted access to fast Internet to download everything just by yourself. When you exchange data like this, you only need the Bluetooth connection between the handsets.

So in the end, it’s never easy, but people here always come up with a solution.

Myanma Apps, Mobile phones and Messaging