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.

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.

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.

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




Village Visits Vol. 4

It’s not for you! It’s for the Buddha!

…or how my moving-in became a collective happening

During my previous visit many neighbours already followed us inside the house. As it was not inhabited at the time I didn’t mind.

It changed a little when I woke up the first morning after a not so comfortable night. The bed is a platform and the mattress did not reduce its hardness. With a length of 170cm it is also not perfectly sized although with my 166 cm it is just manageable. While I went to the water room (bathroom is not quite fitting) I discovered another coackroach, killed it (am a little sorry for that but I don’t see living with them as an option). Did my best getting used to bucket showers in dimly lit provided by the solar lamps I brought. Electricity comes and goes, nobody knows when and for how long. There is no running water, not to speak of hot water. As I was quite awake then from cold water and chasing that coackroach, to which I had to add two more after reentering the sleep/living room, and the new ambient noises – I kind of had not an easy time to get some sleep.

So, that first morning, again a cold bucket shower. It does help waking up after such a night but it does not really help to improve the general constitution. I just got dressed as Ahbeay arrives, followed by two neighbours. Everyone walks in without hesitation or waiting for me to invite in. My belongings lie around everywhere, as I did not have the time to buy any boxes yet, my bed is not done and I cannot offer anything to eat or drink. My personal items and all rooms are inspected. My stomach is growling and when asked “Have you eaten rice yet?”, the Myanmar version of “How are you doing?”, I use my chance to negate – which earns some astonishment but no real interest in changing that condition. Instead, I am told the bed is in the wrong position – only dead people sleep in this way near the Buddha shrine. To my defence: It wasn’t me who positioned it there…Anyhow I try look apologetic – the neighbours speak Shan, not Myanmar – and agree to this being changed. I use the chance to explain the bed-length problem which is solved by sawing off the end. As I ask to do so to the upper part as well (more easy with the moskitonet, too) I am told that this is not a good idea, the pillow may fall off. I am surprised by the explanation, especially as this truely has never even occured to me as being possible and has never happened either (and if so it would also not be a big deal). Anyway I am too hungry and tired to argue and let it be. I hope to get to the market soon now.

But I am mistaken. The redecoration of my home is not over yet. All items that belong to the current owner and are of no use to me I banned to that super dark room, which was thought to be a bedroom, closed the door and try not to think of it. One of the neighbours goes in, finds some old and dusty plastic mat and a rug and puts it on the floor. I try to explain that I plan to clean the floor first and then acquire one of the bamboo mats you can get everywhere that look really nice and that plastic is not my kind of thing. Ahbeay translates and the neighbour replies seriously: “It’s not for you! It’s for the Buddha!”

I thought it was enough for the time being that I already had cleaned the shrine, put new flowers and fresh water for the Buddha yesterday. I shall respect the Buddha and I honestly do. But my personal and today grumpy mindset just said: and where is the respect for my religion? There are many Christians here and they had asked for my religion, too. That means they were not completely unaware of that fact. I will drop this subject now, nonetheless it added up to my reluctance this morning.

Then it is mentioned that I was seen outside the previous evening around 8 p.m. I nodd, it is correct, I was reading outside on the barred veranda until around 9 p.m. I am told I shall not do this again. I wonder “Why?” – “It is too dangerous”. Which kinds of dangers in this sleepy little town, surrounded by these all-registering neighbours could possibly just wait for me remains unclear.

…and I learn more about privacy

I think it is a valid statement to say that privacy and the private space are defined quite differently in Myanmar. So differently that I am still working on making out the borders.  I am well aware that I have put myself here voluntarily, so I am willing to learn and to adjust my personal ideas to the context as far as possible. I absolutely take this morning as a learning experience on the meaning of privacy and private space and see its value. Other than my professional self, which can work with these insights, my personal boundaries have been crossed as well, and I did not experience this to such an extent before.

I did not get time to fully arrive, when, what I understood as my refugium, was taken over by total strangers. I felt invaded in my private space and hemstrung; I was not well all day, unsure what to do and how to behave in the future (still don’t know). I need time to orient myself and reclaim this space for a minimum of ‘at home’ feeling so I can continue my work concentratedly. I need a place to feel a little at ease far away from everything that I am used to. It is odd to live in someone elses walls, hanging full of private pictures and decorations that are not taken off. It is not easy to find new ways of managing daily life again, again different from life in Mandalay, like ‘where is the outward flow to spit in after brushing teeth?’ (answer: in the wall, hidden by a stone).

Of course I am certain that they were not aware what feelings their actions would evoke in me. Everyone wants to help me and I think that no one felt they were overstepping – which is exactly why it is such an interesting situation analysis-wise. Somewhere else, some other time I will also review this in terms of ‘taking spaces’ and ‘creating spaces’,  ‘building home’ and the material culture that manifests these processes.


It’s not for you! It’s for the Buddha!

Follow the Flow

As you may have understood already anyway, my fundamental idea is to be as open-minded and adaptive to circumstances as possible – especially in this first phase. My knowledge of region, people and culture is still so little that at the moment the idea is a general soaking in of what is going on as an observer as well as a participant. In a more eloquent way the contacts and connections that are developing right now are called opportunistic sampling. This does not mean you only take what you get by chance but it also means working for these contacts and connections of course. There are several ways as you can see soon in different posts, my first example is the start at the nunnery.

My lesson of the day here is about relying and accepting. As ethnographer you should be able to see your personality and reflect on what this means for your research. In this case I know that this lesson is difficult for me because I usually follow my own mind quite strongly. It is hard to distract me from what I feel is the way to do it. I consider myself a doer and organizer and so far I am pretty fine with that. But it can be a hurdle.
We discussed that I may be able to sleep at a nunnery today in order to already be in Sagaing for research in the morning as Z. can take me along on the way home from Mandalay to Sagaing. But as I thought about it I decided it would be less problematic to go early in the morning by bus and come back at night.

I explained this today and thought that there is still enough time to do sleepovers as finding a private quarter in Sagaing or Amarapura is extremely problematic. My approach to the first days in the field was mainly to observe, learn the Myanma terminology and particularly to also give time to the people to get used to my presence as well.

Everyone understood and I was glad. A little later Z. told me that her family already knows that I come tonight, prepared a bicycle for me in order to get around in Sagaing and she went to the nunnery this morning to inform them that I will come this night.

So while I was still considering second options all this developed without my knowledge. I hesitate to accept so much support but on the other hand I get a good impression of how helpful people are – and I have the feeling not even particular because I am a Foreigner (not my categorization) but it is the way things run here (hope to find more examples for this impression). Not only did I have a bad conscience then – I also saw that there are several approaches leading to quite a similar outcome: I will be in Sagaing tomorrow.
So, I follow the flow.

Follow the Flow