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.1

Yesterday Foreigner – today Falang

 

There is no fine line between that Foreigner/Falang and this researcher. Only the Shan/Tai term is used now, other than that nothing changed. Here, I am first of all a tourist and a potential customer. Even Ahbeays explanations at two places we already visited did not change that point of view much. We presented some pictures from our visit in the past year as well as from four weeks ago. I wouldn’t say they recognized me, but it seems that the idea that I indeed have visited before is slowly settling. It will take a few more visits to prove the difference. Until then I will use this chance to learn more about the expectations the appearance of a Falang in the village brings with it and how everyone acts. I assume that this will change later when we know each other better.

The first round of village visits will take us to the nearer surroundings of Kengtung. I sort the villages according to real-time-driving-distance as I think that metric distance measuring doesn’t say much about it  but it is quite relevant for matters of trade, exchange and communication. One of the people whom I spoke to in town the other day said: “It’s so easy to go to Kengtung’s surroundings! You can go anywhere!!! No problems!” – Me: “I think maybe it is not that easy…” – His reply: “Of course! No problem, you can go out 5 miles easily!”. Okay, I am planning to go beyond that point. So the first round will be in villages up to one hour driving and including walking. The next round to those villages 2 hours, 3 hours and then I need to see how far permissions can get me through the check points.

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The bark added to the betel nut chewing to color the teeth black

We start at the Eng village (also written Ang, Ann, Enn etc.) in ~30 minutes distance, it’s my third time here now. I am not very prepared, no questions that would seem urgent at this point, I just want to get a general impression, a feeling for the place. We check out some of the weaving and walk through the village. I try to memorize some basic Eng language, I know I will not be able to speak it but I find it is the minimum of respect and a matter of politeness that I can show by at least trying basic conversation. At noon I am already super tired and we have lunch at the nearby monastery, followed by a nap on the bench quite myanmar style I find, before heading back through the idyll of rice fields and rubber forests.

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Natural tupperware

Another day we go to the Palaung village lying at the foot of the mountain on the other side of Kengtung. This is my second time to visit the village and we go to the same family again. They do back-loom weaving and show us the different steps. We talk and explain a lot. I put on the record – and they love it. The mother asks me to record her daughter singing a song, which I do. Asking what kind of song it is nobody really knows – but still fringing the ends of the scarf we are led inside: to their own Karaoke device! Didn’t see this one coming (as so often I know), so we hang out in that living/sleeping room and listen to Shan and Palaung songs played on TV, accompagnied by the daughter singing into the partly working, partly non-working microphone. When it is time for good byes I feel a sense of disappointment about not buying anything – and I start feeling a little bad about it, too.

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Preparing the Karaoke session
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Ahbeay and little brother watching the performance (pink chair for the Falang)

Reviewing the Field Work Plan and Structuring Team Work

 

Only after these visits I realize how much it helped my mind to arrive here, too. Head spinning I review the initial ideas I had on how to work here. First adjustments are made and I get a better idea on how to structure the variety of villages and techniques and in what way it will make sense to bring all of it together. Theoretical planning is one thing, but completely new thoughts come up already after those two days.

As Ahbeay agreed on working together with me in the upcoming months, I also need to reconsider how to go on about it as a team. It is different from the previous field study, where I worked mostly by myself and did not need to explain what exactly I am up to that day. Those first days made me realize that we cannot just jump in, I cannot assume that he knows how to do ethnographic research. So for today I prepared a short introduction to the basics of the discipline, research idea and methods employed. He should know why I keep on asking the same questions to everyone although I already received one potentially useful reply, followed by the all-time-favorite and potentially annoying “why?” question. Also, he told me that he did not understand why I would ask e.g. for names and relationships of the people around (not only particularly research related, I feel it is also polite to know the names of the people you want to visit frequently), although they are not directly involved in the weaving process itself. For this example I have the following things in the back of my mind: Which are the routines within the household, who and how many people live here and who could potentially be weaving and if not, why not? Only not now, not during this season, not in general?

Another thing is: This research shall also be interesting to Ahbeay. As he usually works as a guide he already knows quite some things about the villages and acquiring structured knowledge can only help all sides for the future I hope. We plan to learn more about the village history, language and religion and make it available (print version and digital on a drive) to the source communities themselves, too.

Need-to’s of the week: learn to communicate my plans more clearly (although sometimes I just follow my intuition spontaneously, too…) and gaining Ahbeays patience for and trust in my persistent question-asking.

Village Visits Vol.1

Adventurous Banking

Exploring the local banking system turned out confusing, surprising, stressful and amusing. Sophia was so nice to accompany me again (after several other organizational matters like buying the motorbike) and I am super grateful she still had the patience!

She called beforehand and it seemed to be no problem so we tried Bank number one: KBZ.  After some discussions it turns out they are not so happy that the first 70 days of my One Year-Business Visa are already over and ask to come back in January.

Bank number two is CB,  my curiosity has been raised although I don’t need it urgently – I want to know if it is possible at all.
She refers us to another CB Bank with a foreign office at 81st and 19th street. Once arrived, forms are handed over immediately and Sophia and I are quite surprised. But quickly several matters turn out to be a problem:

1) The local account cannot receive international transfers. But it comes with an ATM card.
2) The international account can receive transfers from abroad but it can only be accessed in person at the bank.
3) Where does the money come from? Some paperwork is needed – even if I don’t plan on transferring my scholarship grant we use this paper as reference. This works but we are told it is not possible to transfer a higher amount than this monthly grant (not that I would at the moment but FYI).
4) The invitation letter that states that I will be in Myanmar for a little longer is needed too. Luckily it’s on my drive so my mobile phone is passed on to several hands before I am asked to send it via email.
5) The same with my Passport.
6) All these documents will go to the head office in Yangon for review. One of us (most likely Sophia) will receive a call in the next days whether that is possible.
7) Everyone in that bank knows pretty much everything about me…but by now I am used to it.

While we were waiting next to us some money stapling took place, so I can see why nobody feels concerned about handing around my passport…

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Surprisingly I was even allowed to take a picture of this while trying to take a picture of a mushroom (that I wanted to show to a local as I didn’t know it) at the supermarket was prohibited.

To open the local account would only take 10 minutes and I can put some money in to have it more easily available and withdraw for free in contrast to keeping the dollars at home (because carrying them around on a daily basis is no option as with the slightest fold it’s gonna be complicated if not impossible to find someone who exchanges them). So we decided that it is useful and those 10 minutes were no big deal to give it a try. In the end it took another hour and I am the proud owner of a cheque book now – something I just know from old movies – at least until I get the ATM card in two weeks time.

In total we spent 3 hours so we really felt for a nice cup of coffee and cake at the new fantastic Nova Café. We just arrived as they called to let us know that everything works out and I don’t even need another foreign currency account to receive money from another account abroad!
We are surprised and delighted about this outcome 🙂

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Thank you a thousand times Mrs. Patience!!!!! 

Adventurous Banking

Where to Sleep as a Foreigner

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…

Where to Sleep as a Foreigner