Life in the field: a preview

Posted on October 28, 2010

In between getting into the field and getting out of the field, I had a relatively calm week getting to know my field sites and making local arrangements.  I’m going to be living out of the health post and my surroundings are pretty comfortable.  The health post has 3 rooms for inpatients and rare visits from other Ministry of Health staff, which usually go unoccupied, and I’m staying in one of these rooms.

The room has its own private modern toilet and a sink and shower with running water!  But these don’t seem to work unless they’ve recently had heavy rain.  In the interest of saving water, I’m going to do as the locals do and use the outhouse behind the health post, and get my bathing and clothes washing water from the aljibe that collects rain water from the roof of the building.


To try to avoid spending precious data collecting time recuperating from illnesses I’m bringing all of my drinking and cooking water into the field with me.  I’m also bringing in everything that I need to eat, since the local selection isn’t very good and I’m told more expensive than what you can get in town.

Brasero in action

I’ve been using my brasero to cook my meals with fire made from leña (twigs).  This can be a real pain, because it takes a lot of time to collect the twigs and break them up, and then keep the fire going hot enough to boil the water.  I’m going to try bringing carbon (charcoal) into the field with me this time (it’s not locally available) and see if that saves me cooking time.  I’m also trying to plan more mid-day meals that keep for a long time and don’t need to be cooked.  Hopefully I will think of some things that are more sophisticated than eating the instant ramen noodles raw when I’m too lazy to boil water… *cough*  Don’t worry mom, I take vitamins every day to make sure I’m getting my micronutrients even though I’m fruit and vegetable deprived.

I’m staying in the health post alone, but I feel pretty safe in the community.  It’s a small community where everybody knows everybody, and through the gossiping lines and my reconnaissance walks around town to check things out and announce my presence, people have heard about the young Canadian woman who’s here to study tuberculosis.  I make a point of turning up at the soccer field to watch the games and, although I’m not religious, I went to mass on the Sunday morning at the invitation of the nuns to be introduced to members of the congregation.  The church is an important meeting place for the community, so I will probably try to make a habit of attending Sunday mass.

During the day the nurses/health promoters (2-4 of them) are in the health post, except during a siesta in the middle of the day.  The nurses/health promoters are Nivacle and were born and raised in the community, so I’ve learned a lot from them already.  The mission where the nuns live is next door, and one of the nuns checks in on me at least once a day and has been a really big help setting things up.

Often when local folk visit the health post they will take a moment to visit with me.  Especially when I’m knitting, because people like to see what I’m making.  And I’ve got a troupe of 9-11 year old girls who often stop by to try to wheedle photos out of me or tease me.   On my first visit to the soccer field these girls were the first to approach me, and once I acquiesced to picture-taking requests I was soon surrounded by a crowd of at least 30 kids who loved checking out each other’s poses on my digital camera.

I’ve tried to get these girls to help me learn words in Nivacle, but usually end up learning relatively unhelpful things like the word for “lice”.  One day they solemnly informed me that a  female patient had previously died in the room I was staying in and they wanted to know if I had “seen anything” at night… you know, ghostly.  I haven’t.

But I have seen these guys at night, when it’s raining outside:

2-for-1 spider and scorpion shot

That’s a big spider.  And an old friend from Arizona, a scorpion.  I’m usually pretty good with bugs.  There are lots of other spiders in the room, but they’re in webs eating other bugs, and I’m not worried about finding them hiding in my bed.  I’ve previously encountered a spider like the one in the photo when we were going through bedding looking for vinchucas.   *shudder*  I’m pretty sure it lives in the closet.  Scorpions freak me out, but I think I’ve developed a little tolerance after living in a scorpion-infested house in Arizona for 2 years.  These little black ones move around really fast.  Other insect friends include cockroaches and the rare mosquito, but the bed net takes care of them.

The lack of electricity is probably going to be a challenge.  I’m going to have to write up fieldnotes in the dark every day and although I have headlamps and flashlights and candles to light the room, I see eye strain in my future.  I’ll have to be really careful with how I spend my sunlight hours because they’re precious.  I brought a power inverter with me to Paraguay so that I can charge my laptop and other devices (e.g. satellite phone, handheld GPS, digital camera) off of the Pajerito when I’m driving between communities.  I’m not sure how long it will take to charge each device, but I hope my plan works out or my data entry is going to be really bogged down.

And no electricity means no air conditioning, no ice, no fan.  It’s going to get really hot in the next couple of months.  I wear sunscreen, long-sleeved shirts and pants, sunglasses, and a big hat to protect myself from the sun, but I’ve already got a tan.  Hopefully this last summer in Arizona has somewhat prepared me for what’s to come!

Posted in: Fieldwork