A lot can change in a few weeks

Posted on February 18, 2011


An explanation for my tardiness in blogging: it rained.  A lot.  The road I usually take in and out to my study communities was ugly and the bus I usually catch probably isn’t going to make it out there until at least Monday, if not later.  The road was already rained out before the end of the line when I got there, and it was about a 20 minute walk from where the bus stopped to where it normally stops in the middle of town.  I was lucky and caught a lift with a 4×4 truck going through the mud so I didn’t have to carry my stuff the whole way.

The bus stops here

The bus stops here, 20 minute walk ahead

The first day out was a lot of fun.  When I did the census in my study communities, I offered to take a family photo for participants and deliver a print to them on my return.  My first field assistant, Noemi, hadn’t left town for her boarding school yet, so she and I and a friend of hers, Lida, who I later hired to be my new field assistant, went house to house delivering family photos.  I got a lot of smiles and laughter!  When I first made the rounds in the community for the census a lot of people were skeptical about whether I would show up again with the promised photos (such has been their experience with other researchers), so it’s nice to have some credibility in the community now.

I also caught up on the news in the communities.  I was in Integrationville for this visit, and was told that over Christmas a violent incident took place.  The community is still very shocked since this is the first time such an incident occurred between Nivacle persons (it would be less surprising if it took place between a Nivacle person and an outsider).  I still feel safe in this community.  By Nivacle custom, not just the perpetrator (who is in jail), but also their close relatives are exiled from the community.  This means that four families have moved away.  Two of these families ran almacens (small stores where people can buy food and other supplies), and now only two almacens remain in the community.

I’m not sure if the lower number of almacens had anything to do with it, but neither of the remaining almacens had any beverages (e.g. juice, Coca Cola) to sell the whole time I was there.  (Fun fact: Pepsi is contraband in Paraguay at the moment, and you would have to get it from Argentina/Brazil if you want to drink it.  But it might be coming back to Paraguay in 2011.)  The rain and messed up roads prevented any deliveries from the macateros (traveling salesmen).  I came in with only 7 litres of water this time, hoping that I could get most of my fluids by buying juice from the almacens (which is often refrigerated!), so I ended up having to use a lot of my water treatment tablets instead.  I brought a microfilter to Paraguay with me this time, since filtering the water through a folded handkerchief was a real pain; and it does a much better job of keeping the algae out (or whatever that green plant material is that comes out of the tap).  Filtering isn’t enough to get rid of the things that can make you sick, so I also use the water treatment tablets or boil the water.  My cooking pot has retained a bit of a burnt popcorn flavour, so I prefer using the tablets at the moment…

I heard rumours that a cellphone tower (or maybe two) would be going up in a nearby town in the next few months and it may be possible to get a weak cellphone signal in Integrationville when it is up and running.  I strongly doubt this since it’s going up in a location 45 minutes from town.  But that’s close enough for me to make a day trip on my future motorcycle/quad and make calls.

I got news about Isolationville from the local health workers since I haven’t been able to make it out there just yet.  Electricity has arrived in Isolationville!!  It will be interesting to see if the community has changed much since the arrival of electricity, but I suspect electricity leads to more changes in nightlife and daylight hours will remain more or less the same.  (Sadly I don’t have any baseline time allocation data to back that claim up!)  Integrationville could also be connected to the power lines at any time, but they are still putting together their community proposal for how the connections should be made.  The Paraguayan Ministry for Housing is going to do a housing project in Integrationville (just like the one that was previously done in Isolationville), so they might wait until the new houses are built before connecting the power lines.  The Mission has electricity too, and the light made it a lot easier to go over archival health documents.  They are hoping to get the health post I stay in connected soon.

I finished up all of the interviews I needed in Integrationville in the first week, and then I had some extra time to fill while I was waiting for the bus to show up.  So Lida and I started working on the translation (Spanish to Nivacle) and the back-translation (Nivacle to Spanish) of a survey I’m designing for the case-control part of the study.  The purpose of back-translation is to double check that the meaning you intended in your original document is preserved after translation to a different language.  I’ve learned some interesting things about Nivacle during our back-translations.  For example, when I had questions worded with “quien” (who), it back-translates from Nivacle as either “como se llama” (what is their name) or “quien” (who).  The Nivacle word for either of these expressions is the same.

Translating and backtranslating

Translating and backtranslating

I also started preparations for a side project about nutrition that I would like to run later on (hopefully with students around to help).  And I sent both Noemi and Lida around the community with my camera (to document different kinds of foods in the community) and video camera (to do a ‘tour’ of health problems in their community and do informal interviews with people in their community about these health problems, so that we could send these videos to the Intro to Global Health class back at ASU).  The batteries of both the camera and video camera died while the assistants were off documenting, so I didn’t get to see what they put together until now, and I’m pretty excited about it!  The videos are all in Nivacle, so we’ll have to do some closed-captioning before I share them, but I’ll get some of the photos they took up in the next week.

After hanging out a week longer than I was planning on and hoping the road would dry up, I caught a ride out with some of the people from the Mission who were heading in a northerly direction (i.e. away from my final destination).  I’ll tell you more about my trip out in the next post (but sadly I don’t have any pictures, since the batteries of both my camera and video camera were dead!).

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Posted in: Fieldwork