Race in Colombia?

When I told one of my PhD advisors John Betancur that I would be doing research in his hometown, Medellin, Colombia, he said among other things, “Racism is veiled in Colombia it is an ambiguous vague system of symbols and exclusions. Most people will say there is no segregation but you will see blacks in a corner of the neighborhood.”  So as usual, I am watching, listening, and asking questions while taking real and mental notes. For instance: Why is it that white/blonds are called monos (which also means monkey)? Why when a trigeño (wheat or mixed person of color) greets a black woman does he say “me negra preciosa” (my precious black one), naming her race. And why does the same person later tell Allison (white, blonde/blue eyes) that he would like her to give him her blue eyes because they are so beautiful – here not necessarily naming race, but certainly offering judgment of white racial phenotypes? I have noticed, at least, that there seems to be a fascination and admiration for blond, blue-eyed people, and that both white/blonds and black phenotypes are often named (for being different or unusual?). Is there an unspoken/spoken hierarchy of race and preference going on here? How is it different from or similar to understandings of race and racism in the US?

While Allison and I have been talking about this and trying to interrogate our observations and experiences, things got a little heated towards the end of a little fiesta we had. We were moving through various youtube videos, when one guest put on a cartoon where the main character was Cirilo el Negrito (Cirilo the little black boy). While the actual

Colombia’s Cirilo El Negrito

characterization is not quite as exaggerated as the Mexican Memin Pinguin, it struck me as interesting. So, I asked about the racial connotation of the cartoon, and was told in uncertain terms that it was not racist at all, and that black people like to be called black and are proud to be black. I was also told that the cartoon was very common and considered a

Mexico’s Memin Pinguin

non-controversial kids cartoon. I was unsure, and so pressed further about the racial implications of the cartoon, specifically questioning what it meant about racism in Colombia that this was considered non-controversial. The Colombians at the party expressed that while there was definitely racism in Colombia, this cartoon was not a manifestation of Colombia’s race relations, and that (said defensively) it surely wasn’t racist. In retrospect, I think I didn’t ask the ‘race question’ in the right way. I was not trying to suggest that merely recognizing someone’s constructed “race” is racism, but I questioned what was the message about blacks being told in the story? What interests me most is the structural ways in which racism is produced and reproduced.  Is this cartoon reproducing racial hierarchies? I still don’t have a clear answer.

But I pushed a little past the cartoon, asking about racial segregation in the country — specifically inquiring about the region called Chocó where a majority of the inhabitants are Afro-Colombian. One guest at the party told me that this area is poor (the poorest in the country) for two main reasons: One is that there are few roads and poor modes of transportation to these areas, a result of technological deficiencies, green movements’ desire to preserve the purest selva (jungle), and native peoples’ opposition to roads through their lands. This lack of access has made the area more isolated and prevented development. The second reason cited was that there was a “culture of corruption” in this area. That is, when resources are sent to this region, so I was told, they are spent on parties rather than education, infrastructure, or economic development. “Culture of corruption?” I questioned.  I right away recalled the “culture of poverty” thesis of Oscar Lewis, which has long since been critiqued as racist.  I didn’t press further, so as to not break up the party, but I went to bed with still more reservations and lost some sleep thinking about them.

The next day I was talking with another Colombian and presented the two reasons for poverty in Chocó, that I had been given the day before. He suggested that the situation was much more complicated. He reminded me that in the past decades, Japan and Canada as well as Antioquia (the state where Medellin is located) had been very heavily investing in extracting/exporting natural resources, such as gold, wood, and lead from the area (read: colonization). Additionally, this area historically was settled by escaped slaves and was considered a safe place away from slave owners because of its isolation and its difficult living conditions as a tropical area with heat and related diseases. These beginnings as an escaped slave state resulted in few resources from the federal government. This explanation more directly unveils a long legacy of interconnected structural racisms (which are certainly not unprecedented around the world.)  With such a history, it seems fair to suggest that while Cirilo el Negrito may not be a racist symbol, the character could be read as a depiction of structural racism in the country. And likewise, maybe the apparent preference for blond hair and blue eyes is a manifestation of continued colonial hierarchy (on multiple levels) in Colombia. These ideas will be further developed in a future post. BETSY

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Health 2

I have been doing international research for almost 20 years and each time I travel some health related issue comes up! In Mexico for my dissertation research I wanted to keep up my running routine, but since at that time, and in that small village, not too many people were running, my attempts at healthy living were somewhat uncomfortable. My foreignness was already obvious, but even more so when ‘that foreigner’ began running out to the main highway on her daily runs. Surely my running was seen as foolish by many, since the daily activities of most people in the village were already of a physically challenging nature. I was also running on dirt roads, unlike the smooth tracks I was used to in Chicago, so my knees showed the signs of multiple trips and falls on dusty and rock-filled carreterras. While in Mexico, I also joined the women’s soccer team, having never played soccer before. My career as goalie (since I was the tallest player) was short lived due to a few auto goals and then by a severely strained ankle.  My friends took me to a huesero to “fix” my stain. I was suspicious, as the cure hurt worse than the strain and the huesero insisted that he needed to massage not only my ankle but all the way up my leg!  In short order my ankle felt better, but I was not asked to be back on the team.

Then, during a post-doc in Russia (Omsk, in the middle of Siberia), I had a pretty serious allergic reaction to something (probably bee propolis). I was one big hive from head to toe. We relied on a student in my husband’s Spanish class to guide us through the free medical system. After several hours of waiting, I saw a doctor and was prescribed several injections, of what I still don’t know, with the largest needle I have ever seen. It felt as if the injector, as she jabbed me with full force, was getting back at me for all the failed and imperialist US policies dating back, at least, to Vietnam. Thankfully, after a day of rest I was feeling better and neglected to go back for the rest of the “required” injections. They also prescribed a clear liquid that tasted like metal—very strange. Later, while presenting at a conference in Sakhalin Russia (the small Island above Japan), I got pneumonia. Friends at the conference were concerned with my diminished breathing ability and got a doctor to come to my hotel room, where he injected me with steroids, right into my wrist, despite my protests. It seems the Russian medical culture at that time was ‘doctor knows best’ and patients don’t really know too much.

After these experiences, my husband opted for home remedies and acupuncture when he got a pretty severe flu while in the field with me in Russia. Our upstairs neighbor put veladora (upside down suction cups) and hot mustard packs on his back while he inhaled steam from hot onion water. Then she broke out her accordion and soothed the cold with music. Later in the year, while in Omsk, we found an acupuncture place where he was able to get fixed with thicker needles than we were used to in the US.  As Allison mentioned in her recent post, using your networks (neighbors, friends and colleagues) in the field has been our best ally in the quest for health and healthcare. We have also found that alternative approaches have been quite effective.

I feel as though, as I get more experience (read: get older), I am better able to be prepared for health events. Here in Colombia, I have been trying to keep my asthma under control. The pollution from the billions of motorbikes and cars is palpable –you can literally taste it. Also the altitude makes it a little harder to breathe. So, while I have my emergency inhaler, I have relied on apple cider vinegar (which I was able to find here) and breathing exercises to get me though bouts of breathing issues.  I also bring a small arsenal of remedies for colds, and first-aid issues, as does Allison. It seems to me that bringing (within reason) sensible cold and first-aid supplies make sense for international researchers. And, keeping in shape helps. While I have switched from running to walking, and I have not joined the local women’s soccer team here, the almost 90 degree hill by our house is keeping me fit.

Health

Good health is, quite obviously, a necessity for success in the ‘field’ – no matter where the field is. For political, logistical, and organic reasons, when the field is an international research space, ensuring good health can be more of a challenge. I still remember a certain older, white male geographer (encountered in grad school) describing fieldwork experience as necessarily demanding on the body – if you haven’t suffered, you haven’t really done fieldwork. And, by this reasoning, conquered fieldwork hazards are like plaques to be displayed in your trophy chest. I do not share this sentiment. Just like we take care to ensure safety in the field (see previous posts ‘safety’ and ‘danger’), I also have thought a lot about my health, the health of my 3-yr old son who is with us, and the health of my collaborators.

As if the political economics of healthcare in the United States do not seem daunting enough, trying to figure out how to ensure a smooth coverage of healthcare overseas is much more intimidating. This is especially true because it seems as though much of the smoothing work cannot be done until you actually situate yourself in a place. In our case, assuming our insurance would possibly reimburse us for some of any medical bills we might incur while in Medellin, we talked with our neighbors, wonderful, trustworthy people, who also have a young child. We were able to get the contact information for three doctors – a nearby medic, a pediatrician, and a bio-energetic doctor.  These numbers sit by the phone, hopefully never to be used.

That is not to say that we have all felt 100% wonderful on this trip; just that, fortunately, all of our health concerns have seemed to be minor and symptoms have dissipated either with home remedies brought from the U.S., like Echinacea tea, probiotics, hot compresses and tea tree oil, or with home remedies found here, like te de alpiste, canela, gingibre, and curcuma. Yoga helps (at least me), along with going to bed at a reasonable hour. Still, we recognize and watch health concerns: some seemingly minor – like elevated blood pressure, the threat of passing colds, and occasional headaches – and some seemingly more major – like the threats of yellow fever and malaria should we decide to venture beyond the metropolis, and the negative effects of heavy urban pollution on asthma and breathing. We also recognize that travel itself, and changes in microbe exposures, ambient energies, daily routines and rhythms, do take a toll on the body. None of these concerns are things to gloat about, nor do I think it’s unprofessional, weak or womanly to worry about our bodies in the field and how to take best care of them so that we don’t suffer. It’s just another aspect of international field experience.  -ALLISON

Data Creation

In keeping with our feminist training and our insistence that our research is for and by our participants, we prefer to call our fieldwork activities data creation; that is, we are not here gathering, gleaning data from our participants; rather, together, we produce the ‘data’ that the research seeks. Our data creation has unfolded through three main activities. First, we have been conducting what might be called group interviews. For the most part, we have talked with two women at a time. On one occasion we had three and on one we had only one. We have felt that this approach to interviewing has been beneficial for a few key reasons, but also has its drawbacks. Women who are displaced, and may or may not know each other, can find support in a compañeraduring interviews in front of three Western women (Betsy, Allison, and our graduate student Colleen). Having a group together for the interview, then, seems to open a new space for dialogue while creating important linkages between all involved in the conversation. However, in some cases, having a second participant (Colombian) present seems to curtail or at least to shape what is said and what is left unsaid. One woman, for example, in a one on one interview disclosed a relationship that we may not have heard about in a group interview. On a couple of occasions one of the women in a group interview was dominant, interrupting and preventing the other participant from sharing more of her experience.  And, of course our own presence there as researchers shapes what is said as well, albeit in a different way. While our combined presence is presumably not threatening, at the very least, a meeting with us may seem a bit out of the ordinary.  Two of us are blond (not too common in Colombia).

House where we conduct the interviews and have the shared food experiences.

Two of us are still learning Spanish. Most importantly, our place of origin as USians, has appeared to be both interesting and daunting (look for future post on identity). Knowing that such characteristics matter (literally) to the event of research, we try to make the ‘interviews’ as conversational as possible.

The second activity we have used to create data is what we call ‘shared food experiences’ – events in which we are together creating a physical, affective, and/or ‘visceral’ experience with the women. We invite the women that we have interviewed in the previous week to a day-long process of buying, cooking and eating food, a process that we hope (and feel) is also one of community building.  The event takes place at the house where we have been conducting the interviews—in other words, a safe space for everyone. We start at 9:30 with coffee and a snack as we discuss what we want to make for el almuerzo(early afternoon main meal in Colombia).  We develop a shopping list and decide who will go to the market. Some stay at the house to care for the children. So far, we have done two of these and each seemed unique in particular aspects. During shopping with the first group, there was a lot of attention to quality! The women wanted to make a guanabana and milk drink and they went to at least five different stalls in the large Minorista market to find a guanabana that was good enough. With the second group, in contrast, we got most items at the first stand we came to, and there was not much inspection of the food, nor evaluation of quality. Unsurprisingly, the first shopping trip took much longer than the second  — there was much more time dedicated to the discussion of what brands and types of vegetables, meats, and milks are best. Both events, in our minds, were a success, not only because they allowed us hands-on experience of displaced women’s (ideal) food procurement, but also because they encouraged multiple lines of communication among the participants. In fact, while food enabled these gatherings, the conversations during the gatherings have focused on other aspects of the experience of displacement. During the second group, six women sat at a table while peeling potatoes and chopping cabbage and listened with great attention to different stories of domestic violence that several of the women described.

Chopping cabbage while telling life stories.

They told their stories with great emotion, drama and expression. One woman stood up and used her body to demonstrate being cut with a machete twice, shot in the mouth, and beaten regularly. All of the women were viscerally involved with the emotional stories being told by nodding their heads in acknowledgment, laughing at appropriate times, asking clarifying questions, and confirming that they had similar experiences.

The third activity we have used to generate data is visits to the various barrios and individual houses where the women now live. These are neighborhoods or zones on the periphery of Medellin that, for the most part, are populated with displaced persons. We have written about this earlier. One collaborator suggested, “we can sit here [during interviews] and tell you anything we want but until you come and see where and how we live you can not understand what we are saying.” (For more details on these visits see ‘An A-Typical Day’ and ‘Safety.’) So far, we believe these three activities complement each other well by prov

Looking down the path we followed in un Barrio.

iding different points of entry into the cotidiana (dally life) of displaced women and food security among other (in)securities as well as begin to build our relationships with these women toward a goal of food security.

Safety

This post is a follow up on our previous post, entitled ‘danger.’ A few days after writing the post, we decided that the most dangerous part of our work thus far was the traffic circle we had to cross every day to get to the metro from our house (pictured right). We always have to run, and have already witnessed a number of close calls with people running in front of swerving motorcycles, taxis, and busses.

A few days after that, however, we experienced a more elusive threat, albeit one that seemed viscerally palpable to one of us. This past Saturday we made a trip to one of the peripheral barrios of Medellin, called Belen Altavista. At the time, we did not know that this was an area of intense tension, where gun fights among rival gangs are a regular occurrence. We also did not realize until afterwards that the numerous phone calls made before and during our journey (by bus, and on foot) into the barrio were done to ensure our safety during the brief visit. When we arrived, more than a few young men from the neighborhood and some of the women we had interviewed accompanied us on our walk up a long path, through a little ally and up, up, up what seemed like hundreds of steps to a house with a true ‘altavista’ of the city below. Allison remembers seeing another teenager, a young man, sitting on the stoop outside of his house with a boy about the same age as Benjamin (her 3-yr old son). As she softly said ‘hola’ the teenager leaned over and kissed the little boy on the top of his head.

The first suspicion of tension came when Benjamin, who came with us on the trip, began to insist very fervently and obviously agitated that he didn’t want to climb anymore, and he didn’t want to stay in the house of the family that we were visiting. He wanted to go down. ‘Yo quiero bajar,’ he insisted, without explanation. This was strange not only because he had enjoyed the previous visit to a similarly elevated neighborhood the weekend before, but because Allison was carrying him so he was not tired. He also insisted that he was not sick and that he did not want to say what was wrong – all unusual behaviors.  So, instead of continuing up to another house even further up the stairs, our compañero, Cesar, insisted that we follow Benjamin’s wishes and go down. This we did, stopping along the way in another part of the neighborhood to visit another family, where Benjamin was much more calm, drinking some juice and eating his first-ever lollypop (bonbon).  The other family we were supposed to visit (further up the first hill) kept calling to see if we were coming, and were, undoubtedly, disappointed when Cesar explained that, no, it was time to leave.

It was well before evening when someone called a taxi to take us down to the city center. We gave many hugs and kisses and crunched into the taxi, leaving behind our other compañero Alexis, who followed us later by bus. It wasn’t until we returned home that Cesar mentioned that this area was currently one of the most tense barrios in the Medellin periphery, that there had been a balacera (gun fight) the night before, and that the first hill where we were headed was particularly insecure. He said that children sometimes have a sense of such things (tension, violence) and that, it was for that reason that he insisted that we heed Benjamin’s quite visceral alert. Thinking back on the day, this experience confirmed the trust we have in Cesar, which stems not only from his deep connections with displaced communities but also and especially his attentiveness to issues of viscerality, emotion and ‘affect’ (the topic of a future post) in developing relationships. It is through such attention to afecto that we continue to feel safe in our research and relationship-building here among displaced families in Medellin. We still, of course, continue to be cautious, especially when crossing the street.

Danger

When Allison began to talk with people about this research – on food security with displaced women in Medellin – the first few contacts told her that this would be ‘fairly dangerous’ work. Their sentiments were not simply because of the infamy of Medellin in the 1990s – at that time, one of the most violent cities in the world. But instead, the caution came from the more particular fact that we would be working with displaced women; it seemed that the marking of oneself as displaced, or working for displaced, could bring one into unforeseen dangers because Medellin’s urban gangs have targeted displaced people, especially women, just for being displaced.

SEE: http://www.semana.com/comunidad-semanacom/silencio-victimas-medellin/156071-3.aspx

Despite this initial forewarning, we have never felt in danger in Medellin, and particularly have never felt in danger interacting and collaborating with displaced women, on the subject of food. We have not sensed danger for ourselves, nor for our participants. And, our participants have never expressed feelings of fear associated with our research process. We don’t think our ‘feelings’ spawn from naïveté. They come, possibly, from making certain choices and having incredible connections here in the ‘field’ (Medellin). We listen and ask about which areas are risky. We only go to the periphery of the city accompanied and invited. We don’t stay past dark. Some of this is common sense.

One of our very important connections explained that the best way to avoid danger is to work with the community. That is, if you are engaged with, committed to, and respectful of community members, you will be safe. He also suggested that people in the middle and upper classes, who have not had the opportunity to engage with displaced community members, have developed warped perceptions of the nature and context of these communities. Therefore, they might be more likely to exaggerate the danger of our research agenda.

Yet, this is not to say that research cannot be dangerous or that feelings of danger haven’t happened in the process of our research in other places. Betsy has done research in Mexico and Russia and has had several dangerous encounters, particularly in Juarez, Mexico. Betsy sensed peril in Juarez. She says – ‘you could feel the danger; you could cut the danger with a knife’.  Women were and continue to be raped, murdered, and mutilated at alarming rates in Juarez, many snatched up from the street or out of back yards. In fact, the danger was so high, that Betsy opted not to continue research there, although she continuers research in other parts of Mexico. In addition, Betsy also experienced a different kind of danger in Russia, as a post doc and as a Fulbright scholar. Both times, Betsy was investigated by the state because she was considered dangerous! (See an extended chapter on her post doc feminist spy experience here: Spy or Feminist.) And, there were other dangers for her in Russia:  FSB (the new KGB) following and interrogating her, and a growing anti-western sentiment in the country, not to mention -52 below 0 temperatures (see our Health blog post coming soon). For now, Betsy is not planning to return to Russia to conduct research because of the dangers.

As we continue our research in Medellin, we, of course, remain aware of the possibility of new dangers arising. One of the ways we minimize the potential for new risks is by insisting on a non-contentious focus for the research. That is, we are primarily interested in understanding the day-to-day experiences displaced women have with food procurement, with listening to their stories, and with providing a space for the expression of emotions. So while we think about the political unrest in the country and we hear about dangers of many different types from the women we are working with, we remain cautious, moving within a relatively uncontroversial space.

An A-Typical Day

After our usual weekday morning routine on Saturday-we arrived at Cesar’s office (where we do the interviews) at about 1:30. This time, no stop at abuelita’s house since Ben (3 yr old) was going to go with us for the day. After a short chat with Cesar, we took the metro to the San Javier stop, where we met one of the women we had interviewed during the week, Doña Maria.  We then started our ascension to the Altos de la Virgin neighborhood within comuna 13, an area notorious for violence and poverty. On the way, Cesar explained that the area where we were going had been settled by displaced families from different parts of Antioquia (the state where Medellin is located) and that, during that time, people from places like San Carlos and San Luis had constructed wooden homes that were well-taken-care-of and painted in bright colors. However, in 2007 and 2010 two consecutive fires burned about 75% of the homes in this area. While the official cause of the fires was never established, there is suspicion that neighboring communities, with which this community had had some disputes, might have had something to do with the fires.

We arrived at Doña Ariana’s house after a short while. She lives in a two-story cement-block house that she was given after her wood house was destroyed in the fires. Cesar greeted her with his usual affection and she was obviously glad to see him and Doña Maria. She offered us some sweet-maracuyá juice and a rest on her patio after our healthy uphill jaunt. While we drank, Doña Ariana’s teenage son described how his friend had been killed last year on their block and his family’s decision to leave for several months because of fear that his life might be in danger. We continued upward with Doña Ariana joining our group.

As we huffed and puffed a little (at least some of us) up further, we reached the 25% of the original wood homes that did not get burned in the 90s. Doña Olga greeted us with hugs and happiness. She invited us to join her on the small wood porch–we were able to rest again. We could see though the door that she had what looked like a fairly new industrial sewing machine and large spools of thread. She said she gotten government help to purchase the sewing machine and that she mostly made household items like bed covers and curtains but occasionally did clothing repairs and even made some pants. After a while we continued upward with Doña Olga joining the group.

After another bit of leg-muscle-developing-uphill-exercise, we stopped at Doña Angelica’s wood house. She escorted us to the community built school and had the keys to let us in. We had a few minutes inside the one-room building with a small biblioteca, and then continued further up on the long stairs to the top of the hill with an impressive view of the city. All along the way we saw small vegetable gardens and more than a few chickens. Rural folks, who had been displaced, transferred their food growing culture with them as best they could.

Heading back down, with less huffing and puffing, we dropped the women off at their respective houses as we made our way back to the metro.  We stopped at abuelita’s house and then home in a taxi thanks to abuelito Fabio.

A Typical Day

We wake up as the city noises gradually increase – the honking and rumming of cars and busses, the calls of vendors selling AGUACATES or MASAMORRA, and neighbors’ kids playing in the sidewalk gardens. The smells increase too – people frying pastel de pollo and empanadas, fumes from the hundreds of motorcycles that zoom down our street everyday.

We make breakfast – fruit, arepa de mote, huevos, quesito, and chocolate caliente – and we memo together about our experiences and conversations from the day before.

Later in the morning we head out towards the metro (estacion Floresta) – a 1.5 mile trek down a hill and along a busy road filled with noisy microbuses spewing exhaust. It’s especially a trek because Benjamin (the 3-yr old) usually wants to be carried most of the way. Typically we stop somewhere in the middle at a little panederia to buy some specialty breads (pandequeso, palitos de queso, croissants filled with guayaba, or almojabanas) to share with the days’ interviewees. Benjamin sits happily at an outdoor table at the bakery, drinking an agua con gas and taking in the city sights.

The ride on the metro itself is nice and quick. The metro of Medellin is immaculate and arrives promptly. We only go two stops because we get off at the metro station close to Benjamin’s abuelitos, who will take care of him while we do the interviews. There in abuelita’s kitchen, we make more chocolate caliente for the women participants, to go with the breads – a typical snack in Colombia. We make sure to make this chocolate sweeter than the one we make for ourselves because if not the women are sure to comment that it is too plain (too simple). Usually abuelita Fanny insists that we drink or eat a little something to keep us going through the afternoon.

Around 1:30, We say bye to Benjamin, with reminders to abuelita about the contact numbers in case she needs to get a hold of us and we head out to the metro again, making sure, first, that we have enough of the right bills to offer compensation to the women. This metro ride is a little bit longer, taking us into the center of the city, where we get off at estacion Prado centro.  A few more blocks and we are at the Casa Colonia where Cesar continues with his stunning trabajo, which he reminds us is not work, but rather a way of life. Here we interview from 2-4pm, two women at once. Each conversation is different, and all are challenging in parts, and beautiful in others. Some of the stories of displacement have been particularly horrifying, but we focus on food, and their memories of enjoyment of food in the countryside. We typically stay and chat with Cesar after the interviews, getting more details about the stories of each of the families, which he knows and thinks it is important to share.

Around 5:30, we head back to abuelita’s apartment to pick up Benjamin and share a little arepa and aguacate with the grandparents and thank them once again.  In Medellin it gets dark around 6:30 and if Benjamin hasn’t had a nap (usually he hasn’t) he’ll start to get very tired. Abuelito Fabio will call us a taxi to take back to our little house in Robledo, where we will get Benjamin ready for bed, shower (IF we have water, which has been a problem lately), check email and download our interviews and notes from the day.

Embracing Uncertainty

 

Embracing uncertainty is helpful while conducting international research (well probably most research), but it is not how we are taught to conduct research. We want certainty. We want smooth, planned, and efficient research processes and experiences. I have had to learn to embrace uncertainty and enjoy or at least appreciate the inevitable surprises we get. While in Mexico, for example, expecting to spend time interviewing women about the economy I ended up working with them, and their bees, learning about honey harvests, bee diseases, and using smoke for bee management. Who knew? Or while in Ulan Ude Russia, again with the intent to understand how women were experiencing the transition from a planned to a free market economy, I ended up documenting the ways the indigenous Buryats were trying to “save their land” from federal control with, among other things, a shaman ceremony.  Or, right here in Medellin while working on food security with internally displaced women, we had a planning conversation with the man who is helping us get access to displaced women, but realized in the process that we also should be interviewing him – to document the amazing work he has done with reconciliation among young gang members, facilitating families returning to their homeland accompanied by groups of artists (singers, dancers and bands), and using chess boards to disarm the paramilitaries. Again, who knew? Being open and flexible is key to finding new and amazing material! BETSY

Familia

In thinking about the logistics of international research, I have begun to recognize how this project has been a ‘family affair’ in multiple ways. My conception of the project came through multiple visits to Medellin, where I simultaneously wore the hats of daughter-in-law, mother, wife, and researcher. Following dozens of different leads, which were encountered mostly through family friends, neighbors, colleagues, and friends of friends, I surveyed many critical and persuasive areas of research. As the topics of violent displacement and women’s security emerged as urgent themes, I came to these with a familiar medium: food. Food has been the common thread in all of my academic work, but it is also familiar in the sense of household realities – everyone must eat. Access to adequate food seems to be a central problem faced by women who have been displaced by the long-standing violence in Colombia. The question of how I, as a researcher/woman/mother/wife in a very different situation, with very different experiences, can begin to understand and empathize with the ‘food insecurity’ of displaced women and their families is a central issue of my work here in Medellin.

I would not do international research if I could not bring my 3-yr old son along, so in this way too, fieldwork quickly becomes a family event. Yet, I am beginning to recognize that at this particular age (the tenacious threes?), I think the research will not work without first dropping off the little one at the house of his abuelitos (grandparents). Hence, this week’s conversations have centered on making the interview schedule work not only for the women participants and their families, but also abuelita’s availability and the still-necessary naptime (which either requires nursing or an incredible amount of patience). While these scheduling issues seem much more mundane than the safety concerns that both researchers and participants also have to consider – a topic of a later blog entry – certainly they are an fundamental part of how research actually happens.  ALLISON

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