this week I started a new part of my work with IFRC and my own research: fieldwork. to do this, I had to travel the four hours across Ecuador from Quito to the city of Pedernales. this included a beautiful, but harrowing, descent from Quito’s 9,350’ elevation to the coast of the Pacific Ocean (trust me, I think we made the entire descent in one go…the climb back up the mountain is sure to be interesting as well).
upon arrival, I was immediately welcomed by the Cruz Roja Ecuatoriana staff in Pedernales and was able to set up my work in the base camp. while I’m sure there have been some modifications over the fourteen months since the earthquake, this is the original base camp where emergency responders worked and lived immediately following the disaster. there are still duchas (or showers) set up inside the camp.
while I could talk about many impressions from my first true foray into the world of humanitarian response and development (e.g. the impressive coordination of logistics and security), I’m going to focus this post on my initial responses to fieldwork. as was discussed in my research methods course, the road bumps of fieldwork tend to be glossed over in literature, and disaster literature is not immune. although we are working in tense, hectic, and challenging environments, you wouldn’t guess it by reading scholarly articles.
so, in an effort to talk about the struggles of fieldwork (or maybe just for my own therapeutic purposes) here are challenges I’ve faced in just the last five days.
let’s start with some humorous ones:
just like many comedic scenes in numerous movies, we came across a herd of cows on our way to visiting one of the communities yesterday. yes, we just had to wait for them to move. yes, we did get quite a laugh out of the situation.
this is guacharaca. while I think it might be distantly related to a chicken, it’s beak and talons are a bit more intimidating than your everyday chicken when it is flying from its perch and towards your head. thankfully I was able to quickly escape the attack of the guacharaca, but that didn’t stop it from following me around the house.
of course there are the typical challenges of research – will people respond to me? will I get good information? how many people do I need to talk to? from how many different groups?
then these questions transform into more difficult ones – how do I document what I need to for my research but still be a decent human? how do I do my job without being overcome by emotion? why aren’t I more affected by what’s going on around me?
this is my first time working in a post-disaster environment. even though the earthquake happened fourteen months ago and many families have been able to rebuild, the evidence of the destruction is still very real and very prevalent. the emotions expressed in conversations. the half-built or half-destroyed homes. the community still living in tents and under tarps because they live in a risk zone and new construction is forbidden. the lack of a sustainable income. the inability to expand a new home that is too small for the entire family. the father asking if an organization is still rebuilding homes because he is struggling to finish his home for his two daughters.
these are truly difficult stories to see, hear, and witness. but at the end of the day, at the end of the summer, I get to go home to a finished, safe, and secure house. how do you reconcile these two experiences?