Tuesday, May 8, 2012

quick notes from the field

My father left for the field yesterday too. Well, the military field; he´s in Qatar for about 75 days. He should be back before I return and will be in an air-conditioned office more often than in the cargo plane (C-130) that he pilots. Probably even safer than my adventure, and I daresay less exciting.

There is a festival in town this week, so there are banners hung between buildings and a few streets were closed to cars yesterday for a parade (I think; I didn´t see it myself). I think the reason for the celebration is the anniversary this Saturday of the foundation of Puyo on May 12, 1899. The coincidence of this event and my birthday seems like a good omen.
(Yes, I will use superstition to lighten my mood; especially at a time like this.)

Research updates: I went to visit a few of the people I know here this morning. They are willing to talk with me and help me learn Kichwa, so now I just have to get down to work. I have forgotten too much of the language and need to be prepared to be more talkative than I naturally am if I am going to get any research done.

My sociableness (and therefore my potential for effective research) has been affected by my interactions in the past few days: after training myself not to make eye contact with men and not to hear their whistles, hisses and whispers I have become even more withdrawn than usual as a result. In contrast I have been mostly ignored by women. I want to get out of the antisocial mood this defensiveness has put me in so that I can make more friends and reach out to the women who might be able to help me. I will have to work on initiating contact with those I want to know as well as continuing to reject contact with others.

Anyone else in the field feeling frustrated by gender issues? It´s not as if I didn´t see this coming but it´s a hassle, and difficult right now for me to decide how to view the situation in terms of ¨cultural values¨ or other things we were supposed to have learned in the field studies prep course...


  1. I bet once you get to know some of the local women, they will help you break the gender barrier and teach you how to appropriately respond. Have you asked them about it? maybe it would open up an awesome conversation about their society and gender roles and result in the older women taking you under their wing or something to help you understand the acceptable role of a woman in that culture. Are you going to the festival? What if you went to a college near by. In all the Indian movies, the foreigners go make friends at the colleges, haha. Maybe that doesn't work in real life. But maybe it does. Is there anywhere you can volunteer to get to know people and maybe put together a small group?

    Don't give up! You are doing great! Your project will be awesome! I am so excited!

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  3. I agree with Rem and also feel your frustration. I bet that being in Italy as a woman was a lot more of a tamer (I'm not sure if that is the right word to be using) experience than being a woman in other places, though I still feel that I can connect. I had a much harder time meeting Roman women than men, who were more than willing to be friends--and most of the times, were more than willing to be something other than just friends. I remember being on the bus one day and being so exasperated with having to deal with some of the consequences of being an American woman in a different country, and just wondering how different the experience would be if I were a man. Meanwhile, I felt that a lot of the woman also saw me as an American woman who always wanted attention of men, and thus I felt like they withdrew from me as well. I'm not sure if that's how it actually was, but that is kind of how I felt. But the truth is, I couldn't change the fact that I was a woman from America.

    I'd take Rem's advice and maybe talk about it sensitively with some of the local women who you'll meet. It may be a way to form a friendship. Or just watch how other women act. It's an interesting point you have brought. You'll have to promise to tell me more about it later and tell me what you find!

  4. Agreed with rem and Sarah. I'm feeling your pain a bit, too. I was whistled at on my way to church the other day, and men say things to me in French, and look at me quite blatantly, but there's not much I can do but ignore them. As a result, I may be misunderstanding a lot, and also getting myself out of good and bad situations. I think I'd be less guarded if I knew the language better, but until then--that's life. I do like the idea of meeting some women and possibly making it a bonding point. Asking them, "Hey--I'm a foreigner, and I have no idea what to do in this situation, would you give me a few pointers?" I don't know if that works, but I know looking vulnerable and uncertain in some situations (which Americans HATE doing) really just appears as humility to other people (which isn't so bad, but is a trait we have a few issues with). Loved the update. Can't wait to hear more.

  5. Thanks for the input, guys. I haven't asked anyone outright about this because I feel like a big factor is probably the fact that I'm white and therefore clearly foreign-- also I don't know how to word a question without sounding like an annoying girl: "what do I doooo? all of these men are pursuing me, it's such a hassle!" haha. Also I don't see this happening to other women around, even when young and beautiful and provocatively dressed (sorry for the term, short skirts and visible bras are mainly what I mean).

    But it seems the appropriate response is not to pay any attention to them, or even better to laugh about it. Of course that's easier when I'm sitting with Luisa and she laughs and shakes her head at the men driving past staring than when I'm walking alone.

    PS Sarah, I have heard Italy is particularly terrible for that, I don't know personally but I'm sure it was rough.