Saturday, June 30, 2012

one of those good news/bad news kind of days

I've had some of the most encouraging experiences this week, alongside some of the most frustrating ones.

First for some of the pleasant news. A friend of mine has taken to dictating sentences to me lately, often in my own voice, watching to make sure that I write them down verbatim. This is a painstakingly slow way to communicate, but it's her idea for how to make sure that I don't forget any Kichwa. ñuka rimashka, ñuka rimashka, killkangi, she commands (I speak, I speak, you write), adding a gesture of dragging her finger across the tablecloth for emphasis. The exciting part of this story was a few sentences into her dictation, but I'll provide a transcription of a whole paragraph here for good measure, to give you a bit of a feel for Kichwa:

escuelata tukuchirani; colegiota tukuchirani, kunan universidadbi mauni, yachauni.
I completed primary school; I completed high school; now I am in University, constantly learning.
Runa shimita maskauni, yachangawa.
I am searching for Kichwa, in order to learn it. (she said it just the way my blog is titled!! woohoo)
Shuj watata rirani Iyarinai runa shimita yachangawa, sachata purirani, riksisha sachata.
One year ago I went to Iyarina [field school] to learn Kichwa, I walked in the forest, becoming acquainted with the forest.
Canoa Yakuta, pichka kilómetro purirani. Chimanda ñuka suerte kunai churirai armarani, supai tYuka uktuta riksirani.
In Canoa Yaku stream I walked five kilometers. From there I bathed in a waterfall, a demon-spit waterhole.

A few disclaimers. First, that last line still sounds off but I wanted to somehow communicate what a great image supai tYuka is for waterfall, the spit of a spirit/monster/demon, and then uktu is the hole part of that, referring to the pond at the base of the waterfall. Second, I would have liked to include a more professional breakdown of morphemes and a literal translation along with the Kichwa and English lines, but I'm already subpar on the blogger formatting so I think it would take a long time and still turn out atrociously. Also the Kichwa is roughly phonetic but obviously not IPA. Some other time I'll provide a better transcription, more like I would put in an actual linguistic paper.

Now for some of the more frustrating thoughts. I haven't worked through them but I was glad to see my friend Rem articulate some similar frustrations in his post about the frustration of not being around other academic-minded people while in the field. As he mentions, you can send emails and keep in contact with peers about such highminded topics (as Rem called it, postmodernism), but it would be so much more satisfying to talk to people right here in the thick of it, to share ideas and have discussions and arguments and develop thoughts together.

Personally I think it would be perfect to do linguistic/anthropological field research as a partnership with someone (especially after meeting an amazing couple from UCLA who came to speak to us last year). Even apart from that dream, though, it would be so great if I could spend time with local scholars, people who see the culture from the inside but still share my background of Western-style critical thought. I guess that's where it breaks down, that style of thinking is culturally based so what I'm missing might just be a part of my Culture Shock. Or maybe critical thinking is so superior that it successfully transcends the boundaries of culture and really does provide us with the most important thing in life, Truth with a capital T. (tongue in cheek, guys)

Either way I am looking forward to processing all of this when I get home and immersing myself fully in academia again, because I'm enjoying real human interaction here too much to be in the same theoretical frame of mind that I was during the winter. Does that make sense? What I'm trying to say is, while I was preparing to enter the field I was exercising the abstract academic part of my brain, and now I'm exercising the practical language-learning and human sociability parts, and I can tell that some of the former is slipping away a bit. Maybe one day I will get better at holding both at once but for now I'm (relatively) content with the trade.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Anecdotes and Photos

I'm so jealous of my friend Holly's blog update, full of rich description and bursting excitement. I hope that the posts I have written so far don't make it seem like it's boring here or so stressful that I'm not having a good time. I think I forget to mention how beautiful it is here and what my daily activities are because it seems like the norm to me. I was here (well close to here) last year with a group of people, and I forget that no one else knows quite what I'm up to down here. Also I'm used to writing blog posts that come from questions that have been itching my brain.

So in the interest of sharing some of my experience so far, here are some pictures and anecdotes:

rambutan. This fruit is native to Thailand but grows well here because of the tropical climate. It's quite fun to eat, but not very flavorful in my opinion. It wins my heart in the looks category for sure.

a kitten (cause how can you not love them). I have noticed a few differences in the treatment of pets here from in the US, though I can't say how well these differences apply in general. Dogs are seen on the streets a lot more here than in the US, but usually keep to themselves and only bark if they're close to their house. In the Runa household that I visit most often (almost every day), there are about 4 dogs and 5 cats who survive on table scraps and what they catch themselves. To my mind the dogs seem just as affectionate and needy as dogs I know in the US, but they are given little to no physical attention from humans. The cats are played with by girl children and one kitten is my particular companion as well, but adults usually don't pay them attention except to shoo them away from the food in the kitchen. Similarly for dogs, their main attention is in the form of negative commands, stop barking (when someone passes by the house), get out of here, etc. Again I don't know if this treatment is how it is for most people but I would suspect it's similar, even if more well-to-do families buy manufactured pet food. And the animals all seem to be doing fine, it's been interesting to watch this difference without making one way or the other worse. (I could easily feel contempt for the American pet culture with its smothering and unnecessary commercialization, or worry about this culture and whether or not the dogs are being loved enough, but I won't spend too much time thinking about it.)

God on the bus. Christianity is pervasive here, both the Catholic and Protestant varieties. I especially notice on buses that there are lots of religious images and sayings, in various states of legibility or disrepair. I wonder if the reminders that Jesús te ama are noticed by others here and if they bring a bit of light into people's day the way I assume they are meant to, or if they fade into the background. I don't think there is a corresponding culture of atheism or agnosticism here, or bitter rejection of Christianity as there sometimes is in the US. I mention this only because I thought of how these images would be viewed if they suddenly popped up everywhere in the United States, and it would be uncomfortable at best. (Not that I'm aligning with the "Christianity is so persecuted in the US" mentality. But it is more secular, perhaps because it's better for business.)

There was a parade for my birthday. Well, the 12th of May also happens to be the anniversary of the founding of Puyo as I mentioned before. It was a good activity for a birthday far away from home.

my current residence.You can tell that my landlady's family and friends (especially those who have lived here before who she considers to be a part of her family) are very important to her. Even though I'm not living with a Runa family as I had originally planned to try to do, it has been very helpful to have her support and some space of my own.

local greenery. I am living and working in town, but every empty or natural space reminds me of the lush jungle that was even closer last summer. It's still breathtaking to me.

So I'm noticing that these were all taken on my iphone, many altered using the instagram application. It's the only digital camera I brought (I also have some disposable ones). What a typical representation of American international travel these days, ah well. It has been such a useful device on this trip, and even though I justified getting it in order to record videos for my research it has been a whole lot of fun to have, too. I'm keeping in touch with family through internet-enabled SMS messages, making friends with kids by lending it for them to play games on, and of course using it for research and personal documentation. Thanks MomenDad.