Navigating Fieldwork, Rwanda-Style
August 26, 2010
By Michael J. Mascarenhas for the New York Times
Michael J. Mascarenhas is a World Water Corps volunteer currently on assignment in Rwanda. This is his second installment in the Scientist At Work blog on the New York Times web site.
Mwaramutse (good morning) from the muzungu (white person in Rwanda).
Social science fieldwork is messy. There is no other way to describe it. Decisions have to be made — or, more appropriately, negotiated — throughout every step of the research process: about how to begin, to get into a setting, to collect data, to exit a setting, to analyze data and to write. And many of these decisions are simply not up to the social scientist. Traveling to far-off places like Rwanda takes this messiness to a new level.
First, you have to be properly prepared, which in this case also meant being vaccinated. The messiness for me started with a fairly strong reaction to my yellow fever vaccination two days before I was scheduled to depart. I was up all night with a fever and chills. The next day was mostly spent in bed recovering. In addition to the yellow fever vaccination, it was recommended that I be immunized for diphtheria, hepatitis A, polio, tetanus and typhoid. And of course I needed to take a daily dose of anti-malaria medication once in Rwanda (which makes me have crazy dreams). And just in case that concoction didn’t completely mess me up I had a couple of scripts for Cipro (antibiotics) on hand to use at my discretion.
Second, one also has to get to “the field.” This can also be quite messy when you are traveling halfway around the world. The first leg of my flight was a red-eye from Boston to Frankfurt, on which I managed about three hours of interrupted sleep. I then had a 13-hour layover before boarding my second red-eye flight in as many days to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A short stopover, a lot of secondhand smoke and bad coffee, and another flight (this time only three hours) later, I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda — two days after I left the United States.
What do you think?