Archive for the ‘research’ tag
Today I had of those moments of de-centering that comes from travel, maybe you know the type, the type that confronts you with how very non-universal are your views. Third World countries are famous for offering such experiences to First Worlders, and First Worlders are famous for trying to avoid or otherwise ignore the value of such moments. I can see why; sometimes they’re really hard. But today’s was a gleeful decentering, easier to absorb.
I biked down to the busy intersection by the train tracks to get groceries for the next few days and to take a photo of three pig skins that I had seen hanging in front of a carnicería the day before. I locked up my bike on a pole next to the pig skin store while eyeing the chickens at a butcher shop nearby. The yellow meat laid out in the hot, exhaust-filled air by the intersection and the train tracks, and I could not bring myself to buy it. My fiancé, Oscar, and I have been eating almost entirely vegetarian here in Jalisco, México, in part due to the heat in which the meat hangs all day in the markets. But tonight he wanted to make me roasted chicken with achiote, and so I was on the hunt for chicken breast.
After taking my photo, squeezed up against a truck on the other side of the busy street and trying to make myself small as buses went by, I bought my naranjas and chayote and ejote, and asked the man helping me where I could buy chicken “que no está afuera en el calor todo el día” (“that’s not out in the heat all day”). I was thinking, in my imagination filled with grocery stores that have entire sections so refrigerated you can feel your skin stick up, in my imagination filled with chicken breasts wrapped in plastic packaging that fly from Montana to Alaska, that there may be a little store nearby with some sort of refrigeration. The man turned to the woman who seemed to be in charge and asked, “¿Dónde puede comprar pollo recién matado?” (“Where can she buy recently-killed chicken?”) They pointed me to a place just around the corner, where I found the same bright yellow chicken legs, feet and breasts out in the heat being sliced and sold by a woman with an apron. Right behind, however, was a young, short-haired woman grabbing a white chicken as it squawked, steadily bringing a blade across its throat and bleeding it, with great calm and equanimity, into a large steel drum. The old, peeling metal was lined with the feathered and bloody remnants of the chickens that came before it–the same ones sitting on the table for me to buy, I suppose. A telenovela played quietly behind on an old television set, and the Virgen de Guadalupe watched over the proceedings from the wall with that same accepting calm.
In the U.S., watching a chicken being slaughtered by a young woman who stands, smiling, right behind the sales counter might be considered an offensive business practice. Here, however, this was not only a convenient use of a small space but also a way of signaling to the buyer that the meat is fresh and safe, a way of assuaging worries over salmonella. Refrigeration, the solution I had been pulling on in my mind without fully realizing, was translated by the imaginations of the fruit and chicken vendors; translated by the brutal functionality required by these hot, loud streets; translated by a place that lacks the infrastructure for keeping meat cold.
It is as though the language, the streets, the infrastructure of our lives shape the little spaces in our brain where our imaginations are continuously born. We are built this way, I think–built to make sense of the world through our experiences, adding bits and pieces to the schemas we create as children, and then creating new schemas when something proves ours inadequate. I suppose we universalize our own thinking and expectations by design; maybe there’s not space enough in our imaginations to fit all of the things we have not seen, the religions and traditions and ways of eating. It seems that the best we can do is to take moments like this for what they offer: humility, the chance to reflect on how big the world is and how little we still know, the inspiration to ask more open-ended questions like, “What measures do people take to have safer food and how can I look for those?” rather than working only from within the schema we bring with us and judging on, say, the storage temperature alone. It is a reminder for me as a researcher of why research must be careful to not just hand out surveys, but first to draw out, in people’s own words and schemas, what they do or what they believe in, so that questions are fit to the contexts of the people, interacting truthfully with their worlds. And of course, it is a reminder that when we step outside of our normal lives, and even as we walk within them, we should always expect to be surprised.
1.) The guilt of not having finished it is lifted
2.) I can take it off of my to-do list and begin the next items, like starting to sub for the Anchorage School District
3.) I can help Oscar pack up his house tonight
4.) IT IS IMPORTANT and this work deserves to be funded. I can’t wait to talk to Representative Max Gruenberg and Senator Bill Wielechowski about it tomorrow night. They are passionate about Mountain View and I know they will appreciate such a thorough report of the voices of Mountain View residents, their insights and suggestions for the community, and the plans of Anchorage United for Youth’s service providers and juvenile justice experts.
I believe if we continue to listen, continue to stay engaged with community leaders and volunteers and teens, continue to coordinate amongst agencies and truly take these suggestions to heart (e.g. using bilingual and bi-cultural navigators, interpreters and translated forms; doing multilingual outreach in the community; providing meaningful opportunities for youth; and training service providers in cross-cultural communication, humility, efficiency, collaboration and a stengths-based approach, WE WILL REVOLUTIONIZE the way things are done around here.
And we need this. Too many kids, too many families, and esp. kids and families of color, are not being served well by our social service and justice systems. I am excited to see this changing. I am hopeful.
And I am relieved to have finished this step in the task. Also happy to share the research results and program ideas with anyone–just ask!
I am so proud of the Photovoice kids, proud of the confidence and intimacy with which they spoke to people about their photographs during the exhibition on Friday night. My mom told me afterwards, “Laura, they were so comfortable speaking with adults and representing themselves. You two should be proud of having prepared them so well.” The 6 young artists spoke about depression, neighborhood stereotypes, alcoholism, and self-confidence. They spoke to artists, parents, teachers, social service providers, native corporation administrators, legislators, and assembly members. They got us two more show offers and a follow-up news article in which Denisha Crowe is going to play a pivotal role and may write something. Crystal Luddington, our up-and-coming community organizer then called everyone afterwards to arrange our next meeting. So proud.
Autumn Meloy spent Friday all in a dither about Julia O’Malley’s article in the Anchorage Daily News that featured her, mixing up her pride with her embarrassment and back and forth. The kids were excited to find out that all of their photos are up on adn.com. Oscar and I were too exhausted and pulled in too many directions during the exhibit to soak in how big this was, but many e-mails have been sent to us since to remind us. Afterwards we laid down exhausted and congratulated one another. We are a good team.
(BTW, on Oscar’s blog he describes his own pride and excitement and posts the Alaska Teen Media Institute radio story about Photovoice: www.okiave.info).
Thanks, Charles Tice, for the photos:
Northeast Anchorage Representative Pete Petersen and another visitor looking at Edward’s images
This Friday, December 4th, from 5:30 – 8:30 pm @ Kaladi Bros. downtown (6th & G) w/ appetizers from Gallo’s….
the 6 teenagers who stuck with this program form its beginning on August 3rd until now, the 6 teenagers who poured their hearts and creativity into their photography and into their analyses of community and personal issues, the 6 teenagers who came Saturday morning after Saturday morning this fall for planning meetings, these 6 will be presenting their photos. They will be sharing their art, their narratives, their world views, their burgeoning social consciousness with Anchorage. Their photographs address issues ranging from the kinds of emotional support and listening teens need from the adults in their lives to gang and tenant issues, from Mt. View’s reputation and the transience in the neighborhood to alcohol abuse. They aim to speak to funders and policy makers about the need for youth programs such as Photovoice. They aim to speak to social service providers, teachers, and parents about what they as young people need from adults. They aim to debunk myths about Mt. View and humanize its residents.
Oscar and I have worked with these kids for 4 months now. We love them, are proud of them, get frustrated with them and push them to do better, and ask you to come listen to them.
*This is an Anchorage United for Youth (AUY) project, connected to the larger AUY goals to increase graduation rates, decrease youth substance abuse, and decrease delinquency.*
(Marioma, little Raja, Attahir & others dancing)
On November 15th, the local Darfuri community, along with the activist group Save Darfur and a faith-based charity, put on a fundraiser for Darfur with Sudanese food, introductions, singing, drumming, and dancing.
I have spent time with many different cultural and geographical communities this summer and fall as part of my community research and community engagement in Mountain View for Anchorage United for Youth. Of all of these, my connection to the Darfui community is the best example of why personal connections matter, and why social service work must include relationship-building.
A shared acquaintance connected me to Debbie Bock, a volunteer with the Save Darfur group in Anchorage, who volunteered to take me by the apartment of Abubaker and Safi, the informal leaders of the recently-arrived and resettled Darfuri community here in Anchorage. A while later, I stopped by their apartment again to talk about the idea of a focus group and Abu eagerly volunteered to bring people together for me and interpret. He also made some comment about not understanding how to use facebook or e-mail or his digital camera, and so I offered to help. He organized Darfuri men for the focus group and sort of interpreted. It was chaotic and difficult and people came in and out during the group, but I heard their voices.
(Abubaker is in the back. In the middle is Attahir, the first Darfuri to bring his family to Anchorage. On the right is Tor Gach, a leader of the Southern Sudanese community and a Nuer interpreter.)
Abu told me he could help me pull together women for a female focus group and suggested that I should meet them first. And so I arrived at his house on a Friday evening with carrots fresh from my parents’ garden in hand. It was Ramadan and the sun was soon to set, so he put the carrots in the pan with some liver he was cooking for his roommate and then drove me around to meet Darfuri women. Each one made us sweet tea or offered us Pepsi. We broke fast with one recently-arrived family that gave us heaping amounts of aseeda (a pasty starch used to scoop up sauce) and an okra meat dish, soup, and salad. Abu then drove me to meet Halima, with whom I spoke in Spanish (her 4th or 5th language) as telenovelas played in the background. All of this took way too long and I was worried about time–this would be a common theme in dealing with Abu–but I just had to…adjust. Check my worries. Check my European-American sense of time and work and just BE with them.
I spent another Saturday afternoon teaching Abu to send photos by e-mail and organize photos into folders. Oscar and I knocked on various doors to invite teenagers Marioma (from Darfur) and Gislaine (from Togo) to Photovoice and I retuned to Halima’s apartment to invite her for an interview. Her neighbors told me she had moved, and invited me in to eat goat stew, watch Sudanese concerts on their TV, and call Halima. The man who had cooked the goat stew once operated a restaurant, and I spoke with him about opening a restaurant in Anchorage, and helped them find the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, in response to their worries over citizenship health checks. I later interviewed Halima in her apartment with a Jordanian interpreter who brought her two hyperactive children, one of whom threw up after two pieces of the cloyingly sweet (and delicious) baklava and orange juice Halima offered us.
After being out of touch for while, I called Abu to ask him something, and it turned out he wanted my advice, so he came to my office to ask about how to establish non-profit status for the Darfuri community and how to formalize the ways in which they already help one another financially. He also wanted my advice on his course of studies at UAA. I agreed to help him with both concerns through some connections, and he agreed to come be a part of the Anchorage United for Youth planning effort and be a voice for his community in this. I also helped out the community with advertising for and taking photos at the Darfuri event, and ate and danced there at the event with my dad.
The point of all this:
A lot of this doesn’t sound like work.
Indeed, it’s fun. And tasty. And sometimes difficult in that I have to be humble and patient and give up my typical ideas of productivity.
But if I hadn’t been personally introduced to Abu and Safi by someone they trusted and cared for, hadn’t sat and eaten their goat stew or baklava or aseeda, hadn’t traded favors with Abu, hadn’t said my “Asalam Malekums” or chatted or shrugged my shoulders at the sometimes chaotic and often unplanned way that things happened, I don’t think my research would have been as successful and I don’t think the Dafuri community would become involved with Anchorage United for Youth. As Wisteria Ward, who works at New Hope Baptist Church in Mountain View told me, “If service providers want trust, they have to build relationships here. We have to see their faces around.”
That’s less tangible than anything on my job description, but no less necessary.
And that requires an adjustment on our parts.