Changes in the air; towards the end of the internship

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December 17th 2012
Published: December 18th 2012
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On the way to Europe! I haven’t updated the blog in ages.. We were busy doing some final weeks of fieldwork in the villages, and after, immersed in work preparing all those data.. Now I though I’d still share some of these experiences with you.

The past 1,5 months were pretty crazy, really..! Some of the beloved friends left, almost at the same time, so the basic dynamics of Bata-life were changed. With regards to work, it brought us to such different places again. We planned and finished 3 weeks of field activities, analyzed that data and, finally, to some presentable state also those mountains of other data I’ve been working on over the past months. I tried to put together a report, and it didn’t quite get ready.. but we did manage to prepare presentations for a workshop held in Bata.

Field work was lovely. Just what was needed! It gives such a different appreciation to all aspects of life here to spend some more time in one village, getting to know people, having the chance to really talk with them and listen to them.. As “nasty” as it is, many of our trips earlier were a bit short; day or two, just passing through, and often it felt like the connection remained very superficial. Now we made some friends too, and for the work, it felt the insights into the lives and reasons of hunters and others were deeper now, and this was one of the purposes of these last field activities; to be able to better explain all the patterns emerged from earlier data collected and thus, be better equipped to plan for future.

Me and Ariane divided up, she spent the weeks in 3 villages and I in another three. How nice it was to compare experiences after each week when we met..! Those final days in each place were meant for focus group discussions about opinions, preferences and difficulties of different livelihoods, and also on the last day we had food prepared for everyone and screened a movie, recently published documentary by Conservation International about conservation in EG, “En Clave de Vida”. The film is close to the people in the country side, and almost everyone recognizes at least someone or some place in the film.. they were nice moments, see how people reacted – and see what they thought of the message in the film..! How, through conserving our living environment, we indeed take care of life itself and the well-being of us and all creatures. It’s just interesting, sometimes the main thing in people’s minds after the film might be how delicious that antelope looked they were cooking, or how funnily someone talked.. Everyone is left with something different 😉 But still, this movie is probably one of the great “successes” in conservation over the past year here; such can be the power of media.

I think I enjoyed the work with the hunters the most again. We also did household censuses and individual interviews about household wealth.. But to interview the hunters is just something a bit exciting and enjoyable to me! They all have something interesting to tell.. and they know the forest often so well. I felt I learnt more from the community assistants (who were also hunters) of Miserque and Engong Aconibe than I’ve learnt from many many books or papers earlier. Very good, thought-provoking, enjoyable conversations; and lovely persons.

We saw lots of dead animals again.. And indeed
@ Miila Kauppinen ZSL -EG2012- Goats in Tegueté@ Miila Kauppinen ZSL -EG2012- Goats in Tegueté@ Miila Kauppinen ZSL -EG2012- Goats in Tegueté

Goats are kept as livestock in some villages, while elsewhere they're thought to mess up places too much and thus are a "trouble", like pigs
got to understand the differences between the villages – though it’s quite complex and takes time to really be able to explain differences. In Miserque I maybe enjoyed myself the most. It is a very small village close to Monte Alén national park, deep in the forest in the end of a road that does not always allow traffic. It’s been a while since I had this kind of feeling I had while there; a real contentedness of being in a small place, waking up when others did, helping out a bit with the daily things, chatting with people.. Simple things..! What I used to like; and still do apparently, just that the past years seemed to take me myself further from it.. which I knew and have accepted for I know I wouldn’t do it otherwise, not while there are opportunities for study or work that seem to have some level of meaning and influence perhaps for exactly those places on earth and their inhabitants that I, too, value so much. And yet, after returning to Bata from Miserque, I couldn’t help feeling this longing to actually just live in that other manner.. but well, for now it is what it is; am still enjoying it, and appreciating it; who knows what kinds of periods in life there’ll be later on.

People in Miserque especially want to gain benefits of a functional road system, commerce and development of various livelihoods.. The men there like in most other places say they would not really want to keep on hunting, were there other things they could do that would equally provide them with food and income. Hunting can be daunting, dangerous and difficult.. Though, for many, bushmeat also is the protein they prefer over all others, for its taste. Most people don’t want to move away from their homes, to towns or cities; just, seeing their country moving, changing, and government developing certain things and campaigning for others, they feel –and rightfully should so – that they miss a bit more support and assistance to make the life in their homes just a bit easier.

In Miserque I went for walks in the mornings, and the sounds and smells of the forest were peaceful, and invigorating. We heard chimpanzees one night..! chatting in the nearby hillside forest. That was magical.. perhaps just for me, yes, but I felt so touched by the presence of those neighbors, brothers really, who live their life there so close to the village, also going about their daily things. Enjoying the best they can, I would guess.

So, life in Bata after fieldwork was just full of computers, planning, preparation, running around to organize all for the workshop we had this last Friday. It was for the community assistants, some members of collaborating ministries, people from the national university, and some additional guests. Plus our ZSL team of course; Juliet, Baltasar, Angeles, Pergentino, Ariane and me. After some sleepless nights, the day itself did arrive, and we did have presentations prepared to some state, and minds set for brainstorming over the continuation of the project. Eventually, the day was kind of successful; too little time for discussions, and a few too many useless complaints about per diems (it is customary to pay to attendants for arriving to a meeting), but people did have lots to say and they did seem interested.

Work is hard, but of course also gives those moments of success that feel GREAT. When you figure out a problem, or find a way to combine different sources of information in a meaningful way, or realize you actually knew the answer to some question already, or when we speak together with Ariane, Juliet or the STAFF at INDEFOR about the alternatives, and we feel agreeing or understanding together something that is meaningful.. All these sorts of moments make the days worth wile. I was very eager to prepare the workshop..! It was a great chance to, again, discuss these topics that ZSL has been working on for quite a while here.. But anyway, bringing people together like that was essential and at this point of the project very much needed again, before a bit new direction next year. And it is such a great thing actually because if nothing else it forced us to pull these strings together, make coherent stories out of what we have at hand, and build on it.. Like a real-life puzzle of conservation, but just the kind that the next time you do it again, it’s still the same puzzle, just changed in some way.. new aspects, new directions all the time. And that is great about it too.. the continuous change of things, and trying to keep a track of it a bit, in order to adapt, be able to respond to needs and wishes of different parties over time. What we now say is good or will work, might not be that way in five or ten years time..

And after the workshop we had two lovely evenings all still together; a christmas party at Hess, with live performance by Yuma and lots of nice people to chat with, and quite a cozy get-together at our apartment the last evening. It was a lovely company of our friends come together under same roof: there were local students, the oil company was presented by British and Americans, a Maroccon friend from a construction company, Canadian-Dutch helicopter pilots, Colombian engineering professors, Uruguayan and Argentinian turtle conservationists, and us English French and Finnish.. and all mixed up very well! It left a warm feeling in our minds.

The next phase of the project still is a bit fuzzy for me. It will not reach the concrete implementation phase yet in quite a while; before, there is lots of networking and partnership building to be done, some further investigations (perhaps in different villages), campaigning about alternatives, building up conservation agreements in the communities, and collaborate with the government to continue revising and enforcing wildlife laws, like the one about primate hunting and possession.

I almost can’t believe this internship is pretty much over. Huh.. though it’s been so much longer already than originally intended. But I’ve really loved being part of this project; feel privileged, truly, and about having been able to work alongside Juliet, such a passionate and determined person; as well as share all those moments in the villages with such special personalities – to have been welcomed to share those moments with them. To hear and feel the forest and the rivers and the animals a bit again.. like always; so much to be thankful for.

Bye, now, from Addis Ababa airport; how happy I am to be heading in a few hours only to that northern home with so many beloved people..! Just can’t wait. And, since we're almost there, happy Christmas time to everyone!

Additional photos below
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Preparing for workshop..! With the staff, dogs, a baby and an electrician working on our air conditioning unit.

18th December 2012

Welcome back Miila! Merry Christmas!
We miss you miila! Welcome back! :) Juan

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