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Published: March 2nd 2010
When I used to think about a Masters degree and what that would be like to complete, I usually thought about classrooms and papers. I did not think I would be driving on 4X4 roads out into the sugar cane fields and hiking through the mud to find the women I intended to interview. Yet this is exactly what I did, and to be honest it was one of the greatest adventures I have been on yet. I think I understand how excited the early explorers must have been to find places that nobody else has yet seen. Now I’m not saying nobody has been to these places I went, but the fact is while other Masters students are in libraries trying to find research that does not yet exist on these woman, I was out there getting it first hand, what a rush! Okay back to the start, my first day out started off with a dud, as soon as I got to the petrol station my car wouldn’t start again. So here I am in my long dress pushing my car while a petrol man tries to kick start it. It was a horrible rainy day and the storm
the night before had displaced hundreds of people and killed 5. I made it to Pietermaritzburg but as soon as I got there my car battery was dead again. I went inside to see my field officer and by this time I was near tears and had hives all over my arms and legs (this is apparently my new stress reaction, yay). The field worker was not concerned she told me we would work things out and God would provide. I was so happy to hear her say that and to find out she knows my Pastor and half the people at my church. I thought everyone knew each other in Durban, apparently everyone in South Africa knows each other! So things worked out and someone came to jump my car, I went around the block and got a new battery and we ended up only being 45 minutes late, which here in Africa is like almost being on time. We set out on our first day to Simozomeni which is outside of Richmond. Due to the storm we had to crawl through the potholed gravel rds but still we made it to our first spot. That day we interviewed
6 people and I began to see really interesting patterns on the benefit of the social fund and where people are getting money from in a crisis. We came home and I went off to Howick to stay with a Rotary family for the night. The next day was to be our big adventure. I knew it must be far when Sibongile (field worker) wouldn’t really tell me the time it took to get to our second research spot Nkumane. We turned off the tar rd about 40ks outside of PMB and headed down the dirt rd into the sugar cane fields. We drove and we drove and we drove. I kept asking where on earth are we going? How did you find this place? Are we there yet? The thing that made our long drive even longer was that it had rained again the night before so the dirt was more like mud. By the way in case you forgot I drive a small 4 door hatchback mazda soho which was currently loaded down with 4 people and a full boot. Thankfully after a couple months of driving in Alaska I know which way to steer during a slide.
So we slipped and slid 30ks down this rd until the little soho could go no more. We found a yard to park it in then we put everything on our backs and hiked up the long hill to the house. We got to the house dirty and sweaty but ready to interview. I got 5 interviews done that morning then went in to watch the savings and credit group meeting. While I was in there an old lady (gogo) told my translator she wanted to talk to me. Confused I walked down to her house where I found out she didn’t want to talk to me, rather she wanted to feed me. The field workers told me to try to eat what I could because they knew that “outsiders” don’t typically like rural food. I looked at them like they were crazy, food cooked in an iron pot over the fire is typically the best food there is, and this was all gluten free! I ate every bite, it was delicious. Gogo was so excited and kept hugging me. She also, like the other women,complemented me multiple times on my proper Zulu skirt. Actually when we left there a
couple men also stopped to tell my translator how nice I looked in my long African skirt. Some of the women also started planning which men in their family were single, so moral of the story is if you want a Zulu husband just go out in a long skirt, eat the food, learn a few isiZulu phrases and you will be set! We spent the afternoon interviewing in the grass under the shade of some tall pine trees on a Dutch reformist mission. Our drive back was less eventful thanks to the hot African sun which had dried out the rds. On Friday I spent time in the office getting past loan information from the records. We had completed so many interviews on Wednesday and Thursday that we got to take Friday off. So I started interviewing again the following Thursday. Once again we drove out to Ndaleni this time and parked my car when it could go no more then took a hike down to the house. We interviewed in the morning under the shade of a tree with chickens pecking at our feet. It was funny on one hand I don’t want to push the stereotype that
Africa is naked children and mud houses, but where I was that stereotype is rather true. The great thing about it was that while I am sitting there in this “African” scene I am talking to women who are ground breakers in their community. They are taking the reins and handling money, they are supporting their families and contributing during a crisis. So while the stereotype is hard to ignore its wonderful to see women not being constrained by it. The rest of the day was full of interviews, but also included a good wakeup call for me. Thursday was supposed to be my big push to get most of my interviews finished, so at one point I think I started to just think about the number of interviews and the data. I got shocked back into reality when an old woman started crying as she told me about her desperate situation. Her daughter who supported her had gotten sick and passed away and now she had nothing. I had to once again remember that this is not just data for my thesis this is people’s lives. Most of the women I talked to were raising multiple orphans as well
as their own children/grandchildren. It was not uncommon for a woman to say she had a house of 10 and nobody is employed. They grow their own food and live off government grants. Every family has lost one or more members to illness and accidents. Grandmothers would tell me they lost 5 of their 7 children and are now raising all the grandchildren. These are dire situations that are unfortunately all too common around South Africa. I commuted home that evening, I was tired, dirty and sunburned and just needed the comfort of my own bed. I don’t know what it is but I love rural South Africa so much. I feel so at home and comfortable there. I would work out there in a heartbeat. There is just such a raw realness to life. Now I am not trying to glamorize it, as I said above, they are poor, things are rough. But life is about surviving, having food for dinner and sending your kids to school. Maybe it’s that our lives are so filled with things and stuff and extras that when I go out to these places I can’t help but feel more real and alive. You
feel like the people really look at you, not at your clothes or whatever other fronts you put on, but they really see who you are. Like I said I’m not trying to romanticize poverty, but I have to say that I love it out there and I think we have so much we can learn from them. I finished my research on Friday with a total of 32 interviews out in the field. I drove home that afternoon not really sure what to feel, I was happy and relieved yet sad that I wouldn’t get to spend more time out there. Now I am just focusing on the analysis and my write up. I can’t believe the research is finally finished and I am so happy and blessed to have gotten to do it in such an amazing place.
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