Preparing for fieldwork? Read about Tomi’s experience in Nigeria and three key points she learnt from her fieldwork trip.
I have been on the field, Nigeria, for the past couple of months. As is Warwick tradition (and in other universities I would expect), your supervisor would prep you for life on the field. I was kitted with all relevant information and training, from code of conduct as a “Warwick Researcher”, to ethics, security, health etc. I have an awesome supervisor! However, in addition to the key tips he gave me, I have learnt a few extra lessons of my own that I thought would be nice to share on the blog.
It pays to be nice
Nobody should tell you this really – however, just in case you are not a naturally nice person, FAKE IT!
By being nice, I mean being genuinely interested in others, greeting them with a smile (I promise that doesn’t hurt), and being conscious about not taking others for granted just because they really want to help. Being nice has given me access to information and people I would have spent a decade and a half trying to reach. I have missed my way many-a-time to locations for interviews and gotten help just because I asked nicely, really nicely. The average man next door does not give a hoot if you find your way or not (just like London), especially where Naira (Nigerian currency) is NOT changing hands. I have to be grateful for the 5 seconds the guy took out of his busy day to give an almost confusing description. When you ask for directions to a place, for instance, Washington Street, the response goes something like this:
“Go straight, keep going straight. When you get to the junction, turn right; then turn left. Go straight small, you will see a turning on your left. Don’t turn. Keep going. At the SECOND turning, enter, you will see the Washington street.”
Woe betides he who asks for a repeat of the instruction.
In other instances I have negotiated really cheap taxi fares, just because I was nice to the taxi driver. Perhaps a puppy-eyed-pout or two helped the situation as well (shrugs). Hey, a girl’s gotta do what she gotta do. If you have a nice smile and a pout that shames Rihanna, use it girl!
Amp your personal planning & project/data management skills
I have met many people who throw this line around often, “I work best under pressure” – not on the field, it doesn’t work there. The need to improve on one’s project management skills is a point that is best experienced not explained. When you lose an audio file or two (recorded interviews), forget to send an email or misplace some crucial phone number, you will realise that water no dey pass garri.
*Water no dey pass garri is a Nigerian-pidgin proverb that figuratively means “a mess resulting from poor planning or lack of it.”
Keep a notebook on hand (even in the toilet)
A few days ago, a taxi driver told me he wants the military government back in power, because being under civilian rule in Nigeria was doing nothing for him. This was unsolicited information, other than the fact that a soldier walked up to us in the middle of the road; that was was sparked up the conversation. This insight from the taxi driver was relevant and interesting to my research for different reasons, so I immediately snapped my iPhone on and noted it on my notes app.
You never know where ideas would strike you – one’s eureka moment may be over a shared yahuza suya (grilled beef by Yahuza – yummylicious) and a can of Malta Guinness with a mate. You have to note that shizzle down! By shizzle, I mean any new information, insight or whatever. My friends are used to me now, when mid-conversation my eyes brighten up and I am slamming away at my keyboard or punching my touch-screen mercilessly. They shake their heads knowingly and carry on the conversation.
That little demon which whispers to your very smart brain that you would remember it all is LYING – don’t neglect the notepad.
Being on field, gathering data (via interviews in my case), and meeting new people, is an exciting experience. Although I can’t wait to get back to the comforts of the University of Warwick Library…don’t look at me like that, I am very happy to be immersed in the society I am going to write my thesis on.
I am experiencing first hand some of the society-challenges I am going to discuss in my thesis. The tone and quality of my work will be better for it; I can feel that coming on already. If I were embarking on the same task from the “ivory tower” without connecting with the society where the policies I am going to critique and recommend will be affected, my work would have lost an important touch.
Do you have any lessons you are learning or learnt while on field that you didn’t glean from your supervisor? Please share in comments section. 🙂
Text credits: Tomi Oladepo