Saturday, October 22, 2011

Doing My Job

I think it's safe to say that, right now, I have one of the best jobs in the world.  (Or at least it feels that way to me...)  I feel bad that I haven't written more about what I'm doing here, but there is so much to write that I never know where to start.  Today, I thought I'd just tell you about what I do (and where I go) most days of the week.

First of all, if I haven't explained this before, the area of Bangladesh where I'm doing all of my research is called Matlab (that's an "ahhhh" sound for both a's).  It is a rural area just 40+ kilometers southeast of Dhaka, the capitol city.  I'm working in Matlab because ICDDR,B, the research hospital that is hosting me and overseeing my project, has been collecting demographic information and conducting amazing health-related research projects in the area for over 40 years.  This means that there are many, many resources available to me here, including super helpful people (who go out of their way day in and day out to help me) who tell me where the Shodhagor (river gypsy) groups are located, how I can get there, and who help Sabrina and me hire boats to take us out for our interviews. ICDDR,B also has a wonderful system to help students - they arrange housing and transport for us and give free transport to and from the airport.  So, in short, they make my life and my research easier and I am ever so grateful for it.

Roslyn and I (and our two assistants, Fayeza and Sabrina) have been in Matlab for over 3 weeks now and have less than 2 weeks left.

Most days, Sabrina and I go out for interviews with the Shodhagor people.  Like I said previously, these people live on their boats in groups of boats that are located in several different places in Matlab and numerous places throughout the rest of Bangladesh.  We are focusing our interview efforts on 4 places for which we had pretty solid information from ICDDR,B employees that a number of boats would be present:  Charmukundi, which is located very close to the place I'm staying; Kazir Bazar, which is an hour's boat ride away; Nayerga, which is a little farther out and requires a motorized vehicle of some sort to access; and Kawadi, which is the farthest of all and requires a vehicle to Nayerga plus an hour-long boat ride. 

The people we're interviewing are almost always on their boats (cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, etc.), so, they are only accessible to us by country boat.  If Sabrina and I are going to take interviews at either Charmukundi or Kazir Bazar (our favorite place), our boatman picks us up on the canal that runs just outside of the ICDDR,B grounds.  He takes us out to the group of boats, and then he helps us find people to interview.  We go from boat to boat, conducting both open-ended interviews, in which we ask about the general lifestyles of the Shodhagor living in the respective group, and close-ended interviews, in which we ask for information specific to the respondent (i.e. how many children they have, how many times per year they move their boats, what they do for work, etc.).  An open-ended interview can take around 45 minutes and a close-ended interview can take up to 30 minutes.  We try to conduct as many as we can within two or three hours (or for as long as we can manage to sit on the boat), then we head home.  Usually, Sabrina spends the rest of the day transcribing the open-ended interviews we've conducted while I check the answers to the close-ended surveys, make notes from the day, and prepare for the next day.

I by no means know enough about these groups of people to make any generalizations.  They seem to be quite a bit poorer than the people in the villages, as many of them have reported continuing to live on their boats only because they can't afford to buy land or to build a house.  They also have some interesting cultural practices; for example, they often move their house boats once or twice per year, according to the weather because their primary source of income is often men's fishing, and availability of fish in an area changes with the season (rainy vs. dry).

I can say a few things for sure, though...  We have met some extremely kind, open, welcoming, and fun-loving people.  Every time we pass a boat where we've previously conducted an interview, they smile, wave, and yell "hello" to us.  They also like to tease us (politely, of course) and each other, sing, laugh, and have fun.  It has been a pleasure and I will be excited to come back for a bigger research project soon. 

I can also tell you that the scenery is like nothing I have ever seen before.  The rainy season has just ended and everything is lush and green.  When we arrived in Matlab a few weeks ago, all of the fields were under water.  Now, as the dry season sneaks up on everyone here, the water is receding and the landscape is changing.  Luckily, we will be finishing up our interviews just before some of what used to be canals dry up. 

And finally, I can tell you with no reservation that some days I fall completely, boundlessly, head-over-heels in love with this place.  Wednesday was one of those days.  The boat ride was peaceful and beautiful.  We had some great interviews and caught a show (haha - video to come later).  And for just a little while, on our way home, I laid back (5 hours sitting cross-legged in a wooden boat can do a number on my back), closed my eyes, and felt the breeze all around me.  And that was all it took.  I was done for.  L-O-V-E

This work is never without struggles, but I sincerely hope this is the job I get to do forever.

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