Fieldwork is not homework

I’m so fortunate to be able to live and work in this magically beautiful realm, and yet, a great working environment is still a workplace, and nothing compares to being home. The language consultants with whom I’m working are tireless; they push me when I’m ready to quit. And by all other standards, my field site is quite cushy: you can see there is tap water and electricity in the picture – that is, solar power that provides water through a pump from the well and batteries that hold a charge overnight for charging equipment. Nevertheless, transcription is grueling, even in a language without tones. The dipthongs and consonant lenition make up the difference in difficulty.

Plus there’s always issues of ethics and compromise. One of the consultants with whom I work is a fisherman, another is a hunter. Neither will accept for me to buy food in the market, they both insist on obtaining and providing us with their own, even if it means we’ll be eating Bambi or Flipper for supper (just kidding actually they’d never kill a dolphin, but a shark or baracuda are fair game.

Then there’s the interrogations . I should be empathic about interviews as I’m here in order to research the people’s culture, and the Jóola in particular are incredibly open to sharing even their most intimate events with me such as the traditional funeral I was permitted to film in its entirety, but gosh I get tired of answering questions about myself over and over. Naturally, people are curious, but who I am and where I’m from is complicated, and I try to be honest, but in the field, I’m always the stranger among people that have lived with each other since their birth, until, as I just witnessed, their death.

I started this post a few days ago, but today, I’m back home at Kaïra Kunda. In hindsight I see the fatigue of fieldwork makes the comfort and familiarity of home all the more worth it. I’m also thinking how thankful I am to have the opportunity to work and live in this sanctuary that is Senegal.

A very Happy and Merry Christmas to all. Momo and I are here waving at you across the seas.


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