Tuesday, September 28, 2010

General Update

I've been posting mostly about cultural stuff and funny stories rather than actual my daily life so I thought I was overdue for one. 

I still have not received approval to start interviewing students which is of course frustrating. I've been here just over 10 weeks and I still have yet to meet with the committee who does the approvals and I'm not really sure if the entire committee has seen my documents. It's kind of hard to nail down exact answers. There are a variety of mitigating factors (various important events, internet at the University was down for several weeks, etc.) but I am getting really antsy. I don't want to run out of time and have to rush through my interviews. It's starting to turn into a scene from The Money Pit. I ask about approval from my contacts and the answer is always "Oh I think in the next week it should be approved." But I'm stuck in a sticky situation. Being able to do my research in this environment is a HUGE deal (both to me and in terms of precedence) so I want to honor my hosts (hosts both specifically & generically) but the bottom line is that I have a very limited amount of time left and every day that ticks by sends me into a panic. I've little by little been stepping up my check-ins and follow-throughs...trying to worry less about cultural politeness (though keeping it in mind) and more about actual facts of life. Hopefully I will have a happier update about this SOON!

I finally finished off my $11 box of Apple Jacks. They were excellent down to the almost stale last bite.

I have been doing lots of physical activity: walking, yoga, playing soccer with the teen boys on the compound, etc. I have lost some pretty substantial weight, though I'm not exactly sure how much. I don't want to feel disappointed so I've refused L's offers to use her scale. But my clothes are very loose and I can see a difference in the mirror. Let's hope I keep this momentum up and continue it when I get home. New me!

I am definitely integrated into the community as much as I will ever be short of living here for the rest of my life (which won't happen EVER). I get scolded for not following social norms, people ask where I am if I don't attend an event (or if they THINK I didn't attend something), and people generally don't give me too much special treatment. There is some special treatments that will always remain (L still gets special privileges and she's lived her 8 years) but people are less likely to wear their "best white people" behavior when I'm around. I have some real friendships that have formed. I know a ton of people. Students wave at me when I'm on campus. Different market merchants know me. In general, life is as "normal" as it's going to be. 

I've applied to 21 faculty jobs so far. I have 3 more in the queue that are waiting for various deadlines, etc. Keeping my hopes up that more will be posted as none of the current ones are in places where I have family. There are a number of them that are very exciting and sound great, but really, I would take a job I was less enthused about if it meant I got to be close to family. We shall see how it pans out. 

Other than that I'm just living life and taking it day by day. I'm kind of in a lull right now until I can get going with my interviews. I'm staying busy by helping out with various non-research related projects that people have asked for my help with. I'm just trying to enjoy the little things before I get totally absorbed in my work and head home! I'll keep you updated!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good Job Parentals

This is off topic (mostly) to Nigeria. The only connection it really has is that divorce is very uncommon in Nigeria, and people who get divorced are judged very harshly. The few times I've mentioned the fact that my parents are divorced the announcement has been met with gasps, lots of "OH, sorry-o!" and usually a lot of (funny to me) questions. The funniest one ever (again, probably only to me) was the time someone asked how my father could have just left his family (and how all American dads could do that in general) and I had to say "Um, actually it was my mom who moved out and I've always lived with my dad so I don't really know why." I seriously thought the guy was going to drive the car right off of the road. There's also usually weird looks and funny questions when I mention either of my two stepparents because apparently in Nigeria the social custom is to hate your stepparent No Matter What. I mean, I know stepparents get a bad rap all over the world, but the extremeness that it's spoken with here is surreal to me.

All of this has really gotten me thinking about divorce & the aftermath that it often causes. And it got me thinking about how fortunate I am to have two parents who aren't complete dodo-heads and realized that just because they decided they didn't want to be married anymore it didn't mean that they hated each other's guts and should make their children suffer. Even in the US it's pretty rare for people to have a "good" divorce & aftermath story. I can truly say that the whole thing, though ultimately unfortunate, was for me mostly painless. My parents continued to co-parent like usual and probably did an even better job at it then when they were constantly under the stress of each other. Sure there was a learning curve but overall all family dynamics remained mostly unchanged. We couldn't manipulate one parent to get something from another, we didn't get away with more things at either home, and when we were is serious trouble mom came back to our house to help dad dole out the punishment...together...as a parenting team. And they have always treated one another with respect which I know probably hasn't been the easiest thing to do when thinking about their differences and the things that led them to divorce. One of my most vivid memories is of my dad SCREAMING at my aunt (brother's wife) on the phone shortly after the divorce because she has bad-mouthed my mother in front of my two sisters. I can remember him saying "Don't you EVER DARE talk poorly about my children's mother in front of them EVER again." Apparently it caused some strife and tears on my aunt & uncle's part, but I didn't hear about any of that until I was much, much older. But the impact it made on me was huge. I knew that my dad would defend my mother no matter how much certain members of my family may have felt about her and that meant a lot to a 15 year old.

Even now, after they've been divorced 16 years we still do things as a family when necessary (e.g. graduations, weddings, etc.) and even enjoy getting together in overlapping fashions on holidays. Nearly everyone I tell this to thinks it's the most bizarre thing in the world, but really I can't understand why or how people would do it any other way. Before my mom moved to California we all lived in the same state. As my sisters and I grow older and our families grow it makes it more and more difficult to try and plan enough time to spend with everyone around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother's Days, etc. So we do it all together in a neutral location (my sister's house) and we all celebrate together. When people tell me that their parents can't even stand to be in the same room together it makes me sad. If you parents were married (or together long enough to produce a child I guess) they clearly loved each other at some point. I mean, short of horrendous domestic violence (which is few and far between mostly), how can anyone go from love to vitriolic hate with one person? Sure my parents don't love each other anymore but they don't hate each other. They aren't besties and go on double-dates with their new spouses, but they can spend a few hours together (and funny enough, sometimes days) to celebrate the family they once had without gouging each other's eyes out. Hey, sometimes we even have fun! How novel.

And on another side note, not that you would expect any less from parents who did Job #1 exceedingly well, but they have also done a great job in selecting new partners that allow all of this mushy family stuff to happen. I always hear about new wives and husbands who act jealous and try and lash out at both the biological kids and parents in an effort to mark their territory. My stepparents have never done that. They happily join in with our big (apparently strange) family get-togethers and can even share a laugh or two with their counterpart about silly things that their partners do. They've even been known to help each other out with different house projects on occasion. Besides a few minor adjustments here or there we've never had to deal with any stepparent horror stories that you often hear so much about. 

Anyway, all of this is just to say, awesome job to my parents. If there were report cards in Divorce & Aftermath you guys would get an A+++. I am thankful that I can tell my oddball story to others and let them know that all divorces don't have to be horrible and wretched. Families can still come out successful even after they break apart into something new. All it takes is effort and determination, and to always keep in mind that sometimes, there are people and feelings more important that yourself that you need to look out for in the grand scheme of life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oh! Sorry-o!

In my continuing chronicle of things that Nigerians say that strike me funny or different I want to talk about saying sorry. In the US we generally only say sorry if we did something to cause trouble, pain, etc. in someone's life. But here in Nigeria you say sorry for just about anything and everything that is less than hunky dory. And it's not just "sorry" it's "Oh! Sorry-o!" In Nigeria the adding of "-o" on many, many words is both a sign of sincerity and also a little bit of Pidgin English flair. This phrase is so common that I find myself doing and saying it non-stop like everyone else. The other day I was talking to Ange online and she said she was tired. My automatic response was "Sorry." And she was of course perplexed so I had to explain this whole thing to her. Here are some more examples for when sorry is appropriate:

Someone drops a pen? Oh! Sorry-0!
You say you had a bad night's sleep? Oh! Sorry-o!
You trip and almost fall all because you are clumsy? Oh! Sorry-o!

I hear this phrase at least once every day. Probably more. And it seems to have completely infiltrated my thought processes (as noted to the conversation above with Ange). But really, I don't mind. When I said sorry to Ange she told me not to say sorry unless I really meant it. Which of course I actually did. I was sorry that she was tired, because that is unfortunate especially given it was the middle of the day and I knew she had a lot more to do that day. It might be a different kind of sorry, but that's ok with me. I can still be empathetic-ally sorry for misfortunes in another person's life. I'd rather everyone be feeling well and spry and ready to take on the world. And if you are less than that, I may just say "Oh! Sorry-o!" Ok, well maybe I'll keep the "Sorry" part and drop the "Oh!" and "-o" parts. I don't want to totally confuse everyone!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Interpretive Dancing

I'll say one thing...if interpretive dancing were an Olympic sport (and I'm not talking about lame-o rhythmic gymnastics) the Nigerian's would win piles of gold medals every four years. I have seen more interpretive dancing in the past 9 weeks than I've probably seen in the rest of the years of my life combined.

Church service? Interpretive dance!

Conference? Interpretive dance!

Talent show? Interpretive dance!

There's even a family interpretive dance show akin to America's Got Talent that is very popular right now. A whole family competes and the judges have to guess what the dance was about. Kind of "Whose Line is It Anyway?" meets "So You Think You Can Dance" actually. And there's randomly some American lady on the judging panel. Bet she never guessed she'd be a TV star in Nigeria! It's totally hilarious.

The best part of the interpretive dancing is the very authentic, but not so much, imitation "ballet dancing" that most people seem to believe is mandatory for interpretive dancing. I feel like there is a hidden market for ballet dancing around here what with apparently everyone and literally their mother sitting around watching old ballet dancing videos and trying their very best to imitate them. Throw on some gospel music and you have an award winning production. No literally, the talent show at Church has like 50 contestants for the dance competition and every single one of them was a interpretive gospel ballet dance. Both single contestants and groups. Everyone REALLY LOVES interpretive dancing. I might have to throw together a little routine for my dissertation defense just so I feel like I am accurately representing my research.

Monday, September 20, 2010


At home, Ange & I share the household duties. Mainly, she does the major stuff inside the house (sweeping, mopping, etc.) and I do the major stuff outside the house (run errands, most of the shopping, etc. ). Now, I know I am far from normal. And I am under the firm belief that non-normal people tend to attract other non-normal people, and in fact, mostly crazy people and crazy situations to them. I know that when I walk out the door in the morning I will get more than my fair share of crazbos trying to make my life difficult. I accept it and sometimes all I look for from my partner is a little validation. A little "sorry you had to deal with that." Usually I don't get it and instead get a list of reasons why I am probably misinterpreting the situation, overdramatizing the situation, or reasons I should give the person sympathy. Which of course I don't want to hear any of those things.

But times...they are a changin'.

My most epic struggle has been with the maroons who work in the Pharmacy at the Work Release Kroger around the corner from us. We started using this pharmacy because A. it was close to the house, B. we now have several dogs who are permanently or intermittently on drugs in addition to mine, and C. one of Ange's good friends used to work there. When I first started going there, if Ange's good friend wasn't there it always seemed like the most random ridiculousness would transpire. I would try to tell Ange about these situations but she apparently she did not want to believe that everyone besides her friend at that Kroger was a complete idiot. It was always someone else's fault, or a mistake, or I was imagining it...but never that everyone else was a nincompoop. I don't know if she was trying to stay loyal for her friend's sake or if she thought I was being my usual dramatic self, but whatever it was, I was just wrong and over-reacting.

Now here's the most delicious part: now that I am in Africa for 5 months Ange has to do everything herself. All the errands, pill picking up, grocery shopping, etc. All by herself. So now she gets to see the craziness I deal with on a regular basis. After experiencing the idiocy of the Kroger Pharmacy with her own eyes for the eleven-dy-ith time she in fact apologized for ever having doubted me. She realized they were completely incompetent and nuts. She apologized under the agreement that she never have to do "my jobs" again. I said I would be glad to resume interacting with the loonie tunes outside world under the condition that she give ME the benefit of the doubt in the future and realize that people are just plain nuts and love to torture me when all I want to do is run in and out of the store and when I bitch and moan instead of telling me why I might be wrong to say "I totally understand and I'm sorry you have to deal with that." Ladies and gentleman, we had ourselves a deal. Validation has never felt so sweet.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Somehow & Anyhow

One of my favorite, favorite things about learning about new cultures is language. I'm no linguist by any means, but I very much enjoy thinking about and trying to understand language and it's use in cultures. Language can often give deeper insight into cultural differences that you wouldn't necessarily think about. It's also one of my biggest sources of laughter and amusement. The things that come out of people's mouths (both others to me as well as me to their ears) can cause hysterical fits and private jokes for weeks.

Two of my favorite partial phrases that Nigerians consistently use are "(something) is somehow" and "(something) just anyhow."

For example, tonight at dinner we had spaghetti. It tasted different than it usually does and someone remarked "This sauce is different. It tastes somehow." Which when you really think about it from an American perspective the second sentence is saying virtually the same thing as the first sentence, and really neither one are giving you any clue into how it is different. Often when I try to press someone on what they mean by this "somehow" I get no further. "What do you mean 'somehow'?" "I don't know, just somehow." You quickly learn to stop asking for more information because you know it won't get you anywhere.

As for the other one, one of the kids was giving a summary of a book he read and said about 5 times "The main point of the book is that you shouldn't spend your money just anyhow." This phrase is a little more clear...obviously you shouldn't just spend your money with wild abandon but "just anyhow" is still pretty vague and it's used in other contexts where it makes a less clear point.

For me, as a naturally inquisitive person and a qualitative researcher, this sheds light on one of the more frustrating cultural differences that I've noticed about living in Nigeria. It's very hard to get people to understand that I really, really & truly want them to describe this "somehow" or "anyhow." For me, it speaks to how Nigeria is much less concisely verbally expressive than the US and that less value is placed on exploring specific meanings of abstract concepts. This is not to say that Nigeria isn't expressive because Nigeria has some of the most beautiful art and music in the world. It's just a different style of expression, one that does not lend itself well to the type of information I am usually seeking. Often when someone does try to explain something to me it is filled with round about stories with metaphors and analogies and I'm left with a blank expression and hours of thinking to try and figure out exactly what the person was trying to tell me. I want and am looking for 2-3 sentences telling me a precise definition where they are looking to create a visual scene in my mind and some kind of holistic understanding of the topic of hand. It's one of the most challenging things I have to work on while I am here. In the beginning I used to zone out after a few minutes of what seemed like nonsensical rambling and then just pretending to understand what the heck they were trying to tell me, but now I'm getting better at following through the story and grand picture and usually get what the person is trying to express. I'm sure I still miss nuances, but overall I'm getting their meaning. And more importantly I've learned I can't just ask questions anyhow and that sometimes I just have to accept a non-descript somehow or two and make up a meaning for myself.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Yeah, that's right, this post is about boogers. Ok, well maybe not boogers per se, but definitely about nose picking. Nose picking in Nigeria is very common place. You see it everywhere and pretty much it's not as taboo as in the US. And I'm not talking about children. I'm talking about EVERYONE. Adults, kids, teenagers, old people...pretty much you'll see any age engaging in some nose picking. And I'm not talking about a dainty little "oh I have something of the tip of my nose, I'll just rub it a bit." I'm talking full-on up to the second knuckle digging for gold nose picking. No efforts to hide it, no making it look less obvious, or even looking away from someone while it's going on. Nope, if there is a booger then it must be dug out IMMEDIATELY with the full force necessary to delodge it. And I won't even tell you what happens to the boogers once they are found. If you're lucky it involves a handkerchief...if not, stomach churns ahead.

Luckily I think this is a habit that is starting to change. You are much less likely to see this habit among the more educated, young adults and/or those who spend more time interacting with Western visitors. Perhaps someone along the way mentioned that it's considered impolite (and GROSS) to dig in your nose in public. However, as much as there are signs of progress on this social norm, I must report that just this past Sunday I saw someone digging their way through Church service. No shame whatsoever.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rain Rain Doh Doh*

* When my cousin was little she had some speech delays. One of the ways the pediatrician suggested helping promote speaking was singing songs. Her interpretation of "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day!" was "Rain, rain, doh, doh." She's totally normal now. Well...as normal as anyone in our family can be.

It's rained every day that I've been here except 2 I think. And as a reminder I've been here 59 days. It's rainy season so it's not a surprise, but seriously, Seattle has nothing on Nigeria. At least during the rainy season.

Rain here is different than in the US for a number of reasons.

1. The rain here sounds different. You can hear it trying to sneak up on you like a toddler learning how to tiptoe. It moves swiftly but has a distinctive sound that can stop you in the middle of a sentence so you can tilt your head and say "Rain is coming." Because most of the roofs here are metal and there is no need for insulation because it's never cold (and it would just get wet, moldy and infested anyway) the rain sounds different. If you are in a low roof building it can be incredibly loud when it's the middle of a downpour. So loud, in fact, that your conversations almost rise to shouting levels.

2. Rain is incapacitating here. The rain can be SO heavy SO fast that it's like instant flash flood level rain. Add that to the fact that there isn't much infrastructure for drainage and the like you quite literally have streets that become completely impassable within minutes of rain starting. And even if it only rains for a little while, it will rain again before the area has time to dry up. If it's raining really hard you know that whatever event or destination you are heading to will be delayed substantially. Hours even. Considering the major modes of transportation for the majority of people consist of either your feet or a motorbike you can see how people can't get places when it rains.

3. Leaky roofs are the norm and nothing to be concerned about. Due to both craftsmanship issues and harsh environmental conditions most buildings have leaks in them. When it rains hard or for hours on end the trusty standby buckets get dragged out and placed under the leaks to catch the water. No one bats an eye. It's just common and expected.

4. Rain is mostly a joyful events, even days on end. In the US we get cranky if it rains more than two days in a row. Here there is much greater perspective on rain. When it's rainy season people are grateful because they know it is feeding the ground for the plants and food that need it very much. You rarely hear anyone complaining about how the rain ruined their plans and is causing too many problems. It's a refreshing attitude and one I will try to keep when I am home in my comfy house with no roof leaks in the US.

5. My favorite, favorite thing about rain is that it keeps everything cooler and helps with pest control. As long as it keeps raining bugs tend not to reproduce (they hatch AFTER rainy season) and it stays nice and cool. In fact the past week has been particularly chilly. I had goosebumps in church the other day because it was so chilly and for almost the past week I've had to turn my air conditioner off at night because it's been too cold for it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Don Tiyah*

*That's Pidgin for "I'm tired." I know, it's actually the same or more words to say it in Pidgin, but no one ever said there was a lot of rationale for some Pidgin words & phrases.

This is pretty much my mantra here in Nigeria. I don't know what it is or why, but I almost always feed exhausted here. In the US I am usually always on the move, running around, etc. I usually get 7 hours of sleep and feel refreshed. Here, I can get 9 hours of sleep and wake up still feeling like I can barely get up and that I could sleep another 5 hours. I mean, I think I know some of the reasons, but not necessarily all of them.

1. I am living a very superficial life here. In an effort to fit in with the community I have a very sanitized version of my life story, and basically I wear a facade any time I am outside of my room, which obviously is often. This is exhausting. I have to constantly be "on" and I rarely have time to vent or even just be candidly honest for fear of various repercussions (personal and research/professional).

2. My biggest foe in Nigeria is boredom. I know this sounds weird. I'm in a country much different than my own, I'm here doing work, I'm often busy and on-the-go, how in the world can I be bored? Well because the security situation in Nigeria is less than optimal, I don't really have much freedom of movement. I am limited often by transport and security issues. So this means I spend the majority of time either in the compound, at the university, or at Church. It gets tedious and monotonous. Being bored is natural and after a while, it is also exhausting. And sleeping also gives you something new to do to pass the time.

3. Stress. Due to the two above, I know my body is under a lot of stress, both consciously and unconsciously. One way that the body deals with stress is to shut down. If your body is too tired to do anything it is less likely to go places and do things that cause stress. So I'm battling not only circumstances but my own biology as well.

Luckily I recognize these things so I do what I can to maintain my sanity and push through the tiredness. I've been exercising a lot more lately (as opposed to none), trying to not take as many naps (even if there isn't much to do), and generally just being cognizant of this so I can take advantage of any opportunities to reduce the feelings of tiredness in my life. And thankfully, I'll never be in this position again so I won't have to battle it after 3 more months.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Post Dedicated to My BIL

There are five other outlets in this room. None of them except this one works. This is how we roll in Nigeria.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time Warp

Whenever I talk to people at home one of the most common questions I am asked is if it feels like I've been gone forever. I am never quite sure how to answer this question because quite honestly I am not sure. I feel like I am an in strange time vortex where up is down and down is up. There are days where I feel like I have been here about 5 minutes past eternity and there are other days when I realize I've been here almost 2 months and I think GET OUT, no way! I feel like I've been here about 2 weeks. I think it depends on how my day is going, how much work I've felt I've accomplished at any given point in time, and other random factors like how many days in a row it's rained.

I think part of it has to do with the strange pace of life here as well. One thing I've always said about Nigeria is that it is a society based on "hurry up & wait." By this I mean that we spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for something to happen. In general there is not a sense of urgency for things, but often you'll get swept up by some frantic thing happening where everyone runs around screaming and everyone knows we're late and we all run crashing into each other to get to where we were supposed to be 15 minutes ago, and by the time we get there we settle down and sit for about an hour before anything happens again. It's a very strange way of living that I think affects your perception of time passing. You spend most of your time feeling like you are watching paint dry because everything is so not rushed and then these spurts of mania make it feel like you are always running late and running to do any anything. I can't really explain it better, but that's what it feels like to me.

Anyway, I've almost reached the half-way point (half-way based on my initial projection of how long it would take me to do my research with a leave date of December 18th) and I feel like I am in good shape research and mental health wise. I have good days and bad days (mostly good) and overall I feel like progress is being made and that I will have an outstanding experience overall. Now I just need to hurry up and wait until my work is done.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thank you, Captain Obvious

So there is one thing that I can't quite seem to get used to no matter how many times I travel abroad. Well, I'm used to it in the sense that it doesn't shock me when it happens, but I'm not used to it in the fact that I still find it severely irritating even after all these years. This thing I'm talking about is the lack of politeness around pointing out people's flaws. It happened to me in China all the time...people would run up to me (and another girl in my group who was taller, but slightly thinner than me) and go "OH MY GOD YOU ARE SO FAT! Can I take a picture with you?" usually followed by a pose with their arms stretched out to show how fat I was in comparison to them. Yes, thanks for that, I wasn't quite aware. Well, it happens here as well.

The two biggest things that have been commented on during this stay are two unusual moles/birthmarks that I have. The first one is this reddish raised mole/birthmark that I have near my hairline. It's really noticeable here because I always wear my hair pulled back since it is hot and humid and that equals pouffy hair for me if I keep it down. Oh and the fact that I'm blinding white and it is dark-ish red.

I swear, the first 2 weeks I was here no less than 3 people per day pointed it out. "Aunty Lindsay! What is that on your head???" or "Aunty Lindsay! Your head is bleeding!!!" And then we'd have a 5 minute discussion about what the heck a mole and/or birthmark is (not common on darker skin) and about a thousand reassurances that it was not bleeding, a bug bite, or something that would go away we'd be done. Until the next person noticed it. I have become so self conscious over the dumb thing that I am seriously considering going to a dermatologist when I get home to have it removed. It's never bothered me before but I'm seriously at the point where I want to shriek at the next person who points it out. Get over it already!!!

Now that I'm more chummy with people I get arms thrown around my neck more often. Either in a chummy "hey, how's it going?" way or in the form of a hug. Unluckily for me, I have a big gross mole on the back of my neck that protrudes out a bit and as one of the dear kids pointed out "wiggles when you touch it."

It's times like this that I think...ya know, living in a stuffy, overly polite society is kind of nice. At home the only people who can rip on me like that are my sisters. And at least I know it's done lovingly. Here it's just kind of out there, and is usually done in a way to tell you there is something wrong with you and maybe you should think about being less weird or doing something to improve yourself.

This is not to say that it only happens to me. It happens to everyone. Just today one of the kids told one of the housegirls that she should stop eating so much rice because her belly was looking fat like she was pregnant. Ah, how charming.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


In Nigeria instead of saying something is your favorite you instead say it is your best. So instead of "what is your favorite movie?" it would be "what is your best movie?" Or instead of "Lady GaGa is my favorite singer" you would say "Lady GaGa is my best singer." I always thought it was the funniest strange expression and it always made me chuckle a little on the inside. But the other day I realized in the US we use the same expression in at least one way. You wouldn't say "My favorite friend is Ange" you would say "My best friend is Ange." So now it doesn't seem as strange, but I have to admit, I still giggle a little on the inside every time I hear it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Research Update

Ange and I had a discussion the other day about my research progress and it made me realize that many people don't understand what it is I am doing here and how to gauge my progress. This is not an attack on Ange (or anyone) but just an attempt to help my readers understand what I'm doing and how my research might be very different than what you are used to or what it is you think research is all about. I know it might seem like I'm goofing around a lot but I assure you, I am doing a lot of work in the mix of being goofy.

First of all, a quick and dirty reminder (or intro) to what I'm doing in the "big picture" way. I am doing qualitative research, which basically means I want to talk to individuals and understand their thoughts on my topic and then after I've talked to a lot of people I'll sum up what I find and say this research will tell you about this specific population. Quantitative research is often done with surveys or questionnaires and tries to talk to large groups of people in an attempt to generalize the info you find to large groups of people. Generally qualitative research has a smaller sample (e.g. people you interview) than quantitative. Many, many people (scientist/researcher people even) mistakenly have the impression that quantitative research is "better," "more true," and preferable. Often these people are stupid. Hahaha. Ok, just kidding. Just narrow minded. Qualitative research usually has a much different goal than quantitative research. They each have their value; they are just better suited to different projects. Quantitative is best when you want to know basically the who, what, when and where. Qualitative is best when you want to know WHY. I think you can't really understand the complex reasons people do things by asking yes or no questions, asking them to fill out scales, or check boxes. So my research, basically why and how people make decisions to enter relationships and have sex can only be justifiably answered by qualitative research.

Another thing that is equally important to me, and to my research, is context. Going back to the old "I am coming" phrase, if you don't know the context in which someone says it you will have very different interpretations of what that phrase means. If you were in America and someone said it you would say "Oh they will be here soon." But if you were in Nigeria you know that means "That person will be back sometime in the future, who knows when really." Same is the context of my research. Without knowing how the person I am interviewing currently lives and has likely lived their whole life I might not understand completely when they tell me something. Or I might miss a key idea because I am not in-tune with the hidden meanings of what they are saying. For example, people here often use "sweet" to describe something "sexy" or to imply sexual undertones. If someone told me "Oh, that girl, she is so sweet" I would think, "Oh that is a nice girl, she probably helps old ladies cross the street," rather than "Oh, I need to ask how she is sweet...does she dress sexy? is she known as a loose girl?" Context can be everything.

So I've now been here almost 7 weeks. What have I been doing in 7 weeks? I have first and foremost been establishing context. How do I do this? The easy part, is listening and participating in everything that's going on around me. This is called "participant observation" in researcher lingo. Basically I am living the life of an Evangelical Christian living in Nigeria. Now I can't completely be zen with the culture since a) I am not Nigerian b) I am a white woman from America and c) My living situation is unusual and not comparable to the "average" Nigerian. I recognize this, but it doesn't mean that I can't get a better idea of what my participants' context is like to better prepare me for my interviews.

The second way I have been establishing context is by talking to people who might have an interesting perspective on my research topic. These are called "key informant interviews." I have been talking to different staff at the University, different religious leaders, and a variety of other people who don't fit into neat categories. Every time I talk to someone I get new information that sparks my thinking and understanding on the topic. This helps me to better shape the questions I will be asking in my interviews with students.

Now my interviews with students seem like the "research" part of my study, but it is actually only one part. The above stuff is all data or research and believe me I've been doing a lot of it. I use a very cool iphone app called Momonote to keep my notes on my observations and interviews. I've made 97 notes on my project in the past 7 weeks. The interviews are more concrete so people tend to focus on those the most. I am working on getting approval from the University to start my interviewing (which is another part of my research, but I'll give you a break and talk about that later) and as soon as I have it I'll be able to add that into the mix of the other two parts I've mentioned.

Hopefully this gave you a little insight into what I've been doing, and given you some reassurance I'm not just goofing around over here. I am hard at work everyday and very much on schedule (if not a little ahead!). And of course I'll keep you updated!