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Brazil, Haiti and nailpolish

4297580663_51d1d2549cOur masterstudents are in the field! We expect interesting posts from them, from all over the globe. Below, find the first one, talking about the fieldwork-preparations. It is by Luiza Andrade. The focus of her study will be the Haitian immigrants’ settlement in Brazil after the earthquake of 2010. During the fieldwork, she will try to gather information on their aspirations for the future and memories of the past, in an attempt to find out if such investments in migration may influence the way people perceive situations as either “temporary” or “permanent”. Her fieldwork will be conducted in Brasiléia, a small town located at the Brazilian boarder with Bolivia, where thousands of Haitian migrants have crossed the border to build a new life in Brazil.

By Luiza Andrade   I love nailpolish. Back home, I have an extensive collection of several different colors and shades. As a typical brazilian girl, I enjoy getting my nails done weekly and matching colors with clothes and accessories. Honestly, it’s part of my weekly routine. But today… today was different.  I came home from running errands and the first thing that came to my mind regarding the preparation for fieldwork was: I gotta file my nails.

So, in a sudden walk from the entrance door, through the hallway, all the way to the bathroom, hastily reaching for the third drawer, I took a breath and neatly filed all ten of them, as short as possible. And that’s how it started. The beginning of a fieldwork adventure for a typical city girl.

It may sound silly (and maybe overly dramatic) to make such a big fuss about nails. But if you knew me, you would understand that filing them so neatly short represents much more than simple aesthetics.  It was one of the small steps that pave the way towards the tiny bits of courage I have been trying to gather through the last few months, in order to face the challenge of fieldwork. This is just a silly example of the importance of small and seemingly meaningless things (such as filing your nails) during the preparation for fieldwork.

Imagine a people that have lost everything (we can start simple). Now imagine you have accepted the self-developed task of spending months with these people. Living with them, eating with them, smiling and possibly crying with them. Ok, it’s not that difficult to imagine. It’s an acceptable idea. The problem is not knowing if, for them, the idea of you being inserted in their context is as acceptable as it is for yourself.

The simple yet complicated choices you make on how to present yourself may have a great impact on how these people will see and relate to you. Short and colorless nails, hair tied back, a simple pair of rundown jeans and flip flops. That’s the outfit I’ve decided to be the basis of my “dressing code” during fieldwork. Oh, I forgot to mention it will be about 35 Celsius there.

My backpack is still unpacked with clothes, but I already have a pile of books I’d like to bring along. My maps, observation notebooks and French grammar and dictionaries (you know, just in case…), will occupy a large portion of the single bag I’ve decided to take with me. A card game will take the side pocket (I figured it could be a good way to meet some Haitians at the field site). Toothpaste and shampoo take the other pocket. Sometimes I catch myself thinking “Hey, Luiza… puh-lease… you are not going to the jungle. It’s a city, with people and convenience stores in it. Get a grip!” Yet again it is the idea of the unknown that occupies my mind, and gives me this feeling of needing to be prepared, be it for the jungle, be it for a whole day without brushing my teeth.

I arrive at the fieldsite tomorrow, after two planes and a long bus ride. I have it all planned out. But I guess we all know that probably nothing will go according to plan.

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