Reality and nightmares…

It had been a while since I last wrote an entry (and I mean write proper here with a pen on a paper!) and typed later on. This is one of those entries (at least partly anyway), borne out of situation than from choice – the area that I live in was without power from Saturday night to Tuesday morning. The battery on my laptop was virtually exhausted and the emergency lamp was slowly fading. So, I mused these on a candlelight on Sunday night, with BBC World Service on radio on the background!

Sunday, 23 September 2007, 18:30 GMT (BBC World Service Time)

Real doctor in the house
A dreamnightmare scenario is unfolding at my residence – they are re-opening the maternity home/clinic! Only last week, I wrote about the weird but largely comfortable place that I currently reside in. When I decided to take the place, I thought the maternity home was closed for good. However, over the months I have been here, what I found rather surprising was that most of the peoples who were supposed to know about the closure of the clinic turned out to be completely unaware. It even made me suspicious as to the reason for closure in the first place. Now I am hearing that they are reopening the clinic, and that too all of a sudden and with immediate effect – the watchman has already cleaned up the main check-up room and put in place the necessary equipment. He tells me the clinic will start receiving patients from Tuesday – that’s only two days away! Considering how things usually work here in Ghana, this is extraordinarily efficient!! Once its open, I’ll have to seriously consider using the big gate at the side for coming in and going out from my house. I wouldn’t want to be walking in and out through the corridor full of women waiting to see a doctor, nurse or a midwife.

18:57 GMT

Power for the powerless…
We are having lights off since last night. I thought it was “general” lights off as we don’t have load shedding in our area. However, it turned out to be just our neighbourhood this time – apparently there is a problem with the local transformer (there was a big rainstorm with thunder and lightening last night, and probably that did the damage). Anyway, the problem hasn’t been fixed as yet, and I am writing these lines on a candlelight. I am supposed to be working on my questionnaire design for the household survey, but in this darkness, no point in struggling to design questionnaire (with pen on paper!) when I can’t even read reference books/papers that are lying open on either sides of my computer. So I might as well use these quiet candlelit hours musing mindlessly than working on the questionnaire. Hopefully they’ll fix the transformer tomorrow and I would be able to work all day on my questionnaires…hopefully…

19:07 GMT

Home for the homeless…
Anushka Shankar is playing a beautiful tune on the radio. Every time I hear tunes from our part of the world, I have these relentless urges to go back “home” for good. But then when I sit down to think rationally, I realise that I have been living away in different countries, in different cultures and with a different lifestyle for far too long to have the same level of connection back “home”. When I seriously think about it, what I call home is my parents house, and even when I go back, I’ll have to start from scratch. Not that I am scared to do that, but I feel that if that is the situation then why not go to a completely different country and culture to experience and learn something new, rather than going back to a (what would initially be quite uncomfortable) comfort-zone. Life is just too short to just sit down and relax within your own comfort-zone if your main aim is to “explore this world”.

Its all about the process…
What else was I thinking of musing about here? Well, one thing I have been thinking about a lot lately is “process” and “act”; “process” and “outcome”; and “process/means” and “end”. I think these things have been in my mind for long, but didn’t really think about them seriously until a couple of weeks ago when I suddenly wasn’t happy (or was disappointed rather) with a “process”. I came home after a round of interviews with the farmers and elders in a community where I am doing some pilot study currently. I though I had done quite well that day in covering a wide range of topics with both the farmers and the elders and thought I was able to collect quite a good base of information. A good and reliable base of information was certainly the “end” BUT (and a very big BUT this is) this was the “pilot study” where I wanted to test if the “process” of getting those information was working. At the end I would want to employ the same process in other study sites to gather the information I need for my study. Only after coming back home that day did I realise that I was so focussed on just getting the information, the “end”, that I completely forgot why I was there in the first place. When I went through my notes, I had questions I asked and answers I received, but virtually no comments/notes on my respondents’ reactions to those questions, how I had to change the way I asked questions to get the answers that I wanted, or what method I had to use to elucidate the information that I wanted them to divulge – either with a straight question or on a roundabout way. After going through and typing up my notes, I realised I had utterly failed to “enjoy” the “process” as some of my good friends and advisors had suggested to me before I left for the field.

I went back to the community the very next day and went through the same “process” with some new respondents, as well as some old ones, this time focussing more on the “process” itself than on the outcome. Sometimes, it quite hard to enjoy the process though, especially when your respondents are difficult, and when they frustrate you by not cooperating. Anyway, research is more about the process and I think you learn more from the “process” than from the “outcome”. The thing is you have preconceived ideas (or “hypotheses” to be more technical) about things that you are researching. And your instinct always leads you to focus on the information that you would need to prove (or disprove) your hypotheses. However, you can rarely guess or have a clear idea of how the “process” will pan out as you go about trying to gather information to test your hypotheses. In fact almost every step teaches you something new, and you become wiser – be it three-month-long process of getting a bank account set-up or realising after a round of interviews that the voice recorder that you were using to record the interviews was absolute rubbish OR that you weren’t taking notes the way you were supposed to be doing. You then try to learn from those experiences (and from mistakes) and try not to repeat the same mistakes the next time. And indeed the experience is a great teacher, and you can hardly ever learn things in classrooms or from books that you can from your practical experiences.

Monday, 24 September 2007 20:47 GMT (my computer time)

Now I’m back musing+typing in real time, still using the battery that I charged when I was at the internet cafe earlier today. For the power outage is still continuing in my area. Nobody in my neighbour seems to be bothered about this inconvenience. I tried to call the local electricity authority earlier but couldn’t get through. I was given two numbers – the first one I tried, I couldn’t get through (my mobile showed “error in connection”); the second one I got through but the person who picked up the phone told me to call the first number for enquiries related to repairs! I tried the first number again a few times but no success, so just gave up. I have no idea when this problem will be solved, but its an early bed for me tonight as well. I am planning to go for a short trip up north east early tomorrow morning (about 220 kms round trip) along with a friend. I plan to do some photography and freshen my mind up, and hopefully will get more things done during the latter part of the day today. I’ll probably have to work either at the internet cafe or at my friend’s office tomorrow as well if the power outage in my area continues.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:14 GMT (my computer time)

Finally, we have power in our neighbourhood after three days!! And what a relief it was to see every corner of the house lit as I returned home after this morning’s trip and getting some paperwork done (e-mails and replies, some record-keeping and some book-keeping) at my friend’s office, as I wasn’t sure whether the power outage was over in my area. I was thinking of uploading the musings above when I was online earlier but then got caught up on email and other stuffs. I’ll probably post this entry tomorrow (Wednesday). At least I don’t have to worry about running out of battery power now as I write these lines. I am pretty tired however from today’s trip to the north east (Walewale are if you know Ghana). I will rest rather than trying to work late with decreasing returns in terms of my productivity at this hour! Further, I know it’ll be another early morning tomorrow, as it has been since the start of the Ramadan. The mosque next door calls for the first prayer around 2:00AM! Funnily, it was quieter these few days due to power outage as they couldn’t use their mic to call for prayers! Nonetheless, the earlier I go to bed the better in terms of amount of uninterrupted sleep I can get these days, as I find it extremely difficult to go back to sleep once I get woken up at that hour. I do try however, mostly without success. But the best outcome since the start of Ramadan has been that I am getting time to read Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom from the very beginning and thoroughly during these early morning hours (when I first got this book, I only did selective reading as I do for most of the books!).

Well, that’s pretty much what I have to say now. Enjoy these snaps from my trip this morning…More updates later!

Nasia Flood
Nasia Flood
Flood around river Nasia

Gbimsi Road
A stretch of highway at Gbimsi

Gbimsi Mill
Waiting to be used: Grinding mill at Gbimsi

Nasia Young Cyclist
Too young a cyclist, at Nasia