Posts Tagged ‘Research’

my first week in India

March 20, 2009

I am, again, going to rely on e-mail conversations I’ve had for a blog post. Cara mailed me asked me this:

How are you? What is India and where you are living like? How are the people and what are they making you do? to which I responded:

I am fine. India is loud and crowded and colourful, the place where I’m living is sparse and spacious. The people at first glance seem kind of unfriendly in their mannerisms but in actuality turn out to be extremely friendly. The are making me sit in an air conditioned office with free coffee and read lots of papers while I come up with a research project to do.

In general I have had an up and down time settling here and at first was feeling pathetic and lonely. When I arrived I had a weird impression of the place I’m staying as being not that nice. In actuality it is pretty fancy in that it is clean and spacious and has hot water and is also in what is considered a swanky area which is quite boring quiet but just a short walk down the street and you start to reach very alive over crowed streets teaming with auto rickshaws, shops, people, cars and motorbikes. It turns out that someone extended their stay in the place I was supposed to be in so I got put somewhere that is bigger and slightly closer to the office – its a big apartment with three rooms and I’m in one of the rooms. It has its oddities like peeling paint and weird plugs and switches that don’t seem to do anything. For my first two nights there was one other guy staying in one of the other rooms who helped me to order dinner walked me to the office on my first day since I had no idea where it was. But then he moved out and I’ve had the place to myself which has been a bit lonely. At the same time work has been a matter of “Here are all these people doing cool work with access to such and such under-privileged community, read up on their work and come up with project”. The food is *all* spicy *all* the time and I, at first, I was eating that much because there was only so much I could handle. But now I’m getting really into it and, actually, eating vegetarian here is awesome because vegetarian is the rule rather than the exception and they have a huge variety of veggie dishes.

lonely apartment

lonely apartment

Towards the end of the week things got better, the other interns (who have all been here for a while already) are actually very friendly despite seeming a bit unapproachable at first. So where I was holed up alone in my huge apartment in the evenings at first (because I’ve been advised not to walk around along after dark), the latter part of the week was way more social. I was invited to watch the cricket (where I had to shamefully fess up to not following cricket much to the horror, and I do mean horror, of the MSR director) and then I went out to explore a nearby Malleswaram complete with open air market and temples and noise with two new friends from the office. Today I went out with my mentor, Ed, and his wife, Page, who recenly arrived here, we explored the streets some more and got most excellent food. And finally over the weekend I discovered that I had a new roommate. Also I went out to meet with an NGO I might work with and afterward went to CTR (Central Tiffin Room) which is reputed to have the best butter dosa in Bangalore.

flower emporium

flower emporium

saturday garlanding

saturday garlanding

All in all an interesting week!

The 5th National Oral History Conference

October 28, 2008
not bad at all

oral histories conference swag

About three weeks ago (i know tardy blogging right?), I got to attend the the Oral History Association of South Africa (OHASA) 5th National Oral History Conference. I was presented a paper called Digital Storytelling Learning from Non-digital Narratives: Two Case Studies in South Africa along with Nic Bidwell from Australia and Xolile Sigaji from the Eastern Cape. The paper came out of a Royal Society workshop on User Generated Content (kind of like all that Web 2.0 stuff) and it’s about communities taking control of telling and preserving their stories NON-digitally, and what digital design can learn from this. My part of the paper describes District Six Musuem in Cape Town as a case study and Nic+Xolile’s part was about a workshop held in Lwandile, Transkei.

The conference was a weird one for me becuase (1) I was the only technical-type person there (2) there was a mix of academics, teachers and everyday storytellers there and (3) there was a heavy presence of historians. That last point was interesting because I got to think about what history actually is and what is means to be a historian. Turns out that it is to decide what accurate history is, especially when dealing with oral sources where memories are faulty and current contexts influence the stories told. The keynote was especially interesting and, dare I say, inspiring for my work. It was given by Pumla Madiba from the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (phew!).She addressed how modernism continues to invade African traditions such that oral traditions are not being continued by modern, ubanised youth. Shel also pointed out that, while people are talking about using modern technology to preserve oral histories, we must not forget that orality is a technology in and of itself. Technology is a broad concept that can include all ways or tools that a species (yes its not only us humans that can wield technology) uses to survive or control their environment. Right now, the world is so computer-driven that I think there is a really narrow idea of technology around these as something bound to computers or digital technology. This precludes people from thinking of non-digial things as technology, like zippers (a major invention of the 20th century) and transmitting knowledge through oral storytelling. Anyway, Pumla acknowledged that, while current technologies can help with the preservation of oral histories, it should not replace them and that the person-to-person phenomenon of storytelling should be conserved.

Overall I felt there were lots of people talking about oral history as something unknown and distinctly African. There was lots of talk about how we don’t understand oral history well enough and need to figure out how to preserve it appropriately. And there was comparatively less pragmatic talk about how to go about doing this (more problematising than solutionising). I appreciate that oral storytelling, as a technology for transmitting cultural values and indigenous knowledge reliably, has been unvalued in Africa. However, oral history isn’t unique to Africa (however romantic it may be to think of it as such), it has been explored the world over. From the bits and pieces that I know there has been lots of work on this in anthropology and linguistics, such as Alessandro Portelli who has studied oral history in Italy and the US and Ochs & Capps who explore everyday storytelling in general. So it is not entirely necessary for South African historians to start from scratch – there is already a vast body of work to learn from!

On the peripheral details, this conference is subsidised by the government and… well it showed funding wise! When I was told that all the speaker’s accomodation was paid for by the conference I thought that I had misunderstood. I was so sceptical in fact that I contacted the only person I know from East London and asked if I could stay with her folks there if I happened to find myself on the streets! But they put us up and not too shabbily either, my hotel room was just a little smaller than my whole flat! It had two TV’s, two desks, a couch and a balcony (which overlooked a noisy construction site). There were lavish dinners with live jazz and the ‘swag’ was among the best I’ve seen – check out the beaded and embroidered conference bag! Unfortunately, despite all these conference goodies, a copy of the proceedings was suspicioulsy absent which was a topic that came up around the dinner table a number of times. On the last day we got taken out for an excursion of Transkei, Mthatha and Qunu (where Mandela grew up). All be open, beautiful and calm and a nice way to end of things.