Thursday, July 27, 2006

Research 101: Moo ice cream and patriotic t-shirts

Prolific posting today! I guess I'm feeling more like myself today and so have a lot to babble about. My research partner is a bit quite so perhaps I'm not talking as much in reaction to that, though I doubt it.

We headed out to San Jacinto Amilpas (SJA) today, jumped in a cab around 9am or so, SJA is about 7km out of town. We had set up a meeting with a man or woman, we weren't sure who was going to show up, whose number we retrieved off a Lots for Sale sign. We were a bit surprised they agreed to meet us but we weren't going to pass up the opportunity.

The scheduled meeting time was 10am at the municipal palace in SJA and we of course arrived quite early wanting to leave nothing to chance. I started to talk to the security guard knowing that the more people you talk to, no matter how briefly, the better. My research partner thinks I'm a bit strange this way but it has worked out well for us! Anyway, we tell him what we are up to and chat with him for awhile and he asks us if we want to meet the municipal president. Do we ever! This was totally unexpected but a great boon to our research and just the kind of thing you want to happen in the field. I attributed our luck to my new bright green shirt that says Mexico and has the flag emblazoned on it.

The security guard said it would be a few minutes and in the meantime our other interview showed up. It was a man in a truck who was waving us over and the security guard went over to talk to him, I guess he was feeling protective of his new found foreigners. Since we couldn't pass up the interview with the president, we decided to split up and I sent my compañero to the truck (I told him I was not getting in there alone) and I would wait for the president. Turns out we needn't have worried as our interview with the president didn't happen for another hour and a half.

My partner in crime returned about 20 minutes later, safe and sound. Apparently the man selling the land has kids in the U.S. and probably felt charitable towards us. I like to imagine that he was helping us and hoping that someone would do the same for his kids in the states. If I meet some Mexican students doing research I'm definitely going to help them and I encourage you to do the same.

I try to pull as much information out of my compañero as I can but as I mentioned he is kind of quiet so this can be difficult. I have to ask him question after question and he is still a bit vague or maybe he just gets annoyed and decides to clam up. Oh well, I am happy for the help and companionship and the fact that I can make him jump into trucks by himself.

We wait around the municipal building for a long time and the security guard finally tells us "10 minutes". 45 minutes later we are called into the small office of the sindicato, a dark little room with two desks, one for him and one for his secretary. Another man sits next to the secretary reading the paper.

The president appears to be very young and is also very unhappy to see us and spend time talking with us. He is glaring at us, taking a defensive posture and in short wanting to know who we are and what we want. Totally reasonable request of course and I can understand his anxiety about a bunch of foreigners nosing around his town. Once we explain who we are, that we come in peace and mean no harm, I expect him to lighten up. Not so. We ask questions and he fires back answers at us, glaring the whole time, in the fastest Spanish I think I have ever heard. I’m catching bits and pieces and continue to ask questions but I’m really hoping that my compañero is understanding more of this than I am. I get the feeling he is doing his best to talk so quickly as a way to mess with us and get the meeting over as quickly as possible. He does end up opening up a bit and giving something other than stock answers but nevertheless his posture remains defensive. After about 20 minutes I figure I have probably gotten all I’m going to get and we leave, walk to the big tree in front of the church, sit down and take stock of what we have learned.

After this experience we decide to walk around and see who else we can talk to/harass. We head towards the new neighborhoods being built but decide to stop at a little roadside eatery to rest and have a beer. The place we stop ties for the cheapest beer of my trip! 80 cents a Corona! Hot diggity! I limit myself to just one and some stale tortilla chips but decide that we should come back after our walkabout for some more and to interview the owner. This is what field research is all about after all, talk to as many people as possible. The fact that his beer is 80 cents a bottle is just a bonus, it is his perspective we care about! At least that is what I keep telling myself.

We walk around and end up talking to an old man who had purchased some land and was building a home. He was very kind and talked to us for awhile, inviting us to take a look around etc. Our winging it is truly paying off! After a brief visit with this man and a trip around his land we head back to the 80 cent Coronas with a stop for an ice cream along the way. The ice cream is called Moo and it reminds me of the guy I walked by the other day while eating ice cream who made pig noises at me. I decide to tell my research partner this story and he thinks it is hilarious.

We sit down and have another beer and engage the owner of the place in conversation. He is a young kid, 22, and gives us the young perspective on the changes occurring in the town.

After we finish the chat and the beer we head back to Oaxaca to attempt to drop in on several other people but of course everything is closed as it always seems to be. Catching people in Mexico, especially during the summer, seems to be an exercise in futility.

Tomorrow, back out to the trenches.

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