Friday, March 16, 2012

Hands-on ethnography

Filmmaker John Marshall, who documented the Ju/'hoansi of the Kalahari over 5 decades, commented once that sometimes you have to put down the camera and pick up a shovel -- a wonderful credo for engaged ethnography. You have to roll up your sleeves and help people when they need your help, not sit on the sidelines and take notes about how they are trying to do X or Y.

Much of my work over the past year has been just that: throwing myself headlong into whatever needed to be done: carting a truck load of chairs, gathering flowers, attending a funeral, sweeping the floor, driving people to places.

So in that spirit, today I am putting down my computer and picking up a machete and helping cut weeds at the Center that Ixmukané uses in Santa Cruz del Quiché. The organization is in the process of moving its operations, at least 60% of them, to the center in Santa Cruz, a set of concrete bunkers on a property that used to be a school, or at least was built to be a school. This is because they want to re-establish the radio station but in Chichicastenango (which is where the offices currently are; the center is only used for special events and workshops).  They need more space (the radio won't fit easily into the current offices) and also a place where they can put the antenna on the roof (in the current office building, we would have to pay extra to put up the tower for the antenna). So, the idea is to rent a new set of offices that will house the radio and a few of the staff for about the same rent they are currently paying, and then move everything and everyone else to the space in Santa Cruz, which they have more or less rent-free.

So today we are forming a work crew and cleaning up the grounds. We were asked to bring machetes and hoes if we had them, and my hosts have a machete, so I will bring that. But I will take the camera to document the work.

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