Influences (or Why I Write the Way I Do)

Natalie Goldberg (free-flowing writing)
Clarissa Pinkola Estes (wild woman writing)
Jane Hutchison (direct-to-the-point writing)
Ernest Hemingway (simple words writing)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Be Careful. It's Dangerous Out There

'Be careful. It's dangerous out there'
- Michael Quinn Patton 
(Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods 2002, pp. 415-416)

my fieldwork in naga, which started out last march 2010, was my first, again, after the last, sometime in 2008, when i did case study research on a DAR-ADB project where i visited davao city, maguindanao, sultan kudarat, and tawi-tawi. research has always been my thing. and i never flinch when it comes to fieldwork even under hard summer conditions.

it's not that i have not disregarded personal safety before. in mindanao, i made sure research protocols were observed; like, informing relevant hierarchy within the dar (regional and provincial) of my itinerary, including the project office maintained by the dar project in davao city. other than the dar, local government units i also contacted to at least provide political legitimacy to the exercise. it went to the point that in tawi-tawi, i was accompanied by the lady vice mayor and her husband, who happened to be the ex-town mayor, a soldier who carried along two bodyguards, for my entire 1-day trip in one island to inspect a road project.

naga should be tame to me, i could almost take personal safety for granted. i speak the language, i know the norms, i am a nagueña. but still, experience (or the lack of it, as it showed) would dictate that it's a whole new terrain for a researcher like myself. for one, i have no experience working with the urban poor. i have no pre-established network of urban poor leaders, not even their NGO partners. i could only rely on the basic proven strategies on the field:  follow the established hierarchy when entering your work area, starting from the city government down to the community; talk to the barangay or community leaders first before going to the household; explain adequately the purpose of the study to the community leaders and households; if possible, provide ample time for their questions during the interview.

i had to be aware of local sensitivities. it was not easy to enter urban poor communities, especially those in established onsite zones known before for their criminality and alleged hostile attitude towards outsiders. in triangulo and igualdad, i had to contend with the usual presence of men huddled at corners, having rounds of beer. that's why perhaps it mattered that i'm always seen going to the house of this and that officer so i wasn't harassed at all. but i had to be careful giving out my contact details given this instance when a resident, the son of an interviewee, kept sending me text messages, and was even calling, at ungodly hours, perhaps wanting attention. the key here is silence. don't mind at all. don't even ask why they're texting or calling. and perhaps, not only because they are poor, but because it is not customary to answer to a stranger (who would?) especially one asking about their tenure, their capacity to pay, their knowledge of 'illegal' activities, including whether and to what extent they are involved in these. i am able to gather an audience, of more than 80 interviews, because of the technique of first contacting the community president and having her/ him recommend members i could interview. so i really name-drop but with a purpose and with prior knowledge of the person whose name i'm 'dropping'. 

now that i'm transcribing and i'm nearly up to the last 17 interviews, i realize how much i'd have to thank my interviewees for trusting me. for understanding the encumbrance of the interview to their time, their personal space, their histories, and to the problems and insecurities they are facing right now. i had a harder time dealing with those called 'illegal occupants' where my presence has been rebuked, doubted. where i found it 'safe' not to use the digital recorder, although i had to explain my purpose next time with it, to be allowed the use of it, illegal the interviewee or not, because it is crucial, for the second phase interviews this coming october until march. in my transcripts, i understood the dearth and shallowness of the info gathered from just notes for my last 11 interviews in pacol. i could no longer trust my memory just by relying on my notes.

when i started, i was just hoping to evaluate the conditions of beneficiaries of an urban poor program in naga city. but the further i go, i know i am dealing more than just tenure security in this. i am now looking into the extent of 'illegalities' in the program, the fallout of laxities in policy enforcement and program implementation, including the vagaries being undergone by a city where land is finite resource but exacted with infinite demand by an ever growing population. adding to these, in the future, i will be looking into the politics of implementation, of relationships being entered by its players. politics that center around the political importance of the urban poor but their expediency in some ways. i understand it as dangerous terrain, but how dangerous it could get, i have yet to know.

Michael Quinn Patton, a leading expert in qualitative research from the University of Minnesota, was correct and realistic in pointing it out that contrary to common belief, doing qualitative research is much much more dangerous than the quantitative field of research where the search for the truth is done through mechanical means and less in-depth probing. the danger is not only in the exposure but also in immersing with characters and into an environment where one has no control. and so one can only adapt with. and in adaptation, only the fittest (including the street-smart) survives.

at first i have been putting too much emphasis on the writing of this thesis.

it is only now that it has dawned on me. to write i must survive fieldwork first. not only with my notes and my data intact. but also with me, literally, mind soul heart and body.

before writing, i should survive first.

it could get quite dangerous out there.

Thanks to for the pic.

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