Friday, May 6, 2011

And THIS is how a week runs away with you

My head is spinning—it’s Friday again? This is where a lot of my time went:


Above is my high-tech (just kidding!) equipment for the thesis I am to complete this year.

Here is what I like about the project: Collecting eight interviews with marginalized youth, that is, young people between the ages of 15 and 18 who did not complete high school and are currently unemployed. The goal of the project is to gather their stories and perspectives, a process I love because of my background in journalism, fiction, and generally being nosy.

Here is what sucks: My classmates and I are responsible for our own recording equipment as well as transport to and from the township these young people live in. That is why I am using cassette tapes—sorry, I don’t have a few extra hundreds (thousands?) of Rands lying around for a sweet digital Dictaphone. So this is what I’m working with:

Tape recorder
: Borrowed from PJ’s fam (maybe without their knowledge. Whoops).
Earbud I am using as a mic: PJ’s.
Batteries: Borrowed from the Office of Community Engagement at Ripon College two and a half years ago (Whoops).
Tapes: From the Woodstock junk shop. All but one have already been recorded on—the repertoire includes a ridiculous ‘80s workout instructional guide, an L. Ron Hubbard lecture on marriage, someone’s romantic mix labeled “Orgasmitracks,” and a nice mix of Latin music. (I am wiping L. Ron first.) Six tapes cost 15 Rand, or $2 USD. That’s more in my budget.

The painful part is that I had a tape recorder for Journalism projects in college, and I finally got rid of it (and some never-used tapes!) right before I moved to Cape Town. We were given no indication that this project was on the horizon, nor were we prepared for the supplies it would require, until the first day of class.

Also unfortunate: The lack of UCT’s help with travel arrangements. The township we’re working in doesn’t have the best reputation for safety, and most of my colleagues and I do not have access to cars. The best my lecturer could do was recommend that we take private taxis each way. NOT HELPFUL: Private taxis cost 300 Rand each way, a.k.a. $45 USD, a.k.a. my weekly grocery budget.

I cannot justify that expense. Especially for a day like yesterday, when I showed up to my site early and still, not one of the four interviewees I was supposed to meet showed up. (I was supposed to have all eight interviews completed yesterday. I have done one so far.)

I’m happy to return to the site for more attempts next week, but it’s going to have to be public transit for me (and every other student in the class. Sheesh.)

Not only is this project expensive in terms of money—after a day in the township, my energy is wiped, and even if the day yielded no results, I cannot get that time back. The investment is huge, and I do not feel any university support at all.

Have I mentioned that many of the young people we’ll meet use Afrikaans as a home language, and none of my classmates are fluent in it? And that my department is also unwilling and unable to provide us with interpreter and translation services?

I am lucky enough to be with PJ, who is fluent in Afrikaans. He came with me on my first interview day and helped a classmate and I practice our questions, offered tech support, was on stand-by as an interpreter, and generally made me feel safer in the neighbourhood I’m working in. But this isn’t typical, and it isn’t fair. PJ is providing me, and my project by extension, with free labour that UCT should really be subsidizing if they care about this project or student well-being at all.

Week in review: I had an interview day on Tuesday, a 10-page paper due on Wednesday, a (fruitless) interview day on Thursday, and spent my Friday transcribing and putting together a class presentation for this upcoming Monday. I expect to be gathering more interviews on Tuesday.

And that is the story of how UCT made me lose my mind.


  1. Where is Sam when you need him!?

  2. EXACTLY. I... can't remember his last name? Googling "Sam the BAM" isn't getting me anywhere. :(