Thursday, June 16, 2011

There is no wasted time.

(I just like this picture, of a house in Obz. It relaxes me.)

Last week I took my last final exam, so technically, my first semester at UCT is over!

However, the Honours class has an ongoing research project to finish up over this break. The next semester begins July 25 (two days before my birthday, boo!) but the report we are to write on the interviews we’ve collected is due in early August. In short, we’re expected to spend the semester break working.

That’s fine with me—because as hard as I tried to get these interviews done during the semester, I had no luck. In the past six weeks I have traveled to my site, a Catholic church, something like seven or eight times, and I have only conducted one interview.

It’s easy for me to get discouraged. The taxi or bus ride can take more than an hour each way, and I usually spend R 25 ($3.50) per day on transportation. It may not seem like much, but making the trip twice a week with no results gets frustrating pretty fast.

Yesterday I broke my bad luck streak and conducted two interviews! Woohoo! Three down, five to go…

There may still be a long haul ahead of me, but the experiences I’ve had so far with this project have been valuable, and I need to remind myself of this more.

I have gotten to know my classmates very well in the field. Sometimes the best conversation I have during the day was in a taxi or car with my fellow students. Or, it could have been in the church rectory, sipping tea and hoping a group of interviewees shows up. (They usually don’t.) We talk about why we got into this field, and our plans for the future. Conversations like this bolster my hope, especially on days where I don’t get an interview.

On Tuesday I went to the church again, and my coordinator never showed up. (We found out later she is in the hospital! Wishing her a quick recovery.) I spent two hours the with secretary in the rectory; we talked about her history of doing tough, thankless work in a factory before coming to work at the church. She showed me pictures of her two children and said she always pushed for them to finish school, and to get better job opportunities than she had.

She told me this story about her daughter: when the daughter had first graduated high school, she got a nightshift at a factory. On the daughter’s third day of work, her mom came and took her home—she said she could find a better opportunity, and insisted she keep looking, because it is too easy to get stuck in a job that takes too much out of you.

I wish I’d been recording that conversation, actually. And while I had to leave, again, with no data for my research project, I knew I hadn’t wasted my time. Getting to know the community and the people who are working for change is immensely valuable to someone studying community development.

I was in a bit of a panic about getting more interviews, however, since my coordinator at the church was no longer available. I frantically texted some of my classmates, and organized a ride with two of them the following day.

The Social Development Department had recommended we go to a certain community/skill-training center to meet young people for interviews, but my two classmates had tried the center the day before  with no success. They were referred to an ANC office a few blocks away.

And that is how I found myself sitting in on an ANC planning meeting for their Global Youth Day celebration (a public holiday, today). I was finally able to speak to two young people at that office, and I also enjoyed speaking to the organizers—about the troubles they faced as youths, about being political prisoners, about the hopes they have for South Africa’s future.

A little tidbit I had to memorize and spit out for an exam is, Development is about people. I’m not sure that any text or class discussion I encountered this semester got the point across as well as this research project, as disastrous as it has sometimes been. For all the winding taxi rides, confusion when encountering slang Afrikaans, long waits and false hopes, one thing I will say is: I’ve met some amazing people.

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