I returned to Zambia in 2018 with the intention to blog…fairly regularly. Instead of my lengthy emails to individuals, or posting material on Facebook, the blog was to be the authoritative account of my work. Using this strategy, I could be more efficient. I could devote my energy to writing that mattered, writing that is publicly available for others to draw upon. One major problem…
I do not know what to blog about.
Some folks have encouraged me to write personal stories. You know, those journalistic accounts that bring us closer to the realities of individuals. Maybe they speak to bigger issues to, but they can also be light and act as a tray upon which to place lots of photos. “Photos, photos, photos, people love photos!!!”
Maybe it is because “people love photos” that I love them not. That would be consistent with my contrarian nature. Or, my distaste for actually taking photos serves as a grassroots inhibition for this strategy. Plus, my presence in Western Zambia, and indeed this blog, is primarily intended to support research aims. Much of my engagement is through data collection activities premised upon confidentiality and anonymity; premises that do not really lend themselves to intimate stories and cute photos.
Some folks are asking that I share my daily. I get it: since I can be physically absent for extended periods, it is nice to have confirmation that I am still processing oxygen and carbohydrates. Others are genuinely intrigued by the question “So what do you actually do on a daily basis?” I am flattered by that interest, but also skeptical of it. I feel that interest stemming from the exoticness of my work can be misplaced (especially when Orientalist) and fragile (when it is inevitably discovered that what I do is quite mundane).
In principle, I support the substitution of blog-posting for email-writing (“Hey, I now have approval and have started data collection!”), while also remembering a fundamental critique of social media: most of us gag when inundated by who-gives-a-#&@% posts from people sharing their thoughts about beans and toast.
I like to write posts that are analytical and provocative. Which is fair of course, but these are not always crowd-pleasing. They might otherwise be claiming energy that I should be using to write academic publications. I suppose that blogs are a better home for my delightful discoveries of the delicious nuances of noun classes in the Lozi language and the affordable freedom of discovering an elusive order to public transit systems.
It has long been an intention of mine to allow members of my awesome team of research assistants to use this blog as a platform for expression. If any of you are fulfilling your claims that you are interested in the things I write and have indeed made your way to this sentence of this post, let me remind you once more: I WILL PAY YOU TO WRITE THINGS! There. Message delivered transparently, even if it might be a kind of subtle transparency.
In the post’s title, I proposed an update, so here goes…
In the last 12 weeks I have:
-Received ethical and administrative approval to begin my fieldwork
-Conducted 12 interviews with disability advocates and policymakers in Lusaka
-Met Zambia’s Minister of Community Development and Social Services
-Conducted interviews with 41 persons with disabilities in Western Province
-Participated in my first Kuomboka ceremony (check my Facebook)
-Participated in the Sixth Africa Community-Based Rehabilitation Conference
-Delivered two presentations at that conference
-Published two papers (see my Academia.edu)
-Hired and trained an additional four research assistants
-Supervised these assistants as they transcribed 48 interviews in 3 languages
-Made a challenging decision to choose a Canadian student to join me in Zambia
-Toiled painfully to arrange logistics for the Canadian student, only to watch the plan collapse
-Begun an urgent data analysis process to prepare for a workshop in I am holding in June
As per the challenge I delivered in the opening stanzas, I’m pleased to at least have posted some content. Voilà, a blog post that is half about writing blog posts and half laundry list of recent accomplishments. And this breaks the goose egg of 12 weeks with no material posted to this blog. Now onto the next item of my to-do list…