Reflections from the Field: Pt. 2

I just got back to Havana after a relatively hectic 3-weeks in NYC bouncing between my friend’s apartment in Queens and my storage unit in Brooklyn. Havana actually feels way more homelike. It was great to be in NYC to see my friends and to eat everything but, overall, it feels good to be back in Havana. Here’s why…

The Good

Comfort

There are people who are actually happy to have me come back.  When I got here, my house mom gave me a big hug and told me she missed me (tears).  It feels really good to know that I’ve built some genuine relationships here.  Adding to this comfort is that doing basic social reproduction tasks like getting groceries, putting money on my phone, etc. feels a lot easier. The guesswork and general anxiety that characterized my first few months have mostly subsided.  Surely, getting too comfortable is a detriment in fieldwork, but I feel like the non-research related concerns that were occupying my mind are no longer an issue. Thus, I can devote more time to the task at hand.

Dissertation Grants

The main reason for going back to NYC was to get my footing for dissertation writing grants, which will be due in the fall.  Since I don’t have wireless internet in my casa-particular, I can’t do the relaxed searching that I usually do when I’m back in the states. Thus, while in NYC, I was able to come up with a strong list of 6 grants that I’m applying to, create a spreadsheet of what was required for each grant, make print-outs of supplemental material like descriptions of projects for previous recipients and start composing a very crappy first draft. Of course, I wish I would’ve devoted more time to writing, but I can’t get the time back, and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging with my friends.

Stronger Sense of Purpose

I’ve crossed the Research Rubicon, and I feel the pressure to get things done in a timely fashion far more than during the first half of my trip.  I’m changing my project slightly to include a broader group of participants, and everyone I’ve told about this, including my advisor who I got to meet with while in NYC, is on board with the change.  I think that this will alleviate a lot of the frustration that I was having when I first started.  Also, I really like the fact that I finally have a solid foundation; I have contacts that I just need to reconnect with.  I’m not starting from scratch and that feels amazing.  

Confidence in Transportation

Before I left for NYC, I spent 2 weeks traveling in El Oriente (The East) during which I took all kinds of modes of travel: pisci-corre (a truck with 4 rows of bleachers in the truck bed, moto (motor cycle), guagua (city bus), tourist and Cuban coach bus (same bus huge price difference)), and this definitely improved my confidence when it comes to navigating the island. Recently, I took a trip to Playa for a very unsuccessful search to find a water filter and only had to consult the bus app Habana Trans (highly recommended) once.  I took a rutero (slightly more expensive coach bus that follows a bus route) and 3 guaguas all by myself! I’m planning to go to El Oriente once more before I leave, and I feel much better this time around.

Santiago de Cuba

The Not So Good

What Happened to the Produce???

After coming back to Havana, it took me two days to leave my apartment because I finally realized I couldn’t survive off of oatmeal and Trader Joe’s mango strips.  I went to el agro (farmer’s market), and it was like a different world.  Half of the vendors weren’t there and the offerings were slim.  As of now, it’s still avocado season, but that’s about it.  The time of sweet pineapple and juicy tomatoes are done.  Even the mangoes look different these days.  I’ve heard differing explanations as to why this is happening and where the produce is actually going, but nobody’s told me that there’s something I should look forward to.

I Can’t Find a Water Filter…

That is all.

Missing Carnival in Havana

It seems that I came back on one of the very last days of carnival, and by the time I felt rested enough to leave my apartment and brave the heat, carnival was done.  I’m grateful to have seen the festivities in Santiago de Cuba, and a friend showed me video from the festivities in Havana, but I wanted to be able to make comparisons based on my own first-hand experience.

The Interesting

Living in 2 Worlds

Going back to the states felt like coming up for air.  I realized that I didn’t have to always be on guard about nearly everything: making language mistakes, not giving myself away as a foreigner, saying bless you lol, etc.. The other side of the coin is that going back to the US, I really got a sense of the excess (and waste) that we have and take for granted.  I felt guilty for being able to enjoy these things when I knew people back on the island would never be able to experience them.  Moreover, I felt even worse that it’s mainly because of my country’s long-standing economic embargo that the island was being stifled.  *I recently listened to “The Familiar Strange” podcast and they mentioned how there’s a lot of discussion around what it’s like to enter the field but not a lot about what it’s like to return home (and now that I think about it, what it’s like to re-enter the field after leaving). 

………

There you have it. A few quick thoughts from me in the midst of fieldwork.  Overall, I’m trying to remind myself to be proud of what I’ve accomplished and yet continue to work hard to get the richest data possible. 

Yo sigo luchando 

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