The procedure could be compared to eating a 5 course menu at a multi-cultural cuisine and evaluating the exotic tastes without knowing anything about where the ingredients are coming from. Good chefs like to taste their ingredients personally before they cook with them.
Having said this, working on the ground in Mozambique as a research field intern exposed me to a variety of different tastes, flavours, cultures and languages. Gathering data “in the field” is an immensely complicated process on the logistical side where infinitely many things can go wrong: Think about tablets getting infected by viruses, data disappearing, village leaders not reachable beforehand, flat tyres of your car in the middle of nowhere, running out of gasoline, interviewers lost in translation, your local research team getting sick, etc…
The old military saying that “every plan is only good until the first shot is fired” could equally be translated into every field research project plan lasts only until the first data is gathered. It requires you to adapt to local realities and most importantly communicate clearly with your team, both the local one and the academic one behind the scenes.
Despite all difficulties, it is an enriching experience in so many aspects. Because my daily office was not a cubicle in a huge office but a new village in Mozambique, I experienced many memorable moments that still trigger a big smile when I think back about those weeks in the field.
Working so closely with my Maconde interview team (about 6 local university graduates) day in, day out in rural Mozambique drew us close together like a small family that gets through the same hardships every day of rising with the sun in the early morning, driving several hours to the next village, snacking fresh sugar cane during lunch, telling us jokes from different cultures, and deciding what to cook in the evening. Like in every family, conflicts arose and had to be solved, but in the end, this strengthened our bond.
Maybe something that I will never forget are the children in the villages. 44% of the population in Mozambique is 14 or younger. In reality, sometimes I caught myself thinking “there are so many children but where are all their parents?” When we arrived in a village with our four-wheel SUV and rode to the centre of the village, many children were curious to see who would visit them. When they saw a tall white male among them, some started crying and running back to their huts into the arms of their mothers, as if an alien invasion just happened on their ground. Fortunately, most of them were too curious to hide for a long time and continued to play football and also passed the ball to me. They would start laughing when I introduced them to a new trick and before I looked up again, I had 100 little spectators around me. Has that ever happened to you in the office?
Written by Alexander Wisse, student of Nova SBE working with NOVAFRICA at Mozambique for the Research Internship – Summer of 2017