I love doing fieldwork. Love meeting people and learning about their lives and where they live and how they work. And I love traveling to conferences, again meeting new people and learning about their research and thinking more about mine, plus visiting new cities.
Last month, I got the opportunity to travel to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, to attend, present at, and assist at a conference sponsored by The CIHA Blog, for which I am an editorial assistant. Once again, the conference was wonderful, a place to catch up with old colleagues and meet new ones. Please read more about the conference and the broad swatch of issues related to religion, humanitarianism, and governance that we discussed.
Then, because it was my first time in South Africa and since I was already there, I took 10 days to drive from Durban to Cape Town – along the Wild Coast, the Garden Route, and into Wine Country. I was so impressed by the diversity of the landscape and the beauty of the coastline especially.
No major stories happened, good or bad, just a relaxing vacation where I got to meet new people, see new things, and learn new lessons about culture, race, gender, and politics.
My home during my time in Mali is The Sleeping Camel, a backpacker hotel that’s retained half that identity and added in clientele from the UN mission (MINUSMA) and various affiliated UN agencies; with the decline of the tourist crowd because of the Northern Malian conflict, UN numbers swelled.
Here, I’ve developed an eclectic group of friends, some from the former travel crowd and some from the new security-minded crowd, most on the anglophone track, but only a few Americans.
The Camel also has a boat that it uses to cruise on the Niger river and is often rented for relaxing half-day trips by all kinds of groups. One Saturday, a couple of the Camel’s owners invited friends out for a day trip on the boat. Food and alcohol were largely provided, but after I said that I made killer brownies, it was requested that I make brownies on the boat.
There was a tiny oven with uncertain temperature and definitely no measuring cups, but the brownies with M&M’s were a success! No photos of the brownies exist because this was toward the end of day that was supported by coolers of beer and a bowl of sangria, but below are photos from the trip.
I reckon these were the first brownies ever made while cruising down the Niger River.
This weekend I took a break from nonstop interviewing and did a bit of tourism with friends of friends.
Saturday, I went with a group to a chimpanzee park just outside of Freetown. In a national park with an incredibly beautiful virgin forest, the park protects rescued, orphaned, and abandoned chimpanzees and rehabilitates them to live in a chimpanzee society (though not outside the sanctuary because of their history of abuse and human contact). With my fear of the uncanny valley between animals and humans where monkeys and chimpanzees reside (and yes, I know they’re not the same thing), I was wary of the rock-throwing primates, though it was super interesting to see them play on the ropes and poles and with tires and doing their chimp thing.
Later that day, we hunted for a good beach and ended up at Bureh Beach, in the far east of the peninsula. It was breathtakingly gorgeous, with rain forest mountains that seem to come just to the beach. When swimming, instead of watching the waves that were coming in, I instead stared at the landscape, getting bowled over several times.
The following day I went with another group to River Number 2 Beach and then Sussex Beach. The former was somewhat more popular, but by no means crowded, and there was a current that was insistent on sweeping me away. Sussex Beach had an interesting sandbar formation, where low tide meant 500 meters of “dry” river before you got to the actual beach, and high tide meant that the water came up to the concrete edge of the restaurant where we were eating. I lost most of my photos from Sunday because of a technology malfunction, but this was my first time seeing mangrove forests in person, which was just thrilling.
Yes, it seems as if I go to the beach a good bit in West Africa, but there’s not a whole lot to do otherwise in the tourist or cultural sense in many of the cities where I work.
(all photos taken by my friend Eglantine)
This past weekend, I went with friends to Grand Bassam, Cote d'Ivoire's first capital, for Abissa, the cultural celebration of the people of that region (and the fishing village that's part of Bassam).
I'd been to Bassam a few times before for a day at the beach and to visit the run-down colonial-era buildings and the National Costume Museum, in need of a cash infusion.
Mostly, I wanted to share these photos my friend took of the festival. At the end, all of us had our faces painted with clay, but little evidence of this exists because we were grouchy from the day in the sun with no food.
More information on the festival and a video can be found here (in French):
The three 2014–2015 Fulbrighters left in Cote d'Ivoire (one student – me – and two public policy fellows – Erica and Laura) threw a pretty great 4th of July Party for all our non-American friends, complete with a poolside BBQ, hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips and guacamole, brownies, Coronas, and classic rock music. A bit expensive, considering all our food had to be purchased from the expensive supermarket because it was imported, but totally worth it.
I love living outside the U.S., but there are some traditions I miss. Next year, I'll see what I can do about the softball tournament and fireworks.
Seriously, what a great party.
Travel and research notes
Fieldwork and travel in Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Mali, as well as Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa, and wherever else I end up. Plus occasional research-related thoughts.