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.
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.
Why yes, Morocco is beautiful. Why do you ask?
My friend and cohort-mate, Kelsey, has been conducting her own fieldwork in Morocco, and as Casablanca is a direct flight from Abidjan (and no travel visa needed), I spent a week with her, touring a bit of the country.
The photos above are from Chefchaouen, in the mountains south of Tangier. Many of the buildings in the media are painted blue, making it lovely and peaceful and cool. So lovely. Blue city, in the mountains – possible future writing retreat.
Between us, Kelsey and I spoke four languages, which was such an asset in Morocco, where the Moroccan version of Arabic is mixed with legacies of Spanish and French colonialism (and tourism), so we could communicate with just about anyone we came across.
We also visited Casablanca, where the Hassan II mosque (pictures below) is located, as well as Rabat and Tangier, taking the train and bus everywhere.
We also exercised our passport privilege by hopping on a boat to Spain, where we stayed in Granada for a few days, exploring the Arab/Moorish/Muslim influence on southern Spain and compiling a "best of" tapas restaurants in the city.
I fell in love with Ouagadougou. It's West Africa, but the pace is slower than in Abidjan, the people are nicer, the streets are straighter, the weather is drier. I described it as the Midwest of West Africa, which means it felt like home.
The thing I REALLY wish I had gotten a photo of is the number of women on scooters. Old women, young women, women in both modern and traditional clothing, women going to work or market. My favorite was on my taxi ride from the airport I saw two women on a scooter, each of which had a baby strapped to their backs, West African-style. I loved it.
I don't know if it was the dry heat, the calm, the hours and hours of movies, the fact that there's fewer foreigners there so I got bothered less, but I would move there if I ever found a reason to.
Also, Burkinabés have a sense of humor, when it comes to their politics:
On a whim, just hearing about FESPACO, the Pan-African Film Festival held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, I decided to go if I could. There's a few direct flights from Abidjan, I had nothing concrete planned, and a friend was thinking of going as well, so I'd have a bit of company. So I bought the plane ticket a few weeks ago, got my Burkina visa last week, and hopped on the plane without knowing much about Ouaga or West African films.
Verdict so far? Amazing. I love Ouaga with its desert dry heat and its ladies of all stripes driving scooters; I love the film festival for being unapologetically African in its outlook and sentiments. There's been films that I've really enjoyed (Des Étoiles, Four Corners) and some I haven't (the series of shorts almost entirely about women's victimization/rape). But people's enthusiasm about films from their country or neighboring ones, their cheering for when the bad guy gets got, the big deal that is FESPACO, even if few others outside film or the African arts scene even knows it exists).
I was uncertain if I would be needlessly spending money for an excuse to visit another West African capital city when I'm not much of a film buff. But for both Ouaga itself and for the film festival, it's totally worth it. This bit of vacation is doing something for my psyche and my cultural and French-language expansion.
Just a quick post on a vacation I took to Tanzania. Went on safari and then to Zanzibar for a few days. While there's politics in everyday life, and definitely politics in tourism, I checked out for a bit, just relaxing.
East Africa is like West Africa, yet so very unlike it. I can definitely tell the difference that tourism money brings, as well as the effects of being an anglophone as opposed to a francophone country. But the country was lovely, the people were friendly (though definitely more accustomed to tourism), and the challenges of daily communication were diminished – though not gone, as I did not know a word of Swahili before my arrival.
And a couple of images that I like from Zanzibar:
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. And now ... Teaching!