a very belated update... / by youjinbchung

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When I started my fieldwork back in September, I told myself that I'd write regular blog posts, but as always, life got in the way and time has flown by since I moved to Bagamoyo in November. I've posted some mini-updates and fleeting thoughts on Instagram, but for some reason, it's been really hard to distance myself from fieldwork and actually sit down to write. Both because so much has happened, and at the same time, so little has happened. I suppose that is somewhat expected when one is trying to investigate a land deal that has been in limbo for many years. Mind you, I have been taking copious field notes, and even submitted a 15-page "progress" report to my advisors and the SSRC. Regardless, my thoughts are still tangled up in knots. I have this urge to sharply pull at them in the hopes of unpicking them, and finding clarity. But I am telling myself I need to be patient. Slow teasing of each knot of confusion will get me somewhere, hopefully, rather than nowhere... I've been in the field for 225 days as of today (yes, I am keeping count). My sense of time--and the movement of time--here has been clearly marked by sudden fluctuations in precipitation, subtle changes in the temperature, and the rhythmic flow of seasonal fruits in the local market.

A few words on fruits, since one of my greatest joys here is reveling in the bounty of tropical produce (often bought directly from my local farmer friends).

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The watermelon, mango, and pineapple seasons have all past here in Bagamoyo much to my regret. I was utterly disappointed when my fruit lady told me her mango trees have stopped bearing fruits for the season in mid March. They were the juiciest mangoes I've ever tasted in my whole life, and the cheapest, too, at TSh 500 (≈20 cents) per piece. That's how it should be: locally and organically grown produce should be more affordable than mass-produced, blemish-free, and high-carbon footprinted produce in supermarkets.

The most common type of mangoes grown here in Bagamoyo is called maembe dodo (pictured above)--dodo literally meaning a big mango, although it also refers to firm breasts of a young woman. Swahili nouns are not gendered, as in French for instance, but the dodos are clearly coded feminine! Other common species of mangoes include maembe sindano, sindano meaning needle. These are oblong in shape, and are much smaller in size compared to the dodo. They are bigger than eggs, but much smaller than women's fists. They tend to be more sour than sweet, and have skins that are so soft and thin that you could easily tear them up with your teeth. They are "bite-sized" so to speak, and once you de-skin the fruit, you can pop the fruit in your mouth and suck on it, like you would do with a piece of candy. You know it's mango season when you see scores of sindano seeds scattered or littered along the roadside--most of the culprits being school children. These go for about Tsh 1-200. The healthiest and the most affordable snacks ever.

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The long rainy season (masika) started about half a month later than usual in Bagamoyo. Farmers had been expecting the first rains to fall around 15 March, but it only came on 2 April. I know this exact date, because it was the day before I left for my recent vacation in Turkey. It rained cats and dogs, cutting the power supply for more than 20 hours, which meant that I had to pack and get ready for my trip in pitch-darkness. I also remember the day distinctly because it brought about a palpable change in the atmosphere. Since the power had gone out early that morning, I went to one of the generator-powered hotels along the beach to charge my computer and to work a little. I sat there for good two hours but on the third hour, trees began to sway like I had never seen before. Leaves started whirling in the sky, with a few landing directly on my keyboard. The air suddenly felt damp and cool. I looked up at the sky; dark ominous clouds were quickly gathering overhead. They hung low and heavy; I felt like I could touch them if I jumped a little, but if I touched them, I was afraid they would start shedding rainwater.

While I was away for a week enjoying the pleasant spring weather in Turkey, the long rains have really set in here. It has rained every single day since my return. Some days it feels like the sky--or at least my roof--is going to fall down. The roaring thunder and torrential downpour, combined with hours of power cuts (the other day, the power was out for 22 hours) means that masika, or vuli (short rainy season) for that matter, isn't the best time for conducting fieldwork.

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Most of my days now are spent on transcribing interviews, which I've been putting off for weeks. I've spent a great amount of time the past few days reorganizing my data collection log, and cataloging and managing my photovoice data. I have been conducting photovoice with seven households to date, and together they've produced nearly 900 images. Of course, not all of these images are "usable" in the sense that they are too dark, blurry, and badly composed. And many are not directly related to the prompt of documenting their 'everyday life on the land'.

But these images have been so incredibly insightful. They opened by eyes to different gendered spaces on the land, which I had not fully grasped in previous years. When I couldn't drive into the communities near the river valleys due to the flash floods in February, the farmers showed me the extent of the damages on their farms and homes through their pictures. They were heartbreaking. Some had video-recorded political party meetings [dominated by men, no surprise there], allowing me to participate in them, albeit indirectly and belatedly. While I have yet to analyse the photographs more systematically (there will be a lot more photos by October!), what is evident thus far is that there are clear gendered patterns in how women and men perceive and register the prompt, ‘everyday life on the land’, and by implication, what kinds of things, people, events, activities, and themes they end up capturing...