Oh yes. “Minsan Lang Kita Iibigin” playing in the background, blue lights, sound of the waves hitting the beach, and going out of my room to access wi-fi. I am definitely on field work. Just one day in and I am already starting to look for a cigarette. (I have not smoked in years.)
Since I am too short to be a secret agent (Do we even have a secret service?), the next best thing I could be is a development worker. I gather a lot of information and travel all over the country. Research and travel, isn’t that the college student’s dream? Yes, I have made a living off my whimsical plans from college.
While I have already written about the serious issues from being an outsider doing research on communities, I am just writing a light and practical post about this life. A couple of years ago, I bumped into a college classmate who went on to law school. It was surprising to hear her say that she thinks I was living “The Dream”.
I laughed derisively and I thought of the small bathrooms without hot water, living with Php800 of accommodation and meal allowance per day, and forcibly swallowing food I wanted to throw up but I could not since our host was looking expectantly at me. Yes, that is “The Dream.”
I cannot speak for my other colleagues. Maybe they work with better funded projects. A friend did field work in Brazil, I have done mine in Oroquieta. For me, going on field is usually a strenuous time. A lot of activities will be squeezed in at a short period of time. I learned to manage the physical strain with the mental burden by following some rituals.
1. I do not check in baggage.
I have learned to travel light. It works for both leaving and arriving to Manila. Baggage processing tends to get slower in the province and it could add up to thirty minutes of lost time because of checked in baggage. Most of my field assignment only takes a few days, so strategic wardrobe planning helps. (Well, aside from a real big-ass backpack.)
2. My laptop is packed.
I generally love my Toshiba, except for the times I am carrying it. Still, I do not dare use another gadget on the field because I might miss out on transferring some files I need. Transferring the files and the folders relevant to work is not enough to help you get through field work. I have a couple of seasons worth of TV shows in my laptop. I am also bringing a DVD of another TV show. Why do I prefer to play TV shows over movies on field? Because I wanted to hear something familiar while I sleep in another strange place. One season of a TV show could run for 8 hours, while a movie would need to be changed after 2 hours.
Which brings me to my next ritual.
3. I make sure not to stay awake in the middle of the night.
Call me a wuss, but I have stayed at some scary places. I remember getting a couple of drinks before sleeping in my last night in Cebu because I knew I had to be knocked out while staying alone in the cheap government-run dorm I was ‘billeted’ in. Dark places, without wi-fi or cellphone signal, old furnishings, and lots of trees… should I go on? Or do you see the makings of a horror movie already?
4. I go for boring food choices.
I know that one of the things we look forward to in the province is trying out new delicacies. But aside from seafood binges, I usually select food that I know when I am out. I am not here for vacation. I am here for work. I avoid possible screw ups to my digestive system since if I become sick and useless and the trip is wasted. In this instance, boring is better.
5. I pack some crackers.
Sometimes, you just do not know when the next decent meal will come. The activity might be serving food regularly but it is food that I do not eat. So better be ready in any event. Bringing crackers also saves me some money at the airport.
6. I learned to buy critically.
If I kept up the amount of tiangge shopping I did five years ago when I was starting out, my house would be full of crap I do not use. It is easy to buy tons of delicacies and malongs when I am in the province. The problem is I end up not using or eating them when I get home. So after some time, I learned to only buy what I know I like in places I visit. Examples are pearls in Zamboanga, my Christmas shopping in Davao, vegetables in Baguio, and surplus clothes in Subic.
7. I walk around if possible.
It has been really common that I will be in a hotel with a pool but I do not get to swim. In fact, I don’t think I have ever used the pool in any of the hotels I have stayed in. There is either no time to swim or I did not know the place had a pool. But I can always walk around. Walking around in the area is a good way to get a feel of the community. I can usually tell the amount of corruption in a local government based on the street lights they use. And sometimes, I come across the local park with a pleasant breeze and some colorful flowers. That is enough to make me happy.
This is hardly a travelogue post. I am not taking pictures as a hobby. The images I uploaded are actually taken to remind me of what I should do the next time I go back to that city.
Sometimes, these events are easy. Often, it is heavy work. I am usually part of a team that came from Manila and the people we are meeting with have a wide range of complaints to throw at us. The rigor of these activities can really take its toll. I know of some colleagues who gave up on this life because of the amount of travel involved.
My little rituals help make the process a little easier.