Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writing Without Fear

What is holding me back from writing without fear? I feel like I live without fear – I make big, international moves, do academic stuff with screaming kids in the background, drive a car in the D.R…all these things are terrifying, and I do them anyway. But there’s something about writing…

I qualify most of my sentences. I condition my arguments.  I don’t use definitive language.  My writing is wrought with insecurity.

Maybe I'm scared to stand behind a statement that could make people argue with me.  I'm not really that into conflict. I generally talk animatedly about controversial issues when the person I’m speaking to agrees with me.  If I sense an argument brewing, I back down making a general statement about how we can agree to disagree. Unfortunately for people like me, ALL academic papers start with “I argue that….blah blah blah”.

What is it about academia that triggers this palpable uncertainty in my ability to make a firm argument? I mean, no author has all the data and every author makes the best statement they can with what they have.  What makes me feel like what I have is somehow not enough? If theirs is enough, then why isn’t mine?

A very wise professor once told me the key to liberation and owning your voice is to “run out of fucks”.  Of course, in my insecure, planificatory manner, my response was, “so when would be the best time to run out? While I’m a grad student? After I get a job somewhere? Or after I’m tenured?”   The response: “Yesterday”.

I think about how my race, gender, and socioeconomic background matter. I’ve gotten along because I don’t make waves, and I've been doing emotional acrobatics to make people comfortable for most of my adult life. But good research is provocative, challenging, definitive, and it makes people engage, push, and take sides.  I’m feeling more ready lately. I might be running out of fucks.  It’s a little scary…but I think I like it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Water Water Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

One day this week, I went to my field site and the water pump was broken.  On the inconvenient end of the spectrum, people’s dishes piled up in the sink and laundry piled up on the floor.  On the more urgent end of the spectrum, kids tell mothers they are hungry. And mothers reply, “we are all hungry”.

Since the pump is broken, they can’t cook. You need water to cook rice and boil beans.  Even if you cook with purified water, you need water to wash the dishes you will cook with.  And you wouldn’t go crazy using your purified water because you need it to drink. The water from the pump is undrinkable.

On a normal day, people spend the morning hauling water back and forth from the pump to their homes.  There is one pump that provides water for the entire community of about 100 families. People carry water using buckets, old vegetable oil jugs, bleach containers, anything with a handle. They have to get all the water they need for the day early because it usually runs out by the afternoon.  At about 7am each morning, the running water at the pump starts.  By the afternoon, it stops. 

This water is used for bathing, laundry, cleaning, washing dishes, and sometimes cooking. I would guess that maybe 3-4 houses out of 100 have running water in their homes when the pump is working, so the vast majority of people are hauling water each day. 

One woman teases me playfully saying, “Trini, you don’t know how to haul water!” I defend myself, saying “I can do it. I’m strong!” But the truth is, I have not had to spend my life hauling water each morning. I am probably not strong enough.

They spend this morning, when the pump is broken, wondering if it’s just later than usual or if it will be out for days.

Water is something we take for granted in the developed world, and I just wanted to reflect on the importance of water as a basic need for so many things that we do each day. 

What would you do if one day, the water just stopped running?