By Mel Rohse
The last time I remember learning about geology was when I was frantically revising a chapter on the topic for the natural sciences exam of my French baccalaureat, some fourteen years ago. Since then, my academic path has taken me well into the social sciences and even at the intersection of social sciences and arts and humanities with the previous project I worked on (Stories of Change, AHRC). Needless to say I haven’t thought much about geology in that time. But that’s why I enjoy so much working on CreativeDrought: it has taken me on many unexpected journeys. I had never imagined that I would be doing any kind of work in southern Africa, and here I am, two weeks into a four-week trip, learning about a new culture. But I’m also experiencing a different way of doing research, as I watch and follow my hydrology colleagues. Whilst I would not normally visit dams, reservoirs, springs and water tanks, which we did on our first two days in Folovhodwe, it’s clear that one aspect of research we have in common is observation. We may not observe the same things, but as we start to better understand the geology of the area and its links with the river, the springs and the availability of water for the villagers, it becomes obvious how this is crucial to understand people’s lives in the village. Without this knowledge, asking people about how they coped with drought would be much more challenging.
Another enlightening experience of carrying out all aspects of fieldwork together (at least for a few days) is how much my colleagues also need to talk to people, and not just to request ‘data’. Back in our research group meetings in Birmingham, there are often discussions about how to obtain data, who needs to be emailed and what contacts may be approached from a range of organisations with acronyms I don’t often recognise. This also goes with conversations on how to treat the data, which generally involves a range of software. So I guess I hadn’t thought about how much we would need to talk to local officials and villagers to get a good picture of the water situation in the area. Like in interviews, the information can be partial and contradictory so there is a lot that needs checking and many leads to follow up on, which is why even though Sally and Anne have now gone back to the UK, Eugine is very busy chasing people up and arranging meetings to put this puzzle of information back together.
Overall, it’s been really interesting and it’s exciting to push the boundaries of interdisciplinary work in the way that we do. We have been very lucky to be able to see first-hand what the ‘others’ normally do, which is a great help for the rest of our time in Folovhodwe. It’s obviously helped by people being so welcoming and ready to help us with the many questions we have for them!