I’ve been putting off writing this next blog post… where to start?
When entering a community to conduct field research there is a need to establish trust and common ground – two elements that are hard to maintain in a post for a broad audience. It’s tempting to present the community only in the light of what is different and new, which can easily make people look exotic. If you’ve ever had a visitor stay in your home and write or blog about it, you know that it is not always comfortable to live under someone else’s microscope.
On the other hand, if you’ve ever seen a great documentary film, such as “We Still Live Here” directed by Anne Makepeace, you’ll know that it can be worthwhile for a community to let strangers in to help tell their story to others, or in our case, document the local language and wisdom.
I was privileged to return to a community outside the town of Tarabuco, Bolivia, for the fourth time since 2000. This time I was accompanied by a beloved native speaker and Quechua linguist, Pedro Plaza Martínez, who has had a relationship with community members for twenty years but hadn’t been back there since 1996.
We had initially considered attempting to interview people in the town of Tarabuco itself, but quickly found there was no place to set up – so we found a vehicle that was heading for a community further out where we had connections, and climbed on board. We arrived unannounced at the home of Pedro’s godson and co-author, Modesto, who was busy replacing his thatched roof with corrugated tin, along with his two younger sons. Our chauffeur parked his car and promptly joined in on the roofing project, which lasted for several hours that day and continued to absorb our host for the entire week we were there.
You might have done a double-take when I said “co-author” in regards to a Quechua-speaking farmer, and you should. There are very few people actively writing in the Quechua language today, and even fewer are shepherd/farmers. However, Pedro had developed a unique relationship with two farmers who asked him to take over their literacy class at the beginning of the education reform in the 90s. Pedro asked them to write about daily life, and eventually to interview other community members, serving the dual purpose of learning to write and helping him develop material for a dictionary. The two went on to produce what he believes may be the largest body of written work in modern Quechua history. They also visited Cochabamba several times and shared their knowledge with indigenous graduate students at the ProEIB Andes back when it was a new program.
We didn’t stay long at Modesto’s house on the first afternoon – we headed straight for his sister and mother’s house and arranged to conduct our first interviews after helping with the potato harvest and watching a violent thunderstorm in the distance. Everyone seemed very busy – too busy to take time off for a video-recording, but Modesto’s younger brother and his wife agreed that we could interview them if we came back at 6:30 am the next day – which we did.
Here are some photos from our first and second days in the community.