Amilkar Mendoza

Data Collection the stories from inside


By this written, I would like to share a short story from Colombia during my data collection. I was doing data collection for my own thesis in a Natagaima, Colombia in October 2017. My thesis is focused in ethnobotanical studies and especially in traditional medicine in native communities living in Natagaima the goal was to perform an ethnobotanical survey in the field in order to collect, organise and publish information on traditional knowledge and use of medicinal plants, but in Colombia native communities are protected by the government and any study or activity must count with the permission of the local authorities,

Pre-departure: Having only one month to be in Colombia, I had to make the first contacts with the community and local authorities in advance, in September 2017 I received permission to visit the communities and even the support of a group of young people from the same community who were interested in the subject of my thesis.

First contact: On the first day of my arrival in the area I met the head of the indigenous council, I showed my permission from the regional authorities, he accepted my stay in the community and invited me to participate in a meeting for the next day, where they would be representatives of all the families of the indigenous council, a perfect opportunity for people to see me and know of my presence in the territory. The meeting was a kind of forum or summit that the locals made once per year where they discuss the community problems and at it the end with a ritual for spiritual cleaning, performance by the “chamanes” (6) to cleanse the souls and ward off evil spirits

When you are abroad, time passes quickly, you better work: on the third day I visit the local market and in the afternoon I start to apply the data collection instrument (interview/survey). Just as I arrived at the first house, a heavy rain began. After performing the survey the individual, refusing to let me leave in the middle of the rain, and give as to drink “chicha de maiz” which is a fermented corn juice,  after the rain stopped I returned to the car, which I found had sunken into the mud. We (first interview family and me) spent roughly the next hour digging the car out of the mud. All told, I spent an entire afternoon just recording one individual’s survey, the next day the story was different, to reach the other houses it was not possible to do it by car, had to leave the car on the side of the road and start walking, walked between 20 and 30 minutes between houses and the worst of all was that at the end of the day I had to walk back to the main road, Natagaima is located in a tropical dry forest where the temperature can rise to 45C at midday, data collection was challenging and satisfying at the same time, challenging because I had never walked so much in my life under the scorching sun, working from the morning till the late afternoon; Monday to Saturday, mosquitoes and goats everywhere, but satisfying because the people were incredibly friendly, I had almost like 4 or 5 free meals per day and fresh fruit juices all the time, and like this, three long weeks went by, I performmed, approximately, 6 interviews per day.

Despite the difficulties, this experience was unique not only for knowledge and data collection issues but also on topics such as learning to manage an agenda, conciliate and obtain permits with local authorities, learn to adapt to the local culture; open up to try new foods, new dances, etc.

To go abroad as an exchange student/Erasmus student/data collection is an experience, never to be forgotten. it shapes our character and changes the way we see the world and life, and we realize that this world has no borders or nations.

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