August and September: Moving from Ethnography to Organization

Karibuni! Here is an (overdue) update on my research progress for the months of August and September!

Quick recap in case you’ve missed my previous posts: I spent the summer interviewing Maasai labor migrants in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. My interviews were conducted in Kiswahili (with some help from a translator) and took a variety of formal and informal forms. My thesis will explore the rural to urban migration of these Maasai labor migrants, focusing on the barriers to integration faced and how community organizing is used to mitigate the risks of migration.

In early August, I wrapped up my research in Dar es Salaam. I had a few of my favorite final meals (if you’re ever in Dar, you can’t miss Choma Hut on Haile Selassie Road – I could live off of their kuku na naan exclusively) and packed up my apartment to head back to the states. By August I had completed most of my official interviews and ethnography, so I was mostly finishing my Kiswahili coursework and organizing my data on a day to day basis. The day I left Dar es Salaam was emotionally tolling, but I also had so much to look forward to since my thesis process was far from over!

Throughout the month of September, I felt a bit of discouragement as I moved away from the daily excitement of interviews and living in Dar, and towards more of the mundane (but equally important!) housekeeping items such as transcribing interviews, writing final reports for the grants I received, and writing my chapter outline. I also allowed myself a bit of a break to readjust to school and my other coursework. However, in the last few days, I have been excited to begin working with my data again as I begin creating my coding scheme (and then applying it!)

Participating in the Charles Center Summer Research Showcase was a great opportunity to learn more about everyone else’s projects. It also motivated me to go back through my original Prospectus and edit that information – now it will be ready to go as part of the introduction of my thesis. I also got to think more about the final product of my research throughout September. My advisor and I have jointly decided that my thesis will take the form of a 30-40 page article. This decision was made so that the thesis will be the length of a publishable journal. I’d love to hear what goals other people have for their final project.

Moving forward, I have a lot planned for October. I will be editing and improving my literature review, finalizing my coding scheme, and applying that coding scheme to my recorded/transcribed interviews from the summer months. By November I will be in the full swing of writing, so I’m looking forward to getting totally organized, transcribed and coded throughout October.

One thing that has been quite exciting to me this month has been connecting my thesis research to my current coursework. My African Studies and History classes have both touched on the complex history of the Swahili coast, even making specific reference to the port city of Dar es Salaam. Discussing the gada system of governance of the Oromo people of Ethiopia, I drew direct parallels to the Maasai age-set system by which peer groups are formed and graduate into new life stages. These connections have been positive affirmation that my research is relevant to my field and, hopefully, a productive contribution to African studies scholarship.

Asante sana for following along!