Let’s start at the very beginning.
Two important, if not gripping, first steps (a very good place to start):
(1) Visiting the local fisheries office to scan any reports and references that I can’t find elsewhere. The office in Buenavista is a 5 minute walk from my apartment, and the people there are very, very nice. I even ended up with a delicious grilled banana.
(2) Translating questionnaires & training a new field team: Another field site, another dialect: Hiligaynon. It’s a Filipino language, like Tagalog, but there are many, many differences in vocabulary and, as far as I can tell, verb forms. It’s musical and bubbling and beautiful to listen to, though I can’t understand much of it. So…I’m lucky that I have four bright field assistants from the area (thanks to Dr. Lilian B. Parreno at Guimaras State College). They are also very, very polite – my sister and I are still getting used to being called “Ma’am”. (My sister’s been with me since December, helping to manage things). Which is good, because translating questionnaires and being trained on interview methods and data entry isn’t the most exciting stuff – they were patient and quick to learn throughout.
An extra day of translations, training, and practice at the beginning of a field season can (I’ve learned the hard way) save a lot of time. It still amazes me how superficially basic questions can turn out to have myriad interpretations… it’s fascinating enough to combat the frustration that such twists in communication can elicit. And it still amazes me how hard it can sometimes be to pinpoint exactly what I mean: “What are you asking with this question?” “Well…it’s to find out…um…you know? You know what I mean, right?”
Words turn out to be more diaphanous than assumed, and the seemingly concrete “word” assigned to a concept can end up being confusingly inadequate. The most frustrated I ever get doing this fieldwork is when I feel incapable of communicating clearly… I try, instead, to be pragmatic about it, and to appreciate the complexities of language. And I try to become better about truly knowing what I want to say and what I want to ask.
Thankfully, the field assistants are fast workers and learners, and we were soon able to jump out of the office and enjoy traipsing about the scenic fishing barangay of Buenavista.