The past few weeks have been hectic! Realizing my research assistant and I had a few weeks left together and about 25 interviews to do was… overwhelming. We spent several weeks in the camps full time doing 2-3 interviews a day, participating in support groups for vulnerable refugees, visiting key people and places, observing camp events and meetings. Mostly, we worked in Sanischare, a big camp about 30min west of where I live. This was a new camp for me and the first few days I really felt it. I reached home by 3pm each day so exhausted I collapsed. It was hard for me to get up to finish my notes, let alone go out and socialize.
Being drained after a day in the camps is a common sentiment among the international staff here, and something I’ve always taken for granted. But since this last intense stint of fieldwork, I have been thinking lot about what is so very draining about working in the refugee camps. Daily highs above 100 F don’t help. The sheer vastness of the place, the number of people living in close proximity, the lack of private spaces…??? Do the things that drain us also drain the refugees living there? If so, how do they cope? How do they survive decades in an environment where I can hardly last 6 hours?
These are complex questions that demand insider insight into the refugee experience I will never have (thankfully!) But I do know that what got me through those weeks in the camps was becoming known to the COMMUNITY (that word again… notice a theme in my recent blog posts?) After a few days in Sanischare, people simply knew me, or knew of me, and somehow that allowed me to enter into this intricate web of social networks that comprise Sanischare. What a relief just to recognize and be recognized (by my interviewees, my contacts at the community-based organizations, the family that runs the canteen,…) I felt as though I’d formed and filled a new niche in the living breathing organism of the camp community, and the change in my emotional state was dramatic. By two weeks in I was waking up eager to get to the camps and remaining energetic and positive throughout the day.
Now the past two weeks have been sitting in front of my computer coding my interviews, preparing for meetings, thinking about a final report… and I find myself missing that intimate connection with daily life in the camps. I have slipped out of the community just as quickly as I entered. Fortunately, the next stage of my fieldwork is starting up tomorrow! This week and next I’ll be visiting over EIGHTY camp sub-sectors to map key psychosocial resources and risk factors using a handheld GPS set. I’ll be working with one of my refugee research assistants, Krishna, who is a dear friend. I’m psyched!
Here are a bunch of pictures I took celebrating community life in the camps. I’m especially interested in how kids entertain themselves and capturing the hut aesthetic. I love the creative ways people add flair to their huts.