Tag Archives: Ethnographic Research

Rickety Stair Stories

It’s snowy.

Things have been wrapping up over the past few weeks.  Just in the past two days, I graded the last papers for the class that I taught, and attended my final board meeting for my local congregation.   This afternoon had me sniffling as I went through dusty drawers of seldom-used items.  Keep.  Throw out.  Give.  Recycle.  Look up on the internet and try to figure out what it is. (That’s for my under-utilized electronics…)

And what I really want is to have people sit in my house as the snow falls, or to hit a coffee shop with friends and my “to be done on computer” task list.  But the snow made me less adventurous, so some things had to be done today in the quiet of this basement: just me, Pandora playing in the background, and an occasional sniffle because of dust.  Mostly because of dust.

One of the drawers I cleaned out held an old flash drive.  On it were research notes from my “ethnographic study” in Southeast Asia.  A twenty-two year old version of myself, with several months of language study and very little clue how to do it, went to a big town on the outskirts to look at life there.  My host family’s house was on stilts, as per local traditions/comfortability ideas, and a rickety staircase led to their door.

My twenty-two-year-old self, nervous and off-balance with a big red suitcase, attempted to make her way up to the door.  This led to a rather ungraceful “stumble” between the slatted steps.  My host family, concerned, asked me several times if I was okay.  When I replied that I wasn’t hurt, just embarrassed, they reassured me, “At least no one saw your fall!”

For the next hour, everyone in the neighborhood– or that’s how it felt– came to meet me.  It wasn’t every day a foreigner came to this area of town, much less took up residence there for a month with the sole objective of hearing people talk and learning about their stories.  And during that hour, my host family told each person who entered the hilarious story of my fall up the stairs…

And that became my first research note, “re-discovered” today on my flash drive :-).  Now I sit in the quiet, and I can hear the sound of my host sister’s voice, the good-natured laughter of our neighbors, and the quickly-forgotten consolation, “At least no one saw!”
I tell my present self that it’s okay.  Stumbling toward new things, sniffling on the way– some moments are made to be savored in quiet, and others in community.  But I think I’ll go out in the snow tonight.