Fieldwork, Research, and Thick Onions

From Hope Craig

It’s hard to believe that nine weeks have passed since we stumbled, wide-eyed and eager, onto the Keystone campus in January. Looking back on our first week in Kotagiri, I can’t help but smile thinking of the awe and curiosity with which we readily soaked in the beauty of the Nilgiris hills, the warmth of the Keystone community, and every inkling of newness that Kotagiri offered. There were many novelties, and there still are!

Nonetheless, it’s amazing to me how much has changed since our first day: how familiar we are with the area, how closely we have connected with one another, and how comfortable we have become with the routine unpredictability of each day. Though we have become so accustomed to our lives in Kotagiri, there are many questions and uncertainties that remain for the weeks ahead.

Among the many things this week has shown us, what strikes me most is the value of the naivety that remains a leading influence on our outlook and perspective. This was a leading message of Becky’s lectures this week. Though the complex and nuanced nature of the NBR continues to deepen or, as we would joke in class, our onion develops more layers of meaning, the curiosity and interest of our naivety provide a method of sharing knowledge and experiences. Seemingly endless, our questions stream during interviews and class discussions as we determinedly try to understand the thick description surrounding us. I’m eager to embrace our coming weeks of fieldwork to perhaps better understand the many webs of meanings that layer our research topics.

With Becky, Jess, Andrew, Archana, Pratim, and Bala all here with us this week, it’s safe to say our classroom has been a powerhouse as we prepare to embrace the thick description of our research projects. Ranging from topics in infant feeding and dietary diversity to the Forest Rights Act or waste management, our fieldwork covers a variety of perspectives and concentrations in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve. We began the week with momentum as we voiced our research goals, reviewed informed consent processes, and discussed research sites and household surveys for the weeks to come. Until this week, I had considered our naivety to be a drawback. After our field site visit to Gethaikadu earlier this week, however, I found that naivety and curiosity allowed me and my classmates to try to understand the deeper meaning underlying what we saw, heard, and felt. As we embark on part two of the semester, the novelty of our experiences has largely been renewed as we prepare for fieldwork.

As we cope with the uncertainty and novelty of the weeks to come, I am comforted by the tangible passion I share with my classmates and teachers, and I am eager to continue to ‘peel the onion’ together.

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