An Autoethnography of the last year

My supervisor says that my fieldwork is already started! Great, didn't notice that! 😜

Well, what she really means is that going to Kenya will be "just" the last piece of the puzzle. I think she is right, as always.

This puzzle was started a long time ago, and not even by me. It was started by a group of other researchers who announced a PhD scholarship in "Social anthropology with a Focus on Global Public Health" (???). What?

Exactly. The same feeling I had when I applied 😆

My current colleagues set the frame. But as for every anthropological project, the frame was set on an uneven surface made of "contextual analysis", "sociocultural practices" and "local representations".

Amongst this social science "fuzziness" (sorry, that's the typical inferiority complex of "soft sciences"), the project changed plenty of time, research questions went through several revisions, fieldwork's initial ideas were refined. As in every normal PhD. As in every normal PhD in Anthropology. 

But the frame was set: it was "only" a matter of fitting the little pieces together. 

Then Covid came and hit - the all of us! 

And the pieces of my PhD were thrown up into the sky!

The frame resisted the hit, though. And also quite well. The fact that the frame was set, that the project was there, that the ideas were outlined, this was my irreplaceable support, my only crutch.

Out of a sudden, nothing was moving. For months, I didn't make any progress. Everything, every small step was carried out with incredible fatigue and several obstacles. The pieces of the puzzle were stuck, but not together. 

Then, one day of winter, I was sunbathing on my alpine balcony for the afternoon nap 😏🌞. An email buzzed my phone: "Your resumption of face-to-face data collection is approved. Kind regards."


The translation is: You can finally go and do your project in Kenya as planned.

Exciting, isn't it?

Well, my first reaction was panic. I didn't want to go at that point. 
The pieces of my puzzle were not only messy and dusty, but some of them were also completely lost. They were somewhere, not there with me. 

I was just back to my family in Italy. Basically, after 2 weeks of quarantine they were telling me that NOW I could go!?!

All my things were in England. My house was in England. Lots of my dears were in England. How to put the pieces together again?

Luckily no one really expected me to pack my luggage immediately and go. I could enjoy a month more at home, which was more than great. And organise my coming back to the UK. That was stressful, indeed. 

But I am here, now. I found the lost pieces. I am trying to assemble them, carefully, patiently, with everyday efforts.
It's not always easy. The bureaucracy I was trying to escape from Italy is even worse in the UK. Logistics are slow. Emails are in tons every day. Everything I attempt to do needs to be approved by at least 3 people - sometimes I feel as if I am constantly pressing the security check of a website where it says "I am not a robot".

It requires lots of patience. Also, It requires grease to oil the mechanisms and to make the pieces fit.
Ultimately, there is need for lots of diplomacy, that I dont have, to deal with whatever office. 

But the pieces are almost altogether. The puzzle is almost complete for me to travel!

After so much waiting, after so many movements, flights, visas, vaccinations. The pieces are together!

Looking back, all this was an extraordinary training - of patience, resilience, strategy. To be honest, I should have done an autoethnography, meaning a self ethnography, meaning really: an anthropological study of myself and how I have been changing over these months.
Of how my expectations, desires, mood, dreams, worries, ideas changed since I started this PhD.

As my supervisors said, the fieldwork is already started - with a peak of emotions in the last two months!
Hopefully, this will be part of my thesis, if I will ever finish writing one ;-)

But if the puzzle is now complete for me to go to the field, with which jigsaw I am gonna entertain myself once in Kenya?

Let's do that I will tell you in a further post ;-)

From my Liverpool home_January 2021


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