Field gear

mike salovesh (T20MXS1@MVS.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Thu, 15 Dec 1994 22:53:00 CST

Speaking of gear, does anybody remember what Dusty Bohannon--writing
under the name "Elenore Smith Bowen"--said she got as pre-field
advice from her profs? (See RETURN TO LAUGHTER.) There were only
two items she reported, and both of them were pretty good:

"You'll need more tables than you think."

"Wear cheap tennis shoes. When you cross rivers, the water runs out
easily and they dry out fast."

I would want:

1. A portable computer, complete with extra sets of batteries, and
all that goes with it: portable printer, modem, lotsa disks, and
a hand scanner. (Beats photocopies!)

2. Lotsa Walkman-sized cassette recorders--the cheap ones--and tons
of cheap (Type I) cassettes for recording interviews, fieldnotes,
etc. (Cheap ones will do for everything but recording music.)
Rechargeable batteries and a charger are a BIG help if you will
have a place to plug in the charger. (Why lots of recorders?
Because I give them away. Why cheap ones? Because I give them
away, but I don't have much money. If it's good enough for me to
use where it matters, it's good enough to give away, too.)

3. Lotsa good graph paper. In Mexico and Central America, at least,
you can get notebooks and paper locally--where there are schools
there's writing paper--but I have yet to find a source of good
graph paper that costs less than the printed paper that makes
local currency. The cheap local stuff is not usable. (I mean
the graph paper, NOT the currency!)

4. Everybody that's saying zip-locked plastic bags is absolutely
right. Storage is always a problem--if you buy anything locally
that comes in bottles with replaceable tops, don't EVER let the
empty get away! (I mean, to give two examples that mean somethin
here in the US, peanut butter jars or spaghetti sauce jars.) And
aluminum wrap is another must. It won't keep tropical cockroach
invaders out, unfortunately, but it's still useful.

5. I use disposable cleaning towels--the ones that come in little
packets, and are soaked in an alcohol/soap solution. I've never
seen them for sale in Mexico or Guatemala Cities, let alone out
in the boonies, but they are a fantastic personal comfort. In
muggy tropical heat they give you instant cooling; in places
where washing in contaminated water could be worse than not
washing at all, they give you a chance to clean up before eating.
I get the bulk of my supply for free every time I tank up at a
local gas station, but they're also sold in some drugstores.
(Warning: These things dry out easily in the field. Keep them
in some of those airtight, ziplocked plastic bags you're wise to
carry anyway.)

Substitute: I sometimes take along lots and lots of very cheap
washcloths, soak them in reasonably pure water in the AM, and
carry them around in plastic bags in my pockets. They do tend to
go bad with mildew and/or mold in the tropics, but I consider
them a disposable comfort.

OK, never mind the details. We all seem to be saying that field gear
comes in two varieties: professional necessities to get the job done,
and other necessities to take care of personal comfort. I've given
them in about a 3 to 2 ratio here; others may differ.

Mostly, though, successful fieldwork means you're going to have to
live off the land. After all, the people you're with do manage to
satisfy THEIR personal and cultural needs out of what's available
locally. Their local solutions, once you're used to them, are likely
to be at least as good as anything you might import. THEIR food,
THEIR music, THEIR lodging and bedding and clothing and transport
and all are part of what makes them themselves and you should get
to know all of them. Always with an escape hatch for when you just
have to do it YOUR way or go nuts, of course.

-- mike <>