Re: families in the field

Thomas Murphy (twmurphy@U.WASHINGTON.EDU)
Mon, 26 Dec 1994 23:50:42 -0800

> Finally, I for one would like to hear more people's experiences as couples and
> families in the field.
> Rob Quinlan

I have an interesting story to share. As non-traditional undergraduate
students at the University of Iowa, my partner, Kerrie, and I applied for
summer research grants to conduct advanced language study and fieldwork
in Antigua, Guatemala. Of the several grants we applied for, I received
one and my wife none. We had enough seed money that it would have been
foolish to turn it down, but it was far too insufficient for our needs.
We discussed the situation with financial aid advisers and were able to
arrange to borrow enough funds through student loans to cover Kerrie's
and our six-year-old daughter Jessyca's expenses.

This financial aid package we arranged did permit us all to go to Antigua
together but it also managed to haunt us throughout our research. Of
course, to arrange such a package we had the additional expense of
tuition at the University of Iowa for independent study courses (which we
arranged around each of our projects). That additional expense was the
least of our worries.

I left for Guatemala about three weeks before Kerrie and Jessyca did
(Jessyca was still in school and I was making arrangements for them).
When I arrived in Antigua the week before I was to enroll in the
_Proyecto Linguistico Francisco Marroquin_ (PLFM), I was surprised to find
out the PLFM had vacancies that week. They invited me to enroll a half a
week early. I saw this as an opportunity to get a head-start on
improving my language skills, although I realized that the solvency
of the check I would have to give them depended upon a financial aid
check that was not scheduled to be available until the week I was
originally planning to enroll. My first mistake was to go ahead and
write that check, assuming that with international banking it might be
weeks before the check cleared (a few days at least).

Needless to say, the check to PLFM reached my bank the day before my
first round of financial aid checks arrived. Because it was an
international bank, though, they were not able to re-submit the check a
second time. It was extremely awkward and embarrassing for me to explain
my predicament to PLFM. I warned them ahead of time, hoping to offset
any indication that I was trying to avoid payment.

I made arrangements to give them a second larger check (which included
additional expenses incurred when my family arrived). The Dean of
students at PLFM had made special arrangement to permit me to write a
second check rather than paying cash. This time I made sure that I
called the school to insure that they had infact mailed our second
round of financial aid checks to our credit union (federal law required
that the university split the aid into two dispersements). I did not,
however, call the credit union to verify that the checks had arrived; my
second mistake. The second check bounced!

Through a number of long distance calls I discovered that the checks
never did arrive. I made arrangements with the lending institution and
the school to re-issue new checks and put stop-payments on the lost
checks. In the meantime, writing another check to PLFM was out of the
question. This is a good reason to have an adviser nearby. Professor
Nora England, from the University of Iowa, was in Antigua. Through her
connections at the _Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de MesoAmerica_
we were able to write a third check and pay cash to PLFM.

Despite all the frustrations that our creative financing eventually led
to, doing fieldwork as a family was well worth while. Jessyca made it
easy for us to be welcomed as strangers into the homes of the people we
needed to interview (many of whom had never met us until we showed up on
their doorsteps). Kerrie and I helped each other, both on our individual
projects and personally.

When we returned to Iowa City, the checks had been mailed to the wrong
credit union which had forwarded them to our home address. Jessyca had
learned enough Spanish to impress her new teacher (who was from Mexico).
The summer she spent in Guatemala has given her new friends, exposed her
to different ways of living, and given her lots of exciting tales to
share with other friends. Her friends are enthralled with her stories of
meeting a witch who wanted to buy her troll doll, visiting homes with
dirt floors and no kitchen or bathroom, falling off of a pyramid in Tikal,
watching a monkey climb down out of a tree right in front of her, or
seeing real live volcanos. The photographs we took keep her memories
alive and enlighten the incredulous friend.

Having shared the frustrations and joy of fieldwork with a family, we can
know reflect on the positives and try to forget the hassles with our
financial aid (at least until those student loans come due).

Tom Murphy, graduate student in socio-cultural anthropology at the
University of Washington. // //