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AFS 2014 Field Notes: That Time in Field School

November 2, 2014

 AFS 2014 Field Notes: That Time in Field School

By Marian Isabelle Carlos and Erika Joy Navarro

 For this year, batch 2014 of the Anthropology Field School composing of nineteen AFS2014-FN3determined students and two ever-supportive faculty supervisors, Field Director, Asst. Prof. Efenita Taqueban, and Faculty Supervisor for Anthropology, Asst. Prof. Janine Ochoa, set out to explore the ever-curious Misamis Oriental. Divided into two phases, the training for Field Methods in Social Anthropology was conducted in Cagayan de Oro, City, while the training for Field Methods in Archaeology was held in the Municipality of Initao.

For the Field Methods in Social Anthropology, our batch was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as interns for the research study, Chemical Youth, with the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR). The study aims to investigate what chemicals young people use every day, why young people use these and what effects these have in their lives. The study has conducted many grand tours in France, the Netherlands, Indonesia and the Philippines. In the Philippines, a grand tour on the Filipino youth’s chemical use has been conducted in Batangas, Batanes, Palawan, and just recently by our batch, in Cagayan de Oro City (CDO). The compensation we received from the internship alleviated the costs of our field school.

In a span of approximately three weeks (from the period of April 10 to May 8), we accomplished both the deliverables for the internship and the outputs for the field methods class. This was done through the conduct of different methodologies in data gathering, parallel to the series of build-up reports for our Methods in Social Anthropology final paper. Through this training set-up, we were not just students enrolled in a course expected to deliver for a grade, but students who were expected to deliver with a consciousness for standard and responsibility.


Doing Fieldwork in CDO

Tense and excited at the same time, we flew from Manila and arrived at Laguindingan Airport on April 10, 2014. A manAFS2014-FN3 holding a sign that says “AFS 2014” welcomed us.  A shuttle bus transported us to Poveda Dorm, our temporary home. We immediately found ourselves at the heart of the city lined by several food establishments, ranging from household-ran karinderias to popular ‘fast food’ places. The ever-present sound of passing vehicles, the business of the streets, as well as the fast-paced rhythm of the city reminds us of Manila.

When word got around that our batch would be doing urban anthropology, some were delighted with the idea, others relieved. Some sighed in dismay, while some let out a snicker. In fact, the running joke was for us to do the field school in Philcoa. It was as if the undeniable inkling for romanticizing the so-called other, was shattered. We dare say we cannot blame ourselves either, since the idea of going to a far-flung place and living with a community does sound titillating—something that a city just doesn’t have a ring to it. Yet as we have grown acquainted with Cagayan de Oro city, we soon realized that though it is called a city, it still has a touch of the quaint to it. Cagayan de Oro City is the capital city of Misamis Oriental in Mindanao. It is a thriving urban center bounded by the municipalities of Opol to the west, Tagaloan to the east, and provinces of Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte to the south. Due to its geographic location, it has become a mosaic of peoples living different cultures. Cagayan de Oro city is a changing landscape where urbanization, migration and tourism flourish amidst different issues of cultural differences and geopolitical disputes.

AFS2014-FN3To kick-start of the Socio Anthropology phase of the field school, our initial task was to get to know the city; that is to get lost! To do this, we were divided into four groups, each holding a unique itinerary. Each group was assigned to find particular places and list down the fare and type of transportation needed to get there, and noting the landmarks. Cagayan de Oro city, with the hustle and bustle of a big city and not so familiar language, bisaya, makes it a place for geographically-challenged people to get lost in. Amidst the energetic people, the noisy vehicles and the scorching heat of the sun, our first task proved to be a great opportunity to make sense of the seemingly unfamiliar. But more importantly, this activity equipped us to navigate through the city in the coming days… combing the city in search of possible respondents. Our guided interview survey was conducted by dividing the team into pairs, each tasked to find respondents ages 18-25 years old that belong to a particular subgroup, among them shop workers, transgenders, sex workers and students to name a few.

With only about three weeks to spare, it was best to make the most of the data from the internship in such a way that explored our themes for the final paper. This, perhaps, was the biggest milestone for us. Some wanted to venture into themes that did not concern our assigned subgroups, while some wanted to work with friends who they knew well. But the field is meant to open us to the reality of the trade: that we do not always have the luxury of time and the finances to pursue the things that interest us; and that we cannot always choose the people that we are to work with. But as its budding practitioners, it is then our challenge to be flexible, to work around something and make good of the situation and circumstance. While completing and reviewing the survey questionnaires, we were already starting to build-up on our final papers. We wrote pieces on the “A day in a life…” of our key informants, as case studies. We reviewed our interviews and did a summary of quotations from our respondents. Each pair wrote a report on the socio-demographic background of our assigned subgroups. These were building blocks towards our final paper.

The first days of recruitment were challenging. Still new to the place and without any connection, we had to scour theAFS2014-FN3 city to look for possible informants. All throughout the process, rejection loomed over us. Some of the people we asked rejected us from the start, some would reschedule, and sometimes the informant would agree to be interviewed on the spot.  A few showed up late or did not show up at all. Having experienced various forms of rejection, we became more persuasive (makulit) and we learned to toughen up (kapalan ang mukha). There were days that we thought we would not reach our goals. But Ma’am Mai would always reassure us that “Hey, it’s just a number. Don’t be too hard on yourselves.”  Fortunately for us, possible informants showed up at times when we least expected them to. We just had to be patient and understanding, putting ourselves in their shoes — who would really want to share private information to strangers. There was also the difficulty of finding respondents with the right qualifications. For example, a team went to the pier to recruit porters but found only two respondents that fit into the age bracket. They sought out market kargadors instead, and from there explored the lives of young male gang members.

In between the data gathering would special lectures and the assessments. We were fortunate to attend a special lectureAFS2014-FN3 given by Dr. Linda L. Burton, Director of Xavier University Research Institute for Mindanao Culture (RIMCU), held in April 14, 2014 at Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan. In her lecture, she talked about doing anthropology in Mindanao and her personal journey in the discipline. Dr. Burton shared her early training as an Archeologist to her doing Medical Anthropology with the Manobos of Agusan. It was a life story that paralleled the development of an anthropologist. She provided a good orientation on doing field work across time and in Mindanao. After the lecture, we were treated to a tour of the Museo de Oro, the University Museum, also under the care of Dr. Burton.

AFS2014-FN3The supplementary lectures were on photo elicitation and geo-tagging. Dr. Anita Hardon and Madel Landicho, of the Chemical Youth project, and Ma’am Mai conducted the lectures. For the geo-tagging activity, pairs spent two days going around designated areas in the city. We mapped and took pictures of product places, information places and people places. Not contented with just taking photos, we became the usisero and usisera selves by inquiring what and why to every object and person that we encounter. Each pair presented their findings to the whole team and everyone was at awe listening to what each had to share. This was the first time we used this method in doing fieldwork, and it was a great way to see each of the teams in action. Halfway through the presentations the lights went out, but not even the brownout could stop us. Padayon! The reporting continued with flashlights. The rotational brownouts, sometimes lasting almost half the day, was the challenging backdrop of doing fieldwork. It made apparent the tensions and challenges in Mindanao.

Assessment workshops were held almost every week. These were meant to let us reflect on what and how we were learning in the process — what were our difficulties, how to improve the study, and how we are. Parts of the assessment included review of the instrument and taking steps to improve it, sharing of each group’s experiences and learning from each other, and processing how we were dealing with others and ourselves.

Every day, we were either completing the survey or doing more research through participant observation — it wasAFS2014-FN3 important to see our informants’  “view of the world.” Many of us went through great lengths by going to their workplaces, homes and even joining in their activities. The team working with river guides became “river rafting trainees.” Another team joined networking orientations and workshops to learn more about the world of networking and found a new appreciation for the camaraderie in networking communities. Some of the teams needed special permission to extend the curfew to watch a DJ in his graveyard shift or talk to a sex worker. On our last Saturday night in the city, the activity was a “night out” to see how the youth live out the reputation of the city as “Tagayan de Oro.” The activity proved that yet again that being with the locals is indeed a fun way of establishing and maintaining rapport.

As the deadline for the final paper was nearing, a dilemma that we had was how do we piece together this deluge of information if you have twenty people talking about different things? But our mantra was: do much than many.

Just as we were nearing the end of the first leg of the field school, a few bumps managed to get in the way.  Rissey, one of our classmates, was diagnosed with dengue. She was confined at a local hospital where some of us took turns to watch over her. She flew back to Manila to be attended to and taken cared for by her family. She recovered well and got back to CDO just in time to finish the final requirement.


To cap off the field for Socio Anthro, we took a break away from the busy part of the city for the final assessment, stopping by Macahambus cave and going down the Macahambus gorge. By many standards the retreat place would be considered rural, a quiet place overlooking the Cagayan River and Bukidnon Plateau, but was still very much part of the political boundary of the city. With its relaxing atmosphere, it was a good venue to synthesize and recollect what we have learned and discovered not just about the discipline but also about ourselves, a mix of eureka and bittersweet realizations, and coming to terms with the value of being flexible — the ability to adapt yourself to a foreign environment, to stretch your comfort zone. The exposure it brought us, the many lectures that we were privileged to have, the new skills of the trade that we acquired, and the community that is awaiting for our return, have emphasized the ultimate goal of this field school: to initiate us to the real world of the discipline not just as mere student-bystanders with a short-term goal but as student-researchers with an immediate responsibility at hand that has yet a long way to go.

AFS2014-FN3May 8 was the deadline for our ethnographic papers and also the last day of our training in Social Anthropology. We cleaned the house, packed our bags and said our goodbyes to the friends we’ve made in the city. While we looked forward to seeing Initao, thinking of the wooden panel floors that felt home underneath the feet, the convening hall where many lectures and sleepless nights of cramming transpired, the kitchen where we concocted ingenious food recipes in a small rice cooker and the patio that had a hammock tied to a palm tree and the gate post, made it hard for us to leave.

Photos by M. Taqueban