Aside Kpassa where we rented an apartment for the team, Damanko is another major town. It is just about the same size as Kpassa, and just as populated. Being quite a distance from Kpassa, we decided to lodge at a guest home so we could save travel time each day and get all our interviews done in good time.
Damanko was hot and dusty, with most households either rearing cattle or pigs. Not far from where we lodged was a huge park in front of a basic school, and past the park was a mud-pond. The pigs that wallowed in there were huge and loud. I don’t like pigs. I hated that route, but I had many respondents on my list beyond there. I had no choice.
Back at the guest home, there was no food. We had to cook our own meals. One team member had already had a bad case of diarrhea after patronizing one of the eateries there, so we knew we had to be cautious. It was a hard place to work. It got harder when power went out for close to a week and we had sandstorm after sandstorm. At night it would get so hot we would bring out our mattresses to the corridors and leave all doors including the main ones open. You’d barely get good sleep, and would have to wake up early and go find some water to bath with, food to eat, before heading out to field. I was homesick.
The afternoons became so unbearably hot, with the sun blazing, we had to work in the mornings and nights only. So, it was so for a little over two weeks. You’d find me, backpack on my back laden with soap for my respondents, cap on, earphones in, shades on, walking across the park, beyond the mud-pond to the northernmost part of the town. Then back. Then up there again. Then back. I would pretend I couldn’t see the pigs anytime I walked past them. The loud music in my ears ensured I didn’t hear them either. It was a hard place to work.
Damanko brought me face to face with realities I now realize I needed to come to terms with. Some events changed ideas I didn’t even know I had formed. Damanko broke me. It was there that I learned that I had actually been taking some privileges for granted. I learned that you cannot truly tell who you really are when you have not faced most trying situations. Other things happened, removed from the research work, that made that even clearer. There were days I couldn’t bring myself to be friendly with the people I met. I wanted to go in, ask my questions and get out. I was too tired to empathize…too aware of my depravity to feel anything else in the moment. It was hard.
One morning, on my walk up past the park, I forced my self to look at the mud-pond and slowed down. I even took my earphones out. Could I blame them for wallowing so comfortably in filth like they belonged there? They belonged there. Their nature is so. I was troubled and I wasn’t even sure why I was, on that particular day. Before then I had done a lot of observation and talking with my respondents, and taking note of things about them. But Damanko was different. There, I considered myself in raw and honest ways. Maybe sometime much later in life, I will spill the details of it, but…
It was an awakening.