I am so exhausted. Sunday night was a late night, out with Uncle Rene and his wife. We went to visit her older brother who is the Congo representative of Deloitte. Naturally. At this auspicious occasion, I was introduced to a five-foot tall Congolese professor who was both 1) drunk and 2) wearing man-capris. I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but suffice it to say that I learned all of his opinions on the president of Congo’s relationship to the Interhamwe, Rwanda’s benevolent dictatorship (his words, not mine), and all matter of other subjects I’ve managed to forget. I’m hoping that he was too drunk to remember inviting me to come speak to his classes before I leave, but you never know.
Anyway, it was very sweet for Uncle Rene to invite me out. He and his wife are worried about my lack of a social life in Bukavu. It’s unthinkable to Congolese that spending a Sunday at home alone is okay. His wife is worried that I don’t have a television. The only thing that made her feel better were my assurances that I do have a laptop. But anyway, they’ll keep taking me out. And actually, Rene has invited me to go with him on a trip to the interior if I have time, which would be super-cool.
That’s all to say that I’m really, really tired. And despite the fact that I talked to seven very interesting people today, I’m feeling like the day wasn’t as productive as it could have been because I only got 3 real interviews.
This summer I need to average 4 interviews a day every workday for the three weeks that I’m in Bukavu. This won’t happen, there’s no way I’ll come out of here with 68 interviews, but 50 is what I need. I’m almost halfway there.
S was in Goma last weekend before I left, so we had dinner that Saturday night. It was so much fun. We’re two of the only women stateside who work on political science in the Congo, so it was really nice just to be able to talk about our experiences and not have to filter everything through the lens of politeness/saying things that won’t get you arrested.
We talked a lot about how exhausting fieldwork is, about how some interviews are so disappointing, and about how you know when it’s time to leave the field (when you know what your subjects are going to say before you ask the question. By that measure, I should have left three weeks ago.). We talked about the very real stresses of doing fieldwork here as opposed to the south of France, or even Latin America or Asia. (Quite frankly, we put up with a whole lot more than do most of our colleagues.) I was glad to hear that this had been a positive for S in her experiences on the job market.
We talked about how discouraging the whole process can be, how it all wears you down over time, how you have to leave the field before it makes you crazy. “Whenever I’m feeling bad,” she said, “I count my interviews.”
She’s right. I discovered this week that counting interviews is a fantastic boost to an academic’s fragile self-esteem. And there are different ways to count your interviews: number of people interviewed (sometimes you talk to two or three people at once) and number of interviews period (sometimes you interview people more than once) are two of my preferred methods. You can also count by city, country, year, nationality, or any other easily quantified or qualified measure.
I’m tired, but there are 115 good reasons for my exhaustion. And counting.