Okay, so it’s been a long, long time since I started an ethnographic project. I’ve been in Mexico, and even here in San Miguel, every six months or so over the last 7 years. I thought that starting this project, in a city that I know fairly well, would be fairly straightforward. What I didn’t expect is the feeling of being overwhelmed getting around the city.
When I’ve been here in the past, I usually take a hotel near the jardín. When you’re in the center of town, you’re in the center of everything, and bumping into Americans or Canadians (a.k.a. potential informants) is as easy as asking for information or simply striking up a conversation. I’m living a small colonia right next to the “zona centro,” at most a mile from the jardín.
This morning Ken, the childen and I set off early to find our best route to el centro and to locate the camps where the childen will be spending their days while Ken and I work. As we walked, I quickly realized that this city’s grid is not so much a grid but series of meandering streets that follow an approximate grid, but not quite. My hometown (Morgantown, WV) is actually quite similarly laid-out (over the face of a mountain). So we walked, got confused, turned around, hit a dead end (for construction) and then found that my son’s camp location is not anywhere near where I had been told, but a long drive north of town (and for all my purposes, completely unfeasible). In two and a half hours we walked 4 miles (according to my pedometer) and got home grumpy and exhausted.
And I didn’t talk to a single retiree.
I brought a copy of my old hard drive with me, and I started to peruse my fieldnotes from 1999. I came across an early entry where I noted that I had been in Textitlán for five days and hadn’t gotten a single interview. Ah, how those (terrible) memories of being a new fieldworker came flooding back. It takes time, and although I’m a seasoned researcher, I need to give myself time: time to adjust to my new neighborhood, time to rest up after the hellacious trip yesterday, time to find the best routes through town, and time to find a taquería that makes outstanding tacos al pastor. Things will start to come together, but they won’t be together today.