Promised update: still no news.
A few people have emailed and asked what I’m actually doing while I’m waiting, so I thought it might be interesting for you to hear about my week. I’ll keeping it anonymous and pretty general, because who knows what will end up being included in my research, but it’ll give you an overview.
The organisation where my research will be largely based often has volunteer meetings on a Saturday morning. Last Saturday I spent all morning with young volunteers and staff visiting families who receive financial support from the project in order to send their children to school. It was very interesting for me to visit the school children’s homes and see the interactions between the volunteers and the families.
I spent the rest of the day with my friend Bea who was visiting from London. I first met Bea in 2007 on a boat going to Si Phan Don in the very south of Laos when we were both backpackers. We only spent about a week together, but we’ve stayed in touch and it was really special that she came back and visiting me here. We spent most of the afternoon and evening gossiping, wandering along the Mekong and eating good food.
After a morning yoga class I had a very delicious Chinese dumpling lunch and catch-up with my friend Toni who is the yoga teacher.
In the afternoon, Bea and I went to a new Lao friend’s house for good chat and to eat delicious Lao desserts. It turns out that the woman whose house we were visiting knows some people at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (where my research proposal currently resides) and will make some inquiries for me to see if she can find out what is going on. I’m not writing that with any expectations- just an indication of how things often work.
She also gave me some lemongrass to plant in our garden, which I am disproportionately excited about.
After a morning visit to the market with Bea, I settled down in a cafe with my laptop to catch up with my research journal and to do some writing that I had promised my supervisors before our next skype meeting next week.
After a working lunch I cycled for what seemed like forever to a youth centre where I have offered to do a little bit of volunteer work. I met with the staff and agreed to run one after school activity a week which will focus on songs and games and very simple storytelling. I will also do some conversational English activities with the volunteers at the centre. After the meeting and being shown around, I hung out with the young volunteers and the children doing today’s arts and crafts activities – paper mache, mat weaving and making very cute little animals out of stones.
In the evening I got caught in an enormous thunderstorm as I tried to get a tuktuk into town to meet Bea to have dinner. I arrived drenched to the skin, but we still managed to have a lovely meal and a couple of cocktails and more good chat and it was sad to say goodbye.
A friend of mine is volunteering for a local non-profit association which is struggling to write up two research reports in a very tight timescale, so I offered my help while I’m waiting. Today we had a meeting that lasted most of the day to get our heads around what needs doing and who will do what. I’ve probably agreed to do a bit much – not like me at all (!) – but there will hopefully be a little bit of cash attached to the work which will help keep me out here a little bit longer.
I nipped out at lunchtime to have lunch with with a woman who I’ve been trying to get hold of for ages who works in a youth non-profit association. We talked about possible links between her organisation and my research.
In the late afternoon and through to bedtime I worked at home on the document that I HAD to send to both my supervisors today and on a bit of paid work that I’m doing for one of my supervisors. I’m helping Kay develop the facebook presence for Childhood Studies in Edinburgh – making my addiction pay!
This morning I met with a woman who works with an International NGO that supports vulnerable children here in Vientiane. I helped her think through and update the questions for a regular survey that they conduct with children and young people. We also discussed my research and how I can work with the organisation once my permission comes through.
In the afternoon I popped home briefly to ask our security guard (I feel I need to add that he is shared between 6 houses) if he could keep an eye out for the guys who deliver drinking water and buy 3 enormous bottles for us. Then I popped into the youth project where I am largely based but no-one was there. So I worked on my research journal and familiarising myself with the data for the other research report . I was thinking that I might go into town tonight but it is pouring with rain and the thunder is literally shaking the door-frames so I think I’ll stay in, get this posted and crack on with that research.
I usually attend a meditation group on a Wednesday evening but everyone seems to have a lot on right now so it has not happened for the last couple of weeks.
Tomorrow I plan to spend the morning catching up with my main youth centre and the afternoon running (ably assisted by young volunteers) my first after-school activity group at a different youth centre. I expect that we will sing “heads, shoulders, knees and toes” dance “the hokey cokey” and the children will laugh at my attempts to speak Lao.
Is as yet a bit of an unknown. Which probably means that – amongst catching up with a whole range of research-admin type things and maybe hanging out at the youth centre – I’ll get a massage.
Interspersed in all of this are regular phone-calls to the university to ask if there is any news. It can be difficult to find a balance between not pestering and reminding them that I am still waiting. And since I’ve stopped having formal Lao language lessons (it got too expensive) I’m always trying to find opportunities to practice.
This week I also started an online meditation course. Although that might sound a bit strange – it definitely took me a while to get my head around it – I think it is going to be really good. I genuinely see my meditation practice as an important part of my research, not because everyone here meditates – far from it – but because it is an experiential way to understand Buddhist teaching and culture. It is also something that I see as personally invaluable – I’m not sure if I would’ve got through the last 6 months intact without it. So in line with the teachings of this course I have upped my daily morning meditation from 15 to 20 minutes. I know, I know, not much, but still requiring a level of discipline that doesn’t come easy to me.
And next week I’m off to Bali for two weeks. I’ll take work with me but it is essentially a holiday. A week in Sumatra hanging out with orang-utans and elephants, then a few days chilling on one of the Gili Islands and, finally, a week volunteering at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Every bit of that sentence is exciting for me – but I realise what I’m most looking forward to is the sea. Oh I do like to be beside the seaside. And next week (ok, strictly speaking the week after) I will be.
Visa…what visa? My life is too busy to do a PhD…