Monday, October 8, 2012

Artsy fartsy and research methods

This semester is shaping up to be about two things: creative endeavors and research methods. That's good, because working on creative skills keeps me healthy, happy and sane, and working on research methods will make the rest of this PhD go a lot better.

On the creative side, I'm painting with a friend once a week. The first day I went to her house to work I happened to be kind of stressed about various things, but about two hours into fixing trees and warming up my sky, I realized that in focusing on making something, I had forgotten about everything that was bothering me. Drawing pictures is one of the only things that has that effect for me, although other creative projects can come close sometimes. So my theory is that more drawing now means fewer wrinkles later.

I'm also taking dance lessons, one by myself in a big group, and one with Lukas in a small group. In the big group, our Peruvian instructor teaches in German but counts in Spanish, and the rest of the class looks about 19. Every new dance partner is delighted to discover that I speak English, and tells me about his last US vacation. In the class with Lukas, however, we count in a funny dialect where Zwo means 2. Who says Zwo!? I've never heard Zwo in all my five years in Switzerland. I understand a lot of what she says, but not as much as I would if she were more inclined to say "Zwei" or even "Zwoi." But we're still learning, and we're not even too bad at it.

And research methods...well, 3 courses on the subject. I should be research design competent by the end.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Poster! And kinda proud of it.

We're getting ready for the Swiss Researching Africa Days conference in Bern later this month. My work partner and I still have a paper and presentation to finish writing together, but at least my poster is done! It's not really a normal academic poster...but I like it. Feels like it has my stamp on it. And I re-learned a lot in Illustrator in the process of making it. Look for it soon decorating a University hall near you! :)

check out the more readable version.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A blog post. Forsooth.

I'll pick up where I left off: in Acts, in Sunday School. Yesterday I had the 9 to 12 year olds in class, and the first part of Acts chapter 8. This class is a bit of an odd compilation. Four little boys and five mostly older girls self-sorted by gender into a half circle of chairs in the seminar room, with three empty chairs between them for buffer. It's only about 8 steps from the door to the chairs, but Jeremy fell on the floor three times before he even got to his chair (this might have really stumped me, except I remember when Brian was like this). Then he fell out of it a few more times before he and I had a chat in the hall, and I said I didn't mind him sitting on the floor if that was more comfortable and less distracting for him. However, rolling back and forth across the circle, crawling around on all fours, or flying airplanes from his seat on the floor weren't encouraged. Deal? Deal, Jeremy said. And we did 20 jumping jacks together as fast as we could to get the wiggles out before we rejoined the class.

But the rest of class was pretty much more of the same, times 3, as two of the other boys are quickly pulled into his funny, distracting antics (and come up with their own fair share). I wanted to let the class illustrate the story on the white board as we talked through it, taking turns adding a part of the story to the picture, and then letting someone else carry on. Jeremy started us off by depicting church persecution as a mediaeval warfare, complete with fireballs being launched at castle walls. :) Last time I taught this class two weeks ago, some apostles landed in jail. "The next day," I said, "the high priest ate his cornflakes and brushed his teeth before putting on his tie and heading for court." While the girls gave me strange looks, Jeremy raised his hand and asked with a mischievous little gleam, "um...could it have possibly been Lucky Charms, not cornflakes, he ate?" :) Jeremy and I undersand each other sometimes. Yesterday by the end of our lesson, someone...not quite sure who...had also added an alien invasion to the story of persecution and the Samaritans belief. Adding aliens to the picture actually didn't bother me (you can understand the point and limits of a story and still engage in some imaginative what-ifs. What if they liked Lucky Charms, for example?) but generally not following directions, not stopping when asked, talking over me and others, being excessively silly when we were talking to God and fiddling with toys, papers and rulers they'd brought in their pockets did bother me.

After class the four of us had a talk while the rest of the class waited in the hall. "What was the problem today, guys?" I asked them. They looked at their hands a lot and finally concluded they'd been a little too excited about getting to draw, but they weren't sure what I should do about it. I suggested talking to their parents might be where I'd start, and they were instantly sobered. The problem with trying to have a stern talk with kids who are being silly and disruptive is that they're awfully cute when they know they're in trouble...apparently some parents have been talked to before about sub-par sunday school behavior, and access to a much-loved electric train set depends on good behavior in sunday school. Jeremy was sure he wouldn't get to play with it "for three years!" if I talked to his dad, and was almost in tears about it--so upset he couldn't find the words to tell me what the problem was. Thomas bargained on his behalf. "What if you don't talk to our parents this week, and next week, if we're not very naughty...actually, if we're not naughty at all next week....ok, if we'll try to be good, and if we're even a little bit naughty, then you could talk to our parents." "So you're asking for another chance?" "yes, literally." (dude. so cute.) Alright, I said, and we agreed on a couple simple rules for how we'll interact in my class next time and I said they could go. Instead, they hung around while I packed up and they told me about their train sets, one of which even has an overpass! And I thought, gosh. I like these boys.

And now: back to writing my Research Colloquium presentation.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday School

I'm teaching Acts 3-4 to 6-9 year olds this morning. In casting around for some interesting supporting materials for my lesson, I found this guys' creative combination of flannel graph and rap: .
Alright, I know what you're thinking:
a) He said "butt" and who says that in Sunday School?!
b) It's too fast for kids, especially kids at BCF who aren't necessarily great at the whole English thing, c) It's arguably not a serious enough tone/misses the value of the passage (albeit more on point than his Acts 3 video).

But it was funny. :)

And, another interesting/creative rap take on part one of this story:

Hmm. There's more than one way to tell a story! And for all you peeps my parents age and over: they probably don't know the etymology of the word "stud" and mean only respect.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Swiss Wilderness. And Stuff.

Well, I don't have so much to say. But I have some pictures from the past month or so to share.

I like my home workspace. I don't love that my back is to my windows, but other than that, it's the right size, and the look makes me happy. Work at home is nice. :)
 Ahhh, summer. This was actually in Cortona, but I love the light.
 Basel also looks pretty good in the summer. I've been enjoying swimming in the river with Rebekkah in the evenings, and running by the river in the mornings. My running partner left for her fieldwork trip (that's the trouble with running with other PhD students!), so I'm on my own or running or riding my bike with others who I don't always get the chance to run or bike with.

 Sooo pretty, isn't it?

 Work lunch at a colleagues' house. I love having interesting, hard working, funny, hospitable co-workers. And, chandeliers seem to proliferate in my life lately. Two here, two at home...chandeliers everywhere. These are super cool, though.

Everyone has their grumpy spells, and what does Steph do when she's grumpy? She makes stuff! Last night it was banana - zucchini - walnut bread. A couple weeks ago I made curtains. They're not quite done, and since these photos were taken, I added silver curtain clips and rings. Looks better, and opens better.

The 1st of August was the Swiss National Day. I was off in the Canton of Graubuenden with my roommate, right on the Italian border, galavanting through the mountains for four days. 

Or more accurately, I was huffing and puffing as I walked slowly up the mountain, and then holding my breath as I tiptoed even more slowly down the steep, gravely hinterside. 

But alas, I made it out of the Swiss Wilderness alive, even if a little disappointed that I didn't see any of the two (or is it actually only one?) bears that supposedly roam those woods.

I did see several marmots, red deer, and a squirrel. And the wildflowers were amazing. Other than Edelweiss, which is a hardy-looking little plant, I'm always impressed with how delicate the mountain flowers seem. Little dainty forget-me-nots in the prettiest baby blue, against rock and ice. It's stunning, really. That was my first time to the mountains this summer (didn't work out last time). As expected, it was very relaxing. We hiked in the oldest national park in Europe, and it looked a lot like Washington. Gotta say, though...deer evidently are more exciting on a hiking trip if you didn't see them in your backyard every day growing up. Herds of Elk still impress me...those used to wander through our yard every fall, but they're really beautiful animals. And I would have been completely impressed with the bear!

 Oh, and we visited a glacier.

 Sara is undaunted by "Glacier avalanche zones: enter at your own risk" signs.
This glacier has been rapidly receding. As we approached, we passed signs marking where the glacier reached to ever ten years or so over the past century. Representing it that way made it much more real.

And, finally....Basel Tattoo. This was earlier in July.

And that's it for now!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Happy Independence day! Today I wished my Swiss office buddy Pierrick a happy Independence Day. He said, oh, thanks. Then he said, "But it was the 1st, wasn't it?" Pierrick, my very patriotic Swiss friend, your Independence Day is August 1st. Ours is July 4th. I think we've got it all straight now.

A song for your 4th of July:

It has very little to do with the holiday, except: Fireworks are my favorite part of the 4th of July. Fireworks are red. I'm wearing a red dress with ruffles in honor of the land of the free and the home of the brave. Red dresses with ruffles are romantic. This song is almost too romantic for me to like. Therefore, this song fits the 4th of July.

And, gee, this reminds me of my favorite joke: Know why the firetruck is red? 

I'll tell ya later.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Painting in Tuscany

I'm recently back from Tuscany, where I attended a PhD summer school for 5 days, presented my research context to peers from around Europe, met a pretty cool Portugese cartoonist professor who encouraged me to read in the non-verbal cognition field for direction in my project, and where I spent 3 extra happy days drawing olive orchards and Italian streets. I'm slow at painting, so I didn't finish anything while I was there, but here's one that almost done (upper left corner is mostly done...everything else still needs some work. I'll post a new picture when it's all finished!):

Plus, a lot of inspiration for more paintings from Cortona:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

For Uncle Ernie and Pat...for reminding this lazy blogger to write.

Alright, alright. I promised a few people I'd write something before I leave the US, so just in time, from the state of New Jersey, with the statue of liberty just across the way: a blog post.

I enjoyed going to two weddings while I was in the States this time. Both brides are friends from George Fox, and it's hard to believe I've known them for 9 and 10 years, almost. That's a long time!  Here Christi and I are, getting ready in the Safeway bathroom...

Congratulations Jessica and Chris! 

And, that's your blog post, folks. Consider this a warm up for more interesting posts in the near future.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Zambian Water Diaries

If I left you to surmise from my Facebook photos or previous blog posts just what I've been doing in Zambia all this time, you might conclude that I've spent it sitting around a fire, picking on English people, and eating out in big groups. Thought I'd better tell you how work is going, so you don't get the wrong idea!

Matthew Gandy writes that the history of cities can be read as a history of water...
That's how my research proposal starts. (Matt, if you're reading this, maybe I could get a commission? I've been sharing your insight with a lot of people lately!)History is about dynamic relationships--among individuals, institutions, nations, technologies, and the environment. To consider the history of a city in terms of its water, or to understand how water shapes relationships in that city today, we could consider the technologies that link people to water (and thus to each other) in specific ways. Stand pipes, water meters or kiosks, flow restrictors, leaky plumbing, and billing systems are some of these technological artifacts that frame the organization and management of the socio-natural waterscape in African cities. The research questions that are central to my work here in Zambia are:

1. In what ways have changes in technologies and laws framing the waterscape in Lusaka (and possibly other urban areas) changed women's daily habits and interactions with water?
2. How do these changed practices, habits and expectations open different possibilities for the configuration of water use and social relationships in the city?

As a first step toward answering these, a couple weeks ago I printed up 40 copies of a water diary packet and interviews. My assistants and I went from house to house, mostly in Garden Compound, calling "Odie" ("knock Knock")past open doors, and explaining in Nyanja, Bemba and English that I was looking for women willing to talk to me about their water practices. Then I held my breath for a week, wondering if I'd actually get a single complete diary back. Also, I felt like a squirrel as I distributed study packets to mostly un-numbered houses, on dirt streets without names. You know how squirrels bury nuts all over the neighborhood for Winter and then forget where they put more than half of them? My assistants said they would definitely remember where we had left the packets and what day we were supposed to go back to get them. Half way,through, I started trying to write down dates and descriptions anyway. That ended up being helpful, but Tina and Sahzi also remembered some that I had forgotten. I don't know how many times this week they said things to me like, "Oh, we have the one on this side of know which one? You know, the lady with the kids? She took one packet?" The lady with the kids who took one packet. That description fits 90 percent of the women we'd visited the previous week!! As we collected papers from one of these places, I thought, why didn't they say, "you know, the place with the two puppies? One looks sick, and the other one is adorable?" I would have remembered who they meant then.

I've picked up most of my packets now, and I'm pleased to say that people have kept the diaries and taken time for the interviews. I'm learning some interesting things; I"m not sure yet if they are new insights or not. One that stands out to me is the diversity of opinions about whether water meters are a good thing. A couple people have said that they don't want a meter on their faucet, because if they had one, they would have to tell their neighbors not to use their water. As it is, they pay a fixed rate and are happy to share, but a meter, while it could lower their bill, would be a point of division with their neighbors. And who wants to feel stingy towards one's neighbors? Others mentioned the same problem, but they also have a well on their property. Neighbors are still welcome to use the well water.

Interesting social dynamics? I think so.

In other news, I've had some good meetings and interviews with organizations working in the water sector here, and it looks like there are great opportunities for me to link my research interests with their work! I might be joining one group as a consultant on social and gender implications around water solutions.

I think it's been a productive work trip. I have approximately one more week of serious work, and one week of light work combined with sight seeing. I'm looking forward to going to the Copper Belt. If you've been reading my blog for a long time, you might remember that I once quoted from the book Expectations of Modernity, which was about the copper belt area and was my introduction to Zambia. Great book! worth a read.

That's what's going on here. :)

Monday, March 26, 2012

home sweet home at the backpackers lodge

If you saw a version of this post that looked kind of out of character, it was complements of a block of cheddar sitting on my PC as I carried my laptop inside.

Nell and I were writing by the pool under a clear sky full of stars. It feels just like summer to me, even though it's coming on winter here. The evenings are still warm. I can still sit outside in a strapless dress at 19.30, but when I drink my instant coffee with peanut butter toast on the front patio at 7.30 am, I need a sweatshirt.

I've obviously waited too long to update my blog, because now I can't decide what to tell you about. Do I start with the cramped, upstairs print shop on Cairo Road, where I waited for 45 minutes for my water diaries to be inscribed on 730 pieces of white A4 paper, while one girl powdered her face and the other cut out hearts by hand for a wedding invitation? or maybe the friends I've met here: s'mores nights, and dinners out, shared working sessions and the sharing of folk tunes? Or should I get straight to the compounds, where a woman my mom's age asks me if I can bring water to her pipes again--they've been dry for 12 years.

I think it'll be more than one post.

The lodge said goodbye to several friends last week. On Sunday, Swedish firefighers Oscar and Alex went back to fight fires (now, they do fight fires and are 18 and therefore technically men, but they still think it's funny to, for example, poo in a friends' dorm room trash can, and they cook "epic mealtime" dinners. If you don't know what that means, you clearly don't spend much time with guys 18-27 yrs old. See youtube for clarification). On Monday, English Tom headed west for Victoria Falls, despite my offers to bake him a 19th birthday cake on Wednesday if he stayed a few more days. At 9, 9:10, 9:20 and 9:30 on Wednesday I found he had thoughtfully added four alarms in my phone to remind me it was his birthday. As if I'd forget. By Saturday, English med students Salma and Laura had left for a Safari in Tansania, and on Saturday the other two English girls--Charlotte and Laura--finished out their holidays by almost spending the night alone up north at the side of the road with some poached meat and their (understandable!) fear of snakes and the poachers themselves. Fortunatly, they didn't have to do that, and made it back to Lusaka safely and in time to catch their flight home on Sunday.

Thursday night a Dutch anthroplogist and an American Peace Corps volunteer who both live in other parts of Zambia were here. We have similar music taste and I enjoyed sitting around with them, listening to folk tunes and talking about anthropology and fish farming. We're all quite different--very different personalities and backgrounds. Funny how people can be so different and still hit it off. They are trying to convince me that I would be perfectly safe to hitch hike 6 hours alone to their villages to see them and to see more of Zambia than just Lusaka. Apparently Peace Corps girls hitch hike all the time without incident (there are 300 peace corps volunteers here), and every vehicle is a taxi. But other women say they wouldn't recommend it. Gregg says if I want comments on my blog, I need to generate controversy. Hitch hiking alone in Africa. That should do it. Discuss.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ski Camp

A tiny bit more winter, even though It's so sunny and warm here it feels like months and not just two weeks since I saw snow!

But from a couple weeks ago, video and pictures from ski camp (I'm easy to spot in the pink snow britches and black jacket):

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Doing Research in Lusaka

I'm in Zambia, where I'm doing research on everyday water technologies and household water use. Actually, so far, I haven't done that. I've been finishing some prep work, writing abstracts and consent forms and basically having quality time with my computer all day, every day. But that's ok, because quality time with the PC by a pool in sunny Zambia, or at a table in the bar under the cover of the thatch-roof in stormy Zambia, is still a pleasant change of scenery from Basel. Week one of my trip is mostly administrative and about making connections. Week 2...hopefully more researchy. :)

I'm staying in a dorm, but some people here are camping. It's less than half the price, and comes with all the same amenities, minus the bed. If I owned my own camping gear, I would have camped. What's better than lying in a tent and listening to the crickets sing?! Nothing that I can think of. Last night there was a yard full of tents and motorcycles out by the pool. This morning they're mostly gone again, except for one or two long term guests. One Dutch guy is camping his way through Africa, fully busy with his web design business. He's been on the continent 7 months, and is in his 3rd country. I'm a little jealous.

Most of the other guests are here for a few days to a few weeks. Several are working at a hospital nearby. There's an 18 year old English guy who is here for his gap year and who is cooking for himself for the first time. He tossed a pot of failed rice the other night, and--same meal-- held up a pot with about an inch of oil in the bottom and said, "If you were going to fry vegetables, how much oil would you need?" So, after that, we agreed I'd help him cook some food that's edible. Yesterday was a moderate success, with pasta, sausage, mushroom sauce and vegetables. And it even looked pretty!

Back to work I go. Also, if you haven't already seen it, I have finally added a video here (thanks to Gregg and his solutions).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Be gone, Winter!

Carnival came to Basel this week, and for three days the city was packed full with marching bands, costumed piccolo pipers, and tractor-drawn floats. A Waggi threw me a rose, and I was quite flattered! Other girls had whole bundles of roses from the parades, but this one Waggi (see first picture) made such a point that he intended the rose for me (attaching it to a clementine so it would reach me back in the crowd, motioning for everyone else to move, waving his hands dismissively at people in front of me who thought he was talking to them, acting exasperated when I thought he wanted me to move too, waiting for me to put down what I was holding so I could catch it...I mean, that's effort!!), it made my day and I couldn't have been happier with just one!

But what's Fasnacht without the din? Imagine hearing this for most of 72 hours, including at 4:30 am, and you'll know what my week has been like.