Friday, January 20, 2012

Back from Kalehe 3: Network Field-experiment

In addition to the village mapping and the in-depth interviews (see the previous post), we also conduct a field-experiment. Actually this is the biggest of our three undertakings – we received a grant for this from Columbia’s Center for the Study of Development Studies to do this.

In brief, Neelan and I are interested in how Congolese villagers behave towards each other. How much trust do people have in each other? How benevolent are people towards each other? For my dissertation I am particularly interested in this for migrant populations. The big problem here of course is that if you ask for example the question “Do you like your migrant neighbor?” to an native villager, he/she is likely to say ‘yes’ – even if this is not the truth. In other words, it’s cheap to lie with a survey. One way to get around this problem is to do a field experiment – making sure that it becomes costly to lie (so that they don’t).

We therefore play two well-know types of field experiments: trust games and so-called dictator games. In brief, in a trust game a player makes the following decision: For each other player that plays I receive (for example) $1. I can keep this money, and then I have $1. However, I can also contribute this to the other player. If the other player (when he/she plays) also contributes back, my contribution is doubled and I received $2. If he/she doesn’t contribute back, I receive nothing. Thus you only contribute to another person if you trust this other person to contribute back to you as well. The second type of game (the dictator game) is much easier and doesn’t have this strategic component. You receive (for example) four quarters and you have to decide how much you want to give to the other player. If you give 1 quarter to the other player, you thus have $0.75; and the other player receives $0.25. This will get at benevolence. Interesting is that following theoretical work the best strategy in this game is of course to give nothing to the other player; so that you receive $1 each time. However field-work has shown that throughout the word people contribute between 20-40% (with some differences across cultures). I'm quite sure we'll find something similar in East Congo.

Just playing these two types of games would not be that interesting – thousands of studies have already done this. Our only contribution would be that we are crazy enough to do this in the Congo. No, we do something extra. These games are normally played specifically with people that have not had previous interaction. Often these experiments are played at universities and students are recruited via posters. But this is in many cases not how the world works! People often base their decisions regarding other people on experiences that they have had with them. For example, trusting a person depends on previous interaction - on networks between people that are already in place. So instead of recruiting subjects via posters at universities we go to places where people specifically know each other: Congolese villages. By doing this we will be able to find out what specific characteristics or what relationship between villagers are important in society.

So what do we expect to obtain? Playing these games will give us trust and benevolence networks. That is, we will obtain dots (indicating people) and lines between those dots (indicating contribution). But that's not all we'll do. Let’s say that we find clustering. That is, let’s say that 8 people all contribute to each other and another 8 are left out. The big question then is: why? What determines this? So we also obtain information about each player (ethnicity, migration status, etc.) and each player’s relationship to all the other players: Family? Work together? Same political party? Etc. Once we lay this information (what we call latent networks) over our trust and benevolence networks we will know what cleavages are important in Congolese villages.

There is so much more to tell (this not even half the story). Let’s see, four more things quickly. First, because of our interest in migrants we stratify our sample by migrant status. This is a difficult way of saying that we make sure that when selecting players we make sure that a certain amount is migrant (in our case half) and the others are natives.

Second, another interesting thing is that we take pictures of the players. A player of course has to make his/her decisions in private and working by name only would be difficult. We therefore make pictures and show the player that is playing the pictures of the other players, so that he/she can make a decision for each other player. This works well. It’s also great fun to be printing pictures of people in these Congolese villages - and having the people keep the picture afterwards.

Third, people that know the Congo and its people much better than we do strongly suggested not to play the games directly with money. So we needed something else to play with - something that is durable and looks like something you want to earn a lot of. We now play with colorful pins ("epingle" in french): each is a point in a lottery that we play at the end, so people want to earn a lot of them. Let's just say that it was fun running around Bukavu trying to find a substitute for money.

Fourth, we do a solid de-briefing with each player after the games to not only understand whether the player really understood the games, but also to learn why they contributed to some players and not to others. Yes, some people reply things such as “He is a witch-doctor, and has poisened somebody from my family”.

We play the games in several variations to learn even more. One variation in the dictator (the benevolence) game is the following: Players play the dictator game twice, once in public and once in private. The top picture shows Desire playing the game in private: it’s played in a schoolroom with only the player and the enumerator present. The bottom picture shows Eustache. It’s not too clear, but this is the public dictator game: the player sits in a room filled with the other players and several important people from the village. Needless to say we expect that all players will contribute more in the public game (all the other people are there present so you definitely want to show yourself from your good side). However, and this is because of our interest in migrants, we expect this change in increased benevolence to be bigger for migrants than for natives. The reason is that migrants are new in the villages and are not yet integrated, and we posit that one way of integrating is to be overly cooperative: overly benevolent towards other people. The migrants wants to signal that they are good and friendly people so that they can become members of the village – in the private game being benevolent is not a signal because it is played in private, but in the public game it is.

Last week we played our first game in Kabumbiro during a whole day. It was a lot of fun, and I think the villagers enjoyed it even more than Neelan and I did. We compensated the people for spending their whole day away from the fields (with an amount of money sufficient to buy some food for that evening). And at the end of day we have a lottery in which one person wins that same amount one more time, and also receives a Columbia University pen. We wrote a computer program in R that quickly calculates the game play of the people, and then the people who played better during the game have a higher chance of winning the lottery. In the picture we thank the players for their participation and explain one more time what we are going to do with the data.

Btw, there is reason we do a lottery and that we do not tell the people what total amount of points they scored. The reason is to avoid creating bad feelings among the players. Let’s take an extreme case: you play the trust game and contribute to all the other players. Then in the end you find out that you received a total of $0. In other words, you know that nobody contributed to you while you did contribute to the other ones. I wouldn't be very happy to figure out that my fellow villagers do not trust me. By doing this lottery we avoid these problems.

Villager, Neelan and villager. Houses are often tens of meters apart (if not more). Given several hundreds of houses to visit we’ll get our fair share of exercise. I haven’t touched my jumping rope yet.

These are women preparing cassix (not sure if I write it correctly). It’s a liquor made out of banana, water, sorghum. Put them together, then place it in jerry-cans and let it ferment for two days. Before placing it in a jerry-can it is more like banana-liquor. Better drink this without seeing how it is made; or more specifically, how many flies are on top of what you’ll be drinking.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Back from Kalehe 2

From the Earth Institute at Columbia I received a grant to do “village mapping”. In brief, one of the things I’m interested in is how migrants settle in a village. Do they now live throughout the village? Do they cluster together? And if so how? We know very little about this but theoretical work suggest clustering is important for things such as cooperation. We therefore go around the village and take the gps-location of all the households. And while doing this we also do a short survey to learn about a household’s migration history and things like their ethnicity, age, etc. We also collect gps-coordinates and information of public goods (projects).

The plan was to do this with a “normal” short survey. And not to waste paper I programmed the survey in four PDAs. Well; that did not work. The reason is that most Congolese prefer to tell a story instead of briefly answering a question. For example, to the question "In how many villages did you live?" a respondent would not answer “4”. No. The person would reply “Well. I was born in Nyamotwe. Then in 1997 I left to Goma for work. Then I lived there for 3 years, but in 2003 due to fighting I was forced to leave to Bunyakiri, etc. etc." You see my point. The respondent tells a long and we would only write down "4". BUT it's exactly this story - with all its rich information - that we're interested in! So: the Migration Game to the rescue.

This is me explaining the Migration Game. In brief, migration is a difficult topic to study. It is difficult to define because people move for different reasons (motivation-dimension), at different times (time-dimension) and to different places (location-dimension). Cutting each of these dimensions at a different place gives very different definitions. So to do it properly (in my opinion) one needs the whole story - the whole migration history. But to do a "normal" survey to obtain that information is time-consuming and flat-out boring. Not so with the Migration Game!

The Game is nothing more than a large game-board with codes and several pawns, on which you place a blank A4-paper that is to be filled out. This Game Board was designed together with my little brother when I was in the Netherlands last time - he is great in designing and now the board has an Okapi and all on it (the pdf is over 4mb big so I can’t upload it. I will do this when back). The point is that the surveyor draws the whole migration history of the respondent while the respondent is telling his/her story. A circle is a village. Inside those circles we have the name of the village and the Chefferie. Then between villages we have arrows indicating displacement. And next to these arrows we write why the person moved, with how many people and in what year. Then at the end when we have the whole migration history drawn we ask in which villages the person has fields and we place the pawns on the game-board as well. After also getting ethnicity information and the gps-location of the household, we’re done. We noticed that this doesn’t only give us much richer information; it's also much faster and more fun.

Another reason for me to be in the Congo (beyond the village mapping) is to sit down with people (especially migrants) and talk to them to learn about their experiences. Why did they move? Why did they choose this village? How were they received? What are the things necessary to integrate? Over the last years – especially with the large Tuungane evaluation – we have collected piles of data. I feel very comfortable with that – doing statistical regressions to obtain correlations between variables. However, this often leaves the mechanisms as a black box. Why are X and Y related to each other? Thus before leaving I met several anthropologists for tips and the weeks to come I’ll be sitting down with migrants. This work is not easy though and I have a lot of respect for people who do this kind of qualitative work. One problem particularly for us is that we’re staying only a maximum of a week in one village so it is difficult to build up a trust-relationship with a few respondents.

Let me give another example. On the picture above you see 4/5 of our team (fltr: Neelan, me, Eustache and Desire). The other people are friends of the chief. In a Congolese village it is difficult to just walk up to a household and expect the person to give information. He/she will want to know whether the chief is ok with it. In order to help us the chief sends a few of his aides with us. This helps a lot and people are willing to give a lot of information. The problem of course is that the people are very unlikely to give information about sensitive things that involve these aides or the chief. For example, one question that I’m interested in is whether NGO projects are captured. That is, "Who benefits the most from NGO projects?" And, "Who are the ones who generally implement the NGO projects?" Well these are very likely exactly the people that are present with us during the interview (the aides of the chief). And if this is the case, the respondent is very likely to give the party line “the whole village helps and implements” instead of telling the truth.

So our enumerator team (Desire on the first picture, and Jean-Jacques on the next one) is being trained to get around these things. One thing they could do is to send the aide away for an errand when they feel the respondent has a story to tell. Another thing they now do is to note down on the survey that they have the feeling that the respondent has more to tell, and then we come back later without the aide. Eustache, Desire and Jean-Jacques are not just enumerators blindly asking the questions of the survey but we really want them to be researchers. They know what we are interested in and they are now just as investigative as we are - if not more.

Btw, there is lots and lots of coffee around, but nowhere to get a proper cup of coffee (it’s wise to take Nescafe along when going to the DRC. Of course I forgot to include that in my bag as well). The reason is that while during Belgian times the DRC used to process raw coffee beans, they don’t do that any longer and most is exported raw to Rwanda.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Back from Kalehe 1

After ten days I am back for a day or two in Bukavu: saying goodbye to Neelan who leaves for NYC, meeting people, sending out emails, and updating the material and off we’ll go again. Many interesting things happened! And I have lots of pictures. But because of too little time, this and upcoming posts will mainly be pictures with comments.

We left Sunday early by public transport from Bukavu to Kalehe Centre – the capital "city" of the territoire Kalehe (Kalehe is sub-unit of Congo’s Sud Kivu province. The territoire is bordered on the east by Lake Kivu). Btw, with public transport I mean one of those small busses that is made to carry 12 people. Needless to say, we were with at least twice that number in the bus. Great fun though! It’s not only much cheaper than renting a car ($100 p/d) or bike ($25 p/d), it’s also much more fun.

We spent the first night in Kalehe Centre with brothers of the local Catholic Church. And Neelan, for the first time in his life, ate the Eastern Congolese staple food: foufou. Let’s just say his body didn’t like it too much.

This is the office of the Buhavu Chefferie. Monday morning we spent most of our time visiting the different levels of Congolese administration. The leader of the territoire has to see and sign your “Ordre de Mission”. And so does the chief of the Chefferie – this is a traditional unit with a king and one main ethnic group. Each territoire has several chefferies. And so do all the other administrative levels want to see and sign your documents: groupement, localite, village, sousvillage, etc.

In the afternoon we arrived in Kasheke - a localite on top of a mountain in which we have worked these last few days. Eustache still knew the chief from a survey he did in 2007, and I still knew the chief from the summer 2009 when we introduced the Voix des Kivus project in his village; so the reception was warm. The picture above is the team with the chief and his wife.

Neelan and I only stayed for three days at the chief’s house. Kasheke is close to the forest from which Interhamwe makes incursions into the village and the word that two white guys were staying at the chief’s house had spread to the forest. So it was wiser for us to stay somewhere else. So after three nights we moved to the bottom of the mountain where the Catholic Church has accomodations and we spent the last 6 nights together with Church's brothers there. This meant that every day started with a 30-40 minute walk up the mountain to reach the village (picture above), and down again at the end of the day. It was fantastic: gorgeous views over Lake Kivu!

A nice story. It's four in the morning. "Knock!" "Knock!" Neelan: “Peter are you awake?” Me: “Actually yes. I can’t sleep: I have diarrhea and had to throw up a few times.” Neelan: “Oh shit man. Sorry. He, the battery of the computer is dead. Could you charge it?” Me: “Sure. Btw, why on earth do you notice the battery is dead at 4am!?” Neelan: “Oh I just woke up as well to throw up.”

PS: And less than two hours later we left the pariosh to walk up the mountain to go back to work again. We really needed the computer that day to do a randomization.

And a cute picture for all the ladies that read this blog. :). Btw, I was doing the same while taking this picture.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Finally into the field again.

Tomorrow morning very early we are finally going to the field - territoire Kalehe in the province South Kivu. We won't go very far - maybe 90 kilometers away from Bukavu. Its already passed midnight, but we are (of course) still preparing. So no long post. I hope to be back online in a day or 10 - when Neelan heads back to New York City, and we will be in Bukavu to update our material with what we will learn in the days to come.

Friday, January 6, 2012

First few days in Bukavu.

Since four days I'm in the Congo and - as expected - they have been busy. Together with Neelan we hired three enumerators and we have been in training for the last four days - discussing the material, doing simulations, etc. We did the necessary printing and paperwork (contracts, survey material, ordre de mission, etc.). I opened a bank-account so that we don't have to carry 1000s of dollars around in the field. We met security folks in order to stay up-to-date (we about the situation, they about us) in the weeks to come. I met lots of people that I hadn't seen for a while (the last time in the Congo was eight months ago). And we did a million other small things.

Neelan!? Indeed, last Wednesday friend and colleague Neelan arrived - in one piece - from India via Nairobi and Kigali. It is his first time in Africa, so he choose the easiest African country to work in. :). And... he took my bag with him! So all those people who bet against me: pay up. We plan to leave for the field this Sunday; while several days later than expected, I'm much looking forward!

Yesterday evening we had a get-together with part of the Sud Kivu and Maniema enumerators of our TUUNGANE evaluation (the other part is still in the field). One of the things I still had to do (see picture) was distributing certificates of the training we did in the summer of 2010. Needless to say, we also had our fair share of Primus beer. It was good being together again.

Primus. Neelan is integrating well.

This is how we have spent most of the last four days. Training, training, training. From left to right: Desire, Jean-Jacques and Eustache: a power-team!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fieldwork: What to pack.

I’m heading to the Congo for two months of fieldwork – I expect to be in the field for say 90% of those two months. What do I have in my backpack (21.5kg) and hand-bag (given the pain in my shoulder definitely more than 10kg)? Also what is missing that I would like to have in my backpag for two months of fieldwork. Here we go:

In Congo people love official looking pieces of paper; this unfortunately includes authorities that can give you a hard-time if you don’t have these (folks at road blocks, security agents, etc.). So I have a letter saying that I am from Columbia University and doing fieldwork for my doctoral degree signed by Macartan and with Columbia University letterhead and fancy stamps on it. Another piece of paper to take along is an “Ordre de Mission” – an otherwise completely useless piece of paper that says where you go, for how long, why, and how. Again I have one on fancy Columbia University letterhead and signed by Macartan. Also for the enumerators that we will be hiring in the weeks to come I will have to make several. At the Columbia University bookstore I got myself some horrible-looking golden stickers saying “Columbia University”: I’m sure the authorities here will love them though.

Of course one needs the necessary visas in the passport. The one for the Congo I arranged via their Mission at the United Nations: $300 for a multiple entry VISA for 3 months. The transit VISA for Uganda I obtained –without any hassle – at Entebbe Aiport (another $50). And for Rwanda’s transit VISA Dutch people (this is not for Americans) need to apply online first, and then take the confirmation - which will be send via email - to the border-crossing (another $30 when crossing by buss from Uganda. At Kigali Aiport, if I remember correctly, its $50).

I have a fantastic Samsung B2100 phone that one can throw in a river or drive over with a car and it still works. It also has a strong flashlight, which is important in Africa where electricity is often off or non-existent. The battery life is a week with normal to heavy use. To be sure though I also have an extra two fully-charged batteries with me. Because during the trip quite a few frontiers will be crossed the phone is unlocked, quad-band, and I have sim-cards from Uganda (Airtel), Rwanda (MTN), and two from Congo (Zain/Airtel and Vodacom).

There is an ATM in Bukavu (yes really, see here) but it often doesn’t work. Fieldwork in the Congo (and everywhere else I expect) is expensive. For example, I plan to hire several enumerators for which one then has to pay salary, accommodation, food, transport. Renting a motorbike, for example, costs $25 a day without petrol. And this is only the enumerators. So I have 1,000s of dollars in cash on me. I also have Ugandan Schillings, and Rwandan and Congolese Francs on me. Because I will not stay at IRC accommodation I plan to open a bank account so that I do not have to carry around all the money.

Being a guy I probably spent too little time on this. Let’s see: three old blue jeans (of which I expect one or two not to survive the full two months), one Indiana Jones-y type of pants with those pockets at the side. Five or six shirts. I like taking shirts with me. They do not weigh a lot, they’re cheap (for the Dutch readers: I buy them at the Hema) and very useful: one can pull up your sleeves when it is warm, and pull them down when there are mosquitoes. Do make sure you buy them with a pocket at the front: good for the Moleskine and pen in the field and passport at the airport. It also comes in handy when having more formal occasions. I also have a rain jacket with me (it’s rainy season in the Congo), and also one of those jackets without sleeves but with a lot of pockets: great to carry the camera, GPS device, etc. when in the field. I also have two fleece jackets with me that will also be used as pillow and blanket.

I have a pair of Converse shoes with me, flip-flops and field shoes. I have two types of field shoes: “normal ones” that I also wear once in a while in the States and ones that are used by the Dutch Army in Afghanistan. The first time in the DRC (in 2009) I was wearing the latter with the Indiana Jones trousers and jacket and thinking that I was all field-y. Then Macartan joined me in the field in his Converse shoes, jeans and t-shirt: much more comfortable, and you look less like military. The latter is important in the Congo: gives you less trouble on the road and villagers are more talkative.

Polaroid stuff:
For the field experiments we will take pictures of randomly selected villagers. My bag therefore contains two Polaroid Pogo printers – with these one can print pictures on the spot from phone or camera. We plan to make a total of 80 pictures per village. So – given we expect to work in 30 villages – I also carry 2,500 Polariod Zinc sheets. To give you an idea these come in packs of 30 or 70; each being quite expensive.

I have one of those $300 Asus netbooks: they’re small, they’re light, and they have an amazing battery life (8-14 hours). My laptop now also contains all my emails, documents and programs that I need. I also have an extra battery, and a charger so that I can charge from a car’s cigarette lighter. In Congo one should take every possibility to charge your equipment. I also have Dropbox in which all my documents are stored, so even if I lose my laptop the documents can be accessed from anywhere online. I also carry a second laptop. This laptop is destined for JP’s family: JP is a friend in the Congo and he children are at secondary school and they should learn how to use the basic computer programs such as Word and Excel.

Columbia stuff:
My bag contains a Columbia flag, a Columbia cap, Columbia pens, and a Columbia t-shirt. I do like my university, but this serves a different purpose: Because I will not work with the IRC in upcoming months my modes of transport will not be decorated by big yellow IRC stickers or IRC flags. This ‘decoration’ is important though for safety reasons and also gives you an easier time at check points and the like. Thus: I have Columbia things for decorating myself and my modes of transport when necessary. Congolese in general like universities and the idea of research so let’s see how this works – I’m quite confident.

In places where light often doesn’t work, one can’t do without.

External hard-drive:
Congo is a rough environment and it would not be that strange if my laptop breaks down or its gets stolen. So it’s all about the back-ups – the last thing I want to lose is carefully collected data. So my computer’s hard-drive is empty and my bag contains a 320GB external harddrive so that there will always be at least two copies of everything. I also have a USB stick with me to use for file transfer or to print from Congolese printers.

Spare batteries:
In upcoming weeks it is likely that we’ll be away from electricity for days (if not weeks) at a time, so spare AA and AAA batteries are a must have for the cameras, the GPS devices, the headlight, etc.

Try to get cables so that you can charge equipment from different electricity sources. My phone, PDAs, Kindles, etc can be charge from the wall, my laptop, the car, etc.

I’m a big fan of maps, and I am thus one of those nerdy guys that carries a GARMIN around when in the field (a few years ago I treated myself for my birthday on one of those solid GARMIN 60CSx GPS devices: so cool!) Also, in upcoming weeks –for one of the field-projects –we will geo-map several complete villages – that is, we will take the location of each household within these villages – and for that these are of course necessary.

Other equipment:
I also have two cameras (just those small cheap, digital cameras) and one Flip video-camera with me. One camera is for a friend in Bukavu. The other machines are to make lots of pictures and movies. The reason is that while this is my fifth time in the Congo, I never really made a lot of pictures of doing fieldwork. However for marketing purposes (I’m getting on the job-market somewhere in the years to come) it is probably good to have a few cool Indiana Jones-y style pictures.

Of course I forgot my toilet-bag in NYC, so I’ll be growing a beard in the weeks to come (I’ll promise to post a picture but don’t expect too much).

I don’t have any anti-malaria medicines (Malarone or Doxycycline) with me. I used it the first time in the DRC and then stopped: it’s expensive, I forget it most of the time anyway and mosquitos don’t seem to like me. And it also gives me a reason to drink gin and tonics (tonic contains quinine). However, I did do my preparations. A friend is professor of medicines in the DRC and he gave me the contact information for hospitals in the area. I also forgot my Cipro. I do have soluble hydration powder, which is great.

Ideas come up randomly, and because that is how I should earn my money, a pen and a Moleskine notebook is ready at all times. This time I also took a bigger notebook with me knowing that I’ll be away from electricity a lot and expect there to be periods where neither my laptop nor my Kindle works. For the Dutch people, Hema has a Moleskine-type of books for a quarter of the price.

Get one! They are light, can handle so many books, and you can still underline and write notes. I downloaded several fiction books (some books of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Times” series), a Swahili course (yes, I’ll be studying), and some more serious books, among others: Autessere’s ”The Trouble with the Congo”, Dufflo’s “Poor Economics”, and Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons”.

Migration Game:
I also carry the world famous Migration Game with me. :). This is a game (including game-board) that I created in order to make interviewing migrants more fun (for them) and to obtain better information (for me) about their migration history. More about this soon.

Sleeping stuff:
The first few days in the field we plan to sleep in churches to see how the security situation is. Here you need to hire a room (often around $10) and then you receive a bed, dinner and breakfast. I have a thin sleeping bag with me that I cover myself with before heading into one of those beds. This blanket is super-thin, very light, but it gives you a clean feeling and can cover your whole body. In the evenings it can be quite cold so next to covering oneself with sweaters, this time I also took one of those heat blankets with me: let’s see. Most of the time, though, we stay over in the villages and then one sleeps on the floor in a villager’s house. My bag therefore also contains a small mattress – weighing only a few 100s grams. Ha! I’ll be sleeping like a king in the weeks to come.

Pocket knife:
One can’t do without. Opening tin cans, cleaning vegetables, and a million small other things.

Because I have a tendency to step on my glasses, a second set of glasses has been packed. My bag contains also sun glasses: let’s stay optimistic!

Jumping rope:
Last semester I rowed with Massimo and have the feeling that after many years I am finally (but very slowly) getting in shape again. Rowing in Eastern Congo is very unlikely to take place. And although I know the MONUSCO base in Bukavu has a gym that can be used, most of the time we will spend out of town. Also running is not an option for security reasons: the government soldiers wouldn’t know what to think if a nutty white guy would be running by. So jump-roping and push-ups it is (Friend and colleague Grant gave me the idea: in the summer of 2010 in Congo he was jumping up and down each morning).

For the TUUNGANE evaluation Raul and me trained around 100 enumerators in the summer of 2010. The enumerators still need to receive their certificates. So a few days ago I printer some fancy-looking certificates of participation with the color logos of the IRC, Columbia’s CSDS and UOB, put a large number of signatures on it, etc. and we’re ready to go.

Business cards:
Take them with you and give them to people and tell them they can keep it – people will like you.

Plastic file folder:
If you want your documents to survive...

What I wish I had in my bag but forgot:

My food intake in upcoming months is likely to be very monotonic. The staple is going to be foufou with – when lucky – goat or fish, and pondu (vegetables). And then some peanuts and bananas during the day. I have never done this before but while writing this I was thinking taking some vitamin pills along wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

Anti-bacterial liquid:
Also one of those must haves. I forgot it. If it can’t be found anymore along the way, find I’ll try to figure out something with soap and water.

Always useful.

When doing fieldwork it often happens that at around 5pm you find out you haven’t eaten yet that day. Good to have some power-bars with you. In the summer of 2009 I was in the Congo with friend and colleague Simon and he had lots of cliffbars with him – these work very well.

MP3 player:
I deleted all my music from my laptop, I lost my Ipod on a plane from Lyon to Bordeaux last year, and my fancy smart-phone is safely in the Netherlands. I am not a big fan of music but after two days I already miss it.

What is waiting there or can be purchased that I otherwise would have packed:

Lots of equipment:
We will use quite a bit of equipment, but luckily a lot of it is already in-country because of the TUUNGANE evaluation. We will use four PDAs to save on printing. Four Garmin GPS devices for geo-locating. Four solar chargers to have extra energy. Four photo-cameras. And a satellite phone. The latter again for security reasons: it is likely that we’ll be in areas without normal phone coverage and it is good to stay in touch with folks.

I already sent some dollars via Western Union to some friends in Bukavu (as back-up). That will be waiting there for me. Otherwise there is always Western Union.

Plastic bags:
I’ll be travelling via Rwanda and that means handing over all plastic bags at the border (in Rwanda they really dislike plastic bags). Unfortunately I’m not rich enough to buy proper anti-water bags so when arriving in the Congo I’ll be looking for plastic bags to wrap equipment.

I often have problems falling asleep when staying over in villages: animals are running around when you try to sleep (among others over you when you sleep on the floor) and it can be very cold. The solution is alcohol: take a few good sips of whisky before going to bed. I did not drink whiskey before doing work in the Congo, but after spending months with Johny Walker Red out of necessity in the Congo...

In Congo one should not drink water from rivers and lakes for obvious reasons. I have doubted about buying one of those UV-light sticks that kills bacteria in water. But I haven’t yet, so when heading into the field I’ll be carrying lots of water bottles. While water is often difficult to find, do note that beer can be found anywhere.

Printing and plastifying:
While we try to use PDAs as much as possible to save on printing (better for Mother Nature and there is to carry around) there are still 100s of pages that will be printed in the days to come.

Finally my bag itself is a 60 Liter bag-pack of good quality – my parents bought it 10 years ago for my little brother but I have stolen it since. My hand-luggage is actually a sporting-bag: the same bag I use for the gym in New York. This one is not very solid and is actually falling apart – I wish I had invested in a proper bag.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hello from... the Congo.

After a six hour bus-ride, and a taxi-motor from Rusisi town to the Rwanda-Congo border, I am now in Bukavu (one of the major cities in Eastern Congo). Jean Paul - a friend and colleague - met me at the Congo side of the border and we talked until late in a local bar about the TUUNGANE evaluation, the weeks ahead, and his new girlfriend.

My phone-number for the weeks to come: +243 998 399 330 or (between 5-6pm GMT+2 when I'm in the field and there is no reception): +88 21 643 340 520.

Comfortable ride from Kigali. A new bus, no animals inside the bus, and not too crowded. FYI: Kampala Express, $9 for a ticket, and the busses leave from Nyabugogo market in Kigali.

You're hungry? Go to a "RESTAURENT".

Beautiful views of Lake Kivu (picture taken from the back of a motorbike).

Random notes:

* The motor-ride from Rusisi town to the border was fantastic. To get to the border from Rwanda you go downhill from the mountain and that combined with the fact that it was 5pm, so the sun was going down, gave breathtaking views over Lake Kivu (picture above).

* It's my fifth time I cross the same frontier from Rwanda but only yesterday - for the first time ever - I was forced into the "Controle de Sante"-office. People wanted to check my vaccination documents. Instead of it being a time-consuming "lets-try-to-get-money-out-of-this-white-guy"-experience, it was fun with me ending up sharing a bottle of banana-liqour with the officer on duty. Also arriving at migration proper was good fun because I remembered one of the customs officials. I usually write in my notebook how they look like and their name so that when I meet them again I say their name and immediately move to BFF-status; which is great as it gives much less hassle.

* Because my bag got lost 3 days ago in Uganda this morning it was time for shopping. This is much more fun when you're not under IRC's security umbrella. Also, within an hour I met two people I knew: one is a Congolese IRC staff (all IRC's expats are still out of the country), the other was a driver I once spent time with for fieldwork years ago. It's really nice to be back.

* Shopping in Congo, btw, means that I'm now wearing a wife-beater with "50 Cent" on my chest, I am the proud owner of the ugliest La Coste polo ever made, and my Tommy Hilfiger underwear is now drying outside in the sun (no, I won't be uploading pictures). Oh, and also my trousers are about to pass away (see picture below).

* Just read my email and Macartan and Raul started a bet thinking my bag will never reach me. Raul even put a semester stipend on it. I just called Uganda airport and the back arrived from Turkey earlier this morning, and they'll put the bag on the plane today. It actually seems my plan might work.

* And I have internet at the place where I stay: "Auberge La Soif". And yesterday and this morning I even had running water. Ha!

I really would like my bag (with ao extra trousers) to be back.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A quick 'hi' from Rwanda.

After a not too uncomfortable 11 hours ride by bus from Kampala, I just arrived in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). To be more precise, at the moment I'm at the airport. Because my bag got lost somewhere on the way to Entebbe and I'm on transit to Congo, I arranged for the bag to be send from Entebbe to Kigali Aiport - so that Neelan can pick it up when he arrives here this Wednesday. To be better safe than sorry I took a taxi-motorbike from the bus-station to the aiport and talked with the lost luggage-folks to make sure that Neelan can pick up my bag without problems. After some paperwork, all is good. Actually things are really good given that I haven't been carrying my heavy bag around. :). The bus to Congo leaves in a bit: another 7 hours in a bus and we're back in the DRC!

Random things:
1. Yesterday in Kampala was great. Sitting on the back of taxi-motorbikes and crossing through town: Fantastic!
2. During the bus-ride from Kampala to Kigali I met Amiina - he is a statistician for the Rwandan government and works at their statistics office. He said he could give me access to datasets: Awesome!
3. I might be evil. Yesterday at the Kampala Coach Office I had to wait for an hour or so before boarding the bus. While buying a bottle of water an overweight lady pushed herself in front of me and gave me a very arrogant look. A little later after buying the bottle of water and sat down to wait for the bus the legs of a chair of a man who was sitting in front of me bended and he fell (the legs were plastic and the floor was very slippery so the legs gave way). Several minutes later the overweight lady arrived. Not having seen the man falling she took the chair to sit in it. Instead of saying something, I leaned back, crossed my arms and with an enormous smile on my face I saw her go down and even taking the whole table with her. :). That was fantastic! I have a smile on my face while writing this.
4. Eleven hours in a bus is boring and given the quality of the roads I also couldn't fall asleep. So I wrote a post on what is in my bag with the idea of having a post on "What to Pack When Doing Fieldwork". Soon to be posted.

FYI: My phone here: +250782110197

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year from Uganda!

After a stop-over in Istanbul I arrived this morning at 2am at Entebbe Airport in Uganda only to find that my bag was lost - and the airport folks not having a clue where it is. Lovely start of the year. The plan was to continue directly by bus to Kigali in Rwanda (11 hours in a bus if all goes well) and from there to Congo (another 7 hours or so).

But I don't know Kampala (the capital of Uganda) very well, so let's enjoy this. After the necessary paperwork I passed by the bus company (Kampala Coach) and around 5am I got myself a cheap hotel and a bottle of water. After a few hours of sleep I am now enjoying the city! And as you can see having a really tough time writing this post (you can't see this but I also have my shoes and socks off):

FYI: I just heard from Entebbe Airport that my bag will arrive on Tuesday (Jan3). I now have the bag delivered to Rwanda (Neelan should arrive there January 4 so he can pick it up), and I take a bus leaving Kampala this evening at 10.30pm. 18 hours or so of bus-ing ahead, but almost in the Congo. And maybe even with a bag in due time!

From Uganda: A Happy New Year!

FYI: my number here: +256752893702.