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Things Don't Always Go Smoothly

Posted on February 28, 2006

Oscar A. Barbarin (bio) reveals difficulties he had when starting research in a developing country.


I recognized that in South Africa, as in many developing countries, you can't set up things ahead of time. It's not as if I had this itinerary and a set of appointments. Much of that had to wait until I got there. And I also found out that they don't do business the same way as we do. Like here, you call up on the telephone, you set up a time. There, you have to go visit, and if they happen to be there, you catch them. And if not, you go back again.

I actually had an experience in Malawi, this is a slight diversion, where I was trying to set up a collaborative piece of research, meeting a scholar for the first time. And I did set up what I thought was a meeting ahead of time. I told him when I was coming into the country which days, so I get there, and find out that he's in another part of the country. And they're not quite sure when he'll be back. And the other unfortunate thing was that I happened to be staying in a guest house that was far removed from the city where the university was, didn't have any transportation, so I had to walk, or hitch a ride. In this case, I walked, about 7 or 8 miles to get to the city.

So things aren't as convenient often, particularly in developing countries. It's different if you go to Europe or other developed countries. South Africa is quite a bit more developed than many other parts of Africa, but you can't count on, you can't be on precise time. You can't expect to have things work smoothly, so you have to get there and be very flexible.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher in April 2005.


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