Since coming to Guatemala, I have been consumed by mastering a song by Natalia LaFourcade. It’s called “Soledad y el Mar” (Loneliness and the Sea). With its lulling lyrics and its swaying rhythm, it’s the perfect bittersweet tune to play before bed. Week Three (25th Feb – 2nd Mar) was the week I finally cracked the chord progressions, a week in which I had to adapt to a different pace of work, to submerge myself in the data, and to remind myself to keep paddling to stay afloat in an unexpected third-week doldrums.
I finished my second week in Guatemala riding high. Having conducted almost 20 interviews and having held two talks in communities on the west side of Fuego, I felt productive and focussed. On Monday (25th Feb) I left my base at the observatory and moved east for a week to collaborate with different colleagues. These colleagues work in risk management with communities around Fuego, delivering talks and providing training. To be honest, I found the adjustment difficult. In contrast to life at the observatory, where the community was just outside the front door, I found myself isolated in the town I stayed in. I was fortunate at the observatory to have a friend willing to accompany me and introduce me to community members; as my new colleagues have other, more pressing, priorities, I waited for the approval to accompany them on their field work. Of course, this is all reasonable – it’s just I have little patience for treading water.
In response to this unexpected waiting game, I spent a good deal of the week transcribing and coding the interviews I’d already gathered and relating these back to my research questions. Nearly 20 interviews equal a flood: over 9 hours of audio! For those unfamiliar with the process, to code in this context means to review either the audio file or text transcription of your interview and generate a collection of themes that describe your data. Themes may include specific words, phrases, or the context of what was said, whereas data in this context means the content of the interviews you have conducted. The themes you generate from your data are not fixed but depend on the way you code. The process is also iterative: you should expect to code your data over and over again, finding and refining different themes. In this way, a complex conglomerate of different opinions, stories and anecdotes evolves into a project that is equally as complex but has the unmistakeable mark of time and process on it, just as an angular stone on the beach has been rubbed smooth by the persistent thumb of the waves. At the end of the week, I made a wish: that Week Four would bring a wave of new conversations that would push me towards the shore.
I also translated the song lyrics for whomever wishes: