Stories from the field

Day 2016-07-18

Charli Mohammed – Blog 2: The wonderful world of fieldwork

Hello friends of the blog-reading world,

I thank you for taking the time to read about my journey in Singapore thus far. As you may recall from my first blog post, I am researching the food and eating experiences of Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore for my master’s fieldwork in anthropology. During my time here, I have had the opportunity to interview many domestic workers, employers of domestic workers and representatives from organizations who work with foreign domestic workers in various capacities. The findings have been quite thought provoking and insightful. Though I am not able to reveal the details of my research findings just yet, I will provide with a short preview of what is to come as well as some personal reflections which have arisen from my fieldwork.

In my four weeks here, I have had the honour of being invited to various community gatherings with my new domestic helper friends. Indeed, these invitations have been a wonderful surprise. The women have been very welcoming and consistently generous in every encounter, always offering me tasty delights and invitations to participate in activities. These gatherings are very special because foreign domestic workers in Singapore only have one day off a week (Sunday), at most, and many have only 1 day off a month or no days off at all. So when the women finally have the opportunity to meet, they certainly make the most of their time out! The spaces where these women hang out are always vibrant on Sundays; energetic music and dancing, aromas of wonderful food, and laughter filling the air, as these women connect with fellow migrant workers who have now become their family. Thus, when I had the privilege to attend these various outings, I developed a deep understanding of how important these social bonds are for the health and well-being of migrants in a new country. Some of the events I have attended have included a sports tournament, Hari Raya (known as Eid Mubarak in Canada) gatherings, and a beach party. Regardless of who I am with or which event I am at, I am always welcomed with open arms. I am deeply grateful for these experiences.

Though there have been many wonderful experiences, I have experienced some natural challenges as well. One of my personal hurdles is the guilt I have for the privileges I have been afforded with, of no doing of my own. My participants are not able to access the resources that I am able to, yet they are constantly showing me acts of generosity. Indeed, this has been a personal struggle. However, a positive outcome of this guilt is my realization of the importance of making my work impactful. In return for all their generosity that these women have given me, I can share their stories of bravery and perseverance. Through giving them voice, I can also present their queries and concerns with their current living conditions in hopes of creating a positive change.

My interviews are all conducted in English because I am not fluent in any of the Indonesian languages. As the great Branislaw Malinowski demonstrated, I am certainly not the first anthropologist to experience the struggle of not knowing the local language. I realize how limiting and unfair this is for the women. Not only are they expected to voice their experiences in a language that is not native to them, but also they may not be able to voice all of their experiences in the ways in which they would like because they may not know the English words to communicate such experiences or such experience may not be communicable in English. I have been slowly trying to learn Bahasa, but there is really only so much I can learn while out in the field for such a short time. Nevertheless, through this experience I have learned the necessity of being fluent in the language of my participants when I conduct my PhD.

Before I end this blog post, I must note one more important finding; many domestic workers have expressed gratitude for being able to migrate to Singapore. Some women have voiced that they have been able to afford and attainuniversity degrees while working as domestic helpers, as well as learn multiple languages, which they would not have been able to do back home. However, many of these same women also experienced hardships along the way and have vocalized the importance of assisting other domestic helpers achieve the same success which they have. They have voiced the importance of my work in allowing them to share their experiences, in hopes that it will help future domestic workers.

Okay friends, that is all for now. Thank you  again for reading my blog. Please leave me any comments, questions or feedback, lah (Singaporean phrase)!




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