Posted in Fieldnotes

Is this fieldwork?


One of the uncomfortable thing about doing fieldwork is the constant feeling of being unsure of myself and my fieldwork. For your information, I am doing fieldwork on a weekly basis*. I am based with my family in the capital of Southeast Aceh, Kutacane, because it is more convenient for my family’s daily life. It provides the proximity to the central market and my son’s daycare (or PAUD) as well as the availability of decent brick house for rent. Not that I am saying houses here are not decent, but the number of houses for rent is very limited, I could count with two hands. Most people here live in wooden houses and those are more rarely being rented out. As I am living with my family, it is a reasonable choice to rent our own house instead of staying with a host family as we need some privacy and we don’t want to depend on a host.

I am doing a “mobile” and multi-sited ethnography, in which I stay in villages that I have chosen as my case studies every weekdays. In this two-plus months initial – and I must say, deep introductory – stage, I stay in one village for a week or two (well, now I am also considering to stay longer) and I come home every weekend. Less frequently so, I also hang out and travel with the national park officers and the conservation NGO, or go six hours away to renew my research permit and sometimes attend meetings at the headquarter of the national park (but not often).

You can imagine how sometimes all of my “moving around” makes me feel like I am all over the place, although I have to say that I’ve quite enjoyed it, actually. Also, I have mentioned that I am at home in Kutacane (almost) every weekend with my family, which brings me the constant switch-on and switch-off of the fieldwork mode, and the constant perpetuation and reminder of how it’s getting difficult to leave my three year-old. I mean, he’s fine but it’s getting difficult for me. Putting that aside, some questions arises on daily basis as I have this nagging “image” or perhaps “fantasy” around fieldwork due to my tendency to absorb the “rumors” and “myths” on fieldwork that makes me wonder whether what I am doing is fieldwork enough because I don’t know if I am immersive enough.

Is this fieldwork? Is this how fieldwork is supposed to be? Is my fieldwork good enough, am I doing enough? Am I wasting my time? How can I organize my fieldwork and my “data” better? Is it fine to blog during fieldwork (er, on weekends?) – not necessarily about my research, or is it a distraction? (hah! what am I doing right now?). I think what worries me the most is when I am feeling overwhelmed with the richness and complexity of the story and I am not sure whether I’ve document and organize it properly … and honestly some nights I was too tired to write my fieldnotes every single day, some nights I’ve only written one sentence, some moments will linger on my mind (fingers crossed) … I confess my self-discipline in journaling is my biggest problem … and whether it is okay to take some time away and braindump and rethink – shouldn’t I be fieldworking?

It is completely healthy to acknowledge these constant state of fieldwork-doubt, but it is also essential to be honest about the occasional feeling of being good enough. The “wow-I-can’t-believe-I’m-so-lucky” fieldwork happenstance, the shocking truth-bombs that were just casually being laid bare before me, and the genuine – yes, genuine, I think this is what I am feeling grateful about the most – relationship that are blossoming with my foster parents and brother.

It is my responsibility and it is the most important thing that I am not only “extracting” data from my surrogate parents and brother who are my interlocutors (informants?) and “gate-openers” to the rest of the community. I have to genuinely care about them like they’re my own parents, knowing their families like my own families, reciprocate their trust, and form a life-long relationship that goes beyond fieldwork. What a commitment, and to be honest I don’t find it very easy (but also not impossible), which is why I’ve limited myself and only have three foster families and one foster brother (and I am nervous that one of them is probably withering away). Sometimes, I am so reluctant to get myself into the whole day-to-day familial bonding (and anxieties) because honestly I don’t even get along perfectly well with my “real” family (like my “dynamics” with my parents and siblings). But, when my new foster families trust me that I am and will be there when they needed me, these are the milestones that I treasure the most from my fieldwork. These foundational relationships are my strength and later on hopefully (but I am not too ambitious) the whole village will also be very familiar with me – the weirdo student that keeps trying to do what they are doing and hang out with them for whatever reason and asking basic questions and talking nonsense – as part of their community.

Sometimes, I wonder whether people will think that I am not efficient with my fieldwork or whether or not I am getting my priorities right. But why do these imaginary people even care? I believe every fieldwork is different. I am sure nobody is thinking about how my day-to-day minutae details of fieldwork have to be conducted. I shouldn’t be looking at my own experience through other fieldworks’ “rosy-tinted glasses”. I mean, I shouldn’t compare what I am going through with the imagination of what other “awesome” fieldworkers were going through. I don’t even know for sure what was going on with them back then and how many of the stories are curated versions of their fieldwork the way people these days curated images of their life in their instagram feed. I have to forget about other researchers right now and bring the question back at myself, “what do I think is best for my research?

Which is why, for now, I am bidding farewell to Malinowski or Geertz or Margaret Mead or Jane Fajans, or you-name-it. Goodbye the coming-of-age “badge of honor” of fieldwork that feels like a distant and elusive enigma like heaven and hell in the afterlife. Welcome day-to-day personal questions, awkward minute-by-minute indecisiveness, unsure feelings and uncertainty. Welcome some merciful self-appreciation to keep me being proportional and fair with myself and keep me going.

Welcome fieldwork-acceptance, I have some work to be done.


*as suggested and done by other “mom-PhD-doing-fieldwork”, thanks Monique Nuijten (WUR) and Tania Li (University of Toronto). Also thanks to Annet Pauwelussen (Leiden University) for sharing the mom-PhD fieldwork feelings.

Posted in Bahasa


Entah saya yang makin paranoid apa gimana, sepertinya makin sering ada penampakan mata-mata alias intelijen yang mencurigakan. Mungkin ini hal biasa, apalagi bagi temen-temen aktivis senior. Tapi, bagi saya ini hal baru. Baru beberapa minggu yang lalu, saya merasa ngobrol langsung sama intelijen.

Seharusnya intelijen itu kan ngga ketahuan, ya? Dia bisa menyamar dan menyembunyikan diri sedemikian rupa, bertingkah se-biasa mungkin seperti di film-film. Tanpa mengundang kecurigaan, dia bisa menjalankan tugasnya untuk mencari informasi. Ketika dia ketahuan sebagai intel, berarti dia bukan intel yang lihai dong.

Orang yang saya curigai sebagai intel itu kayaknya terlalu gamblang deh. Ngga misterius seperti gambaran di film-film. Terlepas dari apakah dia benar-benar intel apa bukan, pertanyaan-pertanyaan yang dia ajukan menurutku sangat “mata-mata” gitu.

Saya hanya seorang peserta biasa pada sebuah seminar biasa waktu itu, di Universitas Al Azhar. Di tengah acara, bapak jangkung berambut putih dengan dasi kepanjangan dan penjepit dasi duduk di sebelahku. Dia mengaku baru selesai mengajar, lalu oleh Pak Rektor disuruh menghadiri seminar tersebut.

Kupikir, ni bapak sok akrab banget, tau-tau nyerocos ngasih tau alasan dia ikut seminar ini. Ngapain pula selesai dia ngajar ada Pak Rektor yang nyuruh-nyuruh dia datang seminar, seolah-olah dia datang bukan karena keinginan sendiri. “Kalau Pak Rektor yang suruh, saya harus datang, kan?” Tiba-tiba juga, dia nunjukkin KTP-nya yang tersimpan di kantong kemeja ke saya. Sungguh aneh.

“Ini yang ngadain siapa? (Padahal semua penyelenggara udah jelas tertulis di spanduk). Kamu dari mana? (Dari Jogja Pak). SPI itu siapa? (Pak, itu singkatan SPI juga ada di spanduk kaleee). Ada hubungannya dengan Gerindra?”

Pak … pak, kok dihubungin sama Gerindra sih, emangnya HKTI?

“Itu siapa si bule? Dari mana? Apa kerjanya? Apa institusi dia di sini? Dia meneliti tentang apa? Siapa yang membiayai penelitian dia?” (Pak kenapa ngga tanya langsung sama dia? Emangnya tampang saya kelihatan seperti jubir dia?)

“Kalo yang itu dari mana? Kalo yang itu?” (Pak emangnya saya bawa absensi nama-nama para bule di sini?)

Akhirnya dia tanya tentang salah satu pembicara, “Kalo yang bicara itu bule dari mana? Orang Jepang ya?” Nah, yang ini langsung saya jawab, “Pak, dia itu mahasiswa Bapak sendiri, orang Indonesia. Tadi Bapak bilang Bapak dosen HI kan? Dia itu mahasiswa Bapak, kok Bapak ngga tau, ngga pernah lihat?”

“Ngga tuh, saya ngga pernah lihat. Benar dia mahasiswa HI?” (yee si bapak ….). Bapak itu langsung sibuk baca artikel. Baru awal baca udah tanya-tanya lagi. Kali ini beda topik. “Kenapa banyak peserta yang keluar?” (laper kali Pak, lagian AC-nya terlalu dingin).

“Nomer telepon kamu berapa? Pake BB?”

Nomer Bapak aja deh, ntar saya miskol. Dengan catatan: kalau saya berminat.


Semoga pertanyaan-pertanyaan aneh ngga bikin saya malas buat ikut acara-acara kayak gitu lagi. Agak-agak gimanaaa gitu, karena jangan-jangan saya lengah, kurang jeli dan kurang waspada yang berakibat pada tindakan yang bisa membahayakan teman-teman saya. Tapi itu cuman pikiran saya aja yang lebay.

Saya ngga perlu takut. Apa yang salah? Kegiatan-kegiatan semacam itu ngga ada salahnya kok. Kegiatan wajar yang bikin saya bahagia, ngasih pengetahuan baru dan inspirasi buat saya. Dalam skenario seperti itu, apa yang bisa jadi risiko terburuk? Kematian? Kematian jasmani itu suatu kepastian. Hanya soal waktu. Justru sekarang-sekarang ini waktu yang tepat bagi saya untuk mati, karena saya belum ada tanggungan (anak yang bergantung sama saya, misalnya).

Apakah saya akan merasa kehilangan jika saya mati? Emangnya apa yang saya tinggalkan di dunia ini?

Manusia-manusia yang berlomba-lomba untuk mengkonsumsi? Persaingan untuk memiliki apartemen dan mobil secepat mungkin? Persaingan untuk mendapatkan penghasilan sebesar mungkin? Persaingan untuk dapat jabatan setinggi mungkin? Persaingan untuk melipatgandakan tabungan, deposito, valas, saham pribadi? Persaingan untuk tampil sementereng dan se-bergengsi mungkin?

Selamat deh, yang udah punya saham, tabungan, mobil, apartemen, rumah, tanah, dan juga bisa memiliki berbagai barang-barang konsumtif lainnya. Selamat deh yang PNS dan ngga bisa dipecat serta punya pensiun. Selamat deh yang kerja di bank. Selamat deh yang penghasilannya udah pasti dan bisa ambil kredit. Selamat deh yang punya jabatan ini itu. Saya ikut senang karena kalianlah yang dianak-emaskan oleh masyarakat, dan saya ikut senang karena bagi kalian kebanggaan itu semudah membeli barang mewah terbaru.  Saya juga ikut senang karena anak-anak kalian belajar dari orangtua yang terbaik, bukan saya.

Kalau yang menarik dari dunia ini cuma sebatas itu, saya tidak akan merasa kehilangan jika meninggalkannya. Dunia, silakan berputar terus, saya tidak ikut-ikutan dalam laju persainganmu karena saya tidak punya kemampuan untuk itu.