Back from Nicaragua

A lot has happened since my last installment.  Most importantly, our research group has safely returned from Cuje, Nicaragua, plenty of data in hand.

Working in a community with such limited means of contact with the outside world means we never know exactly what we’ll find when we get there, and despite our somewhat unexpected arrival, our first summer research team was met with nothing but thorough hospitality and friendliness.  My group (composed of myself and two other student researchers who needed to visit homes in the same community) spent eleven of our thirteen days in the field, hiking from house to house (and what sometimes felt like mountain to mountain), interviewing residents, and attending community functions.  As usual, the first few interviews showed the flaws in my carefully thought out questions, but after a few adjustments, my amazing translator and I were able to run a short conversational interview asking participants about communication, participation, and organization in their community.

We had the privilege of being invited to two different community meetings, one an organizational update with the local leaders, and the other a training session on making organic coffee fertilizer.  At both of these functions, we were asked about our group’s intentended actions in the community.  While speaking to represent our organization was certainly daunting, the opportunity to listen to residents and discuss ideas was exactly the sort of meeting we needed to have.

We also heard about (and sometimes experienced firsthand) how some factors effect communication in the community.  More than one meeting was canceled when rain made the muddy trails on the mountainside impassable.  One resident described his frustration in being unable to buy even a few sheets of notebook paper to use to send messages about community events.  Learning more about what hinders communication and the systems people have developed despite these obstacles both informed and inspired my commitment to this research project.  And of course, remembering the trip’s many lighthearted moments, like watching two brave teammates ride a Cuje horse, or dancing in my first tropcial thunderstorm, leaves me smiling.

After returning and recuperating, I began extracting the data.  In the past week, I have entered, coded, and started to run statistical tests on the responses to the summer interviews.  While working in SPSS is never my favorite task, it is still exciting to see trends emerge from the data.  The ability to interview so many community residents on this trip also provided a great benefit to the ongoing social network analysis.  This method provides a visual representation of the organizing relationships between community residents, and statistical measures of who might act as future communicators and organizers.  Integrating data from this summer helps to make the network more comprehensive and therefore more useful.

Currently, I’m continuing to process and analyze data, document results, and explore new ways to improve and utilize the social network analysis.  The next week should produce a batch of results from the summer data, and then the new adventure of integrating these results into a readable research narrative that describes the team’s ever-growing working knowledge of the community can begin!

A rainy season vista from the trail

A view from the trail