Stepping off the plane after landing in Kigali, Rwanda, the air was smoky from households burning firewood to cook food. After spending a few days in Kigali to pick up permits, get some supplies, and meet with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Rwanda Development Board to further discuss my research plans, I was off on the bus to my first field site. I arrived at the tourist reception center, Uwinka, in Nyungwe Forest National Park, in the pouring rain. The reception center is at the top of a mountain, and my field site was a long 12 meter hike down to the bottom of the valley. I hired two porters to help me carry my luggage and supplies down the steep mountain. Slipping and sliding on the clay soil that was increasingly difficult to walk on, it dawned on me that I was experiencing my first very difficult day in Rwanda. After three hours, I finally made it to Banda Village.
For three weeks, my field assistant and I trekked miles and miles over Banda Village, asking farmers about their cropping systems, what crops were planted, what wild animals were seen eating the crops on their farms, and during what season crop raiding by chimpanzees was the highest and lowest. Over the course of that time, I met so many amazing people - so many Rwandans that went out of their way to help me get things I needed, and some very special people who helped me when I got sick and lost four days of interviews. Some days were harder than others, especially the days I was sick and the day my iPhone was stolen. Some days were absolutely wonderful, like the day my cook brought me her kitten to play with because she knew how much I loved animals. Every day, however, I learned something new about this culture, about crop raiding by chimpanzees and other wild animals, how to do research in the field, and most importantly, I learned new things about myself and what I’m capable of.
Patience and flexibility. That has been the name of this game so far. Planning research in a different country and trying to get around the language barrier required patience. Arriving in the country and having people tell me something totally different than what was communicated before required patience. On top of that, it required being flexible enough to adjust my schedule and research methods to make my project possible. Whether due to rain, sickness, or communication challenges, field work can often be an uphill battle, but it’s a hill I’m willing and eager to climb, and I look forward to whatever the rest of the summer has in store.
-Kira McCall, 2016 TRI Fellow