The anxiety is starting to build in my chest. The day is here; field work. 30 days traveling the Central American leg of the Pan-American Highway- alone- with nothing but a backpack and Google maps to guide my way. I know this makes it sound like I am ill-prepared, but the journey that awaits me has consumed my thoughts for the last six months. Planning, waiting, and bureaucratic gymnastics. This has been my life for what seems like forever.
Since this is the first stage of my dissertation field work, I am expecting a good bit of disorder and chaos. I have minimal contacts in my locations of interest and I am basically traveling on instinct as I follow trends and behaviors that are relevant to my research. The primary purpose of exploratory research is to establish local contacts and find field sites for future study... I hope I can accomplish this.
The days before leaving for the field are always bitter sweet. On one hand, I am excited to hit the road and finally accomplish some of my research goals. On the other hand, I am filled with heartache because I have to leave those that I love the most behind for a month. It always helps to have some pre-departure rituals that serve both of these conflicting emotions.
The first is "the pack." To the left is an image of my life for the next thirty days. 5 shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, and 2 pairs of shoes make up my wardrobe for the month. One bag of toiletries will keep me clean-or clean enough-for those days that I can stumble upon a shower. These damn things take up a lot of space, but they are an unfortunate necessity. The pack is also loaded down with a number of tools that I need to properly carry out my research: laptop, Kindle, notebooks, Spanish dictionaries, etc. These are my lifeline and probably the most important items that I'm carrying. Lastly, I always pack a number of "locust items", such as cheap watches, old phones, and other items of little value to me. So, what are "locust items?" These are the things that are often easy to hand over during the hards times that one may encounter while on the road. During robberies and barters, these "locust items" can be shed without any real harm or worries. Wal-Mart is always the one stop shop for these. That's it. That is all that I need to survive for the next 30 days. Gazing at this photo fills me with a sense of freedom as I realize how little I actually need to survive for a month.
The second pre-departure ritual is a must for anybody that is leaving their families for an extended period of time: quality time. This ritual doesn't necessarily quell the heartache that comes from extended periods of research, but it at least makes the best of my remaining time with my loved ones. Rachel and I have tried to spend our last days together simply enjoying each other's company. When you know that your time together is limited the world always seems entirely different. Gone are the little things in life that cause you stress. Absent are those kinks that cause tension for any couple. The only images are the ones that we love about one another. Hanging with our dogs (literally), dinner with friends, even the simple joy of curling up on the couch together to catch a terribly great movie. I've left Rachel behind in the past, but this time is especially difficult for me. Even as I type these words I can feel that tremble blossoming in my chest. There was a time in my life when heartache was never on my emotional radar, but as my mind becomes more family oriented it is difficult to leave home knowing that I cannot be there to comfort those that I love the most.
So, I've performed my pre-departure rituals and tomorrow it's a quick drive to the Gainesville Regional Airport where I will ship off to Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela, Costa Rica. The plan is to shack up at a hostel in Alajuela and use the day to get my next week of travel planned out.