What am I doing here?

I get this question, and I ask it to myself, all the time.  It can be interpreted three ways:

1.  The check-in questionthe moment when I lose all orientation and linear thoughts derail is the “Wait, where am I? What am I doing, again?” moment.  We all have this moment, but Jake and I have experienced it quite a bit since our move from Las Cruces, NM.

A particularly salient example of this occurred the day after we arrived in New York City to house- and cat-sit for the month of August.  We arrived after a stressful move and were so disoriented, we decided to make a list of what to do first.  Simple things like: shower, buy food, mail letters, etc.

We sat at a windowsill overlooking Manhattan and I got out a piece of paper.

“Ok, first things first,” I said as my pencil hovered.

What I wanted to ask was, “Is the cat a boy or a girl?” (because we thought we ought to know), but instead, what came out was the following:

“Is it a dog?”

Jake’s response: “No.”

Scratch that off the to-do list.

2.  The big-picture question – why are we in Colombia for nine months?  (This is for you, Aunt Cindy – those uninterested in academic ramblings, please skip to #3).  Our research can be described as follows:

Our project focuses on grassroots peacebuilding efforts across 76 rural villages in the municipality of San Carlos, Colombia (in the department/state of Antioquia).  For nearly a decade (1998-2006), these villages were caught on the frontlines of the civil conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and three paramilitary groups.  Despite their proximity, villages experienced different types of armed occupation and violence wielded against civilians.  Since the conflict subsided in this region, the villages have also revealed stark variation in their reconstruction patterns.  In some villages, residents have demined public spaces and exhumed the bodies of forced disappearances.  However, in other neighboring villages no such organization has occurred.

The dissertation aims to show how the variation in civilian treatment during the conflict causes the variation in post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. Within that broad frame, there is also a focus on gender (how women are targeted differently and then play leadership roles post-conflict), and the development of an expanded theoretical framework for peacebuilding (one that addresses the root causes of the conflict). I believe this work is important for how policymakers and NGOs attempt peacebuilding, how they understand women’s role in that process, and as a challenge to the notion that peacebuilding is always a top-down process.

So there.

3. The existential question when research contacts don’t respond to emails or phone calls, when the rain won’t stop pouring in Bogota, or when Jake and I realize we haven’t spent any time apart from each other in the last few weeks, except for our respective trips to the bathroom (not necessarily a bad thing, but just saying…) I will sometimes turn inward and ask myself “What am I doing here???”

This is what that moment looks like:


Middle of the day, two computers on his lap, close to falling back asleep.  

Field work is hard. When moments like this hit you can easily get stuck, so you have to fight out of them. Today, when the moment in the photo took place, we got outside for a walk, made a work plan for tomorrow, and regained our sanity.  Now we’re headed to watch Monday Night Football with some U.S. Embassy folks.

Until tomorrow!

PS – this is what the answer to all three questions would look like in an ideal world:


Villa de Leyva, Last Weekend


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One Response to What am I doing here?

  1. Cindy says:

    I read your academic ramblings with high interest. Do you have to do some statistical work with the data to satisfy the crunchers or is the data not conducive to that sort of analysis? It sounds like great work and I see an urban planning focus in it, as always. A more informed approach to reconstruction depends on the events of the past, to some extent. This is a similar to the article you posted about gender based planning in Denmark. Thanks for the education. When I grow up I want to do this!

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