Off My Research Game

Although I primarily intend to have an ethnographic approach to my project, one focused on meeting women and learning about their lives by just hanging out with them, I can’t solely depend on it. Because I arrived in August, when everything was closing, I wasn’t able to depend on organizations to create contacts with women and meeting people with whom to hang out with takes time. Simply put, the majority of people already have their day-to-day lives going and don’t really have a reason to start hanging out with a stranger (me) they meet on the street or at a cafe.

So I began setting up interviews, they’re more formal but structured in such a way that would allow me to talk to strangers and maybe to reach some sort of personal level. But I haven’t really been able to anticipate how all my interviews will go. It’s odd to say but I was deceived by my senior thesis research to think otherwise. Although interviewing male students on campus wasn’t always very comforting, the format and the structure stayed relatively the same. Meanwhile, here in Barcelona, I’ve had to improvise and always wish for a little bit of luck.

For instance, I got in contact with Martin from Mescladis through email, and although he promptly responded saying he’d talk to me, he never told me when, even after sending him a bunch of follow-up emails. I had not seen him inside the restaurant before and I did not know where exactly was the office of the organization. One day as I was passing by the neighborhood, I just decided to walked over to Mescladis and bam, he was there! I was a little star-struck to be honest because I had watched a lot of his interviews at local news stations and read over all his neighborhood projects. I very nervously introduced myself to him and he agreed to swing by my table and talk to me after he was done with a meeting. I had to qualm my feelings of excitement so I could quickly formulate a bunch of questions to ask  him since I wasn’t prepared.

Another time, I wondered inside a youth civic center that was pretty empty. I asked the woman who was doing the cleaning for information on the place and as we began talking, I learned her name was Yolanda and that she was from the Dominican Republic. I very excitedly told her I would be going there in a few months for my project and this led to a very fun conversation that touched a little on her immigration experience but mostly on her insight into love and relationships. She had been married for 20+ years with the same man since she was 15, so her advice to me was to have lots of boyfriends. “You should do that in the DR,” she kept telling me with a smile.

I left the center and then quickly regretted not giving her my card or asking her to sit down with me and have a more in depth conversation about her immigration journey. I decided to try my luck by going again the next day, the last day before the center closed for vacation. I arrived a little before two and was met with closed doors. I just stood there, dwelling in my own regret when suddenly, I saw movement through the windows. Yolanda was inside! She was towards the back of the building on the phone, locking all the doors. I knocked on the glass and luckily she heard me; the plus was that she recognized me. I couldn’t believe I had caught her just in time so I quickly exchanged contact info with her and we agreed on a date the week after. Unfortunately, I forgot to send her a reminder so she ended up forgetting about our date and standing me up. She was already on vacation and lived about an hour away on the metro from the city center so I understood the situation but sitting alone on a bench, glancing at my phone every 5 seconds still sucked.

My most recent experience is the most entertaining one. I met Paola, a paisana from Mexico, at the cafe where she worked. She was very excited about my project since the beginning and after exchanging contact info we began texting to figure out when to meet for an interview. Her work schedule kept forcing her to reschedule so I was left with an “I’ll let you know.” I heard back from her the same week, and she invited me to breakfast at her house. I showed up to her apartment on a Tuesday but to my surprise, I was welcomed by a different woman. I panicked thinking I buzzed the wrong door. Then she embraced me to say hello so I thought, maybe this is Paola’s sister or her friend simply opening the door. But then she began talking about our breakfast and how she didn’t have any food so we’d have to go shop together.

My confusion and panic must have registered in my face because she asked something that prompted me to say that I was “um…looking for Paola…?” to which she replied, “No I’m Cecilia,” then she laughed and asked if I was confused because of all the interviews I was doing. I went with it, but I had no idea what was happening. I followed her down the stairs, then out the door and still, I had no clue who this woman was, why she wasn’t Paola, and how she knew me. Finally she asked, “So how do you know Stephanie?” and everything clicked…

I indeed had talked to Cecilia although never in person. She was the cousin of my friend Stephanie, from Swarthmore, who had given me her contact info before I left on my trip. I had texted Cecilia when I first arrived to Barcelona but she had been very busy and said she was unable to meet with me. What I deduce happened is that after Paola rescheduled, Cecilia texted me proposing a date to meet and then she also rescheduled until finally ended up sending me the breakfast invite. Throughout this entire conversation with Cecilia I obviously didn’t realize I was not texting Paola anymore. Pretty embarrassing on multiple levels, not to mention that it threw me off completely and because an impromptu shopping trip was added, I was walking through aisles, trying to make conversation and ask her questions, while internally trying to figure out how I had gotten myself into this confusion!

It’s a great story now, but at the moment, completely disorienting. Hopefully I get better at this.

Lots of walking alone and aimlessly in a beautiful city at the moment…

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