Among the few indulgences – kind of security blanket – I brought with me to the field were my heavy-duty ankle boots (that doubled up as self defense tool considering travellers including girls and women aren’t allowed even their Swiss camping knife set which is ridiculously funny given that the real enemy is running around free and fully armed) and liquid tattoo lip color in red. The lip color became a kind of statement in the time I was speaking with community groups. Think Jacinta Magsaysay but minus the ghoulishness.
On the morning that was my first into the communities, before heading to the first village in our planner, we made a side trip to the residence of a community leader. We needed to finalize the next day’s venue arrangements. The leader wasn’t home however, but the wife and kin were there to receive us. On meeting, I caught the reaction on their faces. It told me they had not expected a Jacinta Magsaysay (minus her ghoulishness) to appear on their horizon. Ha!
Red lips was more for personal convenience. I was to facilitate discussions at a rate of two groups a day everyday one each in villages that were miles apart. It wasn’t as if I travelled like a madam. We hied from one village to the other on trikes one of the two (the other is motorcycle) available local transportation. We were practically in the field our entire waking hours. And there was the challenge on my part to connect on limited time with people who I’d be meeting the first time and probably the last. I needed something to help me maintain my energy level and red is that something. I would’ve said coffee but seeing there was none prepared I didn’t have the face to ask. Above all, these are poor communities- our venue was more or less a shack, no toilet (I had to go to the nearest house to ask if I could use theirs which isn’t necessarily what you might call a standard toilet. Luckily for my hosts I’m capable of putting up with temporary inconveniences. There was this female foreigner-volunteer though, whom a local official told me about, who was shown the toilet when she asked to use one. Unfortunately for her the nearest available was the indigenous hole-in-the-ground type. She had looked ill after seeing it. She asked if there were others and was told there was one at the school but they’d have to hike up the hill. She said she didn’t mind and could still control her bladder until then. So a-hiking they went), no wash corner or room, no running water. In other words, there was no facility that a woman could do her touch up in private. I learned from my British teacher in kindergarten that it was not good manners to powder in public (hence the powder room). That stuck with me growing up although I also won’t be caught looking washed-out like a white lady and a distraction to people. Therefore, whatever I put on myself at home in the morning had to be long lasting. The lip color brand promised to last 24 hours and thankfully it delivered.
I also didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into a type. Consultants, researchers and evaluators are typecast. Researchers especially are perceived as either nerd- or weird-types. I’m neither. So are I/NGO or development workers. Male or female workers always have a scarf around their necks which they use as head scarf or shoulder wrap when they’re in the field, why is that I don’t know but I loathe the sight. Most of the women also don’t put on make-up or do their hair or grow it long perhaps afraid they’d be perceived as “dumb blondes” if they did. But isn’t that hiding?
In one research village, men dominated the discussion group. A number of women showed up who I tried to get to talk in the open but I guess their role in the community has long been prescribed– as listening sages. Cool. I will not rock that boat. Anyway in the past days women were the dominant participants. I also wanted to get the side of the men. So there we were at the ungodly hour of just after noon talking about probably the most sleep-inducing topic at that time: community resilience. I tried to inject humor, also to help me manage my nervousness at being in a hall teeming with poker-faced manly men, but apparently the men whose faces are weighed down by…conflict? instability?…would not be humored. That is, until we came to the question to which they responded with a standard reply that confirmed their religious conviction. But I already knew that. It’s old news. I or should I say the research needed more than a standard reply.
My red lip probed. “Would you say that’s a good thing or a bad thing? Because something may be good for you but destructive for others. In what instances would you say that it’s a good thing? When is it bad? Remember, there’s always two sides to a coin.” The men stared at me and then each turned to speak to the other. The hall had turned into a marketplace. Then I heard somebody said “ah, she’s good, she’s good.” I wanted to laugh. Shit, did they mean that in a good way? More had come into the venue, men, some of them ulema, done with their midday prayers at the nearby mosque. They had caught my query and were consulting the others for what had prompted the questions. I gave them some time to discuss among themselves. I obviously had ventured into a no-questions-asked zone. If they insist on that I hoped they’d at least do it kindly. They did better. They gave me an honest answer.
Did seeing red have anything to do with their positive response? I’m not quite sure of it although from what I know
Red isn’t dirt.