March 10, 2010

I’m supposed to be happy.  We are back in NZ, have finally found and moved into a cute little house near the centre of town.  I love being back in my academic community, where I have my desk in a corner cubicle by the windows in a 3rd floor office with a view of trees and gardens.  I have almost all my research data in and am almost ready to write. I love that my daughter can now take dance classes and has settled right back into childcare like she never left (as her teacher said – only with more confidence!). I love that she has a school to go to – a good one, close, and one where friends will be. I love coffees and wine and plums and supermarkets and vege gardens and cheese and free buses.

But I’m not particularly happy.  I’m feeling very unsettled and I’m struggling to pinpoint why.

While I knew I would miss certain things about Honduras (the finca, the culture, the friends, the food) I didn’t really expect that I would feel so much like I left part of my heart there. I just feel like something is really missing.  I feel sad for family friends that I know are missing us.  I feel sad that my daughter and husband are missing their friends and the lifestyle they really enjoyed there.  We had become a part of a very special community and we just don’t know when we’ll be able to go back.

I had been looking forward to coming home and getting settled. But settling down is scary. As I unpack our boxes and set up a house I am not enjoying it as I thought I would be. This is permanent. We are not travelling again anytime soon. After a month of planes and hotels and staying in other people’s homes I had thought I had had enough of travelling but the idea of not travelling (by travelling I mean spending weeks or months or years in different places) for a long time, of not know when we might travel again is actually very sad. I had said that the next trip won’t be Honduras, I want to explore other parts of the globe, but it makes me feel even sadder not knowing when we might be back in Honduras.

I don’t really know what the future holds. I have said we will now stay put until the thesis is done. Thats a lot of work. It will be at the very minimum a year, possibly 18 months, hopefully not 2 years.  Then I need to find work. Where? What? Move? I don’t want to move. I’m not ready to stay. The future should be promising at this point but after all the disappointments and set backs of the last decade I’m not as optomistic as I used to be. Would it be easier to settle down if I knew we would have jobs and income? If I knew I could write this thesis in 6 months and get on with it? On with what?

So settling back into life in NZ feels unsettled. Cultural adjustment issues. Missing Honduras issues. Future worries. I should have but didn’t anticipate this. But the journey continues and I now must keep on. Keep smiling. Keep working. Maybe eventually my mind and my heart will catch up with my body and I’ll settle.


Sunday Reader #4

March 7, 2010

A lot has happened since I last posted.  I packed up and left our sweet little house in the citrus orchard in Honduras and traveled to an interesting conference in wintery Savannah, flew back half-way around the world to crash at my parents home for a while, found a new house in Palmerston North and moved in, and started getting my head around my new (part time) position as a conference administrator.  What I haven’t done is get anything much done on my thesis.  Or post anything new on this blog.

Nor have I done much internet reading, and my reader has been a bit ignored.  However here are just a few things that managed to catch my eye in all the busy-ness.

In the midst of the pictures of damage in Chile, Collazo Projects has posted some photos of Chile before the Quake.  This struck a chord with me as I visited Chile (including the quake-sticken area around Concepción) many years ago and have been remembering beauty of the people and the place, and feeling somewhat melancholic about the disaster.

As Chile and Haiti face the long task of recovery, many have been asking Why are there so many natural disasters lately?.  Good intentions are Not Enough has yet another pithy post, this time reminding us of the human factors that make natural events into disasters.

As noted above, I am now trying to get  this PhD comic nicely sums up about where I am now!  I have been following the PhD comics since I began my PhD journey and there were actually several that made me smile this month.  This one also seems appropriate as I veer wildly between my daughter’s 4-year old life and academia:

Now that we are back in New Zealand and getting back into routine, hopefully both the thesis and the blog will get more attention.  Although, with the amount of attention the thesis will need I make no promises about the blog except that I will try… remembering of course that time enjoyed is not time wasted, and despite the scarcity of posts since starting the PhD, I do still enjoy blogging.

Sunday Reader #3

February 1, 2010

Opps, I’ve missed a week already.  Bad internet and general busy-ness as I prepare to leave Honduras (this week!) are my excuses.  Next week I’ll be at a conference in Savannah so I will probably miss another one, but should be back more regularly once we are back in NZ.  In the meantime here are some of the issues I’ve been following and other random internet goodness for you to pick through.


The big news in Honduras this week was the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo as President.  The coup “de facto” government is gone!  I wanted to write a whole post on this but just don’t have the time.  Maybe once I get back to NZ I will, but for now here are some photos by Honduras e logo ali of the procession to the airport to farewell Zelaya.  The march was completely peaceful – maybe because the military left them well alone.

Not related to the inauguration, but directly connected to the coup is a feature in the NYT lens blog of Pablo Delano’s photographs.  In 1997 Delano, a professory of Fine Arts, started a project to document the varied ethnic groups in Honduras.  His work was unfortunately cut short when his collaborator and patron in the government Darío A. Euraque was ousted by the coup leaders. The photos are stunning and a testament to the beautiful diversity of Honduras.


The internet continues to buzz with posts about how to help Haiti.  And aid workers continue to try to draw attention to how not to help.  This story and this one remind us why despite the best of motives and intention, for most going to Haiti is just not the best way to help.  For those determined to go, Saundra has some tips on how to evaluate volunteer opportunities in Haiti.

While campaigns to cancel Haitis debt heat up across the web, Venezuela is amongst the first to actually do so.

Other random stuff:

Julie Clawson has an interesting post up on walking the justice walk.  Long before any crisis of faith, I had a crisis of confidence in the church. This is why.

PhD comics neatly sum up my feelings about my thesis work at the moment.

And finally this photo from Wellington Daily Photo reminds me of why it is time to go home. Summer in my city.

Someone once told me that for those is cross-cultural relationships the happiest place is somewhere in the air, between two places.  It’s true for me, especially now I have lived in Honduras for a while.  No place can be perfect again, something will always be missing no matter where we are.

All too often the news and talk about Honduras is negative.  The political situation is ugly.  The poverty is terrible.  Life is hard.  It’s true, and yet only half the story.  When we leave in 2 weeks time I will take with me more positive memories than negative.  There will be lots of things I won’t miss but more that I will.

I’ll miss the warm sunshine and being able to wear a t-shirt or light dress (almost) every day.  I’ll miss the orange trees, fresh mangoes and sweet pineapple.   I’ll miss baleadas, burras for breakfast and liquados for lunch.  I’ll miss saying “buenas” all the way up and down the street and the smiles of strangers.  I’ll miss the snatches of music everywhere (although maybe not the ear-destroying blasts of the malls and buses), fiestas and carneadas, the simplicity of daily life.

Most of all I’ll miss the friends we’ve made and the community we’ve found.  Cohesive, functioning and caring rural communities do exist in Honduras, and we were lucky enough to experience living in one.

But I’m thinking more and more about New Zealand.  About my family there and the niece I have barely met.  My academic community that I have missed so much.  Having our own “stuff” back and a more permanent home to keep it in.  Good wine, cheese and fresh, tasty bread.  I’m ready to go home.

But I’m not ready to leave.

Where should we live?  Why do we need to choose?

I had the best of intentions to make this a regular Sunday feature but reality got in the way already.  My cellular modem has died.  Give that we leave the country in three weeks I’m not going to buy a new one, so will only be accessing the internet on campus.  Out of office hours this means either a trip to the café on campus or no internet, so while I still like the idea of the Sunday Reader and will try to get something our, I can’t guarantee it will be on Sundays for a while!

The big news of the past week was of course the earthquake in Haiti.  My reader has been crammed with news and blogs posts covering all aspects of the disaster.  Like many my heart goes out to the people of Haiti, and I wish I could pack my bag and take my rusty nursing skills to Haiti to help.  In a post on Aid Watchers, Alanna Shaikh reminds me why this isn’t really a good idea, and other ways not to help in Haiti.   Another aid worker blog, Good Intentions are Not Enough also outlines the dos and don’ts of disaster donations.  Remember, the best ‘help’ is a money donation to a reputable aid agency (but watch out for Disaster scams).  My recommendation was, and continues to be Partners in Health.

On slightly different notes, Upside Down Under quotes some numbers and facts from Haiti and Afghanistan that are more than a little eye-opening, and Campus Progress reminds us to be wary of mainstream media reports in The Looting Lie.

On a completely different note there has been an ongoing discussion in the feminist blogosphere about ‘pink’ for girls.  As the mother of a 4-year old daughter, who despite my best efforts still prefers her toys pink, this scene is unfortunately too familiar.  This is actually closer to my childhood experience, and I’m nostalgic too.  But it may not be all bad, Dana Campbell, on Mama, PhD has posted some interesting thoughts on marketing pink, and notes that ‘even if it’s made out of solid gold, a microscope is not going to go very far in inspiring a kid’s interest in science UNLESS there’s an enthusiastic, encouraging, role model beside that kid to help him or her discover it’.  I guess that’s my job!

From Honduras:  Adrienne Pine of Quotha reminds us of some things we shouldn’t forget.

Finally, a new ‘find’ for my reader, 1000 awesome things.  There should be something in here to make you smile.  I like this (although it doesn’t happen often enough) and this (something to look forward to in NZ) and this

Remember, I did warn in the first Sunday Reader that things could be rather eclectic here!

Help Haiti

January 14, 2010

By now many of you will be aware that Haiti was hit by a major earthquake yesterday.  Haiti is a very poor country, poorer than Honduras, and my heart goes out to all who are suffering there, particularly those still trapped.

More information on this crisis can be found at the usual news sources such as the BBC.  For the most recent updates the Guardian has a live blog which is being updated every few minutes, as does Al Jazeera; and the LA Times has a Twitter list of sources tweeting from within Haiti.

At a time like this we all wish we could help.  While most of us can’t (and probably shouldn’t) drop everything and run to help in person, we do have something those already there need.  Our money. Please consider donating to the relief efforts in Haiti.  If you have a preferred agency check if they already have a programme in Haiti.  If not, find one.  Preferably one that already has people on the ground in Haiti.  I recommend Partners in Health, an organisation with a long-standing and well -respected programme in Haiti.  They do accept international credit cards, but those in NZ who want a tax receipt Oxfam NZ also has an emergency response team based in Haiti. For other ideas blogger Chris Sacca ha a post up on 6 ways you can help Haiti.

Twitter changes

January 13, 2010

Just a quick note to clear up any potential confusion over my twitter feed on the right of the screen.  It has changed.  I have 2 twitter accounts, @sharon_mcl and @kiwicatracha.  I will now be using @sharon_mcl mostly for research-related tweets, so have changed the link here to @kiwicatracha, which will contain my personal, political and other tweets, more in keeping with this blog.  If you are interested in the research by all means follow @sharon_mcl or check my research website at http://www.hondurasresearch.net.

Anybody else have more than one twitter account?  How do you manage them?

Sunday Reader

January 11, 2010

I confess.  I am a Google Reader addict.  I skim through hundreds of blog posts and articles each week, faithfully sharing those that I find interesting, challenging or simply fun.  As one of my favourite types of blog post is the linky type (I love finding new sites and blogs and can spend hours following rabbit holes across the web) I thought I would start my own regular link feature.  My web reading tastes are eclectic so this should be an interesting exercise… expect lots of social justice and development stuff, politics, culture, academia, some recipes I’ve tried and some just for fun. Enjoy the rabbit holes!

First up, Why Does the World’s Most Popular TV Show Feature a Misanthrope Who Gets Away with Everything? I’ve been watching a lot of House lately.  My excuse is that it is on every night here, nicely timed for an hour when my daughter is asleep, work is done and I am ready to curl up with a wine or hot chocolate and relax.  Quite why I find watching a character so abrasive, manipulative and insensitive to be relaxing I’m not sure… perhaps because he says and does some of the things I only wished I could in my past life as a nurse. Whatever the reason, he’s far more interesting to watch than the one-dimensional, polished characters on many other shows.

In addition to watching House, my other evening routine is Facebook, and this week I succumbed to the bra colour meme, seemingly a bit of harmless fun with friends in order to raise awareness for breast cancer.  But I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, which I put down to the fact that I couldn’t see how it would actually help the cause in any meaningful way.  Saundra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions are Not Enough makes a more discomforting point, asking if charity activities can actually hurt the very people they are trying to help, pointing out that mis-guided charity events may loose sight, and unintentionally cause pain to beneficiaries.  Saundra has also written an interesting series on Guidelines for Volunteering Overseas, something I am planning to do more writing on and therefore something which you may see more about in this blog this year.

Here in Honduras, the elections are over and day to day life goes on seemingly normally. However the reality is that the crisis is not over.  Just yesterday Quotha reported a Massacre in Aguán, which the police and army argue is a “normal eviction”.  If even half of what is reported by Quotha is true, then this is a “normal” that needs to be challenged and changed.  Other ongoing concerns in Honduras include reports that Honduras is broke, and continuing repression of opposition media outlets. Incidentally, both blogs linked here (Quotha and Honduras Coup 2009) are written by academics with long-standing, close ties to Honduras and contacts within the resistance movement, and I trust them.

Of course in addition to obsessively following the news and spending hours with my google reader I am supposed to be writing my PhD thesis this year.  This image from indexed kind of sums up the year ahead of me.  Maybe I need to study more closely Lifehacker’s advice on better tools for better students.

Finally, this recipe for Chicken with Citrus Sauce is amazing! Lucky we are living in a citrus orchard.

New Years is a great time for reflection and making plans and so over the past couple of weeks (and between the rounds of visits and parties that is the holiday season in Honduras) I have been doing a lot of thinking, much of it about my PhD, the work I’ve done and what I have left to do. So, in the spirit of the season, here’s a short round-up of some of my research-related achievements for 2009, and my goals for 2010.


Confirmed! After completing 2 large literature reviews and a longish proposal in March I underwent the ritual of confirmation.  This is the process by which the university assesses whether a PhD candidate has met the requirements of the first year of the program, and has a research proposal that is sound academically and ethically. Prior to this a candidate is on a provisional registration, following success at confirmation the student is fully registered… and the clock is ticking to completion!

Data Collection: Following confirmation most of my energy could finally be directed towards actually doing the research. As with most fieldwork, things didn’t quite go completely to plan, with delays and changes due to political and family crises.  While I haven’t done as many visits and interviews as I originally anticipated my data file is packed, I have over 400 data “sources”, not including the notebooks and computer files  of  fieldnotes I’ve made myself over the past year. Whew.

Conference: Despite the ongoing crisis and curfews the Conference on Honduras went ahead more or less to plan in September, and I presented a brief report on the progress of my research and early findings.  At the time I thought it went well, although I didn’t receive a lot of feedback.  More important than the presentation was the opportunity to reconnect with people I’d met in 2008, and to meet others, which is really the whole point of the conference anyway!

Living in Honduras: While I have been married to a Honduran for 8 years, and have made 3 previous visits of 2-4 months to the country, this was my first opportunity to actually live here.  It’s been wonderful… mostly.  We found a lovely place to live in the mountains outside Tegucigalpa, and I have enjoyed getting to know the culture and people of Honduras in a much deeper way.  My Spanish is slowly improving too!


So what is on the agenda for 2010?

Finish data collection and analysis: I have just four weeks and a few interviews to finish up here in Honduras before returning to NZ.  I have already started working through the data and will continue the process in NZ.

Conference I will be attending the doctoral colloquium at a conference in Savannah, Georgia in February (after leaving Honduras and before returning to NZ!).  This is a great opportunity to share my research and learn from others, and I am very much looking forward to it.

Writing: This is the main challenge for the year.  Although I have two more years of enrolment to finish the thesis, I have just one more year of scholarship money so I’d really like to get it done as much as possible.  The goal?  A complete draft completed before the New Zealand International Development Studies Network conference in December which I will be helping to organise.

This should be more than enough to keep me busy, along with family commitments and the usual new years “resolutions” to eat better and exercise more!  Keep this site bookmarked (or subscribe to the RSS feed on the right) to keep track of my progress and possibly even to be among the first to see some of my results and writing!

As I finish up my work here in Honduras and look towards our return to New Zealand next month, I have been thinking more and more about the logistics of finding a new home and getting settled again. While it is tempting to rush in and enjoy all the conveniences I have missed over the past 7 months (a big fridge! a real stove! my little espresso machine!) being in Honduras has taught me that it is actually not difficult to live with few pocessions and basic bathroom and cooking facilities (although I’m completely over sharing them with ants, spiders, scorpions and centepedes!).  The post “Need” and the Standard of Living on the Sociological Images blog (and the original slide show Planet Slum) also help to remind me that what I ‘need’ is not always a need. What I do need, as I start the process of setting up a new home, is to think more carefully about the resources I am using.  What do we really, actually need, what are the luxuries I really genuinely love and which make our lives more pleasant and enjoyable, and what are the ‘needs’ that we can do without.