0
Strange, painful, and maybe ridiculous. Those are the first words that come
to mind as I reflect on my experience of Valha...
of the school: “Fock the Police We Run this Bi” and “28.” I thought about the kids I
had seen just a little bit earlier in...
I would subtract the word: “timidly,” replace it with “vivaciously,” and then I
believe it would be spot on.With all that ...
gets one meal a day at school. Sometimes she will spend 1R on a mini meal or 2R on
eggs.
Fatima says that sometimes her ch...
to the market when people know that you have disability/pension since they will
purposefully overcharge you for food. In g...
Somalian shopkeepers and the owner. It was a successful interview and I met my
criteria for that class- interview one busi...
Evaluate Myer’s point that field researchers need to constantly revisit and re-evaluate
the balance between selfishness an...
In my own way, I understand pain intimately and hearing similar (though
also completely different) stories makes me want t...
In the chapter we’ve read this week (Making Ends Meet), Ross reflects on the economic
realities of work and household econ...
When Uncle Charlie was younger he used to work in a mine. During this time, he
saved just a bit of capital in order to sta...
I also asked Uncle Charlie if he knew who else in the neighborhood sold spices.
He said that he is the only one and that h...
This issue of trust is something that intrigues me. In so many ways this is an
interdependent community where trust, gener...
difficult without Fatima’s help, maybe even impossible. I was introduced in
Afrikaans to people that she knows and that re...
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  1. 1. Strange, painful, and maybe ridiculous. Those are the first words that come to mind as I reflect on my experience of Valhalla Park. On being introduced to Valhalla Park, our class first met upbeat members of the Civic in a well-kept library before wandering off with our respective tour guides, mine being Fatima and Margaret. At this point in time, I am not sure how many neighborhoods are part of Valhalla Park or where exactly I wandered (if given a map). But I did note that we (Matt, Jessica, myself) explored Astorland and 7 De Laan during the hour that we walked around. The latter I believe is an informal settlement. The first few structures that were pointed out to us were service facilities: a baby clinic, an HIV clinic, a TB clinic, and the Civic Community Center- all in close proximity. We also saw in one neighborhood both a Mosque and a Church. As I walked down the street wind blew sand in my teeth. It tasted salty and I couldn’t help but wonder what germs just got in my mouth. Margaret asked us if we would mind if she smoked and we said no. Fatima told us that everyone was a smoker in Valhalla Park because they were always constantly stressed. Throughout the course of the hour, Margaret smoked at least three cigarettes. The area closest to the library seemed the most organized with paved streets and formal looking housing. Next we moved into Astorland. The paved streets disappeared, as did the formal housing. The ground was dusty and streams of water from taps often created muddy spots. We passed outdoor toilets in groups of three made out of metal. Fatima informed us that the community had to toi-toi for these toilets. However, looking up close, it appeared that the toilets that were struggled for were also defaced. There was graffiti on the toilet walls with phrases such as “Rude boy,” referring I suppose to Rhianna’s pop hit. Flies swarmed around that area though right next door there was also a house with a lovely community garden. As we moved through the neighborhoods, Fatima made sure to point out Somalianspazas versus South African spazas. I told her I had read the article and understood. I tried to ask questions as we walked along. I asked our guides to clarify why there seemed to be numbers on all the houses and was informed that it indicated people’s place in line for built houses. I am not sure if I noted this correctly but I was told that Astorland was a swatter camp with 97 shacks that has been in existence for about 9 years, or perhaps that refers to 7 de Laan, the informal settlement. I am a bit confused on the difference between a swatter camp and an informal settlement since they look similar but I think that the latter has no mandate by government to exist and so it exists unlawfully, while the swatter camp is registered with the government. It doesn’t have better services by any means but I suppose the residents are “legitimately” occupying land. Part of Astorland was built in a vacant parking lot amid a park for children. There were playbars for children to hang on and mess around and that day there was a crowd. Walking further into the settlement, we saw more children in the streets. We also saw many dogs. I was surprised by the shear number of children. One of the sights that struck me the most was that of Beauvallon High School in Astorland. We walked past a completely dilapidated and unused area of the school and it hurt me to see an educational facility so downtrodden. Graffitied on the walls OBSERVATIONS & REFLECTION 1
  2. 2. of the school: “Fock the Police We Run this Bi” and “28.” I thought about the kids I had seen just a little bit earlier in the walk who “ganster-swagged” past me with a stereo on one of their shoulders blasting rap music while avoiding eye contact and smiles. I wonder what opportunities a school like this can provide for its students and how many drop out discouraged. Next we walked down an allyway that was filled with trash which was necessary to get to 7 de Laan. We were informed that bulldozers cleared the trash from that ally every week, however people kept throwing trash there even though there were bins. The informal settlement did not look much different from what we had seen. There were no signs on the roads though Fatima informed us at one point that we were on Long Street, since it was the longest street in 7 de Laan. How very different from the Long Street I usually associate with. We moved away from 7 de Laan and started walking back to Fatima’s house. Suddenly there were paved streets and sidewalks. There were also well- designedhouses with artistic addresses. There were also some Christmas lights up. This community resides in the shadow of table mountain: the world’s most beautiful natural wonder in juxtaposition to man’s socially engineered mess. I’m not sure why “strange”was the first word that I could come up with when trying to describe Valhalla Park but I suspect it’s because I seek some emotional distance from what I saw and so am content to end with: I don’t understand. This, Valhalla Park, is a foreign concept apart from myself: my space- both emotional and physical. I don’t understand the deprivation. I don’t understand dis-organized life at this level. I don’t comprehend how families survive. I can’t imagine children finding any reason to be motivated in schools. I don’t understand how people can be strong enough to withstand hunger and violence. And then, I wonder how Fatima and Margaret and even strangers on the street can still laugh and care about other people and stay strong in faith. The world seems bleak in so many ways and what gives the spirit the courage to survive and to love and to remain human?- intact with compassion and hope.I know that last bit is dramatic but I stand by it. Hurt, neglect, and deprivation can desensitize the soul and numb it to living.Strange. It is just very strange- devastating and awe-inspiringat the same time. When you are teetering on the edge I suppose there are only two options: survive or don’t survive. The strong survive. The women of the Civic survive. But it would be remiss to not acknowledge that there are those that do not survive this urban environment: those who lose themselves in drug abuse or lose their lives in gangsterism, those who succumb to violence against strangers and lose bits of their humanity with those desperate moves, or those who accept their poverty and give up. I can only be thankful for the strength of the women of the Civic and how I imagine their determination and fearless commitment to a dignified life for all must uplift their communities. Their spirits remind me of one of my favorite quotes by philosopher George Santayana: “The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.”
  3. 3. I would subtract the word: “timidly,” replace it with “vivaciously,” and then I believe it would be spot on.With all that is wrong with this world, thank God the strong survive. In the midst of tormenting and chaotic conditions of poverty what a wonder that human beings can still hope and love and strive for a better life.What a beautiful, beautiful strength. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Profiles of Two Civic Volunteers: Fatima Abrams: Fatima is a 49 year old woman and has lived for 36 years in Valhalla Park. She lives in a one bedroom house with a kitchen, living room, and bathroom. There is a bungalow in the back and she built a front room in the yard to provide an additional bedroom and also a backyard bungalow. Her house is very well kept and she has nice dollie decorations on her furniture. There are painted faux doorframes around her passageways and china hangs on the walls. She has lived in her home for 21 years. Prior to moving to Valhalla Park she lived in Retreat, near Simon’s Town on the Cape Flats until her bid for a house came up in 1976. She has four children: two boys and two girls. She also has five grandchildren: two boys and three girls. In her household, she cares for her youngest son Mohammad Zane, her daughter and her granddaughter. Her elder son is serving an 8-year sentence in jail and she also financially contributes to caring for him by leaving money at the prison so he can purchase necessities. Fatima is unemployed due to disability but she has been working as a Civic research guide for students for the last seven years. She used to work in the clothing factories doing ironing but that stopped when the clothing factory shut down. Now she is “not allowed” to find work since the government provides her with disability. She is not working because she is physically unfit since she has arthritis in her spine, in the lower back. When the pain is severe she can’t use her legs and can’t even walk to the bathroom without assistance and gets dizzy. She cannot get government money for work though sometimes if there is a cash-only job she will go for the work. Fatima also suffered from TB for over two years. Though her daughter is of working age, Fatima is the only person in the home that contributes to the household income. The main expenses include paying for rent, water, and electricity.Her income is supplemented by renting out her back bungalow to a woman and her two children who were displaced from their home. She makes 350R/mt from this. She is on a disability grant, which provides her with 1170R/mt. She is also receiving child support for Mohammad Zane since he is underage in the amount of 270R/mt. This makes for a total of 1790R/mt for a household of four. When I asked Fatima about how much or how often she buys food she gave a very evasive answer. She just told us that she buys food when she can and also that she has no time for shopping. She says sometimes she will have two pieces of bread and porridge for dinner. Fortunately Mohammad Zane who is about nine years old
  4. 4. gets one meal a day at school. Sometimes she will spend 1R on a mini meal or 2R on eggs. Fatima says that sometimes her children worry about her but she tells them to not worry about her and to just be happy they have a mother who is concerned about them.She seems like a very loving mother. Fatima was married for 20 years to a husband who abused her. However, she has been divorced for the last nine years and last year her ex-husband passed away. She finally divorced her husband because her children had grown to an age when they were trying to interfere on her behalf and she did not want them to get hurt. She has been taking care of her granddaughter since her daughter became pregnant in grade 10 and dropped out of school. She bemoans that so many young girls are having babies and calls it a “sickness.” However, she decided to be very supportive of her daughter so that her grandchild would enter the world into a loving family. She also tries to visit her son who is in prison when possible, though it is very difficult and requires a day trip since the prison is 2 hours away and she has to take minibuses. Fatima is sad sometimes that she can’t buy Mohammad Zane Christmas presents since he is still a child. Fatima says that without God she can’t do anything and is thankful to God for being alive. ---------------------------------------------------------- Margaret: Margaret is a 51 year-old woman who has lived for 31 years in Valhalla Park. Her family used to live with her uncle but he was not very good to them and they were finally able to move when their bid came up for a house in Valhalla Park. She has two children, a boy and a girl and two grandchildren. Her 27 year-old daughter has a four year old and her 30 year old son has a three year old. Neither are married and both of her grown children live in the household, though only her daughter’s child lives with them. They also live with Margaret’s mother who is 79 years old. Margaret’s husband has been dead for ten years and I am not sure but it sounds like he might have been murdered. No one living in the household works and the family survives on Margaret’s mother’s pension of 1170R/mt.Both Margaret’s children are looking for work. The family also receives 270R in child support for the one child. In total this amounts to 1440R/mt for a family of five. This again pays for electricity, rent, water, and food. However, Margaret also works informally, sometimes doing the washing for her brother’s sister-in-law making 50R at a time. Margaret has also been in the hospital recently for ailments such as arthritis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal ulcers. Her son has also been sick and in and out of the hospital for severe headaches. She has been taking care of her brother for the last few months since he suffered a stroke. With lots of therapy he can again walk, feed himself, and wash his hand. In terms of food, the family survives on bread, tea, and water. Margaret says: “We got nothing but sometimes we share.” Sometimes they will cook ramen noodles with bones and generally they just eat cheap food. She says that a problem is going
  5. 5. to the market when people know that you have disability/pension since they will purposefully overcharge you for food. In general, she says the family buys food when they can. She says some people in the neighborhood have money, some don’t, but neighbors are not very generous. Also, at this point, due to competition, stores can no longer afford to let anyone buy on credit. Margeret told me she is excited for one day when she has a boyfriend and she can “enjoy his wages” which really spoke to me about how important relationships are in this environment not only for emotional support but simply for economic reasons. Write a journal that reflects on the ‘sense scapes’ as articulated by Ross (2010) that resonates with your field experience in your area, and the problems of observing and beginning to grapple with making sense of everyday life in Valhalla Park. Ross speaks about her frustrations navigating an area with her friend. She speaks about how the map she was constructing in her mind was “a formal and distanced representation, modeled on street maps” while her friend’s was “an intimate and immediate representation, modeled on social relationships.” They could not understand each other and grew frustrated with why the other could not follow their “logical” plan. I had a very similar experience of misunderstandings this last trip to Valhalla Park. Fatima and I were assigned to a portion (section 3) of the larger map of Valhalla Park and given a smaller neighborhood map that showed the houses we were responsible for interviewing. Immediately Fatima told me to disregard the map we were given because we would go first to another area. She and Alex’s guide had decided to switch one street in our area (3) for a street in their area (4) because Alex’s guide was more familiar with the business owners on that street. Fatima took me immediately to the middle of a block where there was a Somalianspaza shop and told me to interview the Somalians and the owner, who was her good friend. Before I begin, I looked down at my map and of course it was not on my map (map 3) but on Alex’s map (map 4). Alex and I had switched one map and so I also had this on hand. However, I had no idea where I was. I asked Fatima who kept repeating to me: “Mariiieeee Street.” “But where?” I asked her, pointing to the map. “Mariee Street. The Somalian shop.” “But where?...on the map,” I asked, growing a bit frustrated. This was not even the area we were suppose to cover and I was confused about the deal she had worked out with Alex’s guide without either of us knowing. “Oh!” said Fatima. She asked the owner who informed her it was plot 20. I looked again at the map. That information did not help me. “I need to find it on the map,” I told her. Finally, Fatima decided to count houses and then came, looked at my map, and pointed to one of the boxes. “There.” I decided to just trust her word on this and marked the house. I really had no other way of knowing as I could barely orient myself. Next, I interviewed the OBSERVATIONS & REFLECTION 2
  6. 6. Somalian shopkeepers and the owner. It was a successful interview and I met my criteria for that class- interview one business owner. Fatima then told me she was going to take me across the street to another business owner she knew. She wanted me to do in-depth interviews with everyone I met that day which made me feel quite stressed. I had no way of organizing my data using her methods of jumping from house to house, was not even interviewing in the area assigned to me, and could only guess at where the houses were located. I explained that I only wanted to do one and wanted to spend the rest of the time getting acquainted with the area where we were going to work if that was okay. I also tried to explain to her that it was our intention to interview someone from every house on the map. We wanted to find out about businesses to create a yellow pages booklet but also wanted to see if we could just learn about informal economy undertakings and how people survive without formal sector jobs. I pulled out the map of Valhalla Park and asked her if we could please go to Section 3 of the map. She agreed and we begin to walk to Section 3 though she told me it was a waste of time to interview every house since she already knew where the businesses were and others did not make money. “But how do they eat then?” I asked. She did not give me an answer. I looked across the way and suddenly Alex and her guide appeared. Alex seemed similarly flustered. Fatima saw Alex’s guide and came over to speak with her. She told her that she was in the wrong area and that they were interviewing on the wrong street. We were now in Section 3 and the guides had only agreed to switch one street, and not the one that we were suddenly standing in the middle of. Alex and I kept looking at our maps, trying to come to our own understanding of exactly what our guides had agreed to. Ross comments, “the sense of disorientation I have described here has physical, emotional and cognitive components: coming to know a space was not the product solely of a visual relation with a landscape but an embodied one.” I felt entirely disembodied and disoriented physically, emotionally, and cognitively. As soon as my plan of following the simple drawing was tossed aside, I had no idea what to do or how to fulfill my goals. I did my best in those hours to accept that I was lost and confused. Luckily, there was much else to see and to think about. I was so thrilled to get a glimpse into small, entrepreneurial businesses, since these are not apparent on first sight. Someone once gave me great advice: never assume that a community is lifeless or without hope. Firstly, that is completely false. People live, even in the most dire of circumstances, very normal people live and are trying to make and sustain a life for themselves. Secondly, it would be foolish of me to “understand,” organize, and categorize with my limited schemas something that does not belong to me. Looking out of a bus window who would know that on the second house of Eleanor street there is an old woman who boils peaches to make and sells her own popsicles or that across the street from her there is a man who repackages spices in small quantities to make a few rand a day. Who would know that the man who runs a shebeen is a grandfather of six trying to provide for his family? I am thankful that I have the opportunity to see this side of Valhalla Park.
  7. 7. Evaluate Myer’s point that field researchers need to constantly revisit and re-evaluate the balance between selfishness and selflessness and between expression of situatedness and respect for subjects or audiences, throughout the field experience. In what ways have you shared and negotiated your own positionality and privacy, your Valhalla Park partner’s, and your interviewee’s identities (positionality and privacy)? Illustrate your reflection on these issues in the context of actual interviews. On the first day we met, Fatima told me her entire life story. She told me how her ex-husband abused her, how her son was in jail, the problems of tik in the community, about her disabilities, and about how she struggled to feed and support her family. I listened. It struck me deeply. This was a woman who understood something about pain and perseverance. We had a connection and it came from her willingness to expose herself honestly. She had something to give and to teach: who she was, her struggles and the strength that she acquired with faith. I remember that this first day I wanted so badly to give back. What could I give? I wanted to bring groceries- but I didn’t know if that was appropriate. I wanted to tell her who I was and about aspects of her life that also ran through mine, but I didn’t know how to begin. I have thought a lot throughout this experience about negotiating my privacy and positionality as a researcher with the desire to be honest and open. My struggles with the issues Myer’s brought up had more to do with my own privacy then the privacy of the people I was interviewing, mostly because my research focused on unpacking business strategies and understandings, which is not as sensitive as analyzing life stories or questions of how one makes ends meet. Instead, my struggle with privacy and positionality came through my relationship with Fatima, my field guide. Throughout this process, I felt my connection with Fatima becoming weaker and weaker, rather than stronger. This was incredibly frustrating because it seemed as if everyone else was forming a tighter connecting with his/her guide. We could walk in silence from one block to another. I’m not sure how she felt but in any event, I think it was my fault due to my inability to negotiate this balance between retaining my privacy and exposing myself for the sake of authenticity. I am not sure if I was being selfish in holding back “parts of my soul” from the “field of play in fieldwork.” As Myer expresses, “one quickly learns that selfishness must give way to a sharing, an open-ended identity enmeshed in a community” and that “there is no vantage outside the actuality of relationships between culture … that might allow one the epistemological privilege of somehow judging, evaluating and interpreting free of the encumbering interests, emotions, and engagements of the ongoing relationships themselves.” And yet, I could not bring myself to release those parts of my soul, my own secrets into the playing field. OBSERVATIONS & REFLECTION 3
  8. 8. In my own way, I understand pain intimately and hearing similar (though also completely different) stories makes me want to talk about my experiences in exchange. I’m not sure if that is my method of moving from the outside to the inside, expressing empathy and showing that “I understand you” in an experiential way. But in the format of this class, I was not sure if that was appropriate or should be necessary. It’s not about me. And besides that, what happens when you move from a researcher-community worker relationship to a friend-friend relationship, which perhaps comes when the privacy barrier is broken? What stories would a more intimate relationship elicit and would this knowledge be appropriate to report on? Would she be telling me stories thinking that they would stop with me or would she be telling me still cognizant that I am a researcher? What vulnerabilities could that expose beyond the script she willingly gave me of her life history the first time we met? As Meyer states, it is necessary to remember that research is a “triangular field of relationships that also involves a multifaceted audience for the text”. As I identify as a researcher, I cannot ignore that third party which I am also obligated to. In some ways, I think I was afraid of forming a “real” relationship. I wanted the distance between us- though that goes against my instincts as a person. I could not be comfortable asking her more personal questions without exposing myself and maybe to protect both of us, I avoided this circumstance all together. I am not sure. I just know that I found myself frustrated but unable to work my way out of feeling alienated. As a researcher, I feel there is an ethical dilemma. Is it fair to ask someone about their pain, their deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets? Is it okay to ask these things as an outsider and then leave and give little, if anything? I suppose there is something cathartic about telling one’s story? Is that the gift? When I know so much of someone’s pain and spend time thinking about his/her dark secrets, yet I reveal nothing about myself, it is hard for me to sustain a connection. I feel like I am being dishonest and end up retreating into myself. In hiding myself, my own life story, I lost my ability to interact with Fatima as deeply as I could have. I am not sure why it is so important for me to reveal myself in order to be ‘free’ but it is, especially since she had the opportunity to reveal everything she wanted about herself in one fell swoop. There always seemed to be a border between us, oddly forged by our commonalities. Maybe this would have fallen away more naturally with time. However, in six weeks when my main objective was to interview other community members about business, I could not accomplish it. I feel like this is the struggle of being a researcher. Am I supposed to form a real friendship where there is mutual exchange or am I supposed to observe, listen, and report? I am still finding that balance between selfishness and selflessness that Myers discusses and I am still confused. To be enmeshed for months in participant- observation (like Myers) is one thing but in this come and go situation, I found it much more difficult to reveal an authentic self and feel comfortable in my skin as a researcher.
  9. 9. In the chapter we’ve read this week (Making Ends Meet), Ross reflects on the economic realities of work and household economies, particularly their instabilities and unpredictability, and the ways in which they operate on the short term. She unravels the ways in which these realities interplay with local notions of respectability, shaping individual and family lives in “the Park.” Draw on this chapter (or a particular element of it) to interpret and reflect on the ways in which interviewees this week spoke about their businesses and/or household realities. My goal for this week was to unpack the business mentality behind decisions that small business owners make in Valhalla Park. Since there are so many businesses in my area, I decided to focus on understanding how they operate rather than focusing on “making ends meet,” though these two questions are very related. I wanted to understand: 1. How businesses understand their customers and their market a. Who in the neighborhood buys from you? (demographics) b. Did they do any marketing to acquire customers? 2. How they decide on a pricing scheme 3. Why did you decide to keep business at a certain scale vs employing others to grow it? 4. What do you see as your role in the neighborhood? 5. What is your motivation for getting into a certain business? What are your goals? 6. What training do business owners believe would make them better businessmen/women? I had two in depth interviews with Uncle Charlie and with Auntie Allie. This was most definitely a difficult day and I am not sure that I got the information that I was looking for, though I definitely got some insight into their mentality to inform this next week of research. I found myself frustrated by their answers and hoping for more “thoughtful” responses, or, responses that I would be familiar with and understand as “appropriate” answers to these types of questions. However, Ross’s chapter on making ends meet did help me to better understand the complexities of their economic realities and made me less frustrated than I might have been otherwise. Something that Ross speaks of that I noticed in my interviews is an “economy of immediacy” that “governed residents’ relationships to money, tying them into the present tense.” Ross also mentioned that families operated on a hand- to-mouth basis. While I noticed this in previous interviews, it was not until I actually started asking specific questions on how families spend money and financial planning that I realized how ingrained is this “economy of immediacy.” My first interview was with Uncle Charlie who sells an array of spices in 1 and 2 R bags. He says that his goal is to “treat customers nicely so that they treat him nicely.” Since not everyone had 2R to spend, Uncle Charlie decided to also have a 1R bag. OBSERVATIONS & REFLECTION 4
  10. 10. When Uncle Charlie was younger he used to work in a mine. During this time, he saved just a bit of capital in order to start his spices business, since he knew at some point he would no longer be working but would need an income. His motivation for starting the business was to give him an income after he stopped formal employment in the formal economy. His goal was to provide for his family on a daily basis. Uncle Charlie describes his role in the neighborhood as an affordable spice dealer. His one-liner for the yellow book was that he did not make a lot of profit, just enough to survive, and that goods are not so expensive at his shop. In general, this one-liner seemed to be a trendy answer among all business owners, which made me wonder whether there was some stigma against a truly profit-driven business model in this community. I tried to understand this through Ross’s comments on social differentiation- perhaps business owners did not want to advertise making money for fear of being “unneighborly and to avoid being asked for loans.” Coming from my “business is good” perspective, and having read the article on why South African businesses are failing in comparison to Somolian/outsider business, their answers frustrated me. To make money is to have capital to invest back into the community. An economy where there is money flow vs. stagnation seems like a healthier economy. Why be proud of making “just enough to survive”?, so much so that you choose to describe your business like that? I wonder if business owners in VP, in some ways, are survivalist businesses by choice, since several are not driven by wanting to make more money than is immediately needed? Or perhaps this is judgmental on my part? Maybe they advertise as such strategically? In my mind, the entrepreneur is always trying to gain more. These VP entrepreneurs seem content with stability, though perhaps in an impoverished neighborhood that is what success means or all the neighbors will allow? I don’t think I understand this so much and I think I will have to ask more questions next week. I asked Uncle Charlie some general market research questions: Who in the neighborhood buys from you? Women? Children? Who else in the neighborhood sells spices? What makes your product unique? Why do people buy spices from you? How much do people generally spend on spices and how much do you make on a weekly basis? In response to my first question, Uncle Charlie responded that every type of person bought from him: men, women, children. I was wondering if perhaps he could break it down a little more, for example: by percentages (though I didn’t ask that). My goal for next week is to see if I can gain a better quantitative understanding of business owner’s knowledge of their customers and demographics by soliciting answers that are a bit more specific. I plan to have a piece of paper that has 10 people and ask: Say you only had ten customers this week, of those ten, about how many would be women? Vs children? Vs men? On an average week? Generally, when business owners understand their customers they are able to directly market towards them. For example, perhaps if children are buying often, they can also have candies available for sale. Perhaps the children would then bring enough to buy both a packet of spice and a candy. Also, how many of each spice are sold weekly? It is good to understand inventory.
  11. 11. I also asked Uncle Charlie if he knew who else in the neighborhood sold spices. He said that he is the only one and that he has been doing it for 15 years, longer than anyone in VP. I asked what made his product unique. Fatima answered for him, stating that while other people diluted their spices (ex: with flour), Uncle Charlie kept his spices pure. His goal is to provide a good product and not necessarily to make money. My next question meant to uncover how much Uncle Charlie thought about finances and profit. I asked him how much he made on a weekly basis. Uncle Charlie could not answer this question. I then asked him how much he made on a daily basis. He could not answer this question. This part was when I felt the most uncomfortable and when I think Uncle Charlie was most frustrated with me. He explained to me: “as soon as I make money, I spend it: on bread, eggs, milk. The grandchildren come to me in the day and tell me they are hungry so I send them to go buy bread.” I wanted an approximant number. I figured, even if money was being spent during the day he must have some idea of how much he made so I asked him to guess. To which he answered, he just didn’t know. I wonder if keeping track of how much you make, and perhaps buying groceries in one fell swoop at the end of the day for the next day for example, would result in more saved money? But the money is not consistently coming in either. There is no daily average that they can report. Though they did tell me that Sundays they bring in about 130 or 140R and that they know this amount because on Mondays they take all that money and go buy more spices. In general, I am very frustrated by these answers and wish Uncle Charlie had more of an idea what he made on a weekly basis. When it comes to financial literacy, how can you possibly manage money if you never know how much money you have? I left Uncle Charlie’s house and headed over to Auntie Allie’s. Auntie Allie, who sells iced bompies, seemed to have more of an idea of her market. Children are mostly her customers and they buy depending on when the family has money. For example, the week the government gives out disability grants, kids come to buy her bompies and she will make 50 or 60 R a day. Auntie Allie has been making bompies for 30 years. People come from the Cape Flats to buy her bompies and it seems that her business thrives on social networks of insider knowledge vs business networks. She does not advertise. In winter time when bompies are not as popular, Auntie Allie switches to making toffee apples for 1R. She is 68 years old but continues to run her business because without it she says she will sit around and get old. Her business keeps her “young and busy.” She is not interested in “chasing money” but wants enough for the house. She asks, “why people must starve if they can do something with their hands?” I asked Auntie Allie what she thought about the possibility of people coming together to collaborate and build bigger businesses. Both her and Fatima seemed to have very strong opinions about this. Auntie Allie claimed that it is not possible. She says, “one will end up in the grave, the other in jail. You can’t trust anybody.” She explained; “If I leave my shop for a minute and leave someone in charge of the bompies, when I come back there will be no bompies and no money. I must do work my own self.” Fatima went on to exclaim, “you can’t trust a friend even…even when you own a spaza shop, your kids will eat your food and make you bankrupt.”
  12. 12. This issue of trust is something that intrigues me. In so many ways this is an interdependent community where trust, generosity, and social relationships are necessary for survival. Why then does so much distrust around business relationships exist at the same time? I pushed them further. “It must be possible to work together”, I said, “theSomolians do it.” They explained that the Somolians have a boss. They work for this boss as a team. “Coloured doesn’t work like this. We are stingy and won’t come together. Selfish.” Also, competition seemed to be a problem. Auntie Allie says that she knows that no one in her neighborhood will also try to sell bompies because that would cause trouble. She describes her business as her livelihood and that anyone who tried to have the same business would be taking “my piece of bread out of my mouth, my kid’s mouth.” According to both Auntie Allie and Fatima, collaboration or any trust that would be necessary to build a larger business was just not possible. This made me sad. Was there any hope for a more vibrant economy in Valhalla Park- one that went beyond survivalist strategies? Part of the possibility comes from economies of scale and by their own opinions that seemed to be impossible. Im not sure if asking these questions or wanting this to be a possibility is stupid of me. This week I became interested in two things. Financial literacy in Valhalla Park, in terms of how and if people keep track of money and planning behind expenses and the issue of trust as a barrier to business collaborations. I am trying to be careful to not make immediate judgments of those I interview. As Ross states, “Impoverishment raises the difficult question of how to plan for the future. Middle- class people often comment on what they see as a lack of financial and future planning in poor people’s lives…money at hand can purchase goods, soothe social relations, connect people into networks that have future use. To characterize people as lacking financial astuteness is to underestimate the dexterous ways in which they do try to make ends meet.” The answers that I got to my questions on market research and financial literacy were not what I was hoping for or expecting, but that’s okay. Drawing on your own experiences and on ‘Fieldwork Stories’, write a journal that reflects on the way in which working in collaboration with your guide, and with the Civic more generally, has shaped your research- its nature, its process, the conversations that surround it, and the ways in which these elements shape the knowledge produced. As your own engagement features centrally in all qualitative research, what did these aspects of the project help you experience, reflect on, and learn? I appreciate that the Civic had the community support and ethos to be able to introduce strangers from another country into the homes of people in their community. I think that the research I conducted would have been much more OBSERVATIONS & REFLECTION 5 (Unfinished)
  13. 13. difficult without Fatima’s help, maybe even impossible. I was introduced in Afrikaans to people that she knows and that reduced the suspicion around me. Her good community reputation and the community reputation of the Civic extended to me as a researcher by virtue of our relationship. I was a trusted stranger and my research accepted as worthwhile. I am not sure that I would have been able to access this community otherwise: as an American, a privileged university student, and a non-coloured. The point of departure between Fatima and I was our take on business in Valhalla Park. I was determined to find the potential of the informal economy and business owners. I wanted to see if there was opportunity for growth, beyond survivalist strategies. I would question people on their understanding of how much money they acquired per week vs. spent. Fatima seemed to not understand or enjoy my research. I’m not sure if this was just my impression or her actual feelings but that is how I felt. In contrast, Auntie Fadeelah seemed to be interested in my research and was herself a fascinating study of a financially savvy individual. I interviewed her during my final research session on both her tuck shop and the soup kitchen that she ran with profits from the shop. This interview made me so happy because I realized 1) that the questions I had previously been asking were not stupid questions 2) that it is possible to keep track of expenses despite challenging financial circumstances 3) that it is possible to build a large business, even with little initial capital. I was hoping in my interviews with others to come across similar answers and attitudes towards business and financial planning.
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