Bringing the family into the field

“Come and greet me, baby!” was the usual greeting when I arrived with my baby at a meeting with my interlocutors. Although one could think that this was a special welcome in response to our white skin, this is a common welcome phrase throughout Cameroon whenever children are around. It is expected that children approach adults to say hello and if they are too small to walk they are passed around from arm to arm and usually addressed with warm words and smiles. Bringing my then six months old son and my partner to Bafoussam was definitely an ice-breaker. No matter where we went, our son attracted attention and eased the situation of a formal interview immediately.

The presence of my partner was also advantageous on many accounts. He, as a natural scientist, usually had a different point of view and perception of things that were said during formal interviews and informal meetings with my research partners. This often enhanced my own awareness for nuanced details during the conversations with interviewees and “common” interlocutors. Additionally, he often asked questions during interviews that I would have never thought of and that enriched my data collection tremendously.

Though bringing the family to the field is very rewarding in its own sense, it is equally challenging. When listening to the recorded interviews for transcribing, it was in the most important situations that I could not understand the person speaking – because my son was crying or chuckling in the background. When I was posing certain questions that were leading to a specific topic, my partner interrupted me and asked his own questions. These and other incidents like illnesses of my partner and the baby, interruptions to nurse the little one or to instruct my partner who came to Cameroon for the first time were not only not planned but sometimes exceeded my strength and exhausted me in a way I had never experienced before.

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