Thursday, February 01, 2007

research assistant

“When he was a kid his father went to cut sugar cane every year. This is when we lived on the farm. When his father came home, after months of working in São Paulo, L would run screaming and crying. It always took a while for him to get used to his father’s presence.”

L’s mother told me this story one day when I was sitting with her while she was cooking.

L has been my research assistant for the last month and a half. He and I have worked on several short projects together and, have most recently been interviewing men in his neighborhood who go to cut sugarcane.

It has been interesting to observe our different angles on the subject. We clearly have different interests. I ask more general questions about the laborer’s relationships to his friends and family. What is the experience like to be away from your families? What is the work like? How is it different than employment near home? L, on the other hand, is more interested in details (ones I wouldn’t necessarily think of asking). He always asks---so, what is the food like in the lodgings? Is there entertainment, televisions? Are you treated badly by authorities? How much money can you make in a month if you work really hard? What was it like the first time you went away to work?

L is twenty-one years old. He has repeated years in school several times so he is currently at the 8th grade level in school. Although he says he is going to study more, it is clear that he is at the point where he is weighing the benefits of more education against the money he would make if he went to work fulltime.

I think L is a good example of what many men his age are thinking about in this city. Many of them ask, why study if all I am just going to end up going to cut sugar cane?