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Friday, October 28, 2011

How to Conduct an Interview with Folks who Don't Speak English

sorry for the radio silence! it's been a very busy last few weeks and the time has just gotten away from me! hopefully all is well with everyone back home and you all are enjoying the fall.

first big news: we hired a third ethiopian research assistant! his name is setey, and he's from the same village in the park as our two other assistants. we had to conduct interviews to choose him, and man, the interviews were SOOOO awkward!! first of all, there were eight candidates when we had been told there were only going to be four or five. actually, there were supposed to be nine people interviewing, but our liaison from the parks department nixed one guy before he even interviewed, on account of nepotism concerns (he is the son of one of our head scouts here in the village). the candidates were a wide range of guys who appeared to be between the ages of 12 and 40, but were actually all 17-20. weird. they pretty much spoke NO english, which made things awkward and challenging. ali and i were in charge of the first stage of interviews with the guy from the parks department. we had a sheet of paper for each person where they had to write their name, their age, where they were from, and their three favorite things about the simiens. some of them could read the questions (written in english), but others could not at all..... so that was an interesting and very revealing way to start! then ali and i asked them why they wanted to work for us. some of them said "because i am interested in your research" or "because i want to learn more about the park/about geladas", but about half of them said "because i need a job". one of them said "to survive." how are you supposed to respond to that? they didn't seem ashamed or anything, just stating the obvious. then i described our standard day to each interviewee - about how we walk all the time and how they will have to be somewhat independent, etc etc. finally, we asked them if they had any questions - none of them did. then we sent them inside to eshete, ambaye and julie (and one of the scouts who was there to "supervise" - the scout who's son had been nixed, so also awkward). inside they got asked questions about themselves - how many brothers and sisters they have, what they like to do for fun, what they want to do for work when they are older, things like that. eshete and ambaye (our two current assistants) apparently asked them really hard technical questions, like how long is the gelada gestation period and how far do geladas range each day. pretty hilarious! for the "what do you do for fun question", setey (the guy we ended up hiring) said LAMMERGEIER (a big scavenger bird up here, like a vulture) - i guess he did not understand the question, as it was a very random and also hilarious answer! after that part of the interviews, all but one of them literally RAN away up the driveway. very awkward.

after they had all finished interviewing and left, julie, ali and i discussed who we thought were the best candidates. it was really overwhelming because they all clearly really wanted and needed the job, but very few actually seemed qualified. in the end, we narrowed down the list to two people we thought would be a good match with the project, spoke enough english to get by, and were enthusiastic about what they would be doing. we then talked to eshete and ambaye, and asked them who they thought would be the best. their list overlapped with one name on our list, setey, and so we decided to hire him! we were a little unsure because he seemed very cocky and self-assured in his interview, but as we have been working with him this week, he's actually turned out to be fabulous. curious, smart, friendly and has a great sense of humor! one of the funniest things he does is say "SHIT!" (in english) when he makes a small mistake - like misidentifying a gelada or walking too close to them. he then apologizes profusely for swearing. very cute. we have been working this week to train him, which is a challenge given the language barrier. with lots of hand gestures and drawings and occasional translational help from ambaye, it's working out well. he has already learned how to recognize about 30 adult geladas and 8 or so juveniles, and we're really looking forward to him being a part of the project! he will be working with the juveniles (helping me and a postdoc who will be arriving in december with our data collection) so i will get a chance to really get to know him and also an extra pair of eyes and hands working alongside me! it's wonderful.

in our non-work life, the main highlight has been sharing meals regularly with eshete and ambaye. they have cooked for us once (shiro - very delicious), we have cooked for them once (pizza - not such a big hit with them), and together we made doro wot (chicken stew). it's been really cool to get to know them better - to see their house and how they cook, to watch movies together, and to teach one another words in english and amharic. they are really coming out of their shells and we're starting to feel like their friends in addition to their employers! their english is getting good enough that they can tell jokes and can understand when we joke around with them. it's so much fun! it is so great to feel like a real part of this community, instead of just the white researchers that live down by the lookout.

work has been going really well. we have been collecting data six days a week for the last month, and have been getting a TON of great data. i've found all my research subjects at least once this month, and three of my units (the Cs, Vs and Ds) almost every day. once setey is trained, i'm thinking about adding in an additional unit, the Ms, which have about 10 kids. it's great to feel like i'm making such good progress!

this weekend, we are headed to bahir dar, a town by lake tana about 10 hours driving from here. we are going to buy food at a real grocery store and to mail hormone samples back to the states. we are also going to go to the market there, to a restaurant that has the best pizza in the country, to a floating bar on the lake, and to generally just relax. it will be our first time out of the mountains since we got here in early september - it will be fun to go to a real town and not work for a day or two! yay for mini-vacations! :)

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