My teammate, roommate, Duke classmate (etc.) Alyssa just posted an excellent write-up of the actual status of our field work compared to theoretical expectations. Please check it out: http://alyssaqed.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/in-situ/
I thought I’d add a few of my own observations:
In Theory: We are staying in an AC room.
In Practice: We only have AC a few hours a night (if we are lucky), and a fan (if we are lucky).
In Theory:In case of a power outage, the building has a bank of batteries and an inverter, so that power will continue to be supplied to fans, lights, and the modem.
In Practice: The power is out so often that the bank of batteries is always running low (since it gets very little power to charge). Therefore, when the main power supply runs out the backup will follow after some time, leaving us to sweat (sometimes in darkness) and consider the meaning of still air.
In Theory: We are in India for field work, and will explore India on our days off.
In Practice: There has not been a single day off in one month.
In Theory: We ask a community questionnaire to the village leader, or pradhan, in every village or hamlet we visit. This allows us to understand infrastructure, nearby industries, and many other characteristics of a community rather than repeating these questions for each household.
In Practice: It can be hard to find the pradhan, or elected village leader. Instead, it is often necessary to group together several knowledgeable men in the community, frequently teachers (who laugh extensively about the fact that they are the most learned men in the community, including in English, but cannot understand a word of what you are saying). Also, they may not actually know anything about the village.
In Theory: I absolutely, positively love Indian food. I could eat it all the time and never get sick of it! In fact, I’ve never come close to getting sick of it on any previous trips to India, and miss it when I’m home (true).
in Practice: I got sick of having the same things for breakfast, lunch and dinner after about a week. Turns out that yellow dal, rice, roti, and some sort of veg actually can get old all by themselves.
Variety is priceless… particularly in the form of Honey Loops, my new favorite treat when I need variety. I’ve found a local shop with soymilk and the two together are unbeatable. Honey Loops are a somewhat less sweet and less-chemically colored version of Fruit Loops.
In Theory: We are very well hydrated after drinking well over 5 liters of water a day
In Practice: Our urine is constantly a shade of dark yellow/brown that it has never been in the USA. I often go 8-9 hours without needing to use the restroom after being in the field and drinking this much water – we are sweating out almost every drop of the water we drink.
In Theory: 120 degrees is very hot.
In Practice: 120 degrees is like living inside of a hair dryer. You are being baked from the inside out. If there is any time during the day that I am not sweating, it is a rarity. This is not hot – this is like living in an inferno. Somehow, even in this heat, people spend hours a day cooking (top pic) and scientists we are working with spend long hours in an enclosed room testing stoves (bottom pic).
In Theory: Hats are a useful way to protect one’s face from the sun.
In Practice: Without this hat, I would be a burnt piece of matzoh.
In Theory: Peer reviewed publications explain the challenging living conditions and environmental concerns in developing countries like India.
In Practice: These are experiences for which there is no substitute.