Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

An Autoethnography: Constructing (& Interpreting) Cross-Cultural Awareness through the Mind of a Peace Corps Volunteer

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

An Autoethnography: Constructing (& Interpreting) Cross-Cultural Awareness through the Mind of a Peace Corps Volunteer

Article excerpt


As you read the passage in italics, I ask you to imagine. Imagine your eyes are closed. Imagine a voice is reading the scene to you. Imagine your construction of a visual scene of this story in your mind.

   A crowing cock interrupts the morning stillness that has gone
   unbroken since last night's drumming ended. He seems to be near my
   head. The initial outburst spurs an explosion. It's a chain
   reaction as, one by one, roosters begin crowing in a clockwise
   motion around the village until inevitably the sound is right next
   to my head again. They are our alarm clock. It is time to roll out
   of our hammocks. We have to get an early start this morning, it's
   barely past 5:00 a.m. Erik, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in
   Suriname, assures me there is a 'can't be missed' fishing spot
   about an hour down river where we can camp and catch large piranhas
   until our hearts are content.

   After drinking some coffee, we gather our fishing gear and walk the
   beaten dirt path to the river. Along the way we encounter a few
   Ndjuka women carrying large plastic buckets filled with clothes on
   their heads. These women are from one of the tribes of the Maroon
   people who are descendants of the runaway African slaves. Today
   they inhabit Suriname's interior rain forest. The Maroons still
   hold onto many of their traditional customs and beliefs. If you
   didn't know better you could easily believe you have been
   transferred back in time to old Africa. We exchange the appropriate
   morning greeting, "Ma-eweki" (good morning greeting to an adult
   female). "Ya-e-weki-e-Da. Fa yu weki?" (good morning response to
   adult male and asking me how I woke.) they respond "Mi weki moi,"
   (I woke well) I respond. Although, truth be told, it's far too
   early in the morning for me to be feeling good yet.

   The scene in front of us looks like something out of an Indiana
   Jones movie. Fog blankets the river and surrounding bush. Tall
   walls of pristine jungle flora guard either side of the river.
   Local women, wearing only wrap-around skirts reaching to their
   knees (called pangi), wash clothes and dishes on rocks at the
   river's edge. We pack the gear into our dugout canoe. Erik and I
   begin paddling down river with Erik's dog, Scrappy, standing at the
   bow of the boat watching for rocks. The vast green forest decorates
   the banks of the river, its large branches dangling over the
   water's edge. As the sun begins to heat up, the fog starts to rise
   above the jungle. Occasionally, as we paddle, we will pass small,
   thatched roof, open-air canopies built along the side of the river.
   These are small camps built by local Maroons and used as shelter.
   Nearby they will have plots of land where they will do their
   farming. Birds sing hidden safely in the deep forest while
   butterflies glide atop the surface of the water. (1)

The story you just read was taken from a journal I kept as a Peace Corps volunteer in Suriname, South America. Much as we constructed the scene in that story, come with me as I venture on a journey of reconstructing my personal cultural knowledge through constructive and interpretive/narrative epistemologies. This will be done in the form of an autoethnography. It is also a research study. Some will dispute the validity of an autoethnography being considered research. In that case, let us take a look at the meaning of the word research. The term can be defined as, "studious inquiry or examination aimed at the discovery and interpretation of new knowledge" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 1997, p. 627). Therefore, since I am examining how, when, and if I was able, as a Peace Corps volunteer, to establish a significant level of cross-cultural awareness, I feel safe in my presumption that this narrative can be considered research. To further validate this claim for those qualitative researchers out there, I will adhere to a few ground rules, which I will outline next. …

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