the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
Field Notes: November 7th, 2017 - Denver, CO
Another entry that is less detailed about my experience - and jumping right into analysis. Time and time again my professor will admonish me. Stick to what happened, Gertz's 'thick description' of the sights, smells, the lists, the details, and the rest (the big picture) will take care of itself later. In hindsight I can only agree. At the time, perhaps, remembering my discomfort and anxiety, perhaps this was my way of putting my feelings into a box? So they wouldn't sink me?
Washing dishes is an interesting experiment in resources. In a sticks and brick house we often don’t think of water, maybe no more than complaining about the water bill in summer. But when you are a nomad variables creep in.
First, obtaining and storing water. Our homes are hooked into a grid, but when you are on the road, getting water requires an extra effort. Vandwellers store less water generally than RVers that have built in tanks. Instead they use repurposed gallon milk/water jugs or jerry cans that can hold 5-8 gallons. Gallon jugs can be refilled at water stations often found at Walmarts and other stores. Otherwise, like RVers they have to find a “spigot”. Sometimes stores say, sure, just fill up - no cost. But more likely the nomad purchases the right to use a spigot. Add to this that water is heavy. At 8 lbs per gallon not only does the nomad have to consider how much they can lift easily, but RVers have to decide whether to travel with empty tanks to conserve water or full, to have it available if they are going to be boondocking.
In RVs there is the additional concern of cleaning and purifying tanks in order to ensure the supply stays safe.
Water also has to be “pumped” potentially. Many vandwellers rely on jug taps and gravities and some on foot pumps. Others will install an electric pump like I have in my RV. The consideration there is there has to be electricity to run the pump and it has an on/off switch to be mindful of. When an RV is hooked up to water in a campsite, however it is pressure fed like in a house. Which means using special pressure regulators to ensure the water pressure doesn’t blow out frail RV plumbing. Leaks can also be more troublesome - RVs move and bounce and are subjected to freezing conditions more often than a house. A leak in an RV can also cause a lot more damage. In winter, RVs often can’t be hooked up to water because of the exterior hoses and freezing concerns. Additionally, inside, care must be taken to keep the freshwater tank and lines from freezing in often poorly insulated cabinets.
So an RV has two water systems to maintain - I tend to use my tank - cheaper often when it comes to paying for hookups, and also, if the pump starts to run on its own, I know I have a leak I have to chase down.
Hot water isn’t a given - I chose not to hook up and test my hot water tank this year. I can heat water on the stove for dishes, and the shower is currently a storage closet. I soon learned that washing dishes can easily generate 2-3 gallons of water and with a “gray” tank that only holds fifteen gallons, it doesn’t take long to be full. Requiring dumping in a legal dump station. Again, another “resource” that living in a sticks and bricks house we don’t think about unless we have a plumbing problem.
The “black” tank where sewage goes is also small - mine is 10 gallons. And you have to use a lot of water, in addition to waste digesters, so that toilet paper and excrement don’t form solids and clog the pipes and make it so you can’t dump. I’m considering a composting toilet - but it will then require peat moss/sawdust and emptying the urine daily in a public toilet.
Washing dishes offers several options - cook and eat less/using pots/utensils/plates less - so more ready made things or fast food/takeaway, use more disposable products (then using different resources) or try different water saving dish washing methods - such as spray bottles with soap and rinse water and a lot of paper towels. I’ve ended up doing a little of the first and third. The third however, while it cleans adequately takes a long time - so I’m using another resource - time. Especially because space is limited, you can’t just let things stack and do it once a day.
While none of this is necessarily gender related, it does speak to the lifestyle of nomads where life becomes more focused on seeking out and obtaining subsistence resources, utilizing them more efficiently, and often changing ingrained cultural habits.
These field notes, while essentially raw, are an edited version. While I have tried to leave them intact in order to offer my project visitors an authentic peek into the process of creating an ethnography, as well as my own emotions concurrent with the experience, at times I have needed to remove or modify information to protect my relationships, or my informant's privacy. Grammar and spelling is only modified when necessary for readability, I've designated omissions with [...], and sometimes will add hover notes for clarification. Please see methodology for more information.