Living in Remote Mosuo Village: Obstacles with Fieldwork and Building Relationships

I woke up in the morning determined to finish a Daba pictograph set (two paper tablets connected to each other, both sides). I went downstairs for breakfast, which consisted of fried dough and a bowl of vegetable soup, and talked with the ten year-old son. He planned to shepherd the pigs again. We moved upstairs so that I could begin drawing. I copied down a complicated drawing of a soldier holding a banner spear, shield, and a sword. I wonder what war the soldier is fighting? These were made more than a 100 years ago, so these pieces of art may be depicting that time period or folklore of the past. The uncle leaves early in the morning to graze the cows, so I have no way of asking. I’ll try to ask tomorrow before I leave to go back to Lugu Lake.

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Self Portrait–Drawing Daba Ritual Art

After the son left with the pigs, I drew into the afternoon. It was very relaxing, but I became a bit restless. It suddenly started to rain. I decided to put the things away so they wouldn’t get wet and went downstairs to warm up by the fire in the living room. I was alone in the living area. Two of the older sisters were burning trash in the backyard. As I warmed up, loneliness started to hit me. In this household, only the child and uncle speak Mandarin (not native speakers, but enough to minimally communicate). So, when they are gone, I have no one to talk with. The sisters are really nice and are very patient when I try to speak with them in the Mosuo language, but it gets tiring after a while.

I warmed up and moved my art to the living area. The hole in the ceiling shone light right where I drew. It was still raining and cold, but the fire kept me warm. I drew till lunch, which the older sister made. She made fried wosong (my favorite! I bought it from the vendor the other day) with pork and vegetable soup. I devoured it all. They even mentioned my appetite and laughed. I don’t normally eat that much rice and food, but it all really hit the spot. I really appreciate that she notices I love eating vegetables…every meal has lots of greens nows (the ones I bought in Yongning). When we finished lunch, the sisters and grandmother went off to do their duties. I stayed in the living area until I decided I didn’t want to draw anymore.

I hung out with the older sister as she weaved using multiple types of tools. She first organized the different types of yarns with a triangular pole tool and spun them into a pattern. She then moved the patterned-together yarn onto a handheld weaving tool. She used different wooden sliders to move the pieces of yarn into each other as a tight, together product. The nephew who helped me hike to LJZ came by and talked with the family. The two sisters and him talked for a while in the Mosuo language. I was feeling a bit antsy and decided to go help the neighbors build their house. When I walked by, no one was there. Maybe they we’re eating or taking a break? I didn’t want to enter when no one was outside, so I just continued walking.

I walked through the town center, which included the elementary school and the guesthouse, and kept going down the street. People kept looking at me in surprise, but would smile and laugh when I’d wave. It’s tough to have no one to talk to and to be so different looking in a small village. That was starting to hit me. I left the village edge and hiked up a random path to a plateau that had a small shrine. I sat beneath the pines and looked out at LJZ. How am I supposed to learn about their culture and do fieldwork in a place where I don’t speak the language? Also, the people who can speak Mandarin are men, which I can’t speak with normally in the daytime. It is sort of a taboo to freely talk with the opposite sex in the day. All of these worries starting to circle around in my mind. I also wished I had a friend…there are no women my age in the village, at least that I’m aware of, and the men my age are out of the question for cultural reasons.

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View from Shrine

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Self Portrait–Hiding in the Woods to Recuperate (Haven’t Showered for a Week)

I sang to myself and watched the villagers go about their day. Singing has become my way of calming myself down and relaxing. I noticed that the neighbors were back working on the house in the distance. I slowly made my way back to the house and walked into the site.

The men on the wall smiled and laughed when they saw me (seems like everyone does that when they see me). I joined Sonna’s group and started filling buckets with wet dirt. At first I felt a bit useless because there were a lot of people helping that day. But after some time I fit myself into the system. While the men on the wall were compacting the dirt, one of the sons of the family started talking to me. I recognized him from my previous visit. I was so happy to talk with someone! We had simple conversation, but it was something. At one point, we were joking with each other. He made me accidentally spit out water I was drinking because I was laughing too hard. My day turned around completely because of him. I needed a good laugh. I don’t think he even realized how much I needed to talk to someone, especially my age.

We took a break an hour afterwards. I was placed with the men again. I kept to myself as they talked with each other in the Mosuo language, but the son starts asking me questions about America and my hometown. I suddenly remembered I brought along photos of my family and hometown. I excused myself to grab them quickly. When I handed the envelope to the men, they immediately immersed themselves in the photos. I was happy to make them interested in me! They joked that they wanted to join me back home. I said I’d be willing to show them around if they ever get the chance.

Exchanging the photos with them made the group feel more comfortable with talking to me. After that, working in the construction site was more enjoyable. When the sun set, I was ushered into the family’s home to eat dinner. I was once again in a room full of men, but this time they started conversation with me. I taught them how to say, “Cheers!” and they kept asking how to say things in English: hello, delicious, gross, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night, and banana. The room was filled with laughter. I even sang for them at one point. They wanted to hear an English song. This dinner was more enjoyable than the previous one for sure.

After eating pork soup with radish pieces and corn meal, it was time to head back home. I walked back with the older brother, Sonna, and headed to my room. I’ve been journaling every night before going to bed. It seems to be keeping me sane. Sonna leaves the house soon after to go to his partner’s home–he’s in a walking marriage relationship.

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