A day in researching sense of place in the National Park “Galicica” in Macedonia

By Bojan Rantasa, MSc-student International Master of Rural Devleopment (IMRD)

Earlier I introduced my thesis research regarding the ‘Sense of place in Galicica national park‘. My research is coming to an end, but I am still cautious to speak of results prematurely. So I will share how my research days look like. Embarked on the mission to do a field research in the National Park “Galicica” in Macedonia, I begun packing my backpack: 

  • Field audio recorder. I will do open interviews with people, and writing notes whilst doing interviews is out of the question. First, if I write, I will have to pause the conversation and that will take a lot of time, and the person might forget what he or she was talking about, but most important, I am too lazy to write.
  • Photo camera. I am researching sense of place, and having visual records of the places is a must. At least this is how I see it.
  • Video camera. Photography is beautiful and my favourite art, but sometimes it does not say enough. Image and sound is compelling to more senses than just image.
  • Handheld GPS. I should not get lost, but it will also come handy in marking those places that people see important, and making a map of what I’ve researched, as places reside in locations.
  • Replacement batteries. I do not think that I will bump into a MediaMarkt shop behind that mountain peak.
  • Walking stick. It is a mountain, dogs wondering around, thorny bushes, and my left knee is not really in a good shape. Besides, this one has a ¼” screw on the top, so I can use it as a monopod for the camera.
  • Some snacks. I will spend a full day out.
  • Sun tan cream. I hope that there will be some sun today.
  • Toilet paper. No need to stress this importance.

Well, if people are not scared from my looks, I figure that means that they are open for a conversation on their sense of place. So I’m off on the first bus to the next village on my list. I arrive there around mid day. At this time only retired people are in the village. I walk around and I meet an old granny. But she refuses to speak with the recorder on. She says that afterwards someone might come to look for her. I, on the other hand, refuse to talk to her without the recorder. It is not only the issue of not noting all the detail of the conversation, but it is the issue that at a later stage of my research I will see some interesting correlation, something I might use to build a theory on. Now if I have only my written notes, I will not have this new thing noted. But if I have an audio recording of the conversation, I can check if there is really a pattern or something to relate to my new discovery in the interviews I’ve did in the past. Additionally, people that refuse to talk with the recorder on are people that have something to hide. So those people will tell me less or even lies, thus I can consider them as a misleading factor, or simply a waste of time. So I go my way. The granny did give me a boiled egg, as it was Eastern just yesterday, it will come in handy for my lunch later.

I run into another old woman. The village seems quite deserted now, and only women are around. The woman refuses to talk to me at all. She says that I should talk to the men. I’ve noted this hierarchy of talking to outsiders in other villages as well. Men do the talking with me, while the women just go and bring the drinks. However, I did have some interviews with women here and there, so this whole research is not going to be totally men sided.

Finally I run into a man. And he looks like he is eager to talk and has no problems on the recorder. But states that he does not have a good vocabulary and he is not to be emitted on the radio or TV. So we start, about him self, his life path and life choices, the history of the village, the current state of the village people, the sacred sites, etc. I do not have a particular structure, I just know that I need to get these points from this man, but I let him lead me in the conversation. I put tricky questions to make him think or react, and sometimes I explain in detail about my self and my research in order to gain greater confidence. At the end of the conversation, after a whole hour or more, I think about one quarter of the talk is something that I can use for my thesis.

Now, as I’ve gained some knowledge about the village, I go to find and document the places the man just stressed either as important and/or as sacred. This time I did not meet anyone there, but sometimes I run into people there and I ask them more about that place or I do a full interview. On this occasion I documented the main village church, the monument from the second world was; the centre of the village; the village water spring; and a small thing that resembles like a church that was built by a Dutch person that owns a house in this village, and that had a dream in which he dreamt that he should build some church there, so he did (locals say that old people spoke of an old church at that same place).

By the time I finish documenting all these places the working people came back in the village, as they work in the city of Ohrid some 27km away (a very big distance for their understanding). So I go to the village centre, sit in front of the village shop and talk to some of the people that are already there. I do start talking to only one person, but by the time I finish my conversation every person there is talking to me. This situation gives me the opportunity to talk to many people at the same time, and is very good to confirm what I’ve already heard from the individual conversations beforehand. However, as on these places mainly men come together to drink a beer and talk about daily politics, I can not get any personal feelings related to the place(s) as I would in an individual interview. Still, a very valuable experience.

Interested? See http://www.galicica.rantasa.net/  or emial me: bojan@rantasa.net

1 thought on “A day in researching sense of place in the National Park “Galicica” in Macedonia

  1. What a nice presentation of a wonderful research project !

    As I remembered you are always with your baby bike. Maybe your left knee couldn’t allow you to use the bike. What a sheet because your are a man of bike. Anyway, this is a temporal situation without your baby.

    Go ahead my dear friend, am sure you will do a goo job over there and acquire new research skills and experience.

    Serge Eric,

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