In the process of storytelling based research, I discovered that not being a local was not a disadvantage, on the contrary. I remember in Corrymeela, people would come to me, tell me their stories without any notice or context. After a casual chat, in which they asked where I was from, what I did there, and how I found the experience, they poured their hearts out, and I have been told on several occasions: ‘I have never told this to anyone before’.
When speaking to my mentors about it, they said most likely it happened because I was an ‘outsider’. When I asked a person I had met that year if they could tell me a story, they accepted. I was not expecting what followed. When I got towards the end of the form, and adapted the question and asked: ‘how likely would you be to tell your friends/family or organisations about this person?’, they said: ‘I have actually never told this to anyone else before. I wouldn’t just randomly bring this up in a conversation’. This really had an impact on me, and I am now happy I decided to interview community members as well, it just shows me how important it is to ask people for a story, as otherwise we might never get to know what is important to those we wish to empower.
The beginning of the project has not been without challenges. The fact that we were collecting the stories during Ramadan meant that it was harder to meet up collectively to follow-up on the progress. Especially young people tended to switch their activity to night time (as they sleep late during the day, and eat their first meal just before 9pm). Iftar (breaking fast after the sun sets) is also an important family tradition here, and that meant meeting people generally happened after 9:30pm, and the volunteers’ schedules varied.
Another challenge as I have been told and witnessed myself was collecting two stories from one person. People didn’t seem to find it hard to think of a story, but for two they needed more time. Some volunteers have been told they would get interviews from various people, though they would need to wait for them to have two stories ready.
The scribes we recruited seemed to be quite independent, despite most of them being quite young (16-18). They were happy to meet up, but when I ask if they needed any help or had any more questions, they enthusiastically responded that everything was in order.
Polako (slowly) we made progress.