The Prudent Fieldworker’s Guide to Preparation and Packing
Part I: General Tips, Northern Europe, North America, North Africa and the Middle East
by Professor Athanasious Schadenpoodle
[Editor’s Note: While Prof. Schadenpoodle has, to our knowledge, only gone on two excursions, he is quite famous in our field for his awareness of, and proactive preparation for, hazards. On six separate occasions, campus security has had to rescue students who inadvertently triggered the defensive perimeter around his office, and two hapless sophomores spent over three days lost in the steam tunnels under the campus trying to find it in the first place.]
Fieldwork has long been the lifeblood of our discipline—we rely upon our far-flung native-speaker coworkers to provide the data that validate our theories, even as we ourselves have the job of weeding out all the data that don’t. However, the same fieldwork that serves as our lifeblood can also spill it, as the world outside habitable academic environments is a harsh, unforgiving place, devoid of both safety and espresso, and ofttimes swarming with venomous insects or vicious sloths.1
Suitable preparation cannot avert all harm, but it can ameliorate a host of problems, particularly if the exact characteristics of the fieldwork locale are taken into account. Clearly, some threats are more prevalent in one area of the globe than another—malaria, for example, is endemic only in the more tropical regions, while French pop music rarely escapes its home country. Below, I shall provide some initial recommendations, keyed to particular circumstances, that should make your life much easier (or even prolong it).
General Notes: The safest strategy for general travel, of course, is to create a ten- to fifteen-foot radius free of all forms of life around yourself, while ensuring you have a separate air, water, and food supply. This may be difficult to accomplish, however, especially in Coach, so some measure of compromise is necessary. One can only look forward to the day when the careful fieldworker can use remote holographic projection for most work.
Add to pack:
|| Disease, injury, violence, travel-based ennui, American tourists, kidnapping.
- Halazone tablets (for treating water).
- Wide-spectrum antibiotic tablets (for when the halazone doesn’t work, or you accidentally bump into another person, mammal, reptile, or other chordate).
- Large umbrella with metallic foil mesh woven between cloth layers (for sunspot activity).
- Eighteen to twenty six-foot lengths of copper wire, each with small attached metallic spike (to attach corners of umbrella to ground in order to create a Faraday cage—very useful for electromagnetic storms).
- Flare gun.
- Burn ointment (for general use, and also if you misfire the flare gun).
- GPS tracking device and internet-capable broadcaster (for checking weather conditions, determining chance of harmful meteor showers, and accessing phrase-book software).
- Aerosol insecticide, with wide-area dispersal nozzle (two to four gallons should be sufficient unless traveling to tropics, or going outside for more than two hours).
- Packet of uplifting religious tracts (attempting to distribute these will usually ensure that other travelers stay a safe distance from you, especially if the cover has the word “oneness” in it somewhere, or a picture of a smiling man in a colorful mu-mu).
Northern Europe and North America
General Notes: These remain popular locales for fieldwork, partly because of the (erroneous) perception of comparative safety and partly because necessities such as coffee and air-conditioning are frequently accessible. They are concomitantly over-harvested, although more remote areas such as Albania or Manitoba remain comparatively pristine.
Add to pack:
||Violence (particularly in the vicinity of English football games, or Chicago), Axiomatic Prescriptivists (U.S.), Björk (Iceland, parts of Scandinavia), forced consumption of bad alcohol (Russia), forced consumption of decent alcohol (Czech Republic), vowel depletion (former Yugoslavia), surströmming (Sweden), French pop music, porcupines (Northern U.S., Canada), Swiss warlords,2 American politicians.3
- Everything from previous list—umbrella is also useful against porcupines, which will attempt to gain a position above the traveler and then plummet.
- Several items of apparel with Canadian maple-leaf logo (regardless of where one is at the time, it is quite likely that Canadians will be ignored or even approved of by the local population, so Canadian makes an almost perfect “cover nationality”).
- At least eight doses of a strong diuretic, such as Lasix—helps flush alcohol from system after being subjected to eastern European friendliness rituals, and sodium from system after being subjected to Southern U.S. food.
- Flexible decoy waterfowl, such as swan (can be used to distract oncoming Björk; also, provides customs agents with suspicious, yet legal perceptual cue to investigate, keeping them happy and exercised).
- (If traveling in Russia) List of highly complimentary things to say about Mr. Putin (and, we should point out in case any Russian government personnel are reading this, we mean every one of them. Honest. No, really. We’re sure he can cure scrofula merely by briskly slapping someone).
- (If traveling in Mississippi or Alaska) List of highly derogatory things to say about Mr. Obama (and, we should point out in case any Republicans are reading this, we mean every one of them. Honest. No, really. We’re sure he turns into a French-speaking Muslim werewolf and eats small children wrapped in American flags).
North Africa and the Middle East
General Notes: These are much safer areas to do fieldwork in than they used to be (statistically, simply removing the Hittites decreases threat levels by 45%), and despite the fact that many of the dominant languages of the region are well-studied in general, there is much that needs to be investigated in regards to local dialect variation (which is enormous). A number of smaller language groups lack sufficient description at all, and there is always room to try to figure out what Maltese is really up to, and where it is hiding many of its vowels. Still, the area is by no means fully safe.
Add to pack:
|| Disease, injury, violence (both the regular and the sectarian sorts), hyperthermia, dehydration, prolonged harangues (both the regular and the sectarian sorts), titanic military-industrial snafus, high-speed traffic-seeking pedestrians (Egypt), crocodiles, high-speed pedestrian-seeking traffic (all cities), obesity/diabetes.
- Triple the usual quantity of insect repellent. If this seems excessive, go read about leishmaniasis (but wait until you’ve already bought the plane ticket).
- If possible, a fifty-gallon tank of water with battery-powered motor trolley.
- Only items that have no obvious insignia of any religious belief/denomination. It doesn’t matter what your religion is or whether you even have one; it will probably bother someone. Do not attempt to pass yourself off as an adherent of some small, unassuming pacifistic sect—it will make everyone suspicious on general principles (yes, this means throwing out the deflective religious tracts mentioned above). Likewise, don’t assume that appealing to traditional beliefs will endear you to the group you are studying (even Enlil and Osiris are controversial these days).
- Any text on zoology, specifically mammalian physiology. You want to know what’s on that plate, although if it’s looking back at you, it’s almost certainly sheep.
- An easily-foldable reflective sheet (the higher the albedo, the better—aim for 100% mirror equivalent)—very handy for deserts.
- Only items that have no obvious insignia of any national group that has attempted to attack or colonize the area in the past few centuries. Unfortunately, about half (or more) of fieldworkers are from one of these national groups. Canada still works, as does Liechtenstein (unless you’re in a country whose postage stamps are competing for collector status against the philatelic juggernaut that is the latter).
- Extra cash. For “paperwork.”
- (If traveling in Syria or Libya) A number of fairly brightly-hued items of apparel, to help the friendly undercover police officers keep track of you (they will anyway, but you might as well be nice and make it easy for them—and besides, very few local miscreants are stupid enough to attack anyone the secret police are following).
[Part II will appear in the next issue of Speculative Grammarian. —Eds.]
1 Editor’s note: We don’t understand it, either, but it’s not a typo.
2 The fact that none of these have as yet been sighted is evidence only of their extreme cunning and stealth.
3 Decidedly less stealthy than Swiss warlords, and usually less cunning—but much better funded.