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Field research, film, and sharing meals

by Gabriela Bila Advincula

May 19, 2021

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It’s said that once you eat someone’s food, you become part of them too. I am for sure a different person after the With(in) project.  It started as my masters thesis proposal and turned into the biggest adventure of my life. 

Is there a connection between the act of procuring food, preparing food and eating together, that can tell us something important about the community we live in? This initial research question led to a series of events and I am nothing but immensely grateful for the opportunity to have lived this work. Thanks to the local teams that trusted me and so kindly welcomed me into their communities. No effort was spared, and this work benefited greatly from the communal spirit they brought to it. 

With the Chicoco crew in Port Harcourt

Nigeria blew my mind. Every second in Port Harcourt was an adventure and an intense learning process. Everything was so extreme and different from what I knew so far that it was hard to make sense of things in my head, I just had to go with the flow.

There I stayed at the temporary Chicoco headquarter—they are building a new facility to be open very soon. It’s a house, an office, a studio, a farm, a swimming pool for the kids and everything else it might need to be. It’s non-stop coming and going of the many Chicoco trainees, the house keepers, the keeper’s kids, the foreign researchers, the cats, the admins, the repair guys, the chickens... Michael and Ana handle all of this. They head Chicoco and they take care of everything and everyone with immense love and life commitment. They are fueled by some sort of nuclear power generator.

Chicoco comprises the cinema, the radio, the city mapping and the journalism branches. It facilitates young talents from Port Harcourt to develop their own artistic language, critical thinking and professional skills. Chicoco provides their trainees with the platform and the tools to produce brilliant things. Everything they make is original, powerful and technically precise.

During the visit to Port Harcourt I was paired with Chicoco Cinema people. Fingers, Gloria, Grace, Imanny, Prince, Promise, and Tekena did the filming, audio recording, and local production of the piece. Starting early, our crew would meet at the headquarters, check the equipment and then head to our unpredictable mission around the busy markets, crowded homes, animal sacrifices, and missing trains of Nigeria. I’m very grateful for the chance to learn from them and to have their talent be a part of this thesis. 

With Circulo de Amigos,  UdeG, Charles, and Ashley in Guadalajara

Mexico made me feel at home. The energy reminded me a lot of Brazil, so similar, yet so different in many other ways. Eventually I noticed that I knew Lomas del Centinela’s paths by heart, so much I would be walking around the community covered in white dust. One path I learned very quickly: from the community center to the Circulo de Amigos headquarters.

Edith created the Circulo de Amigos Treffpunkt to support community development in Lomas del Centinela, with its people collectively shaping and setting the future of the place they live in. Lomas is in the beginning of its process to create a local identity and bonds of trust among neighbours. The Circulo foments this process by promoting many cultural, artistic and educational activities to engage the people to make things together. Edith and Eva lead all these activities with a lot of passion and dedication. They are constantly creating new enterprises, such as the Huerto. It’s a farming area by the church backyard with medicinal and edible herbs planted and maintained by the neighbours.

The Circulo de Amigos also facilitates research on mobility at Lomas conducted by the University of Guadalajara - UdeG. Mayra is the head of this research and was key to connect the MIT City Science team with Lomas. Besides this thesis, our research group is involved with a long lasting collaboration with UdeG to understand Lomas and imagine new paths with the community.

Ashley and Charles were behind the lenses there. They are two very talented and dedicated filmmakers who spent entire days moving around Guadalajara. We started early in the morning to film Eva in Lomas, then moved all the way to Guadalajara center to fly a drone over the market, then back to Lomas again to record the local baker making a night batch. The day ended with a shot of tequila while we were copying video off SD cards at midnight. It was tough but a lot of fun; it wouldn’t be Mexico otherwise.

With Nada, Sarah, and Menna at the Dawar Kitchen in Cairo

Egypt is a difficult place to access but once you are in, you are in. There you are immersed in overwhelming beauty and surrounded by warm people. In Cairo I was lucky to be adopted by incredible women that took care of me and made this research possible.

Nada is the manager director of the Dawar Kitchen, and she warmly welcomed us into the place she is so proud of. The Dawar Kitchen’s yellow roof can be seen from far away among the brick buildings of Ezbet Khairallah. Under this roof, Egyptian migrant and refugee women have a dignifying job and find a community they can rely on. The kitchen provides them with training to make their own recipes into scalable and well documented recipes to be produced commercially. The menu and the management responsibilities are shared among the team in a participatory way to empower them and provide lasting skills they may apply in future careers. 

To film the Kitchen I spoke with different film crews, and after many attempts, I found Sarah. She bravely agreed to join this endeavor despite all the complications Egyptian authorities impose over filming in public spaces, especially in the al-ashwaiat areas, which they relentlessly try to invisibilize. Sarah became a true “partner in crime," and didn’t spare efforts to make things happen during the tight time we had, from filming the meals to navigating sheep dealer scams. Sarah brought Menna to the team to film with us and the project benefited from their artistic sensibilities to capture the beauty that Cairo displays in every little detail. During the shootings, Sarah, Menna, Gihan, Nada, the kitchen women, and I would share banquets around the big table. The atmosphere was festive, cheerful, and it was really a delight to be there with them.

Finally, I’d like to thank Eva, Gihan, and MamaG, for the immense generosity with which they brought me into their homes and showed me, with a lot of pride, the poetry of their everyday lives.

Gabi

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