The RCA team in Indonesia smugly felt that since they had spent time in villages in 2010 their experience would be relatively up to date… how wrong we were!! The pace of change is accelerating fast.
During the briefing of new researchers for the recent study in June 2014 , we ran a session to reflect on how we should present ourselves in the village. We pondered long and hard on our attitudes and behaviours, reflecting carefully on how our appearance and conduct could hinder or help people to feel at ease with us. Those of us who had been involved in the RCA for the basic education programme in 2010 cautioned the others to ‘dress appropriately’- so no skimpy tops, tight fitting trousers or shorts. ‘Be respectful and considerate’ we intoned.
How ‘out of date’ we were. In the villages in E. Indonesia those of us who had taken heed of these words were the frumpiest, most over-dressed, most ridiculous people in the village. The village women, both Christians and Muslims, wore shorts, spaghetti strapped vests and leggings. Leggings everywhere! We ended up talking about a ‘leggings index’ as a possible ranking of proximity to district towns and disposable income!
Well, the experience is funny to recount. But there is a serious side to this… it highlights just how quickly we can become ‘ out of date’. People’s aspirations and way of life are changing fast. Together with this fashion consciousness are changes in lifestyle and consumerism and a marked increase in the need for cash to meet these ends. When we still imagine people in villages as they were before we do them a massive dis-service. We make assumptions which are simply wrong-headed.
One of the worst comments we heard on our return was, ‘ well, if they are wearing leggings they can’t be poor!’ . How out of touch is that?