I conducted fieldwork in Guatemala for almost four months, between August and November 2012. During this time, I interviewed my nine interviewees using informal, qualitative interviews. By informal, I mean that the interviews were designed to be more like conversations than actual interviews, and so every interview would be different from the other ones. I did have a predefined questionnaire, but I did not follow it very strictly. Still, I had some guidelines that I followed. Here, I will present some of the thoughts I had before, during and after the interview process.
Hiring an assistant
After arriving in Guatemala, I did not start my fieldwork right away. First, I attended a language school for two weeks to freshen up my Spanish. I quickly realised that although I could speak and understand Spanish sufficiently to hold a conversation, conducting interviews might be harder. I realised that I needed an assistant, and my Spanish teacher, Victor Garcia, was kind enough to help me. Garcia is a man in his sixties who has lived in the Quetzaltenango area for 25 years. When I was his student, he was very interested in my project. He is not a Maya himself, and he wanted, like me, to learn more about Maya spirituality.
All interviews, except the interviews with Martin, were done in Spanish. For all of the interviews with Spanish-speakers, I was accompanied by Garcia. Bringing an extra person to an interview may be a risk, because a bigger audience may make the interviewee feel less secure and less willing to share her or his thoughts. However, I think bringing Garcia may have had the opposite effect as well. Because he is Guatemalan, and because he speaks Spanish fluently, some people may have found it easier to trust him than me.
Garcia has been of invaluable assistance to me. He helped me overcome the language barrier by translating from vivid, slang-filled Spanish-as-spoken into the artificial, standard Spanish that I had learnt from books. He could, as a native speaker, easily pick up on small details during the interview that I would not have noticed until I transcribed them.
Garcia got to know me, and my recurring mistakes when speaking Spanish, during our two weeks of Spanish lessons. Because of this, he could also translate the other way, helping the interviewees understand me better. And so did he not just help me by explaining answers, he also helped me ask better questions.