Let me entertain me, and I'll have a real good time!
October 27, 2011 2:49 PM   Subscribe

I need something to do at night that 1: Does not require electricity. 2: Will not rot, mold, or attract bugs. 3: Can be done by a solitary person. 4: Does not require particularly expensive materials, nor take up much room. 5: Is not particularly mentally taxing.

I'm starting fieldwork for my dissertation in about a month and a half. I will be in a rain forest in Cote d'Ivoire by myself for four months- the only female, the only non-Ivorian, the only student, etc. There are a bunch of Ivorian staff and researchers who will be in the forest as well, but after dinner, they head to their camp (and families) and I head to my camp, where I will probably be the solitary resident. I am trying to come up with some things to do to keep myself busy at night between eating, entering my data, and falling asleep. It's not safe to go out wandering by myself at night because there are all sorts of ravenous beasties, and I don't want to disturb the researchers and research assistants while they're decompressing from a long day of chasing monkeys and spending time with their families. I will also be decompressing from a long day of chasing monkeys, but alas, have nobody to hang out with.

Here are my assets:
I will have my computer, but no internet (and can only charge it during the day with a sweet solar panel backpack folding thing).
I will have a kindle with lots of books. However, I will also be decompressing from a long day of chasing monkeys, and reading may not be what I am up for all the time.
I will have some sort of kerosene lantern and a headlamp. No electricity.

I know how to cross-stitch and crochet and am planning on bringing along some yarn and a needle, and maybe a cross-stitching project, too. I am an abject failure at knitting. Hive mind: what are your suggestions?
posted by ChuraChura to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (44 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
There are a million versions of the card game Solitaire and I find learning them and playing them very relaxing. They have whole books devoted to it which you might be able to download.
posted by victoriab at 2:54 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bring a guitar (or some other musical instrument).
posted by Pecinpah at 2:55 PM on October 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

Jigsaw puzzles are awesome, though they do take up some room. I suggest using a piece of cardboard or foam-board so you can move them around.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:55 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wood carving / whittling. A simple pocket knife will do for most things, and I'm guessing there's wood available where you're going. It might take a little while to build hand strength, but I find it therapeutic after long, physically demanding days. Plus, the results are fun to give as little unexpected gifts.
posted by ga$money at 2:59 PM on October 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

You could just go to sleep once it's dark and you're done for the day, and shift your schedule so you get your free time in the morning when it's light instead (assuming you aren't already up at first light). You might find lots of activities more fun when you don't need the lamp to do them and you're rested.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:02 PM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was going to say wood carving / whittling as well, but bringing a musical instrument to learn seems awesome, too.
posted by AaRdVarK at 3:05 PM on October 27, 2011

I quite enjoy unwinding after work by listening to music and doing a jigsaw puzzle. It feels like something my grandmother would do, except replacing her Victrola with my iTunes.
posted by jabes at 3:07 PM on October 27, 2011

Or exercise. Because chasing monkeys all day probably won't wear you out at all...

But really, who's to say that you'll be by yourself? If there are ravenous insects then I wouldn't really want to be with a group of people who would leave me alone for hours. Likewise I wouldn't want to leave someone else alone for that long either.
posted by theichibun at 3:07 PM on October 27, 2011

Write letters on paper to your friends and family, or keep a journal. I assume there will be a supply run into the nearest town every couple of weeks or so, and you can mail 'em then.

My (very limited) experience with kerosene lanterns is that the light is dim and yellowish, not much good for things that require good detail vision, like cross stitching. Colors also look weird. Writing does not take as much visual acuity as reading, so it's a good choice.

It's a pity you don't knit, because that's a skill that doesn't require much vision once you get good at it. Simple knitting (stockinette, ribs, etc) can be done almost by feel, which I don't find true of crochet (gotta look at every stitch to see where to poke the hook). Any chance you could give it another try? Besides, "I taught myself to knit by kerosene lantern in an Ivorian rain forest" is a claim few other knitters can make.
posted by Quietgal at 3:08 PM on October 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Since you're crafty, how cool would it be to learn a local craft? Maybe someone could show you during the day and you could work on it at night. I think embroidery, weaving, and wood carving are popular there.

Another mindless portable project : the classic friendship bracelet.
posted by beyond_pink at 3:09 PM on October 27, 2011

Sorry to pop back in so soon after it was posted, but these suggestions are great so far.

I'm looking at mandolins now - I think guitar might be out of my price- and packing-space range. I hadn't even thought of musical instruments! Maybe I'll get a harmonica. I will have a good pocket knife, and yes - finding wood won't be an issue.

My schedule is pretty well fixed, though it'd be great if I could shift things. I've got to be out with the monkeys by 5:30 AM or so, and I start heading home as it's getting dark under the canopy, around 4:30.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:09 PM on October 27, 2011

If you're bringing thread for cross-stitch, why not toss in some extra fabric and an embroidery hoop and practice creating your own embroidery designs. If you use white or other light colored fabric you can sketch out whatever you want to embroider with a pencil directly on the fabric. Then go to town. The basic embroidery stitch is to make one stitch, come up through the middle of that stitch to start your next stitch and then just keep doing that in a line. Unravel your floss into fewer threads in order to vary the thickness of your stitch and you can get a lot of variety.
posted by MsMolly at 3:12 PM on October 27, 2011

I was coming in to say what Quietgal said, write letters. Be like the great natural historians of old and bring some watercolors and sketch all the amazing flora and fauna you encounter.

Could you also maybe take cooking lessons from the local cooks? I learned how to make a couple of local dishes during a stint of field work. It was great fun.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 3:17 PM on October 27, 2011

Aside from solitaire, I would suggest juggling (starting with three small beanbag balls, you could move on to balled-up socks etc) and magic tricks. There's good starter books for both that come with some basic props and won't take up a ton of room in your bag.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

For an easier-to-tote musical instrument, harmonicas are tough to beat. But you might also consider a ukelele or a melodica.

IME, needlework (i.e. cross-stitch or embroidery) really requires decent lighting or you'll get serious eyestrain and headaches. If knitting isn't your thing, how about crochet? Or tatting?
posted by peakcomm at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2011

You could get a star chart, find a clearing, and get really good at identifying constellations.
posted by thewestinggame at 3:20 PM on October 27, 2011

Practice coin tricks?
posted by porpoise at 3:21 PM on October 27, 2011

You could try kumihimo using a disk, as per this recentish comment of mine; I don't think you'd need much light for it, especially if you picked colours with a lot of contrast. It's quite soothing; good for unwinding after a day of chasing monkeys.

On preview: seconding juggling, too. Teach yourself now; if you're past the stage of dropping them all the time by the start of the trip, you can leave the beanbags at home and take glow-in-the-dark balls, which recharge their luminosity when exposed to sunlight. Ooh, and maybe a yoyo. I think you could play with a yoyo in complete darkness if you wanted to.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:26 PM on October 27, 2011

Teach yourself sign language.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:31 PM on October 27, 2011

Meditation / classical yoga.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:39 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

A Rubik's Cube (+ and a solution book so you don't go crazy).

I would totally get into astrophotography too - even if you can't pack a telescope you can take some AMAZING time lapse photos of stars (inspiration). You'll have better conditions than you ever would in a developed city.
posted by trialex at 3:40 PM on October 27, 2011

Bring a blank notebook and a good set of colored pencils/your favorite drawing thingy and a good sharpener, along with a great pen(s).

Draw the flora and fauna around you and learn about the species specific to the Ivory Coast. Write down all you learn about each on their own pages! When you get home, you'll have a great resource of everything you saw. Don't forget to include knowledge from the local! Specifically, herbal uses of plants, the movements of animals, poisonous animals/plants and of course, things that are edible!
posted by fuzzysoft at 3:42 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

So that you can have light to do what you would like to do (especially crocheting or cross-stitch), could you add a small wind-up/solar radio with LED lights?

I also have this tiny Photon light with me at all times. It has a tiny switch that can be turned to the 'on' position.

Amazon also has windup/solar shortwave radios with LEDs, but I don't know about reception.
posted by apartment dweller at 4:00 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Buy a Fluke or Flea ukulele and get a few learn-to-play DVDs pre-loaded onto your laptop.

Also, on reading: I hear you on not being able to count on energy to read sometimes, but for some reason I'm usually able to muster the stamina for a good graphic novel (and they're not all about capes and masks). If I were in your shoes, I'd take Bone (that's a great price, btw, for 1400 pages of awesome).
posted by etc. at 4:15 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Needle tatting is easy to teach yourself (I flunk knitting as well, but I found needle tatting fun and enjoyable), but it does require some concentration.

Since you're already taking yarn, also get yourself a pocket loom and make fun stuff/gifties with it.

Get a small set of watercolors or pastels, take some gluesticks, and make your journal an artist's journal incorporating leaves, flowers, keepsakes, and whatever you find while you're there.
posted by faineant at 4:22 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are working in scientific research are there field notes you could be getting up to date while in country rather than waiting until you get home?

Otherwise, small musical instrument sounds like a good idea. A frisbee also has useful travel uses (toy/plate/bowl) and with a video preload you could learn some freestyling.
posted by biffa at 4:38 PM on October 27, 2011

I was concerned about exactly this problem when I did fieldwork in a similar set-up. Turns out, without electric lights, you really do get sleepy almost immediately when it gets dark. Also, with the physical and psychological stresses of fieldwork, you'll probably find you need more sleep than usual, anyway. I used to just about have enough energy and stamina left after dark to write a few pages in my journal, and then I was out like a light.

I had taken much more entertainment stuff with me than I ended up needing, and kind of regretted it, given the extra weight and hassle it ended up being.
posted by lollusc at 4:39 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you decide on a ukulele, you should also get a few books of sheet music (with chords), a ukulele chord guide of some kind (there are downloadable versions) and some kind of keyboard program you can use for tuning. I would also try to find chord sheets for whatever your favourite bands are. It can be lots of fun to cord yourself with a laptop and upload them for family and friends, whenever you can get into town.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:53 PM on October 27, 2011

Another small musical instrument is a recorder.
posted by maurreen at 4:54 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I spent a year in Africa (not under fieldwork conditions, but in a situation like yours where I was up very early every day, and didn't have electricity most nights - only a kerosene lamp). Seconding the points about how kerosene lamps don't actually give you enough light to do detail work very well, and that your circadian rhythm adapts very quickly to the ambient light when you're not surrounded by electric lights -- which means you'll probably find yourself feeling tired a lot sooner than you think you will, and you'll have less time to fill than you're worried about.

For those reasons, I would suggest bringing only small, lightweight things that you can use flexibly for a lot of different things. A deck of cards, maybe with a small book of solitaire games (although I have found you can create a lot of entertainment for yourself by inventing your own). Bring a notebook with blank pages; you can use this for everything from journaling to writing stories to keeping a scrapbook to drawing pictures. Bring something to listen to music on, or books on tape if that's your thing. Between those things and your Kindle, I think you will not have a problem filling those hours - and anything else will just be extra weight to carry and extra stuff to try to keep track of.
posted by forza at 4:57 PM on October 27, 2011

I know you said no electricity, but I would try to pre-load several seasons worth of TV shows onto an iPad. Ever wanted to watch something good like The Wire from start to finish?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:59 PM on October 27, 2011

Were I in your circumstances, I'd make sure to bring a shortwave receiver. You can hear all around the world. There is still a lot of programming out there. I like the Sony shortwaves, or Sangean.

Also, language courses are programming you can listen to to learn / improve your language skills. Use your computer or iPod or whatever. Practice by tuning in an appropriate signal on the shortwave.

If you want to TALK as well as listen, you could learn Morse code and do QRP (low power) ham radio. Dots and dashes, not voice. A Watt will get you around the world.

When you are bored, things get interesting. Pay attention to what happens to your mind and body.

memail me if you want specific recommendations on the above tech.

good luck! sounds like fun.
posted by FauxScot at 5:03 PM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you like working with your hands, papier mache is pretty easy to do.
posted by komara at 5:20 PM on October 27, 2011

A set of pan watercolors travels very nicely for your field journal. I would also try out some DreamTime style paintings that use pattern and stylized symbols of animals. It will make for a great handmade memory of your trip, and very meditative.
posted by effluvia at 6:03 PM on October 27, 2011

Get a Kalimba! They're so much fun.

I think guitar might be out of my price- and packing-space range.

Actually, there are travel guitars that are not too expensive and are extremely easy to carry around with you. The Martin Backpacker is a great one, and can be played very comfortably with a guitar strap. Visit any guitar shop and they should have travel-size guitars ranging from $120 - $300. The Baby Taylor is on the more expensive side but really not a bad deal considering the quality.

Another thing you could do is Yoga, Tai Chi, or some kind of similar practice that is both meditative, rejuvenating, and good for you!
posted by seriousmoonlight at 6:42 PM on October 27, 2011

Alas, even that is out of my price range, as I am a struggling graduate student spending my money on things like quick drying socks and notebooks to collect my data in. The $9 harmonica on amazon is much more my speed. People are making good points about me overestimating my verve at the end of a day of monkey chasing when it is dark, as well as the difficulties of sewing things in dim lighting. And perhaps I will try once again to teach myself how to knit.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:54 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could look for a few good origami books for the kindle and bring a few packs of paper - work on a thousand cranes, maybe :) Little flat origami things are fun to include in letters home, too.
posted by lemniskate at 7:53 PM on October 27, 2011

One of those rotary star charts for the appropriate latitude, and a small red LED penlight so you can read it without un-adjusting your eyes.
posted by expialidocious at 8:01 PM on October 27, 2011

Many great suggestions above, but I'd also like to point out that maybe you should take some steps to create friendly relationships with the staff and researchers? I get that you don't want to intrude but in my experience people tend to be quite welcoming to foreigners on their own (you may get a lot of "you live by yourself? how sad!"). Spending 4 months without any socialization outside of working hours sounds pretty lonely- even if you do something one night a week, that would break up the monotony. Maybe invite a couple of local women over for dinner, or something, to break the ice?
posted by emd3737 at 10:08 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge fan of paracord (random Amazon linky; there are many other sellers, colors, lengths) because it's such a lightweight and useful material to have around. Broken shoelace? Gate that needs temporary securing? Food that should be dangled from the ceiling? Paracord has you covered.

But people also do a lot of intricate knotwork with it, creating useful stuff like lanyards, bracelets and other projects. Perhaps learning to make these would occupy brain-fry time and provide you with useful, portable and unique gifts to give. At worst, you'll have brought with you a basic material that has a lot of problem-solving potential.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:41 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ask one of the local Ivorian staff/researchers to teach you something. It's likely you'd be welcome to spend time at the other camp if you feel like it, so in the first week or so you may see one of your colleagues doing something cool, so don't be afraid to ask about it. Learn some songs, get a lesson on a traditional instrument or percussion (share your harmonica-playing), ask about a wood carving style or some other handcraft that everybody there knows how to do with local materials and a knife... textile stuff may be more likely something that the guys wouldn't know how to show you, but you never know.
posted by aimedwander at 7:34 AM on October 28, 2011

Although my working conditions have never resulted in a separation as difficult as yours, I'd agree with the others that the last thing you want to bring with you is more stuff. I don't know if you'll be cooking your own food (probably not), but the thing that my coworkers and I ended up missing the most in our field sites is variety in food. All of us who've been to the field site multiple times now end up bringing a suitcase full of food and spices with us. Huge packets of homemade trail mix, m&ms, dried cranberries (especially if you are female and there's a chance of dehydration), etc. Even when I lived in a town with a supermarket and drove to the jungle instead of living in it, the first thing I did upon returning home to the States was stuff my face.

Field sites vary and my work hours were a bit longer than yours, but after I come home from a day of chasing monkeys, I am tired. On most field days I go home, shower, eat dinner, then pack my lunch for the next day. On my data cleaning days, I'm busy with laundry, data, cooking meals, and catching up on emails.

Your entertainment should be something small, portable, and easy to carry. I recommend paper for journaling and letters. I always wish I took more time to write stories of what the monkeys did.

If you have any questions or would love to share monkey stories, contact me!
posted by avagoyle at 2:35 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

avagoyle: "If you have any questions or would love to share monkey stories, contact me!"


Start a blog before you go. Give a friend admin access. Every night, write your friend a letter full of the day's monkey stories. Mail it as soon as you are able. When your friend receives letter, s/he posts monkey stories, then I get to read them!

Or feel free to write me directly with your monkey stories. (This goes for anyone who has a monkey story to share.)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:33 PM on October 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

Avagoyle - I always thought I was the only one :-D Keep an eye out for a memail!

I will be cooking my own food, at least dinner, probably. Spices are a good thought. When I have been in the field in the past, it's been with other field assistants (so I had someone else in my cabin with me), and there was a cook and staff along those lines. I'm sure that I'll spend time with the staff and researchers, but I will also be on my own many evenings, even if I hang out with other folks for a while. I think we're too far away from the closest village to invite ladies for dinner, unfortunately. I'm hoping that when I'm there for a longer period of time, there will be other students!!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:42 AM on October 29, 2011

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