On the 30th of June 2015 I boarded an Emirates flight for Dubai, heading to Schipol airport in Amsterdam. From there I caught the train out to the beautiful Dutch city of Nijmegen (where I have been for the past two weeks to work on the completion of my 2nd PhD).
Of course I brought Doris my Brompton with me from Cape Town in the same way that I always travel with this amazing little bicycle - safely wrapped in the Brompton cover, clamps removed, draped with my clothes over the bike cover, and socks and shoes, and toiletries in packets packed around the spaces in the frame. I put a folded towel over the front fold, and a scarf or some socks or such over the left folding pedal. hen all of that goes into the Brompton B Bag. At the airport I get them to wrap the B Bag in plastic to protect it. My T Bag (that fits on the front luggage rack of the Brompton) becomes my hand luggage with my laptop and a few other bits and bobs in it. Once the bike has been checked in for the flight I put the T bag on the luggage trolley and have a rolling hand luggage bag. It is all quite convenient! Here is a picture of Doris the Brompton, all wrapped up, with my T Bag on the train platform at Schipol airport waiting to catch a train to Nijmegen.
So, as mentioned already, the reason that I have been coming to Nijmegen for the past three years is to work on a second PhD. I was very fortunate to receive a European Union 'Sandwich' scholarship for study at Radboud University, which is one of the world's top research Universities (in the top 100). If you scroll through my previous Nijmegen / Radboud posts you will see that I am doing an interdisciplinary study on the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation between black and white South Africans. I am using a particular approach to reading the Biblical text (particularly Matthew 18.15-35) in a process called intercultural Bible reading and then applying two theoretical lenses to understand what happens in that process. The two theories are social identity theory (particularly intergroup contact theory) and Ken Wilber's Integral AQAL (All Quadrants, All Levels) to 'map' the reader responses to the reading of the text.
I am pleased to say that I have the end of this project in sight! I handed in a very large portion of my study as a first draft. I am busy working with the empirical (qualitative) data that I gained from the research participants in structured interviews and focus group meetings. The findings are fascinating! I hope to be able to give Churches, communities, and even private and public organisations, some new insights into mechanisms that can help to bridge racial, cultural, and class distinctions. The intention is to facilitate greater social cohesion and harmony between painfully separated groups (such as black and white persons in the post-Apartheid South African context). Here is a picture of some of the commentaries that I have been reading to get to grips with the theological nuance, texture and depth of the Biblical text we used in our intercultural Bible reading process. It was quite hilarious to see the librarian's face when I walked out of the library with 17 books in my Brompton T Bag, unfolded my bike, hooked up the bag to the luggage mount and rode off into the distance!
I have been using a piece of software to work with my empirical data - I'm sure that anyone who works with empirical data in a qualitative manner will know ATLAS.ti? It is all new to me! My goodness, but it is a very powerful software package that allows me to load my interviews, transcripts of the focus group meetings, documents, reports etc., into the software and then draw quotations, trends, networked relationships, hierarchies, nested meanings etc., from the data. Based on those outputs I then test my theories in a deductive manner to see what worked and what didn't, why it worked or didn't, and can then hypothesise what may be useful for others, and what can be done to augment or correct the variance on my theory for my context. As you know I am a committed Apple Mac user! For some years now I have only used Macs - I tried working on the little Lenovo Windows 8.1 tablet that I have from work, but my goodness, it just never seems to work! It hangs, quits the software, the touch screen stops working, the keyboard stops working... I am afraid that I can't work with it. So, I have been learning how to use ATLAS.ti on my old 2011 Macbook Air! Here is a picture of my Lenovo in the Radboud University Library next to the Erasmus Building.
This is a beautiful space to work! For the first week that I was here it was SO hot, in fact the warmest they have had since they started recording temperature. On the Saturday when I went to watch the first stage of the Tour de France (the individual time trial in Utrecht!) it was over 40 degrees! Unbelievable. The weather has been much milder since, with three days of rain this week. That makes for great productivity on my Thesis since I can't really do much riding in the rain (or at least I don't feel like doing much riding in the rain!)
The Tour de France in Utrecht was an experience of a lifetime. I caught an early train from Nijmegen to Utrecth, the train was packed with cyclists and cycling fans. Of course I had Doris my Brompton with me and we found a little space to sit, once at the station I unfolded and rode down to the time trial route which for some part ran along the beautiful canals and bridges of Utrech. I stood around and watched some of the riders warming up and riding past, but the sun was SO HOT that it was almost unbearable! So I decided to retreat to a shady spot on the other side of the canal and watch the action sitting on a grass bank, with an ice cold beer. It was magnificent. Certainly a memory that I will cherish for a long time!
Here are one or two more images from that special day. I had a dinner appointment with some other post doctoral students and one of our Professors that evening, so I didn't stay for the whole afternoon. I came back to Nijmegen and watched the 'big guns' ride the stage on TV and got ready to cycle to the dinner appointment.
And here's Doris on the canal bank.
This weekend I will be going to Munster to visit some colleagues who are there on sabbatical - Robert and Julie. I love that city as well. It is just so beautiful, and of course it is a cycling city!
For now it is back to work. I am pleased to say that there are a number of other South African academics here in Nijmegen. This has made my stay so fun and not as lonely. We have eaten together a few times, done a great cycle out on the Ooij Polder, and even did a Zotero Master Class to share our 'jedi secrets' for citation management! Here are a few guys in my flat learning how to sync their references and attachments from their computers to their iPads or iPhones using PaperShip.
Well, now it is back to work for me. I am doing my best to get as close to a full first draft done before I head back to Stellenbosch at the end of this month. Once I get home my teaching load is quite heavy, and I have a few post graduate students who want to hand in their theses this year as well, so I will be very busy with teaching, supervision and research.
Below are two last pictures of Nijmegen - on of the 1944 town square and beautiful old buildings, and another of the Nijmegen bridge which was the historical site of the Nazi defeat (depicted in the movie 'A bridge too far').
As always, I would appreciate your prayers for my family back home. I miss them so much, and as Liam gets older he feels my absence so acutely! Thankfully Courtney has been busy with Church and social activities. Megie, my darling wife, has been holding the fort with work, kids, her studies and home! I am so thankful for her. Please also pray that I make significant headway with my studies and do work that is not only academically valuable, but that can make a contribution towards the common good in South Africa.