My Graveyard Shift as a Cleaner

It’s perhaps not uncommon for young people (or “youths” as they would be called in Kenya or Ethiopia) to work graveyard shifts. Perhaps they might man the drive-thru or 7-11, or work as a security guard. During my time in Ethiopia, I have found that my work schedule becomes something of a graveyard shift as well. Every night, I burn the midnight oil, cleaning…data.

My team consists of 22 surveyors and 2 auditors. Every day around 7 am, the surveyors leave for a village to interview two households, on topics such as income, asset ownership, family size, decision-making in the household, use of time and other factors. The auditors meanwhile review a random sampling of interviews from the day before. They ask a few of the same questions, to verify that the surveyors are actually asking the questions. The auditors each do about six abbreviated surveys a day. Therefore, once a day, they return (somewhere between 3 pm and 7 pm) with 60ish surveys for the day.

This is when my work begins in earnest. I work with my team’s supervisors plug in all the laptops (my room every night looks like a fire marshall’s worst nightmare, with cords stretching everywhere), and then to load all of the survey data from 24 computers onto a flash drive and then onto a computer. I use a surveying software to decrypt the responses, and transfer them into the statistical software my organization uses to conduct analysis. It is my responsibility to then check and clean (i.e. fix errors, make it usable for analysis) the data. I try to catch logical mis-steps. “This household says they have savings but the amount of savings is blank” or “This household says it sold eggs in the past month, but has no chickens.”

Our survey team then meets the next day at 6:30 am to prep for its day in the field. We distribute computers, talk about the day’s activities, and go over any challenges on questionnaires. It is my goal every day at this time to have some sort of list assembled with errors from the previous day, since it’s easier to recall the previous day’s survey than a survey from 12 days ago. This therefore means my most important work quite possibly takes place between the hours of 3 pm and midnight every night (or whenever it is I finish my data analysis). 

When I signed on to my job, I expected to work from 8-5. What I didn’t realize is that while I would be working 8-5 EDT, I would be working those hours while in Ethiopia.

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4 Responses to My Graveyard Shift as a Cleaner

  1. Dan Earl says:


    Thank you very much for your posts! It is great to hear from you, especially from so far away. Your insights are truly unique and I love seeing them. Keep up the great work,

    Uncle Dan

  2. lrb5 says:

    Is there opportunity for a siesta sometime after 6:30am and before 3pm? Otherwise that’s a loooong workday (and a very short night) especially for a guy who can really saw some serious zzzzz’s.

    • nate0316 says:

      Ehhhh it depends on the day, and my to-do list. Sometimes, I sleep from 10ish to noon, sometimes I hang out around then, and sometimes it’s work from the start of the day to the end.

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