Sherpas, tea and leaches

For the two last days we’ve been in an area where most of the people belong to the Sherpa caste. It’s a poor area and the standard of living is simple. I really liked it there because people were so nice and hospitable, it was really a pleasure to visit. We had bucket loads of tea and were fed cucumbers and potatoes in heaps. The first day when they found out we hadn’t eaten lunch, a family cooked us dal baht (rice, lentils and vegetables). There was just no stopping them. Here I come, a comparatively rich westerner, to this area with food shortages and poverty, and they worry about ME being hungry?! I guess they know what it feels like to be hungry. Such wonderfully sweet people. For the record, I gave them money for the food when I left. I do try to take care not to be a burden to the communities I visit, I know they work hard for their food.

I have had to redefine my definition of what constitutes a steep hill. Sometimes I think I am not going to make it to whatever village we are aiming for, or even the next house! I don’t think I have ever spent so much time being out of breathe ever! I guess the altitude of about 2000 meters above sea-level isn’t helping either. Half the time I’m so exhausted I can’t even muster the energy to care about the leaches. Speaking of leaches, on my first day in the hills I was asking what they looked like and soon after a young man said “sister” and pointed to my ankle, and what do you know, there I could see what a leach looks like firsthand, while it was stuffing itself with my blood. Actually I feel like a walking blood bank up here, so many little creatures are helping themselves to what I used to consider MY blood.

Sometimes it is frustrating to hear stories and meet suffering people whom you can not help, so it is very nice when you can actually make a difference to someone here and now. One malnourished girl I referred to the hospital was brought in by her mother the next day and admitted to the nutrition unit. She has now been here for a week and is gaining weight and becoming more energetic. It’s a nice when field research isn’t just something abstract that is supposed to benefit people in general and in the long run, but also directly helps those who contribute to our gathering of knowledge.

Finally in Okhaldhunga!

I have finally reached Okhaldhunga district! I’m in a small village 45 minutes from the main hub (another village) in the district. By foot that is, which is sort of how you get around here, even if it takes several days to reach your destination. So far I love it out here. I guess I’m not so much of a city girl, I tend to like the more rural settings regardless of where I am. Here it is quiet and very green and we are surrounded by huge hills and steep hillsides with little houses clinging to them.

So far it is all about meeting people and planning and talking and things take time, which is fine. I mean it’s not like I didn’t want to finish in December, but it is what it is and I’m fine working here longer if that’s what it takes.

Plans have sort of slightly changed (they always do right?) and my research assistant and I will not as planned be based here in the village with the hospital but walk from village to village and only come back here every few weeks. That is quite a change as life here is fairly comfortable. I have even gotten my own desk at the hospital! Almost sad to leave it, a bit attached to the one spot in my new world that is sort of mine!

Few people who come here to do research go into the villages, they are usually based at the hospital. The people who have attempted village stays, well, there are failure stories about them and everyone loves to share those stories with us. Like the young man from Kathmandu who couldn’t take the bugs sucking his blood or the foreign woman who didn’t even last two days in rural poverty. My plan is to not become one of those stories! I’m sure they were equally optimistic when they set out though, my only hope it that I am more stubborn. I am know to be fairly stubborn, cross your fingers it’s enough!

We really don’t have much choice, walking 4-5 hours to reach a village, then work a full day, just to walk 4-5 hours back, there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Also, we need daylight to walk. This new plan means my blogposts will be few and far between… I’m not bringing the computer hiking all over, and besides, there’s not a lot of electricity anyway…

By the way, I have seen a huge, almost beautiful, spider! Yes you read correctly, I used beautiful and spider in the same sentence, unbelievable huh? The spider is bright yellow and black-striped. I really do hate spiders but if you happen to be such a frightening creature, I find it highly sympathetic of you to be stationary or preferably completely motionless. Mr Yellowback hasn’t moved an inch in a week and though I do not like him, I do appreciate that courtesy.

Child marriage conference in Lusaka, Zambia.

When searching for literature and data about my topic, Child marriages, suddenly i came across a conference hosted my the African Union called «How to end child marriages and other harmful practices». I got SO excited, thats SO perfect. The conference was going to be in Addis Ababa in the beginning of September. I was like: it would not harm if i ask if i can join, but i´m not even expecting any reply. A week after I received an invitation from the African Union, and a recommendation to go to the Lusaka meeting in Zambia in stead of, because that would suit my topic better.

I love Africa sometimes. I bet that the EU wouldn’t even bother to answer my email. So now i´m in Zambia. Traveled for 12hours because i was late booking and suddenly in the taxi in Lusaka from the airport i realize that i don´t know anything about Zambia. Just that there is a nice place called Livingstone where you can see the Victoria falls from and that Zambia is a former British colony. Luckily the taxi driver was a cool guy called Derrick, who told me all about the politics of the country. They had 6 presidents since independence, from democratic elections, it´s seems like, but unfortunately two of them died. After finishing just half of their period. Due to something as undramatic as obesity, drinking, smoking – lifestyle diseases. Now i´v got a friend in Lusaka, Derrick is showing me the city next week.

Lusaka is really different from Kampala. Less chaotic, people drive more carefully, there is no boda bodas (motorcycle taxis). The city i´ v been told is quite big if you look at how far it stretches, but the city center does not really feel like a center. There is approximately 4 million people living here. The streets are wide and new, they have several HUGE fancy, modern shopping centers and its much dryer than east Africa. I kind of miss chaotic Kampala already. Though i do feel safer in traffic.

On monday the conference starts, it lasts for a week and i got it for free. Now i´ m at an overpriced backpacker place with a dirty pool and very nice staff. Tomorrow I’m traveling to  Livingstone, which is supposed to be a really nice small town 6 hours drive from Lusaka. This is actually the first time I’m traveling all by my self without knowing the place or any people. So far i really like it. Perhaps i will be SO lonely soon, but i guess there is always other people traveling alone who also (hopefully) wants company.

Fieldwork in Uganda

I´m a part of the international community health masters program at the institute for health and society, at the University of Oslo. This autumn all of us are somewhere in the world doing fieldwork, i am doing mine in Uganda. My topic is well-being, mental health and health care among child brides in Amudat district in Uganda.

After three days in Uganda everything changed. As i should have expected, i guess, but i didn´t. I met Chris, my supervisor, and Shirlee, a former co-student from Makerere University. She was supposed to be my research assistant/interpreter. The minute before Shirlee enters the restaurant Chris says: why don´t you just join me in Karamoja? And i´m like YES! That´s perfect. And then Shirlee enters, and i realize that she would not be able to join due to language. How to break it to her?

I have a thousand questions i want to ask Chris, but i can´t. Until we almost finished eating and Chris asks if i have any questions. And i´m just: I really want to go to Karamoja! And luckily Shirlee thinks its a good idea. Chris is carrying out an ethnographic fieldwork on female genital modification (his own concept) and reproductive health. After the girls are «cut» they are at the “market” for marriage i.e my target group.

I was supposed to go to the west, but changing area makes the age group younger and a more relevant study. FGM is not that prevalent in Uganda, but in this area almost every girl have to undergo FGM, so this will add another health and rights issue to my target group. The best thing is that now everything is kind of settled, finally. Chris will most likely make it easier to build trust with the girls i want to interview, and the practical issues have already been sorted out when we changed area; housing, interpreter and ethical clearance.

So now I’m going to Karamoja sub region, Amudat district in mid September. People have poor sanitary conditions, its a semi dessert and there is a lack of water and food due to poor crops/drought. The region is one of the worst of in Uganda to live in, and when telling people in Kampala that I’m going to Karamoja they respond: «those people don´t even put on clothes», «its the only place in Uganda that still like the real Africa», «EH! your going to become a real Ugandan», shaking their heads. Many NGO´s is doing projects so i´m really not the only one. Since 2010 it has been peaceful in the area, before there were some instability due to the fact that the tribes in the area fought over who owned the cattle.

I have never been in these kinds of conditions before, so i am very excited, and hope i can cope with the poor conditions and all the horrible stories these girls will tell me about.