Countryside living, shamans and stomach bugs

My data collection here in Okhaldhunga is progressing fairly nicely I would say. I have now visited the home of, and interviewed, every mother of a 6-23 month-old child in two areas and I will need data from two more areas. Each area is divided into 9 sub-areas that have one or more villages. My research assistant and I go out for about ten days at a time. We cooperate with the female community health volunteers which there are one or two of in each sub-area. They take us to the children and mothers and usually let us stay at their place. Sometimes we stay with other people we find along the way. This fieldwork is challenging for sure, we walk a lot and the conditions here are simple. The only thing there is an excess of is hospitality. The family shares what they have and we live like them. If they live in a shed due to the earthquake, and many do, so do we. We have shared beds with others and slept on floors and one night we shared a blanket that was so small we had to spoon and turn around simultaneously. The toilets are not for the faint of heart, or maybe mostly, not for people with arachnophobia. I struggle with the spiders I have to admit… Also, I struggle with the fleas and other bugs in beds and blankets. They seem to have taken a particular liking to me. The feeling is not mutual.

My data collection has unfortunately been halted now for a little while. We returned prematurely from the last location, me on a stretcher that was carried by twelve men taking turns. The trip was 5 hours of walking through the forest, up and down hillsides. If you think laying on a stretcher being carried in steep terrain is comfortable, think again. I was very happy to be brought to the hospital though. You know when you get a stomach bug and spend the whole night on the bathroom floor next to the toilet? Well, take that only minus the bathroom floor and add cold, rain and an outdoors toilet that is no bigger than just 20 centimeters on each side of the hole. What you end up with then is crawling back and forth to the hole and laying on the muddy path just outside of the toilet for the rest of the time. Not one of my better nights to say the least… My lovely assistant Rikina stood there half the night holding an umbrella over me. That is a true friend!

I was diagnosed with having been attacked by a woman’s soul. She had died while giving birth and we had met a son of hers and her soul was probably with him and angry souls like new people apparently. The grandmother and the 15-year old daughter of the family we were staying with left at 3am to bring the local Dhami, a shaman, to me. The came back at around 5:30am when I had stopped vomiting and was resting in the bamboo and tarpaulin shed we stayed in. With them was the Dhami, a small elderly man. He chanted Buddhist prayers and moved some burning incense around me. He also put a tika with rice on my forehead and threw some rice on my bed. Nonetheless I was taken to the hospital for some western medicine. I arrived at the hospital in the evening, dehydrated and dizzy. A night with some fluids intravenously and I was all better even if a bit weak.

You’ve got to admit I do thorough research of the health care available here though. First I checked out the out-patient clinic with a urinary tract infection, second the traditional methods of healing, then I tested the means of transportation for the sick, and finally got myself admitted to the hospital! That is dedicated participant observation I’d say! Too bad that is not part of my project…

Drama in Karamoja

Sunday morning i decided to leave Karita, the field site. The night before the pastor was shot twice in his arm while reading the bible in his home. Roomers state that one of the candidates for the election were the one hiring the killing. I met the pastor in the church last week, he was really nice, and he even talked about child marriages and health care during his service. The pastor has been working to end corruption in the area, which is most likely the reason to why they tried to kill him.

Saturday night the army was transporting the pastor and shooting in the streets to mark their presence for something that felt like hours. I was in my hut terrified, because i didn´t know what happened, this being the second time i ever heard gun shots. I was sure that the streets were filled by blood and dead bodies, so i turned off the light and had a long discussion with myself if perhaps it would be better to lie underneath the bed or in it.

During one of our interviews with the married girls, we met a girl who tried to escape twice, both times she was beaten by her husband and his friends, she was one of few who went to school for quite some time. She said “imagine that this will be the rest of my life..i dont know if i can handle it”. My translator gave her some advice about where she could escape.

In an interview the administrative center, Amudat i talket to an NGO about their services and mentioned that for some of the girls we talked to, lacked an exit out of marriage, he disagreed, because they have a boarding school where 200 girls have escaped to since 2012, due to early marriage of FGM. I was tempted to give the story about the girl, so that she could enjoy this program and get out of her situation. Luckily i called my supervisor before, and he just said: if you do that, you are in great danger of being killed. The issue in Karita is the power of the men in the villages, the police fear them. And there is corruption. The police station is the spot where the girls are supposed to escape to before being picked up by the NGO.

Saturday night i was terrified that this husband of the girl had somehow discovered that we talked with her about escaping, and that he was outside my hut with his gun. Luckily my supervisor called and informed me about the situation, and also told me that this girl didn´t run away from her husband.

Monday is election day. Mama Ana, the host of the guesthouse had arranged some transport for me with the lorry’s transporting beer to the villages. Mama Ana is a known supporter of the NRM, the ruling party. The last election 3 weeks ago, someone tried to destroy her tv, but luckily they failed to enter the compound where the houses are. Some huts were burned down in some of the villages.

There is also a measles vaccination campaign and the police were busy with investigation and preparing for election campaign riots, so everyone i wanted to interview were caught up with something. I decided to come back to finish after transcribing the interviews i have so far. There is a power issue in Karita, so i went back to Kampala.