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…


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