A day in the field

Tomorrow at 9 AM i have a doctors appointment. 20 kilometers up in the mountain, in a hidden house with a women who claims to have discovered the cure for AIDS. She has promised to cure my asthma with a drink she’s preparing tonight. I said yes, because of course you have to “taste the field”. Perhaps she’s right, who knows.

After realizing how knowledgable the pokot (the tribe in this area) are about herbal medicine, we have been looking for a cure with bearable side effects. We found one yesterday, but the cure included vomiting every morning for a month when taking the medicine.

Right now I’m sad that tomorrow is the last day here, we had a very productive and fun day. We started at 8 and came back 18, traveling to three different villages. In the first village we participated in a church service, talked to a women with fistula, talked to the pastor about what the bible says about FGM/child marriages and danced a bit.

In the second village, where i was expecting to do many interviews and a focus group discussion, we had to rejected many girls because they were not married or to old (not in the target group). Finally we found one, but it later turned out that the dowery (bride price) had been payed back to her husband, and she even had a child with another man. Joseph the interpreter was delaying, as for the last two days, and everything seemed quite impossible. Suddenly, Joseph showed up and five girls were ready for a group discussion about health care, and it turned out to be very good. The rain was threatening us, but we finished and found chikomando, the food that the army eat: chapati and beans.

It was in the third village we found this fascinating woman with the medication. I have been there two times before, and its always an adventure. First of all, its steep and there is no proper road, the means of transportation is motorcycle, its far and i am impressed every time the drivers manages to transport us. I always think about the girls, who in a critical stage of labour travel to the health center down the steep hill. Its thought to be good for progress of the labour because the trip is bumpy…and i can imagine very painful!

The day ended with a focus group discussion with young girls, the age of the 5 girls ranged from 13 to 17 years old, 4 of them with a child in their arms, the fifth one in the final stages of pregnancy. When the topic turned to family planning one of the girls said: “The baby has just started crawling, and my husband is demanding another child. What do i do about that? He would never accept family planning, pokot men want many children in return for the dowery”.

Thats when you feel powerless, and don’t have any idea for what to answer and reply: “perhaps you could bring your husband to the clinic after explaining your issues to the midwife there” well aware that the chances for that happening is close to zero. Luckily Joseph is a part of a Action Male group, who addresses issues of FGM and early marriages in the villages, he rescued me with a suggestion about sensitization among village men about family planning. I hope that Joseph will carry out the sensitization before all the four girls are pregnant for the second time.

An uninvited roommate and a growing sample size

Once again I am back at my little sanctuary in the village Sobru, by Okhaldhunga community hospital. I have just finished cleaning my room thoroughly. I have these rats on my tarpaulin and wood ceiling and I thought we had an agreement, I live down here and they live up there and we stay out of each other’s businesses. I was wrong… In her defense, she may have thought my room was permanently vacated. Anyway, when I came back last night, exhausted as usual and anticipating a good night’s sleep in my own (sort of…) bed, a rat had made my bed her new home. She had taken the liberty of pulling stuffing out of my cover and created a nice fluffy den under the covers. She had also made a brand new entrance to the room, though it is a bit on the small side for me.

It seems neither of us are too keen on having a roommate, the rat has stayed away all day and I have been guarding my territory, only leaving to eat. I have also closed off her new entrance. Not that there aren’t several alternative ways in. I am hoping she dislikes the smell of Dettol. I do, but prefer it to having rats in my bed. We shall see who wins the battle over the room.

My assistant and I have now completed interviewing in our third area. Unfortunately for me, though not for the children in that area, the prevalence of malnutrition was low. Very low compared to the other two areas and compared to Nepali data from the whole district. As my sample size is based on the prevalence of malnutrition this means I have to increase my sample size. Something I don’t really have time for as my visa expires on December 1st. Though I will come back in January, when I can get a new visa, if I have to. This has been way too much hard work to not see it through and get the data I need. I didn’t climb all these hills to end up with an underpowered study! No way.

There are so many new impressions when you see new ways of living and meet so many people. I must say I am deeply appreciative of all the choices I have been able to make in my life and will be able to make in the future. So many of us here in this world, especially women, have so few choices to make, so few options. If I were to pick one thing in my life I am grateful for it is the freedom to choose. I met this 20-year-old mother of two in an abusive relationship. Divorce is not an option as she would have nowhere to go, death is not an option as she does not want to leave her daughters behind. So this is pretty much it, this is her life. She is so young and yet her life is so settled, a life she did not choose. A hard life where she is beaten and mistreated. Her story is not unique.

Now two days of rest and then off again climbing more hills and meeting more families.

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.

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.