I am an applied medical anthropologist beginning my PhD in Public Health this fall. For the second summer in a row, I will travel with my research partner, Ginger Mckay, to Kampala, Uganda. Last summer, we evaluated an HIV education program for children developed by the Savannah Sunrise Foundation, which is a non-profit organization. We we will be residing in Kampala from the end of May until the end of July to conduct additional fieldwork. This summer, our colleague Nicole Smith will be joining us as we wrap up our project.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

6/6 - 11/6

Monday 6/6
I am definitely sick. It feels like a sinus infection and I have the worst headache ever. The only difference between this and a normal sinus infection that I’ve had is that I’m exhausted and slept almost all day. Ginger and Nicole were really sweet and brought me some Sudafed from the store. I sound like a frog.

Tuesday 7/6
It rained heavily delaying Moses as well as Grace, Annette and I’m sure anyone else going anywhere in the city. I feel absolutely awful. Moses arrived late to help grade the pre-tests and while I tried to help, I found it impossible to focus on the task or stay upright so instead I went to lie down. Ginger decided that I was more ill than I realized (which is one of the many reasons why she’s a great friend), and started calling people to drive me to the SAS clinic. Silas picked us up within the hour and he was really worried because he thought I had malaria! He told me that I am still too “American” running to the doctor for every little thing. The truth is, I knew I was going to need antibiotics to cure the sinus infection I had, so I figured I may as well start taking them. Plus, just to be on the safe side, I don’t want to be sick around the children in schools or mentors who might have HIV even if I don’t think I’m contagious.

We ran into our friend Rachel at the clinic; she was there with her son who was quite ill. We also saw a man we recognized from the Eritrean wedding at the clinic. He wanted our phone number and to take us to dinner. I told him to give us his phone number instead, in my frog voice. He did, and we told him we’d have to check with our Eritrean friends first. He didn’t seem to understand, and I’m pretty sure it was lost in translation.

Yay for Z packs! Ginger was also instrumental in the process of understanding which medicines to take and when, since they gave me 4 prescriptions. The nurse explained the medicines to me 3 different times, changing the dosage and hours each time, so I was thoroughly confused, especially being sick. Ginger somehow deciphered what he said and she wrote on each packet so I wouldn’t get them wrong. I already feel loads better.

In other news, Grace’s maid quit today and she was forced to bring her almost two year old daughter, whose name is either Paula or Nancy (or both), to work. She was running around the house and super cute. She wore our tape as bracelets. She shrieked with delight and laughed at everything making it impossible to rest. I wanted to play with her but I was too tired. She’s adorable. I sort of hope she comes back on Friday when I’m feeling better. She kept saying, “Wan-gi!” which means “yes please!”

Oh man, I am feeling so much better. Everyone in Uganda says you have the “flu” whenever you are sick - even if you just have a cold. They attribute this illness to dust and fumes from the roads. I think that’s what caused my sinus infection. In fact, I’m almost positive.

Today, Moses came over to work on data entry. I graded tests all day, and Moses and I talked about how to improve the test. He seems to think that the test is decent, and didn’t have many suggestions to changed it. When we were in Amsterdam, his girlfriend Sonja told him he had to invite us over for lunch sometime this summer. He asked us to come on Saturday, and he also set up a chance for us to talk with some secondary students who have a debate club while we’re there. I thought that would be a good idea, and asked if we might be able to use questions from the test to see what they know about HIV. Then, I realized that would actually be a great place to pilot our focus group questions, and he agreed. So now, we are going to test run our focus group on some older children who don’t have the IBES program. We will use the results to tweak our questions before we go into our 3 case study schools for the real thing. Moses has been really instrumental in helping us throughout this process, and I think he is a great researcher. I gave him a copy of my book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down because he’s interested in Medical Anthropology. He is such an avid learner, and great with kids. I suspect he’ll end up teaching in Germany.

In other news, Ginger and Nicole left the house for a short time today. It was Nicole’s second time out alone, but her first time going somewhere she’d never been by herself. I think she had a successful meeting with a contact at Makerere University. Ginger went to Mulago Hospital and I was a little jealous because I love the craft store and the cafĂ© they set up to earn money for families affected by HIV. I’m getting a little stir crazy, so I think I’ll have to get out of the house tomorrow.

Thursday 9/6
Today is another public holiday, Heroes Day, so all the schools were closed. To enjoy a day off, we decided to go to Garden City and we walked there and back. My sinus infection is still bothering me, especially when I smell exhaust which burns my nose and I can feel it in my lungs. But, it felt really great to get some exercise after 3 days in bed. It was pretty hot today, and we were all sweating, even Ginger who rarely does. As we walked, some guy yelled out to us, “Hey! Americans! African-Americans!!” it was hilarious.

At Garden City we went to look for presents for Joan’s children, who are coming over on Sunday for her birthday. We decided to make tacos when they come, as an “American” meal. Ha. We also went to the bookstore, and since I’ve already read two books I picked out a third, The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. So far it’s pretty funny. Ginger picked out two children’s books for Joan’s kids. I forgot how desegregated society is here when it comes to children, until Ginger said something. They are everywhere all the time.

I was really happy because we shared a falafel plate at the Lebanese place in the mall. We looked at the movie listings but nothing caught our fancy. Then, we sat down at a coffee shop and outlined the rest of our summer. How exactly two weeks have gone by already is beyond me. We made a schedule, planning when to travel to Hoima, Gulu, and the Ssese Islands. We also wrote better interview questions for mentors and focus group questions for children. We discussed some challenges and how to overcome them when possible. Ginger and I have talked at length about how the rigor and rigidity we learn in methods courses doesn’t translate into the experiences you actually have in the field. Things rarely play out how you plan them here, so we have to be accepting of the roundabout way things unfold in their own way a lot of the time. I feel like conducting fieldwork here gives me more insight into the scientific versus humanistic debate within the discipline of anthropology on a daily basis.

We are going to supply the organization with a guide about how to internally evaluate themselves in the future, without our help. This includes focus group training, interview and focus group methods, and survey writing, collection and analysis. Basically, how to do everything we’ve done so IBES can continue to be evaluated and improved. We also decided we wanted some feedback from the SAS staff about our ongoing collaboration and evaluation of their education program since it’s our last summer here. We hope to get some constructive criticism so that when we go into our doctoral work we can plan to do our jobs better. This is especially important for me because I hope to do research on evaluations and health programs for my dissertation. Both of these were Ginger’s ideas, and a great ones too.

After we got home, Ginger worked on data entry and I graded the last test in our sample. We still have some tests to collect in Hoima and subsequently grade. We definitely have our work cut out for us. Tomorrow we are going to the UNCST to assess the status of our IRB application one more time. I think we are going to try to get our money back. It’s a shame because we can’t publish without it, and while I don’t mind doing this work because the foundation finds it useful, it would be even more beneficial for the program to gain notoriety through a published journal article outlining it’s successes and education strategy. The bureaucracy here is really unbearable at times. If you can’t tell, I am not looking forward to going there at all because it is the bane of my existence.

Friday 10/6
The UNCST was a bust, as usual. I’m realizing that doing my dissertation in a place like Uganda is unappealing because it seems impossible to even to get a project approved. The offices had moved and once we found it, no one was there who could speak to us because they were on holiday. One funny thing about the new offices: they are swanky and in a new building. The entrance even has a wheelchair ramp and there is a guard with a metal detector that people have to walk through. The device, however, was unplugged. Ha.

Moses came over in the afternoon and we reworded our questions with him. I’d tell him what the question we wanted to ask was and he would phrase it in Ugandan English. We walked a little bit today, and watched Seinfeld before we went out with some of our old friends from last summer. Silas and Ken picked us up and we went to a birthday BBQ for Augustine’s sister. It was really fun and afterwards we went dancing for a little while. It seems like we are being invited to more and more social events. We keep having to turn down offers because we have conflicting events. If we hadn’t gone to the birthday party tonight, we were also invited to a party at Rose’s house in our compound.

We have not had running water for two days. Yesterday we had to rinse off using water we collected in jeri cans from the cisterns that collect rain water in our compound. We boiled some of it, and mixed it with un-boiled water until it was of the desired temperature. It’s hard to bathe out of a bucket but I think I am getting the hang of it now. You don’t realize how much water you use until you try to do it that way.

Today we went to Kyngera and I had a great time there last year, so I was looking forward to going back. I also wanted see what Moses would fix us for lunch, hoping it was going to be pilau (pilaf). I also was eager to meet the secondary school students and try out the focus group questions.

I was proud of myself for helping find the New Taxi park, and somehow getting us into the right taxi with Ginger’s help. The park was not as hectic as I remember and I wonder if the Old Taxi Park is just much crazier. We weren’t exactly sure where to get off once in Kyngera, we just knew that the ride takes around thirty minutes if there’s not a jam. Moses told us to look for a gas station and a bank, and we found it without too much stress. On the way we saw matatu drivers protesting the cost of driving people into the city. On the way back we saw the police barracks that were burned down during the riots.

Moses had a childhood friend from Mengo visiting. He speaks 9 languages and he is a dancer. His name is Innocent. They fixed us lunch and we chatted about the day. I love the quietness of Moses neighborhood. See pictures to appreciate. Right as lunch was ready a huge thunderstorm rolled through. We ate inside with the doors and windows shut, and I could barely hear everyone over the roar of the tin roof. At first, I like the sound and found it soothing. I even told Moses that people pay money for CDs that are just as relaxing. But as the rain grew really strong it actually started to hurt my ears.

We walked to the focus group in the rain, and Moses let us borrow jackets. It was freezing! I have never seen it rain for so long in Uganda. Or be so cold. The focus group was a total success and I enjoyed getting to know some of the students. One of them asked us if you can get HIV if you have sex with animals and another one asked us if it is true that albinos have the highest rate of infection. Other than a few cheeky questions like that, however, the conversation was great. Moses was fantastic as the leader, asking appropriate probes, waiting long enough for responses, encouraging others to speak up and making jokes to break the tension. You’d think he’d done a million focus groups, but it was his first time. The three of us invariably ended up talking at the end, instead of just being rapporteurs. It’s just another example of how things change on the ground.

A couple of funny things happened when we were leaving. First, a chicken got in Nicole’s purse, causing us all to laugh and make jokes about finding poop in your purse. Then, we took bodas from Moses’ house to the main road. The roads were totally mud because it had been raining for hours. I was terrified that the boda would slide out from under us, and we’d all end up looking like mud persons. Instead, the boda that Nicole and I rode on just misfired, and lurched forward, causing me to nearly fall off and then the bike just sputtered to a stop. The two of us sat there on the boda for a time as it rained on us, while the driver tried to kick-start it over and over and over again. I kept asking him if he didn’t want us to just get off, but he wouldn’t respond. By this time, our crowd of onlookers began to grow substantially and they were laughing and pointing us and making fun of our driver. I could tell he was frustrated and he just kicked harder and harder until it started. He sped forward, and we left them behind us in a trail of mud.

We weren’t as successful going home. When we got off at the New Taxi Park we started walking up the hill, both Ginger and I telling Nicole it was the only way to know you’re heading in the right direction. We were right - except for the fact that we were walking up the wrong hill, heading towards Mengo instead of Kampala. I think we were just tired and it was still raining and we were soaked. I was disoriented. One step forward and two steps back.


  1. so did he fix the pilaf? do you have running water today?