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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 1st to July 13th

Friday 1/7
We gave ourselves a deadline for the tests so that it coincided with the monthly evaluation meeting the mentors have at the foundation today. I literally was working on making the statistics easily explainable this morning before we left to go to the foundation. Nicole hung back at the house since she had a meeting with the Red Cross and planned to meet us later in the afternoon. The mentors were told to arrive at 2 pm, but of course many of them ended up being late.

We met with Echiba and printed out the individual results for the mentors and the overall results of the statistics from the pre tests in Kampala. We ended up meeting with most of the mentors one last time as a group, and it was bittersweet. I was happy to see everyone again but sad because I don’t know when I will be able to make it back here again. Some of the mentors gave us feedback regarding the last three summers we’ve been here and what it’s like to work with us. Mary said that, “They eat and behave like Ugandans. If there are no spoons they go the way we go.” She is so funny. Another mentor told us that we give them confidence to go on with mentorship. The next one said that the children are more focused after we visit their schools and they are always asking when we are coming back. They mostly relayed that they feel very “blessed” that we come and that we have come since those who are in P4 now were in P2. Mary gave us a ride home, and she was being hilarious in the car. She said, “for sure you’re my daughters despite the biology involved.” I just love her.

Saturday 2/7
This morning Ginger overheard Annette and Gerald talking outside. Annette was telling Gerald that we area leaving soon and Ginger said that it sounded like he didn’t understand that we weren’t coming back. He said that we always come in June, which is also what Joan said the other day. It’s hard to explain that we are leaving permanently this time without plans for next summer. I hope Nicole makes it back and keeps the connection going. Maybe (just maybe) we can come visit her here while she’s doing her fieldwork!

Today Ginger and I decided to walk to Mulago and take a route we weren’t familiar with. We got lost, which was great because we ended up seeing something beautiful just by chance. As we looked for an entry to Mulago, we thought we were stymied by a fence blocking the path but another pedestrian walking by told us we could pass there when he saw us turn around. People are so nice here. We continued past house gardens comprised of bananas, corn, and sweet potatoes as the hill unfolded around us. Men were singing while planting their crops on their plots of land. Ginger told me that it made her want to cry and for the second time today we fought back tears. I told her we had to wait until we are closer to the actual departure date. We were trying to go to the café at Mulago, but it was closed since it was Saturday.

Another series of mishaps allowed us to have yet another serendipitous experience afterwards. We decided to go to our favorite coffee shop, and take a boda there. I mistakenly told the driver to turn early on a one-way road, which meant that we had to get off to walk the rest of the way. As we walked, we heard the sounds of bongos and people singing traditional songs beside a primary school we go to for observations. There is construction going on in the area, and a construction worker told us to have a look behind the fence when he saw us trying to peek discreetly. He insisted until we were being lead in front of about twenty dancers and musicians of all ages to two designated chairs up on the side of one of the buildings. There was a young couple sitting in two other chairs beside us. It was like our chairs had been waiting there for us, even though it was totally spontaneous that we came in the first place. The compound was alive with dancing and singing. The performers were AMAZING.

We saw a series of traditional dances from various tribes. The women wore grass skirts, or long sleeved shirts tied around their waists to create the same effect. I think Ginger and I both felt the weight of the reality that we are leaving Uganda and it made me think of how this place has changed us both in different ways. We looked at each other and started crying. I’m already missing the moments of serendipity we find here, and as I literally felt the dancers stomping the ground with all their might, barefoot and sweating under the heat of the sun, I felt so grateful to be here working with her the last two summers. I’m also sad because I won’t be working with Ginger and Nicole again on a project anytime soon.

After they finished rehearsing we talked to them, and many of the men wanted to know if we had husbands. When we told them we had boyfriends in the US they called them our “fiancés” and then they asked if we had any single friends. It was hilarious. They made us promise we’d consider hiring them for our weddings since we enjoyed the show so much. In actuality, they were practicing the traditional songs and dances for the couple who had been sitting beside us. The couple wanted to hire the performers to entertain at their wedding. They loved what they saw and hired them on the spot. The group is really talented and you can tell they love to perform. As we were leaving I asked one of the dancers if he loved dancing and he said, “When we dance and laugh we can’t grow older.”

So, we accomplished absolutely nothing we set out to do and by the time we reached the coffee shop it was time to go home for lunch. We got no writing done whatsoever. In other news, tonight we decided to write a book entitled, You’re Gonna Crash a Wake that describes trying moments of fledgling anthropologists and the humbling, funny, and embarrassing experiences we have. The name comes from one of Nicole’s first experiences conducting fieldwork in Memphis when she told everyone at a wake that the party was great. She didn’t realize the person she had come to visit (and interview about Meals on Wheels) had passed away. We think it would make a good reader for intro courses, anthropologists in training, and people who are interested in what anthropologists do. We have a bazillion stories between the three of us. I know they are always a hit when we tell students in the courses we teach, so we might actually do it.

Sunday 3/7
Today I am really tired. We worked on writing all day and making plans about our trip to the west. We hope to meet Mary’s family when we go. So excited!!

Monday 4/7
Today we went to the foundation to work on the tests we got from Gulu. We decided to conduct two focus groups, (and therefore only have two case study schools) instead of the three we originally planned. There just isn’t enough time and we can’t seem to coordinate with the third school because the IBES program has been zoned out of the school, which means they no longer have a mentor coming to teach children. The idea behind this is that the children and teachers should sustain the education program on their own after 3 years. For this reason, I’d actually really like to hold a focus group there to see if sustainability is evident because I suspect it is not. Once again this year, I forgot about the fourth of July. We laughed and watched Seinfeld tonight. I love those small respites.

Tuesday 5/7
We still can’t get the internet to work properly. It’s annoying. Our friend Mary declined going to the west with us to visit her family, so we are going to go it alone. I think we are “Ugandan” enough to handle it now. Ginger met a tour guide who is going to help us hire a car from Kabale so we can travel with ease once we get there by bus.

I worked at the foundation today and the girls stayed home. I am grading, and grading, and grading. I think I will still be dreaming about grading when I get home from Uganda. I enjoy spending more time at the foundation this year, in addition to traveling to the schools during the week. I get to see how things are really running in the office. I also created a dropbox folder for the foundation to use for internal evaluations and to allow us to easily share files when we get back to the US. We transferred all of our research materials and all of our data from the past summers to create transparency with the foundation and allow them to use those resources once we leave. We want to ensure that they can do the same things without us, so we have been creating a training manual as well.

Wednesday 6/7
The three of us made it to the foundation by mid morning. I have a hard time with how people don’t rush here sometimes. It’s annoying to wait when there is so much to do. Once we were able to sit down at a desk we immediately started on data entry. The secretary has been ill, so Reverend and Echiba went to pay her a visit and wish her well, leaving us alone at the office. Moses came to meet us after lunch, in preparation for our first focus group today.

Reverend gave us a ride to the school when he got back from visiting Cathy with Echiba. When we got to the school we waited in the headteachers office, signing the guestbook and playing with children as the headteacher collected the 26 students we had signed consent and assent forms for. He could only find 21 of them which is still too many for one focus group, so we divided them up into two and had their mentor, Dorothy, lead the second group. See all of the videos and pictures. I had a small boy who wanted to hold my hand the whole time, and ended up stealing my pen and drawing all over my notepad as I tried to take copious notes as a rapporteur. That one is going in our book. He was really adorable, but very distracting. In addition, we realized that having the mentor lead is not very useful because the students are more reserved and don’t seem to share as much. It makes sense. Plus, I think Moses just has a certain magic with children. He is phenomenal with them and runs focus groups like a pro even though he’s never really done them before. He continues to be helpful in our work. Today was also a good day for him because he passed his German exams and that means he is qualified to take courses in Germany so that he can eventually study at a university there. I know Sonja is ecstatic about his accomplishments and we are so happy for them both!

Today was a good day. We also met Seith, our driver for our trip west. He helped us come up with a plan and decide on our budget and what we want to do when we get there. Things are falling into place right at the end how they always do. Somehow.

Thursday 7/7
I worked from home today, transcribing the focus group we had yesterday with Moses. It took us from 9 am to 2 pm to transcribe 45 minutes of interview. I thought it took a while, but was not too bad overall and the quality of the recording was decent. This first focus group transcription experience really seemed like a breeze a few days later, after our next focus group, which was held outside under a tree on Monday when it was super windy out. But more about that later…

The girls went to town to work out some financial preparations for our trip and worked on the tests more at the foundation. In other news, I bought a painting again this year and I can’t fit the wood frame in my suitcase even though it’s been disassembled. Kitifu!

Friday 8/7
I went by myself to meet Odur, one of the mentors, at a school to observe him teaching. The school has students from all over Uganda, and immigrants and refugees from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. I spent several hours there with Odur. I ended up actually being the one to teach the class, part of the time, and Odur stepped in when I couldn’t answer the question well or they didn’t understand my answers/questions because of my accent/word usage.

The students asked me questions like:
-What’s the difference between HIV/AIDS?
-Do mosquitoes transmit HIV?
-Where does HIV come from?
-How long does HIV live in a container?
-How long does the virus live outside of the body?
-Does HIV live in the body after a person is dead?
-How does HIV virus reproduce?
-Can two people who are both HIV positive have children?
-If you put your thing inside and remove it, if you start without a condom and then you decide to use one, can you get HIV?
-What’s a normal CD4 count?
-Can you reduce the virus (in your blood) if you give HIV to someone else

These questions came from a P6 class, which has students around 11 or 12 years old in it. It was rough trying to answer them properly and in a way that was easy for them to understand. I also had the opportunity to interact with a P5 class, and we broke out into small groups in the compound. They had answers to a homework assignment from Odur. He instructed them to do research in their community to ask people how many ways HIV is transmitted. I also ended up interviewing a very old woman on the side of the building. She only knew the sexual route of transmission from intercourse. It was really powerful to talk to her, and she was speaking to me through one of the teachers who translated for me. She didn’t make eye contact with me the whole time, even though I intently watched her as she talked. She looked at the translator instead. When we finished, I said “Webale” which means thank you. She really liked that.

There were a few sad things that happened at this observation. First, even though it’s a governmental school (and therefore supposed to have universal primary education by abolishing school fee requirements) dozens of the students were chased from the school this morning because they didn’t have any money to give. I also met a boy from Rwanda who could only speak French, and another boy from the Congo who told me he was an orphan. As I talked to each small group outside and later to the class as a whole, several students kept handing me letters and I didn’t know what they were for. When I left I had two dozen or so letters stuffed in my purse. Many students also gave me fruit and vegetables to take home. I opened one of the letters on the matatu and immediately shut it, deciding to wait to read them at home. See the pictures to understand why.

Saturday 9/7
We finished data entry this morning for remaining tests we had brought home from the foundation. We saved one class to do with Echiba next week so he can see how the whole process takes place. It felt good to know we just have to train him and hold one more focus group. We also need to make give them some preliminary results before we leave. Once we get back to the US we will finish the qualitative analysis and hopefully publish on that portion of our data.

Last week, Ginger helped me design a dress and pick out some fabric at the shop below 1000 Cups. Nicole and I went to pick it up today, and since it was hand sewn there were some alterations that it needed. The seamstress tried to fix it, but I was hot when I tried it on in the cramped and dark shop and didn’t realize that it didn’t fit properly until I brought it home. I think I might wait to have it tailored when I get back to the US, but I’m not sure. I want to wear it to my friend Leah’s rehearsal dinner for her wedding in October.

Tonight we went over to Rose’s house and ate dinner. We watched her dye her friends hair with henna and made plans to go shopping at the Eritrean grocery tomorrow. I really want to buy one of the ceramic vessels they make coffee, and some coffee beans, too. She told us about one spice we can buy to make some easy dishes, too. I am going to miss her. She’s so hospitable. She has a sister living in Atlanta. I told Rose that I would be happy to bring her sister and her neice and nephew some items if she thinks of anything small she wants me to take.

Sunday 10/7
Ginger worked on generating descriptive statistics this morning. She was actually working on it when I woke up. We are dedicated! I finished reading my 5th book of the summer, it’s about the Rwandan genocide and it is really very good. It’s called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. It’s a must read.

I am finding writing nearly impossible, so I was happy to leave to go to Rose’s house for lunch. We ate so much food and then drank coffee for hours. I love the coffee ceremony. We also watched the wedding reception we went to on our first full day here. It was funny to see ourselves in the video and how we stand out in the room. Afterwards they drove us to the store and we bought more things than we needed. Ginger and I bought a traditional wrap and cut it in two to make scarves. I’m so excited about it.

Monday 11/7
We got to the foundation early and worked on correcting errors in the data. We also prepared for our second focus group, which we held without too many kinks. The biggest issue we faced today is that the taxi drivers are protesting and striking, which is after the store owners went on strike on THrusday and Friday. As a result, things are slowed down and it’s harder to get around and the matatus that are available charge double. You can tell that Ugandans are getting desperate about the high costs of food and fuel. We had to spend some money to make sure Moses got all the way to the city from Kyngera. Nicole had it out with one matatu conductor today who tried to charge her almost three times the cost. She blocked the door, preventing other passengers from boarding until he gave her the correct balance. She has come a longway. I reminded her of how intimidating it was her first week and how brave she is now.

This time, Echiba lead one focus group and Moses lead the other. It went great. We really are learning so much from these sessions with students. I hope the foundation continues to hold focus groups in schools to assess the program. I think they might since Echiba saw firsthand how informative they are today.

On the ride home I reflected on my acquisition of words and being able to understand what people are saying even if I don’t exactly know the definitions. Ginger has picked up even more than I have. It’s like I can translate some things that I never before could even hear being individual words. I understand meaning even though no one has actually given me a definition. I think we’d pick up even more if we stayed here longer.

Tuesday 12/7
Not much today. Moses came and all four of us worked on transcription. We can’t heard very much at all on the recordings and it’s a very slow process. We also worked on the manual a little more today. It’s really quite good. I’m proud of it. Later today, after Moses left, the three of us created a workplan and a list of initial recommendations for the foundation. We are having a meeting to tell them our feedback and hopefully get some from them as well. I look forward to it, and even though many of the recommendations, strengths, and areas for improvement are similar to last year’s we have a few insights I think they’ll appreciate. The focus groups have really been informative. I love my job.

Wednesday 13/7
I couldn’t sleep at all last ngiht. I think I am nervous about today and finishing up our time here in Uganda. I don’t want to leave, even though I’m excited about the next chapter in my life that starts when I get back to the US.

We went over the information with Reverend, Echiba and Cathy. I think it was the most successful meeting we’ve ever had with the administration. We have all learned to communicate really well with one another and I think we were all sad to realize that our work together is mostly finished after we leave next week. We all promised to stay in touch and collaborate when we can, but we won’t be coming back to work with SAS next summer. It’s finally sinking in, I think. We also went to one last observation, not to collect data but to say goodbye to one of the original mentors. John has been around since the beginning of the IBES program and he is related to Richard. He was in Bulisa when we visited his family there last year and he has been a good friend to us, too. Next week, when we get back from our trip, we will spend two more afternoons at SAS. On Tuesday we will go through the quantitative analysis with Echiba and “pilot” the manual we created. On Wednesday we have asked them to provide us with some feedback about working with us. I told them we wanted the “good and the bad” and they said they would have it ready for us. Then, we leave on Thursday, the 21st.

Between now and then, however, we are traveling to the SW corner of the country. We will be taking a bus to Kabale tomorrow (Thursday). On Friday we are visiting the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. On Saturday we are hiking around Mgahinga National Forest. On Sunday we are going to relax on Lake Bunyonyi. We come back late Monday. I can’t wait for our trip. It’s going to be a magical experience!!

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