Salaam Afghanistan

Health and Ethnic Conflict.

My first visit to the Heart of Asia -- Reflections and Photos.

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Location: Mbarara, Uganda

Internist and Pediatrician with a passion for international health.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Rural Site: Kalakan District

The final FGDs went well overall, although we certainly could have benefited from a bit more advanced planning. Nasreen, our female notetaker, was unable to attend the final days of the study because of her father's concerns about the travel to the site. Because it is a rural site and farther away from the city, Nasreen's father believes that "they still steal girls." I am not sure who "they" are, but his concern was real and he would not be swayed. Nasreen was not allowed to travel to the rural site with us. As a result, we had to recruit a staff member from the NGO that was hosting us to perform the role of the female notetaker. She did a pretty good job, but failed to match quotes to people, so there is no way we can know, for example, whether the same person said one thing many times or if different people said the same thing.

Also, the room was exceedingly hot and as a consequence, the babies (with the new mothers) were uncomfortable and crying, of course distracting their moms from the discussion at hand. We had to have the windows open which limited the privacy and intimacy of the group as well. And for some reason, one of the clinic staff kept coming in and out of the room, helping herself to the snacks and taking them to other members of the staff and holding loudly whispered conversations through the open doorway with people nearby. She certainly should have been informed of the importance of a quiet, focused, private discussion ahead of time. I am surprised that she didn't understand this, but alas, there we have it. The discussion still went well and we were able to gather some valuable and interesting information. I can't wait for the translations to be complete so that I can work on analyzing the results. Hard to believe we are done! Such a brief period of time here and so much we were able to do. But finishing the project means I am closer to finishing with my time here, which is hard to believe as well.

One interesting observation is that every single woman in the discussion wore full burqa, the veil flipped back behind their hands to expose and cool their faces, and almost all of them took care to recover their faces when our "tea man" entered with the refreshments. Here, in this relatively safe space with only other women, they can reveal their unique identities, but when a man enters they rush to hide it again. I wonder if they are afraid that he might tell people if they didn't cover up when he came in, or maybe they are afraid that the other women might say somehting. Or maybe they are just so accustomed to living under a burqa and veiwing men through a screen that it is second nature for them. Maybe they are uncomfortable if they don't do it, they just feel that it is immodest -- I imagine that if I were to move to certain parts of rural Africa, even if I knew I would live there for the rest of my life, I would still feel uncomfortable bearing my naked breasts in front of men even though it would be ok, acceptable, even normal.

After our final FGD we headed back to the city for lunch. Someone suggested we go to this particular Afghan restaurant on the north side of town -- one of the 2 more popular restaurants that serve principally Afghan foods. That sounded good to me, so we found our way there and parked and began to file out of the van. Hamayoon took care to insist that our driver join us. So up we all went, and when it came time to order, everyone looked to me to order first. I really didn't know, so a few people made suggestions and then I agreed to one of them (a more expensive option, but one which everyone agreed would be good) and then everyone handed in their menus. It was then that I understood that I was going to be expected to pay for everyone there -- a total of eight of us. Oh, man! No way out of this one, but given that it was clearly understood by everyone except me that I should pay, I figured it would be an extremely rude violation of Afghan culture not to. I wondered, is it because I am Western and they therefore believe that I must have a lot of money? Or is it because I am running the study? I decided it was probably because I am a Western woman running a study -- i.e. I am the boss and I have money so of course I should invite everyone for a final thank you lunch. Makes sense. I just wish I really did have the money behind me to do it.


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