Friday, March 16, 2007

In the Field

This post comes to you courtesy of the marvel that is satellite technology. I imagine my thoughts being beamed all the way out to space, only to be beamed right back to your places of work or residence. Amazing. Especially since I haven’t even gotten my head around radio waves yet.

So today I am in one of our field offices, about 3 hours north of Lilongwe, in a town called Nkhotakota, which is fun to say. Yesterday I spent the whole day out in health centers and villages, pre-testing some questionnaires for an upcoming study.

First we held a focus group discussion among program participants at a rural health center. We all sat on mats or on the ground under a tree, as chickens pecked and squawked around us. I couldn’t understand any of it, because it was in Chichewa, but I was watching for the interviewers’ facilitation style and the level of engagement of the participants. There were about 8 women, and one man. It is unusual to see a man bringing his child to the doctor here – that’s normally women’s work. It was quite sad, too, because the child was disabled. He had a small wheelchair, which is a rare luxury here, and occasionally went into little fits of convulsions. I wished I had a toy or sweets to give him, but it’s very difficult here to single out just one child – you have to bring enough for everyone.

In the afternoon we had a harrowing drive through muddy rice paddies and down bicycle paths to find women who had dropped out of the nutrition program. Again, I couldn’t understand the proceedings, but it was a very big deal to have this azungu (whitey) showing up on your doorstep in a big Landcruiser. I drew big crowds everywhere I went.

During the last interview I tried to get some reading done, but it was very difficult to focus, what with 20 small children standing in a circle around me, watching my every move. So instead I showed them the pictures from my magazine, and took pictures of them. In a strange coincidence, my photo was in the magazine (see page 41 – I’m in the big group photo, 2nd row, 4th from the left), and I was wearing the exact same outfit in the photo. It was like magic to the kids.