And so here is my long overdue blog post.
And I can’t believe I’m already reaching the t-1 month mark…
For the last ten days of March, eight of my friends, along with one of my directors, and I visited Uganda from border to border, east to west and back.
Upon our return last Sunday, I moved out of my homestay the following day and have moved into an apartment with six of my American friends (in a neighborhood we are familiar with near our homestays) and have finally unpacked and got through the weeks of overdue/dirty clothes waiting to be washed. May I also just add that I have been the most focused and busy this past week since my arrival in Kenya?
Just two months ago, even up until last week, although living in Nairobi and learning Kiswahili has been so rewarding and exciting and culturally-new, many times I honestly felt feelings of dissatisfaction and academic boredom, dare I say uninterest. Although the program is officially a health and development program, many times I wondered what exactly health/development related had I learned since being here. I wanted more for the program, of my days, and of myself. And many nights I went to bed unstimulated (as nerdy as that sounds).
And with that semester-long sentiment, going into my ISP (independent study project), which now is day #7, I honestly was not expecting much. Not that I wasn’t excited and passionate about my personal research topic, but more so because I think I honestly had forgotten what it means to PUSH myself and be academically stimulated since being abroad.
The way that I’ve been learning here and just spending my semester has been super informal: with the bus drivers, or my homestay parents, talking with my classmates on our 30 minute walks to and from school… A total “outside the classroom” experience – not by writing papers and sitting in lectures and reading powerpoint slides…and so going into my research has been an interesting transition.
And so last week was a lot of final preparations for my research:
Monday – meeting with the NGO (KSMH) I’m working with; meeting up with staff after being away in Uganda and checking up with progress; compiling a list of eligible fathers for my study with the AWESOME help of the staff; contacting parents and scheduling a general schedule for the week
Tuesday – final group meeting with all of the students and our academic directors regarding the research period as now we are all scattered around Kenya on our independent research projects.
Wednesday – literature research, revision of my proposal, finalize interview questionnaire, last minute meeting with my academic director
Thursday – field visit; interviews with seven fathers; leaving my house at 7am and returning at 8:30pm.
Friday – field visit; 7-5pm
The interviews have been quite stressful especially since I’m not 100% sure what exactly I’m trying to conclude or focus on in regards to my topic but they’ve been so informational and I’m so thankful for each and every one of the fathers who I have met last week and I truly wish for all the best for them and their families.
(I think now would be a good time to briefly talk about my project…?)
Last thursday was my first day out in the field with this whole interview thing. I remember thinking every little detail was super important and wasn’t as flexible as I wished I could have. It was definitely a checklisty type of interview, from which I got the information I wanted but wasn’t able to really go past my notebook and recorder and meet the father and sit and soak in and see him as a person.
But Friday, I think all the underlying emotions from Thursday’s interviews that I had not yet processed and the interview of that day caught up with me, there I was emotionally exhausted, frustrated, burnt out, hopeless, and confused.
During my fourth interview on Friday one thing led to another and at the end of a wonderful, maybe one of my best interviews, I lost it when he asked me at the end something along the lines of…”So with this research what you do for us in Kenya?” I lost it and didn’t know what to say. I told him to continue being a supportive father and it will not go unnoticed and unappreciated…but then I just lost it. Tears streaming down my face, unable to look at him directly in the eyes. A combination of my own personal life + empathy + desperation + helplessness for the father was too much.
And so I thanked him at the end in my tears for inviting me into his home and then excused myself to get some fresh air outside. It has just raining.
I came back in and another neighbor at that time had come to the home for the next interview and was waiting for me. I was still frazzled and not in the right state of mind and completed the fastest interview I had done in about thirty minutes. After him, I asked my coworker if we could go home because I didn’t think I could continue for the day and we took the best bus ride home. Why was it the best? I’ m not too sure.
On the bus ride back I was struggling with the question, “What exactly is research? What am I doing right now? Why is a twenty year old able to just do this and that it’s ok that I’m entering peoples homes and families and then leaving them, forever, after an hour?”
I think it has a lot to do with my immaturity, lack of understanding in the real point of research and instead wanting to bring some instant change, with my youthful/get all/proactive attitude. It’s just frustrating to know and hear about the realities and to not be able to do anything and then move on to another family and hear about it and move on to another and another…and another…and end the day at sunset having spoken with seven families…it’s almost like a sick joke. A punishment. How many until you snap again?
It’s hard. I want to meet all these fathers and their families and bring change to their lives but how? And how do I explain what this research is for? What will it bring to them, those who have participated and opened up? Yes I have been saying that it is a personal interest, especially being the brother of a sister with an intellectual disability. Yes I have been saying that I am a student studying in Kenya and will write a research paper about my findings and share it with my program. Yes I have been saying that hopefully organizations and institutions will read my research and learn more about the realities and voices of fathers with children of disabilities in Kenya. But what does this all really mean?
Not to make this about me, but it’s also hard to hear at the end of the interviews: “God bless you” “Thank you so much. I am so happy” “you are the first person who I have ever told my family story to” “I know you will return and bring change to Dandora” etc and then what do I say after that, after the interview, on my way out with notebook in hand. I’m sick of saying “Asante sana (Thank you)” with an overly enthusiastic smile to compensate for my lack of immediate help that I so desire.
Sometimes not know is better than knowing?