Research post written by Cady Gonzalez (PhD Candidate, Anthropology)

I recently returned to the US after completing nearly 12 months of dissertation fieldwork in Ethiopia’s capital city as a Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad fellow. My ethnographic research in Addis Ababa looks at an urban renewal initiative aiming to rehabilitate rivers and stimulate riverbasin economies that speaks as much to issues of managing urban growth and urban natures as it does the political project of state building. Like many of my colleagues and friends, I experienced a rushed and early departure due to the global public health pandemic. Fortunately, my research period was minimally impacted as my year abroad was coming to a close at the end of March.

I first came to Ethiopia in summer of 2016, on a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship. At the time, I hoped to research among coffee growing communities in the south of the country, but language study requirements restricted me to the city. Being stuck in Addis Ababa meant that I had to completely rethink my research strategy, or in Erving Goffman’s words, I had to open myself up to any overture. What better way to do that then to brainstorm over a cup of traditionally prepared, strong Ethiopian coffee, called jebena buna? After a red-eye flight, I found myself sipping my first cup in a narrow urban green area, between a bustling city sidewalk and the towering wall of Addis Ababa University’s campus border. The enticing smell of roasting coffee and burning incense had lured me to this enclave, which one of its patrons later explained was a small public park built by the municipal government to provide pay-per-use toilet services along with refreshments. The object of study for my MA research remained coffee, but within the context of polluted streets rather than the foothills of high-altitude forests. I explored how the social life and hospitality of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony within the context of development projects, acted as a tool to govern bodies and bodily processes, namely open defecation.

Returning to Addis Ababa in Spring 2019, three years after the inauguration of the public toilets, I found the project changed. While the initiative attempted to tackle a myriad of sustainable development goals, its emphasis on sanitation had receded and the project’s governance was under transition from the water and sewage department to the city beatification and recreation authority. Underpinned by a desire to clean and green the dirtiest areas of Addis Ababa, the project would continue to be sustained by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s focus on human-centered, green urban planning. Public toilets constructed along the river were swept up by his personal vision for river rehabilitation and the design, implementation, and conservation of urban-natures.

In other words, I found the city not just under construction, but also under renovation, and city residents were expected to take part. Sunday mornings were reserved monthly for neighborhood cleaning, car-free days were scheduled to reduce pollution and a national tree planting day in July aimed to set a world record for the number of saplings planted in 24 hours. Medians along highway corridors were beautified with clay flower pots and shrub trees. Tree removal during road construction resulted in pockets of land amidst construction zones converted into nurseries, where uprooted trees—from seedlings to mature canopies—were watered and nurtured through IV drips.

Although underway since the 1990s, Ethiopia’s urban cleaning and conservation projects have not unfolded according to any uniform logic. In Addis Ababa today, processes of greening, cleaning and caring are part and parcel to Dr. Abiy’s guiding political philosophy medemer—literally meaning to “add up” or to “add to.”  While medemer rhetorically espouses ideals of unity, love and care, its practices of discipline, eviction and taming undermine the social synergy it seeks to generate. Taking the public toilets and their green areas as my point of departure, I spent the year exploring the ways cleaning and caring for a home, city, and nation speak to double-edged processes of controlling others and “living together.”

I spent significant time “hanging-out” at public parks and riverside slums, wandering the hallways of municipal offices, and engaging with urban planners and architects. For the first six months of fieldwork, I walked or rode public transportation past the park above. While the chain-link fence was unlocked, I along with much of the neighborhood was skeptical about the terms of use. Was it open? Was it free? Was it safe? Very rarely was anyone inside; that was until one of the gardeners began to paint the concrete retention wall in a vibrant, geometric pattern.

Once attuned to color’s effects on urban-nature relations, I found the use of art as mirror, critique and provocation to be salient throughout the city due to the political emphasis on beautification. I leaned into my own artistic inclinations to also engage with designers and artists by way of design studios, art competitions and art educational programs—each of which held river rehabilitation, waste management and the design of urban-natures at their gravitational center.

What urban renewal means and entails today for Addis Ababa is fiercely debated and feeds into tension between new and old, and short- and long-term city residents; religious and ethnic groups; and municipal, regional and national governments. My research shows that it is critical for environmental and political stability to understand how urban-natures and their connected cleaning and greening campaigns, become a right, a source of anger or an object of manipulation and negotiation.

As I begin to revisit my fieldnotes and reflect on my winding research trajectories, my gratitude for my advisors, colleagues and friends is endless. Their encouragement to trust my instincts inspired and fueled creativity throughout the research process and when work felt stagnant, their insistence to “be a sponge” was reassuring. I am also so thankful to have had the support of the Center for African Studies, Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program and UF International Center’s Office for Global Research Engagement throughout this research process. Without them, long-term fieldwork would not have been possible.

 

 

Research Post Written by Megan Cogburn (PhD Candidate, Anthropology)

For the past 8 months I have been in Tanzania completing a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research project. My ethnographic research focuses on maternal health governance and the pregnancy and childbirth care experiences of women in rural communities in the central Dodoma region of Tanzania. I am interested in the everyday maternity experiences of nurses, mothers, and wakunga wa jadi (local birth attendants), and how new global and national policies aimed at increasing facility deliveries intersect with their own care desires and practices. While my project was intended to end late March, I like many others, had to return from the field a bit early due to global public health concerns. Luckily, my project was close to its end and I have prior additional field research seasons to build from for my dissertation project.

I first came to Mpwapwa District in January of 2016, through a fellowship with the Transparency for Development Project. I lived in three different villages for 7 months, following community members’ experiences with an intervention aimed at improving maternal health indicators. One of the questions that emerged from this time was what happens to care when it becomes indicator-driven—what does that look like on different levels and in the lives of those giving and receiving care? From this research I wrote an article called, “Home birth fines and health cards in rural Tanzania: on the push for numbers in maternal health,” in press with Social Science & Medicine.

My Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Award supported my return to Mpwapwa in July 2019. I had 8 months to ethnographically explore what counts as care, when, why, and to whom, and with what intended and unintended consequences for the lives of women. I chose the village health dispensary— the lowest tier of the Tanzanian biomedical health system — as well as one district-level hospital and maternity waiting home, known locally as Chigonela, as my ethnographic sites. In addition to these facilities, I also sought to follow women’s experiences as they moved through different ‘middle spaces’ of care, which included the homes, churches, and public spaces of respected elders, wakunga wa jadi, and local healers.

Returning to the same field site 3 years later allowed me to document several changes. Many of which I observed at the health dispensary, where I spent numerous hours helping the nurse register pregnant women, record data, and administer testing. Women are supposed to arrive to the health dispensary early on in their pregnancies—as soon as one feels she is pregnant. They must arrive with their husbands so both can be tested for HIV and STIs, receive a mosquito net, and learn how to prepare for a facility delivery. Due to by-laws banning homebirths, women are not allowed to deliver at home with wakunga wa jadi. Many prefer birth at their local health dispensaries, though fewer and fewer are allowed to do so. This led me to explore the way the dispensary delivery has become the new ‘homebirth’ in interesting ways, leading to novel forms of confessional care at the health facility.

Not all women can access a desired dispensary birth. Commands to go to the district hospital materialize in the stars health workers, or at times, a visiting ethnographer, draw on the top of health cards for all first-time pregnant women, women who have had three or more pregnancies, or previous complications such as caesarean sections. These stars indicate that women must go the maternity waiting home to ensure a hospital delivery. This emphasis on place and temporality —a woman’s early arrival at the hospital—influence much of what counts in the making of ‘good care’ today. However, as women are left to care for themselves once at the maternity waiting home, these same axes of care (time and space) are called into question. The material realities of crowded beds and deteriorating infrastructure pose challenges to daily life at Chigonela, leaving many of its residents to wonder where care is located. The maternity waiting home thus becomes a site shaped by and shaping competing modes of good care and governance. It is a space that seeks to fashion rural, pregnant women into neoliberal, self-caring subjects, at the same time it assumes they cannot care for themselves and are in need of state intervention. The maternity waiting home emerges as a space to rethink traditional forms of governance, (re)imagining the bodies of poor, rural pregnant women, and how best to care.

One of the things I really enjoyed about my research, and its multi-sited focus, was the ability to be with, different women before, during, and after birth. Some of the women I would see at the maternity waiting home were friends or acquaintances from my time in the villages in 2016. I felt privileged to be able to share in the intimacy and joy that comes in meeting one’s infant for the first time. I was also able to visit many post-partum mothers at home, and conducted focus group discussions with women who had been together at the maternity waiting home and delivered at the hospital.

My experience as a researcher in Tanzania was shaped by my own identity as a mother. I am now the mother of two young children. This has added to the complexities of planning and negotiating fieldwork abroad but has also provided my family with amazing memories and new experiences for learning and growth. Some highlights were watching the smiles on my children’s faces when the blue and pink school bus would arrive in the morning and taking long evening hikes together. Before my older son left Mpwapwa, he said that the two things he would miss most are the mountains and stationary shops—the latter of which he frequented more for candy and socializing than pencils or books. Isolating with my children at home now, I am even more grateful for the time and freedom they had in Mpwapwa, and the amazing community who welcomed and sustained us there.

In my unique position as a mother and scholar on maternal health, I have come to value the importance of being open about my experiences with motherhood and scholarship. Final products of research are often missing the mundane, lived experiences of researchers themselves—even though these experiences inherently mold the work we do. Some might think that my position as a mother allows me greater access to the research topics of pregnancy and birth—which it can and does. But, at the end of the day, conducting research as a mother inherently means time away from my children while others provide essential care work so I can carry out the tasks at hand. There are so many mixed emotions that go into these logistics—none of which are unique to me. I think these experiences should be valued more in our writing and reflection as scholars, for the research we do never occurs in a vacuum devoid of our emotions, social ties, and responsibilities. During research, I wonder how our ethnographic care not only reflects our academic training (methods and theoretical underpinnings), but the people we care for in our day to day lives both in and out of the field.

I am so thankful to have had the support of the Center for African Studies and my wonderful advisor and committee members throughout this process. I am also thankful to my friends here at UF, fellow graduate students who have offered me unconditional support and encouragement. One even volunteered her time and resources to help me and my children move to Mpwapwa and lived with us there for a month. The phrase “it takes a village” sounds trite, but collaboration and collaborative practice is key to unmasking powerful hierarchies and making space in the academy for women and caregivers, as many feminist scholars have shown. I believe that collaborative practice can be as simple as a WhatsApp group, such as the one I shared with two of my grad school friends here at UF, both of whom were in Africa conducting research this last year. For over a year, we messaged each other daily, checking in on our research and personal progress, sharing ethnographic vignettes, images, hardships and humor. Our WhatsApp group is not just a testimony to friendship—and perhaps, boredom— but to what ethnography is and might become as we move forward in the 21st century, when, by coming together, we can better care not only for the research process, but for each other.

 

Dr. Luise White spent the past year researching and writing as a Fellow of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. Her newest book will focus on white soldiers in the Rhodesian Army, continuing some of the issues that grew out of her last book about the Rhodesian state. In her new book, she has used the papers of the Rhodesian Army (available in the now defunct British Empire and Commonwealth Museum), interviews, and the extraordinary number of memoirs written by white soldiers in the Rhodesian Army. These memoirs not only contradict each other, but they argue with each other explicitly, and thus debate the conduct of the war.

Dr. White has been working on this book for some time now, building off past research on the Rhodesian war, and hopes to publish it in the next year. Dr. White believes that, “A new present requires a new history.” In the past, historical works were primarily written by those close to the regime. As Zimbabwe emerges from its twenty-year decline, histories should begin to draw from experiences previously not represented in the past. She would like to make her book available in the U.S. and Zimbabwe.

Monument to the Rhodesian Light Infantry, courtyard of the South African Police Museum in Pretoria. Photo Provided by Dr. Luise White.

 

CAS News Bulletin- Week of September 18, 2017

The Eco Tones Podcast is curated by Patrick Milligan, a 2nd year PhD student in the Biology Department at UF. Milligan works in Dr. Todd Palmer’s lab, which generally works on community ecology and the ecology and evolution of species interactions. Milligan’s own research investigates the effects of the “big-headed ant” species which has invaded Laikipia, Kenya among other places. As Milligan explains, Kenya is the third largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. As such, there is a great deal of agricultural trade to and from Kenya, which has led to the introduction of a particular big-headed ant species originally from Ethiopia. One reason why these ants are so successful as an invasive species is that, unlike typical ant species, they can have more than one queen in a given colony, and even up to 15-20. Further, big-headed ants have little variation in the scent glands that they use to identify each other, meaning that ants can move freely into and out of other big-headed ant colonies. This movement is so free-forming that super-colonies can develop, such that the beginning and end of individual colonies can be difficult to determine.
The invasion of this big-headed ant species is important because they kill a lot of native ant species in the area, including the native ants which live on acacia trees. It turns out that these native ants play a big role in protecting acacia trees from destruction by elephants. When an elephant approaches a tree and begins to strip the bark or eat the branches, the native ant population residing on the tree will swarm up the trunk of the elephant stinging and biting, quickly driving the elephant from the trees. However, with the introduction of the big-headed ant species, native ant populations are dying off leaving acacia trees unprotected. Little is known about how big-headed ants affect the Laikipia ecosystem. Studying both the species and identifying the effects they are having on species diversity and conservation in Laikipia are the first steps to address the invasive species.

In addition to his interesting research, Milligan also curates an Eco Tones Podcast focused, not on his research, but on other research being conducted by ecologists and biologists. Currently, there are 3 full podcast episodes. Similarly, Milligan also curates a blog on his own research hosted by National Geographic available here, including a new post covering the ability of dung beetles to withstand the big-headed ant invasion and encouraging all of us of our potential to become involved in biology, ecology, and conservation. Nice work Pat!