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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.

 

Interrogate and Commemorate the historic meeting of James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe at UF in 1980.

In April 1980 renowned African writer Chinua Achebe and African American literary giant James Baldwin met for the first time in Gainesville, Florida. The occasion was the African Literature Association conference devoted to the African Aesthetic.

On the 40th anniversary of Baldwin and Achebe’s historic encounter at the University of Florida, this two-day event invites return and reflection. The first day probes the experiential archive through oral history, memoir, and artifact. The second day invites literary engagement around reading, representing and writing the nexus of Africa and America in the present on the UF campus and across the community.

How might we come to know and narrate this past in its midst and from afar. Does a Black Aesthetic today displace the pursuit of an African one? Can there ever be a single voice to speak with or against? Does a literary imagination forged in displacement and diaspora transcend attempts at localization? What are the artistic and political stakes and do they recall or refute the promises of the past?

April 2-3, 2020
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Sponsored by College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of the Arts, Office of Research, Office of Diversity Affairs, and Center for African Studies.

Click here for the Achebe | Baldwin @40 event flyer. Program details are forthcoming.

GAINESVILLE, FL – The University of Florida International Center (UFIC) is pleased to announce that the Centers for African Studies (CAS), European Studies (CES), and Latin American Studies (LAS) have collectively received over $5.9 million from the U.S. Department of Education Title VI program, an increase of almost a million dollars compared to last period. The three area studies centers will support international research, public programming and training initiatives in collaboration with faculty across campus and experts across the world. They additionally provide student fellowships over a four-year period (2018-2022). Title VI grants are awarded in recognition of UF’s important contributions to building expertise on world regions and preparing students for international careers in government and the private sector.

All three centers were named Title VI Comprehensive National Resource Centers (NRC), and awarded Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship grants. The grants will continue supporting interdisciplinary examination of crucial regional issues and teaching about these world regions at UF, including the teaching of critical world languages. Grants also help to internationalize K-12 education through teacher education and training initiatives, and provide support for outreach about these world regions to other higher education institutions, business, media, and the general public.

“This important and timely recognition of our core area studies programs is a very welcome and exciting contribution to our international mission,” said Leonardo Villalón, Dean of the UF International Center.

The FLAS fellowship grants from all three centers will support graduate and undergraduate students to pursue advanced proficiency in an array of less-commonly taught languages from the three world regions. The languages include Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Czech, Modern Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Turkish, Akan, Amharic, Swahili, Wolof, Yoruba, and Zulu. Contributing to national expertise, these prestigious awards allow students to develop linguistic skills to conduct research and gain in-depth understanding of cultures and world regions.

UF Center for African Studies (CAS)

CAS’ mission is to promote excellence in teaching and research on Africa in all the disciplines at the University of Florida. The Center also disseminates knowledge about Africa to the wider community through an integrated outreach program to schools, colleges, community groups, and businesses. Central to this mission is sustaining contacts and expanding interactive linkages with individuals and institutions on the African continent. In addition to undergraduate education, the Center promotes and supports graduate studies as essential for the development of a continuing community of Africanist scholars.

“Highlights of the 2018-2022 award include a new focus on scientific research in Africa, continued investment in Global Health initiatives, and partnership with UF Innovation Hub on technology innovation from Africa. This is in addition to expanded support of African Humanities, involving residencies for practicing artists from Africa and development of digital and distance learning for African Languages,” said Dr. Brenda Chalfin, Professor and Director of the Center for African Studies.

The Center will also extend its impact across southeast U.S. community colleges and minority serving institutions in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Likewise, in keeping with their Next Generation Innovation in African Studies: Building Knowledge and Opportunity for Impact initiative, their local and national K-12 outreach and teacher training programs will now provide multi-cultural perspectives on arts, literature, and social studies as well science and technology in Africa.

The award will allow CAS to continue to promote undergraduate involvement in African Studies.

through new opportunities for undergraduate research and experiential learning on campus and on the continent. This includes their highly successful research tutorial program that has facilitated UF undergraduate research in 10 African countries over the past four years.