PPR, Research, and Human Nature

PPR, Research, and Human Nature

I had always wanted to work with rural communities overseas, especially in Africa.  I wanted to make a contribution, and not just satisfy a project requirement or desire to travel.  So, when the opportunity arose to work with goats and sheep in rural Uganda, I thought it might be what I was looking for.

Research preparations

Detailed map of Uganda.

Detailed map of Uganda.

My research partner, Amanda Nee V18, and I had studied Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), for our research methods class, and decided to expand upon it. We spoke with Dr. Jeffrey Mariner, whom we knew from his past work on Rinderpest and his current work with PPR.  We also consulted our advisor, Dr. Marieke Rosenbaum, about the logistics of carrying out such an ambitious summer project.  Eventually, we decided to spend 6 weeks in Uganda with Dr. Ayebazibwe of the Uganda Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industries and Fisheries, a contact we made through Dr. Mariner.

After a semester of sending emails back and forth, and editing and re-editing our proposal to satisfy both Tufts and Uganda’s research committees, we bought our tickets and prepared for the trip.

Arrival in Kampala

We arrived in Uganda in mid-June, and it was like stepping into a whole different world.  The earth was so red, the sky was so clear, the roads were so broken.  It was a lot to take in.

We spent a day in Kampala, the capital, meeting with colleagues of Dr. Ayebazibwe, and then made our way northeast to Karamoja, the poorest and most rural region in Uganda.  Throughout our trip we were accompanied by Dr. Isingoma of the ministry, and Davis, our hired driver.

Kenny collects samples from a goat in northeastern Uganda.

Kenny collects samples from a goat in northeastern Uganda.

The research learning curve

The research itself started off with a steep learning curve, but towards the end of it we had become very proficient.  Amanda and I had our own projects that were very similar, but had very different data collection techniques.  I collected blood samples and surveys, and she performed semi-structured interviews.  We visited a total of 12 clusters of villages called manyattas in 12 days, and then spent a couple weeks on data analysis.

The entire experience for both Amanda and myself was completely novel, and at times overwhelming.  There were many challenges to overcome, including: cultural differences, access to resources, and separation from family and friends.  The people of Uganda were very hospitable, but also very curious.  Many people in Karamoja had never seen foreigners before, and so took great interest in our every move.  I now know what it feels like to be a celebrity: interesting, but quite exhausting.

Hot shower, anyone?

Though Karamoja is quite rural, it has decent access to water and electricity, but only sporadic access to internet and hot water.  We quickly learned that while all four are taken for granted in the US, hot water was a luxury that few could afford in Karamoja.  Of the few luxuries we allowed ourselves in Uganda, hot water was one we would constantly seek, and fail to obtain, throughout our stay.

In a society that heavily emphasizes community and local tradition, it was easy to feel isolated and misunderstood.  Between the sporadic internet and significant time zone differences, we were limited to email contact with our family, and relied on each other’s company for the feeling of home.  I cannot say how grateful I am to my friend and travel partner, Amanda.  I struggle to find the words to describe the value of the bond we shared, and how it allowed us to fight through the many challenges we faced in Uganda.

Human nature

Our project in Uganda was an invaluable experience that I will look back on with a great fondness for years to come.  We learned so much beyond the research that the project almost took a backseat to the experience itself.  I learned about the violent history of the people of Karamoja, and how it is still shaping today’s society.  I learned how to draw blood from a goat with 30 people speaking in a foreign language about my ability as a blood drawer.  I learned that whether I am in Grafton, MA or Karamoja, Uganda, human nature is human nature, both the good and the bad.  And finally, I learned how naïve it was to think that my coming to Uganda would incite great change for the people of Karamoja.  However, through my experiences with the people and through my work, I think that I made a little difference or at least served as a stepping stone for change to be made and that is satisfying to me, at least for now.