ABOUT the RESEARCH WORK
Today we went to the village, and we started the process of explaining and distributing the consent forms. Of course, nothing ever goes exactly as planned, and this is why it felt somewhat crazy to try to write my entire protocol to the University of Delaware for research approval. But, there are formalities and legalities, so that is what I did. And now, I’m in the real world. This is the conflict between the researcher and the practitioner. Theory and Practice. Armchair ideas and the sweat and grit of real work. Plus, we are in another culture, so that changes everything too.
The issue was this: parental consent. The headmaster did not want to give parents the consent forms because she said that it would make a bigger deal out of something that wasn’t a big deal. Then the parents would be confused and feel suspicious. The headmaster indicated that when the children are in school, the school personnel are the legal guardians of the children; therefore, they should be the ones to give consent. I’ve read of other studies in which the researchers call the community together to get community approval rather than individual parental consent. Prior to my study, someone who has done a lot of research here in Kenya suggested that I take a community approval approach versus a parental consent approach. But, the IRB wasn’t down with that. And ultimately, IRB approval was necessary or else I couldn’t have come here on this grant; if we wouldn’t have come here on this grant, then it would be less likely that we would be able to soon develop an HIV/AIDS intervention for the Digos.
So, I went with the academic route. I developed all the appropriate forms with the proper technical language. This included specifying the precise location where the answered questionnaires will be kept (in a locked drawer). And when Terry got to that part of the consent form (she was reading it aloud to all the children and school personnel) she started laughing and said, “WOW. You even have the room number on here.” And in that moment, it seemed ridiculous, and it was ridiculous. Because…really. We are trying to develop a health program for adolescents because the community asked us to do this in 2009. All the research supports the fact that HIV/AIDS is at epidemic levels in Kenya. The literature also supports the idea that the social problems perpetuating destructive sexual behaviors are normalized. We’ve also observed this firsthand time and again. All this points to the fact that an intervention is healthy and good–especially given that it was an expressed felt need of community members. So COME ON, just let us do this!
But, Terry and I explained to the headmaster that at the University of Delaware, in the United States, there are all these formalities, and the head master was very understanding about the fact that we do indeed have to get the consent of the children’s legal guardians. SO, that is what we are doing.
A Word About Terry
We really couldn’t do this without her. She is in her element when she is doing this kind of community development work. She is fluent in English, Swahili, and ChiDigo; she is respected all throughout the village as someone who has really given so much to the good of the community. She is funny, engaging, and she gets stuff done. I’m so incredibly thankful for her. She is also so encouraging in how she lives her life. She is very sincere, strong but also giving. She is an honest and authentic friend. She and her husband Paul do their development work together, too. Paul is with their two children a good deal because Terry is in school full time in addition to working full time. They work really closely as a team, and I appreciate and admire that.
ABOUT our little FAMILY
So, we are doing well here. It was a big day for Sen, though. She has been such a strong and courageous girl. Imagining this from her point of view, it must be a lot to process. Everything has changed. The climate, the landscape, the language, the way that people look, our home, Zuri isn’t here, no one else she knows besides us is here. It’s just different in almost every way possible. Except us. Collin and I are the constants, and we are setting the tone for her experience here. That is a serious responsibility.
She started social referencing a lot last month, and now she relies on cues from us to know whether she is okay or not. So, when someone here in the village wants to hold her, it puts me in this challenging place where I have to navigate what to do. I don’t want to send the message that this is always a bad thing, but sometimes I can just tell that it’s too much for her. She has this expression that just breaks my heart when she is afraid or overwhelmed. When I see that face, I instantly feel that I would do anything to protect her. So, I have said “no” to quite a few requests (and often just flat out commands “let me have your baby”). And this is how I know that my priorities have changed.
It used to be the most important thing to me to always defer to the community, to never offend anyone, to be completely culturally respectful and compliant. But now, I have a little person who relies on me to protect her, to uphold her rights, to establish safe boundaries for her, to model strength, to model the ability to say no, to give her a sense of security when things are different or strange. So, the three of us are navigating Senya’s cultural immersion together.
And I miss Zuri a lot. I really do. I know not everyone understands what it is to love and cherish a dog, but that doesn’t change the fact that I do. She is my constant companion. She was my first baby, and she fills our life with so much joy. She is so lovable and full of life. She has so many good qualities. She reminds us what it is to live without inhibition, to live in the moment. She is back home in the good care of Rob, Judy, Shane, and Kwali (her birth mom, incidentally named after this town!). I get lots of good updates on how she is having a wonderful month, so that makes me happy. Still, though, this family isn’t complete without our furry girl.