Mostly successful

Posted on December 21, 2010

… is how I would describe this last foray into the field.  I didn’t have enough time to get all the interviews I wanted, but the health census of both communities is complete and I have all the data on tuberculosis cases to be found in the health posts.  It wasn’t easy.

My greatest challenge greeted me within the first half hour of my arrival.  As you may recall, the Pajerito (my field vehicle) stayed behind in the health post since there are no gas stations nearby that sell Nafta Super.  When I took the bus back to Asuncion I brought my bidom (gas container) with me so that I could bring back enough Nafta Super for the work at hand.  After several days of searching in Asuncion, I also found an embudo (funnel) to transfer the gas from the bidom to the Pajerito.  Turns out that searching wasn’t really worth my while:

Embudo fail

Embudo fail

So on to Plan B, I cut the bottom off of a plastic bottle and used that as the funnel.  This worked better than the embudo, but if the bottle was not tilted at a very precise angle in the tank there was still leakage.

Once I managed to fill the tank, I tried the ignition.  And got nothing.  Nada.

Dead Pajerito

Dead battery and a flat tire.

Also, one of the tires must have had a slow leak and was now flat.  But that’s relatively minor since I have a spare.

I need wheels to get to my isolated study community, so this situation was a lot of suck.  There are only 3 other vehicles nearby, two belong to the Mission and one belongs to one of the local men, and occasionally macateros (traveling salesmen) will pass through in their trucks.  For some reason I don’t understand, the diesel-powered trucks can’t be used to jump the Pajerito.  So that knocks out most of the contenders.  The Mission folks had one non-diesel vehicle and kindly jumped the Pajerito’s battery for me.  It worked!  I left the motor running so that the battery could charge back up, but after an hour and a half it quit on me.  Dead again.

Because the battery is *brand new* (seriously, it’s only a couple of months old), the current theory is that the alternator is taking all the battery’s juice.  The driver for the Mission helped me take out the battery so I could bring it to Asuncion, but we were unable to reach the alternator, which is located really deep in the engine.  Now that I’m back in Asuncion we’re still thinking about how we’re going to arrange repairs…

Without wheels of my own I had to rely on the nuns from the Mission, who make a trip out to the isolated community about once a week.  This meant that I needed to stay in the community to get my research done, and I couldn’t commute back and forth.  So I packed up a week’s worth of supplies and headed to Isolationville to see if they could accommodate me or not.

The health promoters and community leader were great and opened up a room next to the health post for me to keep my equipment.  Unfortunately this room lacked a place for me to hang my hammock, and it was definitely not safe for me to sleep on the porch.  There was a bed for patients inside the med room of the health post so I slept there while one of the health promoters and her husband slept in the main room of the health post to deter thieves and ne’er-do-wells from bothering me.  (In general the community members are good people, but there are certain individuals who might cause me trouble.)  I was well looked after during my stay, but the accommodation they rigged up for me is not a good long-term solution.  Also, the lack of a bathroom near the health post made my stay somewhat uncomfortable…

I arrived on a Friday, the same day that the doctors from the Health Region sent notice by radio that they would be arriving in the community on Sunday.  It looked like we would have a good chance of meeting up, but Saturday night was the first rain of the season in Isolationville, so the doctors didn’t show:

I managed to get the census done within the one week timeframe with the help of my field assistant Valeria (who is a volunteer health promoter) and Juana the health promoter.  Here’s a photo of me and Juana after a long day of censusing:

Juana and me

Juana and me

Yes, I’m very pale.  This is from early in the census.  I’ve got a much darker tan now, in spite of my SPF 100 sunscreen.  (And Yes, I know that kerchief looks stupid.  But head cover is important!)

Because it rained just before we started censusing the weather was relatively cool (as in 30 degrees Celsius-ish: Canadians reading this sentence will think I’ve lost my mind), but as it started to heat up again the mosquitoes multiplied like crazy in the puddles that were left on the ground.

The clouds were looking mighty threatening again at the end of the week, so I was anxiously awaiting my ride back to the bigger health post with the nuns.  They didn’t show on the appointed day.  Luckily, one of them came by the next day to hand out the school’s food rations program and I caught a ride in the back of the pickup.  The next day it started to rain again.

It took us close to two weeks to finish the census in Integrationville.  At every house we visit my field assistant or I need to read a 4-page long letter of consent to the adults in the household.  After my first week in Isolationville my voice was pretty hoarse.  (Pro tip for other researchers: If you will need to read a consent form over and over again, consider recording yourself reading the consent form so that you can play the recording and save your voice.)

To make matters worse the weather started heating up even more.  One day it was 41 degrees Celsius at 11:30am according to the radio.  The hottest part of the day is usually around 3pm – so I can’t imagine how hot it was – but I developed two spontaneous nose bleeds during census interviews that day.  Nothing like a freely bleeding nose inspires confidence in your abilities as a health professional… but I think I scored points with the locals by showing how dedicated I was to sticking it out and finishing the census.  The nice thing about the heat was that it was equally brutal for the mosquitoes and they weren’t around as much.

Here’s a photo of my field assistant Noemi and I doing a census interview in Integrationville:



Notice how everybody is hanging out in the shade of the trees!  Noemi is wearing a jean jacket in that heat!

My satellite phone was mostly useless while I was in the field.  It took me two weeks to figure out that I was unable to receive messages unless the phone was turned on when the messages were sent.  Since my car battery was dead, and this was the only way to charge the sat phone, I didn’t turn it on very often.  A couple of times I had trouble sending messages out.  This made it very hard to coordinate with my friends at CEDIC regarding the Pajerito.  We also tried communicating by sending messages back and forth with the bus crew; but the bus made fewer trips out because of the intermittent rain, and while I was in Isolationville the message was passed on to my neighbour near the health post and I think the message had changed by the time it reached me, like a game of telephone.

The bus did show up on the 17th and I decided to head back to Asuncion with them in the morning since it looked like it might rain some more and the health promoters I wanted to interview were away on vacation.  And that’s the basic rundown of events.  I have lots more stories and photos and videos to share in the coming weeks; stay tuned.

Posted in: Fieldwork