Saturday, 26 October 2013

Time is flying, I am here already for a month!!

The past week I have been really busy, although I did not conduct any interview. Due to a conference about FGM/C in Rome, almost all the people that I wanted to interview were in Italy. Therefore, I could not make any appointments for this week, but nevertheless it was a very productive week. 

In the morning, I usually wake up very early (because of the morning prayers of the mosque). 
Sunrise in Dakar (from my balcony)
Good coffee is the best way to start the day!
This week I finalized the pilot phase of my field study. Taking into account my experiences from the 5 interviews I conducted so far and the reports I read, I finalized my questionnaire (made sure that it wasn't too long) and I translated the questionnaire into French. I always send the questionnaire and letter of consent beforehand to the interviewee, so they are well informed and know beforehand the purpose of my interview, the aim of my PhD study and the questions I will ask during the interview. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday I worked at the Netherlands Embassy. I am so glad I can work there. I have my own office (with air-conditioning!), where I can work quietly. On Tuesday we went for lunch with a few colleagues in a nice restaurant where I enjoyed a delicious spaghetti bolognese. 

Here are some pictures I took on my way to the Embassy on Wednesday:

They know the 'smurfs' in Dakar as well! ;-)  

Senegalese starbucks :p
Anyone need a mattress?

In addition, I was working this week on the list of persons I would like to interview at the national level. I have three different target groups at the national level. In the first place the government (Ministries, parliamentarians), international organizations (UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women, WHO) and NGO's. The past days I was searching conference reports or minutes of meetings about FGM/C and then I was especially interested in the list of participants. ;-) This is a good way to find out which organizations work in the field of FGM/C and have knowledge about the topic and the specific questions I have. 

After all, I am satisfied how my research is going and everything goes according to plan. I have conducted 5 pilot interviews, I have finished my questionnaire and I have a rather complete list of who I want to interview. The 'only' thing left is to make appointments and make sure people are willing to participate in my research. But the real 'thinking' for the interviews at the national level has been done. 

I think already differently about my topic than a few weeks ago. I learn a lot form the interviews, but also by just being here. When I read back the chapters I wrote the past two years I think: "OMG, what a Western (UN) perspective!!!!" 

Now I am starting to understand the rather complex tradition of FGM/C. It's so easy to say that it is a brutal practice, born from gender inequality, that girls are forced to endure and that it violates human rights. But now I realize, that the people in the village really love their daughters and that they perform FGM/C on their daughters as an act of love. 

Like Molly Melching, the founder of the NGO TOSTAN (Jeeeaahh, I have arranged a meeting with her mid November!!!!): "Cutting one’s daughter is critical to her future, ensuring that she will be a respected member of her community and preparing her to find a good husband in cultures where marriage is essential for a girl’s economic security and social acceptance. To not cut one’s daughter would be unthinkable – setting her up for a lifetime of rejection and social isolation.” It is easy to judge a cultural tradition like FGM/C by my own belief system. I am here to truly understand the people and the deeper reasons why they do it. 

Another thing I learned is that women in the village have little knowledge about their own bodies. They never talk about FGM/C and they do not link FGM/C with pain or problems they have (for example during childbirth or sexual intercourse). They assign that to another cause, namely evil spirits or the will of God. Many women think that all women had the same pain, that it is natural to suffer in this way. In Senegal the girls undergo the procedure at very young ages, so they spend their entire lives thinking the problem they suffer are normal and expected, part of what it means to have a female body. This is something I did not realize before. 

The past week was again a week without running water in my apartment. Quite frustrating, but at the same something you get used to. However, I was extremely happy that I woke up this morning at 6.30am, because I heard some water in my toilet! I immediately jumped out of my bed, and I took a shower (Aaahh, sooooo nice after one week of washing myself with a little bucket of water)! I also washed my clothes (I admit, I miss my washing machine, haha) and cleaned my apartment. Everywhere in the neighborhood I saw people doing the same. ;-)

Everybody in my neighborhood washed their clothes this morning.
Next week I have a lot of interviews planned. Of course, you'll never know if the interviews indeed will take place (this is Africa!) but I managed to make an appointment with a parliamentarian, the director of a local NGO working in the field of FGM/C, a staff member of UNICEF, a staff member of the UNFPA and the director of the Family Ministry. I really hope that they do not cancel our appointment or let me wait too long... ;-) 

The transcriptions of the interviews are also going smoothly. Thanks to my interns, almost all interviews up to now are transcribed! Keep up the good work, I really appreciate your assistance Maria, Alina, Sofia (and soon Jason)! ;-) 

As I said at the beginning of my blogpost, time is flying. Erik will arrive in Dakar on Thursday!!! I am counting the days and I can't wait to pick him up from the airport and to enjoy 10 days together in Dakar. 

With love from Dakar,


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