3 weeks: Dancing in the rain and interesting interviews

Amoso! Don’t know exactly how it is spelled  but it means “hi how are you?” in the local language, Luo, here in Western Kenya.

That is something I say to people maybe 20 times a day here if I am outside the house area, or if people come to visit. Which is something that is normal here (compared to Sweden). Everyone knows one’s neighbour and you are welcome to pass by for a tea or just some chatting.

Still not everyone has met me here, but when I start by saying some greetings in Luo, and actually can have a 2-3 sentence talking with a local, they get surprised and happy – especially the elders.

Most greet with the right hand and says “Amosi, nango? De ma ber.” Meaning, “Hi how are you, I am good”. Others, some more religious elders, greet by clapping their hands three times. I’ve started doing that too, even before them, which makes them laugh. It creates this respect between me as a visitor and the locals.

My previous posts have been somewhat more about the Challanges I’ve struggled with. And a couple of days ago, I was close to be going home because of a situation at home. It was also very tempting for the reasons of the “freedom” and other virtues you are used to at home.

However, I chose to stay. And now, things have just been going up! I chose to look at the bright side for being here and to be thankful for this once in a lifetime experience. For instance, I danced in heavy rain last Saturday with people from the village. Children was jumping up and down and people happy to see “the visitor” taking part from some traditional activities. A woman came up to me, and I first thought it was like a “dance battle”. She wanted to show me some moves – and me to copy it. I have got used with people looking at me, so dancing wet in the rain and making some new moves, was only but pure joy.

I’ve done some interviews also, of course. It makes you feel you are on the right track, when people telling you that they are grateful for you being here and that it is an important study. I can clearly see that the community-based organisation is making many positive changes and development in the village. Something that the informants are confirming themselves.

I continue to go to school and serve lunch to the wonderful children here. It is one of the best parts of my week. And also, the washing on Sundays that is close to a lake with beautiful surroundings with animals walking free.

 

A lecture about environment
The feeling after dancing in the rain to the drums!

Donbass trip

This week I traveled to the Eastern Ukraine to conduct my final interviews and engage in participant observation among the volunteer fighters. This trip was necessary and I decided to realize it when I saw that I can’t answer my research question by doing my study in Odessa only. Therefore, I had to extend the sample of my research participants. Another alternative could be to reformulate the whole topic, which means the reformulation of the purpose, theory and the method as well.

My first stop was in the city of Pokrovsk or the former Krasnoarmeysk. The city was renamed after the hostilities broke out in this region. I was met by a wonderful and hospitable Ukrainian family to which I am very grateful. I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my data gathering in the field without the assistance of those people. They shared their expertise and helped me to reach some important research participants. Thanks to their contacts, I can say that my data gathering has reached the saturation point.

Pokrovsk Central Station
Ukrainian hospitality

The next day after my arrival, I participated in the posthumous award ceremony at the Donetsk Technical University in Pokrovsk. The event was dedicated to the fallen combatant of the Aydar battalion. This event was followed by a very powerful and emotional anthem singing. Michael Billig would call this banal nationalism, albeit it can provide human beings with solace and a sense of fulfillment in times of war. It was interesting for me whether Ukrainians were so patriotic from times immemorial or there was a particular factor that fueled this nationalism. Almost everyone I have been in contact with describe the conflict in Ukraine as an international conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Only people who have become the victims of the Russian hybrid war with its powerful propaganda understand the Ukrainian crisis as a civil war.

Donetsk National Technical University
Posthumous award ceremony
Posthumous award ceremony
Aydar fighters at the posthumous award ceremony of their comrade
Emotional poem telling by a patriotic Ukrainian woman

 

Together with the volunteer fighters from Aydar battlion
Visiting the grave of the posthumously awarded soldier at the local  cemetary in Pokrovsk

Despite the evidence found in the battlefield that indicates the presence of the Russian military and weapons in Donbass, most of the international community is also reluctant to admit the Russian factor in this bloody war. Although the OSCE is present in Donbass, the organization mostly takes a neutral position in this conflict. However, it is evident that Donbass is the next region of Ukraine after Crimea that Kremlin administration plans to grab from Ukraine. The international community has to support the tenets of international law and not to be indifferent when there is a threat to the territorial integrity of any UN member state. Because such indifference is a real threat to the international peace and security. Separatism spreads violence and there are many peacebuilding techniques, which can be used to stop the hostilities and provide the conflicting sides with a win-win outcome.

PEACE!!!

Kulikovo field

This week I have conducted some interviews, and I was also involved in participant observation where I took plenty of field notes in relation to my topic. I was invited to a birthday party by a woman who voluntarily enrolled as a paramedic during the most intensive fights in the Anti Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the Eastern Ukraine. This woman had a rich war experience since she was wounded and taken to hostage by the pro-Russian insurgents. During the mingle I met other women paramedics, as well as some former volunteer fighters who have participated in ATO.

Together with former volunteers of ATO and their friends
Together with former ATO volunteers on the beach of the Black Sea

The most remembered event of this week was the fifth anniversary since the events at the Kulikovo field. As a result of the provocation on May 2, 2014, almost 40 people died in the Odessa clashes. Five years ago violence broke out between those who wanted to see Odessa independent and those who supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine. On this fifth anniversary some perceived this day as a tragedy, while others perceived it as a victory and the end of war.  During my observation, the contradicting perceptions were evident at the Kulikovo field where one could observe black and red balloons, which were speaking for those who held them. Despite some conflictual situations and quarrels among the participants of two camps, violence was mainly avoided. This was thanks to the professionality of the local police and the new strategies that were adopted by the Ukrainian police in recent years.

Ukrainian flag on May 2, 2019
Kulikovo field, May 2, 2019
Ukrainian police forces during the commemoration at the Kulikovo field
Kulikovo field
Kulikovo field
Together with the Ukrainian patriot for whom the 2 of May is remembered as the end of war in Odessa
Odessa remembers the second of May…

This was all from Odessa and I will be back with new stories next week!

beginning the interview process

Hola Amigxs!

Since I last updated I finally started to conduct interviews with women involved in the struggle for legalizing abortion in Argentina. So far I have conducted 6 interviews with different women, in different ages, education, and occupation. It’s been an exiting process but also quite nerve-wracking because of the fact that it is the first time I conduct interviews. It have also been questioning my position of doing field research and how the women I interview would react to my questions, these thoughts have also added to my nervosity. But all the women I have interviewed have been so kind, helpful and willing to answer all my questions, they have also found it very interesting that I am focusing on this struggle and in their situation in Argentina, and that I am doing this research.

Sometimes the language has been a bit of a struggle during the interviews especially when it comes to asking follow-up questions. Sometimes they speak so fast and passionately about their experiences or their struggle that it becomes a bit difficult to formulate the additional questions I would like to in order to make the interview as open and as less structured as possible. But I guess it’s also a matter of practices of conducting interviews.

During the easter holidays I felt a bit far from home, especially when seeing fotos on social media of friends and family gathering and celebrating. But I tried to keep myself bussy with studying and to meet some friends here in La Plata. During holidays the city always becomes a bit of a ghost town because a lot of people return to their home towns or leave the city for the country side. So it was quite relaxing walking and biking around in La Plata not being scared of getting hit by a car when crossing the street.

Spent a Friday evening in a park and strolled around a independent book fair

One Sunday while biking around in La Plata I passed a park where a group a people were dancing tango causally. I thought it looked very “argentinian” because the importance of tango in the culture.

What La Plata can look like on a lacy and empty Sunday afternoon

Celebration of the Orthodox Easter

Easter is celebrated somewhat late in the Eastern Europe in comparison with Sweden. The celebration was today, the 27th of April. Tomorrow people will go to the church to conduct some religious rites. There will be holidays for some days in the whole country.

Easter cake, Пасха
Cossack figurines in the streets of Odessa

This week was full with both meaningful experience and failures. I have conducted more interviews with volunteers from various battalions. The most remembered was the time spent at the headquarters of the Ukrainian Voluntary Army or Українська Добровольча Армія in Ukrainian. I made both participant observation and conducted some interviews there. The building of the headquarter had a symbolic meaning since it was build in the pre-Tsarist era and hosted various meetings of Ukrainian nationalists. Saturated with historic symbolism, the building also resembled features of a museum with patriotic spirit. One could encounter Ukrainian maps from various historical periods, as well as the drawings of children and adolescents.

At the headquarters of the Ukrainian Voluntary Army
A map in the building of the Ukrainian Voluntary Army showing the loss of Ukrainian territories to the neighboring countries
Lost Ukrainian territories in rose colour, post WW1 period
Inspirational drawings of school children that praise volunteer fighters

This week I met people from the international office at the Mechnikov University. The person who initially promised to be my contact person and assist with the practical issues advised me to contact international office since they were “more competent” to assist me with practical issues. However, I just wasted my time with these people. Because in the end, they told me that it does not work this way, and that Malmö University had to inform them about me from the beginning. I understood one thing here in Ukraine very clearly! It is very difficult to make progress if the issue concerns signature or stamples. But it was still unclear to me why such simple things can become that difficult in this post-Soviet country. The international office in fact rejected the decision of their own colleague who initially agreed to be my contact person in the field. Nevertheless, this surprise did not disappoint me. Fortunately, during my time in Ukraine I became acquainted with so many kind people who are ready to assist me at any time. Some of my new Ukrainian acquaintances call me almost everyday, ask me how I am doing and try to help even when I don’t ask for it. For a week ago I had a fever, and I told this to a former volunteer combatant during our telefon conversation. After 20 minutes he was in front of my door with some medicine and food that he bought for me. I did not ask him for this, but it was a pleasant feeling, especially when a person is in a foreign country. All in all, I would like to thank the international office at the Mechnikov university for wasting my time! Unfortunately, I can’t be uncritical about the existing bureaucracy in the governmental structures of Ukraine. These norms, I believe are the remnants of the old regimes, and they are saturated with Soviet mentality.

This week I also spent some time in exploring the city of Odessa. Odessa is one of those cities where you can’t get enough satisfaction. You want to come back here again and again. It is really the pearl of the Black Sea. I have to confess that Odessa is one of those few cities in the world that I have become in love with.

I love Odessa

Glad Påsk! Happy Easter! Щасливого Великодня! Счастливой Пасхи!

Seremos Ley

Hola Amigxs!

Now I am entering week three here in Argentina and I finally got in contact with some people involved in the struggle and the movement for the legalization of abortion about conducting interviews with them. So for this week I have scheduled three interviews, the first one tomorrow. The nerves are a bit shaky but it will hopefully be fine.

Tomorrow I will conduct an interview with a women involved in the “National Campaign for the legalization of abortion” (La campaña nacional por el aborto legal seguro y gratuito) and then later during the week I have two interviews with two medicine students who are organizing an open and free course at the medicin faculty about abortion and it being a problem of public health care. Since the practice of abortion is illegal the medicin students does not get trained in how to address the issue of abortion and how to talk about it.  The organizers of the course states that the purpose of the course is to provide academic and practical tools that are needed in order to confront the reality, a reality where where people that are able to get pregnant do have abortions .  The penalization of the practice imply that women realize abortion in unsafe and clandestine manner, which makes it a problem of public health care. I believe that it is an important aspect and action  in the struggle for the legalization to also provide professionals with the tools they need in order to help women.

During the weekend I had time to enjoy some fiesta. A cultural center in the city had a LGBTQ festival that where arranging performances and concerts that raised awareness to the trans and non binary artist scene. It was really fun and so nice and open energy at the place. It makes me glad that there are places like this where everyone is welcomed and the hegemonic way of understanding gender is challenged and deconstructed.

During Sunday evening I went to a book release event. A student from the journalist faculty presented her book “Seremos Ley” that is a result from her bachelor thesis. The book presents various stories from the women engaged in the movement for the legalization of abortion and especially women engaged in the “socorrismo”. Las socorristas is a group of women that help and accompany persons that wish to have an abortion in the process, so that they are able to have a safe and abortion. This national network of help or first aid, which is the translation of socorrismo into english,  has become extremely important to the struggle for legalizing abortion. Every year this network help and accompany around 5,000 women to have safe abortions.

During the event there were some beautiful live music but also a discussion talk and presentation of the book by the author. Women who had been interviewed for the book where also there and together they presented a interesting discussion of the their work and its importance for the struggle.

The book Seremos Ley which in English means “we will be ley”.

Picture of the talk where the author presented her book and then some live music.

The call for abortion can be found in many different places, for example in the bathroom of the place where they held the party, there I found these stickers.

 

 

Talking to volunteer fighters

This week I conducted quite a lot of interviews with people who enrolled voluntarily to various military battalions. We talked about their motivations for voluntary enrollment, as well as their experiences in both civilian and combat zone. Moreover, I met and interviewed the friends and mothers of fallen soldiers. This helped me to get a better insight into the motivations of volunteer fighters. I have to say that these meetings were very emotional, and especially the interviews with the mothers of fallen soldiers were very difficult to conduct. The stories that they told me were very tragic and sensitive. It was very difficult to hold tears during some of the interviews.

I was invited to the environmental event by some volunteer fighters. The purpose of this long planned project was to plant trees in commemoration of fallen soldiers. The event took place in the Maksim Gorkiy park, in Odessa. After the planting of trees was completed, the participants of this event mingled and enjoyed drinking tea with some Ukrainian sweeties. During this mingle, I was acquainted with more volunteers, as well as their friends and relatives. Consequently, thanks to these contacts my schedule is full with planned meetings for the upcoming weeks. I will conduct more interviews with volunteer fighters, and even participate in a celebration event.

Tree planting with Donbass war veterans in commemoration of fallen soldiers
Planted trees in commemoration of fallen soldiers in Donbass
Together with volunteer fighters and their friends

The tenth of April some residents of Odessa were celebrating the 75th anniversary since the liberation of the city from German occupation. To my surprise, the city administration of Odessa and some governmental structures supported the organizers of this event. However, this event was not welcomed by all residents of the city having in mind the Soviet nostalgia evoked by this commemoration. On this day, the police was mobilized in great numbers to prevent violent actions.

10th of April, in front of the monument to an unknown sailor in Odessa
April 10 – in front of the monument to an unknown sailor in Odessa
Celebration on the “square of 10th April”
Soviet remnants
Together with Ukrainian Guard of Honor in the “Park of Victory”

I was also invited to Rukh’s office in Odessa by the former volunteer fighter who works there. Rukh is people’s movement and a political party that mostly attracts Ukrainian nationalists. I have met many Ukrainian volunteer combatants who support right wing political movements and parties. However, it is important to mention that these nationalists differ from those in Western Europe and Scandinavia. My encounter with Ukrainian nationalists was always nice, and at least out of my experience, I can conclude that these people express civic nationalism rather than ethnic. I would call these Ukrainians passionate patriots and not radical far right nationalists as some call them in various media outlets. These are people who love their country. They welcome all ethnicities who respect the sovereignty of Ukraine.

Rukh’s office in Odessa

This was all from the city of Odessa. See ya next week!

Kwaheri Zanzibar

It’s safe to say that during two months in Zanzibar, I’ve experienced some very unfortunate situations. Everything from getting robbed and injured to getting typhoid fever my last two weeks. But nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed this time to the fullest and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. For me, this MFS has been both a personal journey as well as it has benefitted my studies and given me an incredible eye-opener to a whole different culture. I’ve made friends from all over the world, learned some Kiswahili, lived 5 minutes from the most beautiful sea and in the heart of a UNESCO heritage city. Most valuable of all, I’ve gotten to collect data on one of the most interesting places in the world.

 

 

I now have 8 weeks of observations and several interviews done, which I concluded in the last week. To be honest, studying colorism has been a bit tricky, something I knew would be a difficult topic to discuss from the get-go. In many cultures, it’s not common to speak about the discriminatory practice and it is not viewed as a form of internalised racism. Approaching people with my subject has therefore been a challenge as many people were of the idea that it’s simply evident that being of lighter skin is better and more beautiful. I’ve discovered that colorism, in fact, does affect women in various ways, be it in unconscious or conscious. Some of my interviewees witnessed being teased in school for the color of their skin, received nicknames based on their skin complexion and overall, described that women with lighter skin color have it much easier in several settings. At the same time, I learned that the revolution in Zanzibar and the unity of the people has, according to my observations and my interviews, led to colorism not being as palpable on the island archipelago as on the mainland of Tanzania.

I’m thankful for SIDA for giving me this opportunity and in general, thankful that I live in a country that has the means to be able to provide young generations with this type of life-changing experiences. I’m thankful for all the friendships I made,  my interviewees who so kindly offered me their time , the staff at SUZA who not only taught me swahili but also helped me understand the culture of Zanzibar and assisted me with knowledge and help in all my endeavors. My journey ends here for now, but I will definitely be back soon. Asante sana Zanzibar, you have changed me forever.

 

 

First interviews and participant observation within the Right Sector

Another week in Ukraine came to an end. A week ago approximately 30% of Ukrainians voted for a comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. Most of my Ukrainian acquaintances here said to me that they voted for Zelensky. They believe that the elections were conducted transparent and democratic. I have also met some people who think that it is not the right time for Ukraine to play democracy during the ongoing crisis. Therefore, they support the current “conservative” president Petro Poroshenko who will compete with Zelensky for the presidency. The second round of the elections will be held by the end of the April. Meanwhile, Poroshenko and Zelensky will engage in debates to win the minds and hearts of their voters.

This week I became acquainted with the Right Sector’s activities more closely. I met some key individuals within the organization and had an interesting conversation about the motivations of volunteer fighters. I met people who have recently returned from the frontline, but also with those who plan to depart soon. Two interviews were conducted this week. A lot more interviews are planned for the uppcoming weeks. I make use of the snowball sampling technique and I strongly recommend it to everyone who use interviews as the data collection method.  With the help of snowball technique I am constantly introduced to new people thanks to the social network of my research participants. Although I have arranged many meetings for the next week, the saturation point seems to be far away . So, to answer my research question I will need to get multiple insights on the phenomenon of voluntary enrollment in military battalions.

Together with the members of the Right Sector
Confiscated items with Russian or Soviet symbolic

I have also engaged in the activities of the Right Sector and made my first participant observation in the field. The Right Sector plays an active role not only in the conflict zone, but also in somewhat relatively peaceful settings of the everyday life. For instance, I followed with the members of the organization to Bessarabia in South Ukraine, close to the Moldavian and Romanian border. This trip played a preventive role and counteracted the attempt of a certain church to be incorporated into the Moscow Patriarchate. There is an ongoing competition and tension between the Moscow and Kiev Patriarchates. Both compete for the control of the churches located on the Ukrainian territory. According to some members of the Right Sector, churches that belong to Moscow Patriarchate take their orders from Russia and frequently engage in conspiracy to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty. Consequently, this trip was aimed to impede the possible conversion of a particular church to the Moscow Patriarchate. Fortunately, everything went without violence, though similar events in the past usually resulted in unpleasant incidents.

A conversation with the church abbot
Ukrainian police during the manifestation in front of the church
With proponents of Kiev Patriarchate in front of the church

Later on we had a lovely picnic in the forests of Bessarabia where everyone mingled. During this mingle I was introduced to some former volunteer militias whom I plan to meet and interview next week.

With the members of Right Sector during the picnic

Lastly, I would like to mention about the politicized and militarized stand posters that can be encountered in the streets of Odessa. These posters carry agitational character and express ideological aspects of the confrontation between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian exhortations. The frequently encountered slogans remind people about the Russian agression, while other posters inspire for voluntary military enrollment. There are also posters that glorify the actions of the Soviet Union during the World War Two, especially the victory over the so called “Fascist” occupation. Despite these conspiratorial posters, the Ukrainian people live with the hope for a peaceful future.

A poster in Odessa calling for the volunteer enrollment to the army
A poster that reminds people about the Russian aggression
The poster text says: 75th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa from Nazi occupation

It was all for this week and I will be back with more stories next week!

Вибори Президента України – Ukrainian Presidential Elections

My second week in Ukraine was very successful and progressive. I eventually met my contact person at the I. I. Mechnikov Odessa National University. We discussed the purpose of my study and my contact person expressed her readiness and willingness to help with possible practical issues in the field. The fact that the I. I. Mechnikov Odessa National University and Malmö University are partner universities made me even more comfortable. Nevertheless, I did not like the remnants of Soviet bureaucratic procedures such as unnecessary long waiting times for solving very simple things. Moreover, the  existing hierarchy with varying power relations that one has to deal with is another shortcoming of the post-Soviet educational system.

I. I. Mechnikov Odessa National University

After the efforts of my gatekeeper in the field, I was introduced to the key informant within the Right Sector. I also met the head of  the Right Sector and described my project in detail. Thanks to these contacts, I will hopefully meet and interview some volunteers who will soon depart to join the military squads in Eastern Ukraine. Some of these volunteers have already been at the frontline, and some others are recent recruits. It is very exciting to interview these fighters and to get insight about why they join the non-state paramilitary batallions and squads instead of the regular Ukrainian army. These interviews are planned to be conducted earliest next week since the whole country is getting ready for the presidential elections.

The Ukrainian elections will take place tomorrow, March 31. Although there are plenty of candidates in this presidential race, people are skeptical about these elections.  Most Ukrainians are convinced that their country is still far away from honest, just and accountable elections. Some are indifferent and don’t want to waste time on something they can’t influence. This indifference is explained by the influential role of high ranking oligarchs in the country who usually have the final word.  Recently, I had a conversation with a taxi driver who told me a real life story about his experience of Ukrainian elections. This middle aged man went to one of the municipal electoral boards to confirm his participation in the upcoming elections. However, his name was not found in the voting list, whereas the electoral comission found his dead father who was registered as a voter. The man just laughed and said nothing when I asked him whether this incident was an accident, a technical error or a deliberate strategy!?

The poster of the current president Petro Poroshenko

Regardless the distrust towards their politicians, considerable number of voters support Yulia Tymoshenko who can become the first ever woman president in the history of the post-Soviet Ukraine. Tymoshenko’s campaigners told me that Ukraine needs a new hand, a new breath, a new start, and finally a mistress who will rule the country differently from her masculine predecessors.

Yulia Timoshenko’s electoral tent

I really wish Ukrainian people  successful elections and I hope that these elections will be held without any violence!