SALVADOR, BRAZIL — It was one thing when my laptop refused to connect to the wireless Internet provided with my accommodations; I could still use the laptop to type my notes and reflections. But when the keyboard keys stop working — including those needed for the log-in password, providing access to all my files and field notes — what am I to do, besides curse in Portuguese and ask my techie friends for help? I’m reverting, in the meantime, to the tools of yesteryear — good ol’ paper and pencil. Though I don’t look forward to trying to re-read my chicken-scratch, make sense of it, and then re-type.
Each year the UC Berkeley-based Human Rights Center awards summer fellowships to students from University of California campuses, to enable them to work with human-rights organizations in the U.S. and abroad. Three current Human Rights Fellows including Ugo Edu — a graduate student enrolled in the UCB-UCSF Joint Medical Program — have agreed to share their experiences this summer, with regular updates from the field to be published on the NewsCenter. This is Edu’s final post of the summer.
Ugo Edu on reproductive choice in Brazil
- Watching girl-watchers in a Brazilian airport
- An arduous journey and some food for thought
- Trading votes for sterilizations, a common political tool in northeast Brazil
- Technology troubles, informal conversations, and a curious fact
- From false leads to street thugs, field research has its challenges along with its joys
I know in theory that informal conversation can often lead to more insights than formal interviews. Yet I’m still constantly blown away by what can emerge from casual interactions. Simply answering the question “What are you doing in Brazil?” can lead to a valuable book recommendation or to word of a past scandal, related to my research, to look up in the media archives. Likewise, a conversation about one’s love life or a crush can prove thought provoking and illuminating.
Ideally, to capture all this, I would walk around tape recording every conversation (after asking permission, of course). That would be easier than hurrying afterward to write down everything I can remember — especially since most conversations are not just about one topic, but meander among many. Often I will recall something from a conversation two or three days later, and rush to scribble it down.
If I could come equipped with a recording device, or even a pen and paper, all this would be easier. But would people would be so forthcoming? I once found myself using my cell phone to take notes on a conversation I’d had with a friend — a conversation, over lunch, whose significance hadn’t dawned on me at first. The friend I’m talking about doesn’t like chatting with me when I’m armed with notebook and pencil; she often holds back her thoughts until I’ve put my “weapons” away.
About my project: I originally was bent on not searching out or deliberately focusing on women of color or working-class women. Yet the stories I continue to hear are about women of color — indigenous, black or morena — and the poor. (And of course, negative reactions to the high use of sterilizations were initially registered by the black feminist movement.) I want to make sure I include women who consider themselves or are considered to be white, as well as middle-to-upper class. I’m just surprised that I have to make such a concerted effort to include them. Whenever I say “I’m interested in sterilization and reproductive rights,” people seem to hear “I’m interested in poor women of color and their experiences with sterilization and reproductive rights” — despite my efforts to use the term “tubal ligations” instead of “sterilizations.” That fact, in and of itself, piques my curiosity.
About Ugo Edu
Ugo Edu was born and raised in southern California, the oldest daughter of Nigerian immigrants. After receiving her B.S. in physiological sciences at UCLA, her interest in medicine led her to earn a master’s of public health at Morehouse School of Medicine.
Edu wasn’t satisfied, however, with a strictly public-health approach to questions of sickness, healing, and prevention. Instead, personal experiences — and those of African Americans and of fellow children of African immigrants living in the U.S. — nurtured her interest in a medical anthropological approach to such issues. She is currently entering her third year as a medical anthropology PhD student enrolled in the UCB-UCSF Joint Medical Program.
Edu, 29, has a particular interest in Brazil, in part due to its international geopolitical and economic position; her summer research focuses on Brazilian women’s reproductive choices. She trains in Capoeira Angola, the traditional style of the art form.