Thursday, 3 December 2009

White Ribbons, Sore Feet and Pink Cheeks.

Ok, I’m playing catch up with some of my photos now... Just a few days after arriving in Kenya, I travelled to Tanzania to attend the White Ribbon Alliance AGM in Dar es Salaam. The fifteen and a half hour bus journey was an experience in itself... let’s just say it was character building. All the other delegates from Kenya gave an expression that was some sort of combination of shock, surprise, horror and amusement at my chosen mode of transport, and I was mildly jealous of their nice wee one hour flight. Ah well, I saw parts of two incredibly beautiful countries and met some lovely (and some less lovely but all fascinating) people!
The AGM was being held at a very fancy hotel that was just a wee bit out of my price range, so I stayed in a hotel about 30 minutes walk away. I am so glad I did, because there was so much going on around the AGM that it would have been easy to stay in the hotel and not see any of that beautiful city.
Luckily, I have a horrendous sense of direction, so when I ventured off from my hotel on my first morning I got completely and utterly lost. That might not sound lucky, but I just meandered around the streets of Dar, practicing my Kiswahili which had been pretty slack in the widely English speaking (at least to white folk) Nairobi, for 2 hours. Apparently that was my lucky day, because just as my accidental lost sightseeing was getting a wee bit tiresome, I was on the verge of being late for the AGM, and my pasty Scottish cheeks were getting a wee bit rosy from the increasingly hot Tanzanian sun, a very kind soul stopped me and asked if I might possibly be lost... another very long story cut short, and he ended up getting me to where I needed to be. And to think, I could have wasted that time lounging around in a bland air-conditioned hotel!
The AGM was incredible! I was happily surprised at the range of people who had travelled from so many parts of the globe to talk about maternal health. It was really fascinating seeing so many people, mostly working in low-resource settings, come together to talk and share experiences, and hopefully leave with something useful. All of those people faced so many of the same challenges, but the contexts that they work in were so varied. Having read so much about maternal health and the various organisations involved it was nice, and hugely inspiring, to meet some of the people who are working on the ground, trying to make a difference. It was an excellent way to begin my fieldwork, being dropped in a massive pool of people interested in and working on my research topic (including one guy from Tanzania who has a former student studying in the Centre for African Studies at the University of Edinburgh- small world!).

On the first evening there was a cocktail party and fashion show hosted by Naomi Campbell, which to be honest was a little bizarre after a day of talking about maternal health and mortality. Really, there’s nothing that sums up a day of postpartum haemorrhage, fistula, and infection like a supermodel sashaying up a catwalk! Oooh I don’t want to be cynical because I’m sure the presence of Ms Campbell created some excellent, much needed, and well deserved press coverage for the AGM, and an (equally bizarre) auction of one of the dresses raised $10,000 for the WRA, and to be honest it was fun, which I think all those people working in maternal health, many of whom had travelled huge distances to be there, more than deserved. I just wondered if I was still high from all the fumes from my wacky races bus journey, there’s a possibility it was one long hallucination.

I was massively impressed by the way the WRA had put the event together, facilitating such fascinating networking and discussions. I hope I can do more with them during my research or at other points in the future. I also hope I can visit Dar again, because it was the most hectic visit ever, and I would love to see more of it as well as other parts of Tanzania.

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