AMR on Hold: Covid-19 Diaries of a Research Assistant in Zimbabwe
By Faith Kandiye
Since Zimbabwe went into lockdown on March 30th2020, I have been ‘field working’ from home. As a research assistant working on transnational AMR projects, much of my work takes place in the ‘field’. But now, like millions of Zimbabweans, I am working from home and experiencing the challenges of managing both isolation and the close quarters mingling of (field)work, social life and motherhood. Discussions in anthropology circles have begun to think through the disruptions that academics and PhD students are facing being cut off from the field (Manley 2020). My intention here is to bring into view the challenges and adaptations of field workers, whose work is crucial yet easily overlooked.
Zimbabwe’s already crippling economic hardships (due to rapid inflation, high unemployment rates and shortage of basic resources) have been exacerbated by the lockdown, with a large part of the population fearing dying more from hunger than from Covid-19 (Chingono 2020). The collapse of the health system and the heightening of the already dire situation came on March 25thwhen the public doctors and nurses went on strike over lack of Covid-19 protective wear. Interventions such as social distancing that are disruptive even in high-income settings are more profoundly affecting low-income states such as Zimbabwe (Scoones 2020). While some of my work can in theory be done from home, this means contending with the regular power cuts that affect my area as well as numerous daily disruptions.
For the most part, my work has shifted towards getting through the backlog of transcription work that has been accumulating during our currently paused field activities. While this might seem ‘simple’, good transcription requires quiet and tranquility. Yet my ‘transcription headquarters’ (read: dining room table) are always crowded and having children in the house during daytime means having to shift to be a ‘night owl’. Working during the night and still having to work normally during the day to cater for the family’s needs has been the ultimate balancing act. To find silence and avoid disturbances around helping out with household chores and making of meals is almost impossible. When people see you seated glaring at your computer in the home setting, it’s difficult for them to grasp the need for the work and focus I am putting in.
On our Zoom calls, I’ve often heard my colleagues saying how abstract and distanced ‘AMR’ feels right now and how to focus with other priorities at play. Certainly, AMR has always felt like a drop in the pond in the Zimbabwean context, but now the dissonance between the interviews playing back in my ears and the current reality is jarring. Yet, my night and day of work is allowing ‘the work to go on’, as it were, allowing researchers to continue writing and thinking about AMR related findings from home. As anthropologists have long observed (Molyneux et al. 2013), field workers tend to be the ‘intermediary’ between scientific and local concerns, and from my experience I would say that this remains as true as ever in the current crisis.
Manley, Gabriela. “Introducing the Pandemic Diaries”, In “Pandemic Diaries” Gabriela Manley, Bryan M Dougan, and Carole McGranahan, eds., American Ethnologist website, March 27 2020 [https://americanethnologist.org/features/collections/pandemic-diaries/introducing-the-pandemic-diaries]
Chingono, Nyasha. ‘We will starve’: Zimbabwe’s poor full of misgiving over Covid-19 lockdown. The Guardian April 3 2020 [https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/03/we-will-starve-zimbabwes-poor-full-of-misgiving-over-covid-19-lockdown]
Molyneux, Sassy, Dorcas. Kamuya, P. A. Madiega, Tracey Chantler, Vibian Angwenyi, and P. Wenzel. Geissler. 2013. Field workers at the interface. Developing World Bioethics13(1):ii–iv.
Scoones, Ian. Surviving COVID-19: Fragility, Resilience and Inequality in Zimbabwe. Africa Arguments, March 27 2020 [https://africanarguments.org/2020/03/27/surviving-covid-19-fragility-resilience-and-inequality-in-zimbabwe/]