Language: How I knew I was in Nicaragua?
With unexpected flight delays that postponed our arrival date, landing in Nicaragua seemed like winning the lottery. Perhaps that might be an overstatement, but I was ecstatic on the night of June 3rd when Hala and I stepped out of the Augusto Sandino International Airport in Managua. As someone who loves languages and dreamt of visiting a Spanish-speaking country since I started learning Spanish in high school, I could not really believe we were in another country. I knew we were in Nicaragua, but it really hit me once we got into our room in the beautiful Camino Real hotel. The National Geographic channel was in Spanish. While I knew the official language of Nicaragua was Spanish, I do not think I mentally prepared myself to see everything in one of the languages I love. Of course, there were few channels in English and there were several people we met who could speak English, especially in Bluefields, but it still felt unreal. After our brief stay in Camino Real, we were off to Bluefields, which is truly the highlight of this research journey.
Bluefields: Cultura y Vida!
I believe if we had stayed in Managua, we would have had a totally different than the one we had in Bluefields. Just from our Costena flight to Bluefields, the beautiful scenery from above the sky felt like we were off to some magical place. While Bluefields didn’t look like a fairy tale per se, I felt like I was in research fairy tale. Why? First, we met incredible individuals who helped us feel at home such as our in-country assistant, the staff at Caribbean Dream, the wonderful staff at CEDEHCA team (a Human Rights NGO and our in-country partners) as well as the interviewees and focus group members whose kindness not only made it easier for us to collect data, but also helped us feel less nervous and anxious. Second, I loved the fact that most people we interviewed could speak in English. While I am proficient in Spanish, I witnessed how hard transcribing interviews in Spanish could be. After leading a focus group in Spanish and while I understood most of the participants’ responses, I still felt that I missed something while in the midst of translating Spanish to English in my head without French interrupting the process. And I have realized that this lack of fluency in a language where research is being done can make the process of understanding data a daunting task. Thankfully, this was not a big issue since most of our interviews were in English; we had an in-country assistant who was by our side during most of our interviews and focus groups and of course the wonderful Mariana Forero, whose native-like comprehension of Spanish made us feel even more blessed to have her as a member of our team. Furthermore, the third reason why this research felt like a fairy-tale was the fact that I had a great team. If there’s something I will remember from this research in case I forgot everything else, I will remember that research is teamwork, public health research is teamwork squared and global public health research is teamwork tripled (or quadrupled sometimes). To use our global public health project as an example, I will say that our first team consisted of Professor Emma, Hala, Mariana and I. The second team consisted of contacts we were able to get from Professor Mitchell who helped us recruit participants and/or made our living experience better. And our third team consisted of the unexpected people we met through our second team. And once these three different teams interact together in a respectful, kind and in a goal-focused manner, you get 12 key informant interviews (which is more than what we thought we would do), five focus groups (which is also a little more than what we thought we could do), and a great experience that makes saying goodbye a little harder than what we thought it would be. And last but not least, as a pescatarian, living in Bluefields felt like fairy tale due to the availability of affordable seafood options. Throughout these five weeks of consuming different sopas de mariscos, seasoned pescados, tropical fruits, I felt that I absorbed some of the richness and vibrant nature of Bluefields; I tasted some of its history which is quite unique from the history of the pacific side of Nicaragua and through the famous Rondon (coconut-based soup with fish) I felt the uniqueness and warmth of the residents of Bluefields.
Research: State of Cervical Cancer in Bluefields
Fortunately, besides the great experience, we were also able to collect a significant (significant here refers to surpassing what we thought we could in five weeks) amount of data through focus groups and key informant interviews in order to understand the current state of cervical cancer in Bluefields, Nicaragua and to determine the cultural acceptability and feasibility of cervical cancer self-screening. As we are currently analyzing our data, I am looking forward to sharing our findings with the Ministry of Health of Bluefields and hopeful that the knowledge that was generated through this research project will be useful in finding ways to combat Cervical Cancer in Bluefields and hopefully the entire Nicaragua as well.
– Yolande Pokam Tchuisseu