Fieldwork Fun Facts: From Eating Goat to Packing Slippers

July 05, 2016

This summer, nearly 100 Duke global health undergraduate and master’s students are conducting fieldwork around the world. We checked in with a few of them recently to find out about their new experiences, what surprised them most, what they’re thankful they packed and more. Hear what they had to say ...

Brian Grass, global health major, Class of 2019

What aspect of your fieldwork are you most excited about this summer?

I’m doing a program evaluation of Just One Africa's clean water initiative, and I'm most excited to hear peoples' stories of how a water filter has impacted their lives.

What new, regional food have you tried? 

The first Saturday we were here, our hosts slaughtered two goats and had a party. I really enjoyed some parts of the goat, like the ribs and the legs. I even liked the liver. The only part I couldn't eat was the intestines.


Brian teaching students at the Lenkai Christian School in southern Kenya

Matt Boyce, Master of Science in Global Health, Class of 2017

What’s the best piece of advice you got when preparing for your fieldwork?

While preparing for my fieldwork, my friend and MSc-GH alumna, Sydney Neeley, recommended that I simply “enjoy the ride.” I think that may have been the best advice I received regarding fieldwork. I know that things rarely go as planned from previous experiences, but I think that keeping this in sight—a positive attitude, and regarding each trial as an opportunity to grow and learn—is beneficial for everyone involved in a project.
What was the most unexpected thing you’ve encountered so far on your fieldwork?

The most unexpected thing I’ve encountered in my time in Kenya has been the diversity of opinions surrounding malaria screenings. Everyone—patients, doctors and clinical laboratory technicians alike—seems to have an opinion about whether rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are accurate and what method (microscopy or RDT) of malaria diagnosis is best. Patients claim to trust the results, though it is recognized that they may seek additional screenings and treatment in the event of a negative RDT result. Doctors and lab techs are much more likely to have a conversation with you (read: lecture you) about whether or not RDT results should be trusted and whether implementation should be scaled-up. Still, regardless of an individual’s opinion about malaria diagnosis and treatment, it is almost universally recognized to be a serious disease that requires high standards of care, especially for children.


Sign listing “Common Diseases” at the Tulwet Health Centre in Trans Nzoia County 
in Kenya. Though the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation officially lists malaria
as the third highest 
cause of disability-adjusted life years (DALYS) in Kenya,
some rural health facilities 
believe the burden may be much higher.​

Taylor Haynes, Master of Science in Global Health, Class of 2017

Tell us about your fieldwork project and what inspired you to pursue that project.

My fieldwork project is part of a larger study on family functioning and mental health conducted by researchers at Duke and Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. While in Kenya, I’m working with a team of American and Kenyan researchers to validate the measures we will use to collect our data this fall. This data will be used to inform my thesis, which examines individual- and family-level predictors of child mental health in Kenya. 

My desire to work in the global mental health field developed during my time as an undergraduate at Duke. Through a combination of coursework in psychology and global health, my undergraduate research on child development, and time spent volunteering at Central Regional Hospital in Butner, NC, I grew to appreciate the importance of mental health for overall well-being, especially in children and adolescents. I chose to return to Duke for my master’s degree because of the incredible professors working in global mental health, and my thesis evolved from there!

What’s the most important item you packed for your trip?

In a practical sense, I think the most important item I packed for my time in Kenya is my slippers! In Eldoret, its common to walk just about everywhere—to the Duke office, to the market, into town—and the dirt roads are tough on your feet! It’s wonderful to be able to come home at the end of a long day, put on my slippers, and relax with a cup of tea. It truly is the small things from home that make the biggest difference!


Taylor with a few of the children she’s met in Kenya this summer

Manish Nair, global health major, Class of 2017

What new, regional food have you tried? 

I love food and I am open to trying new things, but in travelling to Peru I have now eaten two meats that I had never previously expected to. The first was a very common food here: cuy, more commonly known as the guinea pig. It tasted like very tender chicken, and is high in protein and low in fat; very healthy! The head of the cuy is supposedly the tastiest part, although it did not taste all too different to me. It is also good luck to find a little bone in the ear of the cuy while eating it, but fortune was unfortunately not on my side that day. The second meat I have eaten here tasted like a cross between lamb and pork and is an Andean delicacy: alpaca. Not sure I would eat that again, to be honest.

What's the funniest mistranslation you've had while in the field?

I walked up to the taxi knowing that it should cost me about 15 soles to get home. I told the driver my address, and he asked for 30. I was livid, but also ready: this foreigner would not be cheated. I mustered my most intimidating look and most thundering voice to say, "15 or nothing." 

The driver was clearly not expecting this and looked utterly taken aback. He feebly tried to insist on 30 soles again, but I sensed his weakness and cut him off firmly: "15 or nothing." Dazed and defeated, he agreed and I rode with him knowing that I could hold my own in this foreign land where I barely knew the language. It was only many hours later that I realized that he had said "trece," or 13; I had "bargained" my way into paying an extra two soles. The lesson? Know your numbers, friends.


Cuy, or guinea pig, a commonly-eaten meat in Peru

Michelle Roberts, Master of Science in Global Health, Class of 2017

What aspect of your fieldwork are you most excited about this summer?

As an anthropologist, I’m most excited about the opportunity to learn—not just through my formal research project, but by being in a place I have never been before and living in a new culture. 

What new, regional food have you tried? 

In Argentina, it’s either all about the steak or the empanadas; since I’m a vegetarian, it’s all about the empanadas. I’ve learned that not all empanadas are created equal—crust, filling, baked or fried, and so many other aspects are all extremely important. I’m happy to explore all the variations.


Michelle takes a selfie in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Visit us on Instagram (@dukeghi) and search #FieldworkFunFacts to see more photos!

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Spending a lot of time walking on dirt roads to her fieldwork site, the market and other places makes MSc-GH student Taylor Haynes appreciate her slippers! Visit us on Instagram (@dukeghi) and search #FieldworkFunFacts to see more photos!

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