In this series, postgraduate students and researchers from around the world share the new challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing for their research and give advice to other researchers trying to adapt their research practices in light of the pandemic.
Our first post comes from Joyce Wangari from United States International University-Africa, Kenya. Her areas of research are psychology and Deaf studies.
Jambo! (Hello in Swahili). I am a doctorate candidate, at the final stage of writing my dissertation on mental health of Deaf adults in Kenya. The COVID-19 pandemic is to me like a pressure cooker oven, revealing a lot of what my scholarly journey was, already, in a previously latent state, except that it’s all heightened. I’m in a frenzy to submit my final manuscript to beat this year’s graduation deadline. Often, my feeling of being overwhelmed is interrupted with feelings of gratitude. I am privileged to have running tap water to wash my hands every so often and a roof over my head, in a country where only a quarter of the population enjoy continuous indoor water supply, according to Amnesty International.
My current struggle is the wish to hibernate into long periods of writing. This is nearly impossible as I can only afford short bursts of writing periods, juxtaposed with the fluttering of the hustle and bustle of having to do something financially productive just to make ends meet. As a tutorial fellow on a time-limited scholarship, I don’t have the luxury of bored, long days, with deep reflective empty moments to spark the zone of flow. I am struggling to protect that creative writing energy that I seek to harness so fervently. There are also many challenges to my mental space, especially worrying - about the future, my family and friends, my scholarly journey, including worrying about worrying itself!
Journaling is so precious to me; it helps me to generate thoughts and analyze them while I write but my life is currently a discombobulated staccato. Since my university closed down on Wednesday 18th March 2020, e-learning began immediately. The ensuing two weeks felt like a major upheaval. I had long conversations with clients to cancel appointments, with friends to create virtual meetings and actively working to reduce panic, which made me exhausted. I treasured the moments to be seen and understood, while also being there for family and friends.
I was glad to join the steep learning curve about personal protective equipment. I had to let go of the pressure of being the strong helper, so that I could also allow others to take care of me. I recall several evenings coming from work when I broke down in my house and cried about the apathy of certain people at high risk of contracting the virus. I also allow myself to cry whenever I read a moving article. The world is in anticipatory grief. Crying in this way honours my own grief, rather than dealing with it using the gloves of courtesy.
While giving myself grace and compassion, the anticipatory grief and fear that has occasionally engulfed me catapults me into a space of action through service. I am touched, moved and inspired into action: How can I best take care of myself during hibernation so I may best serve others? This is my clarion call to African social scientists. The COVID-19 has illuminated global inequalities and rallied us to bring out the best in humanity: adaptive resilience, altruism and solidarity. In the digital space, e-forums enable me to remain connected, while delivering my products and services to an ever-widening global audience. Visit my website www.wangari.africa.