Research in the Motherland: Women’s Struggles & Stories in Algeria

Recently, the Global Health Portal spoke to Nouha Boundaoui (International Studies, Political Science and Global Health Studies, WCAS 2014), who spent her summer in Algeria identifying the socioeconomic and cultural factors that influence the prevalence of high levels of hypertension amongst Algerian women.

Tell us about your project.  What inspired your work?

My project aimed to identify the socioeconomic and cultural factors that influence Algerian women’s decisions to test for and/or treat hypertension. Originally, I wanted to research women’s access to reproductive health care in Yemen but after my request to research in Yemen was rejected, I decided to focus on health in Algeria, my motherland, and decided on studying hypertension because levels of hypertension amongst Algerian women are higher than those of women in other developing countries.

How did your experience on the ground vary from your expectations?

Scheduling appointments with NGO heads and doctors at Douera Hospital differed from what I expected while designing my project here in Evanston. Responses were slower than what I was used to but it eventually worked out. Aside from these small obstacles, the interviews went more smoothly than I anticipated and working with the women came more naturally to me than expected.

What was your most meaningful experience abroad, and what did it teach you?

Having conversations with the women in Algeria and hearing their stories, concerns and opinions about women’s health and the role of women in Algeria was the most meaningful experience for me while researching abroad. Aside from the interviews and working on my research, I enjoyed the casual conversations and friendships that came out of the interviews and conversing with these strong and compassionate women over coffee and pastries. It taught me the value of reaching out to people and learning about their struggles and stories.

What was your most challenging moment, and how did you cope?

The most challenging part of my research this summer was working around the “Ramadan Schedule” that most of the country follows during the holy month of Ramadan. Because nearly the entire country fasted from sun up to sun down, work hours were cut which affected when and where I could conduct interviews.  Seeing that nights were livelier than the workday, I conducted interviews after sundown when the people observing fast broke their fast.

Did you encounter any cultural differences that required getting used to?

Being an Algerian-American, and having visited Algeria before, I was aware of the cultural norms of Algerian society and did not encounter any cultural differences that surprised me or hindered the progress of my research.

Has your summer experience impacted your future goals and interests at Northwestern?

My summer research allowed me to experience ethnographic research first-hand and introduced me to global health on the ground. It has furthered my interest in women’s access to healthcare and health disparities in the Middle East and North Africa.

Do you have any advice for students wishing to conduct research in an unfamiliar location?

Follow the news of the city or country in which you will be conducting research in for a month or so before your arrival. Familiarizing yourself with the country’s socio-political climate and cultural values is always beneficial before traveling to a new place. In addition, locate a translator of similar age to help with any language barrier that may exist and adjusting to the new environment.

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