From 2015 until 2019, I conducted 13 months of fieldwork in Addis Ababa with Ethiopian women who recently returned from domestic labor employment in the Arab Gulf. My work focuses on their decision to migrate as well as their experiences with subsequent mental and emotional unwellness and their unexpected return home.
My fieldwork primarily took place within two local NGOs, where I interviewed not only returned (former) domestic workers, but also their primary caretakers, NGO administrators, and visiting family members.
In addition to conducting work within the NGO space, I also actively sought to examine the institutional legiments that facilitate transnational domestic and migrant labor legislation between Ethiopia and the Gulf countries, the mental health care institutions and clinicians that dictate the place and form of psychiatric care and rehabilitation services, and the international organizations that provide assistance and advice within the areas of migration pertinent to the Horn of Africa.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
In the Fall of 2019, I returned to Ethiopia in order to "find" key interlocutors and continue follow-up work in their home villages.
However, the civil unrest in the countryside of Ethiopia prevented me from reaching most who were central to my work, and Abinet and I were only able to do follow-up interviews with one key interlocutor, a young woman I call, "Taytu".
Previously, my work in the Highlands concentrated on individual understanding of "mental health issues" and access to psychiatric care.
Research Assistant, Ethiopia
My research in Ethiopia could not have been conducted with such thoroughness and thoughtfulness without the cooperation and dedication of my research assistant, Abinet.
Born and raised in central Addis Ababa, Abinet has both experiential knowledge and a keen awareness that was essential to accessing the complicated, and at times elusive, governmental and non-governmental organizations situated in a vast and densely populated city. His sensitivity to the dual fragility and strength of human nature was also essential for our interviews with returned domestic workers, their family members and caretakers, and various officials throughout Addis Ababa.
Beyond his professionalism, it was his friendship that remained fundamental to the completion of my fieldwork.
Los Angeles, California
During my time in Los Angeles, I have maintained both a research and personal-based relationship with the Ethiopian community.
My formal work focuses on the migration experiences of 1st-generation Ethiopian-Americans. Similar to my fieldwork in Boston, my interlocutors found the Ethiopian community and cultural space(s), particularly Little Ethiopia, a welcome respite in their transatlantic migration.
My master's research took place in Boston, primarily in the South End and Lower Roxbury neighborhoods. I examined cases of suicide within Boston’s Ethiopian community. Drawing heavily on culturally constructed notions of self, my work explored what it meant for persons of the Ethiopian community to lose fellow members to suicide. Intersections of emotions, constructions of choice and agency, and idealized notions of self emerge as central themes. The body, in life and death, was situated as a vehicle for communicating dis-eased social relationships and unrealistic cultural expectations. My interlocutors positioned their perceptions of the deceased in relation to popular preconceived notions of life in the United States and stress encountered during and after the immigration process. My work demonstrated how memories/consciousness of Ethiopia, the United States, immigration, and individual cases of suicide are significant for understanding the rigidity of culturally authoritative truths operating within this community.