By Tony Pham, Global Health Pathway, Med/Psych, Nepal
Seven months into my research year, high within the far-western regions of Nepal, and during a COVID-19 peak of which I had been blissfully unaware, a local community member and friend broke the inconvenient news—people were talking and everyone agreed I brought COVID-19 to their village. My research colleague and I hadn’t
exhibited symptoms, but we could take a hint, and began the demoralizing descent back to the previous village, where they met us outside the border and encouraged us to continue our journey.
Eventually, we found cellular coverage and, with it, new orders from our university, “return back immediately!” With a complete lock-down on our hands, we turned to our partners TPO Nepal, Duke, our Fogarty grant funders, and old familiar faces from the local community for directional and emotional support. A village elder planned and paid for our transportation back to Kathmandu.
Our in-country supervisor paid back the village elder. Our university administrators and supervisors clued us into the US Embassy who, through a multi-social media campaign, flew me and all other foreigners back to their homes. Now in the US, I no longer subscribe to the misguided image of ethnography as a singular effort. It
took the interconnected efforts at the highest levels of government to the local village leaders for me not only to plan and conduct the research but to get home safely during an unprecedented global crisis. The idea of “global is local” was truly on display.