Natasha Shannon, '18

June 28, 2016
Anthropology and international studies major conducts field research abroad

Each morning last summer, Natasha Shannon, ’18, took a five-minute walk to the Annoor Sanatorium to begin her day. There she observed and interacted with residents in Jordan who came to receive medical care.

The Sanatorium, a hospital located outside of Mafraq, a small town in northern Jordan, serves a large Bedouin population. Shannon, a double major in international studies and anthropology, used her time there to conduct an anthropological field study on Bedouins and health care.

“Bedouins are the indigenous populations in the Middle East,” Shannon said. “They used to be nomadic, but now they’re semi-nomadic; they have a really unique culture and I wanted to look at how they experience health care.”

She learned about the Sanatorium from her grandparents, who have worked there for several years. “My grandparents have lived in the Middle East and parts of North Africa for 40 years,” she said. “I knew they worked at a hospital in Jordan, but I had no idea what that meant in practice. It was great to spend time with them and see them chattering away in Arabic.”

Shannon focused her field research on learning how the Sanatorium, which is run by Christian missionaries, could successfully serve Bedouin patients. She gathered information by interacting with patients in Arabic, and observing the activity of the hospital. “All the patients and the people visiting the hospital for medical care were nice and welcoming; they helped me learn more Arabic,” she said.

In addition, Shannon helped the hospital staff prepare for their 50th anniversary celebration, spent time helping the nurses care for two young patients and interviewed members of the hospital’s administration and some of the medical practitioners.

At the end of each day, she’d write up her field notes, tracking what she did that day, what she saw, and the conversations she had. As she looked over her notes, she began to worry. “I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing a lot,” Shannon said. She would email her advisor her concerns, but was always reassured that anthropology research often feels a bit unsettled. However, once she looked at her entire data set, her mindset changed.

“I didn’t feel it was happening at the time, but afterward, I realized that I had real data, that I had collected, and that gathering it together made it into an actual project,” she said. “It was very exciting to see it come to together.”

Shannon found that that in order to provide health care, the Bedouin culture needed to be taken into consideration. “One of the people I interviewed told me that even if you have a medical degree and a list of qualifications, that doesn’t mean anything to the Bedouins,” she said. “It’s about forming trust and respect. When you’re providing care for the Bedouins, you have to establish that relationship and build up trust, so that they will follow your suggestions for how to get better.”

Through her observations of the Sanatorium, she felt that the hospital was successful in understanding and integrating Bedouin cultural norms in order to provide health care.

She returned to the U.S. with improved Arabic skills, a deeper appreciation of a culture different from her own, and a desire to do more anthropological research. “In the fall, I took a research methods course, which taught me a lot. Going in to do more research, there are things that I have in mind now that I would do differently with my data collection,” she said.

She’ll have the chance this summer, as she travels with sociology professor Elizabeth Ransom to Uganda. Shannon and another student are assisting Ransom with collecting data related to development initiatives that seek to empower women and enhance gender equity within the agriculture industry in Uganda, but they will also be working on their own project.

“I’m really excited,” Shannon said. “We’re doing an independent project that’s a mixture of hard science and anthropology about water collection and the power dynamics around that. I’m really excited.”