This blog is a product of the Minority Health International Research Training Program through Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN. Students in this program participate in a 10 week international health research training at one of our sites in Brazil, Uganda, Nicaragua, Trinidad, or Thailand. This blog is for these students to share their experiences through our program.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Wow! I cannot believe the journey is over. It seems like
those ten weeks this summer just flew by! I definitely now have MANY stories
and experiences to share here back home in America. How can I ever forget my
first research experience being in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. MHIRT Uganda has
been the best experience of my life! I want to use this last blog post to thank
everyone who has had such a positive influence on my life in Uganda. I am so
grateful to have shared a space with two intelligent, empowering young women:
Daryl and Eyerusalem. In addition, I am grateful for our translators: Sam,
Susan, Eliza, and Seth. We literally could not have collected all the data we
did without you all! We will miss you very much. It seems like it was just
yesterday when we all first met the lovely Susan, and now that we have formed
our friendship, it is unfortunately time for us to depart. Moreen, our AMAZING
caretaker/housekeeper/second mother, thank you for everything that you have
done. This woman cooked for us, fed us, cleaned up after us even when there was
no mess. Moreen, I admire your work ethic and will miss your caring soul
dearly. Anthony, thank you for the pineapples, the comical greetings, and
always taking care of the IHP office when the good ole MHIRT interns took the
staff away to Akashanda! You all will forever remain in my heart. Thank you all
for all that you have done.
I hope this post finds you well. At this time, I have been home in the US for four days, and I am still in awe of all that encompassed my summer. The research, cultural exploration, personal growth, and raw experiences have left their footprints on my heart, and their lessons intertwined with my spirit. Itzel and I lived life in incredible ways; from exploring our personhoods from the perspective of a different culture, learning the ins and outs of international research, appreciating the various nuances of building relationships, to strengthening our inner voices. This program provides opportunities for holistic cultivation. I honestly cannot articulate all of what I learned- which would normally bother me. But the depth of these lessons penetrate to such intimate parts of my personal existence, that there are some things I couldn't and wouldn't want to share here out of reverence for my personal journey. Thus said, this experience has given me so much, that it would be wrongly selfish to not share some of the beautiful insights. So, The following list is my guide to traveling abroad- hope you enjoy.
1. Be present. I place this tip as number one because I find it to be the most important. Being present means to embrace your surroundings as your current life and to engage with them. I'm not suggesting to give up the life you lived before, but rather to not miss the merit of new experiences for the security of home.
2. Try new things. This one may sound like common sense, but I found it to be more complicated than just trying new foods. It is exploring different parts of your personality, conquering fears, setting new daring goals, changing up your routine, doing away with routine. In essence, it is disrupting your life to open yourself to countless new possibilities, and is important in reaping the full benefits from the experience.
3. Use your senses. A lot of travel advice outlines suggested actions, behaviors, places to visit, which foods to (not) eat, etc., but few sources told me about the importance of utilizing senses. Paying attention to the sights, smells, textures, tastes, and all those things you can sense opened culture to me in some very unexpected ways. I learned that there is more to culture and people than behaviors and those things humans are directly responsible for, and this understanding gave me a new lense through which to see life.
4. Explore. DO NOT STAY IN YOUR HOME. This one is self- explanatory but a necessary piece of advice. Engage with this surrounding environment. The gains are immeasurable.
5. Know you are not alone. My final piece of advice touches on a phenomenon that I experienced and believe many travelers do as well which is loneliness. I found that for myself, there is something so incredibly lonely about uprooting your life and moving to a different environment for a period of time. It's not necessarily a loneliness in the physical sense- as there could be many people around you- but rather loneliness created by being distant from all that which makes you secure: family, friends, belief or values systems, familiar customs, traditions, routines, etc. I found this lack of security to be highly disruptive and hard to navigate at times. But gradually, I realized that people are people no matter the context. We are all under the power of the human condition in that we all feel, think, believe, eat, communicate, act, etc. With that knowledge, I understood that everyone then becomes your family in humanity in some peculiar sense, and with that you will never be alone. This form of connection transcends geography and culture, and thus helps combat loneliness. I'm not saying you will never or should never feel alone- in some instances I believe that feeling is beneficial and necessary- but I am saying that in such loneliness, remember you are not completely alone and sometimes it'll take leaning on and appreciating your universal family to push through those hard times.
I hope these tips prove useful in some way, and I thank you for your time spent reading these words. This summer gave me a beautiful rich chapter to add to my story, and I sincerely thank the MHIRT program for the opportunity. For the last time, I send my love from Team Trinidad- thank you for everything.
I can´t believe that this week will be my last one in the "Metropolis of the Amazon" a.k.a Belem ! It won´t be my last visit ever, I surely do plan on coming back to visit the wonderful people that I have met here. Since this is my last blog, I want to sum up my experiences here in this brilliant city.
B- The benevolence of the people here. I mentioned this before but the kindness and generosity of the people here is overwhelming, in a good way! The people that I met here have treated me like a member of their family. On my trips outside of Belem to Sao Luis, Macooco and to Outiero , I traveled with my friends and their families and they have all been so warm and welcoming. The United States is known as a selfish country. At times, I can be self centered but my experiences here have encouraged me to be more selfless, kind and giving to those around me.
E- Excellent cuisine! I love food and I´m excited that I had the opportunity to taste the many dishes of Belem. A typical dish here consists of rice, beans and meat. To jazz it up, the locals here add a toasted root, tapioca and flour mixture called faroofa. The locals love it and so do I! It adds a nice gritty texture to the dish. A couple of my other faves are crab, Dorada, a type of fish,Guarana, a flavored soft drink, Cupuacu and Brazilian cherry juice. I didn't´t just indulge in the Brazilian foods. I also enjoyed pizza from a pizza parlor named Pizza Loca and ice cream from a shop named Cairu. I´m getting hungry now just writing about the foods :-)
L- Language. Learning a new language is difficult. It´s even harder when you are in an area that solely speaks the language that you are incompetent in. The good thing is that the people in Belem are patient and understanding and they will always do their best to help you!
E- Extreme Heat A fellow CBU student from Brazil told me before I came, that Belem is known for their hot temperatures! At first, it was hard to adapt to the weather but it became easier as the time here passed. If I can survive a summer in Memphis, then I can survive Belem and I did, with the help of a lot of ice cream and fans lol.
M- Memories I have so many memories that I will take back home with me to the USA. From getting lost in the city and finding my way back home, traveling to the new cities with people who I just met, meeting new people, sleeping in a hammock for the first time, riding a motor boat... I can go on and on but the point is that I will carry these memories with me forever.
This week is bittersweet. I am happy to return home to my family but I will truly miss my friends here in Belem. Felicia Malone, a participant in the MHIRT program last year, told me that she cried and was so sad when she left Belem last year. I feel the same way. I am truly blessed that I had the opportunity to come to Belem. I will truly miss it here!