Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Final thoughts from Belém

As I think back on another amazing two and a half months in Belém, I become overwhelmed by a mix of powerful emotions. I am truly blessed to have such a compassionate and helpful Brazilian family! My colleague and homie, Joyce, introduced me to her entire family back in 2016 and they essentially took me in as one of their own. Thanks to them, this year I traveled to the beautiful beaches of Salinas, to the island Algodoal in the Atlantic, and to so many other breathtaking destinations in the north of Brazil.  Because they included me in all their outings and activities I truly felt at home in Belém. My friend Alan helped me become way more familiar with the local slang (jiripoca... kkkkkkk) and gave me a much better understanding of the economic and political issues currently happening in Brazil.

I also grew close with my colleague, Terezinha, who took me to beaches in the state of Pará, to festivals, parties and introduced me to her family and friends! Thanks to our discussions about race, class, corruption, music, and all of our cultural similarities and differences, I felt that I was gaining a better understanding of the hardships and the beauty of life in the north of Brazil.

I reconnected with old friends, formed new relationships with colleagues and residents of Belém and felt that I was becoming more Paraense (term for someone who lives in the state of Pará) by the day! Just as I felt that I was at home, and became comfortable thinking, conversing, and dreaming in Portuguese my time was up! And it was time to return back to the motherland.

The CBU-MHIRT program has given me more opportunities and life long connections to Belém and Brazil than I could ever thank them for. I feel like I am eternally in debt to them for this opportunity to return again to Belém.

Until next time Belém!

Égua, minha viagem foi bagulho doido! Até a proxima família Freitas <3

Picture of my good friend Terezinha, and company with me in the background!

Alan, his girlfriend Iracy, and I getting some pizza after getting some fresh hair cuts. 

Picture of Joyce, my friend Protasio, and myself chilling.

The Unforgettable People of Ishaka

Our Friends of Ishaka

With these photos I immediately recollect the moments taken with all our friends we have come to know and love. Each has offered us an uplifting perspective on Uganda and a piece of warm hospitality that we will remember forever. 

The end of our data collection. This wonderful group is our last of three focus group interviews conducted. Along with surveys and interviews, we were able to sample 119 participants for our research this summer! The group of women were not shy in sharing their compassionate hugs and making us feel very welcome. 

Our friend's family and their plantation. Not only did they show me that pineapples grow from the ground and not like coconut trees, they allowed us the absolute pleasure to come into their abode. Meeting them and each valuable member that makes up this family was the happiest experience. Their pineapples were good too. The phrase you are what you eat must be true, because they were the sweetest family I have come to know.

Pineapple Coma. Trust me, a bite of our friend's pineapple will make you want to eat this many. However, I don't recommend using them as a mattress.

The Last Supper (of Ishaka Health Plan & MHIRT). This partnership has allowed us to take initiative to begin uncovering health disparities that exist within communities. From this teamwork, these co-workers have become our closest friends. Our combined efforts to further bridge the gaps in health disparities among minority groups allowed us the same venue to grow and foster our relationships with each other. We're very appreciative.

  The MHIRT Uganda Team. Here we are with our clothes made in Uganda by our lovely tailors. First of all, we're slaying. Second of all, I must say that I have been so blessed to be able to share these experiences from the past two months together. Our journey has made us into a tight-knit group I am thankful to be a part of. Thank you for being great friends and thanks for the many laughs. Next time I want to stir fry and chill, I'll be sure to hit you all up. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sharing my Reflections with you

It’s been exactly a week since my landing in the Memphis International Airport. The first day I got back I wanted to observe American life as an outsider, someone who has never heard the distinct Memphis accent, felt the suffocating humidity, and seen the rundown apartments along the interstate. This strategy worked for so long. Trying to cling onto what I learned in Brasil, I quickly learned that in order not to slip into depression, this was going to take adjustment back to my home. There are still days, restricted to moments, that are paralyzing for me. All I want to do is cry and go back to Brazil. But then I think of my sustainability and know that without MHIRT’s backing I would have not been able to survive there. Maybe I would have found a job, but without a nice apartment to fall asleep every night, things would have been a lot different.
My experience in Pr. Riso’s lab was mesmerizing, truly captivating. Once I got acclimated to the lab, it seemed that I had to leave. Living with Aminata and Winter, I found myself constantly comparing my experience to theirs. Having a competitive spirit, since they were working more on their own, it was very hard for me to have to work under someone else in the lab. In addition, the only times I could initially go into lab was when Lucas, aka the one who taught me what to do in the lab, was there. And that happened only 2-3 times a week as he was a college student as well. However once I met more people in the lab, I started going more days and started feeling included in the lab and things started looking great.
I have never had an experience in a lab outside of workstudy and CBU classes. The closest experience to being self-sufficient I had was Organic Chemistry Lab with Dr. Peer. Wanting to be out of there early, I was internally forced to work at break neck speed and not experiencing this at a real working lab was refreshing.
The challenge for me during my stay in Florianopolis compared to the struggles Aminata and Winter shared was having to work in a group setting. Not being the one who was in charge was a little frustrating. It was also freeing as responsibility was shared among many people and showed me how labs are structured to also be learning centers and many times Lucas taught me things while we were running a test.
In addition to what I learned in the lab, there were many things that I learned about myself in Brasil. The first weekend I was there, I learned of the South American Ironman Championships. When I was getting my bags in the Florianopolis airport I had seen huge bags and once of them said triathlon. Now it made sense! I had to learn of a way to get there. I had arrived in the Hercilio Luz International Airport on a Friday and the triathlon was the coming Sunday. I also needed a bike to get around the area and to train for triathlon. So I went to work. I searched for nearby bike stores and found once less than a mile away. So I went around 6:00 pm, already dark in the winter of this city. I didn’t take much with me as I had been warned this was Brasil. However, since I am very trusting, I wasn’t scared. I felt safe. Fast forward to getting to the bike shop and being shocked by the prices when I was looking for a very cheap bike to aid me for about 2 months. Not knowing how to speak much Portugues I tried my hand with Google translate. Something was lost in translation and the salesman referred me to a kind English speaking brasileiro. I asked if he knew where there were lower priced options. We talked. And then we exchanged numbers. It was through his help that I was able to procure transportation to the Ironman. This was my first Ironman. I was stoked. When I got dropped off, it was still before the sunrise and I didn’t have any idea where I was. I freaked out a bit. However I soon saw people and started following them and then I saw the headquarters for Ironman and felt comfortable. I continued to find a place for myself to watch the swim. I ended up at the front where triathletes were saying goodbye to their families for the whole day while they try their hardest to bring closure to many months or years of intense training. It was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by people who cared about this sport as much or more as I do. Once the last swimmer was done, I wanted to know where the bikes began. Right in front of me was a very irate person with Ironman. Not seeing anyone else, being tired, and not wanting to search for anyone else, I got this person’s attention and asked if they spoke English. She said so-so, and I was off to the races at her amazement. Quickly I realized she was not understanding and remembered the word for biking “pedalada” and tried the best Portugues I had at that point. Somehow she understood and told me where it was. Before this, there was the swimming finish, I had no clue about and it was straight across the beach past an official barrier. She invited me into behind the scenes territory and the rest of the day was a blast! On this day of Sunday May 28, 2017 I had my first moto ride, my first acai, my first ironman I spectated and made my first very close Brasileira amiga.
Going forward to my future time in Brazil, I had many adventures including a trip to Curitiba and Foz do Iguacu with Aminata and Ashley along with Ashley’s roommate Camila. All the while I was exploring the island of Florianopolis and training with my triathlon team Equipetime as much as time and space allowed me. In addition, I also had a week in Rio where I met the most amazing guy for whom a girl could ask. As I type this, he said he is traveling to Mexico because it is closer to where I live.

I have many more stories to share about my MHIRT Brazilian summer and it was an amazing time, indeed!

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Unique Experience

My summer doing research in Nicaragua has come to an end. There is a lot to say, but it is an experience people have to go through in order to understand what I am saying. I feel like my passion for global health has grown and it is great knowing what I want to do in the future. This experience reaffirmed the path I want to take, and I couldn't be more excited for it! 
I worked with three other students and my mentor Katy on chronic diseases in a semi-urban community in Nejapa, Nicaragua. We researched diabetes, hypertension, and obesity due to the high consumption of sugar around that area. It was interesting having cultural barriers that wouldn't allow us to teach them about healthy eating due to the habits they are accustomed to. It was indeed a challenge but it is what I find fascinating about cultures. As outsiders we might want to help them but the question will always be "how can we help them without necessary intervene in their culture?" After weeks, we were able to find answers, but it is a long-term project that will take more time than just 5 weeks.  I am excited to know we left this project so other students can keep working on it and even focus on more areas such as physical activity or portion sizes. I am glad I got to experience this research because it is a unique experience that would be difficult to find another similar one. In other words, if I could go back, I would do it all over again. 
Here we have the consejeras (volunteers that help promote health), my mentor Katy (on bottom right second to last), and the rest of the group that helped the project be well put together. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Would you ever go back?

It seems like yesterday I was sitting on top of someone in an over-crowded mutatoo, sweating from no air conditioning, or eating matoke smothered in g-nut sauce which would unexpectedly become my new favorite dish. I could go for a bowl now. Where did the time go? It didn’t resonate with me at the moment just how fortunate I was to discover more about world in which we live in and the different cultures that exist. Often, I find myself in deep thought as I analyze and reflect upon the experiences I underwent during my time in Uganda. What I find interesting is how those are who are without an education can serve as skilled teachers to those who have. I found myself an everyday student and viewed the community as my classroom; watching and forever learning. In ten weeks, I was introduced to a new perspective lens of happiness and perseverance. Of all the lessons that have managed to follow me home, these two remain the most pertinent. I say that because despite being a developing country with a weak economic infrastructure, Ugandans have proven to be some of the happiest and most determined people I have yet to encounter. No electricity? They'll walk miles in the dark. You need a ride? They’ll pack nineteen people in a twelve passenger because they are going to get where they have to go, regardless. No money? Although uncertain, they will work until a little appears and will do so with a smile and a laugh. It mattered not what hurdles stood in their path whether it be financial, emotional, or social, they always managed to jump over and persevere with a smile and a laugh. I placed the obstacles I experienced back home into this new perspective, soon realizing how miniscule in size they compared with those of true hardships. How foolish of me to complain of making a grade in a college class after meeting those younger than me selling fried ganja on the streets to help support their families? Am I forced to leave education to support my family? Are my village members depending on me to come back and make a change? I had always been told by my parents there were others out there in the world that would kill to have the things I do and to appreciate my blessings in life greatly. But to me, those were only words. I needed raw, real-life exposure and once I had gotten it in Uganda I couldn’t begin to fathom. I will forever remember my time in Uganda because it further motivated my career incentive of becoming a physician. I don’t dispute health disparities exist in the U.S., but how do they compare to a country whose public health system routinely fails to properly serve its people? Do they care? When asked would I ever go back, the answer is a confident yes, but only on one condition: If I am able to make an effective, long-lasting change.