Wednesday, March 11, 2015

MHIRT Heifer Retreat 2015 :)

I had no idea what the retreat would be like.  The first night I met wonderful women (Eyerusalem, Itzel, Natalie, and Veronica) staying with me at the hotel in Little Rock. We all got settled in and had dinner together at KFC. We ended up staying there for almost three hours just exchanging stories from our backgrounds and college experiences. I felt so lucky to get to know them better. Friday night I got no sleep. After dinner I was incredibly excited to meet the rest of the team. My mind was racing imagining what the rest of the weekend would be like. My thoughts went back to the stories I read on the MHIRT CBU blog, and I got butterflies in my belly from imagining some of them. 

Saturday we were picked up and I got to know the rest of the team. I sat in the back of the van and immediately felt so comfortable around everyone. We began introducing ourselves and exchanging stories. What sticks out to me the most about my time at the Heifer ranch is our dinner-making experience. Throughout the day I mingled with all the ladies here and there, but while making dinner together I felt a closeness I haven't felt with others in a while.

I learned some valuable lessons. I always thought of myself as a listener, but there were a few times where I didn't listen to my elder (Dr. Fitzgerald) or forgot about the elders because I was so caught up on cooking. This was interesting because I realized that I can easily be unaware. It is something I want to work on moving forward. I was also reminded how much I love the human touch and how it energizes me to be close to others. Itzel put her arms around me and Sushma and Veronica leaned on me at different parts of the night, and it really warmed my heart and soul.

 As the fire dwindled, we all grew a bit tired and went to sleep. Initially I felt fine, but as the night progressed, the cold seeped through the layers of fiber and thread I wore. This night my mind wasn't racing with happy thoughts, but it was racing with thoughts of how I could possibly make it through the night. I wondered what time it was. I thought of all the layers I wore and images of homeless people near my campus came to mind. They don't have nearly as many layers as I did. My thoughts grew negative and I felt frustrated that my body would not get warmer no matter what I did. I felt angry that people had to sleep like this on a daily basis. I thought of how easily it could be to get depressed and hopeless.

Then Ashley whispered to me, "Hey girl, you awake?" I said "Yes!" She, Veronica, and I shared how hard it was. We all encouraged each other, even though the cold did not leave. I had to use the bathroom, and Ashley offered to go with me. Talking to Ashley and Veronica really helped me get through the night. Every single person in this retreat really moved me. We were all strangers not long before, but the love and unity I experienced was deep. It helped me stay positive in the hardest moments of the night. It reminded me that this is what matters in life: to connect with others, exchange stories, listen to others, and love love love.

After arriving home I feel hopeful that despite all of the corruption, wars, and injustice in the world, there are people like the MHIRT Team and the Heifer Team who want to improve conditions in the world and who feel strongly about advancing the human condition and spreading love and peace. Everyone this weekend truly empowered me to keep striving towards realizing my dreams and to not apologize for my existence. I can't help but think of the quote:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." -Marianne Williamson

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

As saudades do Brasil ficam no meu coração, mas volto logo

The last day in Brazil, was Saturday August 2nd which was filled with a roller coaster of emotions. The food, the music, the ladies, the work environment, futbol (soccer), parties everything was flashing through my mind that Saturday. I had decided that during that night I was just going to enjoy every minute I could with my friends, those who had been in this journey with me. Probably the hardest part of going back to the United States is returning to the routine. The routine of working weekdays and weekends, my responsibilities in national positions in student organizations, my rigorous studying schedule in medical school, community initiatives....the "have your plate the fullest as possible" lifestyle that spells success in workaholic nation like the United States. The "take it easy and slow pace yourself" days were coming to an end. Taking a break in the middle of a busy day to have some coffee with a friend, to play soccer in the fields, taking weekends for travelling and experiencing new things...among many things that make Brazil a place of good quality of life. All these thoughts traveled to my I saw the lips of my friends moving...and I heard the sounds from a distance. All of a sudden, they talk and say "Are you ok?" I said yes, but I lied. I didn't want it to end. I enjoyed my life in Brazil, and everytime I come back I miss it more. Saudades, such a powerful word non-existent in our culture. A word with many meanings. I was feeling it rushing through my chest. When I made it to the airport , it was time for goodbye. Saudades took over. I tried to contain the tears, but I couldn't. The movie of my experience in São Paulo played in my head over and over. I saw life in my time there. I saw freedom from the conventions of society. I wanted to live like that forever. As I said goodbye and the tears subsided, I made another promise....a final trip to Brazil, this time as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar, probably one of the most competitive fellowships to research and study abroad. I made the commitment that I would apply for this fellowship and come back to do a public health project that would make a different in the Brazilian community. I opened my computer and started writing. I am competing for this fellowship and I know that I will be back with a stethoscope, clinical skills and a solid research proposal to the GeroLab, where I had worked. MHIRT made this possible, and if awarded this fellowship, they will deserve some of the credit. Quando a gente quer consegue, e sei que todo na vida é possível, se lutamos com suficiente força. Como médico e pesquisador, eu darei uma última olhada ao Brasil e farei as contribuções que se precisam num pais que tem muito que dar na area da saúde. Brasil eu volto logo, espero matar a saudades logo. Aguarde por meu retorno.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

O Brasil no meu coração

I write from my apartment in Nashville, thousands of miles from the beauty of Florianopolis and the total wonder of Brazil. As I readjust to life in the US, I reflect on the amazing trip I was opportuned to experience this summer. I have been welcomed each day by complete strangers, and offered myriad lessons in Portuguese, scientific research, and life, all wrapped into some of the best days of my life. I am forever grateful for those that have impacted my life in ways they may never know. My lab family at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina has been a reliable net of fun and productivity throughout my stay, offering up tutorials in lab technology or a strong cup of cafe just when I needed it. My days would not be the same without the shared laughs with members of Dr Beth Linder and Dr. Eduardo's lab. I am indebted to the Florianopolis mentors who all took time out to ensure our well-being and progress while in Brazil. I thank God for every stranger-turned-friend along the way.

A few lessons learned:

  • Make time to truly have lunch, or almoçar. It's the perfect break in a busy day. If you can, do it Brazilian-style, even in the US. That is, pile it high with plenty of variety.
  • When learning a new language, speak as if you know what you're doing. It's convincing, but always insist that native speakers correct you, even though they probably won't. 
  • A cup of café, or the unexpected excursion, are seldom to be turned down. Their effects will be keep you going when things are slow.
  • Be good to your lab rats, although they may not return the gesture. Digestion waits for no man, or researcher. 
  • Age is largely inconsequential, in matters of leisure and fashion. One can continuously grow more fabulous long after maximum height is reached. That being said, reserve your comments next time you scope Gramps in a barzihno
  • Make each day an adventure. Even if it means simply taking a bus to a part of town you have no real business in. You will find exciting new sites, and yourself in the process.
These and many more I have gleaned while in Brazil. This has been a truly remarkable year in my life, one of self-discovery and boundary-pushing. There have been so many firsts experienced, friends made, and memories shared. I can say that the love and energy of Brazil has spear-headed a new bold chapter in my life. As I now drown in saudades, I remain hopeful of my return. 

Do fundo do meu coração e além,


Monday, August 11, 2014

Pois é...o final do meu inverno na Ilha

This past weekend and week to come has been and will be full of "see you laters." I had to say that to many friends, mentors, and my roommates. It has been an interesting mixture of states of mind: happiness, sadness, jubilance, reflectiveness, gratefulness, just to name a few. I have also had fun adventures, which include diving into the ocean to swim in a "natural pool," surfing, dancing some more samba, and going on some more hikes. The incredible views and fun outdoor activities will definitely be things to miss once I return to the U.S. I have also been working hard on analyzing my results and working on my final presentation. The summer/winter passed swiftly and I cannot believe I return this week. I do return, though, with a new found point of view and mixture of experiences that have changed me. Obrigada, Brazil!

My friends Charlotte and Heinrich on our 
fun day at the natural pools by Barra da Lagoa.

My surfing friends :)

The beautiful view of one of the hikes on the Island

As I reflect on the time I have spent in the south of Brazil, I can't help but to just be thankful on the experiences, things learned, and friends made. Firstly, professionally I have learned so much about biochemistry and molecular biology at LABCAI. Working alongside people that were willing to help me learn, run gels or other experiments, and understand the concepts at the most fundamental level are things that I would not trade. I also made friends in the lab that I know I will keep up with for the rest of my life and hope to see again in the future. Thank you for the help improving not just my everyday Portuguese, but also my scientific Portuguese! Secondly, I feel blessed to have met many fellow travelers from all over the world along the way. They taught me about their languages, cultures, views, and mostly opened my eyes to the diversity and similarities of the human spirit. We had many adventures around the island that I will look back to, with a smile on my face, and tell my family for generations to come. Thirdly, all of my experiences both in solitude and accompanied, (I believe) have made me a better person. I am eternally grateful for that. Lastly, I am thankful for my family and friends from home that I missed very much and supported me throughout my time abroad. Thank you Minority Health International Research Training Program and Christian Brothers University for this incredible and unforgettable experience!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

One last update.

What an experience I had in Brazil.  I feel very blessed to have been given such a wonderful opportunity to study in a different country, learn about the culture, and learn about myself.  I'll never forget the experiences I had and the lessons that life in Brazil had taught me.

The situation with the strike is yet to be resolved and has recently gotten worse. This picture is of a protest outside of USP on one of the main roads of Butantâ.  They blocked off three lanes of traffic.

A pickup soccer game in Parque do Ibirapuera

A few rat pups I used in my research

My buddies from CrossFit Butantâ

Trip to Rio

Leaving the Frango behind and coming home to the Chicken....

I am amazed at how quickly these 10 weeks have passed, but I can't complain because even though time flew by, I had an amazing experience in Brazil, and I would not change a second of it. This is my last blog post and in three days (counting today), I will by at GRU (the airport right outside of São Paulo) boarding a plane back to the United States. It's a bittersweet ending, but we all knew this day would come.

So, let me share some of the great moments I've had in Brazil! There are some pictures that I wanted to share, but they have yet to be taken.. For instance, I have to wait until my Monday lunch with the lab group to get a picture with the amazing people that I've been working with. But....I'll share what I have!

We met a lot of wonderful, fun, kind people
that were willing to show us a good time
everywhere we traveled in Brazil 
These guys from our hostel would
literally sit up there and play every
day, and sometimes we would sit and

I made some really strong friendships while I've been here, too. This guy here, Herrison, was one of my best friends in São Paulo, but he had to return to Londrina for classes about a month ago. He wrote the most touching post about me on Facebook. I'm hoping he comes to visit me in the United States some day!

There are, of course, many more awesome people not pictured above that I will miss a great deal when I leave!
I've been on quite a few explorative adventures to other cities while I've been here, and while I'm satisfied with the amount of traveling I got to do in my 10 weeks here, I wish I would have had time to visit more cities. Maybe one day I'll travel back to Brazil for more. Until then, here are some highlights from the trips I did take!

I did a lot of modeling in
Curitiba! It had many great
sites that I got to explore
with new friend Gino, and
he helped me document
the experience. 
Rio was so much better once we found all these pretty viewpoints!
Let's not even think about some of the uglier views we got of the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         And, of course, we cannot forget the Foz do Iguacu trip. The falls were breathtaking, and there is little that can be said about how amazing it was to be there.

 If there is one experience I'll truly remember for a lifetime from my time in Brazil, however, it's my greatest adventure: skydiving over Foz do Iguacu! I was actually left speechless by the experience. I'm extremely happy to have gotten that opportunity and to have taken it.

Thank you, MHIRT, for the experience of a lifetime! The in-lab and out of lab experiences have all been incredible! It's hard to believe that I got to live this, and I'm so grateful I did.

That's all for now. See you back in the United States soon! Até logo!

Monday, August 4, 2014

One last Day! Nice time!

Can't believe it has been basically two months since we've arrived in Uganda! Time has flown by even faster these last two weeks as we prepare to leave Ishaka and head to Entebbe and fly back to America. However even though we are leaving soon the last two weeks have been busy. The week before we spent a lot of time in the field visiting villages and different groups that are members of the Ishaka Health Plan, which is where we are working. Our research is focused on customer satisfaction with members so when we went into the fields and we were able to ask members questions about health plan and if they had any concerns or challenges that needed to be addressed. During that one week we visited three different groups and two schools. The visits or meetings we have on average take up to two hours because everything here is on Ugandan time. So for example most of our field meetings were scheduled for 2 p.m but usually we wouldn't start 30 minutes to an hour later. But the last week here in Uganda has been trying to finish up things in the office and getting new office supplies and organizing it. But since we are leaving so soon there are many people we have met up with to say our good byes. It has been a blast getting to know the people in the office that we work with and the many others we have met while staying in Uganda. Hopefully we can all keep in touch as we head back home to America. We still have one more full day in Uganda before we leave! Gonna make sure to get my last full meal of Ugandan food but hopefully will be able to come back! And as Ugandans will say in English when they have spent good company among friends or people they've met, "Nice Time!"