Monday, August 6, 2012

Iwanyun Bobo! (Until we meet again...)

 Our last days in Pallisa have been just as eventful as our first! Below are a few pics documenting our last weekend.
 Transportation breakdown #4 
Went to see our friend John in a wedding!
 Said goodbye to some of our friends in Pallisa
Iwanyun Bobo, MHIRT Uganda 2012!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Last Days in Floripa (It's a Long One!)

      I cannot start this post without saying how amazing of a roommate Samantha Ordaz is! Thanks to my crappy immune system, I have spent quite a few days sick this past July. The last bout of illness was the worst: a flu that left me in bed for ten days. Let me say that I suffered from cabin fever after one day of this, as well as a regular fever of 103 that left me shivering in the already cold weather. To get anywhere, we have to walk about six blocks or so, leaving me helpless and at the mercy of Sam since I got dizzy and fell walking five feet to the bathroom. She brought me my favorite foods, made sure that I was okay, and fretted over me so much that I thought she might get sick from worry. But have no fear--I made sure that I didn't hinder her outings, because someone had to have fun!
       Aside from the being sick thing, I have had some good times. Another fun weekend with Chloe ensued the weekend before I got the flu. We met up with some old friends acquired the second week here, and I love the fact that I actually talked to them. At the beginning, I could barely say my name in Portuguese, and now we laughed and had whole conversations. It felt great! I was also surprised to learn from a girl working at a pizza shop we went to that she thought we were both Brasileiras by how we spoke. I can expect that for Chloe, but not for me. We also discovered a wonderful buffet just around the corner from the pousada. I think we both scarfed down about five pounds of desserts alone. There was also a great afternoon of strolling around the lagoon in the beautiful weather, which was nice since about eleven straight days of rain was around the bend.
        Once Chloe left, I was back to work in the lab. Unfortunately, things have moved slowly, because we are still creating the protocols for the actual research. I won't be around to see the progression of it, but we are finally getting close to a set gel protocol for detecting enzyme activity. The lesson learned here is that not everything moves quickly in science. I arrived in the midst of just setting the procedures, and it has been painfully boring at times. It is also   frustrating to myself and my lab mates, because every one of our experiments has yielded poor results over the last seven weeks. Mychelle is especially stressed, because she is pressed for time to get results due to her December thesis deadline. This last year, I worked in a neuro lab that was well-funded, never lacking in resources, and already set in terms of methodology. Being in a lab with very little money or equipment that is just at the beginning of its research is very eye-opening. It is the first time that I could see something really starting from scratch. I only hope that everything continues smoothly for the students here!
         I also sat in on Mychelle's English class two weeks ago, and that was cool. They have three sections including grammar, conversation, and culture. I did not think that English could be so difficult. Portuguese may be hard for me to speak, but it's fairly simply to learn to read and write. The rules are so simple, and English is complex. Where Portuguese uses "qui," English has "that, which, who, and whom." It is apparent how hard this must be for people learning English as a second language. But the culture part was the most interesting. They talked about hippies and watched a video where motorcyclists rode across the western countryside in what looked like stereotypical "Hell's Angels" get-ups. Their concepts of American culture are just as weird to us as our ideas about Brazilian culture probably are to them. In the conversation class, the topic was world records, and I am appalled that not one person in that room knew who Adriana Lima, the Brazilian Victoria's Secret Model, is. The record was the youngest, richest Brazilian model, and when I pulled up a picture for them to see her, everyone kind of shrugged and said she was "all right." Crazy! Then I learned that the record for a woman having sex with the most men in one day was 916, and I'm pretty sure that I could have gone my whole life not knowing that. Needless to say, class was not boring!
        And I will end this very, very long post talking about Maria, who is new to Sam's lab and lives just downstairs from us! She is from Portugal and speaks Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, Russian (I found someone, Ellen!), and Chinese. Lord! She is AWESOME! We have now made it a routine to all get together and have dinner or hang out, and hearing about all of her work and travels is just amazing. I only wish that she was here sooner, because she has turned my and Samantha's ordinary workdays into fun times. We no longer live for the weekend! She is a great companion when Sam and I are both too stressed to console each other, and having a neighbor like her is so nice.
      Now, pictures summing up my time here!

Some great friends from the first couple of weeks in Brazil

I tried to learn to dance during a Festa Junina party. I'm not used to dancing with a partner!

The dunes that Nadia, Sam, Chloe, and I sandboarded. They don't seem so big now.

Mychelle's English class reading about American hippie culture. 

Myself, Nadia, Chloe, and Sam after a long, beautiful hike

The view from the lagoon near our pousada

Chloe and I strolling along the lagoon during a final weekend hanging out in Brazil

Sam and I out having drinks and pizza with her lab mates

One of many attempts at creating a proper protocol 

This is Ramsey, a random moo cow that I found next to our pousada. I named him, and he was my pet, but I haven't seen him for days. (He might be a burger now.)

The wonderful Sam, flaunting her ridiculous collection of 2 reais bills. 


Friday, August 3, 2012

Last Days in Pallisa

In the past few weeks we have managed to collect interviews from six sub counties in the Pallisa District. Unbeknownst at the time, we spoke to a bubbly witch doctor and watched her treat a child with seizures. We have learned the species of trees that provide roots and leaves for herbal remedies. However, one can argue that traditional medicine is a dying art in this region. As Western religion gains momentum, traditional healing seems to fade away; or at least the community's willingness to openly discuss these practices has diminished.

Our time is winding down with only three days left in country. Even in the midst of the recent Ebola outbreak, bitter sweet seems too bland a description for our emotions as we near departure. As we prepare to pack up, give away, and say goodbye we acknowledge that as our time here comes to an end, so does summertime. Given that many of us will most likely never make it back to this hidden corner of the world, it is difficult to pinpoint how to spend our last hours. Soon we will be back in school half a world away, surrounded by those who have never heard of Pallisa, Uganda.

Lessons learned from my time here are endless, and I can only expect more to follow in the upcoming months as I readapt to life at home. If nothing else, I have gained an entirely new insight into the complexity of international aid and globalization. A few weeks ago I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and one particular excerpt seems to capture a very important take-home message: “You can’t just sashay into the jungle aiming to change it all over to the Christian style, without expecting the jungle to change you right back... If it was as easy as they thought it would be, why, they’d be done by now, and Africa would look just like America with more palm trees.”  So many good intentions but no easy answers.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


 The girls from the lab (minus Caro) and us! And it´s such a pretty place too, you´d think it'd be a nice restaurant or a museum.  Nope.  It´s a meat market! Still cracks me up!
 Giant lilypads at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, they were so pretty!
 Caroline at our favorite sorveteria, Cairu! We´re already concerned that  we will have withdrawals when we get back to the States.
Me at the top of the tower at the Mangal das Garcas, you could see so much of Bélem from up there!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Vero O Peso

Vero O Peso is a market here in Para. This market is located on Guaraja Bay. It was built in 1625. It is the  biggest open market in Latin America. Vendors sell clothes, shoes, food, souvenirs and herbal medicine. Monique and I have had the privilege to visit this market several times. Last weekend Monique’s dad came to visit and we had to take him to Vero O Peso. It was great having him there because he is very funny, speaks Portuguese fluently and bargained the prices for us. After shopping we decided to get some lunch. I would not describe the food area as full of restaurants. It is more like outdoor food stalls with a sitting area overlooking the river. The food was great. We had linguica (sausage) with ferrofer (a spice), frango (chicken) and beer. We had a great time eating, drinking, and  looking at the beautiful water. Afterwards we went to the herbal medicine section. It was a very interesting place. They had herbal medicine for everything. They had herbal medicine for weight loss, getting rich, getting a spouse, making a man go crazy over you, keeping a man, winning money, and becoming attractive just to name a few. Anything you wanted, they had it. I don’t know if these herbal medicines work but the vendors convince you that they do. We also went to the meat market. It is located across Vero O Peso. It is a building made of only metal and it was built in the 18th century. It is a very beautiful building. We also visited the fish market which is also across from Vero O Peso. I saw so many fish that I never knew existed.

The meat market

Traditional Medicine

As part of the MHIRT research team here in Pallisa, we have been able to gain a deeper insight on traditional medicine in this region. Talking to the people in the local communities we have discovered the unspoken rule to keep the use of traditional medicine secret. Some people on the other completely deny the existance of herbalists and witchdoctors which left us wondering whether this knowledge was just being kept away from us because we are “mzungus”. Regardless of their reasons, we had an amazing opportunity this week to witness a traditional healer perform one of her many procedures on a patient. The patient was a little girl who had been suffering from seizures. Doctors from the local hospital had tried to treat her but their efforts had been in vain. As a last resort the doctors referred her to this traditional healer when she was “almost dying”, as the traditional healer put it. The little girl's clothes were removed and the traditional healer took a razor, making small cuts on the girls scalp, arms, back, legs, neck and chest. Once the cuts were made the traditional healer took a grey powder and rubbed it into the cuts. When we asked her what the grey powder was she said that it was a special bird she had gotten from northern Uganda that had been burned and ground. The little girl seemed unaffected and calm. The traditional healer proceeded to tell us that the girl was much better than she had been when she was first brought. This experience was very eye opening, one of the many we have experienced here in Pallisa, Uganda.

Friday, July 27, 2012

More Photos!

Peggy Sue! We see this dog everyday, almost!

Curitiba Officers trying to direct traffic

Some Lovely Homemade Shoes at the Market

The Amazing Curitiba Bus Tubes

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oh My How the Time Flies!

It still blows my mind that for the past month, I have awakened to roosters crowing outside of my window, the sun shining on my face, and the sounds of New York, just with Portuguese speakers. Majority of the participants have journeyed outside of the United States; however, for me, this program gave me a chance to go abroad for the first time in my life!  It is almost as if words cannot describe, but something that must be truly experienced. Prior to our arrival, we were informed that we would be here doing the winter season. I am aware that I am in a tropical country, but I did not expect to be wearing layer upon layer of clothing!  I could see my breath in the buildings! As far as my Portuguese goes, I was able to give directions a few times and answer the phone in the lab. I continue to meet genuine beings that break their necks trying to make sure I am comfortable and the best part is that they feed me!  
 In regards to research, I have a ton of work to do.  The first month was spent training and learning techniques.  Now, I am immersed in rabbit retinas!  Everyday in lab is not 100%, but I keep smiling and learning!  By the way, I ventured to my first Brazilian country club!  Not bad for a guy who does not bother with country music back in the US. My salsa and samba skills have improved so now everywhere I go, I am always trying to practice.  Ellen and I went to our first soccer showing at a pub! It was madly insane! Fireworks left and right and people crying tears of joy!  This one guy picked me up and twirled me around, then that's when I bit my tongue because I was caught off guard.  Stephen and I got a chance to go to Sorocaba to see the country-side of Brasil. There, we met our lab memeber´s family, ate like we were crazy, as well as enjoyed some of the best sleep!  We got a chance to tour the city and just enjoy each others company.  I am now a professional walker!  I must admit that I do miss home and it will feel good to go back, especially to see my brother who I have not seen in 2 years!  It will definitely be a bitter-sweet moment as I say my goodbyes to those who have been my family away from home.  There is a bakery that I will miss.  It serves one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. It is known as a `Beirute´ packed with works!  I have learned even more about myself and I will always continue to grow, with this chapter serving as another starting point!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summing it up

Last weekend I finally got the chance to meet up with my longtime friend Guto. He’s actually a Brazilian citizen, but ever since the age of five he has lived in the United States. We grew up playing competitive and high school soccer together back in the States. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so it was great catching up with him this past weekend. I couldn't believe he was actually working here in Sao Paulo with the US Consulate!! We went to Campinas, which is only about 45 minutes outside Sao Paulo. We stayed with his family and it may have been the best weekend of the trip so far. On Friday night we went to an amazing restaurant called Giovannetti Campinas where an enormous St. Bernard, appropriately named Beethoven, roamed around ducking under tables cleaning up any food that was dropped. The food was unbelievable. Saturday proved to be even better. We fished and played on a private golf course, owned by his family, for most of the day. Afterwards we went to another great restaurant in the countryside. I honestly don’t know how anyone can even find it, but it was truly a hidden gem. It was a great weekend, but it was even better reconnecting with an old friend.
Work is going great as well. I have been very busy, which has been a good distraction while Andrea has been out of town. Both Dani and I have been going every week to sequence samples at the Einstein Institute, which I am told is the top hospital in all of South America.  I feel the hard work is finally starting to pay off.  Justin and I probably work between 50-60 hours a week, but it is time well spent. Dani and I are getting great results with the sequencing and are requesting for more patient samples. Recently, I was asked if I would be available to present our work as first author next May in Seattle at the ARVO conference. This is very exciting and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to represent everyone who has worked so hard on this project. Though this also means more work, especially when it comes time to write the paper and abstract, I know it will be a great learning experience and I will have help along the way. My uncle signed me up for the Memphis marathon in December, so I have started to train down here. Thankfully, a friend from our lab is also training for a half marathon next month so she has been a good training partner.
It has truly been an amazing experience. I feel I have made lifelong friends here that I expect to see in the future, whether it is in the United States or back here in a little more than a year for the World Cup. I think Justin and I were blessed to have so many awesome people in our lab. Sure I have had my ups and downs over the course of the trip, but all in all what a great time I have had. Brazilians are constantly asking, “So, how do you like Brazil?” My response is always the same. “I love it here; in fact I like it more and more every day. However, I have never stopped missing my family and nothing here or anywhere is going to change that, no matter how great.” I can’t even predict what my reaction will be the first time I see them all at the airport. After traveling to New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Brazil for a combined 5 months over the past 3 years, I think I am ready to hang my traveling shoes up for the time being and enjoy, in my opinion, the greatest country in the world. About halfway through my time here on one of those "down days" I came across a quote in a book I’m reading about John Adams.  The quote is from Abigail Adams in response to John Quincy’s request to return home from Europe.  What she said truly spoke to me.  After denying his request to return home, she responds, “A judicious traveler is like a river, in that it increases its volume the farther it flows from its source.” And that is where I will end my blogging for Brazil. Tchau, Stephen.

Monday, July 23, 2012


I am here in Curitiba celebrating the end of the (3-day?) winter, by working and trying to recuperate from a pretty stressful week. While at the gym and enjoying my favorite class, JUMP! Aerobics, which takes place on a trampoline, I fell on my ankle and sprained it very badly. I wanted to see a doctor immediately and make sure nothing was broken and take the necessary action to prevent it from getting worse. Calling my international insurance carrier, they told me of a private hospital they had a contract with. The various people I had consulted didn't really advise one way or another to go to a public or private hospital, so I thought it was best to use the one the insurance recommended. After getting my Brazilian friend to accompany me to the hospital. At triage they never asked what was wrong with me after I limped in, and had me standing for over an hour disputing the insurance issues we were having before I could be seen. It took a long time, and was a terrible experience with more details that I do not need to meditate on, but I left without any medicines or a wrap on my ankle and an undeniable sensation of being taken advantage of. I felt like the hospital was full of malandros. Malandros are characters in Brazilian daily life that take advantage of a situation, with cunning and often dishonest means the malandro character uses all their resources of cunning, charm, or anything necessary to come out on top and ahead. They practice malandragem. I have unfortunately had a number of run-ins with malandragem this year, and when you live in Brazil you kind of have to be on the defensive to prevent being taken advantage of. Honestly the intangible idea of the malandro/a is kind of difficult to describe, because you use it in many different situations and it comes from a different world structure than we encounter in the U.S. I am not saying that we trust every structure and business in the U.S. blindly, but we do in reality have a certain level of trust in business interactions and others that are not as certain in other places.

I say this because growing up in Argentina, I have come to know and intimately understand this character, or as we call it in Argentina, El vivo. I am not sure and would not offer up any generalities but this very Latin American archetype so deeply engrained in the culture for centuries (literature, music, etc.) does come from very specific histories and narratives of cunning and resistance. I was raised with this character as a comical relief in many Argentine children's books and without realizing the cautionary tales I learned and appreciation for hustling that I have always had. There is no U.S. reflection of this word that refelects all of the complexities and forms the malandro or el vivo embody but I would say something the malandro is somewhere between the hustler's lazier brother and Robin hood's less benevolent cousin.Although historically, the malandro and el vivo have often taken the forms of womanizers and vagabonds, the modern definition also includes politicians, business people, activists working against the state, entire government institutions, gang members, social climbers, and hu$tlers of all kinds. Anyways being in Latin America always means staying on your toes, or in my case until I get out of my boot, at least five out of ten toes. Beijos.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pictures :)

coração de frango

practically my Brazilian family; my lab mate Hevelyn (middle) and her mom Vera (left)

our cute friendly friends

Juliana, my other mentor teaching me how to extract hemolymph from the shrimp

really good dessert, Sagu :)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Yay Brazil!

When we arrived in Brazil, my excitement was a bit muted (most likely because of the 12 hour flight we had just endured). But after getting in a good nap, eating some feijoada, and exploring my new campus, I felt refreshed and ready for adventure. I have so much to write about already, there’s no way I can condense it into one post, so I’ll go with the highlights.
Dr. Britto’s lab has been such a great experience: I’ve learned perfusions, stereotaxic surgeries, immunohistochemistry, immunoblotting, and behavioral testing techniques. This is not to mention the frequent Portuguese tutoring I receive while making slides or communicate that I need a q-tip (the word is “cotonete,” and the need for circumlocution presents itself when I least expect it.) My Portuguese was terrible when I first arrived, my vocabulary was very limited and my listening skills were nonexistent. While I’m not going to say that I can speak very well now, I can certainly understand much more and carry a small conversation.
As for the culture, I’m almost surprised at how similar it is to my own culture. The biggest things I’ve had to get used to are the crazy drivers (and looking before I cross a street…), kissing when greeting (I still mess this up sometimes), and the, ahem, lack of punctuality. I have missed my usual eating habits which consist of spicy curries, tart yogurt, and many more veggies than I’ve been able to consume here. I’ve been getting by on the delicious churrasco sandwiches and tapioca doces, both of which I’ll have to get recipes for. But I can’t say that I’ve felt much culture shock or homesickness since I’ve been here. Strangely enough, once the half-way point hit, I actually started to miss Brazil. I may even return for the World Cup if I can! Which brings me to futebol.
A couple weeks ago I was invited out to watch the Corinthians game. This was going to be a HUGE game since the last time the Corinthians had been up for a title like this was almost a century ago. Unfortunately, since I would have had to walk alone at night to meet my party, I missed out, though I could hear fireworks reverberate throughout the entire city literally for the next few days. Luckily I got my chance a week later when I was invited to watch the Palmeiras game—one of the greatest times I’ve had since I’ve been here. They were up for a similar victory; it had been around a decade since their last big title. I’m not much of a soccer fan, but this night was so wrought with excitement. When they scored the winning goal, and then again when the game was over and they were pronounced the champions, the streets exploded in firecrackers and roman candles. I was showered in beer, hugged by strangers, and singing the newly learned Palmeiras cheers. Eventually the cops had to break up the riot around 4 or 5am with teargas, but I had left before it got to that point.
Additionally, I’ve had a great time learning new dances since being here. Justin and I have struggled through trying to get the Samba just right. We’ve also learned a bit of forró and some salsa. Every week I take a salsa class on campus taught by an American, and I have to say that it’s my favorite style of the three. 
I think that’s all I’ll write for now. I must say, it’s been a truly wonderful experience.

Friday, July 20, 2012

These Are a Few of my Favorite Things!

So this may not be the most insightful blog post, but I feel this is an important concept of traveling abroad that everyone should be aware of.  The food.  Now I had had a little experience with Brazilian food with the Portuguese class I took in Memphis, but I was not fully prepared.  The food here is unbelievably delicious! It is kind of amazing how we do not hear or get enough exposure to Brazilian food in America!  There is an ice cream shop called Cairu literally a block from our lab, such a terrible idea.  The ice cream here knocks the socks off ice cream back in the States.  When we first got here, our mentor, Givago, told us that we were only allowed to get fruit flavors, none of this chocolate business.  So we decided to follow his advice and I learned maracuja (passion fruit), tapioca, frutas silvestres (berries), and graviola (sour sop) are some of the best flavors there.  But I also learned romeo e julieta (guava and cheese) is not my favorite, I will never learn to like cheese as an ice cream flavor.  I have also learned that I will never be able to eat pizza in the U.S. again though because I will always compare it to the wonders that I have had here.  The first time we had pizza here, it had corn, peas, palmito, and ham, totally normal toppings to the Brazilians with us. We followed this up with pizza with guava and cheese, Caroline’s new favorite pizza, which is a much better option than the ice cream option.  But to me, nothing will ever beat the deliciousness of feijoada, a kind of stew made of beans and lots of different meat pieces that you eat over rice. We actually ate this at a buffet inside The Computer Store next door to our apartment and it was pure heaven to me.  For some reason at home, I’m not a big fan of rice and beans, but those Brazilians can somehow make this seemingly simple meal taste like the greatest meal you’ve ever had!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Indigenous Healthcare and “Biomedicine” in Uganda

“Biomedicine” is a term used to describe formally recognized medical care that is available in hospitals, clinics and healthcare centers. In Uganda, legitimized by Science (and the State), it is often characterized as Western or “modern” medicine.
The research I am conducting with the MHIRT team in Eastern and Northern Uganda, has led me to see the problematic nature of using this term, but how alternatives are few.

Because of the legacy of missionary medicine under colonialism and the structural violence inherent to the modern-day public healthcare system in Uganda, biomedicine as a term lends itself as yet another tool in a long history of subjugation in Africa.

To associate biomedicine with hospitals, clinics and formal education is to miss an important fact about indigenous medicine: Indigenous healthcare and biomedicine are not mutually exclusive. They certainly are not two opposite points on the healthcare spectrum (a spectrum that includes Chinese herbal treatments, self-care and Ayurveda). Healthcare, whether one is going to a “witchdoctor” to cure a fertility curse or to the local clinic for free HIV testing, should not be strictly divided into fact or fiction.

For example, rural communities in Uganda have been using the bark from a local tree to treat malaria for decades. Herbalists extracted quinine from this tree or people chewed on the bark to treat malaria infections, which proved to be effective. So before quinine was found in stock at hospitals and clinics (and before people built up a resistance to it), indigenous medicine was the principal public health system in Uganda. To talk of just biomedicine and then indigenous medicine is to place the two on a hierarchal scale where biomedicine is supported by Science while the latter is somehow not.

Today, this gives way to the disconnect between indigenous healthcare providers and biomedical providers. When Julia Hanebrink, MHIRT co-coordinator, started her research in southwestern Uganda, she approached her site asking how the two can work together to benefit the community. However, after talking with communities, she found that most members did not want the two to be merged. People enjoyed the freedom they had in choice. If the clinic failed them, they would go to the traditional healer, witchdoctor, herbalist, or bone-setter and vice versa. A merging of the two would limit their agency. And from an outsider’s perspective, the structural violence and inequality inherited from the colonial structure of public health would spill over into indigenous healthcare practices.

So while merging the two would limit agency and choice it does not mean that they cannot and should not inform each other. Right now, part of our team working in northern Uganda is assisting in the development of Hanebrink’s social medicine module. This module will identify all the socio-cultural factors that influence the community’s health-seeking behaviors by “increasing their [biomedical provider’s] cultural competency” so they can “work effectively in cross-cultural situations by improving quality of and access to care in order to improve health outcomes” (Hanebrink 2012).

Community in this way comes first and their socio-cultural experiences as well as economic challenges are incorporated into the education of biomedical providers to illuminate the choices community members make, painting more of a medical syncretic picture rather than one that privileges biomedicine.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Safari on the Savannah

This week marked a few bittersweet changes for our group. Sadly, we said goodbye to our fearless leader of 5 weeks, Dustin, as he traveled back to the States. Also, we parted temporarily with our peer, Jayanni, as she traveled to Gulu and will be working on a project with our 2nd, yet equally amazing, fearless leader, Julia, who we welcomed back to Uganda last Friday. Despite these departures, this week brought with it some pleasant opportunities as well, namely a few days of rest and relaxation in the capital city of Kampala in addition to my first safari experience. On Wednesday, I along with Madeline and Damaris, traveled by bus to Murchison Falls National Park. After yet another (our third) unfortunate car breakdown, we made it to the park early evening and hiked to the top of Murchison Falls. The view of the natural fall’s waters cascading down the rocks of the mountainside was breathtaking. After sleeping in our tents in fear of unwelcome visits by the wild animals which roam the campsite inside of the park at night, we rose early on Thursday morning and crossed the Nile river by ferry to go on our first game drive. From the roof of our minibus, we were able to view an assortment of animals roaming the savannah grasslands, namely various types of antelope, buffalo, elephants, and many giraffes. Regrettably, the lions were hiding from all of us safari-goers that day. After resting and recovering from the scorching afternoon heat, we cruised the Nile by boat during which time we saw other wildlife in the water and along the banks, mostly hippos and Nile crocodiles. The cruise culminated with another incredible view of Murchison falls. Our final morning of the trip consisted of one last, short game drive, which turned out to be arguably the best one of all because, although a fleeting view, I finally saw what I had been waiting for the entire trip, a lion! Simba in the flesh. :-) Before finally heading back to Kampala, we stopped in Karuma for a short hike and view of the waterfalls there as well. Although I must admit that camping amidst undomesticated animals is not necessarily my cup of African tea, this was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. Viewing a giraffe cross the road and sunset on the Nile are vivid images that will be etched in my mind for many years to come. Please see Damaris' post below for some awesome pics! Until next time...

Murchison Falls National Park

Giraffe on the savannah

Sunset on the Nile

On the Nile, near Murchison Falls

Hippos on the Nile

Friday, July 13, 2012

An experience that is changing my life

Dr. Fitzgerald said that we were about to have an experience that will change our lives. Men was she right! Six weeks have now passed and I continue to learn a lot here in Brazil. Lesson #1: Patience and kindness go a long way. So I knew that people speak Portuguese in Brazil. However I didn’t except that only a few number of people speak English. Yeah I went through my Portuguese lessons but I didn’t master the language. So here I am in Belem and hardly anyone speaks English. Only the college students and other professionals who have gone through a higher education. I was shocked when I went to the bank and no one spoke English! NO ONE. IT’S A BANK! I quickly realized that I had to rely on what I learned in my Portuguese lessons, the Portuguese dictionary, Google translator, hand gestures,  and pen and paper (for drawing when all fails).   

There have been so many times when Monique and I could not communicate effectively in Portuguese. That’s after using all our resources! It sometimes gets very frustrating. I remember one incident where we went to the supermarket to buy some groceries. We also needed to get some matches for our gas stove. We forgot to look up the name using Google translator and the Portuguese dictionary didn’t have it. So I decided to walk up to the store manager and try to explain what I needed using hand gestures. That didn’t go so well. The guy just kept smiling. I didn’t have any other choice other than drawing a picture of a stove and matches on a piece of paper! The manager luckily understood my drawing. He took me to the aisle that had the matches. He smiled, shook my hand and wished me a good afternoon. I was so amazed by his kindness and patience.

That simple incident made a big impression on me. It got me thinking, how many of us are kind and patient with non English speakers back in the U.S? I have read and heard so many stories of people who are outraged by non English speakers in America. There are even blogs where people can vent about such things. Some people are even outraged that there is a Spanish option when calling banks and other businesses! I am glad that the ATM machines here have English options. I am so thankful to all the Brazilians I have encountered that have been so kind and patient with an English speaking person like me in their Portuguese speaking country. I hope that I will have the wisdom to extend the same patience and kindness to others in America who do not speak the nation’s language.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Homesickness Really Bites

      After posting my pictures for the blog this week, I thought I would mention some things about homesickness. Everyone seems to have some great stories and photos about all of the fun we are having. I am truly having an awesome time myself, and I actually adjusted quite easily. The buses are a breeze in Floripa compared to the transportation I have experienced in NY and Chicago. Samantha and I were very lucky to have such a beautiful pousada in a great, relatively inexpensive place (first Guatemala at Heifer, now here!) I honestly have felt a complete lack of culture shock which has surprised me more than anyone. I have knocked so many things off my bucket list here and have been so busy having fun that it is ridiculous. I looked back at the journal I have been keeping, and there is really just an air of simplicity about life here. I go to the lab, I come home, I hang out with people--my life outside of MHIRT is so much more work and stress! But I really, really, REALLY want my hectic, stressful, headache of a life back now.
      I don't know about anyone else, but when I'm not working or out with my friends, there is this really sad feeling I get. It happens when I am going to bed at night, and my mind isn't occupied with Portuguese and biochemistry lab protocols. I miss my family a lot. It doesn't even matter that I am in another country! If I were just an hour away from home, I would feel exactly the same. My daily routine involves 14 people, not including my friends or coworkers. It's my mom, dad, aunt, little brother, two brothers-in-law, my two oldest sisters (my third sister is serving in the Army and stationed at Fort Bliss, TX), and six nieces and nephews. I see them all daily, especially because we all live down the street from one another. I have such a close family, and the biggest emptiness I feel is at night when ordinarily, I would be going home after work to join my thirteen-year-old niece with late night Frosted Flakes and Criminal Minds episodes. There are no early mornings of toting kids to soccer or afternoons with my mom here. My little brother is too far away for me to help prepare for his starting college, and I can only do so much via Skype. My aunt and I have a biweekly tradition of Outback Steakhouse, and I felt so sad when she told me the other day about how she went by herself and got some dinner to-go.
      I don't mean for this post to be such a downer. I guess I'm just making the point that sometimes, it can be really hard to be away from home, even in one of the most beautiful places in the world! I brought comfort food (as suggested), but my main comfort food is fruit, and I have plenty of that here. What would make all the difference is if my brother or my best friend were here with me, but there is no replacement for either of those. But make no mistake; I do not allow myself to mope or be unhappy during my days. The best way to get through this homesickness is to be as adventurous and busy as I can! Besides, I'm sure when I get home, there will be a morning when my niece wakes me up at 7 AM for a ride to school, and all I will be saying then is, "Gosh! I wish I was in Floripa!"

Photos from Floripa!

Okay!!! So here is a compilation of a FEW of the photos I have of the past five weeks! It was so hard  to choose.

This is Barra da Lagoa, a beach nearby the pousada.

Here are some of my lab mates on a boat ride around the lagoon one Saturday

Here are Chloe (Curitiba) and myself with some Peruvians we met at a bar in Lagoa

This is downtown Florianopolis near the Central Station

Ellen (Sao Paulo) came down for a weekend, and we went to an awesome bonfire on Joaquina Beach with her friend from UT Knox, McCall. McCall was here from February to June with a ton of American students who studied in Floripa.

Here I am with some high school girls on the south of the island. My lab volunteers to teach science experiments once per month here.

Here are some of my lab mates (L to R): Gabriel, Ricardo, and Rosie

This is a nightclub that us girls went to not far from the pousada. It's called Mustafa.

This is an old asylum that can be seen from a hiking point in Lagoa.

This is Daniele, one of my lab mates. She and I hang out a lot, and she has been my teacher in the lab (all said in Portuguese; she speaks NO English!)

And last, but not least, I have to post a picture of Mychelle and myself (working hard). She and I have become really close, and we hang out so much outside of the lab. I adore her!

This is a video, featuring Mychelle out in Lagoa. I cannot be in Brazil without discussing football (soccer)--the next World Cup is here after all! So, it was a great opportunity to watch the championship match for Central and South America at one of the local bars. Mychelle is a huge fan of the Corinthians, and it was their first time in the finals in 100 years. Well, they won, and this was the result in the street afterwards. Mychelle cannot contain her excitement :)

Mulheres brasileiras e signos do zodiaco

We are already halfway through our learning adventure here in Brasil, and I can honestly say it feels like home to me already. Every day I'm astounded by the culture, the people, the food, the customs and traditions, the values and morals and just day to day stuff. Yesterday, I went out for lunch with my lab mates to the "Restuarante Ilheu" as we usually do, conveniently located at a 5 min walking distance from my lab. As I sat down at the "mesa para as meninhas" (table for the girls) with our plates full of food, the girls started having a very interesting conversation about horoscopes. Every day is a different topic, but honestly this has been my favorite so far! Lila, one of my lab mates who's married to Jacó (who also happens to work at the lab), started talking about the moon and how beautiful it had been the past few days. Maya, another of my lab mates and who helps with the lab's administration, mentioned how the position of the moon influenced each zodiac sign. From there on Lila went on about the horoscope and zodiac signs, one by one, and described the different traits that characterized each particular one. She also happened to point out the similarities and differences of each person working at LABCAI with their respective zodiac sign! We all laughed whenever she happened to guess someone's zodiaz sign if she didn't know their "aniversario" (birthday) just by describing their personalities. I truly enjoy spending my time with these women and just everyone at the lab. They already consider me a part of the team and they make me feel so welcome! I don't know if the horoscope and zodiac signs are topics that everyone here in Brasil know a lot about or it just so happens I got mixed in with some very cool people, but I definitely have to find out!

That's all for my highlights of the week! Tchau! Até logo!

First 5 weeks in Brasil