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!
I cannot believe how quickly the time has gone by! Yes, Floripa is a lot slower than the United States, but I'm amazed that 10 weeks have just zipped past me. When I first got to Brazil, I said "10 weeks? That's a long time!". At 5 weeks, I said "I still have 5 weeks". And NOW, I have 3 and a half days left. DAYS. WHAT?! That's just insane. Anyways, it's been a great 2 and a half months and I've had so many new experiences: sandboarding, stand up paddling, meeting people from all over the world, seeing sunsets and sunrises at the beach, working with rats...and that's only a FEW of my experiences in South America. Anyways, I of course cannot put up all 700+ pictures on this short blog, so I'll just give some highlights of what I've done in the past 10 weeks. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!
Christ the Redeemer. Sugarloaf Mountain. Santa Teresa Steps. Rio Scenarium (one of the top 10 bars in the world). Futbal game in the World Cup Stadium. Planetarium. International Brain Research Conference. July Festival. Copacabana Beach. Cable Cars. Stand Up Paddle Boarding. Municipal Theater. Buenos Aires, Argentina!
Opera in Teatro Colón (one of the most BEAUTIFUL theaters). Caminito (a beautiful, colorful neighborhood with tango). Mate. Mate. Mate. Chivoto. Recoleta Cemetery. The Pink House. The Obelisk. The National Congress. Cathedrals. Zoo. Flora Genérica. Montevideo, Uruguay!
Strolls. Pocitos. Chivoto. Plaza Independencia. Hipsters. Ferry boats to Uruguay. #FOB Slow Time. Florianopolis, Brazil!
Praia Mole. Praia de Joaquina. Praia Gahleta. Jurere. Campeche. Sandboarding. Beautiful island life. Lagoa Concenciao. Centro. Pao de Quiejo. Churrasco. Sunrises. Sunsets. Padua Research Lab!
Wistar Rats. Classical Conditioning. Injections. Drug Trials. Lab Coats and Gloves. Shoe covers. Behavior. Neuroscience. Brain Research. MHIRT. NIH.
I can't even fully describe how beyond incredible my time here has been. I am not sure where the time went, but I do feel Florianopolis is a timeless place. Between my incredible roommates and lab mates, every moment shared has been priceless. I have no sense of the days anymore because my senses have been channeled into the smiles around me, the fresh air, the colorful butterflies, the mountains, the SAMBA!!
I have fallen in love with the learning I've experienced everyday. I feel I have learned more about what my American citizenship means to me while being here in Brazil. I've become more in tune with how I want to pursue a career as a learner who uses my knowledge to truly enrich the lived and environments around me. Right now I am overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions because I will soon have to go back home, and I am not the same person who arrived just two months ago.
Timeless moments where the moon is lit up and everything inside of me and outside of my is alive. Every breath I inhale and exhale is meaningful.
Thank You Florianopolis and every beautiful person that has been with me on this journey!! Thank You to everyone who made this experience possible for me!!
sitting on a bench outside of my lab and before I even had the thought of
writing my blog, I was just sitting here for the past 45 minutes clearing my
head.With the stress of a paper to
write, a presentation to give on Tuesday, and a whole two and a half months of experiences
and memories to pack for my flight next Thursday, I have found that my happy
place is this bench.I have a view of my
building with the golden sun that’s just now fading into the night behind me,
and an entire future in front of me.I
wonder if I will ever be back in this place.I wonder if I will ever sit in this spot and hear nothing but the tires
of the onibus, the water from the hose of a woman tending to the flowers, and
the un-synchronized songs of the birds above me.There’s a rare sense of beauty in the chaos of Sao Paulo. It truly gives
a transplant a sense of self- awareness.
I notice that I walk slower,
thinking less about myself and clearing my mind to let in my surroundings. I feel myself smiling more at the people who
are truly nothing but friendly. I
recognize the patches of the youth’s expression in the strange graffiti on the
back of the engineering buildings. But
mostly I have found that I understand myself more. The social dynamics, the culture, the non-judgmental
people all play a role in the beautiful chaos of Sao Paulo. In this city, sexual orientation, skin color,
ethnicity, or any other thing that people back home give such unnecessary
importance to… nothing matters.
I wonder if this unconditional
acceptance and understanding roots from more sincere problems, like the energy
and water crisis. Even the power outages
seem to bring out the love of Sao Paulo people.
They sit on the sidewalks and share not only a cup of coffee and bread
but also their lives. The politeness and
the sincerity in every Thank You, it makes me wonder why I would live anywhere
else when Sao Paulo, Brazil seems to have figured out how to be happy.
While every person struggles with
their own social and economic insecurities, they never fail to go out to just
celebrate what they do have: love, a home, friends, an education, or maybe just
a ticket for the metro they found at the bottom of their backpack.
past two months have definitely put my life into perspective.I worry less about what others think and
focus more about doing the things that make me happy.I've learned that at the end of the day, you
should truly feel like every smile you gave to another person came genuinely
from your heart.
more at peace.I have found that my
thoughts have shifted away from I, me, and my.I feel like my time here has been a cleansing experience.The detachment from my friends and my family
made me learn more about myself.Maybe
because I’ve had the opportunity to find who I am and not the person who is the
product of her surroundings and her environment’s expectations…
good.About myself, about what I believe
in, about my goals, about what I look like, about my personal tastes. I know who I am.I feel perfect in my own skin.I have never been so clear about myself.Thank you Sao Paulo, for the love, for the
food, for the acceptance.
thank you for the beautiful memories that will always be very close to my
I will always keeping sharing the smile and enthusiasm Sao Paulo gave to me.
These are jut a few pictures from my Argentina/ Uruguay trip. The pictures below were all taken in Argentina. I chose to focus on Argentina because I am captivated by the juxtaposition of the different types of architecture. It was very interesting to see styles from modernist to baroque nested comfortably together.The effect is BREATHTAKING.
Additionally, going to Argentina gave me the chance to see live tango performances! I can't dance, but they make me want to learn!
We are finally closing in on the last two weeks of this summer adventure. It has been a long journey and one filled with a lot of growth, laughter, friendships, and experiences.
This was my first experience abroad and I have learned a lot about myself, especially from the people around me.
Janice is one of Ms. Carol's best friends.She’s 65 and in great shape. She has so much energy and happiness that
exudes from her very core. I walk with her for four miles, four times a week. Janice told me about
her strength through Jesus, the role women play in Trini, and how much she
values her independence. Surprisingly in Trini, the women are dominant in every
career apparently, and the men are no longer seen as the breadwinners. They are
strong, independent women that empower others. Janice told me two powerful
quotes; “When I was age 4, I saw my mother cooking and cleaning, and I knew
that that wasn’t the life for me. I knew that at age 4” and “You can take
everything from me, but I will not have you take my independence from me.” I
think I am still trying to digest those two ideas. I am still trying to understand my womanhood, or more
importantly my personhood. I also conceptually understood how important
independence is, but I don’t know if I’ve placed it n the highest priority. And I
wonder why that is, and if maybe that means that I truly don’t understand what
independence is for myself.
Ms. Carol is our host mom and she has been an amazing. She cooks for us three times a week and often invites us to lime with her family. She is so sweet, her sweetness embraces you and holds you in this place that I learned to call home. Her eyes twinkle with happiness and her smile is so bright! I am so lucky to have had such a gracious host! She is always saying how she just wants to make people happy. It is through her actions that I have learned a lot about the difference between a host and a giver. It's one thing to provide a home and some food. But it is another thing to go above and beyond what is expected in order to make us feel like more than guests, like family.
Mr. Michael is our host dad! At first he was very quiet and seemed reserved. But once you got him talking he just doesn't stop. He love to research.... everything! His thirst for knowledge and his journey to think for himself is inspiring. There isn't a conversation that we have that doesn't end with a deep analysis of whatever the topic is. On top of being a free thinker, he also is such a goof ball! He enjoys life in the smallest of moments. He cracks jokes, bobs to the beat of his favorite music, and sneaks a smile in every moment.
These three people have been a part of this journey with me. They have helped me without even knowing it. And I know, that these relationships are to go beyond this summer. Janice already made me promise to invite her to my wedding, Ms. Carol wants me to come back to her 60th birthday party, and Mr. Michael is my facebook friend where we have casual conversations. The only thing left to say is thank you. Thank you Janice for motivating me to keep up with you on our four mile excursions at 5 in the morning and for opening my eyes even further to value my independence. Thank you Ms. Carol for showing me the value of friendship and human connections. Thank you Mr. Michael for pushing me to try to form my own opinion and to not be afraid to break from the pack. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
It is insane that we only have about a week
left before heading home. It is certainly bittersweet to leave my beloved Uganda. I will surely
miss everyone’s hospitality and the valuable friendships I have built with
I have to start with a picture from our
trip to Rwanda. I can’t express how much I have fallen in love with Kigali.
While we only spent a weekend, I will truly cherish my time there. This picture was taken at an Art Festival ar the Genocide Museum in Kigali.
Thursday July 23rd
was our last day of field day. We had our last meal at the little restaurant in
Akashanda with our wonderful team.
These are the wonderful women of Chanti we
had the pleasure meeting and having a focus group with. I couldn’t have imagined
all of our first focus group to have gone any better. It was really the perfect
way to end our data collection period.
After our focus group, the wonderful
Village Health Team Leader invited us into her home and had more fruit that we
can ever consume. This is also the first time I tried a jack fruit. Lets just
say it is REALLY sweet.
This is my team and our wonderful
translators Susan, Sam and Elisa who have made my summer pretty amazing. I am
truly thankful for each and ever one of them.
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Salvador with
another MHIRT student, Ashley. Salvador is by far my favorite place in Brazil.
Last summer I studied abroad in Salvador and since then I have been looking for
opportunities to bring me back to Brazil. The culture is much different from
other places I have visited in Brazil. The city has a lot of African influence,
and the people are always welcoming to visitors of their beautiful city.
The historical district, Pelourinho, is one of my favorite
places to shop, visit museums, and watch capoeira. Pelourinho was the first
place that was developed when the Portuguese colonized Brazil. The architecture
in this area is beautiful and it gives you an overwhelming colonial vibe. I was
so excited to visit the Mercado Modelo to buy a hammock that I was too shy to
bargain for last summer. Even though I had a little buyer’s remorse afterwards,
(I might have to throw all my clothes away to get it back to America) I am very
proud of my purchase.
The place we stayed was directly on the beach, which made
for an easy commute to Porto da Barra, many restaurants, and small shops. We
spent a whole day eating, drinking, and lying on the beach. It was a great
escape from the cold and rainy weather here in southern Brazil.
Lastly, I am so glad I was able to share my love for
Salvador with Ashley! Ashley was the first person I met in Tennessee at the
MHIRT Retreat. We ended up being roommates the first night in a hotel because
of the bad weather in Tennessee. I mentioned that I had been to Brazil before
and we instantly began to plan our trip to Salvador. In the end I am so glad we
stuck with it and actually were able to go. I definitely enjoyed the company!
If you ever have the opportunity to travel, DO IT. If it
means pulling 10 – 12 hour shifts at work, and being the first one to arrive/last
one to leave, do it. If it means running two 4-day protocol experiments
back-to-back in a week, do it. Even if traveling means sacrificing your weekends,
don’t think twice, JUST DO IT! Yes, I am guilty of all three – 12 hour days,
back to back experiments, and even the loss of having legit weekends. BUT,
within the last two and a half weeks, I have been blessed with the opportunity to
travel from Florianopolis to Rio de Janeiro (by myself to attend an
international conference – a story of its own) only to come back for 3 and a
half days and leave again for Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Argentina
with Cari. So, even though 12 hour days, running two experiments in one week,
and not having weekends sounds horrendous, in all honesty, it was worth the extra
effort to accommodate for my travels.
In addition to traveling, while you are young (or not) and
brave, you should at least try the
hostel life. It’s incredibly different from living in a hotel. While it’s
really difficult to find a hostel in The States, in South America, it was extremely
easy to find good, cheap hostels. Throughout my trips to Rio, Montevideo, and
Buenos Aires, I stayed entirely in hostels. I won’t even lie – going to Rio by
myself had me a little nervous, especially since I had only stayed in a hostel
once in my life – and that was with my mom and sister. But as I walked into the hostel lobby and my
room, I was instantly greeted by friendly strangers that were all around the
same age as me. Each person had their own story to tell. Maybe you’ll meet
someone like Boris from Belgium – a guy who came to Buenos Aires to learn
Tango. Maybe you’ll meet a woman like Shinye from Los Angeles, who quit her job
so she could travel for 5 months before she “got too old”. Or maybe you’ll meet
a guy like Matt, an energetic Brit who published on circadian rhythms (my exact
research in TN).
Finally, whenever you travel, there is no time for sleep.
There is far too much to explore and so little time. Even though time seems to
lengthen when you’re experiencing new things, (http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/06/10-ways-our-minds-warp-time.php)
the amount of time quickly slips. I know I’ve felt that while in Floripa.
Traveling = hit the ground running and exploring as soon as you get there + no
sleep + using every possible moment to experience new things. Be a tourist, but
also live like a local. Try new foods, learn new skills, see the landmarks, and
tryyour hardest to speak to locals! It’s not every day that you’re in
a different city or country!
(Here's me in front of one of the most beautiful theaters in Buenos Aires AND in the WORLD :))
(And here's a group of British boys I met at my hostel in Rio)