Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Real talk though….

Everything in Floripa and in Brazil has been beautiful so far, and it has definitely been an experience of a lifetime. I cannot believe that it is already the 5th week, and that half of the program is over! I have certainly enjoyed the live music in the restaurants, tried many different foods, tried many different snacks, and I have also been blessed with the opportunity to travel to Rio for an international brain research conference next week! Of course, working in the lab and analyzing my data is keeping me extra busy, too :).

BUT, it never occurred to me how important the ability to communicate really was until I was not able to converse effectively in a different country, a different continent. Here I am, an Asian American that is fortunate enough to know one of the most widely known languages in the world, English, as well as the ability to understand my parents’ native language, Indonesian, because that’s what is spoken in our household. However, upon arriving the Brazil, the people spoke what sounded like an alien language, Portuguese. In some instances, it sounds like Spanish. But things can go completely awry when trying to translate from English to Spanish to Portuguese. Not only were things difficult for me to understand, but the people speak so quickly in Floripa, and apparently they have an accent. I guess the experience could be compared to a foreigner going to New York and hearing them speak with their accent.

Anyways, the inability to properly communicate my ideas really put things into perspective for me. I could not even buy a bus pass or print out business cards without someone shaking their head, sighing with frustration, or having a look of impatience on their face. It was hard to not get frustrated; it was as if I was a tiny infant that could only make sounds and wave my arms around to try and convey my ideas and needs. It made me think about all of the people that come to the United States hoping for “better” opportunities, only to realize that their inability to communicate hindered them from even getting the simplest tasks done.  

This experience also reminded me of my mom, who often has me check her grammar in different pieces that she writes. In the past, I would begrudgingly do it, groaning with each sentence I read and corrected. Now I understand what it’s truly like to live more than a week in a country where the language is completely different from your own, and you only have your family to talk to. Now, I understand WHY people tend to stick with people from their own culture and communities. Now I understand why people like to keep their cultural roots. Overall, I think this idea, this concept of the difficulty of foreign communication, has truly opened my eyes. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Uganda Team Goes on a Safari!

Driving down "Channel Track", this road follows along the Kazinga Channel

Came upon a big family of elephants while on a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel! They did not want to get close to the water until we finally left. Everyone needs their privacy,

We had a GREAT time on our safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park!

Ahh, enjoying the beauty of Queen Elizabeth National Park #retreatstyle. Nothing like a little vacay. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Trinidad Treasures

Hi from Team Trinidad! We are having awesome experiences, and it seems as though the time is flying past! I've included a few pictures from some of our many adventures for you to enjoy. I promise we do work hard as well (although the pictures may not show it) but for confidentiality reasons, I thought it best not to take little photoshoots during interviews and what not. So, please enjoy some of our adventures!
This picture gives a delicate insight into the St. Benedict Monastery we live near. The monastery is located on top a mountain overlooks most of the island. Amid the incredible natural beauty, I found this quiet space very moving and gripping. 

This is a picture from a hike we went on to a place called the three pools of Trinidad. It is located in Blanchisseuse, and we drove through a lot of mountains and rainforest to get to this trail. It was Itzel and I's first hike, so it was awesome to have Heather guiding us! The whole trip was stunning.

Homemade juice that would make you want to pack up and move to Trinidad & Tobago. It's that good.

Itzel and I went on a boat cruise and had a blast! This is us at the front the ship enjoying the wonderful breeze/ taking a break from all the non-stop dancing on deck. 

The van with the red stripe is a maxi taxi, and is our main means of transportation. The color of the stripe indicates which region of the island the van caters to, so be careful not to mix the colors!

There are many many more adventures and experiences to speak about, but I find these pictures give nice highlights of some pretty cool moments. Look out for future posts to keep up with us!



Serendipitous Traveler!

What a blessing it is to be in Brazil right now- to have learned so many amazing lessons and embark on such an awesome journey! The time here in Belém is just flying by so quickly, and I hate to think that the experience will only be temporary. Nevertheless, I have grown so much personally and believe that there is still so much more that this country has to offer me.

The one thing that won my heart here is the kindness and generosity of the Belém residents. You could literally meet someone today, then go to the beach and drink a beer with that person the next. You never know who you will befriend here, and that’s what has made this summer so exciting and eventful for me. I have met so many incredible people that are eager to spend time together, learn about our lives and share their stories with us.

Just this past week Erika and I traveled to São Luís, the capitol and largest city of the Brazilian state of Maranhão, with our friend Aline and her family.  It was a 17-hour bus trip filled with lively music, singing and dancing. While in São Luís, we attended a folkloric festival specific to the northeast region of Brazil called Bumba-Meu-Boi where a handful of groups retell a historic, theatrical Brazilian tale. The dramatic costumes, music, and dance made the night so remarkable! We spent the rest of the week enjoying the beautiful beaches and eating delicious regional foods. We even attended a reggaeton party where Erika and I met some Afro-Brazilians who taught us how to dance!  

Towards the end of the week, we got together with a few people through CouchSurfing and toured the old city.  While talking to one of the girls, I was shocked to learn that she recently gave up her job and entire life in Spain to move to Brazil. She had plans to travel the country, learn the language and simply live for the moment. She continued to say that the personal freedom that she received was much greater than any material possession she gave away. Although I’m sure none of us have given up any of belongings, her words led me to believe that this ideal is true.  Although we will be coming back to the states soon, I’m sure that I am not the only one who feels like I am gaining much more that I could have ever imagined- simply by stepping out of my comfort zone and integrating my life into Brazilian culture.

I hope everyone's experience is just as fabulous! Tchau ladies <3

Praça dos Pescadores- São Luís, MA 
 Playing with the Parrot at our pousada
 Relaxing at the beach!
 Shopping at the markets in São Luís

A Day in the Life Of Team Floripa as told by Ashley

I vaguely remember telling Aviva to wake me up by 8:30am the night before, but when I heard her familiar smooth voice say, “Honey, sorry to wake you but we’re running late it’s already 9:15.” I only grumbled a weak, “okay” in response, waited to hear the door to the master bedroom lock, and rolled back over in my bed. Two minutes later I was up and walking towards the bathroom to get ready for the day.

We had planned to go down to Centro to shop at the open market. However, it closed early on Saturdays and we had hoped to be there by 11am. However, Veronica and Cari still weren’t up yet it so we would be lucky if we arrived at the market before 2pm. I was still half asleep and the only things on my mind were: coffee and food. But I had just run out of my new favorite cereal (the Kellogg’s flakes, with granola, honey, coconut and fruit) the day before and there was no Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks in sight, this I was sure off.   

 I made the executive decision that the only way I could continue this day was if I had a good bowl of cereal in my system-whole milk to accompany it of course. So I started to dress for my journey to Hyper Bom, our local grocery store only 10 minute down the street, I figured a nice walk would surely help me transition into my day. So with all energy I could muster up I hooked my gear up. My outfit of the day included: a solid black tee, high waisted comfort pants emphasis on the comfort, two mismatched black socks ( one long one short I kid you not), and my solid pair of chanclas + Aviva who hopped on this trip last minute. I was ready for my adventure.

I opened the front door and it looked like the sky was greying, which was a sure sign of rain, but I had already stepped onto the mat outside the door so it was clearly too late for me to turn back for my poncho or an umbrella. We descended down the uneven hill, took a right onto the main road and crossed the street. A task that takes more skill that you might think because Floripa drivers are crazy and the streets are lined with dog crap. Ten minutes later we entered HyperBom. They didn’t have my new favorite cereal but I settled with another off brand Kellogg’s mix (which later I found out was one of the best decision of the day #secondfavoritenewcereal) and payed at the register. I also helped myself to two cups of what I consider the best complimentary expresso in Floripa. It’s like the little old lady that works in the register just know the perfect caffeine to sugar ratio. If I was to guess I would say 1:3.Anywhoo, after the first jilt of caffeine hit my blood stream I knew I was ready for the day.

Fast forward two hours and we all hop off the omnibus that left us at Centro. We follow the crowd and soon emerge at the site of the Old Market. There are stages to this market. The introductory stage includes the private vendors that sell children’s clothes, winter ear, string jewelry, and minor electronics like iPhone car chargers. These are the topnotch salespeople, if you even look at gaze at an item for too long they will start chatting you up about prices and todays deals. This place easiest to negotiate prices. As you move past makeshift rug stand you will become enchanted by a wall covered with bookbags and purses of all colors and sizes. It is so enchanting that although you are carrying a book bag as you walk towards the building you will wonder if you need a new bookbag. This is the entrance of what would be your typical indoor flea market in the states. Vendors there have permanent stand so they can open and close them every day without having to pack up all their goods. Here you will find major electronics like Cannon cameras, metal jewelry, the latest accessories, and of course knockoff purses( Michelle Khors, Luis Vuitton, and all their cousins). But I wasn’t there for any of that-actually I really wanted a black scarf but the going market rate was $25 reis, vendors indoors are less willing to negotiate and I knew I could do better than that. So we trudged on.

Behind the indoor flea market the cobblestone streets are lined with stores and vendors selling popcorn and balloons and street-meat. Aviva had went to the market hoping to find a bookstore a stranger on the bus had told her about and I was more than glad to accompany her. We had been discussing how our urge for a good book was growing and I was hoping to find a good read written in English soon. After asking three different people of the street we finally found the bookstore next to the cathedral (it was actually a whole block away from the Cathedral but within eyesight so I appreciate their reference). As Aviva (who I ‘ve come to refer to as my personal translator) spoke to the sales person about a flower book. I asked her to inquire about my English written section. Indeed they did have one and the saleswoman walked me over. I had no intention of actually buying a book because I am very peculiar with the books I choose to read. However as I was about to give up I saw a familiar title: The Secret and adjacent to it was the sequel, The Magic. I had always wanted to read the book but never got around to it. As I was flipping through the pages and reading the flaps of the book, my inner voice told me to buy it. However my brain and wallet told me no. I continued browsing its pages meanwhile my feet somehow walked me to the register and I purchased my new read.

I left the bookstore after that and waited for the girls on a bench. We all left together about fifteen minutes later.
That’s when I saw it: The Golden Arches. I had told myself I wouldn’t do it. That I would not be that American tourist. But all I had been craving for the past week was a regular beef burger processed to perfection. So we went inside and I ordered. I remember the moment they called my order. I opened signature McDonald’s carryout bag and stuck my hand in to grab a grease soaked fry and when I put in my mouth, I ALMOST CAUGHT the holy -ghost because it was that good. Fin.

So in lewd of today’s adventures and because The Magic suggest we make a daily gratitude list. Here is what I am grateful for today:
µMy parents for calling me just to check up on me.
µMy sister for keeping me entertained and updating me on the social lives of our friends & family at home.
µMcDonalds Corporation for unifying proud fatties everywhere-they have literally learned the secret to breaking cultural and language barriers.
µMcDonalds workers everywhere for continuing to not care if my burger looks anything remotely similar to the ads on TV- consistency is an good for homesickness
µMy roommates for taking me places (figuratively & literally).
µTapioca stands
µThe view of the ocean from the 330 bus on the way to Centro
µThe incense guy down at Conceicao, without you our house would smell damp.
µBeth for sharing the confidence that I would be able to run full experiments on my own-and I am.
µThe friendly people all over Floripa who are always willing to help us find our way even while we speak broken Portuguese. Full English. Spanish y Spanglish. But mainly use hand motions.

Friday, June 26, 2015


Walking to the fruit store in downtown Lagoa, we ran into these clowns asking for hugs. We used a selfie stick to take this picture lol!

My new favorite food in the entire world: coxhina

Ashley working on her experiment

Although we have very different work schedules, we still find the time to sit down and eat with each other!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Beautiful Belem

Greetings from Belem! Wow, I can't believe that its been three weeks since we have left the USA for Brazil! The transition to a new continent has been easier because of the wonderful people my roommate, Natalie and I have met and because we are becoming more accustomed to the city.

Our tasty lunch at local restaurant near our home

Our home for the next two and a half months

Today is Natalie's 22nd birthday!

The lab where we conduct our research

Lunch with our mentors

Our mentor Leticia celebrated her 25th birthday this week! The lab threw a party in her honor to celebrate!

Thank you for reading!

A Brazilian Wedding

I have been having so much fun here in Sao Paulo! From learning exciting new things, to brushing up on some old techniques, there is always something to do in lab! Last Thursday might have been the best day so far. At lunchtime there were food trucks outside the lab so we had burgers! They were so good, even though they were nothing like at home. On Friday I was craving another but unfortunately it rained to there were no food trucks! L

Sushma and I attended our first Brazilian wedding yesterday! The venue was about an hour away so we took a mini bus to the location with members of her lab. We arrived at the venue a little early, so we stopped at the Applebee's across the street. (Truly American) Although we only had time for sodas, the Applebee’s atmosphere is exactly like in the US.  The ceremony was beautiful and the bride's dress was so white and sparkly. I am so glad I had the opportunity to celebrate the marriage of Dani and Flavio. At the reception we had so much fun dancing and eating with new friends. Sushma and I learned a few new dance moves, and showed off some old ones (like the Macarena). Luckily a lot of the music was from the 90s and in English! The party didn’t end until 4am and I was so tired and full of delicious Brazilian food.

Three weeks down already… how the time flies

It is strange to think that we have already been here for three weeks although Uganda already feels like home to me now. The incredible people we meet and their hospitality has made the transition easy. Since being here in Ishaka, Daryl, Jessica and I have been busy. Our days consist of going out into the field and conducting structured qualitative interviews. I absolutely love going into communities and interacting with people. We are learning a great deal about the barriers people face when accessing quality health care. It astonishes me how open and generous everyone we have talked to have been. They are always willing to talk and have been very candid. When we are not in the field interacting with the community, we are at home creating interview guides and spending hours transcribing our interviews. While it is a lot of hard work, I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to do work that will benefit the community. After completing our research, our ultimate goal is to make recommendations to Ishaka Health Plan so they can implement these recommendations at Akashanda Health Center.

Of course our time in Uganda has not been all work. We are also doing a lot to enjoy our time here. We went to Mbarara two weeks ago and our trip was filled with a day of walking around, visiting local markets, shopping and eating great food. Mbarara is a big city especially compared to where we live so it was really great and refreshing to just enjoy the commotion of the big city. Just last night, we went to a fundraising event hosted by students from Kampala International University. We had a great time enjoying the cultural shows and skits followed by a night of dancing to local music.

Since today is Father’s Day, I want to dedicate this post to all the incredible fathers in the world who are role models to their children. I want to say Happy Father’s Day to my amazing father and to all other fathers who might be reading this post.

Thanks for reading my blog. Stay tuned for my next blog entry as I describe my time at Queen Elizabeth Park where I will be going on my very first Safari.

Take care and enjoy the pictures below.


The delicious steak with mushrooms and onions I had at Mbarara. It is really rate to find mushrooms here so I was ecstatic to say the least.

Delicious Chapati with East African Honey and bananas for breakfast (kinda a staple here). Loving the food here clearly.

Incredible cultural performance by students from Kampala International University

Who would have thought that I would be enjoying a salsa performance in Ishaka, but another great performance by students from Kampala International University. I take salsa classes so this was a little slice of home away from home. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Slight Pepper? Nope, heavy pepper!

Good day from Trini!

So while we have been here for three weeks I have learned a couple of things;
1. Greetings are good morning, good day, and good evening-- very rarely do people say hello.
2. If you are drinking from a bottle, you must use a straw.
3. Coconuts are not indigenous to the island, they have all been planted here by others.
4. Statements are always finished with "you understand, you know?"
5, If you want to say "oh, really?" you say "true?" instead.
6. Trinidad has two seasons and we are currently in the rainy season. And absolutely no rain jackets will be worn by any Trinidadian.
7. Pepper (Trini word for hot sauce) is used on everything, which I thoroughly enjoy! But restaurants and food stands always assume no pepper or slight pepper. So I always have to say, "Can I have a little but more?"

Those are some top six mannerisms and facts I have learned so far!

There have been many adventures since you last heard from me!

We went on a hike one weekend to the three pools in Blanchisseuse! It was phenomenal! We got lost for a little bit and took the harder hike, but when we finally got there, it was breathtaking. There were bamboo trees everywhere, beautiful vegetation, and the water was so warm and calming. We ate a cocoa bean before it had been dried, and had the bottom of the cashew plant! I couldn't believe that we were in the rainforest! We climbed over rocks, went on natural water slides, and saw waterfalls!

Heather and I also decided to try venturing off on our own and use public transportation to get to Port of Spain. We walked around the Avenue-- which is the hang out spot and towards the end we made our way to St James to We Beat, the Steel Pan (the national Trinidad instrument) Parade. We didn't know what to expect, but what we got was shocking to say the least. Not only are the musicians excellent players (they a variety of different music including music from the Lion King) but there were also people in costumes walking around. There was a Lady Lorraine costume which looks like our Southern Belle plantation owner, a Baby Doll costume, Moko Jumbie which were people on stilts that wore masks and danced around, blue demons that pretended to eat flesh, and much more. We both were very confused and didn't understand what was going on, but it was still a lot of fun.

My pictures all came out blurry but you can follow this link to see the costumes!

MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE STARTED INTERVIEWING! Woot woot! We solidified all of our documents, questionnaires, informed consents, and scheduled interviews and tours for the next two weeks! I have definitely learned a lot through this process; how important active listening is in interviews, how empathy muscles can constantly be exercised and strengthen, how presentation of information is very important, and how much patience one needs in developing a needs assessment. I am learning every day and I hope that the learning doesn't stop.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Greetings from Ishaka, Uganda!

Wow! I would have never in a million years thought that I would have the opportunity to experience my first research project in Uganda as a MHIRT intern. Today marks two weeks since we left the U.S., and I have learned so much already! I am so fortunate to be working alongside Daryl, our site mentor who did MHIRT here in Ishaka, Uganda last summer and who is also pursuing her Master’s in Anthropology, and Eyerusalem, my research partner who is currently pursuing her Master’s in Public Health. From understanding the skills needed to probe effectively during an interview to learning the ins and outs of this small, yet exciting little town called Ishaka, they have both shown me so much already! Being only a rising Junior in college working alongside two Master’s graduate students, I have been taking every moment with them as a learning experience!

            So far, living here in Ishaka has been not only pleasant, but welcoming. Almost any time we visit a shop or restaurant, we find someone thanking us for visiting Uganda, and even hoping that we stay! I must say I am truly honored to be in the presence of such genuine people. Since we have been here, we’ve met the staff at Ishaka Health Plan, the community-based health financing plan that MHIRT-CBU has been working with for years now. Susan, who also works as our translator, is always laughing and smiling, while Anthony is always cracking a joke, giving some excuse as to why he hasn’t brought any pineapples from his village for us to buy yet (they are delicious!). Just last week, Kakunta, Ishaka Health Plan’s scheme manager, invited us and Susan to his home for dinner with his family. I could not have asked for a better end to our first two weeks. Just a few days ago, we woke up to five pineapples sitting on our doorstep. Thanks Anthony!

            As we begin our data collection, I have been getting more and more excited by the minute! We have learned quite a bit about Akashanda Health Center, our area of focus this year. Purchased by Ishaka Health Plan last year, the health center serves the people of Akashanda, a small village not too far from Ishaka. Although it is small and can only provide basic services at the moment, Akashanda Health Center is a place of convenient medical care for the community. Hopefully with time, the center can grow and continue to thrive in Akashanda. As for our research, we are all very eager to learn more about the place as we talk to people in the community. How lucky are we to be the first ones conducting research at the center!

            Well, I must go now. Today we begin the tedious duty of transcribing interviews. I brought along a few pictures, hope you enjoy! Until next time!

            -Jessica Shotwell
Daryl, Me, and Eyerusalem
Enjoying the beautiful view of Lake Victoria in Entebbe

The amazing Botanical Gardens in Entebbe
The movie Tarzan was filmed here!

We are always enjoying a nice walk around town!

Oh the love-hate relationship I have with this hill...We are staying in the Guest House (right at the very top) on Ishaka Adventist Hospital's campus
Nurse at Akashanda Health Center, so friendly!
Mbarara is so much busier than Ishaka! We spent the whole day walking through the shopping areas

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Hello from Floripa!

Amazing Scenery, Amazing Food

This is a restaurant that has seafood and sides that you can share with your family or friends. The seafood is absolutely delicious because it’s fresh from the sea. In addition to the beautiful food seen in this picture, there is a lovely view of the sea. Feast your eyes on the scenery while feasting on the mounds of food.

Street Art

If you’ve ever been to New York or any urban area, it’s unavoidable to see graffiti. If you thought American graffiti was impressive, you need to see the street art in Brazil. Not only is it everywhere, but it will stretch from wall end to wall end, and it’s much more lively and colorful here. It’s usually a lot more abstract and beautiful than what I’ve typically seen in the states. 

The Sites and Scenery

When I’m in The States, it’s easy to miss the beauty that is around me. Often times, I’m rushing to get to my destination. But Brazil has much slower time, and everything is a lot calmer. This change of pace really lets me appreciate nature and my surroundings. Look anywhere around you, and you’ll most likely see a mountain or part of the ocean. This is one of the beaches you can visit, called Lagoa de Coneciao.

Science Is Universal

Even though I’m in a different country trying to speak a different language, I realized how universal science really is. That’s what makes science so beautiful – its exactness, its world-wide similarity.  It’s as if I am back at home with my lab notebook, lab meetings, micropipettes, and chemicals but the language just changed. The protocols are almost exactly the same as what I would do in the U.S. but just in a different country.

Downtown Floripa

This is part of Downtown Florianopolis, or Centro de Floripa. There are plenty of tall buildings that stretch to the sky, and plenty of good foods and places you can visit when everything’s open (usually nighttime). There’s also a beach around this area that you can visit, but you must take the bus to do so. 

Tchau for now!


Saturday, June 13, 2015

2 weeks down, 8 more to go!

Oi, todo bem. Me nome e Ashley. Although that is probably the extent of my Portuguese I have been having a great time out here in Floripa! We are two weeks down, and they have been filled with great food and memories. Take a look!

1. This is Lagoa da Conceicao aka Paradise! The beach behind the sand dunes is known for hosting the world surfing championships some years. 

2. So glad that street meat is universal.

3. We visited a skate park which is bordered by food trucks and I fell in love with this waffle-with nutella, strawberry, and ice cream. Yum!

4. This city has the dopest street art I have ever seen. And I go to school in The City of Murals, so that's saying something.  (The art, the people, the vibe it all feels like something off of a Tumblr page) 

​5. Of course we found some Americans!

Tchau for now!