Friday, July 31, 2015

Forever and Always

 I’m 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.
These 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. 
I feel 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…
I feel 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.  
       Most importantly, thank you for the beautiful memories that will always be very close to my heart.
I will always keeping sharing the smile and enthusiasm Sao Paulo gave to me.
Forever and Always.

Much love and a very full heart,

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Argentina & Architecture

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!


Gratitude as the Mantra of the Last Two Weeks

Hello friends!

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.
Me, Mr. Michael, and Chloe

Me, Janice, Ms. Carol, and Chloe 

Last week in Ishaka... how time flies

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 people here.

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. 

- Eyerusalem 


Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Short Trip to Salvador

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!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Around the World in 80 Days…..Okay, maybe just South America in 70 days

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, ( 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 try your hardest to speak to locals! It’s not every day that you’re in a different city or country!

- Veronica

(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)

Monday, July 20, 2015

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone "- Neale Donald Walsch

This weekend has definitely been an adventure. We took a trip to Macooco, a small fishing village to the northeast of Belem, with a friend named Augusto to visit his extended family.  This has been the first time that Erika and I have traveled locally, so it was pretty exciting to explore a new town in the state of Pará.  Macooco is literally in the middle of nowhere! I have no idea how anyone could ever find it, but after a 4-hour bus ride, we arrived early Saturday morning. 

One of the first things that made me love this town was the windy weather. Augusto’s family lives right next to the river, so a little break from the Belém heat felt like heaven on Earth! Although the town is completely secluded, the people of Macooco have everything they need. Because of their location, it’s easy catching a particular fish called Go, crabs and oysters. There is also clay in the river, so people use this natural resource to make pottery, build houses, and even make outside stoves. 

* On a side note, Augusto’s 14-year-old nephew was instructed to start the fire for dinner. As I watched him gather tinder and arrange the pit, I thought about our experience at Heifer Ranch.  What took us forever to start a fire took him about 5 minutes! It was pretty awesome. 

We spent most of the weekend swimming, hanging out with the people of Macooco, and partying. The party scene here is COMPLETELY different from the states, and even Belém, starting at 11 pm and lasting until 10:00 in the morning- then starting up again at 6:00 pm the next day! They were celebrating the winners of a soccer tournament that happened earlier that day. The winning team also received 2-dozen packs of beer and an ample amount of recognition at the party!

The town was aware that two girls from the states were visiting, so everyone treated us so kindly. Family friends took us on motorcycle rides, taught us how to kill and eat crab, and even took us out on a motorboat to the local islands. It’s always nice to experience a different way of living, and I truly enjoyed their hospitality and relaxing way of life.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A few things I absolutey love about Sao Paulo

It almost feels like the whole city is dedicated to the pursuit of science.  Yesterday we went to the Butantan Institute where the snakes and reptiles are!  

Making a few friends along the way to share my American pride and to absorb their Brazilian culture. 

But the thing I love most about this place are the sunsets.
Here's to the nights that turned into morning with the friends that turned into family

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Science in Paradise

I can't believe it's almost over! I have learned so much in lab. This last week I spent many hours in my lab trying to acquire my final results, but failed each time. 

I have been working with shrimp DNA samples because we are trying to see if varying plant extracts  will have a protective affect on the shrimps' immune system from a virus known as the White Spot Syndrome Virus, which is wiping out entire shrimp populations. My hopes while being here were to Save The Shrimp :D! I have come up against a few road blocks though, and this is common in science. There is definitely beauty in not getting things right away. My gels haven't shown the band sizes I am looking for and I need to find out if this is because of contamination that took place during  PCRs or if the DNA samples simply aren't useful etc. All in all, work in lab has taught me patience and perseverance. I am working with Barbara, a Master's student. She has been so patient with me, and has taken me in as her own. I look forward to working with her in lab because she constantly reminds me that it is okay to not get things right away. 

There are a mixture of feelings and thoughts I have at the moment. I can't stop thinking of how lucky I am to be able to have met my roommates and lab-mates and live in this paradise. I love my lab and the people I get to eat lunch with and exchange stories with while I'm there. I'm constantly impressed by so many people in my lab and how collaborative they are. I am not sure how my results will turn out, but this whole process of understanding what each technique I have done means and what I am working towards to improve shrimp populations has been rewarding. 

This is just one aspect of my time in Floripa, but there is so much more I can't wait to share about my perspective and how wonderful every bit of this opportunity has been! 

One of my many gels
pretty little dots (TBE and gel red) for my DNA samples :)

On the Rocks of Praia Mole!

Loving Barbara and friends after long day at lab!

Viva La Salvador

Ok,so it totally does not feel as though there are only three weeks left of the program. However, I have  come to terms with our soon approaching departure. I finally feel as though I have progressed from this experience. I have already made lifelong friends, stretched my mind past my preconceived dimensions, and survived alone across the world. And for that I will be forever grateful.

This week I was able to travel to Salvador, Brazil. For those of you that don't know about Salvador it is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, the capital of the state of Bahia and one of the best places I have ever visited in the world. I read many things before coming to this extravagant city, but I did not want to set my standards to high,but I must say I was blown away by the natural beauty.Salvador is the Afro-brazilian gem of the country( the description came from wiki) and I'm loving every second of being immersed in a culture that I identify with so closely.

 I have to say one of the few negatives occurrences of my experience while abroad was frequently receiving news of yet another blatant act of racism occurring back home. The most highly discussed events just so happened to have been caught on camera, however although these incidences were recorded does not make it a new fad instead it just verifies something I have known forever, lives of people of color in America are not valued. There is no better feeling than walking around as a proud black woman in a place that constantly reminds you that Black Lives Matter, Black is Beautiful, and Black is Powerful. It is exactly the rejuvenating essence I needed before going back home and returning to the everyday battle of fighting for equality which is the life of a person of color in America. And for that I will forever be thankful to Salvador.

I am looking forward to returning to Floripa for the duration of my Brazil trip. I hope I am able to yield concurrent positive results from my experiment, try new activities and food I normally would not( maybe surfing?) and hang out with my roommates who I miss dearly.

Remember to always hold your head up high, and hold yourself in the highest regard. See y'all soon!

Life Through Experience

Hi! I hope this post finds you well. Itzel and I have been on so many adventures since my last post a few weeks ago. Through our experiences, we have learned important lessons on the necessity of relying on one another and teamwork. I can truly say that the adventures we've been having will be moments in our lives that we look back to for inspiration, guidance, hope, and for proof of our strength of character. I also would like to thank the MHIRT program for selecting outstanding applicants such as Itzel because she has been integral in my own personal growth. *shoutout to an awesome partner*. Here are a few photos from SOME of our adventures, check us out!
Did you know that certain parts of Trinidad are experiencing a seaweed problem? Some say the seaweed is a byproduct of the mass amounts of deforestation tearing down the amazon rain forest. Pictured is a beach in Mayaro, Trinidad.
Excuse our faces but we were stoked to go snorkeling for our first time! It was awesome until I saw the eel, but that's a different story.

Pictured here are some Hindu prayer flags at the Temple in the Sea. The temple is on a peninsula and is a beautiful place of worship. While here, we saw the end of a cremation and learned various things about Hinduism and the history of the temple.

TOBAGO!! Itzel and I are super lucky to spend a weekend in Tobago, and this is a snapshot of where we're staying. I may or may not have drooled a bit when I saw this... no shame.

This is the Dattatreya Temple in Couva. It was built by hand by immigrants from India. While here we saw more construction taking place, so it'll be interesting to see what is being built.

Finally, I thought it would be cool to show you guys one type of house in Trinidad. This house holds different families on different floors. My uncle and his family stay on the top floor, and another family resides on the first floor. I love the color of the house, and maybe i'll post more pictures later to show everyone the vast array of different colors of the houses here, they're beautiful.

Well, that's all for now! I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. Until next time!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Weekend in Rwanda

So we spent our last weekend in Kigali, Rwanda. Words can't express how in awe we were. BEAUTIFUL is all I can say!

Thankful to be Couch Surfers at such a nice house with such a great view!

"Our ride awaits"
We didn't actually think the motodriver would come back with two more. So efficient!

Depressing experience, but history cannot be ignored. The people of Rwanda are admirably strong.

I've mastered sitting like an African now. One time the drivers almost refused to let me sit that way; needless to say, they were impressed!

The historical hotel.
Our last stop before rushing to get on the bus to take us back to Uganda

Hope you've enjoyed!

-Jessica Shotwell

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Adventures of the Lost Girls

Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down. And I'd  like to take a minute, just sit right there. I'll tell you how we became the lost girls of Port of Spain! (I know, corny, but I love it!)

We finally had our adventure in Port of Spain! So we start off and I was the only one that knew where we were going because of my adventure with Heather. So I was telling her where to go and we arrived at the National Museum and Art Gallery. It was interesting. It wasn’t arranged in chronological order so we would get to WWI and then 1960s and then the time period when the Amerindians were in existence, etc. It was all over the place. But it was cool because there was a section for Africa and one for India that talked about the traditions that came over with the immigration of their citizens! From Africa they brought the game All Fours and from India they brought religious practices, and other traditions that haven’t been fully integrated and are still seen as a Hindu practice. I also found a comic strip that talks about disability. Very fitting since that's what our research is on! 

After the museum, Chloe wanted to go to the Trinity Cathedral… except we didn’t know where it was, and where we thought it was, wasn’t where it was. So we end up asking this guy. He draws us a three page map that outlines a TGI Friday’s, the US embassy, and many streets. We get to the church he takes us to… and it’s NOT the Trinity Cathedral, it’s the Holy Angels Anglican Church… So we ask this guy, Richard, at the US embassy where we are supposed to be going and he tells us where to go. But he told us he was heading to the Botanical Gardens, so we hitched a ride with Richard! 

We get to the Botanical Gardens and it is a giant park with random labels of trees. It was very simple and yet still very beautiful. Plus, there were kids around us that were running around and having picnics. THERE’S A ZOO NEXT DOOR. Except Chloe wore converse shoes and she couldn't walk anymore because they were hurting her! So we decided to head home. I went over to ask a lady that was selling balloons where we can get a taxi back to Frederick Street. She told us to stand in the corner where a guy was standing. So that guy heard her say that and he started trying to get us a taxi. Then his friend came over and started to talk to me:
 “Yeah, yeah. We can get you a ride, what’s your name? Where you from? You are beautiful, I love you.” 
 “That’s a little extreme, you just met me.” (In a playful voice, not trying to be rude but trying to get him to understand that I wasn't interested). 
“Yes, but it’s love at first sight. I’ll call you.” 
“I don’t have a Trini number and calling to the States is expensive.” 
“I’ll pay all the money in the world, here’s my number *says number* don’t forget it.” 

We get in the car. And we ask the taxi driver to drop us off at Trinity Cathedral. He drops us off. IT WAS LITERALLY A BLOCK AWAY FROM WHERE WE WERE BEFORE SHOPPING FOR OUR FLAG AND OTHER OBJECTS.  We enter the Trinity Cathedral at 4 pm. Now make a guess; how long do you think we stayed? We come out at 4:02 pm. ALL THAT WALKING, 10 MILES, FOR A 2 MINUTE SHINDIG. SIGH. We had to take selfies and videos to make it worth our time! Finally, we went to a store and saw some Trinidad and Tobago soccer jerseys, so I bought one for my dad! Then we went home, ate, slept, and rested!

Now this is wonderful lost story! We learned a lot that day and it was experience for the books. Above all we learned that people in Trinidad are very friendly and that it is okay to be lost! Sometimes the moments when we are lost or we put ourselves in situations where we don't know the outcomes, are the moments we find out how much we can shine in new situations!

Tune in next time for another episode ;).