Monday, August 15, 2016

The Passion of Brazil

I use this video as an introduction. This is an introduction to the passion that surges through Brasil. This video was take at a local soccer game, but that same passion is resonated in every other aspect of their  lives.

Just to introduce you all to some of these passionate people, I have to start with my adopted aunt and uncle. We stayed with these beautiful people for the entire summer and they showed us nothing but  love and sincerity. They treated us like their own sons and showed us the template for the passion for kindness that every Brazilian that I met shows. You guys are already missed.

These two men right here are guys that I truly consider my brothers. Of course Ketan and I were together through the entire summer and got to know one another to a level that only can be considered brotherhood. I consider him to be a lifelong and close friend of mine. Now this other guy connected with both me and Ketan on a level I never thought possible with such drastic communication barriers. Even before Ketan or I became better at our Portuguese, we found it oddly easy to communicate with and understand him and he us. He told us one night that he had a feeling that he was going  to become great friends with  some American guys. He said that he felt that even before we arrived in Brazil. All I can say is that this man has a huge heart and exemplifies this passion of Brazil to the utmost. He is another lifelong friend of mine. 

As we flew out of Belem, we had the privilege of seeing this amazing view of the Amazon River. While in the air, I reflected on all of the beautiful personalities that I met up there. Somehow the outstretched and seemingly endless length of this river reminded me of the seemingly limitless passion for life, doing right by others, and ability to accept strangers as brothers that the people of Brazil demonstrate. This was probably one of the mist beautiful views that I have seen in my life. What a fitting time for such beauty.

Getting the opportunity to attend the Olympic Games was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget. From the beautiful beaches of Copacabana to the extensive beautiful parks created just for the games, it was an eye-candy of an experience. Although, I cannot help but wonder how or even if all of this revenue that is put into events for the people who can afford it to watch, is affecting those who can not afford it. 

Once again I end my post with the half shown sun. Only this time it is the rising of the sun. Although this picture shows one of the last images that I took in Brazil, the sun rising behind the beautiful landscape of Rio De Janiero assured me that I was not leaving Brazil on a sad note, but on a start of new beginnings and with much gained experience and knowledge. as the brilliant sun revealed itself more and more, I knew then where the people of this country get their passion. They will be missed while I am gone. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sitting on my first of two transoceanic flights, I found my mind wandering as much to what lay ahead of me as what I was leaving behind. At the end of my journey awaited comprehensive exams - the unfortunate yet necessary right of passage all graduate students must endure. Mine are next Tuesday; a less-than-friendly welcome home from Uganda. These exams are supposed to measure our mastery of the core knowledge and skills within our fields of study. Have you really learned what you were supposed to learn? Do you deserve the mantle of Master? Of Doctor? Can you prove it?

As I began to consider (read: totally freak out about) those questions, I realized the same could be asked about my summer in Uganda. Did I accomplish what I was supposed to? Did I contribute meaningfully to the team's research efforts? Have I gleaned more from the qualitative data we (literally) painfully collected, or rather from the process of collecting those data? I know that I learned a lot this summer, but what did I learn about most?

I learned the war in northern Uganda has left lasting wounds not likely to heal soon. I know the suffering caused by losing a loved one to murder does not end once they're buried. Our respondents described the spiritual, physical, and economic maladies that result from both improper burials and a lack of accountability for crimes committed during war. And I learned much and more about the struggle of conducting in-depth interviews and focus groups in cross cultural, international, impoverished settings. 

But despite all of those lessons and more, I think the real value of an experience like MHIRT - the reason the National Institutes of Health continue to pay for minority students to gain international research experiences - is a little more personal. I believe travel, international travel especially, provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to expand our own perceptions of what we're capable of.

The opportunity we're provided is less an investment in our CV and more an investment in us, as humans. The friendships we forge, the languages we pick up, the different ways of being we witness, all unleash our capacity for empathy and creativity - traits invaluable to those who seek a place in as dizzyingly broad of a field as "health." I know I speak for all my fellow MHIRT Summer 2016 participants when I extend my sincere and deep gratitude to the program directors at Christian Brothers University and to the administrators at the NIH who made these incredible adventures possible. Thank you so very much. Apwoyo matek.

I have Nothing but Gratitude

Upon conclusion of our exit interview, my mentor, Dr. Risoleta, asked me "so, other than the 'no rules of the sidewalk' and the avocado with sugar," which are some things that I had reported as different from the United States in the very beginning of my trip, "what else have you noticed that is different here in Brasil, perhaps something bigger?" Now, normally I'm not the type to have much to say when asked to have on-the-spot philosophical analysis of society and culture, but this time the answer was easy. It's something that I noticed very soon after arrival and could give an example of for every single day I've lived in Floripa. The most striking difference for me between Americans and Brasilians is their attitude towards foreigners. I can't tell you the amount of times that I've told someone that I don't speak Portuguese only for them to try and continue to have an entire conversation with me in Portuguese. At first, I thought it was annoying, because I thought they wanted a response from me, but soon I realized it was just their funny way of trying to make me feel welcomed. The generosity and care Brasilians give people they have never met before is truly unparalleled to anything I've experience in the US. Everyday as disjointed Portuguese stumbles out of my mouth as I try to order food I am incredibly grateful for the amount of patience and willingness to help that complete strangers have given me here. It's truly amazing how quickly you can make friends with someone here, even if you don't speak the same language. In the United States I feel like most people have this attitude about people who move or travel to the US without having mastered English before hand, and almost an unwillingness to help. If that were the case here in Brasil, my stay here would have been much more lonely. 
When I would have these experiences with my coworkers or on hikes or on the bus or at restaurants or on campus or whereever I may be all I could think about is how I would never get a chance to fully repay these people for their kindness. For making me feel so welcome, for inviting me on their family roadtrips, for making Floripa feel like home, all I have is gratitude. 
I am very sad to have to leave this place, but eternally grateful for the experience I've had and how its allowed me to grow. Now, back to Memphis and onto a new adventure! 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bendiciones (Blessings)

The internship experience with AMOS Health & Hope has drawn to a close. The past six-weeks were filled with real-world experience of conducting research in a rural community and training Madres Voluntarias (Volunteer Mothers) to help improve the maternity and child health outcomes. Throughout the internship period, I have been able to better understand the knowledge that I learned during the global health practicum and put that knowledge to work. Simultaneously, you learn and become more accustom to the seeming small moments of a day in Nicaragua like meals.

                 Breakfast consisting of gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, fruit (watermelon and pineapple), juice, and coffee.

It was a tremendous pleasure and gratifying experience to be present at the graduation for the Madres Voluntarias and the final meeting with the health committee of La Danta. It was those two moments that alluded to the importance that the community places on its partnership with AMOS.

The health committee of La Danta, Madres Voluntarias, and the AMOS Women's Empowerment team following the final health committee meeting of the summer

The final big moment of the internship in La Danta would have to be the celebration that the community had in our honor. It was a beautiful representation of their gratitude for the work that AMOS does in partnership with their community. It was here that the "bendiciones" of working in La Danta for the six-week perios was felt the strongest.

Members of the community of La Danta that had active roles in the celebration (band, singers, and minister).

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Balance Between Research and Beneficial Action

After six weeks immersed in two projects for the women of La Danta, Nicaragua, the results were finally in. Knowing La Danta, a community that by flooded rivers and unpaved roads was the most isolated district in Nicaragua's rural areas, had struggled in the past with women's health issues, the AMOS foundation assigned the summer's Women Empowerment team to the people of this community. In this Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) effort, I and a group of four other women addressed behaviors surrounding prenatal health as well as promoted Maternal and Child Health (MCH) through the training of Voluntary Mothers. Through meticulous statistical analysis, the first objective, in which barriers to prenatal care were documented in order to promote four or more prenatal visits among pregnant women, produced definitive, actionable, and surprising results. Variables such as lack of husband approval, of perceived self-efficacy, of perceived severity, of time or money, and of an understanding of the services offered during a prenatal care visit were found to influence La Danta’s mothers’ going to four or more prenatal visits. Once these barriers were identified, the mystery of how to ensure MCH in a place where emergency care could be over four hours away was no longer so difficult to tackle. Because of this research effort, AMOS staff can now train Voluntary Mothers within the community on how to address these barriers when talking to women in their community. With these future goals in mind, the Women Empowerment team also achieved a second objective in these weeks—to recruit eight new Voluntary Mothers and recruit them in home visits. Through a balanced combination of research and tangible action within the community, this summer has successfully built a solid foundation on which MCH outcomes can be improved among some of the most powerful, compassionated, and brave women I have ever known.


Graduating college is terrifying, relieving, yet exciting all at the same time. Given the opportunity to live in Brazil has made the transition a little easier. Living in Brazil hasn't been perfect. I've been forced out of my comfort zone many times, It was harder to make local friends than I expected. It was harder to understand the bus system and get around. Eventually, you just have to go for it. You have to allow yourself to butcher portuguese and maybe you just need to ride the bus and see where it goes. You also meet other travelers who have come from many different paths! This trip has motivated me to continue traveling. For example, I am in Rio de Janerio seeing the olympics and after i'm going to Chile! Places i've always wanted to visit but had no idea when I would actually go.

In another aspect, going to Floripa and having three women as our mentors has been a great motivation. Seeing strong, successful and independent women run their own lab is awesome. Especially in a place like Brazil where it is so machismo. Not only do they exemplify strong women, they were all so laid back and personable. This has led to a very different lab experience than my others. 

Overall, this has been a totally new and great experience that I will forever be thankful for.

Monday, August 8, 2016


I've looked like a complete idiot everyday in Brazil. But I really needed to. I had no choice! Every friendship made, every conversation I ever had with native Brazilians happened only because of my ability to speak Portuguese. The ONLY way to create meaningful relationships here is to be able to have an open mind to learning. I know what you're thinking 'how could I possibly learn an entire language in only two months?' I'm not asking you to learn it all! But just to try and master certain situations. Google translate, talk, mess up, and keep persisting. The trick is to mess up frequently and consistently. AND TO NOT BE SHY ABOUT IT. I've asked a million questions, googled translated practically every word I can think of, and sounded like a complete idiot a thousand times. But it allowed me to grow as a person, increase my vernacular and navigate busses, supermarkets, bars and general day to day conversations with people. I've met many Americans here who have varying levels of Portuguese fluency. Tomi for example has kept an open mind to learning Portuguese and has managed to pick up the language very rapidly here. Where as other people I've met haven't been as open to learning the language, or rather may have been too intimidated to even begin. And that's ok! But this lead to poorer relationships with native people who may not speak English well or at all. So do your research on the language! Try and learn the basics of how the rules and grammar function and build from there. I know it's tough. I studied two years of Portuguese and I felt lost so many times in Brazil. Now I've arrived at a point where some may consider me fluent. But I only achieved this through constant errors and sounding like a complete idiot. DAILY.  But it has been so worth it. So for the best trip possible, try to become fluent in the language of your country. Never feel bad about messing up and sounding dumb. That's all I've been doing here and it's definitely paying off now. Oh! I don't know about other countries but Netflix in Brazil has Portuguese options. So I watch everything dubbed in Portuguese. You can use subtitles in either Portuguese or English.

As my friend Tomi once wisely told me "you need to sound dumb before you can sound smart"

That was deep.

On Beginning Journeys and How to End Them

“What’s the difference between a researcher and a scientist?” I distinctly recall being caught off guard by this question, unsure if this was the start of a serious conversation or the beginning of some witty banter. “I don’t know,” I said, “a scientist looks for concrete evidence of something and a researcher just seeks more knowledge.” Dr. Linder, who insists that I call her Beth, seemed satisfied with this answer and then offered me another perspective: a researcher starts their journey by thinking of an answer to a problem, and a scientist seeks only to ask a good question. “So,” she asked me, “what do you want to know?”
This question became the start of my 11-week journey to think of the best question I could ask, specifically about female sexual dysfunction. This topic, of course, was partly inspired by my mentor’s previous work and partially inspired by my interest in the recently FDA-approved female viagra (flibanserin). In line with Beth’s previous work, I decided I wanted to know about the effects of fluoxetine, an SSRI, on sexual motivation in female rats. Beth was insistent on providing me with the opportunity to engage in all parts of the scientific process, from the beginning conceptual stages all the way up to data analysis and report writing. Needless to say. my experience in this lab has been beyond phenomenal. I have truly grown more independent as a person and, as a result of working closely with two medical students who were also on a research exchange for a short time, my mind has grown to incorporate other perspectives as well.
As my final stance on the unique experience of traveling like a local, I think goodbyes are always easier when we travel like tourists. Goodbye as a tourist means eating at your favorite place or maybe visiting your favorite beach one last time; however, this goodbye is much different. I am saying goodbye to the outstanding people I have met just as much as I am saying goodbye to Floripa. I will be returning to Memphis entirely content with my experience. I will also return to Memphis and get back-to-the-daily-grind with the humbling knowledge that this place and the people I have met have made more of an impact on me than I have on them.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Final Week of Maternal Health in La Danta

We arrived back to our community, La Danta, for our final visit. It was definitely bittersweet. This was our third trip to the community, and we had all developed friendships with the community members we had been working with. We had also mastered getting down to the shower by the river without falling down the hill which can be really tricky---even in our trendy Nicaraguan rain boots.  It had rained a lot right before we came, so the mud was as thick as ever. We actually had a short delay while driving to the Casa Base (our home away from home in the community) when we got stuck in a huge hole. Thankfully, we had a winch on the front of the AMOS ambulance and were able to hook this to a nearby tree and pull ourselves out. 


 We arrived on a Saturday in order to survey as many community women as possible the following day at church. We reached our goal of 90 surveys completed for our barrier analysis. We also had two training days with the Madres Voluntarias (Volunteer Mothers) during which time we taught and discussed topics such as communication skills, the three delays to receiving medical care, the danger signs during pregnancy, and how to do a home visit to mothers in the community. The last day we split into two groups and went to supervise the home visits that the new volunteer mothers were conducting. They taught mothers in the community about the danger signs that can occur during pregnancy and explained that the women should seek emergency medical attention if they experience one of these symptoms.

If a woman does experience an emergency situation during her pregnancy, it´s very important to act quickly. Most people in the community do not have a car, but the community has a system in place to locate a car or ambulance as fast as possible to rush the woman to El Ayote (a town 2 to 2.5 hours away). However, if the woman has a very serious complication, she may need to be taken to the better-equipped hospital located in Juigalpa, another 3 hours away. From our own experience in the States, we know that people do not always receive immediate attention, which also happens here in Nicaragua. Therefore, this additional delay can further complicate a very delicate situation.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

These are a few of my favorite Uganda

1) The Town of Kabale
Living in Kabale for over the past few months has been great. I have found Kabale as my second home. The town always has something going on from an impromptu soccer game to trade show selling local crafts. Here you can see mountainous terrain and the field in the center of town where all the major events occur.

2) Hiking and Exploring Uganda
Every weekend trip’s journey has had its unique story. For example, to travel to Ssese Islands we took a car for 6 hours, a ferry across Lake Victoria, a motorcycle ride across an island, and finally a small boat ride to the island. Most if not all of our travels have involved some sort of hiking. In this picture we went hiking in Kisoro, Uganda near the three corners where Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo meet.

3) Beautiful Sunsets
The sunsets in Uganda seize to amaze me. No matter where we are we always make it our mission to catch the beautiful sunsets of Uganda. My favorite is pictured over the Rwenzori Mountains in Fort Portal near the Kyaninga Crater Lake.
4) The Ugandan People
The Ugandan people are very generous and kind people. I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to live with them, and they are always willing to lend a helping hand. Because I truly consider them my family I have not yet experienced homesickness. The first group of students were researchers from Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) that lived and worked with us for the entirety of the summer.
ShaCoria and I with Dr. Esau and the dentist Frank at the general clinic on our last day in Uganda. We will miss them, and we can’t wait to see them when they visit us in the U.S.
 5) My research team
This summer the research team consisted of Kara, ShaCoria, and I and our wonderful research assistants Brenda, Joan, Margaret, and Blessings. Without them we couldn't have completed our research. Kara and ShaCoria made my summer better than I could have ever imagined. Throughout long trips on the bus and hours of transcribing interviews they always made me laugh. I have and continue to have the most supportive colleagues and friends. I learned an immense amount of valuable information from them including research methods, anthropological theory, and about life in general. I will be forever grateful for my time with them and my CBU MHIRT experience.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

"There and Back Again"

After two weeks of working a steady 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. lab schedule, my mentor and I decided that it was time I took a much needed weekend vacation to Foz do Iguacu. Apart from the incredible scenery, this trip was even more phenomenal because we finally completed the last day of experimental sessions on the day I boarded a bus destined to a border town between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay!

Above is a video of "La Garganta del Diablo" (the Devil's Throat), a waterfall located on the Argentinian side of the falls.

Above is an image taken from a walking trail on the Brazilian side of the falls.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bittersweet chocolate and goodbyes

I thought that my hardest times while being in Brazil would include sickness or not fitting in or even feeling uncomfortable not being in my own home country. But, none of those issues really arose or mattered while I was here. I’m now sadly ending my time abroad and looking at my last two weeks in Brazil: one left in my city Sao Paulo and one more travelling to Rio de Janeiro with other program participants. Thankfully I have the opportunity to travel with my fellow peers and friends so that I can temporarily distract myself from the hollowing sadness I know I will face this next week as I slowly pack my things and say my eventual goodbyes.

My time here certainly was filled with fun times and busy work, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. I can happily say I finished the program with great results as well as great memories of all the people and food and odd situations I’ve come to be in. It’s truly amazing how similar we all are in the world, even if we are distanced by both physical barriers and cultural differences. The warmth I felt from the people here cannot be matched by anyone in the near future nor will I likely forget anyone from my time here for years to come. As I was applying for a random job last night, I was incredibly happy and proud to write down what I experienced while here as a MHIRT participant. There’s nothing harder than trying to explain personal experiences, especially ones that are completely foreign and therefore abstract, but I can concretely say that every small experience I had here in every different area I was involved in, I had thoroughly phenomenal experiences.

Thanks everyone!

This trip has been an unforgettable experience thanks to the incredible food, amazing views and of course the fantastic people. I just wanted to say thanks. I wasn't sure what to expect when I got here but I can't say I was disappointed at all.

Beco de Batman boasting some impressive murals and a rather diverse audience. This art covered alley is crawling with people of all ages just waiting to get that Instagram worthy shot with some vibrant works.

Special thanks to Silvia, who fed us until we needed to nap and then fed us some more. Stroganoff, galinhada, bread pudding with goiabada, torta de limao, blackberry cake and dolce de leite cake with chocolate icing and that's just from one weekend. We spent three weekends at her house and all I can say is I'm really going to miss Silvia. 

Farewells and Goodbyes... no, "See You Later"

It is so hard to believe that just 2 months ago, I landed in the Motherland for the 2nd time in my life. This time, I was blessed to visit the beautiful region of Eastern Africa, specifically the country of Uganda. The moment I landed in Kigali, Rwanda and along the 2.5 hour trek to Kabale, I felt so at home. What happened over the next 2 months is sure to go down in the memory book of life.

You are already aware that my team and I have been working, and very hard at that, but I thought it would be great to mention it again :) Interacting with Ugandans, whether in the health facilities collecting data, or in and around town making lasting friendships, it is surely an aspect that cannot be matched and will forever be treasured. Here’s to developed friendships!

It was an honor to coach my first 'football' team, consisting of “visitors” from America and Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST). The home team truly got a run for their money, and the intensity was definitely high throughout the duration of the game. Go team, you were great!

We weren’t the only ones in Kabale working though… MUST students definitely challenged us during our stay to continuously bring innovative research ideas to the table. We also provided consistent and reciprocal feedback to one another throughout our projects. At their research presentation, I, along with KIHEFO staff learned a lot about their project focusing on dental hygiene. I am so very proud of these guys! They are truly inspiring and will certainly be missed.

So, all things must come to an end, right? Eh… Sure. When asked what will be missed most about Uganda, definitively, my answer is the people. Unfortunately, during my stay, saying goodbye to groups of people happened a bit more frequently than I would like. But when I was reminded to not say goodbye, and that the appropriate phrase is 'see you later', things seemed a bit better. I certainly hope to meet these people again!

Until next time… I encourage everyone to make it a priority to travel to the Motherland. I promise you won’t be disappointed. A HUGE thanks goes to Christian Brother’s University MHIRT for the opportunity to travel, learn and grow in such a beautiful place.      

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

No Monkeying Around


We have been busy at work analyzing the data we collected thus far. As a break I had the opportunity to go gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Southwestern Uganda on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this specific national park there are at least five families of gorillas each having more than 11 gorillas. Before the tracking began we were told that along the journey we would see wild elephants, baboons, monkeys, and of course gorillas.

We set off on our hike downhill. I naively thought the steep downhill portion would be easy, but I was wrong. Even though our guide cleared our path using a machete I quickly learned the true meaning of an “impenetrable forest.” After over three hours of trekking through streams and heavy brush we reached the gorillas. First, we came across a five year old gorilla that was playing with sugarcane. His name was Happy, and he thought it’d be funny to touch my ankle. He was playful and harmless, so we all laughed. We saw gorillas of all ages from small three year olds to the great male silverback. The male silverback is the prominent male leader of the family weighing over 400 kg (which is over 850 lbs.) Wherever he was moving it was a sure bet that that rest of the family would be close behind following.

Being with the gorillas for over an hour made me appreciate their magnificent beauty. I could tell they were very intelligent, gentle creatures.

Here are some of my favorite gorillas:

Posing with the family's male silverback mountain gorilla
This is the infamous gorilla Happy

A mother gorilla and her baby
In fact gorilla siblings play and fight too


Monday, July 25, 2016

Final moments

 Right outside one of the oldest landmarks in Belem during Praca Da Republica!
 My Brazilian host parents Claudio and Circe. They are actually Angels. They spoil us thoroughly by cooking us food, cleaning our cloths, and helping us pre-game before we go out.

Outside the Clube do Remo stadium right before a game! Today was our last time at the stadium. I will certainly miss this place. We laughed, we cried. #Remistaparasempre

Safe, Reckless Fun

At the beginning of summer a friend of mine gave me an interesting piece of advice: “Be safe and have reckless fun”. At the time, this oxymoron confused me. How could I simultaneously be safe and be reckless? Without a clue on how to go about it, I set out to concur my newly found challenge.  I attempted to get a tattoo in Brazil, but failed because nobody in the tattoo parlor spoke English. I tried going out and having a wild night of intoxication, and failed twice, one ending in me being completely sober. By late June, I ended my reckless attempts and focused my attention on traveling.
Since, I learned I would be spending my summer in Brazil I began planning the many cities, and counties I would visit while I was in South America.  Unfortunately, my American housemates did not have the same vision in mind. After a month of trying my best to persuade them otherwise, which only resulted in a visiting to an island off the coast of Sao Paulo, I gave up. I realized that if I wanted to travel, I would have to do it, solo.
The thought of traveling around a foreign country and into nearby countries without speaking the native language, terrified me. Many times, I thought of dismissing my thoughts of travel and staying at home, where everything was familiar. At the beginning of July, I went to Rio de Janerio with my housemate from Columbia. There I met a few travelers who had been solo traveling around the world! They assured me that I would have nothing to worry about and if I decided to travel alone I would have the time of my life.  It was in Rio, where my worries started to drift away and my inner reckless took over.
Since then, I have traveled to Buenos Aries, Argentina and Manaus, Brazil by myself. Looking back, I realize that during my adventures, I put myself in a couple of sticky situations that could have ended terribly, but through the grace of god, they did not.
I am currently sitting on a beach in the middle of the rainforest in Manaus, Brazil reflecting on my choices. I have traveled throughout Brazil and Buenos Aries. My phone was stolen. (In Sao Paulo ironically) I misread my iternary and went to the airport when my flight was not scheduled until the next day…twice. I’ve ridden on the back of a motorcycle for the first time. I’ve seen many world wonders. I’ve flown first class. I’ve rode on a speed boat. I’ve made friends from all around the world some of whom spoke English, while others did not.

I am damn near broke, phoneless, and covered in bug bites, but I would not change a thing. Between my travels, my research, and my amazing mentors, I have had the best summer ever! I learned, I created, I laughed and I cried. But most importantly, I had safe and reckless fun!
Me at the metting of the Negro river and the Amaazon river

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Doomed Trip

I'm a planner. Spontaneity and last minute decision making as well as deviating from the plan give me anxiety. This is one of the aspects of my character that has really been tested in Brazil, because normally even when I begin the day with a plan it usually gets deterred by a new adventure, a language barrier, or any other countless things that can happen while traveling.

This is all to say that planning our weekend trip to Foz do Iguacu was an absolute anxiety enducing nightmare for me. Everything last minute. Everything going wrong. Every problem solved produced a few more. I really and truly thought it was just not something I was meant to experience.

Even after ATM debacles, debit card denials and finally successfully booking the bus tickets just 6 hours before their departure, sometimes the bus breaks down in the outskirts of Curitiba at 11 PM and you anxiety reaches an all time high as your brain races to figure out a way to shelter for the night. (Another bus came for us about an hour later, no worries)

BUT the good news is, that even despite all this challenges and tests, you may just end up in the most beautiful place you've ever seen enjoying a free capirinha at "capi hour" at your hostel that's built out of storage containers wondering how it all worked out without meticulous planning execution.

So, my aniexty-ridden friends, take the 18 hour bus ride though rural mountainous Brazil and try not to fret about things that are out of your control because you still may end your day with a free capirinha in hand.

And some pretty great new memories:

Iguazu falls!

Although kind of cute, these animals are lowkey dangerous
Brazilian side of Igauzu falls
Got a bit wet for this picture but totally worth it! Another picture of the Brazilian side

Hola Again!!!

                We (Abrania, Jennifer, and I) have been here in Nicaragua for almost seven weeks, and we have completed four of the total six weeks of the previously mentioned Women’s Empowerment internship.

                The research of the Women’s Empowerment internship centers around the rural community of La Danta, La RACCS, Nicaragua which is about a 10-12 hour trip from Managua.  We are specifically interested in the prenatal care practices of pregnant women in the 12 sectors of La Dante including the sectors El Cerro, La Mona, and El Santa Fe. Using Barrier Analysis, a research method created by Tom Davis, we are trying to discover the barriers that hinder women of the community from attending 4 or more prenatal health visits; prenatal care is one of the first steps in helping to prevent infant/maternal mortality. The Barrier Analysis method requires that 90 surveys be completed with 45 being doers of the behavior of interest and 45 being non-doers of the behavior of interest. In the past 2 visits to La Danta we were able to obtain two thirds of the needed total through hiking to the homes of all three sectors, going to schools, and having health stations.

                Another goal of the Women’s Empowerment internship is to decrease infant and maternal mortality through empowerment of the women of the community. The past week in the community featured two levels of the empowerment through trainings. We had a one-day training for the general women of the community that featured education about nutrition and prevention/combating anemia. The other training (2 days) was for a group of women that volunteer to help improve the health of the pregnant women and other mothers of the community; the group of women have the title of “madres voluntarias.”

 We are currently preparing for the fifth week which will be spent in the campo* (La Danta). As this is the third and final week that we will spend in the campo, we will strive to complete the research and trainings that we started during our previous weeks in the community. We are exactly on schedule with the amount of Barrier Analysis surveys that we need to have conducted, so I am pretty hopeful that we will be able to obtain the remaining third (30 surveys) during the upcoming week.

In closing, I am super excited to say that I have really been enjoying the internship. The time that we spend in the campo is challenging, but it also allows us to better understand the barriers that the women of the community face on a daily basis. The final two weeks will be both amazing and bittersweet.

Hasta la proxima vez,

Kayla Somerville

*campo means countryside or rural area in spanish

Friday, July 22, 2016

Our 2nd Week in La Danta, Nicaragua

The Ambulance
This is the “ambulance” and our form of transportation to our community en La RACCS. We pack as much of our supplies, mosquito nets, mud boots, and bags on top and hope we have enough room for ourselves below.

La Danta: Presentation of Nutrition Information to El Cerro
We traveled to a distant part of the community during our second visit. Some of the community members were nice enough to lend us horses to make the journey. We presented the statistics we collected from our health stations during the first visit and discussed portion size and food groups with a group of women from this sector of the community. We also reviewed danger signs during pregnancy and discussed the steps to take if one of these danger signs occurs to oneself or a neighbor.

La Danta: Women’s Empowerment
This is a picture of Kenia, a nurse from AMOS who works specifically with the community of La Danta and a few communities nearby. We were going house to house on this day gathering data for our barrier analysis. We are currently looking for barriers to pregnant women in the community completing at least four prenatal checkups during their pregnancies. We will be leaving tomorrow to go back to the community for further training with the “Madres Voluntarias” and to collect more data from the women in the community.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ugandan Medicine

After almost 8 weeks in Uganda my view on medicine has shifted drastically. Through our research we have had the opportunity to spend time in a variety of clinics around Kabale and in the Kigezi region. Upon coming to Uganda I had the idea that we could improve Ugandan healthcare by implementing systems similar to ours in the U.S. However, I have witnessed there is no “right” way to practice medicine, and we have a lot to learn from the rest of the world. There are many diverse ways to practice medicine depending on the circumstances. The key is then to find the best practice in the place where you are.

In Uganda I have noticed many unique forms of medicine from the herbalists to the regional referral hospitals to the small, rural clinics. In the referral hospital we visited they had the capability to treat trauma cases, take x-rays, and perform surgeries using anesthesia. This hospital was similar to the type you would see in the U.S. On the other hand, the rural clinic headed by a nurse could provide simple out-patient curative services. Despite the amount of supplies or staff available, I have noticed a common theme among all of the healthcare settings in Uganda- the personal care is wonderful. Each health worker strives to help in the best way they can with what they have. They work long hours and rest very little (if at all) to ensure that each patient receives the best possible care. For example, one of the clinicians we met tirelessly works in the clinic six days each week for at least 12 hours each day. In addition, he is on call when he isn’t on site. I look at the Ugandan healthcare workers, and I admire them hoping to one day be just as hard working and compassionate as they are. They put their heart and soul into their work and are constantly battling obstacles of limited supplies, electricity, or funding. I can say with confidence we have a lot to learn from them and the selfless care they provide.
The beautiful view from one of the clinics looking onto Lake Bunyonyi



Monday, July 18, 2016

A Much Needed Break

The nature of our research is exhausting. Both the process of data collection and the substance of those data we obtain can, over time, leave a physical and emotional toll. Our trips to the field require long drives along dirt roads peppered with bumps and ditches. The in-depth interviews are long and conducted under the unrelenting Ugandan sun. And the stories people share - their experiences during the war, the lingering suffering felt in the community, and the sense of abandonment so prevalent - are impossible to hear without feeling at least part of their pain. So last weekend we took a welcome trip to Murchison Falls National Park, the largest one in Uganda.

The park's namesake is a beautiful waterfall formed by the Nile bursting through the rocks of a cliff face just east of Lake Albert. The beauty of the falls is only rivaled by the diverse wildlife found in the enormous reserve surrounding the river. Below are a few of the scenes from our brief and much needed retreat.

Sunrise over the game reserve

Two elephants munching on some grass
Two giraffes posing in the midday sun
Lions...doing lion things
The beautiful Murchison Falls

View from the top
Obligatory waterfall selfie

Obligatory warthog-trying-to-eat-my-lunch selfie