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