Photovoices

This summer I have the pleasure of contributing to a Photovoices project. There are numerous Photovoices programs all over the world, all of them centering on a specific issue or people. The project in Gettysburg is organized under Healthy Options, a group that aims, among various other goals, to make healthy foods more accessible to more people in the Gettysburg area. In particular, the Healthy Options team strives to reach people who fall into the food gap, which I briefly explained in an earlier post. People are considered to be in the food gap when their income no longer meets the guidelines to qualify for food stamps or food pantries. Often people in this situation struggle to get healthy foods. The Photovoices project provides a way to gain valuable insight into the problem through photography. We handed out cameras to people who were interested in contributing to the project and asked them to take pictures that reflect how food impacts their lives. Over the summer, we will hold a few meetings where participants can share and discuss their photographs with the group. Through this method, we should have some qualitative data about the food gap, and gain insight into some of the barriers that prevent people from choosing healthy foods.

Last Tuesday I attended the first photo-sharing meeting. We projected a few photos onto a screen so everyone could see, and Amy Dailey (professor of public health at Gettysburg College) and Audrey Hess (leader of Healthy Options) facilitated a discussion. All of our participants are women (a common them in social development work) and they enjoyed chatting with each other. We have both English and Spanish speakers, but luckily we have Audrey to translate everything in both languages. The discussion went relatively smoothly, but we found that some women broke into groups, and had their own separate discussion outside of the whole group. Despite this, we still generated some themes from the meeting. Many women talked about the benefit of having a home garden where they can grow healthy fruits and vegetables. There are also setbacks to this, such as during particularly dry weather, when water must be conserved for bathing and drinking, and cannot be sacrificed to water the garden. Another commonality was taking advantage of seasonal produce, which can be purchased cheaper when it is in abundance.

Next week, Emily Constantian and I will facilitate the discussion! Emily is at Gettysburg doing research with an environmental science professor, Salma Monani, and both have become involved with Photovoices. Emily and I had a preparatory meeting on Thursday, and I think the meeting will go well. We want to find out what the participants would like the project to become after the summer. Since we have both Spanish and English speaking participants, there is an opportunity for a wonderful intercultural exchange.

Most of us in the Heston House are excited for the beginning of the Olympics! We watched the opening ceremony last night, cheered for the parade of nations, and criticized the commentary of the NBC newscasters.

I’ve enclosed some photos from the Photovoices project. The first shows some squash flowers growing in a garden, the next are the squash flowers being prepared in a quesadilla, the third is corn cooked on the grill. Last is Melanie and Yaou after being caught in a thunder storm.

Thank you for reading!

-Maura

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This is a blog

Seeing as our Heston time is almost over, I’ve started to become very aware of the fact that I need to somehow turn this amazing experience into a single, concise paper in order to fulfill the requirements to receive academic credit for this internship. I kind of lost track of the fact that I don’t just get to have my Heston Summer Experience, I have to produce something too. Woops. Trying to pick what has mattered most to me so I can write this paper is going to be super hard. I foresee a lot of anxiety about not being able to properly articulate how AWESOME my summer was.

What’s been on my mind most as I think about my project is how social programs can be handicapped due to the inability of their target populations to access them. At the Circles meetings we’ve attended, a lot of the Circle Leaders shared their experiences with the welfare system in America, and how hard it can be to actually access the type of aid that could help them break the cycle of poverty. For example, one single mom talked about how long she waited to get government subsidies to help pay for childcare, and how for months and months on end she had to pay an exorbitant portion of her meager paycheck to pay for her son’s childcare. We’ve all heard parents complain about the hassles summer vacation can cause as they try to keep their kids occupied while school’s out, but for this woman summer vacation could have meant financial ruin. She would have had to pay even more for daycare because her son would never be in school for three long months. Luckily, her subsidy had come through in time, but not everyone has this kind of resolution to their problems. Again and again we have been told how hard you have to fight to make the system work for you and make sure you don’t get swallowed up by it. We have a habit in America of blaming the victim I think, and the Circles Leaders all talked about how much judgement and prejudice they face in everyday life for being on welfare, when really all they want is to be independent and self-sufficient. I think the cuts LIU has seen further emphasizes this trend. We expect immigrants and migrants to assimilate into American society as quickly as possible, but we frequently make it difficult to do so. The Adult ESL class lost its funding because it directly served the parents of migrant families, and not children or the family unit as whole. It’s ridiculous for us to expect a migrant family to get onto solid ground though if we don’t help the parents. We as a country like to talk about how we want all children to have the chance to thrive and pursue their goals as far as possible, but in my mind cutting a program like the LIU Adult ESL class is counter-intuitive to these values. Children need the support of their families, and parents cannot fully support their children if they don’t have the support and tools that they need first. This has been a frequent source of frustration to me this summer, and I just learned this week that there will be no funding whatsoever for the class after mid-August. Gettysburg College picked up the tab to keep the class going through the summer, but it’s all going to end soon. I’ve come to really enjoy spending time with the families who come in every Tuesday and Thursday, and I hate that they are about to lose this class. I feel like the class isn’t just about learning English, it’s also about building a sense of community and a support network for families who are in a similar situation, facing similar challenges, and seeking answers together. I feel like we’re moving backwards as a country when I see all the fatal cuts that are happening to such valuable programs in the community and it really frustrates me.

On a brighter note, however, I have had a lot of really fun experiences lately too! The girl who had never cooked a meal in her life before becoming the Campus Kitchen intern was put in charge of a cooking class. Considering what an inauspicious beginning that story has, I’m still impressed Sunday went as well as it did (My mom might actually faint from shock when I tell her about it). Chandra and I demonstrated easy and yummy recipes for humus, kale chips, veggie chili, and fresh peach cobbler. Things were hectic at first, but started to calm down when Yaou and Maura (you guys are actually saints) volunteered to take all the kids outside and provide childcare. But we had to keep things interesting of course, and it was soon discovered that neither our stove nor oven worked. Apparently that’s one of the hazards of moving into a new kitchen and not testing all the appliances to make sure they actually work. One of the fathers attending the class actually saved the day by discovering the right breaker box somewhere in the depths of the maze that is SCCAP, and getting the electrical circuit running again. Luckily we were able to move past all the ‘technical difficulties’ and ended up with a pretty delicious meal! My favorite moment from the class came from Alicia. Alicia had attended a Healthy Options farm tour of Bill Mickley’s orchard, and while there informed Bill that he could be selling one of the weeds growing on his property because it’s actually edible. We got her a supply of the weed (purslane) and some other ingredients, and she proceeded to whip up a batch of purslane salsa during the class. It was a really awesome moment of community cooperation, and I’m so glad she was able to teach us all something so cool.

Our garden at the Senior Center has also been doing really well. We harvested kale and lettuce this week. We didn’t have much luck getting any of the seniors to actually take any of the produce for themselves, but we were able to take a lot back to the Kitchen to use in meals for Meals on Wheels. Some of the ladies actually seemed personally offended by the idea of eating kale when we showed it to them, but everyone seems to enjoy it when we put it in salads. At least I hope they do… I think they’ll be much more excited once it’s time to harvest the tomatoes, because a lot of the women have told me they’re holding out for tomatoes. I feel like I’m quickly becoming a produce nerd (It’s all your fault Chandra), but I really hope we’ll be able to pick some of the tomatoes before we leave.

I actually have photos this time! Thanks to Kim and Chandra’s generosity with their own pictures at least…
#1 is the kale chips portion of the Healthy Options cooking class on Sunday
#2 is Alicia teaching everyone how to cook with purslane
#3 is a picture of purslane for anyone who is curious and may want to embrace their inner-forager
#4 is our lettuce pre-harvest. It was pretty beautiful if I do say so myself 🙂
#5 is another shot of the garden. Plus me. This one might also make my mom faint from shock considering how good I’ve always been at evading yard-work at home.

Other than that, I’m looking forward to another weekend of Heston House bonding and farmer’s markets 🙂

Melanie

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Updating the Blog on Kenyan Time…3 weeks late

So yeah, I know, I haven’t posted a blog in about 3 weeks but I am back to give an update on what has been going on with my Kenyan life since my last update as well as what is going on as we wrap up our Heston Summer Experience this week.

So the last week of June I thought I was going to be going around Western Nyanza Province visiting hospitals visiting clinical officers and physicians that the MUMs program had trained in May before my arrival in Kenya. However, I thought wrong. The visitations being conducted were centered more on administrative meetings that did not pertain to what I was doing at KMET so that was a bit stressful because I had spent the week before getting excited to see some hospitals in Kenya and see a different side of healthcare than what I had been seeing in the clinic. However, the week was not wasted as I continued to perform ultrasounds in the main Corkran clinic and began more intense research on my project idea that the Heston grant money would be used for. So then after that week of initial disappointment I was told that the following week MUMs would be conducting a maternal ultrasound training for some clinic officers from South Sudan. With the violence and lack of stable economy and funds available, many of the medical school and clinic officer schools in South Sudan shut down and therefore many of these students actually came to Kisumu to try and continue their education.
So Monday July 2nd I came to the clinic and met up with Moses, the head clinical officer here at KMET and Liddy, the director of MUMs. We gathered 3 ultrasounds from the storeroom and hopped on a matatu to the New Nyanza Provincial General Hospital (AKA Russia AKA NNPGH) which is conveniently located right down the road from KMET.
SIDE NOTE AND DESCRIPTION OF NNPGH: The reason “Russia” is also a nickname of the provincial hospital and oddly enough how a majority of locals know it, is because the USSR erected it as a gift to Kenya many years ago. It is a large hospital even by western standards containing everything from in patient care, out-patient clinics, casualty (emergency) department, laboratory, radiology department, and other smaller departments like a plaster service (for casts). The structure is made of cement blocks and looks like something that would have been erected during the times around the Cold War. The wards are separated by men and women. The men’s ward had multiple men sometimes crammed into one tiny room whereas the women’s ward had multiple mothers and their children all crammed onto as many beds as possible. In the little bit I walked around the hospital I RARELY saw one bed inhabited by just one person…it was always one bed inhabited by many people. In the women’s ward the children often filled the beds and women were expected to lay on the floor or find a corner to sit in. If someone needs a healthcare service provided they generally go to local healthcare providers – such as KMET or a sub-district hospital. If these facilities can’t give the necessary care, maybe the patient needs more advanced medication or surgery or difficult birth is often seen, then the patient is referred to a District hospital. If the District hospital can’t provide proper care then the patient is referred at the Provincial hospital. The Provincial hospital in Kisumu has things like surgeries, X-ray, and even MRI. If something is too much for even a Provincial hospital and a sub-specialty surgery or care is needed (cardiothoracic, neurosurgery) then patients (if they can afford it) are referred to more modern hospitals in Nairobi. The primary care for the patient is given by relatives, completing tasks like feeding, giving water, changing linens and clothes, etc. The only care the medical staff gives is medical treatment and medications and supplies like bandages and ointments and IV fluids. If a patient finds they can no longer afford the care, then the care immediately stops. Once the patient gets enough money to pay for their care, medical treatment can resume. However, patients are not allowed to leave the hospital until they have enough money to pay for all the care they received up front at the hospital payment desk. So a patient who cannot pay for care is still stuck in the hospital, raking in more bills for renting out the bed in the ward while they try to get enough money to pay for the care that they previously ran out of money to pay for. So seeing all of that was definitely different than what I was used to seeing in the United States and learning about how hospitals, especially government run hospitals operate, was an eye opener.
Ok so now I am back from the rant about the Provincial hospital. So we arrived at the hospital and were directed to the Maternal and Child Health ward which is a large building located directly adjacent to the main hospital building. Once inside we sat for a little bit because, like most experiences I have had here, the people on the hospital side who were supposed to organize a room for us to use…had not organized a room for us to use. So after a little downtime they announced that they had prepared a room for us so I was elated…for like 30 seconds. I realized walking down to the room they had setup for us was located in the TB ward. And yeah it was nice to see stickers everywhere advocating for opening windows and avoiding enclosed spaces, but in a hospital designed by the USSR, large open windows and proper ventilation didn’t seem to be high on their priority list. Luckily we were towards the back of the ward in our own room. So we crammed 9 people into a room of comparable size to my freshman dorm room (Stine 208) and setup two ultrasound machines next to two strategically placed beds. Moses handed out these little booklets that the clinic officers were to use to record all the data collected during the examination such as presence of fetus, position, fetal heart rate, amniotic fluid index, placenta position, is there previa, etc. They had to search for the same things Moses had taught me too look for while doing ultrasounds during my first week at KMET. So we split up the 6 clinic officers into two groups and each group worked together on conducting and analyzing the ultrasounds. Moses monitored one group while I monitored the other. These students had previously had 10 months of classroom training that included maternal ultrasound logic but this was their first time actually doing a maternal ultrasound so the first day was a learning experience for them. They seemed to know pretty well what to look for and mainly had questions on specifics like proper orientation of the skull for measuring the biparietal diameter or if the waves produced when in” M mode” (a mode the ultrasound can be set to in order to measure fetal heart rate accurately) were defined enough to yield and accurate fetal heart rate. The next day I was pleased to find that we were switching rooms to be further away from the TB area. That was exciting. We moved to a much smaller room though so we still had 9 people in a tiny room but this time had only one machine and one examination table setup. By the end of the second day the students had really picked up on how to read ultrasounds and explain to the patient what was going on and what they were looking at on the screen. By this time I realized that I was a bit less useful (since Moses could watch over just one machine by himself) and very much just taking up space in the crowded room so I decided to spend the next two days at the Corkran clinic instead to do any ultrasounds that came in there. I did that all day Thursday and then Friday Emily, Ludi, and I went to visit the CDC building located adjacent NNPGH to hear from Andrea Davis who heads the Global HIV/AIDS program for the CDC here in Kenya. Andrea gave us a rundown of her job which included overseeing all operations and where they money given by the CDC for the program specifically goes to. She took us on a tour of the facility which was comprised of an administrative building, a health clinic, a laboratory, and a new research center being setup for an upcoming TB study being done in Kisumu.
That Friday we were supposed to go to Nairobi but the bus transport ended up not working out as planned. We went to the stage where the buses gather that are going to places like Nairobi to see if we could find a bus leaving at 7. We found a guy who said his bus was leaving at 7 for Nairobi but that didn’t happen. We forgot that just because they say they are leaving at 7 means they will really leave a few hours later than that because in Kenya, or at least Kisumu, transport won’t leave until the bus or matatu is completely packed full of people. We got on the bus around 6:30 and once 9:45 came around we decided it was no longer worth it or safe to make the 5-7 hour bumpy bus ride to Nairobi only to arrive at 3am when no hostels are open and no transport would be available. So we got off the bus 600Ksh poorer and retreated to the rooftop bar Duke of Breeze to hangout for a bit before heading home to sleep. The next day we decided to go hike some rock formations outside of Kisumu. I can’t spell the name of the place but if you picture a lot of big boulders oddly stacked on top of one another providing awesome views of the Kenyan landscape below…then there is no need to know what is was called. We hiked about 4 miles to get there because we jumped off our matatu early to explore other random rock formations we saw in the distance from the roadside. It was really fun to explore like that because I got to see a new rural side of the Kisumu area that I had not seen before so close to town. Mud huts sparsely placed all over the landscape surrounded by fields of maize, beans, and other vegetables.
The next week was a normal week of working in the clinic and doing more research for my grant proposal. Looking up specific BMUs in the area and what I wanted the grant money to be used for. Then that Friday morning we headed out on a 3 day safari to Masai Mara. It was awesome. Before even entering the park we saw zebras and giraffes. On our first game drive into the park we saw a cheetah feeding on an impala that it had just taken down which was really cool to see. We saw elephants, water buffalo, gazelle, impala, wildebeest, and so many other animals on our first drive. The next day we saw two male lions right as we entered the park and got up very close to them which was really cool to see. Then we decided to go through a giant mud puddle and our safari van almost tipped and felt like it went up on two wheels before slamming back down spraying mud everywhere and leaving us stuck. We waited about 10 minutes before another safari van came along and was able to tow us out but we then discovered we had a small leak in the tire. We decided we could last the whole day and change the tire later. We were wrong. About 20 minutes later the tired was much lower and we pulled over to change it but for some reason our driver decided we could still make it. We were wrong again. About 5 minutes after that our tire was completely flat and almost off the rim. It just so happened it went completely flat in the middle of a high grassy field down in a little valley so no other vans could really see us in the middle of nowhere. The ground was uneven so we spent about 2 hours total digging, ripping grass up, and maneuvering the ghetto car jack and a large rock to lift the car up so we could switch the tires out. After that experience we were on our way again. But after an hour or so maybe, we heard a weird noise from under the van. We got out and discovered that our fuel tank had partially fallen off the vehicle. So that was exciting. The tank was then tied back on using some rope and random copper wires lying around the vehicle to hold until we made it back to camp. Our driver, Rafael, felt bad that our day was a bust so we got up very early the next morning and headed out to the Mara River. We got to visit the Tanzania-Kenya border and jump back and forth from Tanzania to Kenya. I don’t think we were supposed to do that and I am unaware if admitting that is something that I could be prosecuted for later on but it’s worth it. So then we went to the Mara River and saw the areas where the wildebeest cross during their annual migration which was just starting during the time we were there. We saw lots of hippos and a few crocodiles.

This past week I really kicked into gear putting the finishing touches on my grant proposal and moving into action. My goal with the mini-grant proposal was to figure out a way to fulfill KMETs dream of providing a “floating health clinic” to those populations living on the Kenyan shores and islands of Lake Victoria. To do this, I did research on beach management units (BMUs) that populate the Kenyan shores and islands on Lake Victoria. Beach management units are organizations of fisherman that are official bodies recognized by the Kenyan government and Ministry of Fisheries. In order to be considered an official BMU, these communities must be comprised of at least 30 boats used for fishing by the community and have a solid infrastructure being composed of a BMU chairperson, an executive committee, and various sub-committees as well. I also discovered that the BMUs in Kenya are considered MARPs or most-at-risk populations for HIV/AIDS and other diseases like TB and malaria that often lead to the high mortality rates in these areas. I realized I had hit a gold mine for my project; a BMU was exactly what I needed to jump start this floating clinic. Utilizing a BMU in the area was reassuring because the BMUs already had to have a legitimate infrastructure in order to be considered an official BMU by the Kenyan government. Therefore, the chances of this pilot program succeeding and being able to be used in other BMUs in Kenya on Lake Victoria drastically increased. The goal of my project is to provide health services and education to a most-at-risk population that is an integral part of the surrounding Kisumu life. These populations are the ones that get the fish and are able to provide it to those in the area and all throughout Nyanza Province and Kenya and so I wanted to provide them with an opportunity to better their lives so that they could continue providing the important goods and services that Kisumu and Kenya as a whole have relied on them to do for so long. So my project goal is to find a way for KMET to obtain a boat. It just so happens that a staff member at KMET heard of old Kenyan government boats (previously used to carry healthcare supplies) that had been abandoned on the shores of Lake Victoria. This past week we have been trying to set up meetings with someone who has rights over one of the boats to see if they would donate the vessel to KMET so that KMET could repair it and utilize it as the centerpiece for their floating health clinic. Once obtaining a boat my goal is to use the $200 grant to hire someone from the pilot program BMU to refurbish the boat. The sustainability part comes from what the money would used to refurbish the boat would do. After refurbishing the boat my program is setup to find someone in the BMU that would oversee the boat and serve as a liaison between KMET health outreach teams and the Dunga BMU community. The boat would only be used by KMET during health outreaches and all other times the community would be able to utilize the boat for fishing – maybe for someone whose boat is being repaired or someone who has no boat – which would provide a job for someone to now earn a living themselves to provide for their family and to invest in their community. When someone would use the boat, they would be “renting” it from the community and would pay a small fee for use of the boat from whatever fish sales they have. Whatever is left would be their own profit. The funds raised by the rental fee could then be used to pay for boat upkeep and maintenance. This way once the initial refurbishing of the boat is done it will allow for the community to have a new fishing vessel which will create more jobs and allow more profit to come into the community. Simultaneously, having the boat there would allow for KMET to be able to come once a month or maybe more if there is demand and provide health outreach services and education to islands and beaches of the Dunga BMU. My timeline is for 6 months because I decided that 6 health outreaches would give KMET a good indicator if they were having an impact on community health in that area and if the floating clinic is as effective as we hope it will be. I see that I mentioned Dunga BMU in the rant above and you are probably asking “what the hell is a Dunga BMU.” I wrote my grant proposal and planned to find a reliable BMU in the area that could serve as the pilot program site for the floating health clinic. Luckily, Agnes was able to find some contacts who led us to a place called Dunga BMU which is located outside of town, right on the lake. This BMU was voted the 2nd best BMU in all of Kisumu last year (they have a trophy just like we used to get after baseball season to prove it, they showed me). Last Thursday, July 19 Agnes, another volunteer Ann, and I went to visit Dunga and meet with the executive committee. We told them what KMET was about and what my vision was and they were very excited. They had tons of ideas on how to mobilize their community like offering boat races on the lake during an outreach and even offered us an old abandoned room that used to house a Red Cross office for use during health outreach programs. They even said if we wanted KMET could setup a permanent health clinic there and that they had already purchased some land that would serve as a health clinic site if they ever found a donor or NGO that wanted to help make that happen. Although it is way too soon to decide all of that it was really great to hear how excited they were and how receptive they said the community would be to these outreaches. HIV/AIDS and other diseases like TB and malaria are known to have high prevalence in this area and they seemed very willing to work with us so that we could help them, help themselves.

For now we are just waiting to hear back from the board about what specific services they want offered in their community and when we could setup a meeting where department heads of KMET could attend a Dunga BMU community meeting to explain what they do and how they could empower the Dunga community and answer any questions or concerns. With only one week left…actually less than that now…there is still lots of work to do but it is nice to be so busy and working with so many enthusiastic people. At first I wasn’t sure if my project would really amount to anything but with the cooperation of everyone involved thus far it really made me think that this could blow up to be the amazing innovation that myself and KMET thought it could be. We will see how these last 3 days go and I can’t wait for updates on the program once I am finally home and KMET starts doing outreaches in Dunga.

So yeah, sorry again I missed out on these last few weeks but it was nice to be busy and experiencing Kenya. None of this would have ever happened if it wasn’t for the Heston Experience program so I am very happy and grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Note: The pictures below are from our safari and our day excursion to the rock formations that we hiked around.

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The Adventures of Chris and Phellix

For the past for weeks Chris and I have been trying to upload videos on the blog. But the video sizes are too big for this blog’s format. So we created another blog where we can upload our videos. Internet is not too strong here, it takes a long time to upload something. So check daily as we continue to update our video blog. Here is the Link:

http://nicahestons.blogspot.com/

Phellix

Every coin has two sides

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One exciting thing that happened last week and goes on till this week is the little pen pal program I set up for the elder kids at Meals and More. Every Tuesday morning, a chunk of time was allotted to me to teach the children some Chinese. Considering the complexity of the language, it is very difficult for the elementary school children to grasp the language in a short amount of time. So, I decided to incorporate some cultural elements into the lesson. Three weeks ago, we learned about some fun facts about China. The kids laughed after the facts that toilet paper was invented in China in the late 1300s and fortune cookies are not a traditional Chinese custom, but were invented in 1920 by a worker in the Key Heong Noodle Factory in San Francisco.
During the lessons, the children came up with all sorts of questions about China. Their desire to learn about different cultures connected with an idea I had years ago. When I was learning English in middle school I hoped that I could have had an American pen pal, so that I could learn about American culture and practice English with native speakers. Based on that idea, the little pen pal program was set up. I collected questions that the children write down for their Chinese peers and connected with some middle school students back home. There are some interesting conversations happening in the back and forth correspondences. Since I was not supposed to post any photo with the kids showing their faces, I’m glad that I could post some of the little letters here that showcase the cross-culture experience they had.

The summer is more than half way over. Most of our times immersed in the Gettysburg community are filled with laughter, learning, and inspiring conversations. However, as every coin has two sides, we all have experienced challenges, hardships, and disappointments at different levels. Meagan Shreve, the director at SCCAP, talked about the severe state budget cut on SCCAP programs at our breakfast table last week. I have seen my program unable to meet the need of every child due to all sorts of limitations. At times, the anxiety and sense of helplessness haunt me because of the limited things I can do as an individual. However, like Cam said in her speech at GIV Day last year, “I work at the Center for Public Service not because I believe I have solutions to the issues of our society, but because I want to learn and become aware of them.” And becoming aware of the issues facing our community is the first step we take to make changes.

Yaou

No. 4: Nicaragua’s Ferris Bueller?

Well, not really.

Ferris Bueller was pretty good at skipping school, but I think I have got him beat when it comes to skipping work. For those of you who just raised an eyebrow at that last sentence (and for those of you who raised two since raising one eyebrow can be really hard for some people) I swear it is not what it sounds like; Nicaragua’s hospital intern is not carelessly skipping work to go out touring the countryside. That would be totally negligent. Indeed, in reality I am carefully skipping work not carelessly skipping work. The hospital staff always tell me how much they miss me and/or are jealous when I go out on weekday adventures, but they are all for a good cause. And by “good cause” I do not mean to say they are philanthropic—no, alas, I wish I could justify them so legitimately—instead, the aim is “cultural immersion.” With a pretense so vague, just about any activity qualifies as cultural enrichment. ‘Perfect!’ That was me quoting myself when I realized all this. The weekday excursions are usually only a day long anyway and thus work still takes up a large part of my time here weekly. All that said, this is blog number 4 *cue applause* just kidding, no applause, that raises expectations too much. It is best to keep things low key. What is not low key, however, is the length of this blog. Sorry for writing so much, a lot happens in 20 days.

Most of the encouragement to make the most of the program had actually been a large part of Greg’s parting wisdom as he returned to the States at the beginning of the month. The aim of being an intern in a foreign country is to learn both in and outside of work. Taking the rhetoric to heart, I found myself looking forward toward more adventures as I remained in the middle of the continuous adventure in the hospital. After a short conversation with Greg and Aaron at Greg’s proverbial Last Supper, which happened to be lunch, I decided that I wanted to do a full-moon night hike on one of Nicaragua’s active volcanos: Telica. Later, Phellix opted to join and so the dream team was about to set off on another quest.

We arrived at the establishment, Quetzal Trekkers, at 9:30pm on Tuesday night. We packed our gear and ate dinner; they served pasta. The part of my heritage that borrows existence from my last name could not help but eat three full servings of the pasta with the meat and cheese sauce. My acid-reflex-damaged esophagus cursed my gluttonous eyeballs the rest of the evening.

It was a twenty minute truck ride to the starting point, which was actually at the base of a second volcano or mountain; I do not think I ever asked. Around 11:00pm that night, we began our hike to circumvent the first volcano. Circumvent is one of those words that when you have the chance to use it correctly in context, you must move swiftly and take advantage of the opportunity like snatching a cookie from the plate you left out for Santa just praying the jolly old fellow fails to notice. It is also kind of like the word “defenestrate.” How often is there a whole word dedicated to a very specific action (in this case, jumping out of a window)? Alright, back on topic.

The hike to the base of the actual Telica crater took 3 hours, with an unnecessary 30 minute break in the middle of a moonlit farm for all the old people. The climb itself was a little over an hour and we arrived at the summit around 4:30am, the whole time guided by the light of the full moon. By the time we hiked to the actual crater, felt the sulfur stinging our lungs, and could see the bubbling lava, it was around 5:00am and the sun had just started to fling brilliant pastel rays into the fading night sky. Hence the attached photo. The volcano roared as loud as a jet engine as the red magma, beneath swirls of smoke, churned and gargled as if it had gastrointestinal problems.

Then after some awesome photography by Chris & Phellix Incorporated ® the four hour descent began. The only thing that kept me going was that the day was July fourth and, in my excitement, I began to whistle the Star Spangled Banner or just recite classic American sayings. The British chaps that were with us on the hike said: “congratulations on your independence” and they seemed bitter—still. It was 236 years ago. Aaron, Phellix, Moisés, and I celebrated adequately later in the day with burgers, hot dogs, a grill, country music, and maybe fireworks.

Anyway, the descent felt like walking among a pack of zombies moving in a haggard line, all stumbling toward the trucks that waited at the bottom. On the ride home, all 16 people fell asleep—too bad the truck was not designed for sleeping. It was a flat-bed truck with railings erected on either side and a tarp attached overhead. So, the scene of 16 tightly-packed strangers nodding off into railings and accidentally bumping heads in semi-consciousness can easily be imagined. When we got back, we were given a free t-shirt and breakfast. I would have traded my t-shirt in for extra breakfast if the breakfast were not already buffet style. I outdid my dinner record: that day I had four helpings of cereal and went home trying to stay awake so as to not mess up my sleep schedule, but instead fell asleep in three separate chairs before I realized the battle was futile.

By the time I got back to work it was Thursday and I had already begun training for my next adventure.

Each time I heard the story, it changed. It was just a race first. No big deal, right? Then it was a race up a big hill. Okay, still not terrible. Then it was a race over the river and through the woods, but, in this version, grandmother’s house was not waiting at the other side. Just kidding, it was never actually that last scenario. Regardless, the hyperbole illustrates just how ridiculous the whole thing felt. It reminded me of when doctors say: “This will only hurt a little” when they brandish alarmingly pointy needles. I am sorry to say I have become guilty of that transgression at work.

Anyway, staying on task: the race was scheduled for Sunday the 8th.

So around Monday of the preceding week, I felt it might be in my best interests to begin training a little more seriously. That never happened. So fast-forward to Friday. My family had told me about the city-wide march that was going to take place on Saturday, July 7 to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the liberation of León—the first capital of the Sandinista Revolution. The march was to begin in town and snake its way toward the more suburban area of Suitiava, where Phellix, Aaron, and I live, and then up an intensely steep hill to a fortress that was used during the dictatorship of Somoza to monitor the city. I ran up that hill 3 times in a row, expecting it to be a nice taste of my race the following day; I could have sworn that I have never run a hill nearly so difficult in my entire track and cross country careers. Or maybe I am wretchedly out of shape. Either way, the thing was a monster and it is no wonder it took the Sandinistas 12 days of siege to eventually storm the place. I realized then that there was no way I would win the race since there were probably Nicaraguans who trained there daily. When I returned to the house, proudly boasting of what I had done, my host brothers said that people get stabbed and robbed along such stretches of road so I think I shall not be running there ever again. That said, the march was the following day and I went out with my host dad dressed in dull shades of green and brown—nothing too gringo. When we got to the center of town, my father thrust a giant banner my way and ordered me to open it in the middle of the street where the large crowd had been marinating in the July heat. I gathered they had been there for some time because the marchers were already quite antsy. But, like moths to the flame, veterans of the revolution converged on us as we unraveled the Sandinista banner and everyone grabbed a fistful of fabric for the march.

In retrospect, I think I fancy myself a bit of a novice when it comes to marches and demonstrations. Aside from a March for the Cure walk or something, I prefer to stay away from large crowds. Fortunately, to look at least a little less gringo, my host dad bought me a headband with the acronym “FSLN” which are the initials of the Sandinista party: “Frente Sandinista Liberación Nacional”. After some marchers fired off fireworks from potato guns, and miraculously did not maim themselves with their misguided safety precautions, I heard some whistles, and revving of engines as the giant mass lurched forward. After fifteen paces, the men holding the edges of the banner had already run over two people and had said some not-so-nice words to a third, geriatric man struggling to move his bike through the crowd. So, like salmon with our banner, we stupidly swam against the current—sometimes shuffling sideways, other times pushing forward even when crowd momentum had been lost, or sometimes totally stopping the entire crowd behind us just to get some pictures. For whatever reason, the men carrying the banner were in a great rush to push forward and thus we furled up the banner from time to time and ran ahead of people, knocked some out of the way, or just shouted obscenities at others until they moved. Needless to say, I feared a little bit for my safety but figured that these men, veterans of Nicaragua’s Civil War, were quite capable of maneuvering us away from trouble. The march overall went well and when I finally got home that evening, I decided to go to sleep early for the race.

I woke up at 7 and was planning on wearing what I always wear when I go running: my Frisbee shorts and no shirt. My family advised me to wear long pants because of the terrain of the course. So I put on long pants and a tank-top and began to question what kind of path I was going to be running where pants were a necessity. We then ran to catch the 8 o’clock bus which did not actually leave until everyone was well-toasted and sweaty by 8:40, thanks to the Nicaraguan time delay. Before we left, a small man with a round face, wide-set eyes, and smart moustache stepped up onto the bus and started to tell us what the day was to entail: visiting a man at his farm to bring the statue of Mary to bless his land, then an outdoor mass, and then the race. My insides tightened, I was already unreasonably nervous for this race—mainly because my family actually expected me to win—and now it was going to be further postponed by other festivities. Then the man, who I presumed to be a priest, began preaching about the sacrifices we make for God—in the same breath that he had mentioned the race. To assure that the mention of “race” and “sacrifice” was not coincidental, he must have said the word “sacrifice” at least ten more times. At that point, I began to question what kind of race I had actually signed up for.

The mass was really quite enjoyable. It was too bad the location was poorly planned and most of the parishioners, myself included, roasted as the service dragged onward. While the priest talked, I stretched. I only half-listened to his homily as I was more immediately concerned with the vertical peak that loomed behind him: that was the course. My brother had come up to me at least three times during the mass to point out the pinnacle of the hill saying: “That’s where you have to climb to and then go back down and then go back up and you win.” It seemed simple enough. I strained my neck, squinted, and furled my eyebrows in search of the path that would wind its way up to the top. At the base of the hill was a dense, knotted thicket of thorny bushes and nasty underbrush. More toward the summit of the sharp hill, the unpleasant greenery gave way to harsh rocks half-buried among sunbaked dirt. Then, at the very top, stood a lone tree with foliage like a big fan blade. “So where is the path to the top?” I asked gesturing. “Oh,” my host brother seemed amused by my ignorance, “there isn’t one.” It was then that I realized the “race” was not going to be a race at all, at least not in any of the conventional senses I have come to know it by. No, at best, it was going to be a walk of attrition.

Though I was humored by my wit, it did little to alleviate the fact that I had just penned my name in the book of competitors, supposedly affirming that I knew I was about to willingly plunge head-first into an army of plants that looked just about as friendly as a “Welcome back to work!” party for the Enron executives. Alright, that was a little exaggerated. The priest then began to enumerate the dangers of the path ahead. “Be careful, competitors, for there are thorns, barbed wire, and snakes on the side of the hill. And try not to get too badly hurt because all we have is rubbing alcohol and—oh we do? And some cotton.” I thanked my lucky stars that they had prepared so thoroughly.

We did some warm ups and then, after reading the names of the competitors like a list of war casualties, we lined up and the priest mounted himself in a parapet with his microphone to commentate. “3…2…1!” He shouted and a full line of people hurled themselves into the brush.

I initially fought through a crowd of people, heard my host brother urge me forward, juked left into some spiny bushes, slipped on some rocks, clawed through the underbrush, and all the while moving forward. After thirty seconds, I regretted the tank-top. I could feel the thorns sliding through my skin and ripping at my clothes, but all I thought about was finishing with a respectable place. Meanwhile, droning on in the background, were the drummers, the band, and the priest’s voice. I did not quite listen to what he said in those first minutes because I was too concerned with the multiple stab wounds I was receiving but at least the music was encouraging.

What happened mid-way up the hill, I do not think I will forget anytime soon. After I had whacked aside thorns with my arms and clambered up the steep face of the hill, I finally saw the barren rocks ahead of me and could see the faces of the Nicaraguan Boy Scouts situated at the top looking down at me. I knew I needed to climb up to them to retrieve a bandana before descending to give it to the priest at the bottom. Out of the din below, I heard the priest’s voice with surprise and excitement: “And in first place…the American? Yes, I believe that is the American out in first place, ladies and gentlemen.” I felt like I was in the Olympics. I think I smiled right then, in spite of myself, because I thought how ridiculous it was that I was actually winning the race that I had thought was more like a “last man standing” competition. Spurred on by the priest’s booming voice and the ensuing cheers of the crowd, I snatched my bandana and hurled back down the hillside, a little too fast.

I tumbled down the mountain side and was met hands-first by a jagger bush—that is what we call them in Pittsburgh anyway which reminds me…SHOUT OUT to my Pittsburgh people: Becca Johnson—little life in Gettysburg? Gettysburg air conditioning? A.K.A. best things about coming back to the States; see you on the sixth! Alex Taylor—I think I am going to need around several dozen thousand cookies when I get back since I have been deprived of sugar for extended periods here so you better be ready! Steve Patrick—we will break that football record in your pool, and maybe break our bodies in the process but it will be worth it and then go to baseball games and heckle the outfielders, and obviously the family—love you all and I am excited to spend 3.5 weeks in America with you guys before I leave again. And I guess I can count Adrienne Ellis as an honorary Pittsburgh person since she was there all last week but she also lives in Cleveland so I try not to judge her too much; either way see you in August!

Anyway, back on topic, I heard the priest the whole time as I descended the hill. He talked about how exciting it was to have the foreigner out in front and how proud the Nicaraguans were (he spoke collectively for them) to have me participating. Meanwhile, I was still wondering how he found out where the heck I was from.

Long story short, I won. After climbing and descending the mountain once more, I gazelle-leaped out of the final hurdle in the brush and threw myself across the tape of the finish line. I cannot really describe what it was like crossing the finish line with half of my arm skin dangling from the jungle of thorns I had left behind, but I can tell you I was in more pain than the Russians were in when they lost the Space Race. After the nice lobster burn and the stripes of scratched skin, the mosquitos began to come after me. The grand irony was that I could not even put on bug spray if I wanted to. Needless to say, my skin was in a sorry state that day.

After the priest congratulated the other competitors on finishing, he announced my name and I saw everyone looking at me, taking pictures and videos, like I was some sort of spectacle. “Christopher come to the microphone.” The priest then said. As I approached, he looked at me closer, seemed humored, said: “you look like a lined notebook!” The crowd laughed. So, after a small speech about the pride he had in seeing a foreigner participate and overcome obstacles like one must in a religious life, he shoved the microphone toward me and asked if I knew Spanish. I said yes and said something about how I thought the course was going to be a death struggle but it was worth the fight and how I was honored to share in the Nicaraguan tradition. After the short applause that ensued, he bestowed me the medallion of silver and congratulated me again. The proprietor of the estate on which the event took place found me later and, swallowing my hand in his paw, he shook it forcefully echoing the words of the priest and saying how much better this year’s competition was from the previous year.

Thus, as we left the festivities of the afternoon, the family decided that celebratory beer was in order. With my first glass, I poured out just enough of the frothy antiseptic to lather my arms, hoping the 4.6% alcohol content would at least perform some type of disinfection, and the rest I drank. I believe the family wanted to get drunk and just waste their entire Sunday because after the race, even though I was heralded as “el campeón” for the rest of the day, I was denied the privilege of a nice cold shower and a bed. I was actually taken out to the family farm where they must have consumed 8 liters of beer, but I was not really counting because I fell asleep on a trio of chairs I had rigged into a bed.

Thus ends the tale of the valiant, but perhaps foresightedly-challenged American.

Speaking of foresight, I know that the vast majority of us are familiar with power outages in the U.S. or elsewhere; usually they are precipitated by inclement weather. In Nicaragua there is no pattern to power outages. Thus, upon receiving the “server curtailment” message from “hayden” on Monday I thought how I spent my Monday…oh yeah, now I remember: I spent the day working in Santa Rosa del Peñón’s rural Health Clinic with the doctors and passed that night working by the candlelight beside the doctor on night rotation. When the electricity goes out in Nicaragua, perhaps twice weekly, it is always an adventure. Without saying too much for the sake of my own pride, there were at least three instances where I—shall we say—forgot where the furniture was located.

One of those times, it may or may not have resulted in an embarrassing foot injury and a dirty word or two in Spanish. Never mind, I just tripped over a plant that someone left in the middle of the family walk space beside the living room. So it has been determined that the problem might not be the lack of light but carelessness instead. Or, more conveniently, it could be the fact that Nicaraguans have a strange habit of completely disregarding ergonomics. That is to say that they seem to misunderstand the concept of fitting the living/working space to the habitual interaction and movement of people.

Obvious examples of this are everywhere: unmarked and/or “homemade” speed bumps where self-imposed traffic vigilantes just throw a bunch of large rocks out onto the street and cover them in a mound of dirt as a means of slowing down local traffic. Another example is the EKG room on the fourth floor of the hospital. Perhaps this is just a strange means of ingenuity and I am overlooking it but, regardless, sharing the coffee/breakfast bar with an examination room is something that seems both uncomfortable and unsanitary. The best example of this disregard, however, is on the first floor of the hospital. I am a frequent customer of the blood laboratory there, thanks to the general demand for blood testing. The machine that tests the blood, the gasómetro (I literally do not know the word in English), was once located in a nice room tucked away beyond all the daily commotion of the lab technicians. I had no complaints about its location then, except that one time when somebody left a mob lying in the doorway and I tripped almost taking two nurses with me. Now, however, the machine has been moved to the middle of the hallway. Really? I inquired as to why and the response was: “because that’s where you can feel the air conditioning the best.” Now I have arrived to the gasómetro quite hot and sweaty on more than one occasion and I must say I have never felt the cool touch of the air conditioning that I was promised. Nowadays, taking blood tests is a little annoying because the machine probably could not be placed in a worse place—wait, I just thought of one. Okay, the bathroom would be the worst, but this is the second worst because people always bump into my fanny pack. Perhaps I wear it in a poor place as it sticks out from my body like a nasty growth on my lower back. To be fair, however, I have always thought that the lab coat covers the pack enough that it just looks like I have an impressive buttocks. Or I could be totally wrong and maybe everyone secretly laughs to themselves at my horrendous notion of fashion.

Only one time did I wear the brilliantly stylish pack out to one of the disco clubs and Phellix never let me hear the end of it, so that ended that. Anyway, this whole story started as a talk of ergonomics and shall be left at that.

But the culture here is perhaps the most interesting thing that Nicaragua and its people have taught me. To indicate or point out something they use their lips, not their index finger as we do in the U.S. From the members of the family to respected medical doctors, everyone here makes a kissing face when they simply mean to physically identify something. Timeliness is another facet of the Nicaraguan culture that comes to mind currently as I sit here waiting to go to a wedding mass. At school, the chapel is fortunately very close to where I have lived so I usually left five minutes before 5 o’clock (mass time) and still arrived punctually. In an effort not to exaggerate, last weekend I tried to go to church with Antonia, my Nicaraguan replacement mom, and we left the house at 5:21pm for 5:00pm mass. Given that the Nicaraguan priests have zero tolerance for frivolity, mass usually lasts half-an-hour. Thus, after a late departure and a five minute walk, we were left with four full minutes of church time. But, just kidding, mass ended early that day and, when we arrived, the whole congregation was already parading around the streets lighting off fireworks and chanting in commemoration of another Saint’s day. As the French say: c’est la vie.

And thus ends the fourth blog. Only one more and only 8 days left.

Respectfully yours,
Christopher Joseph Dellana

Ah yes, the pictures: the one dog is the family dog and since I am a member of the family here now they make me answer the phone even though, like at home in the states, the phone is NEVER for me. Even worse here is that I usually cannot even understand what the caller is saying. Phellix the photographer took the sunrise photo atop the Telica volcano. The high-contrast photo is of me holding the cloth banner during the march. The picture of the dead rodent was my first victory against the rodent incursion in my room, since then my efforts have failed to be successful. The final picture is of my host brother Luis and I after the wedding.

2101_2113Amanecer_pulgarCaneloYooo_ratn

Halfway!

First off, thanks to all my awesome housemates for the great birthday, you guys are the best! 🙂 Maura’s cake was amazing, Yaou’s arts and crafts were beautiful, Chandra was the perfect co-birthday buddy, and Mo made sure the evening didn’t get too boring. In his own special way.

Secondly, Chandra and I are coming up on our 1,000th meal as Campus Kitchen interns as well as our 1,000th pound of donated food! I can’t believe we’ve already been able to process and distribute that much food, and it really makes it feel like we’ve been able to make a difference. I know that in my last blog post I was complaining about I felt we weren’t making as big of a difference as we could, but finding those numbers while trolling our spreadsheets really helped me get some perspective. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to keep trying to expand the kitchen’s reach and capacity, but it was good to see that we have been able to do a lot. Chandra and I have been struggling with obtaining enough protein to meet the needs of all our recipients, but I think we’re making some progress on that too. Perhaps most exciting on the Kitchen Front though, is that our new kitchen is supposed to be ready to move into starting on Monday! It looks great with new floors and paint thanks to Steve, the man in charge of maintenance at SCCAP. I am so excited to move in because having our own space will mean Chandra and I can work in the kitchen whenever we want, not just after 2pm, we’ll be able to store more food, accommodate more volunteers, and just have much more freedom and control over everything the kitchen does. I’m just sad that we won’t be able to spend much time in the new facility before our internship is over.

At LIU I still kind of feel like I’m struggling to find my niche within the organization. I think that because I missed the first week of classes for the middle school kids’ trip to DC and because the class itself has been in flux thanks to the funding issues, I never really got a chance to settle in and establish what my role would be. I think part of the problem is that I’m not very assertive, but at the same time I feel weird about having to demand that people recognize that I’m around to help. I’m hoping that if I just keep showing up with my handouts and worksheets, and keep trying to help as much as possible things will settle into place more. I do love going to the classes and working with the students, and I actually kind of like making grammar and vocab worksheets (coolest hobby ever, right?) so it’s not that I’m not enjoying my LIU placement, it’s more that I’m just uncertain about what my role should be. I’ve especially liked the themed classes that we’ve been doing lately because I think it’s great that we are able to teach general grammar as well as functional English that is highly applicable to the students’ everyday lives. Recently we’ve been working on words and phrases that one would use when making/going to a doctor’s appointment. This included how to talk to the receptionist on the phone, how to describe symptoms, general anatomy, and filling out forms at the doctor’s office. Because we’ve been focusing on such functional things it’s made it even sadder to think that the class may not have funding past this summer. It serves such an important purpose and such an under-served population that I really hope there’s a way it can keep going.

And sorry if anything in this post seems outdated… I’ve not been very good about starting and finishing my blog post in the same day. Or even the same week in this case. But I’m looking forward to another week of Heston and a little frightened that there’s only four weeks left!

Melanie