Sunday, July 15, 2018

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

I think that I am made most aware of cultural differences between my home country and my host country during community field work. I always work with a student from the local university while walking door to door to collect data in the community. We walk at a steady pace; though to my partner I am 'always in a rush' or ' walking too fast.' Usually I can attribute this to excitement, I know exactly how little time I have left here and I know that I want it to be spent in a worthwhile way. 
 My field partner this past week, Raymond, is a pro a taking things calmly and in their due time. It’s a trait that he seems to share with many of the people that we work with. And also a trait that I feel the local language lends itself to. Conversations in Tshivenda begin with a greeting that almost feels rehearsed in the way that it flows back and forth between the two speakers. We start with hello, then a greeting that is dependent on the time of the day, which is followed by a question asking how the other person is or how their day has gone. This greeting is a few phrases long and it took me quite a while to get completely comfortable with speaking it in Tshivenda. After the greeting the conversation style turns to a slower pace and becomes more thoughtful.

One aspect of field work that has surprised me is the way that community members respond to our presence. Usually before we are able to say anything or explain why we are there, the person we are talking to has rushed off to get chairs for us to sit or asked a child to retrieve them. No one here speaks more than pleasantries while standing, all other communication has to be done while sitting. It’s a habitual thing that has caused me to look more closely at my own ways of communication with people. (and has also lead to me being called out when my habits don’t exactly align with those around me.)

My time in the field has led to so many wonderful experiences, along with moments of extreme confusion. I feel that I learn the most in those moments just after express that confusion, when I look over to my field partner after we’ve left a house and ask him to ‘Tell me everything that just happened and explain it slowly.’ Allowing myself to pause in these moments and process large chunks of information with my field partner has led our collaboration to be so much more rewarding than it would have been otherwise. It has also reminded me that living in the moment is so much more important than counting them down.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Time Flies in Floripa

Praia da Joaquina is a popular beach surrounded by sand dunes. Although I was sick, it was an amazing day by the ocean.

Only four more weeks left, and it feels like I have all the time in the world. Even so, I know that my time in Floripa is ending soon, and I am so thankful for the experiences I have had and the people I have met.

One interesting thing is that my mentor’s previous student has returned to Floripa to defend her master’s on Monday. At the same time, I will start conducting the last week of my study that is actually a continuation on her research. Although I will only work in the lab for two months, I hope that the research I have done will continue to be developed and help the field. After this week, I will be analyzing the data and writing my research paper. My mentor, Padua, has guided me through my research and has pushed me to work independently. I am so lucky to have worked with him for the summer because I have been able to develop and to learn as a researcher.

One thing that I have learned from my time in Brazil is the importance of being open to new experiences. Before arriving here, I was nervous about so many things from living in Brazil to meeting new people. I have been blown away by the hospitality we have received. From the students in my lab to basically every Uber driver we meet, people have been willing to help us “gringos.” We have made an effort to experience as much as possible by visiting different parts of the island and trying to communicate as best we can. Although our Portuguese is basic at best, there are so many people willing to reach out to us, which has made our experience much easier.

Although my time is almost up in Floripa, I know I will cherish the memories I have made here. I have met some of the most loving and caring people, and I am so glad to have been able to experience Brazil with them.

Two weeks left?! But I just got here...

Tangua Park is an old quarry that they have turned into a beautiful
park in Curitiba. We have had a very cold week, so we had to get out
and enjoy the sunshine
I cannot believe that I am nearing the end of my time in Curitiba. As I look back on the places I have been, the people I have met and the work that I have done, I am able to see that I have accomplished many things, but the time has passed so quickly. I am already starting to organize data that I have been collecting on the incidence of autism and how it relates to environmental factors. 

Over the next two weeks, I will be writing my research paper and working with some of the statisticians at the Pequeno Principe (Little Prince) Children's Hospital to see if we can establish any significant correlations. This is just a small part of a multifaceted autism project being conducted at the hospital that is estimated to take three years to complete. I have had the privilege of sitting in on a few planning meetings held by the group of doctors and psychologists who will be examining autistic children as part of this study. I was originally supposed to help interview the families, but unfortunately the hospital is having trouble importing the autism diagnostic kits. As a result, the examination of the children has been delayed for three months, so I will have to pass that off to the next person.

Overall, I have been thoroughly enjoying my time in Curitiba. One of the most enjoyable parts of this trip so far has been to see the differences in culture here in the south versus in Rio, where I lived last time I was in Brazil. It is intriguing to hear the various stereotypes that correspond to different regions and then meet people from these regions. They act differently and say different phrases. These cultural differences probably should not have surprised me because Brazil is a huge country, but it was surprising anyway. I feel as though I have gotten to experience a whole new Brazil by living in Curitiba.

A woman's place is where?

 My time here in the Dominican Republic has enlightened me in so many different ways. Working at the clinic has humbled me in so many ways . interacting with patients from all over the DR has truly been an experience. One of the first things I noticed, is depending how further away from the city , the thicker and harder the Spanish accent is to understand. Most of the patients that are diagnosed with HIV are women and often times have obtained transmissions from their spouse/husbands. Often times, many travel as far as 3-4 hours away to obtain medication to avoid running into someone they know at another clinic. Many are also ashamed and scared their family would discriminate against them so they do not inform them of their status. Some have even reported that their family assign them separate cups and plates to eat from, Hearing these stories breaks my heart and I offer as much comfort and kind words as I can. This really makes me open my eyes to how blessed I am and how my "1st world problems" are minute in comparison to others.

On a much lighter note, some of the patients are so filled with joy and love and are optimistic and overall grateful to be able to access their medications. Some get so carried away while we are doing interviews that they start giving us their life stories, and how lovely their grandchildren are, and they children who lives abroad etc. Some I've gotten attached too, especially the older women who radiate motherly love towards me.


My mentor took us and another one of the doctors from the clinic out for dinner, we discussed being minorities and women in medicine/Pursuit of medicine. This conversation was especially interesting for me as I always wondered how I could possibly do all 3? A doctor, wife and mother! AY DIOS MIO, Both doctors are women, married with children. They sat us down and gave us their little secrets, but this better stay between us! haha jk, lets spread the knowledge! They told us, first and foremost that we should NEVER let that thought stop us from chasing our dreams, that the right man will love and understand our passion and not make it a pursuit/egotistical challenge between the sexes, but rather a supportive one filled with compromises. They also express the importance of family time and other ways to prevent burnout. Dr, Sanchez mentions that she does her best to try to take her daughter to the park once a week. Overall it was a good experience and advice that I will cherish. In other rather sad news,  I officially have 3 weeks left and my time here is slowly dwindling down, hmmmmm how does one apply for a Dominican citizenship lol?

Well that's all folks, until next time. ;)

Oh wait.......I lost 3 pounds lol not too bad for someone who can't resist the food here eh?

Tenga un buen dia!

Patience and Endurance

These are the small vials used for the HPLC machine. If you look closely, you can see another, even smaller, vial sticking out of the tops of the brown ones. We use these to save more solution, rather than using excessive amounts to fill the brown container.
         Boa tarde, it's 2pm and life is great! The street I live on has a fair every Saturday, so I'm currently munching on a delicious pastel. The atmosphere here in the city is really growing on me. Speaking with different people and learning new words is always fun for me. The residents make it easy, because most are very patient.

        Patience: one of the many things I can learn from the Brasilians I come in contact with. As the summer nears its close, the ERG experiment I have been working on also nears it's final phases. With so much data to analyze, check, and reanalyze, I'm beginning to feel a bit anxious about my work. In the lab, I need to learn quickly, and execute tasks with efficiency. This sounds easy, but apparently there's always room for error if you're not careful. This past week while analyzing a portion of my data, I found a discrepancy that caused me to restart the entire process. The axis on one of the most important digital programs I use, Matlab, was not correct. Therefore the data produced by that engine was not correct, and all of the data I used in 2 other digital programs was also incorrect. Overall, I'm thankful I found the problem in time to fix it, however if I were more careful earlier I could have saved myself the extra work. A similar situation happened a week earlier. One of my lab mentors, Diego, and I were preparing to run HPLC. Once we filled all of the vials with the solutions of varying concentrations, we found that we had a small (actually large) problem. The most concentrated solutions began to form crystals! We later found that when filling the vials, if bubbles are left inside, crystals are more likely to form at any concentration. This is not good when running HPLC because the "L" stands for liquid.. not crystals (haha). Patience came in handy at this time because even though it was almost 7pm and we had to refill each vial, we couldn't rush.

        Although I'd like to perform certain steps quickly and figure out all the answers to all the questions of the experiment now, I can't. Science takes time, patience, and understanding. If I decide that I don't want to go slow, I'll have to start steps over and go slow anyway. I'm learning to be more observant, careful, and inquisitive. My time here in the lab has also taught me that efficiency doesn't just mean fast. I want to make sure that my time is spent well the first time, and that all the bases are covered. If this means extra research about a certain computer program, or flicking the bubbles out of 44 small vials, so be it! Since then, we have done 3 HPLCs without having that same problem. This doesn't mean that others don't arise, but it does mean that I'm learning! In the coming weeks, I will be on the path to making some conclusions about my work. As I continue to think carefully, I trust that my data will provide the exact answer I'm looking for. Until next time!