Crossing Paths

Hi I’m Nedra! I’m getting my fix of big city life and cultural exploration studying cultural anthropology and global health studies in the Chicagoland area. A native of the St. Louis area with a love for running, twitter, audiobooks, sushi, youtube, traveling, volunteering, and Delta Zeta. I am over the moon for the amazing opportunity to pursue research in Tanzania!

Tanzania: week 1!

Where to begin with this past week? So much as happened that it feels like I’ve been in Tanzania for much longer than a week; but with seven more weeks left in my program, I know that there is still so much more to experience.

The way my program is set up, the first two weeks focus on intensive Swahili. From 8:30 am until 12:30 pm, I go to class at MS Training Centre for Development Corporation (TCDC). TCDC is the best center for Swahili language courses, so I know I am learning from the best. After lunch at TCDC, my group then goes on different excursions each day. Here is how my week went.

Bright and early on Monday June 29, our program began. Instead of going to Swahili  in the morning today, we had a brief orientation with our professor, and then went to a afternoon Swahili course instead. Despite being a fairly relaxed day, that night was a little more high strung. Tonight was the first night that we had to cook for ourselves. Living with seven, still basically strangers can be difficult; but fresh off of living in my sorority house, the amount of people I was living with didn’t phase me. What did was cooking for them. As a group we decided to make cooking and cleaning groups, and luck would have it that I would be in the first group. Really not having an action plan, we quickly put together vegetarian pasta with homemade tomato sauce. We now consider ourselves to be professionals. That was basically our day.

On Tuesday, we made it to our Swahili class by 8:30, and by the class as over at 12:30, we had learned greetings, simple introductions, at least 10 verbs, and much more vocabulary. Despite the quick pace, I have really enjoyed learning Swahili. It’s a meaning that it is a much easier to learn, and it is very fun to speak as a well. For our excursion this day, we visited Meru District Hospital. This hospital was the main site of research for our professor, so it was very cool to see the infrastructure, meet the doctors and nurses, and feel the atmosphere that we had only read about and seen in photos. I think it was at this hospital where I felt the most “culture shock” I have felt since arriving in Tanzania. To see the conditions that people had to go through to get basic care at what should be one of the top hospitals in the area was astonishing, but despite all I saw, I was so impressed with the mentality of the staff we spoke to. They understood their limitations, but worked hard to work against them, and truly create hospital with high standards that could benefit it’s community. After leaving the hospital, we went back to our home in Usa River Rehabilitation Centre (URRC). I was (thankfully) not in charge of dinner, so my dinner partner and I decided to go for a run. Not the smartest idea. Not thinking my workout gear all the way through, I decided to wear a tank top and shorts, like I normally do at home. Mistake number one. We decided to run towards town (Usa River) passing many different small restaurants. Mistake number two. Let’s just say it was not a fun run.

Wednesday during the day was much of the same, except we visited Usa River Seminary Hospital and the DREAM center, which is a center specifically for patients with HIV/AIDS. In the evening, our professor took us to Tangeroo, which has a main market that sells almost anything you can think of. Wednesday and Saturday are considered market days in Meru District, so the market was a sensory overload. Customers were everywhere and every vendor was trying to sell you something. It was a pretty cool experience, mainly because our professor’s Swahili is so  impressive. I don’t see myself handling market days like a pro until I can master more sentences in Swahili than “I like rice and meat.”

Thursday put me in a very strange mood. The morning was the same as always, and in the afternoon we visited Nkoaranga Lutheran Hospital. This hospital was my favorite excision of the week. For a private hospital, which private hospitals in Meru District are typical much smaller and less funded, Nkoaranga was not only much bigger than Meru District Hospital, but also had better infrastructure with an orthopedic wing, X-ray, and new pediatric facility. Overall I was impressed with the shape of the hospital, especially because it was in a more rural area of the district. It is a spot that I definitely want to research further.

The reason for my strange mood might seems a little strange to most people, but here is the reason. A little back ground about me is that I am “African” American. I use quotations around African, because realistically, I know somewhere in my genealogy, my ancestors came from Africa. Despite this, I am not sure which parts, because as far as my parents can trace back, my family has been in the States. Thus, I consider myself Black America. With this in mind, I was pretty excited to come to Africa, to experience some of the “heritage,” that I never really had. Also on my trip is a student who was originally born in Nigeria, but is an American citizen. Even thought she is Nigerian, many people in Tanzania think she is Tanzanian. Me, on the other hand, they either ignore or think that I’m American. I’m not sure what I hoped for when coming to Africa in terms of “connecting to my heritage,” but being ignored as having African heritage really put me down.

Thursday was also the day we decided to try eating out. Our meal wasn’t the best because we missed the lunch rush and were technically too early to dinner. Most Tanzanian eat dinner at 8pm, and since we went at 6pm to be back at home before too late, we didn’t get super fresh food. We did try some Tanzania beer, which is actually cheaper than water at most restaurants—so crazy! It was pretty good.

Friday, our excursion was a sanitation tour. This tour was so eye-opening to me. In addition to the Meru Distirct Hospital, sanitation as a whole in Tanzania was shock to me, especially after this tour. Overall there is a lack of education, understanding, and care of sanitation and the environment for most Tanzanians; but as I learned, the environment and sanitation can play vital roles in heath care. Some students will be working on the sanitation improvements/limitations as their projects, and I think that this will be vial information for the area. It is the hope that with an improved environment, health risks can be reduced.

Saturday (market day) was the day we went into town (Arusha). Arusha is about 30-40 minutes way from URRC, so on Saturday we hopped in our 11 person Land Cruser with our professor, her twins, and our driver, who is a German student who has been volunteering at URRC for the past 2.5 years. Arusha was very overwhelming, especially in the main market. I didn’t buy anything until we went to the Matsai market. I was able to practice my battering, and I was pretty impressed with myself. I bought two handmade items for 8600 shillings, which is about 6 US dollars. It’s so interesting, while everything seems so cheap to us, in reality, it is expensive to most Tanzanians. After Arusha, we came back and went back to Tangeroo, which surprisingly also has a large second hand clothing market. When you think of that old sports shirt you donated to salvation army, you probably think of someone either in your town wearing your old shirt or it still hanging in the store. In reality, those shirts get shipped across the world and resold as garments in developing countries. At this market, you could find items from Coach, Lacoste, and The North Face; but you could also find shirts from American sports teams and colleges. It was really interesting.

Sunday (today) was a chill day in our house. Most of us slept in, stayed in our pajamas all day doing homework and catching up on social media. This week also brought a lot of issues with our power, hot water, and wifi; but today we had limited issues with our wifi, so we were able to catch up with things we missed during the week.

Overall all this week brought new experiences and some great memories for my first week in Tanzania. I am loving the group of students that were chosen for the program, and I am excited to see where the summer takes us. Tomorrow I leave for my home stay with one other student. We will be living with a family (without children—saddening) for about a week. This should be a very interesting week, so stay tuned!

Following are some picture from the week.

The first picture is our dinner from Saturday. Not the healthy, but because we are leaving tomorrow, we had to use all of the random food in our house. The next picture is from the main market in Arusha. The lines of vendors seem to go one forever. Next is a picture of the sewage sanitation in Meru from elevation. The view is amazing! Following that is a picture of a monkey. They are everywhere at TCDC. Finally is an amazing picture of Mount Meru, which is the mountain directly north of URRC. We can see Kilimanjaro on some clear days, such as today, to our east; but Meru we can see everyday, and the view never gets old!

Jet lag sets in

My comrades and I have finally made it to Tanzania!! We’ve only been in our home for about 5 hours, but we’ve already done so much. However, no matter how hard I try, my brain refuses to work correctly and I continue to yawn every few minutes. Jet lag is already setting in. Before hoping into my adventures in Tanzania, I feel like it is very important to first start with the travels.

My trip to Tanzania started on Friday evening. I left my hometown airport around 6:30pm and landed in Toronto, Canada around 10pm. That’s when the fun started. I had an overnight layer in Toronto. Luckily, I wasn’t traveling by myself, so instead of staying the the airport for 12 hours, we stayed at The University of Toronto. They rent out dorm rooms during the summer months for $40 Canadian dollars for a single; so if you ever find yourself in Toronto and have no place to stay, definitely check there! Our rooms were also less than a 10 minute walk to College St., which was the main social street of the local college town. After hitting Chinatown for some late night Chinese food, we walked down College St. Since we were out on a Friday, it was interesting to see everyone out and about, especially late at night. There were definitely a lot of people out, but instead of being in the bars, they were all about the streets. A little different from the states, where most people stay in the bars until they close, and then go home. After walking around, we went back to our rooms, and got about 4.5 hours of sleep. Our next flight to Ethiopia left at 11:20, so we got to the airport around 8:30; because missing that flight was not an option.

We met up with the rest of our group at the Toronto airport and boarded our 12 hour flight to Tanzania. About 5 hrs in, I was already stir crazy. Luckily with a lot of food interruptions, The Descendants and a few other Tv shows, I made it to the end.

Ethiopia airport was another story. Although we made it to our connecting flight to Kilimanjaro on time, maneuvering throughout the Ethiopian airport was a little difficult, especially with a time constant. Everything was disorganized, and we were never really sure were to go. But like I said, we made it to our flight on time; so by the time I was settled in my seat, the confusion of the Ethiopian airport was long behind me. The only thing separating me and Tanzania was just one short 2 hr flight.

As we flew from Ethiopia to Tanzania, the real nerves started to set in. The day was finally here. After long await, I was finally going to be in Tanzania. As we descended, I could see the amazing landscape of Tanzania.The different peaks, open land, and many animals as we got closer to landing. The view was breathtaking.

After going through customs and getting bags, we met Baba Jackie, one of the drivers of our compound, Usa River Rehabilitation Center. The drive to our compound was even more amazing, and I cannot wait to explore!!

The trek to Tanzania was long, but I am so excited to be here!! Here are some pictures of our trip.

Until next time!

Cheers to a new beginning!

You know those events that happen in your life, sometimes tragic and other times drastic, that shift your life in a new direction? I experienced one of those events on December 18, 2013. While it took me some time to recall the exact date in question, rest in sure that it was an event, if not day, that I will not forget.

This was the day that I decided, not by choice, to no longer be on the premed track at my university. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a doctor. I loved biology and learning about how the body works, but more than that, I loved helping people. As the years went on, the more I fell in love with the idea of getting my MD; or so I thought. Until December 18, 2013, I never looked at another profession, never gave a change of a career a thought; but being forced to do so has given me a different outlook on my future.

After an eye-opening experience last summer, I learned about global health and its importance in the public health sector. I eagerly wanted to learn and explore more about the newly growing global health field, but premed classes  got in the way. So, while losing the dream of becoming a doctor at such a late stage in the game was at first a curse; I am now trying to see it as a blessing.

This past school year, I sought out to explore, and not just in global health. I explored in all avenues around me from different cultural events in my local city to different talks and topics on my campus. I even applied for an undergraduate research grant, which I never in a million years thought I would apply for, let alone win.

That’s where this blog comes in. This summer I will be traveling to Tanzania to pursue research on maternal health care. While there will be other students with me, and I will have supervision on the ground from one of my professors, for the first time in my life, I will be conducting a handcrafted research project in another country. More than that, I am bringing you all along for the ride. From excursions to the local health clinics to adjusting to local social norms, you will get an in depth look into my time abroad.

For the longest time I had blinders for all things premed; but now, I am truly venturing out into the world, and I am beyond excited.

Cheers to a new beginning in public health and to the best summer of my life!