"Living a truly ethical life, putting the needs of others first, and providing for their happiness has tremendous implications for society." -Dalai Lama

"Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us." -Sargent Shriver

Monday, February 3, 2014

"The physician is the natural attorney of the poor." -Rudolf Virchow

If you have been reading this blog, you know a little about me, but let me recap.  From 2010 to 2012 I had the incredible opportunity to serve in Peace Corps Tanzania.  In December 2012, I returned to the states and started at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in the fall of 2013.  Last semester, I joined a group called the Student Global Health Alliance and was approached about leading a trip to Northern Uganda to work in medical clinics specifically catering to victims of the LRA's war. We have an incredible partnership with Saint Monica's, a girls' tailoring school, their leader, Sister Rosemary, and Pros For Africa. This is our 3rd year to visit Saint Monica's, allowing us to build a sustainable program that is best able to target the real needs of the local population.  We are really beginning to get our fundraising efforts going this semester. This year, we are trying to raise money for a medical lab at Saint Monica's, a medical scholarship for a local student, and in-country expenses for the participating students.   For 3 weeks, we will go into clinics scattered across Northern Uganda and learn all we can about the disparities in medicine and how to work with limited resources.  I have attached a newsletter that is able to explain more of our mission.  I am also including a link to learn more about Sister Rosemary, an incredible woman who provides hope for progress in Uganda.  At the very least, I hope you are inspired by her bravery and progressiveness.  You can also check out her book "Sewing Hope" which tells her incredible story.


If you think you are able to give anything, however little, please visit our website.  Or even if you would just like to learn more, take a look!



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What is a happenin??

It is so hard to believe that it has been over a year since I was in Tanzania.  It still makes a little part of my heart ache thinking about all of my friends and students still there.  Thankfully, the world is becoming smaller and smaller every year and I have been able to keep up with some of those loved ones!  It seems like yesterday that I was fighting snakes, sweeping dirt, bucket bathing, and drinking Castle Lager with Kathryn, but so much has changed.  When I got back to the states in December, I'm pretty sure I tried to eat America.  Amazingly enough, this did not fair well.  I ended up in the Emergency Room on Christmas Day getting an emergency appendectomy.  It just so happens that my appendix did not like switching from beans and ugali to cheese covered, deep fried, greasy goodness.  After that little stint, I rested in bed for a day and then got on a plane to meet up with my Peace Corps peeps in Chicago.  The entire process of moving back to the states is extremely overwhelming, so it was incredible to hang out with about 20 RPCVs and not worry about sensoring out our weirdness.  After our PC New Years Eve, I headed back to good ol' Oklahoma and moved in with my sister in Stillwater, Ok.  I got a job and tried to settle back into normal life.  Some days were harder than ever.  It was a constant battle between being so incredibly happy being back and constantly overwhelmed and overstimulated.  I hit rock bottom one day in Walmart with my sister.  I was pushing my stupid, wobbly cart down the frozen food section and there were just too many people, options, noise...too much of everything.  I just broke down and started crying.  I left my cart and walked out.  Not saying that every day was that bad.  It is incredible being back around my friends and family.  It just took some getting used to.  I am pretty well adjusted now and back in school at OU College of Medicine.  I still miss Tanzania every day.  Peace Corps gave me so much and changed me for the better. It is so hard to verbalize what I took from my experience. But now, I am moving on my dreams.  I do not regret not extending or finding a job in Tanzania.  I think that by studying medicine, I will be able to affect even greater change in the future.  I already have plans to get back to East Africa.  I am coordinating a trip for a group of medical students to travel to Uganda.  There, I will have the honor of working with Sister Rosemary for a short amount of time.  This incredible woman has made it her life's work to educate girls affected by the war in northern Uganda.

Here is a short clip explaining some of her work:

If you want to support her work, BUY HER BOOK!!!

She also has a documentary coming out!

"Physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor" -Rudolf Virchow

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A New Chapter

So that's it...the end is here.  I am officially an RPCV, or Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.  No more teaching, village life, or government stipend.  I feel so alone.  Leaving Newala was hard.  There are so many people there that I care so much about.  I spent about a week trying to get through all of the goodbyes.  Some tears were shed, but we had a happy going away party at the beach house in Mtwara.  Lots of beer, food, and friends.  After that, adventures really started happening.  A group of 9 volunteers all joined forces and made the trek to Pemba, an island just north of Zanzibar.  After getting doped up on motion sickness meds, we took the ferry to Pemba and then a bus to the north of the island.  We then had the pleasure to stay at Swahili Divers.  There, we took a 4-day scuba diving certification course.  The fish and corals were amazing as were the staff.  And we all passed with flying colors!  Hooray for us! After getting certified, we headed back to Zanzibar to hand out for a day and then on to Dar es Salaam for our close-of-service.  Over three days, I had to poop in sample jars, pee in 1, get a TB test, blood work, dental, close my bank account, and meet with our country director.  As of October 24th, 2012 I finished all of my work and got my "R," becoming an RPCV.  After that, I just hung around hanging out with friends and sadly watching one person after the other leave.  Fun, but a little depressing.  After entirely too much time in Dar, 3 other volunteers and I boarded the train for Zambia.  We traveled in class, having a first class coach all to ourselves.  We passed the 2 days on the train by playing almost non-stop card games.  The ride went incredibly smoothly, besides having to deal with not-so-nice immigration around midnight until the end.  About 10 kilometers from where the train ended, we just so happened to hit a lorry, or a truck, carrying tons of corn.  We only hit the trailer and no one was hurt so it was all good.  We were delayed a hit though because everyone, villagers and all the train employees, went nuts pillaging all of the corn.  It was mass chaos with everyone filling bags and buckets and anything they could get their hands on with corn.  This in turn started a bit of looting so we just locked ourselves in our cabin and rode out the chaos there.  After all the corn had been had, we rolled in to Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia around 8:30 p.m. only to hop on another bus to Lusaka.  We finally rolled in to Lusaka around 12:00 a.m and made our way to the backpacking hostel there.  The next morning, we boarded another bus to get down to Livingstone, where we were staying to see Victoria Falls.  We got in a little late so we just hung around the backpackers hostel in Livingstone, drank a couple beers, and crashed early.  The next morning, we headed to see Victoria Falls.  In one of the many Zambian languages it is called Mosi-oa-tunya, which means "the smoke that thunders."    Our first stop there was the bridge that crosses the Zambezi River.  Halfway across the bridge is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe so we had some fun hopping from one country to the other.  Right at the border, you can also bungee jump 111m, do "the swing" which is a 70m free fall into a swing, and zip line.  The rest of us didn't have the money for that day, so Colin was up first, going big and completing all three of the jumps.  After getting pumped full of adrenaline, we headed into the park area and walked around, looking at the falls from the Zambia side.  We then hopped on over to Zimbabwe and saw the falls from that angle too.  Words of wisdom: if you end up at Victoria Falls during dry season, Zimbabwe's side is far superior.  The next morning, we headed back to the falls to walk to "the Devil's pool."  During dry season, the water gets low enough that you can walk across the falls to the area that is still going full force.  Once there, there is this one little area of the falls that has a natural wall and a slow enough current that you don't plummet to your death when you jump into it.  Once into the pool, our guide held our feet while we each took turns leaning out over the falls.  It was incredible and I would highly suggest it to anyone wanting to make the trip.  After "Devil's pool" we headed back to the bridge for our turn to jump.  Kathryn and I both went for the triple combo.  First, we zip lined across the gorge, which was not at all scary and despite the harness riding up in to uncomfortable places was super chill.  After that, it was time to step it up a notch.  Kathryn and I decided to the swing tandem.  The got us each in our harnesses and then hooked us all up.  We creeped our way to the edge and on the count of 3 made the jump.  I have one word to describe it. TERRIFYING.  Basically you just step out into the air and then we were instructed to keep our legs together and try to stay vertical.  Lets just say that my legs don't listen when I'm freefalling 70 meters and they decided to do some sort of bicyle-esque jig in midair, twisting me this way and that.  I figured it out right at the end though and we went into the swing part smoothly.  After that, you swing over the Zambezi River rapids for a while until they make it down to pick you up.   After our swing, both Kathryn and I were a little shaken and said we needed a bit of a break.  We went for a short walk and sat a bit in the shade before I had to tell my brain to shut the heck up and get back there for my next jump.  I volunteered to be first to bungee.  After getting into my harness, they sit you down and wrap your legs in towels and a strap that looks entirely too puny to support you.  They then hook your feet to what is essentially a giant rubber band.  Next, you awkwardly waddle to the edge, avoiding looking down at much as you can.  The last step is pretty obvious right?  You swan dive off the bridge.  Bungee was so much more fun that the swing.  There is something way more natural about jumping head first off a 130-meter bridge than feet first. After the initial down, you get about 4 good bounces after that, going almost halfway back up for another little drop.  You then just hang out upside down until they come get you.  I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head there was so much blood up in there.  Pretty much its been an incredible few days in Zambia/Zimbabwe and it makes me even sadder to leave Africa.  I almost considered cancelling my flights and catching a bus to Namibia instead, but my friend I'm meeting up with would kill me.  So tomorrow, we head back to Lusaka and then Tuesday I'm heading to Rome for 4 weeks of Europe.  I might update about that, might not.  Stay safe.  Peace out!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Just Call Me "Jane" :A month of monkeying around

Come one, come all! To hear about my month!

So I've had a pretty great past month! To kick it all off, I got to see my entire training class at our Close of Service Conference, or in PC lingo COS Conference. We spent an entire week eating Indian food, being weird with friends, and talking about our nearing returns to “Merica! Peace Corps puts us up at this super nice resort on the beach and treats us right. I guess they are making up for 2 years of dirt and grime? It was so surreal to talk about our end of service. Is 2 years seriously already up? Sometimes I'm not so sure I'm ready to return to the real world.

After COS Conference, we headed on to the capital of Tanzania, Dodoma. Tanzania is a very odd place in the fact that their capital is pretty lame. After the switch of capitals, all of the embassies and important buildings stayed behind in Dar es Salaam, making parliament the only peeps to move. All the same, we had fun, eating Italian, pizza, and chinese and catching up on laundry. Dodoma will also be the home of my dear, cool friend, Kathryn, and she was able to see where she will live and work. We also discovered one of her town crazies, a man that daily runs down the street into oncoming traffic, blowing a whistle, and carrying a hoe...we shall call him “Crazy Whistling Suicide Running Man.” After we'd eaten our way around Dodoma, we headed north west by way of Singida.

Now there isn't a whole lot in Singida, but I like it. It has a weird, desolate terrain with huge, random boulders that reminds me of some alien landscape. It also has this one bar where the owner, Baba Raziki, treats you well. He fills you to the brim with roasted goat and ugali and scares away all the creeps. Basically, he's just precious. After our one night in Singida, we went to the bus stand for our “9:00” bus. Not too surprisingly, we were on the road again around 11:00. I do have to say that I have never seen cockroaches on a bus before. It is kinda the last thing you expect to skitter across the aisle and adds a certain element of nasty to the ride. Speaking of nasty, there was also a mama that tried to get her son to poop in a bag in the aisle and missed, resulting in one messy aisle. Anywho, 7 short hours later, we arrived in Mwanza, home of Lake Victoria.
Lake Victoria...that pile o' rocks is Bismark Rocks

As it was getting dark, we found a guest house, ran and got some food, and returned to the promise of hot showers. The first person's shower was too cold. Lucky enough, my shower, the second, was just right. And breaking from Goldilock's trend, the third shower was not too hot. It was just plain explosive. Some apparently important piece of the faucet broke and instead of a rainfall of pleasant water, Kathryn got a face-full of fire hydrant'esqe water. We then had a show down with the drunk employees of the guest house, resulting in a woman trying to kiss Kathryn in the shower and lots of yelling. This ended in a depressing bucket bath for Kathryn and the bleak promise that the problem would be fixed the next morning. Surprisingly, this did happen. Hazzah for showers! The next couple of days, we hung out and did what Peace Corps volunteers do, eat. We also had a couple more friends meet up with us and we had us a gay ol' time with good food and okay drinks. After our couple days of relaxing and gazing upon Lake Victoria, we were on the move. Can't get too comfortable, can we? Saturday morning, we were in the cab at 3 a.m and at the bus stand by 3:30 a.m. By 4 a.m, we were loaded on our bus. At 4:01 a.m, I was passed out and woke only briefly to realize we were being ferried across part of Lake Victoria, not waking again until around 6:30. So you always feel dirty after bus rides, but after 15 hours busing down red dirt roads, we looked like the cast of “Jersey Shores.” You probably could have drawn designs in our layers of dirt. Despite being dirty and tired, we had arrived in Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. After much needed showers and a night's sleep, we walked around figuring out our next move. We were hoping to go to Gombe Stream on Sunday, but due to no ferry running, we hung out at Jacobson's Beach. Now if you ever find yourself in western Tanzania, you should definitely swing by this beach. Its a little secluded cove with crystal clear water and red sand. It was beautiful and relaxing and gave me a real hillbilly place to wash my shirt from the bus ride the day before. Don't judge me!

Jacobson's Beach
Vervet monkey friends at the beach
On Monday, we made our way to Gombe Stream. Gombe Steam is on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and is the site where Jane Goodall did her chimp research. The research is amazingly still ongoing, being called home by the fifth generation of chimpanzee researchers. It really was an incredible experience. We had to hike for 6 hours, but we found a family group of about 15 chimps and got to observe them for a while, including watching them eat a Red Colobus Monkey. All I have to say is I could eat that baby chimp up with a spoon is was so cute! Also, in the camp, the monkey fun didn't end. We were sharing our quarters with the baboons. Now that sounds more fun than it actually is. Being the cheap volunteers we are, we brought all of our own food. This included bread for lunches and breakfasts. Our very first morning, we were sitting down to a lovely breakfast of bread, bananas, and peanut butter, when all of a sudden, a big ol' mama baboon with a baby on her belly runs in the door. For a second, we all froze, staring into the eyes of pure evil, or a hungry baboon if you don't want to be too dramatic. Then, she made the move, jumping onto our table sending us all flying to the other corner, watching helplessly as she grabbed out bread and ran out the door. So in about 5 seconds flat, we lost about half of our food to the grabby paws of that baboon-terror. Observing all of this was a cute little Canadian family. Now I've always been told that Canadians are insanely nice, and by told I mean that I love “How I Met Your Mother” and they always talk about that. Now, I believe! After our long hike, we return tired and a little hungry to find that the Canadians had bought a replacement loaf and left it for us like a bunch of bread-fairies! It was the best surprise ever! After all of the excitement of Gombe Stream, we returned to civilization and boarded LV Liemba, bound for Kisanga on the southern shores of Tanganyika.
Ferry to Gombe Stream

Our empty breadbag...pictured with who I can only assume was an accomplice to the crime

Hike break
Making our way to the chimps
Found em!
1-year-old peewee
2-year-old peewee
Hooray for friends!

This boat was originally build by the Germans during World World II and now serves as a ferry from the north part of the lake to the south. Seeing as there were five of us, 2 got a first class cabin and 3 got a second class cabin, thinking there would be enough space for us all to hang out in the bigger second class cabin. We were not wrong about that, but what we didn't realize before hand was there would be no air flow down in the second class cabin, or shall I call it the fiery doorstep of Hades. It was hot. In order to get any sleep, I slept with my feet sticking out of the porthole by my bed. Our 48 hours on the boat was overall cooler and fun, though. We read and played cards and made new friends, arriving to our destination without sinking to our watery grave! I know its probably irrational, but that is my fear in Tanzania. I instinctively plan my escape and locate all flotation devices. I've seen the state that the buses are in in Tanzania and truly believe that this fear is not just me being dramatic.

My porthole
Life boats
The majestic LV Liemba
Upon arrival in Kasanga, we made plans to visit Kalambo Falls the next day. Kalambo Falls are the second highest single drop waterfall in Africa, plunging about 215 meters. After a boat ride and few hours hiking, we arrived to a breathtaking view and a hoard of gnats, ready to coat out sweaty bodies. After fighting off gnats long enough to eat a snack and take a somewhat acceptable picture, we made our way back to our guest house. The next morning, we had another fun 17.5 hours of travel, we arrived in chilly Mbeya, where we are now recovering and licking our wounds, preparing for our returns home. Overall, an incredible month of travel and time with friends. Basically, I love my job.

Almost a decent picture with the falls

Kalambo Falls

Ninja games with Kasanga village kids

That's all for now folks! Peace Out!

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Dear friends!! Sorry for being MIA for so long.  So much has happened in the last few months so here is a quick-ish recap.
First of all, the volunteers in my region organized a girls' empowerment conference.  This involved 5 days of sessions covering self-esteem, menstruation, HIV prevention, and so on.  Every volunteer brought 4 girls, so overall, we had about 60 girls running around, acting like crazy yahoos!  Now when you get a bunch of American girls together, they paint nails, braid hair, and talk about boys.  Tanzanian girls might do some of that, I'm not really sure, but they do something that is unheard of.  They wash clothes...a lot of clothes.  In fact, they used every drop of our bathing water every day of the conference washing every stitch of clothing that they had worn that day.  Pretty much though, the conference was a blast.  The girls learned so much and for once, I felt like I was doing my job.


After the excitement of girls conference, school wound on down and I counted down the days till family came.  And let me tell you, I had an entire troop of family visit: my mom, dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, 3 sisters, and 1 brother.  It was a whole lot of entertaining, tour guiding, and translating, but it was such an outstanding month of family.  For the first couple days, they got to see the excitement that is Newala.  I even convinced 1 sister, a brother, and my dad to stay at my house, even using the pit latrine.  Everyone got to see the market, my school, and meet all of my friends.  After Mtwara, we went on to Zanzibar.  We stayed in my favorite hotel called Zenji.  It is a little bed and breakfast that has the greatest staff in the world.  Zanzibar was incredible, as always.  We went on a spice tour, prison island to visit the giant tortoises, snorkeled, visited monkeys at Jozani forest, swam with dolphins, and of course, shopped till we dropped.  By the end of our time on Zanzibar, I was besties with a good number of the shop owners.  After Zanzibar, we headed up north for a safari.  It was incredible.  All of the hotels were insanely nice and I stuffed myself silly every day on scrumptious foods...nom, nom, nom!!  All in all, we hit up Lake Manyara, Ngorogoro Crater, and Serengeti parks.  We saw everything: elephants, cape buffalo, lions, leopards, cheetahs, and everything else.  We also had a pretty fun cultural experience also.  We went to visit the Wadatoga tribe.  During our visit, we got to a home and talk with the women and then visit the men who are expert blacksmiths.  They demonstrated how they make brass jewelery and arrowheads and tried to teach my brother how to play a fiddle-like instrument.  The next morning, we also got to join the Hadza tribe on a morning hunt.  We showed up to their campfire, and first thing we see is a kid around fourteen, tokin' on a joint.  Just what you want, the group that will be shooting bow and arrows around you getting nice and stoned.  It turned out alright though, as in nobody got shot.  They did manage to shoot some birds and a kangaroo shrew (rat-like thing).
Really, it meant so much my family coming to visit.  I was so excited to show the crew where I have lived for the past two years.  Karibu to anyone else that wants to fit in a last minute visit before my time here is up in October.  Well that's all folks!

Babies on the spice tour

Aldabra Giant Tortoise

Red Colobus Monkey on Zanzibar

Ripley Sea Turtle

Masai warrior

Grinding corn flour

Wadatoga tribe

Playing music with the Wadatoga tribe

Practice shooting with the Hadza tribe

Coffee plantation

Mtwara airport

Entrance to Ngorogoro Crater

Peace out!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday

Today is World Malaria Day.  Malaria has a special significance in Tanzania.  Malaria is Tanzania's top killer.  Malaria has an every day presence here: mosquito nets, anti-malarial pills, bug spray.  Not every one is as lucky to have access to such things to protect themselves, though.  I've known too many people that have suffered from malaria.  One of my Form III students last year was hospitalized from cerebral malaria.  It changed him.  He started as one of my top students and after the disease had run it's course, he could not read or write and his personality had changed.  So much of this suffering could be prevented through simple education and behavior change.  Use you net.  Go get tested early.  Take your full prescription of medicine.  Unfortunately, this is not the happening.
To celebrate World Malaria Day at school, we borrowed a projector from a nearby school, and gathered all of the students to watch "Chumo."  This is an educational, yet entertaining, film about malaria that was specifically made for Tanzania.  The kids loved it!  Watching my students watch this movie was like watching people at a live sporting event.  They cheered for the good guy, booed at the bad guy, and laughed at some really weird stuff.  Watching them was entertainment enough for me.  All I can hope is that they took some valuable lessons away and will take measures to protect themselves an their families.  
All the students gathering to watch 'Chumo"

My headmaster leading the pre-viewing discussion about malaria

Happy World Malaria Day everyone!
Peace out!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Planet Earth" Happenings

So I had some very creepy happenings take place in my courtyard today.  There I am, just minding my own business, when this giant black wasp with blue wings and orangey-yellow antennas starts zooming around.  I go in for a better look when the thing lands near me and crawls in to a hole.  This wasp is actually digging a burrow.  Weird, right?  All I could think was "well this was much less creepy on Planet Earth."  I watched for a while.  After the wasp seemed to get the hole cleared out to its satisfaction, it went walking around.  Pretty soon, it found what it was looking for, a giant dead spider.  Now the pictures do not do it justice.  This spider was about twice the size of the wasp.  Well, after the wasp tracked down its kill, it dragged it back to the hole and took it right in.  Then it started doing what I can only assume was laying eggs.  It would vibrate and then put some dirt in, repeat.  Strange.  It did this until the spider was covered.  Well, with my extensive background in zoology (Plant Earth/Discovery channel) and later confirmation on google, I can tell you that the wasp had stung the spider, thus paralyzing it.  It then puts it in the burrow, and buries it with eggs.  Then when the little creepy wasp babies hatch, they have an instant meal.  This my friends, is the Digger Wasp.
First, the wasp dug a nice burrow.  Home, sweet, home.

The wasp dragging the spider into the burrow

Night, Night, spider

Lastly, the wasp layed eggs and filled in the hole