Aparna in Mozambique

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

Morning! No, I am not talking about my three cups of tea I've had today. In fact, as of now, just water in my system! I actually am referring to a book that I have just finished, called Three Cups of Tea. It got me thinking about a few things...

So, it is about a man who goes hiking in Pakistan, gets sick and lost and nearly dies. Then he stumbles into this village where they nurse him back to health. After that experience, he decides that his life mission is to build schools, especially girls schools, in the most remote areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What a story!

What I like about not just the story but what he actually does, is that it is really organic. He went somewhere, felt a certain way, saw a need and just did it. It is really a different way of thinking things. Maybe even a little naive. But he started out just doing what he does and happened to find something he loves doing that is also not necessarily a bad thing to be doing! I've been having lots of conversations lately where people have been telling me not to worry about planning, the future, and that sometimes things just happen and doors open when you don't expect it. I only usually half believe them and think that sometimes you have to force a bit. But, when opportunities present themselves and you like them, why not go ahead?

I guess I've been thinking about this a lot because lately, it seems like there have been possibilities for my next steps, not really within the realm of what I had planned. But, then, also, a couple things in my life have change, so why not consider these options that I wasn't paying attention to beforehand? It seems like the perfect time.....okay, I'm being ambiguous, but I'm sure some people know what I'm talking about, where they found themselves in a space where they had never imagined themselves being and with many many decisions. I know it all works out but to what extent do we have to try and control these situations? I wonder....

In other news, this morning I woke up to Toni Braxton blasting in my building. And while I really do love the song "Unbreak my Heart" I have to say that at 7AM this is a bit much. The walls are shaking. Yesterday our neighbor's son turned 20 and I think that this music has been all night although my roommate and I happily barred the door and stuffed earplugs in our ears so I can't be entirely sure. I am also entirely sure that the mom is not there or this would not be going down. I thought of going outside, but since I am in my pajamas and I don't think I'd like to open my door to boys still carrying on their party from last night, I think I'll pass. Plus right now the mood has changed to a sort of Portuguese gospel theme, so it seems OK.

Other than that, this month has been great. I was teaching a lot and I just finished grading half of the exams. They were portuguese so it took a little more time than I had expected, that and the fact that I realized some of the answers in the key were wrong at some point through the stack. Ah well. So now in these coming weeks, I plan to finish this so-called report I am meant to be working on as well as getting started on the next coupld of research projects, one with a NGO that is going to be doing research at the UCM and another that will take us to the national park to think about how we can research traditional plants with the local communities. Then in a couple of weeks I head back to Maputo to present our findings from our study in April and to begin planning for the 2nd phase, the quantitative part. Should really be interesting.

And of course, after that, I go back for the wedding. As we speak I am ordering cards for the bachelorette party from Hallmark.com. It is kinda surreal. I had tried to do it last week but got too overwhelmed so stopped! Now, I have to go for it. It isn't that bad, I think that I just feel funny about the whole idea in general!!

What else...not much. I just started reading the post-colonial history of luso-phone africa, but I won't bother you with the details of that.

Let me get started on my Sunday....as soon as I have details and pictures, I will be sure to post them and keep everyone filled in....

Ate logo,

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Social Engagements in Beira


Every weekend I think that I am going to get so much work done. Indeed, yesterday I spent almost the whole day inside trying to finish my lecture for Monday morning. For some reason, I felt the need to sign up for a lecture on Using Data in Public Health. Actually it was my idea. And now, I am stuck having to decide what will be best to talk about, national programs, or just having to use the DHS. I think I'll stick with the simplest things. The students are already freaked out about their English language exam and about all the things that could appear on it. I know its terrible, but I just don't want them to hate me. I have no idea how real teachers do this everyday. Being a good teacher must have a little bit to do with not caring if they like you or not and also, being ok with being a bit of a know it all. Not to offend at all, mostly just to say that I am way to soft to be any good at this in the long term.

Ok, off topic. So, every weekend, I think I am going to "relax". But, relax and me don't seem to go well together for me unless I am not relaxed. Last night a friend of a friend was in town and we got pizzas. Today there is a going away party. I am making guacamole. But, the avocodo guy had sold out yesterday. I promised him I would buy them today so I have an avocado buying date with the upstairs vendor at the market, who, by the way also sells really nice bags made out of straw if anyone wants one. Oh, and I am supposed to be there in five minutes, ooops.

Plus, the other thing that is making me feel a little strange right now is that I am also booking my friends bachelorette party details. Thats right, the dinner, the place to go out. I am ordering invites online as we speak for another one of the bridesmaids to send out! Its so strange.

One big thing on my mind this week is the method that they use to teach medical students at this college. It is called PBL, problem based learning. Apparently they use it in Holland and in Canada and the big claim to fame is that they use it at harvard. Basically it sets up these problem tasks and students have to discuss them and find information in the library on their own. They have a tutor (like me) and then they have skills sessions and lectures to bring in knowledge that they can't find on their own. The whole thing is nice in theory and I think it would be really good for graduate students, but I'm not entirely convinced that it is the right thing for undergrads. That being said, I know I thought I was something special and innovative as an undergrad so maybe it can work. I know though, thought that I liked experts and I liked having black and white until maybe my 3rd or 4th year. There is some level of that in every field and especially so in medicine. But hey, these are students that will be doctors in rural posts and running their own hospitals in a few years, so maybe teaching independent thinking and making the most of scanty resources (consultant professors that don't show up and very very few in the first place) works in this setting. We will see what my opinions are at the end of the year....maybe you all can check it out online and tell me what you think??

Well, not much else to say other than after my last post, I got really really lazy with posting but I think I am back. Shockingly, today I haven't even had a cup of coffee. I think I might last another hour:)

The next time I post, I should be done with this block and ready to get back to my research and that so-called report that should have been produced a little while ago. Oops.....ah well, its still Sunday. Am going to try to enjoy the rest of the day and start worrying around 5PM later today......hope you enjoy yours too!

Um abraco,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Not sleepy so let me tell you why

Top Five Reasons I can't sleep....what about you??

1. I have a lecture tomorrow morning on public health strategies and not yet sure what they are.

2. I did a yoga video with a friend in italian dubbed in english. I actually just watched half of it.

3. I only had one cup of coffee today.

4. I am home alone and it feels weird not to gossip with my roommate until 12AM (girls, I know!)

5. I drank too much tea because of the no coffee. Now I am making plans. Some of which are totally ridiculous and implausible, but I do love creating these alternate universes for myself.

This is a silly post, I know, but again, instead of writing heavy heavy I thought it would be good to break it up so I can get my creative juices flowing all over again.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Older and Wiser?

It is a sunny breezy Sunday morning in Beira...

Ok, so its time for the age jokes. Please start. Most of you know that my birthday was a little over a week ago. Usually I insist on cake, even though, gasp, I am closer to 30 now than I am to 20. Happily so, but still. This year I was in a town called Cuamba, which is sort of near to the Malawi border. Near is relative, meaning about 5 hours away from Malawi. It is in Niassa province, which is a sort of corridor, bringing transit from the port of Nacala to Malawi and Zimbabwe. It was very dry, but with mountains and mostly agricultural. You can see for yourself in the pictures. It took us 10 hours to get there on a train. There are no flights to Cuamba. But apparently if you drive it takes 5 hours. We did not have a car so not an option for me. On the way back it took 14 hours, so I guess that the way there was slightly better. We broke down two times. On the second break down, my colleague and I hopped out of the train and called a taxi. We were five minutes outside of the city by car but had been waiting for an hour.

SO, what, you ask have I been doing for the past 2 weeks? And why have I not been faithful to my blog? Well, for the past two weeks I was in Nampula and Cuamba, in the norther region of Mozambique. I think I mentioned that I am assisting with a study of HIV/AIDS knowledge, attitudes, and practices at the university. We did focus groups with students, professors, techical staff, and also interviews with management. This at three of the colleges of the seven at the University. Oh, and we also did 300 surveys. All of this data is for me to enter and analyze. All of the interviews and groups are for me to transcribe and analyze. It is interesting. Well, after a while, not so much as you keep hearing the same themes over and over again. But, hey, that is the point right, finding the common themes in what people say. I won't bore you all with the joys of qualitative research. I have to admit that last night I decided to squeeze in one more interview to listen to. It was 30 minutes. I started at 12:15AM. While my friends were out at the bar dancing, I was listening to interviews of people talking about their personal risk of getting HIV. And yes, I fell asleep, drooling, hair very kramer-esque on my computer. It was a sad sight. This morning I am doing much better. I've got the equation right. Coffee+Laundry Done+Blog and Picture Time+Break from earphones= Good.

Ok, enough silliness, back to the last few weeks. So yes, at cuamba, we were thinking about the connections between agriculture and HIV and what the college could better do to mainstream information for all the actors. We had a tight schedule. And Cuamba is where I passed my birthday. I had one drink, and a delicious plate of local fare, matapa, which is made out of ground cassava leaves with peanut powder and coconut milk. I then stayed up till 12AM just to make sure I maximized hours and watched ugly betty. The day was full and I filled it before all of this with a focus group with girls, a mixed focus group, and a film with students on HIV/AIDS. All in all, couldn't think of a better way to have spent my birthday. Thanks to all those who sent me warm wishes as well.

Moving onto Nampula, after the many hours on the train was nice. Its amazing what a nice city it is and again you can see the Portuguese influences from the pictures. Supposedly Nampula is the third largest city in Mozambique, but it is much cleaner and newer than Beira. It is growing rapidly and has a number of colleges. Ours has 2 different colleges, Education and Law. The Government has also started a second medical school there to address shortages in the north and central regions of Mozambique. So, it has a very fresh and young feel to it. And there is a lot of transport going through to the port as well, which incidentaly, is also near a great tourist spot, Ilha de Mocambique. Apparently there is an old fort there, lots of Arab influence, a Hindu temple with one very lonely guard, and a lot of problems with water and sanitation. UNESCO has made this a world heritage site. I don't have much of a clue of what that means in practice, but I think it will bring more tourists. My favorite parts of Nampula were the ethnographic museum. The gentleman who gave me a tour had been working there since 1967. He told me a story of when Samora Machel came to visit and talked about how Samora said that Mozambique has to preserve its culture because it is a part of the past and where they come from. Holland funded a lot of the renovations in this museum, especially after the war. Now, UNESCO gives a lot of money. I think restoring this musem even more would be a really good project for a museum studies major or anthropologist. Anyone know any? My next favorite thing was the delicious indian food next to my hotel. Not just this. I like the fusion of cultures in Nampula. Apparently a lot of people from Goa came over to be the sort of "intermediates." I can't complain because they left lemon pickle and very good shops for me to enjoy. Plus, this interesting mix of things makes people come to Nampula and that I think is probably a good thing in terms of tourism.

Ok, let me get back on topic. So, yes, I've had a real deal experience for the last month or so. But, now the honeymoon is over. I have to write up all my notes and prepare the report. I wish I had done this first, but somehow entering the data mindlessly was easier for me to do while in the field. This month at the college is the public health block. I came back to a pile of preparations for that as well. I checked out the block book and saw my name as lecturer, skills coordinator, and tutor. Whoa, a lot more than I thought that I would be doing. I am already uncomfortable being called Doutora. I am in no sense of the word a doctor. Having a masters does not actually make you a master. And now, I am a Professora. Really really a far stretch. Even two masters does not make me a professor. The students must be wondering who this person is. I am nervous about how they will react to me. Most people think that I am an assistant, still in college. And I am at least 5 years younger than even the closest colleague in age!! How am I going to explain that I am doing this because the REAL lecturers did not show up from Spain like they were supposed to? This is an emergency situation only!! In normal circumstances, I am not qualified to do this. But hey, I know I'm competent right, just have to get good at the role.

And with that, let me focus my academic energies for the rest of the day. I am working on the data, preparing to teach some literature search skills, figuring out just why public health people love John Snow so much, and trying to find some interesting information to lecture about Qualitative Research Methods in public health so that the 2nd year medical students who I am with will not roll their eyes and start drawing caricatures of me in their notebooks.....Please wish me luck!! Can you tell I'm nervous.

And one last request, some of you might have seen this article about Fulbrights being denied to students from Gaza. If you have the time, please sign this petition and write to your congressman/woman. I won't say what my opinions are, but just feel that it is unfair that people like me have this opportunity and others are denied not because of their merit, but because of where they come from. I leave it up to you to decide. http://gazafulbright.blogspot.com/

Here are my pictures from the trip, I hope to hear from you soon!