Posted by: ilovelucyball2 | March 6, 2012

Minha Vida Brasileira

I think I have almost forgotten that this was an experiment…a period of time that I set aside to learn and to explore and to understand. The goal was to bring back the experiences and apply it to my real life….my life in the United States of America.

So what is this life here, exactly?

To give a brief update to friends and family, I am currently living in Garcia (the same neighborhood I lived in last semester). I have a wonderful host family who is always ready to feed me, hug me, and send me on my way. I work at a public hospital in the women’s health clinic, primarily with administrative and clerical work with the opportunity to see SUS (the universal healthcare system) in action at the hospital level. In my spare time, I am completing some independent study work on nutritional anthropology and Afro-Brazilian spiritual medicine.

One more month. And two days. I’ll be stepping on U.S. soil for the first time since last September.

Last semester was very enjoyable, don’t get me wrong. I learned a great deal about public health issues that plague communities in Brazil. I was able to build a decent foundation for Portuguese. I made some very special friends who I hope to always keep in touch with as the years pass by. But this semester was different. The narrow streets began to feel like home. I got serenaded by a very handsome Brazilian. Here I developed a routine…a life.

“In the end, I’ve come to believe in something I call ‘The Physics of the Quest.’ A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.” – Eat. Pray. Love.

And what is this “truth” that I’ve discovered? I don’t really know. But I can tell you that bit by bit it is coming…and I think it will always be a process.

Sure, there are things I’d like to change, things I have uncertainty about, questions left unanswered. But just as one of the most special people I have ever met in my entire life always says…”faz parte” (“It makes part.”) To accept the bad with the good, taking risks for the chance to find pleasure, and exposing your heart to feel something grand.

I’m not quite sure how my life in the United States of America will be like when I return…but I have a feeling that on those evenings I only have a can of Ravioli on the shelf for dinner, I’ll be craving shrimp with rice and a nice tall glass of maracujá juice. And when I’m stressed about catching the bus in time to go to work, I’ll be dreaming of the days that time was relative but where things still got done somehow and life went on. And on those nights I feel lonely, I will look up at the stars and know that on the other side of the planet, there are people who can see them, too. And the world will seem a little smaller, a little less intimidating. And I will be at peace.

Posted by: ilovelucyball2 | December 19, 2011

The Semester I Stopped Using a Planner…

It was some morning the second week of November and I was laying in bed at the hotel in Santo Antônio de Jesus on a tear-soaked pillow with a temperature of 102 degrees and a week-old broken heart. The other students were making their morning visits to the Family Health Clinics, but I just couldn’t go that day. Every-so-often I would gather enough strength to take my laptop to the hotel lobby area down the hall, where the internet service was best, to check to see if I had received that email saying “I’m sorry…let’s talk…how are you doing?” It never came, so I would then go back to my room to get some rest but the worries about getting my research project planned and finalized and started and finished wouldn’t allow it. Here I was living the dream…traveling the world, surrounded by passionate people, and even having fresh coconut water outside my hotel from a street vendor available to me if I only had the energy to go get it.

It was the lowest I had ever felt in my life.

But time was moving quickly and before I knew it, I was living in a small apartment with Raquel and Jenny, cooking our own food from scratch in a one pot kitchen, scouting out the best places for maracujá (passion fruit) ice cream, and conducting our research projects.

Some days I would visit the clinics to observe. Some days I would have interviews scheduled with family clinic physicians. Other days I would sit in my room trying to find the motivation to work on the literature review for my paper or start analyzing my data. But every day was long, every day was exhausting, and every night I cried…not being able to process my feelings, what was happening in my life, and the challenges of living so far from home.

But I did it. Through all of this momentary depression, I did it. I spoke to medical professionals in Portuguese to record their experiences. Not just about simple things like their names and ages, but complex stuff like the challenges of the Family Health Program and the dangerous modern concept of capitalistic medicine (disease equals money). With the help of an amazing adviser, Tatiane that worked with the Secretary of Health, I produced a 57-page project entitled “Training and Experience of Family Health Program Doctors in Santo Antônio de Jesus-BA” that explored the reasons for high turnover rates of Brazilian doctors in the government-run primary care clinics. It was my first attempt to participate in the world of research. The last day of the project, I felt like a woman on a mission…I was in need of a final consent form from one of the research subjects. So I woke up, hopped on a “moto-taxi” (taxi via motorcycle) to a remote part of the city to the health clinic to get the last signature. I held on for dear life to the driver as we skidded over the rough terrain and in that moment, finally, I felt like I was playing a role…had a purpose…a global health researcher…

It was almost time to go back to Salvador to reunite with the other students for research presentations and the conclusion of the SIT program. Curious about what the next few days would look like, I dug through my stack of papers, trying to find a printed calendar with a summary of dates and events that was given to each student at the beginning of the program. And then it hit me.

For the first time since 5th grade, I had stopped using a daily planner.

If I’ve learned anything from this experience so far, it has been that planning is good…planning is what helps me to excel in school and other responsibilities…but you can’t plan and prepare for everything. It took me 3 months living in Bahia, Brazil to figure this life lesson out….stereotyped as being the most laid-back and care-free region in the world.

The bottom-line = there will be challenges, and you will have to come up with some sort of solution…rich or poor, loved or alone, ready or not.

I’ve lived in another country, another culture, not always understanding everyone and everything. I went through a painful break-up. I still am trying to process a lot of things, but all I can do is…well, John Mayer says it better:

“…and this is not to say there never comes a day I’ll take my chances and start again and when I look behind on all my younger times I’ll have to thank the wrongs that led me to a love so strong…” (Perfectly Lonely)

I feel empowered and excited for what lies ahead, but I also realize that I might not feel this high for long. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the holidays with the Colcerniani family in Brasilia, read books for pleasure in Portuguese, and look at really cool graduate programs concentrated in this amazing field I’ve discovered called public health.

Chapada Diamantina

Posted by: ilovelucyball2 | November 23, 2011

A Pre-Thanksgiving Reflection

I’m thankful for being here in Brazil. I’m thankful for the people that read my applications for study abroad grants and for their decision to believe in me and what I could do if only given the chance. I’m thankful for being welcomed by the communities here and for their willingness to push aside the curtains to their homes with dignity, showing me how health disparities outside of their individual control have unjustly influenced multiple aspects of their lives.

I’m thankful for Oreos and cold milk. I’m thankful for the ease of pre-packaged foods. I’m thankful for the ability to drive my car when I need to. I’m thankful for washing machines. I’m thankful for running water. I’m also thankful for the experiences I’ve had that taught me I can survive without these things.

I’m thankful for having the opportunity to love. I’m thankful for the courage to have shared. I’m thankful for the time to reflect so I can learn from it all. I am thankful for the hope to be able to love and be loved again.

I’m thankful for being crazy and imaginative and emotional. Sometimes, these attributes make life here on this unpredictable planet seem unbearable. But when it matters most, they ignite passions about abstract concepts and harsh realities and little losses and triumphant gains…I would not have it any other way…for between the moments of confusion and distress, I feel somehow connected with the universe and all of its potentialities.

I’m thankful for my mommy. I’m thankful for her inner strength that has kept her alive and kicking. I’m thankful that I didn’t lose her. I’m thankful for the moments we get along, and am thankful for being able to laugh at the times we don’t.

I’m thankful for my daddy. I’m thankful for my childhood and for my best childhood friend and playmate. I’m thankful for the moments he was able to create, if only for one meal turned extravagant banquet, if only for one annual holiday turned grand festival, if only for one question turned infinite possibilities and answers.

I’m thankful for my health. I’m thankful to have access to resources that ensure my health. I’m thankful for the understanding that not everyone has this access. I’m thankful for the nerve to say that everyone should. I’m thankful for utopian visions at the horizon for how things could be, and can only hope that I can possess the dedication and motivation to move towards this horizon even though it will probably never be caught.

I’m thankful for being a small town girl and for the blessing to travel and see the world. I’m thankful for the sense to remember that there is no place like home and for the insight to respect the homes of others.

I’m thankful to be awake.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving break back home in the States 🙂

Posted by: ilovelucyball2 | October 21, 2011

The Things We Learn in Lecture

“Utopia lies at the horizon.

When I draw nearer by two steps,

it retreats two steps.

If I proceed ten steps forward, it

swiftly slips ten steps ahead.

No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.

What, then, is the purpose of utopia?

It is to cause us to advance.”

― Eduardo Hughes Galeano

(Referenced by Dr. Feizi Milani in the discussion A Participação da Juventude na Cultura de Paz.)

Posted by: ilovelucyball2 | October 1, 2011

An Introduction to Brazilian Healthcare

I don’t think I could have selected a better program. With SIT, we have been able to hear lectures from famous political activists, visit rural traditional healers, and tour the emergency room of the largest hospital in Central and South America. And there is more to come in the next months.

Our visit to the Terreiro Tumbenci, a Candomblé shrine community, was much more intimate than I had expected. The aim was to teach us about the role of spiritual healing in Brazil. Upon arrival, we showered with plant-infused water and changed into all white clothing in preparation for the Caboclo ceremony. The Caboclo is an entity of healing that takes action through the embodiment of a person. Not only were we present in the ceremony, but several students were engaged emotionally and even physically (the Caboclo began to take care of an unsuspecting student’s foot wound). I do not have the time or the words to describe the entire experience here, but I can say that this was the most interesting encounter I have had with another culture, thus far.

To give you an idea about Brazilian Healthcare, let me take a moment to explain the set-up. You have two systems: the private healthcare system and the public healthcare system. In the 80’s, Brazil declared universal healthcare for all. To facilitate this, the government put together a plan for the SUS (the Unified Health System). One component of this program is the PSF (the Family Health Program). In a given community, there will be several PSF posts around the city. This is a clinic that serves a specific section of the city and is equipped with a doctor, nurse, nurse assistants, sometimes a dentist, and several community agents. This entity aims to provide basic primary care services, including health education programs and events. In other words, the clinic works to improve healthcare conditions in a given area by analyzing the specific needs of the community. Our trip to Cachoeira allowed us to visit rural PSF posts and see them in action.  We stayed with host families in an area called Alecrim.  We were able to see a completely different way of life: my host mother, Alexandra, heated water on the stove for me to take a hot shower with. Nevertheless, they overloaded us with food and compassion and were quite proud to show us their neighborhood.


If I may, let me express my current feelings about healthcare. Of course, dear readers, you may have your own views on what health is and how the government should or should not be involved with this process in the United States. But let me share with you something that I saw. In the public hospital we visited in Salvador, the buildings could have used a fresh coat of paint. Everywhere you could see signs with the government seal, indicating that everything was government property (paid for with the citizen’s tax dollar) and you would probably have to get through a series of bureaucratic hurdles to simply make those facilities function. We went to the ER downstairs where the walls of the corridors were lined with squeaky cots and patients with conditions not serious enough to merit a hospital room of their own. To my right I saw a man, probably homeless and, by looking at the cloth restraints and mumbles, possibly a form of schizophrenia or other mental condition. Because of overcrowding, he was not guaranteed a room of his own. His bed sheets were clean, but were not crisp and white and new. But he had an IV hooked up to his arm, and periodically a nurse came by to make sure he was alright. Why? Because the Brazilian government said that man deserved that IV just as much as anyone else. And by trial and error, they are developing a process to ensure that he can get that IV if he needs it for free. And this is why I hope that the United States can one day have the guts to make that claim.

Posted by: ilovelucyball2 | September 13, 2011

First Impressions

After several days of travel, orientation, and adjustment, I think I’m finally able to sit down and digest what has been going on.

So…I am living in a neighborhood called Fazenda Garcia, which is about a 50 minute walk from our classes downtown (of course there are buses and although appealing, a little exercise in the morning wouldn’t hurt, right?). I have a host mother, father, and 13-year old brother (and a host dog). There are 21 other American students participating in the SIT Public Health program, and all are scattered around the city.

One of the biggest challenges thus far has been communication. Unlike most of my previous trips to areas and communities who had decent access to advanced English classes and were led by translators and guides, this is a full immersion experience (aside from the interactions with our professors and with the other American students). Of course the aim is to develop proficiency in Portuguese…but being previously limited to “book learning” and then being thrown into a whirlwind of conversational hurdles, living with a family that only speaks to you in Portuguese, trying convey your desires and problems with broken sentences and only a handful of memorized vocabulary…let’s just say that I’m tired when I go to bed. And I know that I must sound really, really hilarious to the people around me.

Salvador is a very beautiful city. At first glance some parts may seem outdated or in need of repair, and sometimes when you walk past a certain street or vendor your heart begins to race in fear…fear of not knowing your surroundings or the customs and behaviors or what is safe and what is not. Salvador is not known for its violent crimes, but there are very intricate pickpocketing rings. For this reason, I have not been able to provide the photographs and videos that I would like to. Perhaps once I am more familiar with the city, I’ll be more comfortable doing this. Nevertheless, this is one of the oldest cities in the New World. The fact that a building might not have a fresh coat of paint doesn’t make it ugly. Instead, it adds to the mystique and charm.


So far, as a group we have participated in an indigenous ceremony, watched Capoeira, and have enjoyed sitting on the shore at night with live music in the background. All of these activities give us insight into the culture of the area. However, my favorite experiences have been trying a new fruit at dinner. And the anxiety of answering the house phone for the first time, not knowing the language very well. And putting a piece of EXTREMELY sour candy in my mouth as my host brother contains his laughter until my face turns red. (I list this experience because it just now happened.) These are the simple things that may not be checks on my bucket list, but are everyday experiences that I can find pleasure in during my stay here.

Posted by: ilovelucyball2 | July 27, 2011

Fique tranquilo…

This Brazilian saying translates into English as “you shouldn’t worry.” I feel that is hard to do sometimes. I can’t help but become overwhelmed by the complications that have presented themselves in the course of preparing this year abroad. I’m lucky to have such supportive mentors, professors, and parents who have been so amazing throughout this process. And a very patient boyfriend, for that matter. It often seems that the one aspect of my personality that motivates me to reach goals and prepare for situations also serves as my downfall. But I will be living and working amongst one of the most optimistic and resilient populations on the planet. I anticipate that their influence will do me some good.

As I near my departure for Salvador, I try to soak in as much of home and the people I love as I can. Corn-on-the-cob and cabbage have never tasted so good. Losing to my dad in a board game has never felt so fulfilling. I’m going to miss everyone and the normalcy of UofL classes and “A Christmas Story” marathons after Thanksgiving. However, I can only imagine what traditions and routines I will grow to love in Salvador, Brasil…a place so enriched with culture and soul. I look forward to the interesting moments and brace myself for the awkward and difficult ones.

Saudades de vocês,