Last Update from Rwanda

A lot has happened since my last update. I’ve sort of fallen into a daily routine which has contributed to my project in many ways and has also made grown quite fond of Rwanda. Falling into a routine is quite helpful in terms of time management but at times it feels like I’m not really “living” and enjoying the full benefits of this fellowship. In hopes of not becoming a creature of habit, I’ve been taking several steps to balance my time here, learn new things and enjoy myself. Anyway, here is breakdown of what I’ve been doing and learning with my time in Kigali. Also I have added some photos for those who are likely going to look at this post just for pictures.

Making a booklet: Along with a fellow volunteer, I’ve been collecting narratives to help my host organization make a booklet on what it means to be part of the LGBTI community in Rwanda. While this process is quite fun and stimulating for my inner anthropologist, the reality is quite challenging and at times frustrating. First of all, finding people who identify with the LGBTI community isn’t as difficult as it seems but getting their narratives is a pretty frustrating. Sure, language barrier is a common problem but getting people to show up to a scheduled meeting is PAINFUL!! As you have to endure waiting times and tardiness that doesn’t even make sense. Nevertheless, Martin and I have managed to gather a decent amount of interviews that highlights a lot of the unsettling realities people of ‘alternative’ sexualities have to face. Although the booklet is far from completion, we’ve made a lot of progress I’m pretty proud of. Together, we collected about 12 narratives from LGBTI community members and key players in LGBTI organizations in Rwanda. The title for the booklet is still being worked out but it might be something dramatic like “A people condemned”

Teaching Peer Educators: I thought my teaching days were over after being a teaching assistant in my last two semesters of college (still feels weird to be a college graduate). I was actually surprised when I was asked if I wanted to lead some sessions in the training session for student peer educators on topics relating to sexual reproductive health. When Ronah (the program organizer) informed me, I thought I was at least going to be able to pick my topics but nope! I was in charge of covering puberty and menstruation (yikes). I mean puberty is an easy topic but what did I honestly know about menses? Well nothing really but with the help of Helen (head of peer educators), I managed to brush up and learn even learn how to teach the students about regular and irregular menstrual cycles. When the day came to teach, I actually did well than I imagined, I was able to maintain their attention for the entire 45mins which is something that was hard to do when I was a TA. At times the conversations spiraled out of control with the kids asking a lot of questions, some of them really thoughtful, others pretty ridiculous. I think my favorite was when one kid asked me “What’s a guy supposed to do if he doesn’t want to have unprotected sex but the girl wants to and he also doesn’t want to be a disappoint her?” haha!!

Learning how to drive: I was bored one time and I had the inspirational moment that I no longer wanted to be among the list of NYC millennials that do not know now to drive. Feeling determined, I bothered my colleague Josephine until she took me to a park behind Amahoro stadium where tons of eager driving teachers are gathered. After being heckled and sticking to our budget, we managed to strike deal for two weeks of driving lessons which sounded pretty straight forward at that time. Well I can definitely tell you that those two weeks were the most fun/frustrating two weeks I’ve had in my 5/6 months of traveling. First of all, the driving teacher doesn’t speak any English and his assistant has an incredibly limited English as well. That was totally fine since driving in mainly a case of figuring out mechanics. My first lesson was honestly ridiculous because after being shown how to start the car and move to gear one, the diver suggested we get onto the road. I was like “Dude you do realize that I don’t know sh*t about how this car works and you want me on the road in that traffic? Hell Naw”. But we got on the road anyway and I drove around the stadium twice before entering the park again- thankfully!.

In the days that followed, we drove around in the park and I learned a few more things every day, although I’d have to often get someone who spoke English on the phone to ask them a question for me. I think I usually spent half of the lesson laughing and being confused with the way the teacher said certain things. For example, he “slow acelele” instead of “slowly accelerate”, “levance” instead of “reverse”, confuse left and right, the list goes on and on but honestly those were my favorite moments. The biggest issue was trying get those two to arrive ON TIME!! We had agreed on meeting every day at 5pm by the market in Kicukiro Center but on a regular basis I often ended up waiting for 45mins for them to arrive. What made it even worse was I’d ask “why are you late?” or “why didn’t you tell me ahead of time you were going to be late?” and they’d reply “OH IT’S OKAY” – like whaaaaaaattttt do you mean?????!!!” (Insert the angriest expression of confusion and laughter here because that’s how I felt every time). Anyway, I am glad to say, I can pretty much drive now and if I can make it through crazy traffic in Rwanda, I can pretty much survive driving anywhere.

Learning to have patience:I don’t think I’ll ever understand time in the same manner as most Rwandans do but I’ll definitely appreciate they’ve shown me to have patience. I often catch myself in a “new York” state of mind where I do things quickly and usually expect everything and people to be at the same pace as me. The reality is quite different no matter how adaptable one is so I’ve been forcing myself to “slow down” and I think I like the difference I’m seeing. Not only I am learning to understand people better but I am also able to listen better and be more empathetic. I’m sure I am going to be kept waiting in my upcoming travels but I’ll be ready- I mean I’ll be slowly dying on the inside but somewhere in there I am sure I will learn more lessons about being patient.

I’ll be moving to Ethiopia very soon to continue my journey. I can’t fully envision what my time in the de facto capital of Africa is going to be like but I’m excited. I will definitely be having my much needed coffee/caffeine fix after having Rwandan tea for the past two months. I keep dreaming about injera and teff bread so yeah I might be gaining a few pounds as well.

The senses of (slow) travel immersion


A visit to Nyungwe national park

I’ll admit that I’ve definitely been slacking in terms of keeping this blog updated but there are many reasons for that. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this post, you’ll get a sense of why I haven’t really had time to keep this page updated. Much has happened since my last post and with every passing day, I feel like I’ve been in this beautiful country far longer. I’d definitely say I have managed to slowly but actively immerse myself into this society while also making great progress on my project. As the title of this post dictates and with the use of the 5 human senses (not sure about the 6th one), I am going to explore and share with you the ways through which I am understanding the Rwandan society.

Paying Close Attention (Sight) – This is perhaps the broadest aspect of my immersion, mainly because it pretty much covers everything I am doing in Rwanda. I am certainly glad that Rwanda is not a “touristy” destination despite the fact that there are tons of expats and tourist attractions all around. Actually what I have found is that, understanding the local culture and doing what locals do is what makes this place so enjoyable. For instance, I’ve recently started visiting the local bar near my house to catch up on the latest soccer (actual football) games and the feel and the atmosphere of watching the game with locals definitely can’t be beat. I mean it sucks when you’re the only one supporting the opposing team of the local favorite but the food and the merrymaking surrounding a football match is enough to make any football traditionalist like myself excited. Furthermore, the sight and experience of the life in my transactions at the local market is becoming one of my favorite daily activities. The women in the market are really helpful, especially the fruit ladies who always give a good deal and amicable call me “chef”. Maybe it’s just because they want to attract a customer. Well it’s a good thing I have managed to memorize the local names of the currency and the food/products to increase my bargaining chance.

Food related matters aside, I am a big fan of the moto-taxis scattered all around the city. Although there are buses, nothing beats a moto-taxi ride around town during the sunset. Since Rwanda lives up to the name of “Land of a thousand hills”, it’s honestly breathtaking to watch the scattering of colors across the sky in the evenings. For instance, I’ve recently been going for runs with my neighbor and although the trails around he leads us on makes my knees wobble, the views of the city and neighborhoods are totally worth it. I realize that this might sound regular to someone, but I believe it’s the unique pace of life that makes these sights/experiences more desirable and memorable.

Fieldwork (Touch/Hands-On) – Ever since I started working alongside HDI, not only have I been acquiring a lot of organic data for my research, I’m also benefiting from my relationships with locals I volunteer with. Aside from trading fun personal stories and working on projects together, I also get to do a lot of fieldwork that makes my inner anthropologist excited and at times sad/frustrated. For instance, I recently went to one of the many impoverished communities outside of Kigali, Masoro with my colleague Claude to conduct a nutrition project assessment. It was my first time leaving the city of Kigali so I was pretty excited to experience what life is like on the other side. I was definitely overwhelmed by what I saw in the community, I don’t think I’ve fully processed it but it was very eye-opening. Long story short, Masoro is a community known for its pottery making traditions dating back many decades. The people the live in Masoro formally belonged to the Batwa/ Twa ethnic group – due to several factors originating from genocide, Rwanda no longer acknowledges the existence of ethnic groups (Hutus, Tutsis and Batwas).

Nevertheless, most of the people in Masoro live in marginality (not allowed to say that but that’s the truth) with extreme poverty and multiple livelihood issues continuously plaguing them. While checking up on the new farm HDI made for the community, Claude and I decided to interview some of the locals to see what other ways the NGO can assist them. We visited several houses where we were warmly received and told about the current issues which had to deal with most people not having access to any lands. The part about this fieldwork that made me frustrated and kinda sad was finding out about the many families and orphaned children who have to live as squatters because of the land issue. I mean it broke my heart to see many of these kids crawl into their make-shift tents on peoples lands when it started raining- it’s currently the rainy season so it pretty much rains every day. Claude and I managed to document a lot of what the people told us which we included in our fieldwork report in an effort to see what the NGO can do to help.

Aside from the community oriented fieldwork, I’ve recently been gaining hands-on training on the several Rwandan laws regarding health issues and the work of grassroots health NGOs. It’s been quite exciting to learn about these laws because they do promote and at times inhibit a lot of much needed health works. Along with the staff of HDI, I’ve been learning about the ways health NGOs can navigate these laws as well as how they can join the ongoing discussions of changing some of the laws. For instance, the law prohibits sex work/ prostitution with offenders (mainly women) being sent to jail as a “method” of rehabilitation – there are more ridiculous to this law by the way. HDI approaches the issues regarding sex work from a rights-based approach, so in short, it hopes to provide sex workers with adequate sexual health education while finding ways of providing these women with “proper” means of making a living. The approaches are a lot but I am quite happy to learning about these aspects of public health work that I actually never envisioned.

The words of the people (Hearing) – Happy Hour isn’t really a concept here but I do love visiting local bars with my colleagues on Thursdays and Fridays. Apart from enjoying some cheap beers and a couple brochettes, I do love conversations we have and the opportunity it gives me to learn more about them. I often try to pose them questions that allows them to get to their deeply ingrained reasons and thoughts regarding their country and their engagement in public health- some of their responses are very personal, others are very straightforward. Through our conversations, I’m realized the most of my colleagues felt drawn to the field of public health because they’ve always felt a sense of “empathy” for those who aren’t as fortunate as they are. Whether it’s through health or development projects, many of these people believe that they cannot just stand and watch as their own people suffer. One person said “I am one of them, I know what it’s like so why not do something with what I have”, another also said “Things used to be worse, why must we stop now that it’s getting better? We have to continue”.

Not sure if I can fully encapsulate what I am hearing in these sentences but I definitely feel really inspired being among these people. They are truly representative of what the Ubuntu ideology preaches and much more. Also, what I am hearing is not only shaped by those I am working with, even in brief conversations with my neighbors, I often capture hints of the growing nature of positivity within this country. Nevertheless, not everything is all sunny and rainbows, some of the people I talk to often express concerns about the general lack of confidence Rwanda has in itself (dependence on foreigners). My firsthand experience of this occurred while I chatting with a worker at the department of health. He said “We Rwandans are doing a lot to improve ourselves but we still need the help of westerners to tell us if what we are doing is right”. Not sure how I felt about his words but I know many African countries have a tendency to rely on western countries.

Memories and similarities (Taste & Smell) – This part is obviously dedicated to the many reasons I’ve become so sentimental in this country and another reason to talk about food. I was recently walking around the neighborhood of Remera when a sudden whiff of a familiar scent put an unending cheesy smile on my face. It wasn’t nothing too special but the familiar smell of ripening mangoes. I quickly felt transported to the time when I was a just a 5yr old boy eagerly picking mangoes with my grandmother in the backyard. Not only was I homesick (Ghana not NYC) but I also found another reason to love this place even more – I actually had to go get mangoes in the market after that. I’ve been encountering many of such little sentimental moments that keeps taking me back home to both NYC and Accra. I’ve also actually started my own ceremony of using my Fridays to try the Rwandan versions of American and Ghanaian food to keep the sentiment and similarities going.

Focusing on West and East African food, there’s quite a lot of similarities although they have distinct differences. I think I’ve narrowed it down to the fact that the flavor as the big difference, West African food is honestly more flavorful. Although that’s a bit of generalized comparison, the ingredients are quite the same but I guess food in the west leaves a bit more of a lasting impression. For instance, there’s Mandazi a popular snack among East African countries that’s often served with tea of coffee. Mandazi reminds me of Bofrot which is served with porridge in Ghana and Nigeria (They call it Puff-Puff). They are very similar in appearance and smell but Mandazi is more like a fried break while Bofrot is flakey on the inside like a donut and mainly served while hot. They are both quite good and very addictive, I think I’d eat a Mandazi everyday if they served it with porridge. Another example is Matoke which is basically plantain and a beans sauce boiled and served together. The food similar to that from the west is Ampesie but the difference is that the ingredients aren’t boiled together. For Ampesie, you boil the plantains or yams separately then you make a stew (sauce/dip) to go with it. Whenever my neighbor is making Matoke, the smell of the plantains make me long and wish for Ampesie – I’m just going to have to cook it one of these days.

Moving on (6th sense?!) – Unbelievable, I only have a month and a few days left in Rwanda. I don’t even know where the time went but I’m looking forward to enjoying the rest of my time here. I also just realized that Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner. I’m not worried about thanksgiving because my family never really celebrated but spending Christmas is going to be a bit weird. My visa in Rwanda ends on December 14th which means I have to be preparing for Ethiopia but Ethiopians don’t celebrate Christmas on the 25th. Hmmm… not sure if my 6th sense is working properly but I’m sure I’ll figure out something fun to do, maybe even take a little detour to an East African country. Who knows… until next time!

Murisanga Kigali!!!

Time really does fly when you’re having fun or in this case when you are settling into a new society. I have been in Kigali for about 3 weeks now and I am absolutely happy with the way things are going. Thanks to the help of my contacts, things got off to a great start when I arrive at the beginning of October. I had expected to be running around searching for a room to rent and other accommodations since there aren’t hostels here like there were in Peru. However with the help of Dr. Kagaba, the director of Health Development Initiative (HDI), I am living in Kicukiro, one of the 3 Districts in Kiagali City. I have also been able to secure a special visa pass which will allow me to focus on my project until it’s time to move. Since I have so much to share, here is a brief outline of what I am going to discuss in this post;

  • Getting to know Rwanda (Kigali)
  • Working alongside HDI
  • Updates and new insights on my project

Getting to know Rwanda (Kigali)

Rwanda is known as “The land of a thousand hills” and Kigali is true testament to this name. Straddling several ridges, hills and valleys, Kigali is definitely one of the cleanest and safest cities I’ve ever been to. The level of development and ease of living in this city is definitely a testament to the new image Rwanda is putting forward to the global community. As we all know, Kigali hasn’t always been like this but living here, you definitely feel a sense of peacefulness and redefined order that is shaping the course of this country. The friendliness and welcoming attitude of the people is also a plus and there is no wonder there are so many expats that now call Kigali home. Although I am not an expat, I am definitely feeling the draw that Kigali has on many foreigners.

I live near the center of Kicukiro, which is pretty much close to everything. The main way to get around is on buses or moto-taxis but many people prefer the later over buses since there is no waiting time. The moto-taxis are generally very safe since both the passenger and the driver have to wear helmets (thank goodness). The prices however requires a little of negotiating since the prices tends to be inflated when they realize you are a foreigner- learning a few phrases in Kinyarwanda and having a fixed “surprised face” definitely helps lower the price. For instance, getting a moto-taxi to the MTN Center shouldn’t be more than 700 RWF but sometimes that drivers will tell you it’s about 1000 RWF- I’ve so far managed to get it for 600 RWF since I use the phrase “Nangahe (How much)” and “Gabanya! (Lower the price)”. Also, it’s hard to give directions if you don’t speak French or Kinyarwanda so it helps to know some of the popular landmarks near your destination.

FOOOOODDD!!! There is a local market neatly laid out with tons of fresh fruits and produce at very affordable prices, I think for about 5000 RWF ($6), you can get enough produce for to make a lot of food prices – bargaining is always the best way to go.  Supermarkets and shopping centers are also near the center but if you can’t specific things, you can easily get a taxi to several other spots scattered around the city. There are several local dishes that are dishes and I am slowing making my way to trying all of them. So far I am becoming a huge fan of the bar foods like the fish and beef brochettes- some bars even have house specialties but it’s good to have the local patrons help you out with that. There are also several restaurants and cafes which are a few minutes taxi ride from Kicukiro- there’s a Mexican restaurant (Meze Fresh) that would definitely give chipotle a run for its money. Thanks to the help of a fellow Wheaton graduate, I’ve got the tips on several spots around Kigali that are worth checking out for new delicacies.  The food options are definitely endless but living in Peru has made me more excited about trying new recipes and cooking for myself.

Working alongside HDI

I am really happy to be working with HDI because it really fits the profile of a “grassroots health initiative” like I had in mind when I started out this project. My first few days working with them was definitely slow but it gave me time to get to know the staff and gain more insights into how the organization functions. Conducting an organizational analysis also helped me gain a good representation on the workplace culture as well as serve as a platform for me to establish a place as a newcomer. In general, the organization functions both as a health center and an advocacy organization for several key populations within Rwanda. They have several key projects they focus on in relation to community health, development and human rights advocacy. Since I started working alongside them, I have been introduced to a lot of key their public health strategies that sheds light on my theory about the interconnectedness between Ubuntu and public health. For instance, one of their key health outreach strategies is to train some of the local youth to serve as peer educators in spreading awareness about diseases and infections prevalent in their communities.

On a more in depth level, which is looking at what motivates those partaking in these health initiatives, I am gaining a lot of data and experiences from knowing these people in ways that also confirm what I had theorized. For instance, one of my recent assignments was help a woman who is working with HDI to start her own NGO dedicated to advocacy in the rights and health of sex workers and single mothers. While we were on a brochure for her organization, I really got to know her as an individual and get to the depths of why she was pioneering such an initiative. I can’t share her entire story but safe to say I was really impressed and moved by the way her past life as a single mother and a former sex worker has motivated her to make a difference in the lives of others. I am working alongside and meeting many more people like her every day and I must say it’s really making me excited with the choices I have made in hoping to promote health and development from a grassroots level in the near future.

Updates and new insights on my project

Although I expect finding for my project in Rwanda to be different from what I found in Peru, there are already some commonalities I am beginning to observe. Simply put, I am seeing that public health from the grassroots level is never just about “Health”. Due to the local nature and state of living in several communities, I believe many organizations that were initially just about health have had to take on new ventures and initiatives all in work of improving health and wellbeing. As of right now, I will categorize the approach of the grassroots health initiatives I have been in contact with as Preparation, Prevention and Promotion (PPP). Since this is not a research paper (AINTNOBODYGOTTIMEFORTHAT), I am only going to highlight what I am realizing in relation to “Preparation”.

I believe Preparation is the part that comes at the later part of establishing a grassroots health initiative but eventually becomes one of the essential parts once established. I believe the preparation aspect deals with taking measures to address the local situations that tend to cause health issues or situations become manifested as health issues if unaddressed. In Peru for instance, I noticed that some health initiatives have established trade initiatives with the purpose of helping with societal issues of poverty and providing vocational skills for women. While there might be several reasons for this, I believe that the connection between poverty and health issues are undoubtable, thus while trade initiative acts as an income generation tool, I believe it also serves the purpose of dealing with the many ways poverty can become manifested as a health issue.

In the case of Rwanda, HDI is currently working on several ways to reduce the social stigma and discrimination surrounding people that identify as members of the LGBTI community. In its human rights centered approach, HDI is hoping to help quell their social ostracism as to encourage people who identify as LGBTI to get regular health checks such as HIV/AIDS testing. This is because many people who are either gay or lesbian in Rwanda are known to shun such health check-ups for fear of discrimination. Thus the health preparation aspect of their approach will help reduce the rate of STI/D’s as well as promote social acceptance. The list of such “indirect” approaches to solving health initiatives from a grassroots levels goes on and I have a feeling that I am going to be seeing more of these approaches in Rwanda and the other countries on my list.

Looking forward to further insights and experiences that will not only give me answers but will provide me with more questions to look forward to.  Definitely seeing changes in myself and the world around me. Until next time, Umunsi Mwiza!!

A Look Into My Project Journal with Analysis

It’s been about two months into my yearlong journey to explore grassroots health initiatives and the locally motivated people who are pivotal to the functioning of these health initiatives. As you’ve noticed with my previous blog posts, I’ve mainly discussed my travels more than my project in itself. That’s because keeping my project journal and trace stories apart helps me distinguish among my discoveries and mentally paint a proper portrait of my findings. As I am preparing for the next leg of my journey to Rwanda, I have been looking back into my project journals and I am seeing more progress than I previously expected. In short, while compounding my explorations and discoveries under the essential theme of communal reciprocity (Ubuntu), I have come across some answers and many more questions. In the following subsections below, I will proceed to depict some aspects of what I’ve learned about health in Peru as well as give you a glimpse into my project journal.

The reality of my Public Health research

I have been fortunate to not have many difficulties throughout my journey in Peru but I would say finding health centered initiatives has been my toughest and challenge. It might be harsh of me to say that health- or health education- is not a priority in Peru but assessing my time in the country so far that seems to be the case. Imagine Peru as a coin with two distinctively different sides. As a foreigner, you mostly get to see one side which is impressive tourist attractions and a mixture of urban and traditional lifestyles. The other is a deep overarching poverty which is the reality of many Peruvians, which is also thankfully the focus of many local initiatives. In my studies and travels, I have always found poverty and poor health to be intertwined and often times inseparable. However, I haven’t found many organization solely dedicated to public health or any of its aspects. What I’ve discovered are mainly fair-trade or education initiatives with the later usually having a small public health aspect mainly dedicated to providing proper meals and improving basic nutrition.

I believe education and fair-trade efforts are absolutely important in impoverished areas and communities but I guess I am a bit disappointed at the scarcity of health related health initiatives and NGOs. Also, accessing information about the Peruvian healthcare system is very complicated and so far everyone I’ve spoken to seems to have the same view. To put it simply, the Peruvian healthcare system is divided into multiple sections with the notable ones being SIS, eSalud and Private insurance. Each section covers some aspect of the population or those who can afford it. From my observation, there seems to be a local clinic or posta in many communities, which is great but many people are not aware of what aspect of their health is insured or covered. Although the postas serve as good initial points of health access, I’ve noticed that the regional hospitals with considerably better amenities are usually out of the reach of those who might need it the most. Coupled with the lack of public health education or advocacy, it is very hard to get a sense of public health urgency or importance. Now imagine the impact of inadequate public health education and awareness on the many people that live in remote communities.

In such a situations, I’d imagine health initiatives would serve as the perfect intermediaries for health education and disease preventions but unfortunately there aren’t many of such initiatives. Furthermore, this reality has made it generally hard for me to assess the behaviors locals might have toward healthcare or their own health. I however do know that traditional medicines made from the coca plant are often utilized for many remedies. Additionally, this is not a criticism of the Peruvian government or society but I believe tourism garners the attention of social initiatives more than education or even health. With that being said, I believe there are initiatives and individuals out there who are doing their best to restructure this skewed picture – I will highlight one of such initiatives in the section below.

Does the concept if Ubuntu or reciprocity work in Peru?

To reiterate, Ubuntu, commonly known as “I am because we are” is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of selflessness actions from the perspective that a sense of community shapes who we are. Simply put, I would frame the Ubuntu philosophy into my project as observing or assessing health related actions that benefit the community as well as the connection between those that provide health and the recipients. With that being said, I would say that a sense of Ubuntu in Peru is better understood from the perspective of what people do for their families rather than communities. I believe this is because family dynamics shape or nurtures the individual in Peru rather than his or her community. For instance, in the Sacred Valley region of Cusco, I came across an organization (Sacred Valley Health) that trains community health workers or Promotoras to spread health awareness in remote indigenous communities. The interesting aspect about these promotoras is that they are elected by the community because their families are known to be trustworthy and thus such individuals can serve agents of change and health advocacy.

The elected promotoras (SVH currently has 14 promotoras) receive training on how to deal with the main health issues in the communities which tends to be malnutrition, respiratory illness and diarrheal illnesses. They are also taught about vaccinations and how to negotiate with community members on ways they can adopt healthier lifestyles. One of the many things I found interesting about the promorotas is that they are unpaid and dedicated people who work hard to customize and make their health trainings more in tuned with the communal lifestyle. Additionally, some of the promotoras eventually become Docenetes within the organization to train other community members to become health workers to help fill in the gaps that they can’t fill. For many of the health workers, being involved with the organization helps improve the social status of their families and on an individual level, they feel a sense of internal satisfaction for being important role players in their tight-knit communities. Using the notion of Ubuntu as a lens, the selfless work of promotoras can perceived as making them open and available to others, which is the essential to promoting oneness and humanity through health advancement.

Brief Summary

I would say the concept of Ubuntu does work in Peru but the nurturing aspect of the ideology is derived through families rather than communities as I had expected. The ideology doesn’t only apply to health initiatives, it does apply to the many development and educational initiatives aimed at improving the lifestyles of many impoverished Peruvians. Even though my main focus in this project was health related, living in communities among locals definitely helped me understand my daily learnings and experiences from broader perspectives. I didn’t have a homestay or any living arrangements planned out when I arrived in this country but I’ve definitely felt welcomed and at home in all the places I’ve stayed. More importantly, the people I’ve stayed with always treated me like family and I believe such experiences definitely made me understand the importance of family in this society. It was always bittersweet leaving each place but I moved on to the next with great memories and good expectations that were duly fulfilled upon settling in and meeting people. The unplanned nature of my time in Peru has definitely allowed me to learn so much more about myself as an individual and my project than I would have if everything was structured and ironed out. With that being said, I would have liked to get a more hands on look into my research because I would have been able to gather more organic data through participant observation- Anthro 101 🙂 .

I leave Peru with some answers and more questions about my project which works well for me because it will be weird if I had all the answers I sought. I believe I made the most of my time here between conducting my project and also making time to meet people and try new things. I am definitely going to miss the curiosity of Peruvians, the sense of pride they always showed when teaching me about their culture and the many savory Peruvian meals. This isn’t goodbye, I will definitely visit Peru again and hopefully my Spanish will be better by then. I am excited for the next chapter of my Watson journey which begins next week in Kigali, Rwanda. I will be working alongside HDI, an independent health initiative working to improve both the quality and accessibility of health care for Rwandans through advocacy, education, and training. In Rwanda, I look forward to learning about the people, their culture, what it means to be a post-conflict society as well as health challenges and initiatives. I might be off the map for a while but I will make sure to keep updating you guys about my journey and my discoveries. Until next time!

Leaving Huancahco & the “Unplanned” Journey

Leaving Huanchaco yesterday was very bittersweet, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the community and spending time with my new friends. I decided it was time to move on because I had become a little too comfortable and if I were to stay there any longer, I wouldn’t want to move on. Although in the community wasn’t as productive for my project, it really gave me time to reflect on myself and my journey as well as how to proceed further.

Huanchaco — Trujillo — Tarapoto — Yurimanguas — Iquitos (the jungle). That was the outline of the next leg of my journey. After spending over a month in small provinces and towns throughput Peru, I decided to go where there will be more nature and perhaps more cultural traditions. The breakdown of the trip as follows, to get to Iquitos required a 24hr bus ride from Trujillo to Tarapoto then an additional 2hr taxi ride to Yurimanguas where I would spend 3 days on a cargo ship heading towards Iquitos. The trip was recommended to me by a friend I met in Huaraz who described it as “very life changing” and indeed, it was life changing and self-reflective for me.

Well after arriving in Yurimanguas dreary in the afternoon, I headed towards the local market with two new friends to get a hammock and some basic snacks for the ship. Since we wanted to catch the ship, we were in a bit of hurry but thankfully, we made it in time to the port on the Huallaga River where we boarded the “Eduardo V” Cargo ship. Since the bunkers and almost the entire ship was filled with food and other locals who wanted to get to Iquitos and other parts of the Jungle, we were told to hand our hammocks on the top deck or “the gringo section”. The ticket cost about 80 soles and it came with 3 meals daily so I had no complaints and it was great that I made friends quickly when I got on the ship, so I was ready and excited for the journey to begin at 5pm.

The ship actually never left that night because the river had swelled, so I spend the night in the hammock bonding with locals and trying not to get eaten by mosquitos. Around 5:30am when the ship started moving, I arose to the noise but the impending sunset over the jungle immediately caught my attention. It was absolutely stunning. I got out of my hammock and went to join the locals hunched over the rails in a unison and quietness for the rest of the sunrise – Obviously, I took tons of photos as well. Breakfast was at 6:30 am and although it wasn’t the best, it was definitely edible as was lunch and dinner.

Witnessing the calm of the jungle and the smoothness of the rivers we traversed definitely set the tone for establishing stronger relationships and learning about the populations around the Peruvian jungle. From learning about each other’s families to discussing our motivations in life, I was able to apply my perception of Ubuntu to the many stories and lives I learned about. Additionally, as the boat stopped by some of the jungle villages, I loved observing the sense of tranquility among the many villagers along the river who waited for their loved ones and those who wanted to buy crops from the ship. It’s was quite fascinating to know that the cargo on the ship was the main source of food for thousands of people who lived in the jungle and around Iquitos. Well it’s both fascinating and sort of concerning because the food comes from one source and in a way, there are many complications that can correlate with that.

Time seemed to be much slower on the ship and it 3 days felt more like a week filled with peacefulness. I spent the majority of my down time enjoying a Hermann Hesse novel, Siddhartha, which led me through a journey and endless reflections on “individuality” and “self-discovery”. In correlation, finding purpose between oneself and one’s surrounding seems to be an emerging topic I’ve been experiencing more and more throughout my journey so far. I haven’t fully grasped or understood this topic but I believe more answers and questions would arise as this journey progresses.

Anyway, arriving in Iquitos was definitely bittersweet but I was really happy with the overall outcome of this “unplanned” journey and the time spent on the ship. Iquitos itself is a very remote place with very old post-colonial buildings that makes you feel like you’ve accidentally stumbled on Cuba but in a jungle setting. The province is also incredibly humid throughout the day and it rains between 3pm and 4pm every day. I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy my time in Iquitos but the weather and the persistence of tourism agents to sell me jungle tours soured my experience. Since the only way to leave Iquitos was to return to Yurimanguas on the ship or by flight, I opted for the latter, flew to Lima and caught a bus to Arequipa which marks the beginning of the last leg of my time in Peru.

Living in Huanchaco

One of the many sunsets!

Hello! It´s almost sunset here in Huanchaco and I´m definitely not going to miss it.

Today´s post will be a mixture of updates of my project, travels and, moments I´d like to share with you. It’s been of a whirl wind these past few weeks but it´s definitely been great and eye-opening.

Side note, I think I am finally getting used to the Peruvian bus system and my journey to Huanchaco is definitely my most interesting one yet. I left Huaraz for Trujillo with Transportes Linea around 9:30pm but unlike my previous trips, I didn’t have an English speaking travel buddy. The bus ride was okay but I would say the entertainment on the bus is one I am probably not going to forget. Why? Well since I can’t sleep on buses, I was forced to watch Pitch Perfect 1&2 in SPANISH… It was painful- the acting I mean.

At the monastery overlooking the town

Anyway, Huanchaco is a small fishing/surf town part of the La Libertad region in the Trujillo province. The village has a pleasant and seemingly endless beach with water temperatures varying between 13 and 21 degrees. I´ve been living at Frogs Chillhouse a small hostel just by the beach that has become my home instead of a temporary residence. I live in close proximity to pretty much everything, especially the market which is equipped daily with fresh fruits and vegetables. The awesome staffs at Frogs provide free bikes so I’ve definitely become used to my morning rides to the market to get fruits and bread for breakfast. Since the town is very small, I´ve also explored a lot and I´m settling in quicker than I imagined. Within two days after I arrived, I became familiar with the grid and also figured out the best spots to relax and journal as well as places for quick bites and freshly made helados. Speaking of food, Huanchaco is the best place to try sea food since the fish is always fresh the local fisherman- I definitely loved trying Cebiche, the local favorite for the first time. Additionally, I have been cooking for myself and it’s been great combining African style recipes with Peruvian ingredients.

Food with friends at the market after swim lessons

I don’t plan on doing much tourist activities here but the locals have informed me that About 15 minutes from the town are two really cool attractions, the Chan Ruins and Huaca de La Luna y el Sol. These ruins belonged to Chimu and Moche civilizations that inhabited the area long before the Spanish arrived. I might check them out but as of right now, I am pretty much happy with getting to know the inner workings of the community and some of the travelers I am getting acquainted with. On an interesting side note, most of my new friends were baffled by my inability to swim (I don’t blame them) and they took it upon themselves to teach me how to swim. So yesterday, along with 5 other people from the hostel, I had my first swimming lesson and it was honestly exciting and full of adrenaline. I just have to keep on practicing and work on my floating skills but I did pretty well for an amateur.

Caballitos de totora used for fishing

In terms of project related news, I found out about a local NGO (Otra Cosa) that contributed to local development by connecting volunteers with local community projects. Due to their requirements, I wasn’t able to work along with them. They required a 2 month dedication as well as an advanced level of Spanish which put me in a tough position. Nevertheless, I managed to learn a lot about some of their Health related projects and the locals who are key players in the organization. With the aid of volunteers and the Huanchaquito Health Office, the NGO aims to reach out to a larger population and keep more contact with community through health outreach work and public health campaigns. I used the information I learned about the organization to conduct my own community health situation analysis and it was quite exciting and productive way to spend my time in Huanchaco.

I have decided to stay in Huanchaco for a while because I definitely like the low key vide and the chill ambiance of the fishing village. I am also genuinely enjoying my time here which definitely makes it my favorite place in Peru so far. In a way I am also afraid that if I get too comfortable here, I might not want to leave but I know I will be able to realize when it’s time to move on. But until then, I’m going to make the most of my time here.

The Chinese Food (Chifa) Story… Am I actually getting homesick?

I`ve been in Peru for about a while now and honestly, I couldn’t tell if I was experiencing culture shock in Peru or not. But this week, I think I definitely felt culture shock due to a little homesickness that led to a hilarious encounter at the local store (traveling alone isn`t easy). Earlier this evening, I found myself craving some takeout food that would satisfy my need for NYC Chinese food.

Eager to satisfy this crazing, I went for around the Plaza de Armas in Huaraz while in search of Chinese food. Luckily enough, Chinese food or chaufa is actually a big thing in Peru so it wasn’t long before I found a nice little restaurant. After struggling through the Spanish menu, the waitress decided to lend me a hand by giving me the special English menu. I rejoiced and decided to keep it simple by selecting chicken and friend rice – para llevar. I got home and eagerly opened my takeout to a surprise, I didn’t get the food I wanted and more confusingly, I was given plain fried rice with a single packet of MAYONAISE- WTF.

At this point, I think I was about to loose it because I know everyone in NYC is used to getting Chinese food with ketchup or duck sauce. Frustrated, I decided to eat the food like it was but after a couple of bites, I decided to go to the supermarket and get ketchup. At the store, I politely asked “Perdon, tu tienes Ketchup”, only to be met with confused smiles and looks the screamed “what’s this negrito talking about” (Also I have no idea how I feel about locals calling me negrito).  Anyway, I decided to go ahead and search the store and after an endless search, I found my beloved ketchup hidden in the corner of a shelf.

Happily, I grabbed a hand full of packets, returned to the cashier and shout “mira, ketchup”. She laughed hysterically and replied “ooohhh kepchu”. I’m seriously not kidding, between the Chinese food and this ketchup dilemma, I had had enough. I just joined her in laughing (fake nervous laugh) and went back to my hostel with my ketchup, or should I say kepchu for now on?

I have no idea if I was just frustrated, homesick or experiencing a little culture shock. Either way, it was an interesting experience and I now know that my survival Spanish is not just going to cut it anymore. Anyway, tomorrow I am leaving Huaraz and heading to Huanchaco which is a small fishing town 8hrs north of Huaraz. As always, I am eager for what awaits me.