Archive for February, 2009


Tyler: A different kind of homework

February 28, 2009

So, I feel like I submit more homework to this blog than to school here, but whatever. These papers are basically journal/blog entries (two birds, one stone). This is an assignment I wrote for my Country Analysis class:

Last week, three of us were walking away from the MSID office and encountered a situation that none of us were prepared for at the time. As we were walking and enjoying the warm, beautiful day, my friend Anna saw a man begin to move his body violently. He soon fell to the ground and continued to twitch. He proceeded to foam from the mouth and was unresponsive when we rushed over to him. We feared the worst.

Although he was still alive, we were scared for his life. An ambulance could be called, but by seeing how poor he is, they would not allow him a ride because he would not be able to pay the bill. So, I put him on his side and made sure his airway was unobstructed, as instructed by my EMT friend. A random lady was the first one there and checked the man’s pockets for any form of identification to alert someone of his situation. Luckily, in one of the front pockets was a prescription for an epilepsy preventative drug. After he came to in about 30 minutes, he began to explain to us that he just went to the doctor for his check up and prescription refill. Since he could not afford the refill, he went home empty-handed.

The man said without the drugs he could have as many as two seizures every day, but usually one. He said that the pills cost around Ksh1700 ($20). On top of that, he had malaria and was not taking medication for it. This man needed help. But even though he needed financial assistance, we did not know if we should give him any money. It was the most difficult ethical question I had to answer since arriving in Kenya. We didn’t know if he would go give the money to someone else, if he was faking it, or was going to buy food with it, rather than the medication. It was obvious the man needed help, yet we continued to struggle to make a decision.

After much deliberation, I told my friends that we would really regret not trying to help him. Even if he did buy food with the money, Ksh1700 would be enough for a month’s worth of food. But, if he did buy the medication like we hoped, he would be seizure free for over 3 months. If he could go 3 months without a seizure, what a great thing we would have done for him! We potentially could have saved his life. Knowing that, I am glad we did what we did and do not regret it one bit.


Emily: An Update on School

February 25, 2009

Since my last post I have been … busy. I’ve been in and out of faculty offices, getting used to changing venues, dressing in layers for the schizophrenic weather, joining clubs, meeting new people, attending art festivals, meeting with non-profits, climbing mountains, adopting kittens, walking up and down the million flights of stairs on campus, and reading until my eyes cross.

-Let me air that out a little bit-

Friday the 13th was the first day of school, which was uneventful and disappointing. None of my classes were actually held on Friday, but I did get to pick up one of my course readers and sink my teeth into a little bit of academic material before our first class. From where I live it takes about 25 or 30 minutes to walk to upper campus (sweating and panting), or 6 minutes to the jammie, a 3 minute ride up to campus, and 5 more minutes of walking to my building. I ALWAYS walk down though (mostly because I’m afraid to take the wrong jammie and end up on a different campus). I went on a run up and down campus with Laura yesterday, and I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. But campus is beautiful with Table Mountain as a backdrop, and I’ve already found a cozy place in the library where I can hermit between classes. I’ve also found a very popular Indian lady that sells delicious vegan-friendly food and sweets on campus and I visit her every day. We’re good friends – I’m already a regular.

On Sunday afternoon Mindy and I met three guys from Congo, Tanguy, David, and Angel, and after they insisted on walking our groceries home for us (they turned out to be our neighbors), we invited them over for dinner. Tanguy is very deep and likes to ask huge and unanswerable questions like “Do you think that youth today really understand what love is?” which, it turns out, is even more difficult to discuss through the French-English language barrier. Angel is very fun-loving and outgoing and aspires to live in New York. He asked Mindy and I to show him all of our photos from the U.S. and says that he loves my family, and thinks that dad looks Lebanese (??). And then there’s David, who spoke almost no English and giggled at his end of the table all night when we would try to involve him in the conversation. We ended the evening around 8pm, just in time to relax and unwind before the next school day.

On Monday the 16th I had my first classes, and I LOVE them. I have quite a heavy load, but I’m excited about it. I am taking Medical Anthropology (a second year course and my favorite), Anthropology through Ethnography (a third year course), Ethnographic Approaches to Research (a post-graduate level month-long module through March), and a post-graduate level independent research project in Socio-Cultural Anthropology. I have been VERY busy already, and haven’t even started my March class or much of my independent research. I have been meeting with the head of department in Anthropology frequently about my project, and today we’ve made it official that she’ll be my advisor. Inspired by my classes and the unique history of South Africa, I will be studying South African youth and HIV/AIDS education through the arts.

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Allison: Tour Day

February 24, 2009

Since the trip to Monte Alban wasn’t enough excitement for one weekend we set off with the rest of our group to tour the area surrounding Oaxaca City. We left at 10:00 in two vans heading out to the countryside…

The first site was the Tule Tree found in Santa Maria el Tule 12 kms from Oaxaca city. This cypress tree is approximately 2000 years old, 40 meters high and 42 meters (140 ft) in circumference. We were sad to see it fenced off, bet it would have looked amazing in a natural setting.

We stopped next at Teotitlan to visit a family of rug makers. It is a craft they have been carrying down through generations. These are some of the finest rugs in the Oaxacan Valley. All the wool is natural, hand spun and dyed from natural materials. They used plants, bugs, powder from pollen, lime and seeds found around the area for producing dyes

Another short bus ride and we arrived at Mitla, an archeological site (not nearly as stunning as Monte Alban) but with beautiful stone carving and detailing. Although the structures themselves were not very intriguing, we found some great jewelry stands nearby and bargained for a few pieces for ourselves.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant next to a Mezcal Factory. Mezcal is a Mexican liquor which is similar to Tequila, however differs in that it is made from the green agave cactus instead of the blue used for Tequila. First the cacti were baked in a fire for 2 or 3 weeks brought in to the barn to be ground up by a mule wheeling a large stone over the large pine cone-shaped plants. Next the grounds were set in large barrels to begin the fermentation process. It was then distilled and collected in clay pots to be taken indoors and bottled.

Last stop: a petrified waterfall and natural mineral spring on the mountain side. The drive up the mountain was unbelievable. Our van driver gave us quite the ride driving fast around the curves and along cliffs of the mountain, but he knew what he was doing… I think. In any case, we saw some stunning views from the van into the valley and the crazy ride was worth it once we got there.

Sadly, my camera ran out of batteries after we arrived to the springs. These springs had formed natural pools of water perfect for taking a dip. It had been rumored among the group these were natural “hot” springs. But it was quite the opposite – these pools were very cold! But we swam in them anyway and had a fantastic time. This was by far, the highlight of our whole trip to Oaxaca so far.


Ross: The Luck of the Irish

February 23, 2009

The clock tower in Trinity College. This historically protestant college still has a policy that condones the killing of a catholic with a bow and arrow from the window of a school building on Tuesdays... of course no one has actually done this in recent years.

The Liffy River in the center of Dublin.

At the brisk hour of 3:30 a.m. last Tuesday I took off from my apartment in London, met the cab at the gate outside my school and headed to Victoria station to catch a bus to the airport and eventually board my 6:25 am flight. Why was I flying at 6:25am? well the price was right (10 pounds!!) I touched down in Dublin at around 8 am and headed to the city center to drop my bags at Abigail hostel.

After a quick breakfast, my buddy Michael and I headed to Dublin castle (which actually is not much of a castle) for a three hour in-depth free walking tour. Our guide was a sharp witted, fast talking 21 year-old Irish-German who knew Dublin well. The city was absolutely charming, and has a interesting history. Historically Ireland is consistent with two things, Guinness Beer and revolting against the British (6 attempted revolutions before they finally got it right).

The next day was outstanding. Michael and I signed up for a mini-bus coach tour through the WicklowGlendalough. If you ever do book a day trip outside of Dublin, visit Day Tours Unplugged and you’re guaranteed a great experience. Our tour guide was a semi-retired former army civil engineer that was as entertaining as he was informative. This was far from your “typical” bus driver. The mountains were breathtaking, but half the time it was too foggy to see much of anything. Before Glendalough we stopped of for lunch, where I had the chance to sample Beef Stew with Guinness, quite tasty! Glendalough was essentially an ancient cemetery and town built around two glacial lakes. Interesting artifacts and some really old monasteries. Mountains and

Glacial lake in the Wicklow mountains.

On the tour, Michael and I befriended three Americans traveling from Barcelona. That night we met up with them at our hostel and eventually made it over to Porterhouse to listen to some live music with them.

Overall, Dublin was an amazing place to visit. It’s big enough to keep you busy for a few days and the people are charming. Great mix of touristy things, genuine Irish pubs and if you take a day out of town the natural side of Ireland is breathtaking.


Allison: Monte Alban

February 22, 2009

The day did not begin just like any other. On our way to the bus station about 20 minutes (walking time) from our hotel we found this abandoned single-speed bicycle cart on the street. Yes, it is a whale eating a popsicle. We have also spotted carts of the same type: Penguin carts, food carts, carts carrying people…

The day continued with a bus ride to archeological site Monte Alban. One thing I learned in Oaxaca: there are no rules for the road. If this picture to the right taken from the bus doesn’t explain it all, I don’t know what could.

On our bus ride to Monte Alban we drove through the mountainside passing small villages of dwellings built by the locals. The houses were made of

The site was literally carved out from solid mountain and there is no shade to be found. Usually it gets very hot when visiting, but we were lucky to have clouds to break up the periods of scorching heat. We were able to walk up two large carved stone structures and look down onto the site. This picture below was taken from one of the taller structures and the scale of people may help in realizing how huge this place is. corrugated metal, tarps, adobe and were quite run down. But they were colorfully painted so it created quite a beautiful sight within the landscape. I wish I had a picture to show, but our bus driver drove like crazy, making it impossible to capture a good photo. Monte Alban is an archeological site discovered 3 km from Oaxaca City. Construction began around the year 500 AD and had significant presence in the Oaxaca Valley for 1500 years. There are tall, stepped structures that served as buildings for housing, temples, tombs and recreation.


Natasha: Winter Break

February 22, 2009

The French sure do love their time off, and I can’t complain, since that meant this past week was filled with travel and adventure instead of classes. I left Montpellier on Friday the 13th (scary?) on a short flight to London. I met up with my friend, Jamie, with whom I would spend the next two days. We dropped my bags off at her flat and headed out in search of food. Walking past Trafalgar Square we saw a huge gathering of people; it almost looked like a protest. We asked a police officer and he said it had something to do with facebook… Never did quite figure that one out. We ended up walking through Leicester and Chinatown before finally deciding on pizza, and then getting ice cream later on. Those are two things I really can’t find in Montpellier, and when I do they’re quite different, so it was a nice treat.

Saturday we wandered around London for a while, deciding to check out St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations, both of which are reputed to have lovely architechture. King’s Cross is also home to a secret platform that Jamie wanted to be photographed with… I stayed in a hostel Saturday night because I had to wake up very early for my flight and didn’t want to bother Jamie. Improvement works on the London underground meant about half the tube lines were down, including the Jubliee line on which the nearest station to my hostel was located, so I had figure out my way by bus. London buses seem confusing, but I think they’re more straightforward than a lot of places I’ve been… Plus they’re big, red, and have two levels. Awesome. The hostel I was staying at was cheap, but an odd format… The reception was inside a pub and therefore didn’t open until 7pm on Saturdays, and I had gotten there aroung 4:30 – giving me a few hours to kill before I could get in. I took a bus back into town and decided to see Hyde Park, and then wandered about near Covent Garden and Leicester square before finding a bus back to the hostel. I thought I would go to bed early since I would have to leave around 5am, but the rooms weren’t too soundproof and there were a few people hanging out in the common area right outside my door playing guitars and singing. I thought I’d just try to sleep through it, but then they started playing “Hotel California”, and couldn’t seem to get through the second verse. I thought “hey, I know the words to that song!” and decided heck with it, and went out there to help them out. I ended up staying up with them until almost midnight, me with my knack for remembering lyrics and them with their guitars. It was a fun time, although I was quite tired when morning rolled around… I caught a bus just after 5 to get to Gloucester, where I caught a coach bus to Stansted airport. I got to the airport with plenty of time to check in, and then I was off for Dublin…

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Zach: Grand Magal Pilgrimage

February 17, 2009

Well, I am back from Touba and finally well-rested, yet I do not know how to adequately describe the Magal at the moment. It was incredibly crowded, I took a shower in a toilet room, I think I ate ram testicle (it was dark and the meat was hidden in green beans), I basically sat under a tent for three days, the traffic was immense and creative, and the mosque was beautiful, though it was too crowded to visit more than once. In retrospect, I am glad that I went to the Magal. I have much more respect for the Mourides who actually look forward to the voyage, an annual opportunity to express their sincere and direct devotion to God. Additionally, I have acquired the ability to sleep almost anywhere and under any conditions.


Tyler: Kibera, Kibera

February 16, 2009

Today, 8 of us made our way to Nazarene Primary School, located in Kibera. I cannot say for sure whether I was more excited or dreading my first trip to Kibera. With the stigma of being “Africa’s largest slum area,” it can be quite intimidating. On the other hand, I came here to really get my hands dirty and stick myself into precarious situations in hope of gaining both insight and personal strength.

This is on our way to the school. Notice the troughs and garbage.

Feelings in check, we hopped on a matatu by Prestige (mall area), paid our 10 shillings and stepped into a far cry from poor. The first thing I noticed was the stench. It was like wet, rotting garbage. The next thing that hit your senses was the sight, which was wet, rotting garbage. The entire ground seemed to be made out of a packed mixture of muck, plastic bags, old shoes and your standard, run-of-the-mill garbage. Sanitation is not in Kibera’s dictionary. Within this foul mixture of soil are drainage troughs that carry the disease-laden water down the slopes of Kibera. This water was brownish-grey and carried stray garbage with it on its melancholic journey downward. In addition to the soil troughs funneling this effluent down hill, people were digging in it with their bare hands and kids were playing in it with sticks. They had no restraint when it came to coming in contact with with the grungiest water I have ever seen. However, this did not concern the children of Nazarene Primary School, an affiliate of Nazarene University.

When we stooped through the tiny door and made our way into the ramshackle schoolyard, kids’ faces ignited with smiles. They ran up to us, took our hands, asked not for money, but, “How are you, sir?” It did not matter if you were talking to them; they would clench your hand so tightly and became your shadow until you had to leave their presence. When you did engage a child and say the magic word (“hi”), they would look around at their peers and smile with a smugness that said, “He said hi to ME!” If talking with them was such a joy ride, imagine taking their pictures. When I whipped out my outdated camera, they would all say, “Piga Picha,” and I would oblige. When I showed them the “picha” I took of them, it was like Christmas came early. It was so amusing to watch them gaze at their own image. I’d have to admit that I was just as amused.

These kids are ensuring good flow of the troughs during "cleaning time."

Me with the children in one of their classrooms, which are separated by huge canvas tarps.

The whole reason we went down there was to organize times that we, MSID volunteers, are able to make our way there and assist the teachers with the over-packed classrooms that are giving them the skills that might get them out of the slums one day. At this school, Christian Religion Education (CRE), math, science, social studies, English, and Kiswahili are taught. I will be teaching CRE 7 (7th grade level) and math 7. They are simplifying algebraic expressions, so I think I will be able to handle the material. I may like it enough to do it for 4 days a week, but I had better not over-commit myself if time becomes a hot commodity here in the upcoming weeks. I don’t know though…I mean, every class that I went into today, I was met with applause and shouts of joy. One class asked if they could sing me a song! I could not even begin to tell you why they were so happy. My only guess was that they were honored that I, a mzungu (white person), would be coming to Kibera to teach them. Not trying to sound ethnocentric, but that’s what it seems like. It would be sad if that were true, because those kids should be proud to have the teachers that they already have there. Those teachers are volunteers, which makes it so endearing to see them, addressed mister and madam by the students, come in daily and not think twice about it. Doesn’t make us look as great as we were made out to be today. I mean, we are only going to be there for three more weeks, then off to our internships. I can only hope that help finds these kids. They possess the courage, strength and attitude that should amount to something great. And yet, Kibera…


Kari: One Month Down…

February 15, 2009

Today marked my ONE MONTH anniversary (of sorts) of being out of the States. This past month has flown by, and I can hardly believe in less than a month two friends from Minnesota will be here with me. That will subsequently mark my half way point of this study abroad experience. I am looking forward to the upcoming weekends that I have planned and looking back on this past week and what took place.

Week 3 of classes were just like week 1 and 2. Nothing exciting happened, but I am learning quite a bit. There was not as much snow this week, so students actually showed up for class.

Our bible study attended our first outreach night on Tuesday. We didn’t do much except gather ideas about what kind of outreach we wanted to do. We decided on prayer walks, door to door, and helping the girls brigade. I think that any opportunity will be an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to helping with outreach and getting to know the people in my bible study better!

I also attended my first iCafe of the semester. This is an opportunity put on by the Christian Union for international students to meet each other and for us all to meet local students. It was a lot of fun and I had the chance to mingle with many people.

Friday was shopping day! Baz (one of my roommates) and I went into Belfast to shop for the afternoon. I bought a 5 pound pair of shoes and a beautiful shirt. Baz and I then met some girls at the grocery store in Yorkgate so we could pick up the ingredients for our American Dinner party that we were hosting on Valentine’s Day.

Saturday started with a good workout with Baz in the morning, followed by running around getting ready for the dinner party that evening. The girls in the flat one floor above us, myself and Baz were hosting about 10 people from First Carrickfergus Presbyterian Church (the church that Kelsey, Bethany, Amanda and myself attend) for an American party! We cooked them Chili, cornbread, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter dessert ice cream cake, and dirt cake. They were absolutely stunned by the dirt cake, which they loved calling ‘dirt’. We ended the night with a short game of Trivial Pursuit, and an rousing 2.5 hour game of ‘signs’. Please learn this game if you don’t know it already. It’s a completely American game, I believe, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in a really long time!

Sunday was a lazy day! I woke up sometime in the midday, did some reading for class, then went for a walk with three girls along the shore. It was beautiful out Sunday–almost 50 degrees!

Today is nothing special. I went to class. A few of us are going out to the student union tonight. It will probably be like every other night at the union…lots people who are too scared to dance and watch the Americans make a fool of themselves on the dance floor. What’s new, right!?


Ross: UK Update

February 13, 2009

So I wish I could say a lot has happened since my last blog post, but truthfully I don’t have much to report. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there just comes a point in studying abroad when everything “new” eventually develops into what’s familiar. In other words, I’ve adapted and feeling rather comfortable out here.

Classes are going o.k… this isn’t an attack on the British education system or even Queen Mary University but I have to say my classes are not quite the challenge I had hoped for. It’s not necessarily the lecturers or the facilities, rather many (not all) of the students in my courses don’t have the same energy in class as back home. For the first time since high school, I’ve been in classes where there are literally students having full conversations while the professor is talking, and in a couple of cases I’ve even spotted paper planes on the floors as I left. Now it’s not all negative of course. I will admit my Managerial accounting professor is spectacular and really does a stellar job with his courses.

As the situation in Israel cooled down so did my campus. The unauthorized “occupation” of Francis Bancroft Lecture Theatre came to an end and the Palestinian flag hanging from the Management building was removed promptly by school administrators. Finally the Gaza Appeal bake sale ended has also ceased.

For my social life things are doing well. I have become closer with my flat mates and have managed to meet a lot of cool people in my courses. Last Sunday I went to a club night organized by the London Union of Jewish Students. I left a few pictures courtesy of my friend Chani Unger (I forgot to bring my own camera).

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