Archive for the ‘living’ Category

Learn to just say no

Tonight I opened Google Reader for the first time in over a month. I hoped that the feed reader had not exploded with the over 100 feeds I subscribe to. The sight of the 1000+ articles sitting there awaiting my perusal inspired me to do something that I don’t do often enough: say no. I have now dumped half of these feeds. It simply was too overwhelming and frankly ridiculous of me to think that I could consume that much information on a daily basis. It is an ongoing negative habit of mine: take on more and more responsibility until I drive myself crazy.

I miss reading and talking about public health now that my brain is constantly occupied with nonprofit management and education due to AmeriCorps. I love what I do everyday but I know that the issues that I really want to explore are in public health and not education. I did not realize how difficult it would be to devote myself to both disciplines this year.

After reading on change.org about the amazing strides that Frontline: SMS has made in advancing mobile health in Malawi, I knew that I wanted to jump back in. Reading and writing about public health will bring back some of the excitement I felt about going to grad school. I have gotten in to Emory and Johns Hopkins so I definitely need to step up my game so that I will be ready next fall.

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My digital pensieve and hopefully a clean slate

It literally feels as though my head is too full of concerns and anger over some things that I have not felt the desire to blog. I truly miss writing but when my fingers hit the keyboard, no words appear on the screen. So I took a cue from a fellow BC blogger, and I decided to share what is on my mind so that I can start with a clean slate. Here are a few of the most pressing worries and frustrations.

*Extra cool points for those who understand the title reference. If not, read about it here.

1) Hurricane Ike

As some of you may know, I’m from Texas, north of Houston specifically. My eyes have been glued to every online storm tracker and news article about this storm for the last few days. I have spoken with my family and they feel they are prepared. But it is hard to be out of the country and feeling helpless to do anything. Although this is most pressing worry at the moment, I will feel better once the storm passes this weekend with hopefully everything being alright.

2) Leaving Argentina

I am leaving Argentina to return to the States at the end of this month. Due to the remaining effects of the events of July, I abandoned my initial project idea for this new idea of creating a council of patients to leverage their self-mobilization efforts. The largest problem is finding a way to institutionalize their meetings given all the challenges that each of the patients faces in their daily lives: work, transportation costs and time. I am trying to find way to ensure the sustainability of the group, but with the time crunch and the logistical challenges, I am not sure how it will end.

3) Nervousness about returning to the States

As much as I was scared to admit it to myself, I am a bit nervous about returning to the States. Aside from the reverse culture shock, which I have been through before without wallowing in it, this will be my return to the “real world” aka full-time work. I have loved volunteering this last year, both for seeing first hand the impact of my work as well as the freedom that I have to put my ideas into action. That will certainly change when heading back to the workplace, but I am trying hard to find a compromise.

4) Frustrations with the government’s response to a flailing economy

Billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to bail out dysfunctional, incompetent, and borderline unethical companies? Another major investment bank in need of the federal government to broker a bailout? However, no help for the consumers who have lost their homes due to corporations that preyed on the poor to turn a quick profit with specious financial instruments. I can’t wait for this administration to leave office.

5) Mainstream media’s inability to actually provide balanced and substantive coverage of the campaigns

If I see the phrase “lipstick on a pig” or on any other animal, I might scream. Why is mainstream media apparently incapable of covering issues of substance rather than stories covered to raise ratings and readership? Why is John Stewart better at fact checking candidates and their surrogates? Why, when a presidential campaign decides to silo their vice presidential candidate, does the media not cry foul play?

I feel better already after writing this down.

Thoughts on race and life abroad

Living abroad challenges your cultural perceptions as much as the cultural perceptions of the people you meet. I have traveled to locations varied enough to both appear to be from the country that I was in and appear to be a foreigner. More often than not, reactions and comments, positive and otherwise, are spurred by race. In China, I was perceived as a oddity; families asked me to pose in their vacation photographs. In Brazil, people I met assumed that I was Brazilian and did not believe me when I told them otherwise. Policies may actually discriminate against certain nationalities or races.

Race remains an issue in social interactions; the concept of colorblindness is debatable. Political correctness is a cultural phenomenon that changes, depending on location as much as context. Part of being in a foreign country is learning to adjust your sensitivity to racially tinged comments.

1. Ask about what you hear.

In Argentina, it’s common to use the word negro or negra like a term of endearment. In most other contexts, the word is used to describe something or someone who is black. The first time I heard someone call me negra, I thought it was odd they were being so forward. Asking about it made sure there was no misunderstanding due to the language barrier. It also prevented from me being upset about something that is perceived as harmless.

2. Definitely ask if you are thinking about correcting a misconception.

During my first week here, I had lunch with the staff at a local drug rehabilitation center. After a nice lunch conversation, one of the women who worked there asked me if I could sing. I asked her why wanted to know. She told me that once she had heard a black woman sang and she really enjoyed it, therefore implying that because I am black, it is likely that I am a good singer as well. I made a joke about how I sing in the shower (poorly), but told her that I am sure that she enjoyed the performance because the woman was talented. Correcting misconceptions is usually not about lectures and angry reactions.

3. All else fails, consider the experience as a part of travel.

I meet new people, especially patients at the clinic, all the time while I am in La Plata. Not one person I have met has guessed that I am American even though there are several American students here. The perception is prevalent that Americans are white. Of course, there are some benefits to not appearing American, but it is also odd and vaguely frustrating to explain to people that I am not Brazilian or Dominican.

This does not mean that you have to spend time with people who insult you. There are ignorant people all over the world; feel free to ignore them just as you would ignorant people in the country you live in.

Four Life Lessons Learned From Bicycle Commuting

I have had a bicycle to ride to and from work for the past few weeks. This is my first time riding a bicycle in a major city much less in a place that has no stop signs. Argentine drivers are not known for their superior driving skills. These are  a few of the lessons that I have picked up that have made my commute easier and curiously apply to other areas of life as well.

1. Multitasking comes in handy.

Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, other bicycles, pedestrians…you name the obstacle and that is what I need to watch out for while riding. The ability to shift attention rapidly keeps me from getting hit by the numerous novice drivers here. As though the moving obstacles do not provide provide enough distractions, there are traffic circles and 5-way intersections to contend with occasionally as well as the looming threat of the suddenly opening car door.

I know there are countless studies that criticize multitasking for its ability to diminish productivity. However, multitasking enables that elusive work-life balance that we all seek. It may be a quirk of Generation Y, but it is clear that multitasking is here to stay. Learn ways to use it to your advantage.

2. You have to make yourself seen.

The first few days that I rode the bike, I practically hugged the curb. I believed that if I made myself scarce, I would be safer. The major problem is that every other block there is a double parked car and I was hitting quite a few side mirrors. Furthermore, the drivers did not exercise as much caution with me as I did with them. This is understandable but annoying nonetheless. I watched the other cyclists are saw that they made sure to take adecuate space on the road. They did not try to hide from the cars. Making sure that the cars saw me allowed me to get to my destination faster with fewer obstacles.

Trying to hide from the spotlight in life does not help you to meet your goals. You can be a genius at what you do. If no one knows about it, you are doing yourself a disservice. You need to take the chance of making your presence felt.

3. Know when to follow the rules. Know when to break the rules.

The longer that I have been riding, the more that I find I imitate the behavior of other cyclists, for better and for worse. I wind through the spaces between cares when they stop at the red lights. I cross intersections when they are clear rather than according to the traffic signals. Following the other cyclists makes commuting by bicycle easier because there is safety in numbers. However, I also break a number of traffic laws.

You need to know when to play by the rules and when to break them. The conventional wisdom in the workplace may be that you need to “pay your dues;” you may be used to following a standard track for success throughout your education. It is important to know when following these expectations is necessary and when you should consider creating your own expectations that will allow you to grow as a person.

4. The path that you choose matters.

The first day that I rode to work, I rode all the way down the street that I live on. Things began well, but half way there, I found myself in an intersection surrounded by five lanes of traffic and one of those intimidating five-way intersections. Crossing was harrowing to say the least. I learned from that error in judgment and took a different route the next day.

How you reach your goals matters as much or possibly more than achieving them. Your decisions and the ability to learn from your mistakes can make the journey easier or more difficult. And if you find yourself in the middle of an intimidating situation, avoid panic. Just ride out the rough patch and find a way to avoid the same pitfall in the future.

Brief updates: Alltop and Lifestreaming

I have a little confession to make. I have been on Alltop for a little bit now, but didn’t make an announcement about it. How could my little blog be recognized by the awesomeness that is Alltop? But then I decided to abandon that little bit of insecurity and put the badge up. This will just give me more encouragement to keep writing here, which is something that I have grown to love more than I thought I ever would. Thanks for reading. I have some great ideas which I hope that you will enjoy reading about.

The second bit of news is that I am trying out a new aggregator for all my social network called Swurl. I like that the interface is clean and calendar-based. I have added the link to my page on the Contact Me tab.