Day 12: Last Day and Tourist!

This morning, I woke up early for some reason, and I decided to work on the training manual. By 10 o’clock, Akshay (who had woken up an hour later) and I finally finished the first draft of our manual. It looks absolutely gorgeous. We put a copyright sign on it, and I felt so legitimate. This trip was just overall so legitimate. I made some eggs and ate an orange for a quick breakfast, and then Akshay and I decided to chill by playing several rounds of speed chess. Think the score was tied at 3-3. We need to have a tiebreaker when he gets back.

At 12, I hung out with my “fanclub” (really some friends I made at San Simon University), and we went to the Jesus Christ statue in Cochabamba. It was breathtaking. Before we took the cablecar up, I went to the souvenir shop and got a alpaca-print sweater for myself and a Bolivian hat for my dad’s birthday. The ride up was so cool! You could gradually see more and more of Cochabamba as you rode up. At the top, my friends took many pictures of me, and I got to walk around the Jesus Christ statue. It’s huge. It overlooks all of Cochabamba. It also has holes in it, so that the wind can pass through, and not knock it down. One could say that Jesus Chris is quite “holey” (creds. Akshay). I said goodbye to my friends, and they said that would await my return at the airport. Sweet.

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Rodrigo, the Minister of Justice, drove us back down, and his car was lit, as usual. Great songs blasted from the car, ranging from Bolivian/Brazilian trap music to “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” to “Sweet Home Alabama” to Harvard’s “Get Lowell”. Rodrigo dropped me, Akshay, and Claudia off for lunch at this nice Italian restaurant. Rodrigo went back home to take a shower.

At the restaurant, it took an hour for our food to arrive. Typical Bolivian restaurants. We had to tell him that my flight was in an hour to hurry up the process. The bread was good – it was garlic bread. I ordered a dope Pasta Carbonara. Tasted pretty authentic. Rodrigo then picked us up, and we met two SUNY students that Rodrigo befriended at the club last night. They were in Cochabamba working with Save the Children.

We went to Rodrigo’s estate. It’s unreal. He has 2 llamas and 1 alpaca. They actually spit. He also has a toucan and many other tropical birds. He has his favorite blue parrot that he carried around with him when giving a tour of his estate. I got to hold the parrot. It was quite cute. It peed on Akshay. Dodged a bomb there. His estate used to be a restaurant, so we were served some authentic Bolivian dishes like cow tongue and lechón. Rodrigo also showed us his mini museum where there were pictures of the war between Bolivia and Paraguay, as well as other rare collectors items, including guns from the war, the first piano in Bolivia, the first car in Bolivia, and the quill used to sign the Bolivian Declaration of Independence. It was so surreal. He also had a cactus garden, as well as various exotic plants native to Bolivia scattered around the space.

One of Rodrigo’s Brazilian friends came with us, so Akshay lightly conversed with him in Portuguese. On the car ride back, Akshay taught me some Portuguese. It’s actually very similar to Spanish!

When we arrived back at the house, Rodrigo dropped me and Akshay off, and I said goodbye to everyone! It was kinda sad actually. I quickly packed (I would later realize I left my phone charger at the house), and then Akshay and I left for the airport. Checking in took no time at all, so Akshay and I chilled for a while on massage chairs. One thing we noticed is that people in Bolivia litter without consequence. That public health attitude probably should be changed as littering damages the environment!

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I said goodbye to Akshay when it was time, and went to the gate. It was really nice hanging out with Akshay because it was like we had a 2 week sleepover. I boarded my flight, and arrived at Santa Cruz without incident. Checked into the dope 5 star Sun Hotel, and decided to call it a night.

Day 11: Second Medical School Presentation & Working From Home

Today, we did our second medical school presentation at Elizabeth Seton Medical School, where we trained third-year medical students how to conduct the water and health surveys Akshay and I have developed, with the help of some Harvard professors. They were less active this time around compared to the first-years we presented to the first time. It was most likely because they just got out of an exam and had another exam later in the day. The presentation went well, and we covered most of the bases. Akshay and I had also been developing a training manual for the medical school students that included all the information. After the presentation, we spoke with the directors of the medical school for a while, coordinating the logistics of transporting the students to the barrios in order to conduct the surveys. There are around 100 students going, and 6 barrios that we will conduct the surveys in. We decided to transport the 100 students in 2 buses, and split the 100 students into 7 groups, each with 7 pairs of students. That way, we could cover all 6 barrios in a day, provided that the medical school students survey efficiently.

Afterwards, we made some pasta, and then we got to work. We worked on creating the survey worksheet, the training manual for the medical school students, and the excel spreadsheet for the medical school students to input their data.

Day 10: Last Day of Surveys

Today, I made sure I applied a lot of sunscreen and bug repellant before going out to conduct the last day of surveys. I packed whatever leftover food was in the refrigerator for lunch and we set out. The first taxi we got into charged us a ridiculous amount to drive to the barrios. He charged 50 Bs whereas other taxi drivers would only charge us 30 Bs. As we got out of the taxi, he told us not to slam the doors. We didn’t slam them, but that guy was mental. After hailing a normal taxi, we went to the barrios. We first went to the bathroom site to pay the workers. We paid him about 3200 Bs. The bathroom looks insane. I’m so pleased with how it turned out.

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Akshay and I surveyed about 12 houses. Today was interesting because it seemed that more people didn’t want to be surveyed. I’m not sure if it was a lack of trust or what. One guy even threatened to burn Akshay if he didn’t leave. On the other hand, some people were nice. Like one guy invited me into his house for drinks but I politely declined. The dogs were also really aggressive. These two dogs would not get off my case. In a sense, I was glad to finish doing surveys because they definitely are existing for many reasons. I’m sure once we get the medical school students (most of whom are female and native Bolivians) to do the surveys, the community as a whole will be a lot more welcoming. I’m not surprised though. Most of the people preface meeting us with “who are you and what are you doing here”. If I saw strangers approaching my house, I’d do the same.

 

We got back to our house and started inputting data. We also revised our survey questions. Some questions we had been asking didn’t really give us a lot of information, so we added questions like how often do you shower, do you use soap, etc.

Then, we hung out with Rodrigo, the Vice Minister of Justice. We first went to a hill that Rodrigo liked and saw the amazing view of Cochabamba. We also played in the playground that Rodrigo played in as a kid. Afterwards, we got the dopest Greek yogurt ever. Like I don’t usually like Greek yogurt, but this stuff was hands down the best thing I have eaten so far in Bolivia. Then, we went to Plaza Principal, which was super nice. It was absolutely beautiful. There was a beautiful fountain in the center of the Spanish-style plaza illuminated in the colors of the Bolivian flag.

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Afterwards, we got actual authentic Italian pizza from Solo Mio, and brought it back to Rodrigo’s house. His mom is soooo nice, like ridiculously nice. We talked about a lot of things, like how his mom started their successful tool business. Then, we went to the hill again to see the view at night. Absolutely breathtaking.

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Day 9: Chill Day

Today was a pretty relaxed day. We started to create a manual to train the medical school students on how to conduct the surveys. We are waiting for their input before finalizing the manual. Questions that need to be answered include “which barrios do we want to send the medical school students to”, “how many medical school students do we want to send to each barrio”, etc. I also started to create the survey worksheet that the medical school students can use to record their responses.

I’ve also been messaging some of my Bolivian friends and learning some texting lingo.

  • que -> q
  • bien -> bn
  • por favor -> porfis
  • pues -> ps
  • es que -> xq
  • te quiero mucho -> tkm
  • no te preocupes -> ntp

At around 5, Akshay and I hung out with some friends we met at Sansimon University, and we played basketball until around 8:30. We played on an outdoor court against some other university students. My body is going to be so sore tomorrow.

Day 8: Presentations and Celebrity Status

Real quick before I get into this blog post, some things I noticed about Bolivia in general:

  • Pil is their primary dairy producer
  • Entel, Tigo, and Viva are the equivalent of Verizon, T-mobile, AT&T in no particular order
  • There are people who hang out at traffic lights and wipe your windshields for a small fee
  • All the cars are imported from China
  • Taxis are really prevalent, almost to the same extent as in NYC
  • Don’t really eat out at restaurants
  • Kpop and anime are extremely popular here
  • The average age for marriage and for having children is a lot lower here
  • Universities are specialized, as in you have to declare your career after high school
  • The medical profession is the most prestigious profession

Today was such a whirlwind day. I got to experience one day fame. So at 8:30 in the morning, Maria Eugenia dropped off a huge binder of data that we have to input and analyze at some point. We left the house at 8:40 to go give our presentation to the medical school teaching them how to conduct surveys. Our taxi driver drove us to Viedma instead of Elizabeth Seton. Good thing he knew the right thing to do was to give us a discount on the ride since we were late. The medical school is attached to the hospital, and it’s not a very big hospital. This would not have been possible without our connection with Sister Irma, the director of the medical school since she asked us to come give a presentation. There were more than a 100 students in attendance. I was honestly not expecting that many students, so I felt extremely legitimate and professional, even if my casual clothes indicated otherwise. After apologizing many times for being late, we basically talked about how we conducted the public health surveys. We explained to them the purpose of the surveys as well as how they to conduct them. Our hope is to mobilize the medical school students to conduct surveys in all the barrios. The surveys would be finished extremely quickly, and we can compile all the data and generate a significant study on the health and water conditions of all the barrios in Cochabamba. That is our vision, at least. The training went well; I think all the med students were engaged and excited about doing something like this because a lot of them asked really good questions. We have to make a manual to send to the medical school students.

Afterwards, I experience something totally alien. I was treated like a celebrity. It was totally crazy. The medical school students were mostly female, and they mobbed me and Akshay, asking for our Facebooks, our emails, autographs, and pictures. I took tons of pictures with them. Here is one of many:

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When I got back home, my Facebook was deluged with friend requests. It was insane.

Anyway, we had to prepare for the presentation at night at San Simon University. We were giving a motivational talk titled Como hacer lo que no crees que puedas hacer. Basically, it was focused on how to get the motivation to learn languages and also how to apply languages in the real world. Akshay demonstrated his mastery over language acquisition and multiple languages. I talked about how languages are useful in the real world. For instance, in the organization I’m part of in Pomona called Health Bridges, we provide non-medical translation services, which obviously requires language ability.

So, we got to Sansimon university at around 7. And this place is a maze. At first we were directed to the “AV Linguistics Room” which turned out to be a small den not unlike a mancave. That was clearly the wrong room. As we kept wandering around and asking people where we were supposed to be giving the talk, we finally ran into a girl who recognized Akshay’s name. She brought us to the classroom. Honestly, we were expecting maybe like 15 people to show up, since we organized this with Ruth, one of the students at Sansimon only a couple days beforehand. We walk into the classroom, and about 60-70 students turn to look at us. Oh my god. This is insane. All of these students are on the linguistics track.

While we were setting up the presentation (I had to download the presentation onto a flash drive because there was no internet connection where we were giving the presentation), Akshay asked if any of the students had tried learning language on their own before and what languages they were currently learning. One student said Korean, so Akshay proceeded to teach the Korean writing system. Another student asked why is Harvard better than Bolivian education system, and everyone was like “oooh”. But Akshay couldn’t answer that question because we don’t really know how the Bolivian education system works.

I finally got the presentation all set up, and we started. It was fire. Akshay was exposing myths about languages left and right. Basically, our presentation had three themes

  1. How to make your dreams reality
  2. How to take advantage of the resources around you
  3. What is the difference between you guys and us

Akshay talked about the mindset and motivation you need to learn languages. Essentially, you don’t have to be a genius, and you can start learning languages at any age. Akshay has polyglot role models that he looked up to when he just started learning languages. And now, he is a polyglot himself. Absolutely incredible.

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My portion of the presentation was talking about how you can apply languages in real life settings, like I mentioned earlier about Health Bridges.

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We ended our presentation talking about Refresh Bolivia, connecting it to the theme of language and medical translation by talking about how in a lot of the communities we work with, Quechua is their primary language, so that could be a language barrier in many medical facilities. We talked about how we build bathrooms, conduct water and sanitation surveys, and teach public health workshops. One student asked if it would be possible to start their own Refresh Bolivia chapter here. Of course, we were very excited. After our presentation, there was much applause, and we were again mobbed by students asking for pictures.

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We went to dinner with some of the student at Novecento, an Italian restaurant that was pretty good. I befriended a couple of the students, and ended up talking about the popularity of Kpop and anime in Bolivia.

Overall, it was an extremely fun, interesting, and educational experience for me. Honestly, words cannot describe the happiness I felt being able to be around passionate language learners in a completely different country. This is beyond my wildest dreams.

 

Day 7: Workshop on Maternal Health and Preparation

So the past couple days have been extremely busy, so I apologize for writing these blog posts late. Today, Akshay wasn’t feeling well, so I had to take charge on the workshop. The topic of today’s workshop was Maternal Health, which is really important because we want to ensure that the mothers of the barrios are safe especially since medical clinics aren’t as accessible as they are in the United States for instance. Before we started the workshop, we went outside to take a look at the water filters. They worked! However, we will definitely have to do more research in the future in order to improve the taste of the water and to ensure the purity of water filtered. In January, we will revisit the water filter system, but for the time being, we hope that the community health workers that we trained will be able to empower their own communities.

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There wasn’t that much content in the maternal health workshop. I basically went over possible dangers during pregnancies and good habits to practice during pregnancies to ensure their safety and the safety of their babies as well. This included washing hands frequently, avoiding drugs and alcohol, having a balanced diet, and maintaining the baby’s health when born. Some interesting things that we found out about the community are:

  1. The nearest hospital is about 1 hour away. During the months of their pregnancy, these women have to wake up at 4am for their monthly checkup in order to avoid the lines
  2. Some women give birth at home, and not in the hospital because the hospital is too far away. There are midwives, which are basically the older women in the community.
  3. The government pays the mothers starting from when they are 4 months pregnant with a bundle of viveres, or life necessities like milk, clothes, etc as well as a small stipend of 50 Bs every 2 months. However, it really isn’t much compared to the women who live in the city, who get a lot more. This government stipend program started about 6 years ago.
  4. It is common for the mothers to use urine to keep their babies warm.

With these things, it’s important to keep an open mind, and not react with complete shock for instance at the mention of using urine. It apparently works, and it’s a time-tested tradition in their community.

The workshop was a bit shorter today, so we went back home and started to prepare for the next day’s presentations. We prepared for the medical school presentation, which is a training program teaching the medical school students at Facultad de Medicina Elizabeth Seton how to conduct public health surveys. We also started to prepare for the motivational talk that we were going to give at Sansimon University.

We got dinner with one of our partners, Maria Eugenia, director of Red Acción and Doña Emiliana, a community leader at this nice restaurant called Terra. Interestingly enough, because not many Bolivians usually eat out at restaurants, the restaurant wasn’t very well stocked. The food was still pretty good though, and cheap by American standards.

After dinner, we had a team meeting where the Harvard team discussed the future of Refresh Bolivia for this coming year and the role Pomona will play. Pomona will continue to work closely with Harvard for the coming years!

Day 6: Meeting and Rest Day

This morning, we had a meeting with Maria Eugenia, the director of Red Acción, and Doña Emiliana, one of the community leaders about some questions about the bathroom and future directions. We were building the bathroom in Doña Sandra’s house, and she had some questions as to how it worked and its size. After we explained it to her by showing her the manual on our laptop, we realized that in the future, we would need to print out the blueprints for the house owner and the builders. Additionally, it would be a good idea to have a meeting with the owner of the house in order to figure out their exact specifications. We emphasized quality during our meeting.

We discussed the January trip in terms of where we would build bathrooms. We also talked about a health conference in Ecuador for a week. It’s pretty cool. Basically we set up a booth, talk about Refresh Bolivia, and network with other organizations who are doing similar things. Some members from Harvard are going. I’m not sure if I will be going.

Something interesting I noticed is the need for empathy. At times, some members of the team stressed that we were doing the best we could, but I could only think that people’s livelihoods depend on this, and we need to continue to improve.

Anyway, today is our “rest day”. I inputted all the survey data into Excel. At some point, we’ll have to analyze the data. We’ll have to prepare for our medical school presentation and for tomorrow’s public health workshop later today. Lots of work. Until next time.