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Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

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So we’re back in the US.

What a year. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to travel to all these countries and experience so much. We saved and planned for years so that we could hike the Annapurna Circuit, ride a camel, see the Acropolis, pet a koala, and eat amazing food from all over the world. I took some really fun cooking classes in Japan and Thailand and learned a decent amount of basic Italian. Scott learned how to ride a scooter. We both learned how to cross crazy busy streets (make eye contact with the drivers, walk slowly and steadily instead of running across or stopping suddenly).

One of the best parts was meeting people and hearing their stories. We met a fascinating Nepalese man who had married a Japanese woman and had run a Nepalese restaurant in Japan before coming back to Nepal to run a Japanese restaurant with his wife. A couple of women in Barcelona drove up to us by the sidewalk and offered us a ride just because we looked lost. We shared an apartment with a friendly Italian couple who cooked us dinner. An American who spent half the year in his cabin in Maui and the other half in Nepal making a documentary gave us a ride in his SUV.

And of course it was great to meet up with friends in Paris and Naples and visit family in India, Thailand, and Korea.

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Even as we came across puzzling differences like people in some countries who didn’t really use maps (even taxi drivers, which made it hard when they didn’t already know where a place was), ultimately our travels were an affirmation of how similar we all are. We all need people to love and be loved by. Everyone likes to laugh. A smile can go a long way when you don’t speak the same language. And we all need food and shelter, except that many of us are so used to having it that we hardly ever think about it. Sometimes we used squat toilets and stayed in some questionable hostels in Nepal and India, but that was a complete joke compared to the extreme poverty that afflicts so many in those countries. Almost all Americans are more fortunate than the majority of people in the world. Yet it’s so easy to complain and envy some people while forgetting about others. It’s easy to buy a cheap shirt for $5 without thinking about why it costs $5. It’s easy to forget about the massive amounts of trash that we create when we just have it taken away instead of seeing it accumulate in the neighborhood.

I hope that this year of travel has brought a little more perspective and mindfulness to my life. Probably one of the biggest changes for me was becoming vegetarian. Kind of funny that I once claimed that I could never marry a vegetarian because I love eating meat. I’m sure there will be plenty more occasions in my life when I will eat my words. There’s a chance I could change my mind if the U.S. starts treating its farm animals a lot more humanely, but factory farming is just utterly wrong on so many levels. And at some point last year I decided that it’s wrong for me to support that kind of suffering just because I like how meat tastes.

One of the best things about the year was just having time for myself, especially precious after 3 years in residency with frequent 80-hour weeks. With more time to just sit and think and reflect, I have a better sense of who I am. I became interested in unconventional blogs like Mr. Money Mustache and Miss Minimalist. I usually read mostly fiction, but I found myself devouring nonfiction last year. Some of my most eye-opening favorites were:

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow

Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

I also really enjoyed Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

You’ll notice a lot of social psychology in there, which my husband happens to have gotten a Ph.D. in, but he didn’t seem that interested in reading or discussing them with me. If you read any of these, though, I’m happy to discuss them with you!

Anyway, I’m glad to report that we have come back safe (no need to worry, Uncle Ty), and I figure it’s a good sign that our marriage survived being together constantly for an entire year. The only regret I have is that we weren’t more social and didn’t book more accommodation that would have given us more interaction with other people.

After all the moving around, I’m looking forward to settling down in one place for a while and putting down some roots. It’s been strange to come back and experience sticker shock in the US, though – we’re wondering what happened to the 1 euro baguettes and 1 euro cappuccinos we saw in Europe, and we swear that US grocery store prices are way higher than we remembered. We’re still figuring out what happens next as we find jobs and hopefully start earning money instead of just spending it, but I think we’ll eventually travel again at some point, just a little more slowly. It’s funny how even after a year of travel, there are still so many places we want to see, like South Africa, Patagonia, Jordan, Greek islands, Sicily, the UK, and huge countries we’ve never been to (China, Russia, and Brazil).

As for this blog, this is my 105th post, and probably my last, although it’s possible I will revive the blog to post about other trips in the future. If you’ve been coming to this blog from http://www.scottandnina.com, that domain name will be discontinued by the summer – the permanent link to this blog is https://purplmarsh.wordpress.com. I wish everyone a wonderful new year as we finish this chapter and start the next one.

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Reflections on Tanzania

I’ve talked about the fun, cool things I did in Tanzania, but I’ve barely touched on the month that I spent there working in a tertiary care hospital. I thought about tweaking and posting the 3-page reflection piece that I wrote in order to receive the second half of my travel grant, but I wasn’t sure whether some of the things I had written would be appropriate to post, so you’ll get the abbreviated, PC version here.

It was one of the hardest, valuable, and intense things I’ve ever done. I’m really glad I did it, but I’m still processing and figuring out what to do with all I experienced. I expected to see saddening things like congenital heart disease that could have been repaired in the U.S. but not in Tanzania, but what I didn’t expect were children dying of dehydration in a tertiary care hospital with plenty of IVF. I had done plenty of international medical electives before, but they had all been in the outpatient setting, and this was completely different. I don’t think I really grasped before how difficult it can be to improve medical care in a developing country. I think I vaguely figured that if they had more money it would be better. But there was so much more than that. Their system of medical education, the different cultural beliefs among doctors and patients, the relationship between doctors and patients, infrastructure, capability to fix broken machines or order more reagent in a timely fashion, access to health care, socioeconomic status, resources concrete and abstract. Someone had donated a CT scanner to them, but it had been broken for months, and they lacked the resources to fix it. I’m interested in incorporating international medicine into my career an as yet undefined way, but this was overwhelming. I saw physicians who had worked there for years and made some great changes, but still had so far to go. I didn’t see any easy fixes. Who am I to judge, anyway, since our current healthcare system in the U.S. is pretty messed up, too? We spend much more money on healthcare than other developed countries, yet our outcomes are often worse. I came away with lots of questions but not many answers.

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