West Coast, Best Coast?

Ever seen #westcoastbestcoast? Or heard anyone try to tell you that the west coast is the best coast? Just a simple Google search will yield tons of listicles filled with reasons why the west coast is better. Arguments include In-N-Out, better coffee, better views, beaches, and more. Not convinced? Now that I’m on the west coast for the next two years, it’s time for me to find out. Peep my travel wishlist below.

My West Coast Travel Wishlist:

  • Las Vegas
  • Explore Lake Tahoe
  • San Francisco
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego
  • Los Angeles
  • Seattle
  • Victoria, Canada
  • Alaska
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Redwoods National Park
  • Grand Canyon

If you have other suggestions of places I should visit or things to do at any of these places, comment below!

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The Biggest Little City and its Neighbor

If you’re like me and have never lived on the west coast or watched Reno 911, then you likely don’t know much about Carson City or Reno, Nevada. But if you’re definitely like me, then you just accepted a job in Carson City and moved to Reno, so it’s time to find out more.

It seems that I move from one mining town to another because Carson City and Reno were home to a gold and silver mining rush in the late 1850s. After the population boom from mining, Carson attracted more people with jobs that came along with the railroads. Reno saw another spike in popularity when Nevada legalized open-gambling and passed more liberal divorce laws. Did you know that Reno was the gambling capital of the U.S. before the late 1950s?

Carson City has been the state capital since Nevada became a state, and serves as a hub for state and Northern Nevada activity. Reno, a scenic 25 miles north of Carson City, is the bigger city area that is home to the University of Nevada at Reno and nicknamed the “Biggest Little City in the World”.

Most often when I meet new people, they either gawk and ask why I moved to Carson and Reno from North Carolina or list all of the fabulous reasons why they enjoy living here. Rather than the former, I’m hoping I one day list dozens of reasons why I enjoy living here too.printable-map-of-nevada-state

One of the biggest appeals of moving to this area, is its proximity to so many wonderful parts of the west coast. Not only is this area so close to the beautiful Lake Tahoe, but it is only a 2 hour drive to Sacramento or 4 hour drive to San Francisco. Las Vegas is an 8 hour drive south, and places like Los Angeles, Seattle, and the Grand Canyon aren’t that much farther away either.

As a native North Carolinian, I have had to adjust to the arid climate of Nevada and the fast-approaching cold that will be my first real winter. Past the climate adjustments, my first impressions of Carson and Reno are that the two cities offer a chance to toggle between a calm, town-like life and a not so overwhelming city bustle while being surrounded by beautiful views and so many opportunities for exploring, hiking, or just enjoying nature.

If you’re familiar with either Carson or Reno and have suggestions, please let me know!

Home Sweet Kitwe

Dearest Kitwe,

It’s no secret that we had a rocky, rollercoaster-like relationship that dipped in valleys from tears of loneliness to tears of bliss. At the beginning of last August if you had told me I’d one day sit down to write a blog post reminiscing about all that you taught me and showed me, I would have laughed in your face and then likely lapsed back into sadness about being placed to live with you for a year. But it’s true. Last year was a profound experience for me, from starting my first job to moving to a new country to creating my own community.

Now to be fair, the first three months were very challenging. I was not at all prepared to accept power outages and a slow start to a new job or living in a new place where I knew no one. But in hindsight, I also think that transition period was necessary and normal. Maybe I dragged it on a bit too long, but now I can see all of the lessons I learned from it. I gained an ounce of patience. I learned that while I have Type A tendencies to control everything, I simply cannot. I learned to accept what I could not change and to focus on changing what I could, the first change being my perspective.

Even past the first three month transition, I continued to learn many important lessons from you. I got a lot better at hand-washing my clothes and learning how to cook balanced meals with the provided amenities. I also learned how to take a calmer, more relaxed approach to work and getting things done, a mentality I remember really appreciating while studying in Uruguay and a mentality that I do not always embrace easily.

You also taught me not to judge a book by its cover. I vividly remember declaring that I would never make any friends or find anything to do in the beginning (something my brother has no problem reminding me of) and then I suddenly found myself with an eventful social calendar and life-long friends. I now understand the value of exploring and digging deeper, rather than simply judging at the surface.

The most important lesson you taught me, though, is about community. Before moving I knew I had a sound community in my family and friends back home, but suddenly finding myself alone in a new country taught me how to find a community within myself and how to support myself while alone.

It also taught me how to build a community. Because I had been so lonely in my first few months, any time I met someone I listed everything there was to do, anyone they should meet, anywhere they should go, and all the places they could eat – all so they would never have to feel the same way. And before I knew it, I had managed to make an amazing group of friends that I still keep in touch with and that I will hopefully stay friends with for a long, long time.

Now that I have sadly left you, I want to appreciate the lessons I learned and promise to apply them forward. I am settling down in Reno, Nevada to work for the State Division of Public and Behavioral Health through the CDC Public Health Associates Program for the next two years. A new job, a new place, a new journey – I know, it sounds very familiar. But this time I will be patient. I will accept what I cannot change. I will dig deeper. And I will keep building my community.

So thank you for the memories and the lessons, dear Kitwe.

Until next time,

Reena

Unconventional Lessons GHC Taught Me

When I signed up for Global Health Corps in Kitwe, Zambia last May I knew it would teach me a string of lessons. I imagined learning about professionalism, moving to a new country and city, building a community from scratch. And I did learn all of that! But I learned so much more too. Here are the unconventional lessons my year in Zambia taught me:

  • If you have a camera, you can make friends – It’s as simple as it sounds. If you have a camera that you love to use, then you can easily find your way into friends’ sister’s kitchen parties or bribe your way into work conferences all under the guise of taking photos for them. Plus you practice your photography skills at the same time
  • I need 3-4 bottles of contact solution for an entire year, not just 1…
  • Everyone should travel with an adult coloring book – If you love to craft as much as I do, this is an essential on-the-go item to have. I made the mistake of not having one this year, but I won’t let that happen again!
  • The gym is my best friend – I could not have gotten through the year without this stress relief.
  • Always carry bug spray – Most of my friends in ZamFam make fun of me because I spray myself at least twice a day and they know I always pack bug spray wherever we go, but it is essential.
  • How to make lavish meals on a 2-plate toaster oven…okay so maybe I didn’t fully learn this one!
  • How to pack lightly
  • I can climb fences
  • And I bruise very easily from said fence-climbing
  • Personal Advocacy – I didn’t fully understand that to successfully advocate for others, I had to first learn how to advocate for myself. Always one to need a lesson in assertiveness, this year taught me how to believe in myself and truly push for what I deserve. 

Free-Falling Into 23

In addition to being a long weekend in the U.S. for the 4th of July, it was a 4-day weekend in Zambia for Heroes Day and Unity Day. It was also my birthday weekend, and it was simply amazing!

On Friday evening, my friends and I had a celebratory last dinner at Mukwa, our favorite Indian restaurant and perhaps the best Indian food in the world, since it was Dana and Sophie’s last night in Kitwe. (They’re headed back to Canada soon to wrap up their internship program with VIDEA.) Afterwards, Max put on a Michael Jackson tribute night at The Hut where my amazing friends surprised me with a delicious cake and thoughtful card. It was a beautiful way to end our time in Kitwe together.

Very early the next morning, Max and I almost missed our 6 am bus from Kitwe to Livingstone. We had hoped to make it to Livingstone in time to cross the border to Zimbabwe, but our trip took a total of 17 hours, the border closed, and we had to spend the night in Livingstone. Tips to those interested in running the Victoria Falls Marathon: Travel in time to cross the border. You need to be in Zimbabwe the morning of the race to actually run!

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We woke up early again the next morning to cross the border from Zambia to Zimbabwe. We almost did not make it and watched the marathoners run across the bridge from behind bars on the Zambia side. Somehow we were let through and walked briskly across the bridge, soaking in the beautiful view of Victoria Falls as we went, to the starting point. I ran the 7.5km Fun Run with my friends, and it was just as fun as it sounds. I have never run a race before, and I really enjoyed it! I am now inspired to run a half marathon, maybe even a full, one day!

In the afternoon, we explored Victoria Falls Town, Zimbabwe, which is lovely but does not have much to do other than tourist activities related to the Falls. Max and I soon crossed over to see the glorious Victoria Falls on the Zambian side. Though I swam in Devil’s Pool in September, I have never seen the falls in their full glory. It was magnificent. Pictures or words cannot even do Victoria Falls justice…to top off the amazing afternoon, on the way back to lodge we ran across a herd of elephants!

On Monday, the 4th – my birthday – the lovely MalPals, Brian, and Max surprised me with a delicious home-cooked brunch at our hostel. In the afternoon, I did the most daring thing I have ever done in my life. Max had been talking all weekend about jumping off the famous Victoria Falls Bridge, which I adamantly refused to do. First I thought he wanted me to bungee jump, as in dive head first off the bridge, which I definitely did not have the guts to do. Then I realized he wanted us to do the tandem bridge swing together, as in jump the 111 meters feet first off the bridge together. That made much more sense to me, but I still wasn’t interested. Then, I changed my mind.

We made our reservation, traveled to the border again, got our gear at the bridge, and then I saw the drop. I was terrified. I still cannot explain how I did it or why I did it or anything, but it was a terrifying ton of fun. As we were swinging over the water, I told Max to soak in the glorious view because we were never going to do this again. Even though I cringe every time I watch the video of the jump, I am still very happy I did it and would recommend it to any interested daredevils.

In the evening, we had delicious drinks at the Royal Livingstone Hotel while we watched the sunset. Zebras grazed in the grass nearby and we had a lovely view of the mist from the falls on the water. I was surprised with a huge cake from Mwansa and ellie-themed birthday gifts.

The entire weekend was so thoughtful and kind from the birthday wishes from back home to messages from friends in Zambia to the lovely people I was lucky enough to spend my day with. I could not be more fortunate! It was also extremely daring from running my first race to jumping off a bridge. I wonder if that implies any foreshadowing for how the rest of my year may go? 😉

This Time for Rwanda

After a wild 18-hour layover in Nairobi, Kenya, Mwansa and I finally landed in Kigali, Rwanda where we stayed for a week.

We were immediately surprised and excited by the differences between Rwanda and Zambia. The roads are mostly paved, there are sidewalks, streetlights, 24/7 security. It was already a different world than our normal in Zambia. Here are a few highlights:

  • Kigali Genocide Memorial – a moving tribute to Rwanda’s history and the lives lost. I highly recommend visiting this memorial if in Kigali.
  • Riding around on a moto – We do not have motos or boda bodas in Zambia, so this was a fun treat. Luckily, in Rwanda, motos are regulated and drivers must have an additional helmet for their passenger and can only take 1 passenger at a time.
  • Food – Kigali is filled with wonderful food options from AkaBenz to Thai food to delicious cafes with lovely Rwandan coffee. Most of our week in Kigali was spent planning our next meal!
  • Kimironko Market – It was a treat to compare Rwandan markets to the Zambian markets we are used to at home. Though they are very similar, we loved getting lost in the market mazes and eyeing Rwandan trinkets.
  • Meze Fresh – I know I already talked about food, but Meze Fresh was my absolute favorite. I crave Mexican food regularly and miss it dearly. Meze Fresh, which means “I feel fresh” in Kinyarwanda, is the closest I have had to Chipotle in a year and I devoured my burrito.
  • Art Scene – Kigali has a lovely arts scene. My favorite was Inema Arts Center, run by very talented brothers.
  • Walking Around – Kigali seemed to be a very people-friendly city, with its plentiful sidewalks. Mwansa and I were surprised to see just how many people walked, even after the sun set. We, too, enjoyed walking around the city, exploring and getting lost in the hills.

Kigali was great, but I’d definitely say the highlight of this trip were the all of the people we met and visited from Global Health Corps, UNC, and Rotaract!

I wanted to visit the land of 1,000 hills for a lot of reasons. I wanted to see another part of the continent, to see another place where GHC fellows roam and to witness how they live their lives, and I know Rwanda is a very special country. Rwanda has been rebuilding itself for the past 22 years, writing a new story, and that is why Kigali is now so developed and one of the most expensive cities on the continent.

I have been told that Kigali is a unique part of Rwanda, surrounded by lush green and more rural areas in the rest of the small country. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to travel outside of Kigali, but I do want to visit Rwanda again and again. I also highly recommend it to others who are interested!

Enough is Enough

Reflections during a visit to Rwanda…

Days after the attack in Orlando, I happened to be in Rwanda and visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Twenty-two years ago a terrible genocide occurred and left Rwanda devastated; those who survived were left to rebuild the nation. The Genocide Memorial is a moving tribute to Rwanda’s fresh history and to those that lost their lives in the massacre.

Exhibitions detail life before the genocide, those affected by the genocide, and honor the lives that would have been if the genocide had not happen.

It was difficult. As a  passing tourist, not someone who sees the everyday effects in Rwanda or values the memorial as a space to be close to loved ones, it was still difficult.

Because of recent events, I could not help but continue to think of the Orlando shooting, how innocent lives were lost. I am in no way comparing one of the worst mass shootings in the US to the scale of a genocide. But I am comparing it to ignorant persecution. And I am saying that this persecution happens every day.

It happens when someone crosses the street because an African American man is approaching from the other side. It happens when 3 Muslim students are shot in Chapel Hill, NC and it is attributed to a parking dispute. It happens when a white male athlete is given a six month jail sentence for sexual assault, whereas any other minority would be charged with more. It happened in Rwanda. And it happened in Orlando.

There was a moving quote from the Talmud at the memorial, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Persecution may start small and build upon tiny prejudices we have seen from media or inherited over generations, but the results of acts of prejudice are huge. By accepting and tolerating, we are not just accepting and tolerating one person, we are accepting a community in a world that rejects them. We are teaching future generations to love instead of hate. Prejudice will continue to exist if we do not play our part in stopping it.

This Time for Kenya

A really neat component of Global Health Corps is that every fellow is allowed up to $600 to use on professional development. I used the first part of my professional development funds to purchase Rosetta Stone Hindi so I could learn a new language in all of my free time. For the second half of my professional development funds, I decided to visit Rwanda so I could learn more from the placement organizations fellows are working at there and see another part of the continent. I convinced Mwansa to join me, and on our way to Rwanda we took a crazy 18-hour layover in Nairobi, Kenya and it was a blast.

We landed in Nairobi at 6am (though it was really 5am Zambian time) and made our way through customs until we found ourselves outside on Kenyan soil. My good friend, Shamira, from university is living in Nairobi and helped us arrange a driver, whom we found waiting for us patiently at the airport gates.

He took us to the YaYa Center, where we had to go through security before entering the shopping center – this is something we are definitely not accustomed to in Zambia. We had a delicious breakfast and coffee at the Java House and used the high-speed wifi we found there.

Later in the morning, Shamira met us and we all headed to the Giraffe Center run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya. This is a delightful sanctuary aimed at providing conservation education for youth in Kenya. There is a tea house, gift shop, garden areas, and across the way there is a nature trail. The center is currently home to 9 giraffes, which you can view from the viewing deck. Inside you can learn more about animals on the continent and read all about giraffes, and outside on the deck you can feed giraffes. If you’re lucky you may even get a kiss!

I learned more about giraffes here than I ever knew possible, and they really are amazing animals. I highly recommend the Center!

After, we headed back to the Yaya Center to go to the very popular Maasai Market. Our eyes were met with beautiful arrays of colors of bracelets, necklaces, earrings, fabric, slippers, and more. We can get most everything back home in Zambia, but we were specifically looking for the very special Kenyan slippers. Mwansa and I spent a few hours in the market ogling at the trinkets and bargaining as we could. Then we rested in more coffee shops, realizing just how tired we really were.

In the evening, we headed to a delicious Ethiopian dinner. It was Mwansa’s first time trying Ethiopian food, and we mostly enjoyed people-watching as the restaurant filled, comparing what we had seen of Nairobi to Zambia. Shamira joined us for dinner, and we had the opportunity to catch up even more over the past year, since we had last seen each other.

Eventually we headed to the airport, and tucked ourselves in at the terminal for the next 4 hours of our layover. What I saw of Kenya, though through tourist eyes, was really great. I would love the opportunity to explore the country more, in more depth and detail. Though the 18-hour layover was very tiring and a lot, I would still definitely recommend it!

Professional Development Workshop

This is a belated post on an event Mwansa and I take a lot of pride in…

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Every Global Health Corps fellow is required to take part in the selection process for the next class. While we were tasked with reading potential fellow applications and interviewing them, ZamFam noticed an unfortunate lack of professionalism in applications, resumes, and interview skills.

At my university, we had a career services department dedicated entirely to supporting us in resume building, searching for jobs, picking a career track, interviewing for jobs and so much more. I can’t tell you how many times I sought their advice for my resume or went to their sessions to learn about the health field.

In Zambia, not all young adults have access to a career services department or peers and mentors that can readily provide revisions to their applications. In fact, their university career departments don’t even regularly host the type of sessions I attended. Mwansa and I talked about this at length and realized that if we hosted a Professioanl Development Workshop through GHC, we could give back to the Copperbelt since Kitwe has been home to us for a year and no fellows will be placed here next year.

Thus, we held a Professional Development Workshop at the Copperbelt University on May 21st, 2015 for any young professionals who were interested. Sessions included basic job application skills, such as using LinkedIn or how to set up informational interviews, resume and CV building, and actually sitting down and practicing with sample interview questions.

We only took about 3 hours to do this, so our workshop was not exhaustive. We could have talked about professional development for days, there are so many different things to learn. But afterwards we answered the questions we could, exchanged contacts, and sent participants so many materials with job search boards, career advice websites, and other interview resources they could use in their future career search endeavors.

To make it even better, to support us 5 current ZamFam fellows, 3 alumni, and 1 program staff from GHC came for the event. It was amazing to share our lives on the Copperbelt with so many people at once and to receive their support in a project that was so dear to us.

Now that the workshop has passed, another workshop was held in Lusaka by ZamFam Alumni to continue promoting professional development. I feel like I am a bit more equipped, after researching so many career advice platforms, to apply for jobs and it is helping me in my search. And I notice the need for improved application skills through my interactions at work with grant proposals and other friends applying to opportunities.

The workshop gave Mwansa and me an opportunity to exercise our event planning and programming skills. It kept us really busy for a long time, and it was awesome to go through the steps of planning and providing a much-needed opportunity. I never knew that professional development would then become something that we are both passionate about now, but it kind of has. I am excited to see how we can integrate this event into a permanent GHC recruitment process for Zambia next year!

This Time for Malawi

These past two weeks I was in Lilongwe, Malawi for a training on Stepping Stones with Children hosted by Salamander Trust and the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi (COWLHA). Stepping Stones with Children is a transformative behavior change curriculum for children, ages 5-8 and 9-14, affected by or infected with HIV and AIDS and their caregivers. It was a long and intense training, where we were pushed to work hard, but I learned so much about facilitation, training, and working with children on sexual and reproductive health.

Outside of long training days I had the opportunity to reconnect with some amazing friends, including GHC Fellows in Malawi and a fellow Tar Heel! It was so interesting, because after spending a few days with my Tar Heel friend she traveled to Zambia to meet her family for adventures in Livingstone. Upon arriving in Lusaka, she sent me her thoughts on Lusaka vs. Lilongwe and the comparisons between Zambia and Malawi.

I felt like I was seeing Zambia through new eyes. Just before I left for Malawi I was in a frustrated mindset. I could not understand how anyone could be productive in Zambia, writing off all processes as slow and inefficient. This was after spending an entire work day in drawn out meetings, not being able to find a printer with color ink, waiting hours for printed materials after finding a printer, and going to 3 different Wi-Fi zones only to find none of them worked. I was missing America with its paved roads, high-speed internet, and developed luxuries. I felt like a brat, but it was just one of those days.

My friend reflected on how big and developed Lusaka was. Before her reflections, I always naively assumed that Malawi and Zambia were super similar because of their geographic proximity and because languages, food, and culture were so similar between the two countries. Because the training was so intensive, I also didn’t have the chance to explore Lilongwe and decide for myself. But after talking with some of the GHC fellows in Lilongwe, I learned that they felt the same way. They said even the roads in Zambia were better, and that is one thing I never expected.

Even though my perspective is mainly influenced by my time in Kitwe, which is a little less developed than Lusaka, I felt humbled to see Zambia in a new way. I also began to feel much more appreciative of the luxuries I had in Zambia. It was a great wakeup call!

I even learned more about other Southern African countries, as participants were from Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. We also had trainers from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and the UK. All in all, it was a great trip filled with lots of lessons and warm cuddles and snuggles with my favorite people from the Warm Heart of Africa.