Thursday, July 10, 2014

Graduation and Reading Paul Farmer

While I'm sure many people much busier than I am at any given time in their lives maintain healthy, thriving, regular blogs, this past school year rendered me unable to do much more than work, work, work, panic, and vegetate. But that is over now, along with my undergraduate career and much to my relief. As Billy Joel would say of me, I've earned my degree. May it be the first of many, but not too many.

Early in this blog I professed my aspirations to become a human rights lawyer, and while that has changed, my itch to do something about all the nonsensical suffering a large part of the earth's human population is going through has not subsided.

Approximately one month before graduation, my mother borrowed two books from the public library and urged me to read them: To Repair the World and Mountains Beyond Mountains. The former: a collection of speeches by Dr. Paul Farmer (Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D.); the latter: a biography-like text about Dr. Farmer and the organization he co-founded, Partners in Health (PIH). This Farmer fellow was brought to my mom's attention through a family friend as an expert in tuberculosis. I had just completed and defended my thesis on the origins of tuberculosis in human populations through the paleopathological record, and starting with dry bones and kyphosis and hypertrophic osteoarthropathy had ventured into the juicy world of the pathogenic bacteria and their genetic signatures. She brought the books to me with a dream of me reading them and signing up to work with him by implementing my ideas about the origins of tuberculosis. I looked into him a little further and saw this was not to be. He was an action man and my ideas were still in the realm of hypothesis, academia, and fairly distant theoretical medical practice, not concrete, saving-lives-now medical practice, which is what Farmer is about.

This is not to say those readings were a pointless, mother-imposed exercise. Far from it. I finally got to reading To Repair the World in the days preceding my commencement ceremony, and as it turned out, a great deal of the speeches in the text were, indeed, commencement speeches. Seeing as we did not have an official "commencement speaker" aside from remarks by the president of the university and a shiny student (a fellow EEPster), I decided to absorb Dr. Farmer's speeches as my own personal commencement exercise.

The main theme, hidden or not-so-hidden among advice for effective medical practice, personal anecdotes, and visions of the future, was tireless advocacy for those less fortunate than yourself (Ivy League student, medical doctor, or Susanna Sabin of CSULA). A dismissal of the phrase "cost-effectiveness" as an excuse for sub-par care, outrage at modern occurrences of tetanus and many other preventable illnesses, and a call for the younger people of today to do more and make the world better. As I read, I got busy with snap chatting passages to my pre-med friends, asking to myself, a little self-righteously I suppose, why it wasn't a given, an expectation, that all doctors follow a path of service? Why wasn't it career suicide to refuse to volunteer at a free clinic at some inner-city location? Why didn't weren't more doctors being accompagnateurs instead of handymen? Why wasn't the connection between one's access to healthcare and one's freedom and participation in a democracy more obvious to everyone? And how could one recite the Hippocratic Oath and treat one group of patients with more care and better equipment than another? Or at the very least, what doctor could comfortably live with the disparity?

I am nineteen years old, and I have no idea what will happen over the next few years. I am excited to continue research connected to my thesis, the independent creation of which I am most proud, but there is still the itch. Through his transcribed speeches, Dr. Farmer instilled, or re-instilled that itch to do something more, to make a difference not just in my esoteric field of study, but in the lives of other's who need that difference. I have had this itch a lot throughout my life so far, and generally speaking I mellow out. Being an EEPster, I am often surrounded by people who hold rationality (whether they practice it or not) to a higher standard than empathy or practice, and I am often convinced (generally by my own insecurity and feelings of powerlessness) to be reasonable. This time, though, I really, truly, do not want to mellow out. I want to stay angry at the comedy of differential distribution that is the world today, and I want to use that anger to fix something.

How? Not sure yet. I'll keep you updated.

Something I have done is set up a monthly donation to Partners in Health. If you're looking for somewhere to put your money, I highly recommend them (and you saw how I railed against Invisible Children). Here is their website: 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A New Term

And so the school year has begun.

It started on a day on which I have no classes or responsibilities (so far) whatsoever, so I spent the morning making Peter a cake for the Day Before His Birthday Day. It could've turned out better to say the least, but I brought it in, we both had a celebratory piece, and it was completely annihilated within three hours of exposure to EEPsters. The cake-carrier has been rinsed, the counter has been wiped, and in this kitchen at least, it was like the thing never existed. That's all the tacit approval I could ask for.

The big news as of today is that I have officially been offered a job at CSULA's Center for Effective Teaching and Learning! Now I wait for the Career Department bureaucracy to do what it does, and hopefully, sometime next week, I will be a paid employee of Cal State Los Angeles. It certainly feels good to have gone through the motions–an application, a resumé submission, a "non-cognitive skills" test, and two interviews–and emerge victorious. While I'm waiting for the paperwork to clear, I'm going through some Moodle tutorials and continuing to familiarize myself with HTML. It's really opening up a whole new world of tools I can use outside the job as well, which is always great.

To finish up with my wee update, I am approaching 40,000 words on my Six Weeks in Kenya Manuscript, which is very exciting indeed. At this rate, it looks like I am on track for my self-imposed first draft due date, so keep your eyes open!

Also (a little treat) my dabbling on Pinterest has revealed a super interesting Scandinavian design and photography blog that I can't get enough of. Take a look.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Summer Ending, a.k.a. Go Time

Greetings from the dying throws of summer in southern California, which means heat beyond any reasonable weather patterns approaching autumn. Though I shouldn't complain, considering how cool it was today. Let's hope it stays this way!

The summer has been quiet and busy, which was perfect, considering the past year. It has given me time to regroup, figure out where I'm heading next, and take steps forward as opposed to sideways and in loop-de-loops as people my age are wont to do. All this has not been a cake walk, thus the busy-ness, and here's what is up as of today's post:

  • After deliberation on pursuing law instead of academia starting around this time last year (see this blog's first post), I have decided that, for the time-being anyhow, I will devote myself to the area of expertise that plucks my heartstrings so they sing instead of the area towards which I feel an obligation. My decision (though in no way ultimate, for life is long and full of interesting twists and turns) resulted in part from the one year anniversary of my trip to Kenya coming and going as I sat in an Atwater Village Starbucks–an event that filled me existential longing for a time past that I had never experienced before, the counsel of EEP Director Dr. Richard Maddox to whom I will always owe a great debt of gratitude, and a fairly simple meditation on what I love. While I love helping people, there are many ways I can do that while still pursuing my own passions for uncovering the mysteries of humanities past. So: Anthropology. Score.
  • After an unsuccessful cluster of job applications (I got one group interview that I was so nervous about I showed up looking like a nun with a white dress shirt and a grey below-the-knee skirt) I landed a freelance writing job with friends of the family and producers of GO PUBLIC: A Day in the Life of an American School District. I wrote the content for their community discussion guide, which should be released soon as part of the educational and community DVD packages. I worked long and hard and received my first paycheck for working on a great project.
  • I continue to work on my book about my time in Kenya, and hope to have a complete first draft by mid-to-late October. If all goes as planned, all of my supporters who pre-bought the book to finance my journey will have their own special copy by the time Christmas roles around. After that I plan on developing a draft and a package to deliver to publishers. Who knows what will happen after that?
  • I started an Etsy business, and I'm in the process of developing it into a working shop!
  • I have been invited for a follow-up interview for an on-campus job that I feel is a great fit, and I am teaching myself some elementary web design to prep myself for it, which got me excited about this blog again and is also really useful, because web sites! 
So that was a lot of words! But that is more or less what is happening with me at the moment. I have a great deal more to say, but I will leave it for another post.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Back in Los Angeles

Greetings from the City of Angels!

I hath returned and hit the ground running. I've been back for about two weeks now, and in that time I have submitted seven applications to some basic jobs and two further internship applications. I'm also rebooting my crocheted goods enterprise (Simple Things) on Etsy very soon, building up stock as we speak. Meanwhile, I'm about to start volunteering at the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law to get a taste of what public service law is like in practice and hopefully be useful.

And of course, I am working on the book. I've gotten a lot of work done during my Starbucks dates with my dad, during which much caffeine is consumed and many words are typed out. I'm waiting on more criticism on what I've written so far, but I think I'm at a point where the structure is really playing itself out well.

Peter is returning from jolly old England in 13 days, so after that I have the feeling I'll want to be a lot less busy. :)

More news to come soon, including a part-time job (fingers-crossed), new crochet designs, and the adventures of a Head Mentor.

Here's to summer!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Revision Week

I greet you from the final throws of Revision Week(s)!

The essays have been submitted, and I await one more grade with bated breath. I apologize for my dropping the ball on reporting more of the RAI conference that took place three weeks ago on the St Andrews campus, but the one post took a great amount of kapow to make up for it. The remainder of the conference was less rage-inducing informative but a great experience nonetheless. There's nothing like a great selection of veteran anthropologists telling their best field stories and giving advice. This bit was actually my favorite portion of the entire event; the lecturer originally intended to fill the evening slot of the first day–Arjun Appadurai–had taken ill at the last minute. In order to fill the slot, the organizers asked that some St Andrews lecturers, PhD students, and some visiting lecturers from other universities share their stories for the two hour block. During that time, I learned much about the confusions, confrontations, and contradictions that an anthropologist can encounter in the field. I laughed hard and thought hard; there really is nothing better than that, is there?

In addition to that time slot, Peter and I attended the second day's undergrad call for papers, which was at times very interesting and at times very dull. Some very interesting and original topics were explored, alongside tired and strained presentations that really failed to say anything. I was elated to hear my friend Francesca's presentation on her senior thesis, which explored the ways women asserted their autonomy on a small island off of Italy through entrepreneurship and art. We also sat for a heart-wrenching ethnographic film and a lecture from the acclaimed social anthropologist Marilyn Strathern, who did groundbreaking research among women in Papua New Guinea. After the lecture was over, I spotted my Anthropology of Consciousness lecturer from last semester, Professor Christina Toren, and I made a point to (somewhat awkwardly) tell her how much her class impacted the way I think about anthropology and really the way I think in general. After I got past the awkward self-introduction, things went a lot more smoothly. I'll probably never see her again, but she is definitely someone I greatly admire as a person, a teacher, and an anthropologist.

So here I am. Peter left, and I went to visit him in Oxford this past week for the last time. The next time we see each other will be in 6 weeks back in Los Angeles. For myself, I return on May 24th. It's only two weeks away, but it feels like it should be an eternity like the rest of my time here has been. A very short eternity, though, I will admit. As for what I'm doing when I return to sunny California, I'm still waiting on responses from internships I have applied for. I am planning to apply for more in the public service and public radio sector, but I do feel anxious that somehow all of these opportunities will leave me high and dry. I would really like to be able to earn money over the summer, and the pressure to get that figured out is a tad crippling, even though the worst case scenario is that I end up working a minimum wage, entrance-level job and volunteering at KPCC instead of working there or somewhere like it. Speaking of volunteering, I am also planning on sending an application to the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles. So really, things aren't as hanging-by-the-thread as they feel.

For now, I must return to reading an article about colonialism in West Africa. More on this and other things to come soon.

Have a brilliant day!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Close Encounters Part 1: Kony 2012

Hello world,

Yesterday and today, I wasn't as hard at work on my Los Angeles essay as I probably should have been. Instead, I attended a pretty great anthropology convention, thrown by St Andrews' own undergraduates called Close Encounters: Bringing Anthropology Home. The whole shindig was sponsored by the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) but completely organized and orchestrated by a group of Social Anthropology undergrads, and I must say, they did quite a brilliant job.

I didn't attend every event, but I got to what I could with Peter as my sidekick. There was the "Opening Remarks" presented by the conference coordinator and the director of the RAI, immediately followed by a rather enlightening lecture entitled Kony 2012: Reopening Old Wounds. It was presented by Dr. Aloysius Malagala of Gulu University in Uganda and a PhD student at Keele University, Betty Okot. Ms. Okot had conducted field work in the Acholi area of northern Uganda–the area and ethnic group most affected by the violence of the rebellion. The paper criticized the Kony 2012 campaign for:
  • Releasing the viral Kony 2012 video five years after Kony's disappearance.
  • Ignoring the complexities of the conflict, including the history of Uganda's ethnic tensions, the displacement of the Acholi people by the Ugandan government, the origin of the rebellion, and the fact that Kony was a leader of one of many military splinter groups that formed during the rebellion.
  • Ignoring the land and cattle shortage issues the Acholi people are enduring as the aftermath of actions by both "sides" of the rebellion, if they could really be called sides. 
  • Using the plight of the Acholi people, none of whom were involved in the production process or content decisions, to raise upwards of $30,000,000, very little of which ended up reaching them. 
I wasn't a big fan of the video to begin with–the guy who made it came off as a little sociopathic to me, with the whole putting his just-out-of-toddlerdom son on the spot. I also resented seeing people on Facebook who had never been interested in activism call for vengeance for a man who had been missing for half a decade when there were more pressing matters to attend to for the people of Uganda. But who cares as long as it's all going towards helping people, right? 

This presentation was incredibly enlightening when it came to the history behind the conflict (neglected in the video) and what the people of Gulu thought of the video. In short, there were riots. In long form, a white "researcher" came into their community, asked them questions, recorded them, and ended up making a video they thought to be exploitative and opportunistic. Coming back to the title of the lecture, the video reopened old wounds of friends and family lost, home lost, and the neglect their community faced from the international community when their homes were actively under siege. Not only did the video do this–it also profited tremendously. And Invisible Children thought so much of the community that they did not involve them in the process.

Speaking of profit, I did some independent investigation after Ms. Okot mentioned that 60% of the money raised from the campaign went towards administration. I popped onto the Kony 2012 website and found that they made it quite difficult to access a breakdown of Invisible Children's spending. Plenty of breakdowns are given of costs for the Kony 2012 campaign, including a video production breakdown as well as an independent campaign breakdown. A repeated mantra throughout the report is that 81.48% of spending goes to "Programs."Finally, a breakdown of revenue spending arrives on page 76 of 86 of the financial report. Here we find that "Programs" includes the categories Media and Mobilization. These kinds of spending do not reach Uganda. They publish the website, they fund student conventions, and they fund what the report simply calls "Kony 2012," which cost more than $3 million–the clear plurality of all spending. Media and Mobilization make up the majority of "Programs" spending. Here's the link to the financial report, and if you're interested, I encourage you to check it out.

I suppose I'll conclude with a small appeal to anyone who may read this to be critical in their donation choices. Invisible Children does really great things when they do, but Reopening Old Wounds really brought their level of integrity to light. As one of Ms. Okot's informants asked (I paraphrase), If they are willing to use our pain to get money, what will they do when this money dries up? I doubt the people of Invisible Children will go raiding the countryside, but it is a compelling question. If an organization's goal is to help people, I think that it should probably drop some of the budget for fancy campaign videos and devote more to said people. It's the principal of the matter. Essentially, the Kony 2012 campaign spent over half of its revenue in making middle-class-and-up individuals feel a little better about themselves.

Another short point before I tumble into bed: Vengeance is nice sometimes. But the people most devastated by Kony's violence and the government response to Kony's violence (which lasted 20 years without intervention, incidentally) are, as we speak, trying to rebuild their lives. The pain of an entire generation will not disappear if/when a single psychopath is apprehended. The Kony 2012 campaign achieved its goal of making the man famous, but it let his victims be defined by nothing but his brutality. In the eyes of the Acholi who spoke with Ms. Okot, the campaign did little but to reaffirm their status as victims of atrocity. Why did the campaign look backwards more than forwards? 

These are some thoughts provoked by the first, YES, the first presentation of Close Encounters. Watch for more commentary on the presentations and also on my Los Angeles essay. More historical context that will turn your world on its head.

Oh, what anthropology can do...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Radio Show

Today, my friends, I have a radio show.

Earlier this semester I decided to put my name in for one of the fifteen open slots, just in case anything came of it. I decided after I signed up to orchestrate a talk show that runs along the same lines as This American Life (an NPR show that is very dear to my heart), meaning I would have a theme or topic every week and go from there. There needn't be a category for the whole show, just as long as the topic was interesting, and preferably something people didn't know all that much about, or if it was, I would bring in people to chat on it.

Usually, the topic has been related to something in the news, although my favorite show was completely out-of-the-blue–an hour on three "Forgotten Inventors." Nikola Tesla, Leon Theremin, and Heddy Lamar. I brought my friend, Bridget, in to speak about Leon Theremin (she's a cellist, he was a cellist, voila), and it all turned out very well for a second radio show ever, if I do say so myself. My second favorite show was about HIV in response to the child in Georgia who may have been cured of HIV she contracted from her mother in-utero. It was just me that time, but I'd nabbed an interview with a lecturer at St Andrews who specializes in HIV anti-retroviral research, which was quite informative.

Today, I am going to talk about the situation in North Korea and the history and context that these threats are emerging from. When preparing for every show, I learn something I wouldn't have known otherwise, and this is definitely the case with this one. What a tricky country, North Korea is.

If you'd like to listen to my show, or any STAR (St Andrews Radio) show at all, here's the link. Soon, I'll be posting my recent shows to the same website in podcast form, I just need to edit out the music and plug in some open forum tunes instead.

Have a pleasant and productive day!