Monday, December 24, 2007

a long overdue hello from wisconsin

Hi everyone,

Its been a long time since i've written you all... mostly because this semester was a whole lot of problem sets, ten page lab reports, and studying for days on end for organic-chemistry exams, intermixed with a whole lot of wishing I had more time to spend on the things that I really care about.

But now the semester is over, and I'm home with family, which is really nice. I did manage to get a few meaningful things into the semester that are exciting and inspiring for me. One is that our bicycle-powered laptop has been placed in the campus gym where more and more people are using it. There are a few videos online about the bike that you can check out if you want.

The next is that on January 3rd I leave for Ecuador, to work with the same community on some lingering technical issues in the water system, as well as start a program (with the help of my mom) where we will purchase traditional ceramics and jewelry from the women in Santa Ana and sell them in the US as an income-generating program and to sustainably support the water system. We've almost got a website up and running for this project, so I'll send it out when we do!

The last thing is a three day symposium on climate change at MIT that Froy and I's environmental group have been organizing for february 2008... we're going to have about 15 events in all sorts of different departments with the goal of connecting and engaging students from all different disciplines to bring their energy and skills to bear on the challenge of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season with your families and friends.

With much love,

P.S. As much as I think about the climate change issue, I couldn't resist including my latest thoughts on this for those who care to read them:

I have to say that is hard for me to remain optimistic about the future of our planet with climate change. The predicted consequences -- droughts, more tropical storms and hurricanes, flooding of coastal lowlands, etc sound like things we can adapt to, like we always have. And that may be true, at least for a while, for those of us who have enough money, insurance, status, etc to always ensure ourselves plenty of food to eat and a new place to live. But it is not true for billions of people in this world. These are the people who will be hit soonest and hardest, and ironically they have the least responsibility for the emissions that are causing the problem in the first place.

Here's an excerpt from an article from the Guardian

He is quoting a UN report on the state of the planet:

“If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress.” Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, is the world to be fed? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?

The stone drops into the pond and a second later it is smooth again. You will turn the page and carry on with your life. Last week we learnt that climate change could eliminate half the world’s species(9); that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction(10); that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release it, decades ahead of schedule(11). But everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: “if it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?”

And that's really the problem... Hurricane Katrina, the droughts in the Southeast, Fires in the west... none of this things can be proven to have been caused by climate change, even though all the science says these sorts of events are going to come harder and faster as climate change progresses. So no one has the urgency to say "we need to do whatever it takes to reduce emissions 80% or 98%, and I need to do whatever it takes in my own life" (the number depends on whether you think all countries should reduce relative to the amount they are emitting now or relative to their population size). And no, I'm not a believer in climate change as a complete doomsday scenario. The world will go on, life will go on. The question is whose lives and what world?

Part of the paradox of environmentalism is that in the best case scenario we fix the problem and people should look back say "well what was the big fuss about?" We managed to do enough about CFC's that caused ozone depletion and Sulfur emissions from fossil fuels that caused acid rain to get those problems under control (to a certain extent, the problem is still around in other countries) such that looking back we might be tempted to say, what were all those environmentalists worried about? I hope that we manage to do enough about climate change that you all look back at this e-mail and think "why was she so worried?" But until the world and especially the united states really step up to the plate on this, I'll remain worried.

If anyone wants to contradict or debate, or talk more about this issue more, I'd love to talk with you -- just send me an e-mail!!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

photos, anecdotes, and thoughts on life plans

queridos amigos y familia (dear friends and family),

I'm writing with some thoughts about my future life path and with
some random anecdotes about mexico.

first the random anecdotes, things that I found curious at first and
come up regularly in conversation here because of course people find
our way of doing things just as curious.

1) Last names. The tradition here is that everyone has 2 last names,
first the (first) last name of their father and then the (first) last
name of the mother. Nobody changes their name upon getting married.
For example the daughter of father Juan Tellez Solis and mother Maria
Bautista Hernandez would be named something like Araceli Tellez
Bautista. Rather less chauvinistic than the traditional american
system, although the female line only lasts for one generation; you
still end up with the two last names of the grandfathers, never

2) Naming newborns. It is common practice here to have a baby and
then take as much time as needed to name it...babies go weeks or even
months without a name -- they are simply called "baby" "cutie" "my
love" until the family decides on a name. The woman I saw give birth
has invited me over to her house a couple of times and the boy is 20
days old and still doesn't have a name. She lives in a 'city' but
cooks over a fire and lives with another sister and her mother and
all their respective children. its a really crazy, warm, wonderful
home with many aunts and uncles younger than their nieces)

3) Hospital records. A random note, but as a result of these naming
practices (and other reasons) the hospital records here are organized
by household, then by neighborhood. If the patient doesn't know their
household number, we have to look them up in the registries based on
how the children in that household are named (Tellez Bautista in the
above example). You also see infants records with the first name
written in later with a different color ink, etc, because the infant
didn't have a name when it came in for its first vaccinations, etc.

4) Signatures. Here, a signature is a work of art, with elegant
loops, squiggles, and dots. They usually includes the initials of the
person but never the whole name and are generally more circular/
square in shape than our long cursive-based signatures. People laugh
at my signature, the way I laughed at Froy's signature the first time
I saw it.

Now, the thoughts on my life path... I've been really loving working
at the hospital, learning a little more every day, teaching health
education classes, and chatting with patients as they wait to be seen
or for their treatment to kick in. I'm almost positive that I really
want to do this, I want to be a doctor, I want to have the knowledge
to promote health and treat illness. I am also sure that I want to do
this in an under-served community somewhere in the world and work
under a more comprehensive definition of health care that includes
things like environmental health, potable water, community relations.

How I will manage that remains to be seen, but one distinct
possibility is that I will study medicine here in Mexico, or in Cuba,
instead of in the US. The advantages would be avoiding $100,000 of
debt that I would accrue studying in the US (and be pretty much
locked into working in the US for a period of time to pay it off), I
would learn medicine in Spanish which greatly expands the countries
in need where I could work, and I'd avoid the arrogance and
bureaucracy of an American medical school... Of course there many
disadvantages and challenges, like getting permission from the US
govt to study in Cuba should I be accepted (check out the program, it
is AMAZING and would be a dream to study there: http://
passing the entrance exam to a school in mexico (ie SAT in spanish
plus chemistry, biology, and mexican history).

Lots to think about, and its going to be an interesting choice... in
August i'm going to visit one medical school in Mexico with a friend
of Froy's so I can get a better idea of the reality of studying here.

Much love to all,

ps check out the photos i've uploaded:


I think you have to make a snapfish account to see them...sorry about
that. It's free and I think you even get 20 free photo prints when
you join.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In Mexico for the summer

Hi all, I know its been a while since I've written one of these updates so it is long over due.

Overall I had a really great semester, liked my classes, did meaningful things outside of them, etc. One highlight is that a lot of people are excited about the bicycle-powered laptop workstation that my group spent the semester building in a design lab I took. The campus gym now wants the bike and says they'd love to have more if we will make them.

I'm writing this from the heat of low-lying Huejutla in central Mexico, with a fan gently moving the hot air over my heat-rash speckled body. The original plan was for me to live here with Froy's family for the summer and volunteer at a nearby community clinic. The relevant officials have all been very eager to help me out but suggested that I really out to live within the community. Based on my experience last summer with the appreciation people in Santa Ana
demonstrated because we actually lived in the community, these officials make a good point.

So tomorrow, off I am again to another indigenous community, this time a Mexican one called Tecpaco and it's neighbor Calnali. Tecpaco is the community where Froy is working on his reforestation/agroforestry project and that's where I'll live, and I'll walk daily with the middle school children to the somewhat larger community Calnali and volunteer in the clinic there. I'm excited to get an inside window on what its like to work on the more clinical, medical side of the community health issue to help me decide if I want to be an engineer (and work on things like community water and sanitation systems) or a doctor (and work in community clinics and health promotion and training programs).

The bad news is there is no internet in Tecpaco so i'll be back to the rhythm of once a week access. The good news is that Tecpaco and Calnali are some 800 meters up into the mountains from here so the weather (I am told) is much cooler and more pleasant. And no worries
about the heat rash -- it's getting much better since I got some pills from the doctor and the room I will sleep in tonight has air conditioning. It was funny when I went to the doctor yesterday because he asked how long I (the fair-skinned wisconsin girl) was going to be staying in Mexico. His reaction to my answer that I'm staying for two and a half months was priceless.

Anyway, that's all for now. I'll write again sometime once I'm into the swing of things.

All the best,