Category Archives: Personal

My Fulbright Story

I’ve waited nearly 10 years to finally make this announcement!!

The summer before I started college at UofL, my SOSer Paige told me about a scholarship opportunity called Fulbright where I could go abroad to study or conduct research once I graduated. During my very first week of class, I went to Dr. Pat Condon’s office to tell her my plans. “I’m applying! What do I need to do between now and then?” With solid advice from Dr. Condon and Seabrook Jones, I paved my road to Fulbright. I double-majored, spent over a year and a half abroad, won other major grants and scholarships, learned another language, volunteered, pursued leadership positions in various clubs, attended academic conferences–all in an effort to make me more competitive for Fulbright.

In 2011 I came soooooo close to winning. It crushed me to read the email saying I was not selected. It shattered me. I didn’t know what to do. I pulled out of the MA program in DC I had applied to as my backup, moved back home, and started working as a waitress/shopgirl as I recovered and made new plans.

I found out several months later that the reason I lost my Fulbright after being approved to country was purely budgetary, nothing to do with my skills or qualifications. The fire was relit. I spent the next five years working in the field of grants and fellowships helping countless other students apply for and win their own well-earned Fulbrights, all while I earned my MA and began my PhD.

Last summer the time finally came. It was now or never. I would never have another chance to apply for Fulbright because once I earn my PhD I don’t qualify. Swallowing my anxiety and all my self-doubt, I worked hard to submit my application. Well, the results for my region were released today and I am so so so SO excited and proud to say that I am FINALLY a Fulbright Scholar to Malawi!!! It was worth the wait!

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USAID Fellowship Winner!!

Shameless personal plug time! I am very excited to announce that (for the second time) I have been selected to receive a USAID|Notre Dame Global Development Fellowship provided in partnership with the Initiative for Global Development at the University of Notre Dame. This $17,000 award will fund a substantial portion of my research and living expenses during the approximately 10 months I will spend in Malawi conducting dissertation research during 2017-2018. Working in partnership with the NGO Malawi Matters Inc. and the University of Malawi’s Centre for Social Research (CSR), I will be examining actor approaches to ending the practice of child marriage in Malawi. I look forward to sharing more updates on this soon!

Death at first contact: Why the world needs vaccinations

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Today I watched a really interesting documentary called “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon”, which follows a team of Brazilian anthropologists who study isolated indigenous groups living in a stretch of Amazonian jungle straddling Brazil and Peru. In this documentary, they trace the first contact and resettlement of a small tribe of roughly 35 indigenous men, women, and children in Brazil who are fleeing persecution from the Peruvian army.

There was one part of the documentary that was exceptionally moving for me. When the first group of young warriors emerge from the forest and enter a small village, the team of anthropologists stationed there do all they can to dissuade the men from trying to take piles of clothes and blankets. As the narrator explains, the anthropologists know that these clothes and blankets are riddled with germs that the could make the indigenous—who have not developed any antibodies to fight diseases—severely ill, even kill them.

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A young man puts on a blue t-shirt he has taken from the village

Sadly, this is exactly what happens. As one man explains later, they came to the river often to watch the villagers and all they wanted was to wear clothes like they saw the villagers wearing. Another later says, “We like the clothes… we are embarrassed to be naked.” Bringing the clothes back to the other members of the tribe, the man recalls putting them on and soon after feeling a burning. All those who put on the clothes ended up riddled with fevers. Most in the tribe became severely ill. Several died. It was only once this uncontacted group emerged from the jungle for resettlement that the Brazilian government was able to provide them with medicine to combat the fevers that ravaged them as a result of wearing clothes. (Watch part of the footage here)

This is a perfect example—perhaps the perfect example—of the dangers of not receiving vaccinations. Avoiding serious illness is only possible when you are completely isolated, like this tribe in the Amazon. However, the moment you break through this barrier of isolation, you run the risk of contracting deadly diseases that your body cannot fight, even through an act as simple as putting on a shirt. And to be clear, living in the U.S. is not living in isolation. I am just one person and in my travels I’ve been exposed to everything from influenza and polio to typhoid, yellow fever, and malaria. To come into contact with me is to potentially come into contact with these diseases.

ribi-dropsTo echo Melinda Gates, we take vaccinations completely for granted in the U.S. because we’ve forgotten how deadly these diseases truly are. Few people in the U.S. know what death from diseases like measles, yellow fever, or influenza look like. Have you ever seen a polio survivor, unable to work, reduced to begging on the streets with malformed arms and legs? If you have, you are probably like the countless mothers in Asia and Africa who are walking 10 kilometers one-way to get their children life-saving polio vaccination drops. I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve traveled to malaria, yellow fever, and typhoid zones and never contracted the diseases. Friends of mine have not been so lucky. In many cases their health has been irreparably weakened and damaged.

As the vectors for these diseases change, which indeed they already are, people who once never had to worry about getting vaccinated will need to take preventative measures. These diseases are real, they are scary, and we are not safe. For example, in Indiana and Kentucky we are experiencing an outbreak of West Nile Virus. There are already confirmed deaths. So many measures can be taken to avoid these deaths. While there is no vaccine to prevent West Nile Virus, there are vaccines to prevent other related mosquito-borne illnesses.

Protect yourself, protect your children, protect all those around you and get vaccinated! I agree wholeheartedly with Melinda Gates, we are incredibly lucky to have this technology and we ought to take advantage of it!

Local Governance in Malawi

Last month the Initiative for Global Development (IGD) at the University of Notre Dame published an article about a recent grant provided by Catholic Relief Services (CRS). This grant was presented to Professor Jaimie Bleck (political science) and IGD to conduct a monitoring and evaluation project of local governance effectiveness in Malawi. I am very excited to say that I am also a part of this project!

2015 Photos provided by Danice Brown

2015 Photos provided by Danice Brown

You can read all about our project HERE!

Why Gender Studies?

Girls in ZambiaI was at a regional political science conference a couple years ago presenting a paper I wrote on the signing of the 2013 peace agreement in the DR-Congo. My paper focused on highlighting the failures of the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement and outlined how these failures could be sidestepped in the new agreement. When it came time for the moderator to ask me questions and offer critiques he said, “You mentioned women several times in this paper. You kept saying women need to be involved in the process. Why? Why is it so important to you that women get involved?” He was not being ironic. He was legitimately questioning my decision to include Congolese women in the peace process. In that moment I felt a shift in my interests and worldview. Everything changed. There I was, standing in a glitzy hotel conference room next to the table of other presenters (all men), facing the moderator–a man who had achieved the highest level of education possible and was tenured at a well-known institution. Looking past the moderator, I scanned the room and saw that I was the only female present. My task, if I chose to accept: explain to a room full of college educated men why women matter.

For me, Gender Studies is about bringing a voice to the voiceless. This goes so far beyond just being a voice for women. In many of the topics I study that cross political science and peace studies, it is children who are voiceless. Minorities, the oppressed, the lower classes, refugees–the structures of society often inherently limit their agency and stifle their voices. Adopting a gendered lens allows you to see the world from a new perspective, one that amplifies the voices of these otherwise voiceless groups. This perspective can be a powerful tool for examining the complexities of a political issue, often leading us to find new policy recommendations that actually stand a chance at bettering society. If my own colleagues cannot understand the merit of giving women a voice, then the outlook may seem bleak. However, in Gender Studies I find hope–hope for equality, hope for change, and hope for deeper understanding.

See the original story featured on the Notre Dame Gender Studies Program website HERE.

My First Published Book Review!

Shameless self-promotion alert: I’m published again!!

The April 2015 edition of the Gendered Perspectives on International Development Resource Bulletin is finally available online and it features a book review from yours truly. Read it HERE.

This is a great Bulletin published several times a year that is run out of Michigan State University by the Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen). The Bulletin is a great, go-to resource for all things gender and development. In each edition, the editors compile lists and reviews of some of the most recent research, books, articles, upcoming conferences, calls for papers, and many other forms of media that all explore the myriad issues related to gender and international development.

defyingFor my part, I reviewed a great book by Albrecht Schnabel and Anara Tabyshalieva titled Defying Victimhood: Women and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding (United Nations University Press, 2012). This book provides a great overview of the current scholarship exploring women and their roles in the post-conflict peacebuilding process. The book is ideal for scholars interested in entering the world of gender and conflict, but it is written in a way that even the lay person can enjoy it. Each chapter is written by a different author or set of authors with various academic backgrounds and geographic areas of focus. While the layout of the book is useful in guiding the reader through the literature, you don’t necessarily have to rad the book cover to cover. Pick a chapter that interests you and dive in!

If you want more recommendations of books on gender and development, gender and conflict, or gender and peacebuilding, just ask! And if YOU have recommendations for me, leave a reply below! 

 

Just waiting for a train… any train…

mowbrayI live in the Mowbray neighborhood of Cape Town, which sits between Rondebosch (University of Cape Town) and Observatory (fun nightlife area, popular with college kids). My house sits a stones throw away from the Mowbray Station, which consists of two parts: 1) major bus interchange and 2) metro station. While I have never had occasion to take the bus, I frequently take the metro train from Mowbray Station to Cape Town Civic Station downtown. Mowbray sits on the Southern Line, which runs from Cape Town down along the shores of False Bay to Simon’s Town and back again. The train tracks are built right into the beach. I got to see them last weekend when I went down to Simon’s Town. Check out that view!

train tracks train view

I’ve received varied responses when people find out I take the metro alone. One woman called me adventurous. Another said I was bold. One person even said I was reckless. After pressing some of these people further, I came to find that most had never actually taken the metro themselves; they just knew it to be a dark, dangerous netherworld where the only passengers are “poor” people (let’s get serious, they can couch it in whatever language they want, but they mean black people. Black people take the train). This is the first myth I can now officially bust: all varieties of people take the metro in Cape Town—women with little children, Afrikaner businessmen, school kids in uniforms, young guys wearing big headphones, old men toting fishing gear, families, couples holding hands, individuals, Indians, Blacks, Whites, men, women, and yes, some obviously poor people.

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Interior of the Cape Town Metro

Let me clear the air a bit more for anyone interested in traveling to and around Cape Town. The metro is perfectly safe. I have never once been concerned for my safety and I almost always travel alone. It’s cheap (roughly US$1.00); it’s relatively clean (no better or worse than Paris…. much MUCH worse than Japan), and it’s convenient. I get on at Mowbray and four stops and roughly 12 minutes later I get off at Cape Town. I’ve taken the train in rush hour (where people are packed in and there is standing room only) and I’ve taken it where I am the only passenger in my car. To be completely transparent, I have never taken the metro at night. I only take it during the day. I once flirted with the idea of taking the metro at night from Cape Town back to Mowbray (around 8:30pm), but after only 5 minutes waiting on the platform I was convinced that taking a taxi would be worth it. The crowds at night are heavier and more rowdy on the platform, especially on the weekends. If I hadn’t had some shopping bags I maybe would have chanced it, but why take a chance when a taxi is only about US$7?

I took this picture from the train in India back in 2008. Now that is some serious fog!

I took this picture from a train in India back in 2008. Now that is some serious fog!

There is one thing to keep in mind though if one is considering a journey by train: the train does not always arrive on time…if it arrives at all. For someone like me who is used to commuting every day using the Japanese metro system, the Cape Town system was quite a shock…. to say the absolute least. Trains in Cape Town are often late. If a train timetable says the train will arrive at 11:39, that might mean 11:39, it might mean 11:45, or it might mean 12:20…. and you have NO way to know how late a train will be, so you’ve got to expect it will be on time and just build in enough time to “roll with it” (pun intended). The first time a train was late, a voice came over the intercom and announced the train’s late arrival was due to fog. This made complete sense as you could barely see your hand in front of your face! I remembered taking delayed trains in India when it was exceptionally foggy, so I didn’t mind. And the train arrived within 10 minutes of the scheduled arrival time.

No train

Still waiting………

However, sometimes trains are late for no apparent reason! For example, last weekend I ran to catch a train into town that was due to arrive at Mowbray Station at 2:38. It was a clear, cloudless sunny day. At 2:39 a voice came over the intercom, “Very sorry, this train is delayed….. something something something. Very sorry.” No other explanation given. Five minutes go by… then ten… then fifteen. Twenty, are you kidding me?! By now I am annoyed. I stand on “my” end of the platform (all the blacks seem to have an unspoken rule whereby they don’t come close to me on the platform. If I approach them, it’s fine, but they do not approach me, or sit by me on the train if they can help it. Honestly, it’s discomforting. It reminds me of the culturally enforced “bubble” I was trapped in when I commuted in Japan—everyone looks, no on touches or approaches or speaks to you, but I digress). As I paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, I keep waiting. 25 minutes. Wow. I may as well have walked into town! But I’ve already paid for the ticket so I’m now determined to take this damn train. Meanwhile, trains heading to Simon’s Town come and go.

The train finally arrives!!!

The train finally arrives!!!

Pacing over to a where a young black man was standing, I leaned in and asked, “Do you think this train is EVER coming?” He shrugged, smiled, and said, “Yes…. maybe?” Just then we heard the sound of a train…. it was coming from the wrong direction!! This train consisted of an engine and two flattop cars toting a heavy cargo of rusty train tracks. Groaning, I watched the tracks go by and said, “They are probably going to build a new track!” The young guy burst out laughing and said, “Precisely. See, this is the problem when you have to rely on other people.” We sighed together and kept waiting. FINALLY, at 3:20 our train arrived, only 44 minutes late. Gotta love Africa time!

Today was an entirely new experience. I ran to catch the 11:39 train to go into town for a bit of exploring. I was running late so clutching my sides I sprinted into the tiny station only to find that both the ticket windows were closed. Looking around frantically, I went to an older black lady and said, “The train is coming, where can I buy a ticket?” She looked at me curiously and said, “The window is open. Go there.” And she pointed to the two obviously closed windows. “No,” I said, “They are closed.” “No,” she said, “Open.” I look again. She looks again. “Huh,” she said and walks away. Huh. Also, the train didn’t come. I just walked home. It’s just was not worth it today.