During my five weeks abroad, from June 2 to July 7, I wrote down my thoughts and experiences everyday spent in Bluefields Nicaragua, collecting data for cervical cancer screening research with Hala and Yolande. This is my post from July 3rd:
After spending the weekend in Pearl Lagoon, to take a break from organizing interviews and focus groups, we’ve ended up back in Bluefields with not much to do, research-wise. Much of what we’ve wanted to accomplish has been done and at this point we’re trying to get some of our data more reiterated and talk to people with perspectives different from those that we’ve heard thus far. This week we were able to have an all-nurses focus group, which I unfortunately was not able to attend because I got food poisoning … for the second time…
Luckily, it was a great focus group and another good way to see how cervical cancer screening really is here in Bluefields. Other than that focus group, we weren’t able to get much more data collected this week. Another focus group that was to take place in a more rural community was postponed due to rainy weather and many of the key informants we want to talk to are not available to talk to us this week. That all being said, we still have a lot to do—transcribing interviews and starting analysis of the data that we’ve collected so far.
*** WARNING: This is the beginning of my food rant, however, please do not take this as a food rant. I’m using food as a metaphor for other things necessary to life. I’m not just going to ramble about cereal for no reason. Continue if you so wish. ***
Spending three days in bed sick with food poisoning really made me start to think about the importance of health, well-being and the myriad of things that affect our health. I got food poisoning most likely from a tres leches cake I ate at a nearby restaurant— it being the only thing that was different from what we’ve been eating here so that’s what we have named the perpetrator. (The cake was delicious and while not worth the sickness, still the best tres leches I’ve ever had.) Although the cake was the culprit, I think my system was prone to becoming sick.
Even today I’m not quite back to where I was, health-wise, I think mainly because of the kind of food we’ve been eating since coming here. We’ve only been here for a month and I’ve been feeling sluggish and weighed down since the first week of our trip. At home I tend to eat a lot of salads, fruits and vegetables. I never really appreciated that access to fresh foods until going abroad or travelling to places where these healthy options aren’t as readily available.
Here in Bluefields we’ve basically been eating a form of meat, rice, fried starches for every meal. Every single restaurant we’ve been to have their meals like this. Actually, just about every restaurant we’ve been to has the same menu. That means we’ve been eating either tostones (fried plaintains) or fries and rice every single day since coming here, from one to three times a day. A typical Nicaraguan breakfast includes gallo pinto, which is black beans and rice—that being the reason why there might be days where we eat rice three times a day.
Sometimes we skip dinner or lunch because the amount of rice and fried foods is just too much. During those times, we might eat fruit if we go to the market to pick up something we can peel in the room and eat. Sometimes we buy yogurt. But overall, what we eat is meat, a lot of rice and a lot of fried starches. We all are dying for a salad right now not even because we like salads, but because we like the way salads make us feel. (We’ve spoken about our desire for salads, extensively, and to no avail since we can’t really get a salad here unless we know the water used to wash the leaves is not tap.)
To be fair, I also have to mention the fact that we’re eating out 24/7 since we don’t have access to a kitchen. Nicaraguans cooking at home probably eat much differently than what is offered in restaurants… but still, I feel like the fact that no restaurant we’ve been to offers non-side salads or meals with vegetables that aren’t fried is a bad indication of the kinds of foods that locals tend to eat. I think overall it may be both cultural and an indication of the lower access to healthier options.
Being from the US, I have the much easier access to healthy food at various groceries stores around me. I actually feel a little guilty when I’m in a Walmart and see all of the options in front of me. There is so much excess, when places like Bluefields, Nicaragua have close to no options at all. Here in Central Bluefields (where there are more options) if you go to one of the bigger markets, you can choose from 2 to 7 different kinds of cereals—7 if you’re really lucky. Plain corn flakes are about as good as it gets in many of the markets we visited actually. And then there’s the milk. All of it is powdered, or boxed and almost never refrigerated, unless you go to a specialty dairy store. Box milk that is non-refrigerated… how that works, I have no idea, but I can’t imagine it’s natural.
Then in the US, you have the option to buy whole milk, 2% milk, skim milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, non-lactose milk, soymilk, coconut milk, almond milk, evaporated milk, cashew milk, milk that can do your taxes for you, etc. And cereal? The kinds of cereals we are able to buy in a Walmart is insane, dozens upon dozens of options ranging from rainbow colored sugar-filled diabetes-inducing cereal to all natural, organic, fair-trade artisan granola. I mean, sure, it’s fun to have the option to buy lucky charms that turn your milk blue because of the new “Finding Dory” movie, but do we really need that America…do we really?! There has to be a middle ground.
It’s just a shock to me, coming from the US, a place where you can literally walk past dozens upon dozens of options all laid out for you neatly on a full aisle, just for cereal. I’m using cereal as an example, but really what I’m trying to say that this unavailability to options is not fair. The options of cereal is a microcosm for the options we have in general, here in the US compared to other countries around the world—options pertaining to not only food, but things that affect our daily lives on a daily basis. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that there are people living in less wealthy countries who barely have enough money to buy the necessary calories to survive. Why can’t we cut down our excess and share with them? Why can’t we have a middle ground?
I’m not sure why… ignorance, greed, power, whatever it is, it makes me sad to know the great disparities that the world is filled with. Being able to experience these when travelling abroad have made me a more mindful person, but I still feel guilty, especially because even after experiencing things like these I find myself living the in US bubble and forgetting about the fact that there is a whole world out there filled with people who have a fraction of the options that I have here where I happened to be born. I happened to be born here in the US. I happened to be born in a family that not only lives in the US, but lives in a good part of the US—a part where I have access to basic and above-basic nutrition, shelter and healthcare. I happened to have my parents, which then affected my appearance, my nationality, my socio economic status, my education, my support system, my… everything. I happened upon all of it.
Anyways, that’s just a few thoughts that have gone through my mind while being here and seeing the disparities between the level of healthcare that locals receive compared to the one I receive back home. Although being sick was not a good experience, I appreciate the fact that because I was sick I was able to put myself in the perspectives of those who live in countries like Nicaragua. It is a humbling experience and will push me further into fighting and helping raise awareness for the universal right to healthcare for all.