Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Essential Role of Anger in Social Change

The night that Ferguson burned, I was a thousand miles away. Still, I stared at my TV as orange flames licked up the sides of buildings and into the black Missouri sky while a singular phrase played in my mind, “Hunger is the dynamite of the human body”.  Carolina María de Jesús, a Brazilian peasant from the favelas of Sao Paulo, wrote this phrase in reference to the hunger pains that she used to feel as a girl living in the slums. And while I cannot say that I have ever experienced such hunger, I certainly do not doubt Carolina’s sentiments; her words strike a chord and I feel that I would be a fool not to listen.

The US has had a rough time of it lately, both on the domestic and international front. The massive protests in the wake of un-prosecuted killings of unarmed black men, a militarized police force, a racist judicial system, the release of the CIA torture report, the ever-increasing infiltration of big money in our democracy, and political gridlock over just about everything has caused a lot of anger and resentment, once waiting just below the surface, to boil over and become visible. People are hungry. Not for food, but for justice. The people are hungry for change.

The normative backlash from the traditional seats of powers, on comical display through the racism and ignorance of the major cable news outlets, has frantically tried to deny and re-direct this uncomfortable reality at every turn. But for the rest of us who recognize the essential utility of social and political critique, it seems like an eminent necessity that we better understand the anger that often accompanies our demands for justice lest it consume us or, worse, fizzle into nothing.

Anger, like the dynamite that is hunger, has both a creative and a destructive capacity. On the one hand, it can turn a city into ashes overnight. On the other hand, it is the impetus for great social change. Anger without progress is senseless; progress without anger is tepid and feeble.

When Ferguson descended into chaos, just like Los Angeles and Chicago and so many other American cities have done in the past, the hegemony shuddered and condemned the destruction. They blamed the black community, the instigators and the agitators. They blamed the ungrateful youth and the culture of [insert scapegoat here], but made no mention, paid almost no thought to their role in setting those fires. So many looked on and shook their heads but could not bring themselves to cross that emotional schism that separated their peaceful lives from the violence on TV. The anger was a foreign, alien force, one that they could neither commiserate with nor validate, only patronize and dismiss. 

Now, I make no claim to completely understanding other people’s anger, and so I speak here only about the anger I have personally felt in regards to the rampant injustice in our country. I am not marginalized or disenfranchised and I recognize that, if this is the how I feel—this deep, soul-rattling sort of anger—I cannot imagine how it must be for those with a more direct experience of this injustice.

Denying my anger is futile. To do so only buries these feelings, allowing them to fester and foment and erupt in even more vicious ways later. So I must acknowledge it, give it space, and direct it into channels through which it can be most effective. The key is for anger to be de-constructive, not just destructive. Breaking something apart—be it a system, a power structure, a prejudice, or a particular injustice—creates fertile ground in which the seeds of something better can be planted. But to raze the world haphazardly can also function to deepen the divide and ostracize the very people we are trying to learn to live with.

This is not meant to deny or belittle the cathartic role that anger plays in satisfying our collective grief and discontent. This does not mean that anger has to be nice or friendly. But anger must be controlled and calculated for it to be truly effective.

Anger is evidence of compassion. It indicates that our empathy is far reaching, a way of bridging differences instead of entrenching them. Anger means we care—for others, for causes and issues, and for a more just and equitable society.

Am I personally guilty of rash, at times even immature expressions of my own anger? Absolutely. But anger is a process as much as it is a moment and one that I am personally still trying to come to terms with, especially as of late. It is a process that we as a society and as individuals need time to explore and understand. If we truly desire change, we should allow ourselves to be angry, furious even—no one has the right to invalidate this expression, and no one can take this from us. It is absolutely integral, however, that after the smoke has cleared, we have the capacity and the energy left to build something better in its place.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Research, Education, and Outreach: Ghana, June 2014 (June 9th - June 14th)

June 9th, 2014

The project I am working on is called ReBUild which stands for Research and Education in Buruli Ulcer, Inundations, and Land Disturbance. It is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Penn State and the University of Mining and Technology in Tarkwa, Ghana. The project is trying to tackle the very perplexing issue of a relatively under-researched disease called Buruli Ulcer.

Buruli ulcer is like something out of a horror film. First described in 1867 but named for its first recorded outbreak in a small region of Uganda in the 1960’s, it has since become somewhat of a localized epidemic, especially in West Africa. The disease itself is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium ulceranus which is related to the infectious agents that also cause tuberculosis and leprosy. The bacterium (MU for short) infects an individual through a still-unknown process; once infected the individual begins to show preliminary symptoms before the ulcer forms. The bacteria then begins to slowly eat away at the skin and sub-cutaneous fat of the body, opening up potentially huge swaths of flesh to the environment. These ulcers can spread laterally across great sections of the body and they can also begin to cause secondary infections of the muscle tissue and bone.

Buruli ulcer, like TB and leprosy, is completely treatable with antibiotics if caught early. Unfortunately, as a lack of understanding, education and resources are what typify this disease, it often goes untreated, especially among children. All too often, rampant BU infections surge out of control and end in massive deformities, muscular atrophy, debilitating loss of limbs, and even death.

The terrible nature of the disease is only compounded by the fact that it really should not even exist in the first place. The little that is known about the nature of BU is that the bacterium that causes it is waterborne. As a result, outbreaks and endemic communities seem to emerge in concert with land-use change and especially certain kinds of land-disturbance that increase exposure of stagnant water bodies. By default, “land-use” is greatly dictated by economic disparities, both on a global scale and within local communities. Such problems have only been accelerated in the past few decades by the additional impacts of climate change in West Africa resulting in more intense and more unpredictable rainfall events.

So what exists today is an under-treated, under-researched disease with potentially debilitating impacts on thousands of lives that is driven primarily by forces beyond the control of those who suffer from it.

The aim of the 5-year long ReBUild project is to identify a more clear mode of transmission, adding to the knowledge and prevention of this disease, while at the same time directly supporting local communities in regards to education, professional development, health care, and outreach. My role in all of this is that of the research assistant, a position that entails data management, analysis, communication, and working with a team on raw data collection from the field. So far, this has proven as exhausting and challenging as it is fulfilling and enjoyable. I have had the amazing opportunity to work with local people, to hear their stories, to work alongside them in a number of ways, and to absorb this beautiful country along the way.

June 10th, 2014

Diaso is the end of the world. It seems fairly self-evident even to the casual observer but when Petra, our project leader who has worked with development in over 80 countries over the course of 25 years, looks me straight in the eye and tells me so, I believe her. It’s not that Diaso is so far removed or somehow so remote—the best way to describe it would be like the drop-off at the continental shelf where the ocean goes from a few hundred to several thousand meters deep within the course of a few kilometers distance. Few people who don't belong in Diaso ever go to Diaso, and very little other than illegal gold comes out of it. Accra might as well just be another planet instead of the capital of the same country.

The more seasoned member of our research team tell me that the road has been improved dramatically since they first started visiting 5 years ago. The hotel we stay in, generously named “The Peace Hotel”—the only lodging in town—is a dive, although this as well, I am informed, has gotten better in the past few years. There are a precious few places to buy food in town, although beer proves somewhat easier to find.

Diaso is a haphazard collection of dilapidated buildings whose disorganization creates a labyrinth of side-streets and narrow alleys. Each day they are alternatively filled by children and chickens and women collecting water and goats and stray dogs. When it rains, water snakes through these causeways and carries the garbage and loose soil downhill towards the river. Some of the oldest houses stand out not because of their prominence, but because of their relative elevation. Once constructed at ground-level, the earth around them has worn away in the intermittent years leaving behind tiny wooden houses precariously balanced on top of meter high pedestals of compacted earth. The effect is curious and somewhat charming and it lends strange dynamic to an otherwise sleepy town that has risen from the surrounding forests with seemingly little intention.

June 12th, 2014

Today on our way back we stopped at a small clinic in the town of Nkotumso that specializes in treating BU patients. It was a small, unassuming facility, certainly not anywhere near the standards we are used to in the states. There were lots of people, women and men, but also lots of young children. Some had small spots and open sores indicative of the relatively early stage of a Buruli Ulcer infection; others had much more extensive infections, covering entire forearms, hands, lower legs, or thighs,  requiring constant dressing and re-dressing. But despite the alarming appearance of these massive ulcers, they are mostly painless to the patients: the MU bacteria that causes the Buruli Ulcer secretes a necotizing agent that also completely numbs the area. So the dejected looks on the faces of the victims comes more from grim prospects and social stigma than from actual physical pain.

In the communities, we had seen a number of people with BU scars, the hideous results of having large-scale untreated infections; those that manage to survive the ulcer are left with widespread scaring and debilitated or amputated limbs. But seeing young children with active infections was affecting on a whole different level. This is a disease that should not even exist. And yet, it continues to spread as land degradation and climate change drive the conditions that make BU an epidemic in certain communities in West Africa.

Today was a very sobering day.

June 14th, 2014

The tidal waters along the coast are brown and dull against the sky, constantly fed by the alluvial streams that rush towards the ocean as the result of heavy tropical rains. Further out, beyond the breakers, where the fishermen gather in their slender wooden boats with their home-spun nets, the water is pale and gray. It blends with the horizon with the help of a persistent haze that hangs along the beaches and over the waves in the early morning. The moon has not yet set and it sits directly opposite the sun in the sky. They glare at each other over the small outcrop that is Accra until eventually the moon is overtaken by rolling clouds.

On the beach, a man and his dog lead their small herd of goats past heaps of litter and shipping detritus. The animals look for food among the garbage and, as goats always do, they seem to find a few things worth picking at. It is an unimpressive coastline, at least in the most populated areas. This is not a place for many tourists—those beaches are farther away and well-guarded from the dirt and rubble of the poor urban population—but it is not altogether un-beautiful.

Wherever people live, they leave a trace. One of the main traces of poverty, more often than not, tends to be trash. In the developed world we have the luxury having our own waste removed from our sight and from our mind, but we are no less wasteful. There is something more honest—albeit unintentional—about living in the midst of the traces you leave behind. I do not envy the poor, but I care for them and feel very deeply for them; I do not idealize or glorify their condition, but by seeing poverty for what it is and understanding that even the poorest among us has so much to contribute to the world, I think we can begin to level the playing field--at least in a philosophical or cultural sense. The economic, geo-political realm of things takes a different kind of action entirely.

Still, I feel as if this is where I belong. At the crossroads. Creating spaces in which the voiceless have a voice and communicating the reality of the world to those who are otherwise unaware. This brief experience in Ghana has been amazing, but like my years spent in South America and the other time I have spent abroad, this is only the beginning. It’s been so good to sink my toes into African soil once again.

Until next time.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Research, Education, and Outreach: Ghana, June 2014 (June 1st - June 8th)

*These are some edited journal entries from my recent trip to Ghana with a research team from Penn State and the University of Mining and Technology (Ghana). I am working on a more comprehensive and in-depth article for the HuffingtonPost on the Buruli Ulcer disease and illegal mining in Ghana, but in the meantime, these should serve as some nice preliminary reactions to my experience.

June 1st, 2014

            The Sahara is the biggest anything I have ever seen. To fly over it takes hours; but to live in it, I can't even imagine. Right as the desert begins to peter out into precarious trees and cursive streams, our plane enters a wall of dark clouds that reaches miles into the stratosphere. These are the rains of the equatorial African jungles. We are not in the desert anymore.

            The Accra airport has a very limited capacity. And yet, despite the lines and the mass of people, the atmosphere was surprisingly cordial and relatively relaxed (all considering).There are no terminals, just staircases that are wheeled up to the sides of the planes. When they thrust the sardine-can doors open the heaviness of the humid air hits me in the chest like a brick. I have a strange affinity for counties in which sweat is an intimate aspect of everyday life.
            A driver named Abdul takes us from the airport in a rickety car that groans with each gear and at each stop light. On the streets, skinny boys with missing arms and soccer jerseys wash car windows for the locals and turn beggars at the site of foreigners. It’s not a particularly clean city and between the roads, the climate, and the people—even this late at night—it feels a lot like Paraguay. I have never been here before, but it reminds me of a home I once knew so well. Goddammit, it’s good to be back in a country with some character.
            They may be continents apart, but Accra smells the same as Asuncion: in the cities its petrol and diesel fumes, burning trash and rubber all marinated in a deep tropical humidity. Cars, people, livestock, motorcycles, street animals, bikes, trucks, rickshaws and vendors all compete for space along liberally interpreted roads with a relentless chorus of honking and languages and radio stations. This sort of chaos once intimidated me, but now I find it comforting, soothing, even inviting.

June 2nd, 2014

            It is a bird-less morning. That was the first thing I noticed. Maybe it is because we are still in the city, but it was almost 20 minutes before I heard the first bird call and even then it was fleeting and solitary. Boys dot the small rocky bluffs that look out over the ocean and fishermen battle the breakers as they head out for the day. The beach at this part of the renowned “Gold Coast” is nothing to write home about. Ghana's nickname can be misleading: the Gold does not refer to the sand or the beauty, but instead the fact that gold has been funneled from these lands for centuries, first by the British, later by the multinationals, and more recently, by the illegal small-scale 'galamsey' miners in the interior.
            At one point, Ghana was the world's largest producer of raw cacao beans, a title that has waxed and waned over the years as the government and the global markets pushed through cycles of change—rising and falling, expanding and collapsing. All considering and despite its problems, Ghana today has a strong and stable democratic government. Especially when you take into account the state of its neighbors here in West Africa, Ghana is a leader in the region but nonetheless, a large portion of the populace is desperately poor. And while the notion of colonialism disgusts me, I have to thank the Brits for at least one thing: English is widely spoken to a greater or lesser degree.

June 4th, 2014

            The humidity is so thick that a meal sometimes seems redundant. Each lung full of the tropical air fills me up and soaks into my pores until there is no more space left between my cells. We are a ways from the city now in a town called Tarkwa at a small hotel called the Morning Star. This is a gold mining community as are so many other small hubs dotted throughout the interior. The town is crisscrossed by a myriad of rivers and dirt roads and cut right down the middle by a big piece of asphalt—the main “highway”—that pumps trucks and travelers and miners and merchandise through the surrounding villages like an artery.
            Tarkwa, like the rest of southern Ghana, sits in the middle of the equatorial jungle. The original forest was cut down long ago leaving tangled secondary growth in its place. Native saplings are interspersed with groves of coconut, coco palm, cacao, banana, and rubber trees—transplants from South America—and only occasionally lorded over by an old-growth giant lucky enough to have escaped the previous century's botanical holocaust. Most of the country has been deforested. Like so many other brilliant corners of our world, modern man has made a point of extracting resources first and only later asking important conservation questions. Then comes the inevitable scramble to protect what little natural beauty is left so that white tourists still have something to look at other than the wretched poverty of the surrounding population.
            Still, what is growing here, what it living here, buried in the endless green carpet and on the sides of red-dirt hills and in the markets and on the streets, are some of the friendliest people I've ever met. Beautiful faces—these people remind me of the polished Greek busts of antiquity if they had been carved instead out of brilliantly mahogany. The women carry their happy babies on their back inside colorful sashes wrapped around their torso (one of my favorite African practices). On their heads, an endless variety and quantity of other things—food, water, firewood, commercial items, goats, chickens, anything—are balanced with ease. No hands required. Both women and men seem calm, as if their load were nothing but a natural extension of their body.

June 6th, 2014

            The breeze through the coco trees sounds like rain. It looks the sky could open up at any time. There is a storm on the horizon, peeking over the hills. It has looked like this almost the entire time I've been here. The tropics have a mysterious feel. Covert—burying every artifact of human occupation under coils of vines, brush, moss and saplings—and intense, unforgiving, but also vibrant and full of abundance for those who know how to use the resources. Mostly, the jungle just feels indifferent. It has its own agenda and if it weren't for the constant and comprehensive human intrusion, it really wouldn't give a shit about who we are and what we want. We are just another species among the millions that inhabit every available inch.

June 7th, 2014

            I am sipping whiskey and sweating madly while listening to the Pentecostal ministry across the street blast religious fervor into the heavy night air. At the back of my tongue I can still feel the chili spice from the fried goat stew that I had for diner. I am a little drunk and my skin still prickles from a day spent working under a blazing equatorial sun.
            Several days ago we arrived in the town of Dunkwa, northeast of Tarkwa and the Ghanaian capital of Accra. Like Tarkwa—really like every town in the tropical south of Ghana—Dunkwa is a small gold mining city amidst the rolling hills and forest. The streets, even if paved, are muddy and riddled with a moonscape of potholes. Traffic laws seem to be limited to “don't hit another car” but short of that, almost anything goes. Honking is a practical way of communication and does not carry with it the force or frustration that it seems to entail stateside. This is nothing new; this is how the third world—weather Africa or Latin America, in my experience—seems to universally operate. It is glorious, muddy mess but it works.
            Dunkwa is a strange twilight zone caught between competing, dichotomous worlds. On the one hand are the local people, mostly of Ashanti tribal origins and speaking the indigenous language of Twi; they survive through either subsistence agriculture, commercial cocoa farming, illegal mining, or by working in the service sector for the multitudes of prospectors that have been drawn like flies to the abundant gold.
            Then there are the foreigners, the predominantly white representatives of the multinational conglomerates who stumble up from the coast and into the jungle in order to oversee the mining interests in the region. Lastly, there are the Chinese, thousands of them (much less since the Ghanaian president forcefully removed them from the country about a year ago). This transplant population consists mostly of single men who stole their way into this country from China under the guise of tourist visas in order to insert themselves illegally into the prolific scramble for Ghana's mineral wealth. It seems like a confusing mix of peoples and cultures, but the promise of gold buried just under these thin forest soils has always had such an effect on men.
            And despite the infusion of people, foreign capital and the promise of wealth and riches, Dunkwa remains an extremely poor place. Shanty living facilities start at the very center and extend outwards into the countryside. There is little infrastructure, intermittent electricity (on a good day), and undrinkable water. The surrounding communities are even more impoverished and they are only getting worse as the legal and illegal mining industry slowly consumes more of the land, depriving livelihoods and poisoning the environment.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

4 Months On

       When I walked into the grocery store today I was greeted by a huge display of mangoes.
        As I looked up at the mountain of Platonic, palm-sized fruit, I tried my best not to think about Paraguay. I rushed to gather a few into a bag but when I smelled their tangy sweetness and felt their soft skin for the first time since I left South America, it drew me right back and down into a flood of memories. And right there, in the middle of the produce section at the local Rockville Giant, I became hopelessly lost in a stifling Paraguayan afternoon, swimming in an ocean of my own sweat, punch drunk on summer fruit, and high on hand-rolled cigars. For a brief moment, I was once again sitting on the porch with my dog as we polished off diner, gnawing at bones and surveying the night as it slowly descended on the forest. I was sitting with an old man, sipping tea and talking about the weather. For hours. For days. For lifetimes.
        And in my mind there is no music. Just a few words and crickets and birds, a crackling fire, screaming cicadas, howling monkeys, and when it storms, the tremendous drums of heaven.

        I walked out of my house this morning with the sun in my face and for a second, before my eyes adjusted, I thought I was back in the jungle. I thought that somehow I had been dreaming this whole time and that today, finally, I had woken up at my home—a small little shack surrounded by pasture and swamp and forest that smells like sugar cane with the northern winds and rain with the southern. Instead, I opened my eyes to suburbia Americana and I knew that if I did not get out of this place soon it would kill me. Through its comfort, its unadulterated comfort, it would kill me by means of complacency and nothingness and sheep-like apathy.
        You see, I know my time in Paraguay was far from perfect. In fact sometimes it almost killed me, quite literally. Still, I wonder how much of life we surrender with the ease of modernity, of progress. We express ourselves in 140 characters, finding cheap pleasures in consumerism and commodities—bought and sold—and living vicariously through fictional characters on TV.
        This is my hell.
        While I don't want to idealized my time in Paraguay with its slew of hardships and challenges, it was a level of existence I had never previously experienced. It was liberating and empowering, in a very Walden-esque sort of way, because no matter what happened, good or bad, it all came down to a few basic things: me, the few people around me, the weather, the necessities of survival, the necessities of sanity, the natural world, and my own mission and convictions. All of these things were at least a little more comprehensible and visible without the chaos of this collective, social American conglomerate.
        My time in Paraguay was like time spent in love. A fever-like insanity, as much from the heat and the struggle as from actual disease, in which you loose track of both time and space. But it was also nurturing and fulfilling, showing me parts of myself and the world I had never previously known and graciously giving me time to mull them over. It was day and night, summer and winter, and everything in between. I froze, I sweat, I laughed, I wept and I did so all with an audience of trees and an endless sun.
        I have as much desire to return to Paraguay as I do to be in love again. That is, despite all my inclinations towards personal health and safety, I want it so desperately sometimes it hurts. But like love, wanderlust cannot be captured, it must surrender to you on its own accord and in its own time. And so, for the moment, I wait—hideously disfigured in a strange world that I no longer recognize, caricatured by the skin-deep facade, hollowed out by a disconnect from nature. 
        Either way, something is going to kill me, I know that. Its just that I want to die in the right way: with singing birds in my ears and love in my heart.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My First and Last Post After Peace Corps--For Ivan

        There is a boy who lived in Guido Almada. His name was Ivan Fariña and when I arrived in that place sometime in December of 2011, he was only 2 years old. At the time, he was just learning to speak and as he began juggling Guarani and Spanish, like most young Paraguayans do, he also began incorporating me into his daily life. I worked extensively with his family over my time in Paraguay and his home became one of my favorite and most frequented stops on my rounds through the community or for parties or during the holidays.
        Ivan was a troublemaker. He loved finding his boundaries, testing his limits and then stepping over the lines ever so slightly. He was an incredibly smart little kid although he never learned to pronounce my name properly. To him, I was always “Mano”, the name he would yell from his grandfather's lap every-time he saw me approaching. He knew how to endear himself to people, if at the same time also push their buttons. And he was a total ladies man.
        I cared deeply about this boy. I spent many afternoons watching over him while his parents were out in the fields and tending to the animals. I helped him eat and kept him in line during some meals when his mother was too busy to babysit. We played with his few little toy trucks in the dirt patch in front of his house. We kicked the soccer ball. He was a happy, bright, beautiful little boy. After two years and countless time together, I came to love him very much.
        Ivan was never a sick boy, at least no more so than any other poor Paraguayan children tend to be. Of the few times I remember him being ill, it hardly ever seemed to sap his energy and certainly never diminished his spirit.
        The week after I left Paraguay, Ivan became very sick. He was hospitalized for several weeks, then a month. It seemed like he was getting better although so much time certainly took its toll on his small 4-year-old frame. I imagine his body becoming worn and ragged by some disease that he just couldn't seem to shake, but his smile, his light, never dimming even for a minute. Then several nights ago I got the news: at 10 pm, Ivan passed away. A child, a little 4 year old boy, a beloved son and a grandson, my little buddy, fell victim to some illness, some terrible disease, to the poverty of his people. He was dead. That light had been irrevocably extinguished.

        The cemetery in Guido Almada is not large. The community itself is comparatively new and though many people have passed, the plots are modest, as much a product of economics as necessity. I have been there many times. I have prayed there many afternoons. It is a beautiful place, beautifully Paraguayan in its setting and the surrounding landscape. But it belies one subtle and yet heartbreaking reality: most of the graves are small. Child sized.
        Child mortality, something heartrendingly inconceivable to many in the developed world, is something much too common for children and families in the developing world. Out of all the families I lived and worked with during my time in Paraguay, all of them had either lost a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or a cousin at some point in their lives. In the absence of decent medical care and without the financial means to access the paltry facilities that do exists, people face death—real, tragic, human death—as a matter of their daily lives. Women must give birth to stillborn babies. Parents must watch helplessly as their children wither away. Brothers and sisters must say goodbye to their closest companions before the age when they can understand what death is all about.
        I don't mean to paint a picture of some sort of hell or holocaust. Surely, it is not so bad and for the most part, despite their poverty and circumstance, these people live happy lives. But we should not forget: the chasm between the developed and developing world still exists today and we should do everything in our power, especially in this modern day in age, to close that distance. I don't care with what religion or political ideology you affiliate; I don't care how you label yourself or what you feel your moral obligation is to the world: the fact that daily thousands of children die of preventable diseases, malnutrition, and neglect is simply unacceptable. In our own way, we all bare some of the blame and some of the responsibility for this state of our world. Even you. Even me.

        I wrote the preceding few paragraphs some weeks ago. I didn't have the words (and still don't) for so much of what this transition home from the Peace Corps has been like. I have almost decided to give up on trying to communicate it entirely. If anything, that is what two years in the campo have done for me: made me really good at dealing with my own shit without relying on others. Still, I have forced myself to write this story down and share it with people—for Ivan's sake and for the sake of the thousands of other starving, sick, dying children there are in the world tonight.
        When I received the news of Ivan's passing, I felt as if my heart fell straight down and out of my body. My lungs stopped working. I broke down into a pile of sobbing, chaotic tears. I didn't know what to do, how to help, and I couldn't begin to imagine the emptiness that my friends, my community, my Peace Corps family must be feeling. For them, I have few words except for I love you, I will always remember, and I am sorry I had to leave when I did. I wish I could be there to share the heartbreak with you. I hope you know how much I care.
        So as I exorcise these last emotional demons from a body and mind that has been so thoroughly (and thankfully) ravaged by two years of life in a poor Paraguayan community, I hope that I can move on with a purpose. That I can take the lessons I have learned, the lives I have shared, and the love I have been given and make a difference in this world. And even though I daily feel as if I am now living and working in his memory, it is too late for Ivan, but not for the countless thousands of others out there.

I love you, little buddy. I miss you. I will remember you always.

-little hupo