Monday, April 17, 2017

California Bound: Lonely Roads and Sleeping in the Car

I tucked myself into my down sleeping bag as best as I could in a sitting position. I listened to the audiobook that was covering the sounds at the truck stop in Wyoming. Outside it was 21F (-6C) and soon it would be close to freezing in the car. I tucked a blanket over the window to shield the lights of the street lamps from disrupting my sleep. I shifted every couple of minutes trying to find a comfortable position banging my knee on the steering wheel.

Somewhere in Utah
My car was packed to the ceiling with all my worldly possessions. I starred over to the passenger seat where my friend had drawn a set of eyes on a piece of tape. She named him Quacker McQuackpants. For some reason iQuaker McQuackpants made me feel a little less alone. The cold night lasted for what seemed to be years.

Hanging with Quacker McQuackpants

Less than a month ago I found out that I matched into my top choice for residency. That day seemed like just yesterday. I held the letter in my hand, written inside was going to be the residency program where I would spend the next three years. My whole body was shaking as I waited to for the dean of our medical school to count down from three. Around me a hundred and sixty other students held their own letters.

As the dean counted down to zero I thought about what my life would be like if I ended up in Ohio or New York. "3... 2 ... 1 ... Open your letters." I could not tear the letter open fast enough. Part of me was scared of what I would read, another part of me was anxious to see where I would be moving.

Pediatrics at the University of Southern California!

Fast forward a month later .... It was only 40 hours ago that I left New Jersey. I am driving my gold Prius back to California. The first day I drove through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and slept in the Worlds Largest Truck Stop in Iowa. Now I was freezing cold zipped into a down sleeping bag sitting in my gold Prius in a truck stop in Wyoming. After drifting in and out of sleep I woke up to my Pius covered in ice.

Somewhere in Nebraska
I let the car warm up while I purchased a cup of coffee and an egg and cheese sandwich at the gas station connivence store. It was the last leg of my three day cross country trip. Only half of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California left to reach my home in the San Fransisco Bay Area.

Bonneville Salt Flats - Utah
I completed two audio books and listened to the same playlist six times in the span of my trip, the lyrics of Drake's Passionfruit permanently ingrained in my head. I drove through the Appalachian mountains (hills) in Pennsylvania, the flat farmlands of Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska. I was awed by the moon-like terrain of Wyoming and Utah. I tasted the water from the salt lakes. I would not recommend it.

Donner Lake
Finally I passed the sign "Welcome to California." I stopped in Truckee and Donner Lake to reminisce about the mountains and see how much snow has fallen this year. Lastly I stopped at In-N-Out before arriving to my parents home. I drove close to 15 hours a day to reach California in three days. Finally I am home and I am here to stay... at least for the next three years.

Animal Fries- In-N-Out

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Winter Wonderland - White Mountains, New Hampshire

On Friday a group of friends and I headed up to Lincoln, New Hampshire for a winter weekend getaway. Little did we know that that weekend would have summer-like weather back in Philly. As we traveled north dressed in down coats and snow pants, we watched friends back home snap chatting in summer dresses eating ice cream.

After almost eight hours of driving and stopping at random rest stops we finally arrived at our hotel.
We stayed at Franconia Notch Motel, which was a relatively cheap option for those going to the White Mountains for skiing and hiking. It was already dark so we decided to stay in the motel to play Dirty Minds. We laughed late into the night.

The next morning we woke up early to go hiking. Of course we had only one set of micro-spikes, so we headed into Littleton to buy some cheap boot spikes for the hike. At first we could not find a shop that sold them in small enough sizes for our boots. My friend Constance decided to use bright yellow rope to create a make-shift traction device on her boot. To prove that it would work she jumped up and down on an icy pile of snow. The rope unraveled in a couple seconds. Luckily we found a small sports store that sold cheap spikes.

We headed to the Lonesome Lake trailhead and began our ascent to the Lonesome Lake Hut in Franconia Notch State Park. As we began to climb the steep icy trail, we were immediately grateful for our micro-spikes. One step at a time we climbed into the clouds. The trail was well marked and easy to follow, but if you happened to step off the narrow path your foot would sink immediately into snow up to your knees. Within an hour and a half we stumbled out onto the lake.

The lake was completely frozen over. The thick clouds made it impossible for us to see across. After a long photoshoot jumping in the snow we set off to find the Lonesome Lake Hut. We followed a narrow trail across a couple bridges to a small set of cabins tucked away behind the trees. As we opened the door warm air and the smell of fresh coffee hit our faces. Inside the main cabin was a handful of cafeteria style wooden tables, a small wood stove, and a smattering of warm smiles. A young woman greeted us. Brownies, hot chocolate and coffee were waiting for us on the counter.

We took off our heavy jackets and warmed up over a cup of coffee and a topographic map of the area. Other hikers trickled in. A nice gentleman started up a conversation, intrigued by the group of female student doctors warming up in this remote mountain lodge. He turned out to be a malpractice lawyer.

After a hot bowel of soup and toasted bagel we put back on our winter jackets and micro-spikes and headed back out into the cold. As we starred out across the lake before turning to head back to the car, the clouds began to lift and briefly we could see the other side. The Lonesome Lake Hut offers bunks for travelers hoping to stay in the area. Its a great location for day hikes in that area.

Heading down was harder than expected. We lost one spike on the way up so I offered to go down with just one boot spike. The slippery trail was challenging until my friend Shelly had a brilliant idea. Before you knew it, the four of us were sliding down the steep trail on our bottoms. The clouds began clearing giving us a view across the canyon to Mount Lafayette. Until the clouds cleared I didn't realize how far we had actually hiked.

Exhausted, we finally reached the car. Not wanting to miss a beat we headed to Flume Gorge. During the summer Flume Gorge is a popular destination for families. It boasts wooden walkways taking hikers deep into the green gorge. In the winter these wooden walkways are taken down but the gorge is still breathtaking, with its ice palisades, spilling over the edges, making it a popular destinations for ice climbers.

We finally headed back to the motel just in time to take off again to rent ski's for the next day. We headed to Exit 28 Ski and Snowboard Rental to pick up skis for $25. Its much cheaper than the resorts in the area. On the way back we stopped into Lincoln for Thai food. We headed to bed early, allowing the sounds of the river passing below our window to lull us to sleep.

The next morning we woke up early, outfitting ourselves in ski clothes to head to Waterville Valley Resort. It is a medium size resort, but due to the poor winter season was for the most part closed. Only the lower runs were open. The runs were very icy and hard to navigate, especially for new skiers.

My friends Lakhvir and Shelly wanted to learn skiing. We headed up to the top of the bunny hill, but at the top I realized I am a terrible ski instructor. My friends decided to take a professional lesson. I headed up the only other lift open. The conditions were terrible. Half of the trails were covered in ice. After 10 runs I decided to call it a day. I went back to the bunny hill to check on my friends. They were still in their lesson. They looked exhausted.

The instructor seemed really nice and very patient. He happened to be from Chile. After his lesson I convinced him to join me on one last run. We talked about Chile and he gave me a few tips on how to handle the icy patches on the trail. We piled back into the car and headed back home to Philly.

Overall we had an adventurous weekend. I will definitely return, maybe for some ice climbing and to stay in the Lonesome Lake Hut. Who wants to join?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Are You a Stealers Fan?

I am currently in Pittsburgh for a medical student rotation. Its perfect time to be in Pittsburgh, the leaves are changing color and hare turning the city and surrounding forests into rainbows.

Recently I visited McConnell's Mill, which is 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh. This is a 7 mile trail. To the hike the entire trail you either have to take cars to both ends or hike 14 miles. I decided to hike as far as I could in a half a day. It ended up only being about 6 miles. The trail follows Slippery Rocks River which runs through the park.

I also visited Mount Washington and took the "Incline" tram up. This is an old trolly that takes you up and down the mountain. This is a great adventure for both day and night. If you plan to go at night don't forget to have a bite to eat at one of the restaurants at the top. The views are amazing.

Other than hiking there are plenty of restaurants to try. Check out Shake Shack, Meat and Potatoes, Primanti Brothers, and Big Dog Coffee.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Celebrating with Family in Kenya

I am jumping back into time when I spend Easter with an amazing family in Kenya. I went with my coworker Judy and her family to her rural home for Easter celebrations. When we pulled in, our group was welcomed by signing and dancing. We exchanged hugs and handshakes with all the family members and were escorted into the home dancing, signing and clapping.

We had arrived a bit late so lunch was already ready and waiting for us. We sat down in the small living room and were given an enormously large plate of food. The plate had brown ugali, sakuma wiki, cabbage, beef, fried potatoes, rice, beans and stewed chicken. I struggled to eat the large portion of food. When the meal was over we headed to a small make-shift tent.

The next two hours consisted of sermons from many of the party attendants. We sang and clapped between sermons. After two hours it was time to give gifts. One by one each person, group or family offered something to the host family. We clapped and sang as lassos and blankets were put around the necks of the elders. We sat Judy's parents in front of a small table and began setting gifts of milk, sugar, flour and cooking utensils in front of them.

When the singing was over we said bye to party attendants who were leaving that evening. I explored the estate with some of the kids in the neighborhood. I had a photoshoot with Judy's father and their cow. I took many pictures with the family.

Soon it was dinner time. I was still stuffed from lunch but I forced myself to eat the rice, potatoes and beans. As the sun set the family illuminated a small solar powered light. Other than that light there was no other power in the house.

As guests we were ushered to another small home still under-construction to sleep. We lit the small oil lamps and prepared for bed. The next morning we boiled water over the open fire and took showers behind curtains in an opening field.

Once clean and fed, the family loaded into Judy's brothers car and headed to Lake Bogoria. Lake Bogoria is an hour drive from Judy's rural home. Its located at the bottom of the rift valley surrounded by dry dessert-like scenery. The park entrance is 500 ($5) for resident students and 300 ($3) for citizens.

Before driving into the park we loaded up with snacks, raw eggs, cookies and soda. We headed off through the dirt roads, keeping our eyes out for wild animals in the shrubbery surrounding the lake. We headed straight to the thermals, located 45 minutes from the southern entrance of the park.

When we arrived at the thermals we were starving. With the the help of a guy near the thermals we were shown how to cook our raw eggs in the hot water. We watched them boil in the bubbling water. The water was so hot that it felt like a sauna around the thermals.

We then headed back down the dirt road and stopped to enjoy the group of flamingo's that bathed in the lake. On the way back home we stopped in a small town for lunch. It was a small hole in the wall restaurant with only one dish. They called it the "special." It was a mixture of potatoes, rice, noodles, beans and broth. After filling up we headed back to Eldoret.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Not so Dry Tortugas National Park

Have you heard about Dry Tortugas National Park? Four weeks ago I had not. When I stumbled upon it on google maps it immediately went to the top of my bucket list. In commemoration for the centennial birthday of the U.S. National Park Service I will be telling you about my experience camping at Dry Tortugas National Park. 

Dry Tortugas National Park is located 67 miles from Key West Florida. It's a small remote cluster of islands that is home to Fort Jefferson, built in 1846, to protect the U.S. From the gulf. Most of the fort walls still stand today giving the island an interesting lure for tourists. This hexagon shaped brick fort with two story high walls takes up the majority of Garden Island, the most popular of the Dry Tortuga Islands. 

As you approach the islands, it's red brick walls and it's perfect polygonal shape, contrast from the other islands passed on the two hour journey from key west. There are many ways to get to Dry Tortugas National Park. You can sail your own boat, you can hire a seat on the pontoon, or you can use the cheapest option; the daily ferry. You can choose between a single day trip or a multi-day trip. Single day trips leave at 8am and return around 5:30pm. 

Of course when I heard there was camping on the island, I could not imagine a better way to learn and explore Dry Tortugas National Park. When the 175 people board the ferry at 3pm back to Key West, the island is left to the handful of campers, the private boaters and the park rangers. This gives campers the feeling that they are on a deserted island. 

Immediately when I disembarked the boat I made my way the the most prime real estate to pitch my tent. I erected my tent ten strides from the beach behind a gnarly tree furthest from the other camping sites. Seconds after I threw my bags into the tent it began to pour. As there was not much else to do I ran out into the water. I floated near the beach watching bolts of lightning strike the sea around me.

As the rain began to calm I decided to try snorkeling. I headed to the north beach and swam out into hundreds of thousands of small fish. Large tarpon swam by eating the small fish. After I walked over to south beach and swam through the pilings of an old ruined dock. Here the posts had been covered by coral and many colorful fish swam in and out of the posts. Swimmers are warned to stay far from the coral, as most of the pilings were covered with fire coral, which stings if you touch it. 

As I swam back to shore I saw a large dark fish swimming towards me on the sea bottom which was only 3 meters down. The large dark grey fish turned out to be a shark. I tried to stay calm as I watched the 6 foot long shark swim only meters from me. Quickly I swam back, checking once to make sure I was not being followed.

When I reached shore I realized everyone had left. The the island was quiet now. Storm clouds loomed in every direction. I began exploring the fort, walking through the parade grounds, climbing the walls, and inspecting the cannons. I was intersected by a ranger who asked if I wanted to catch some dinner. Other than a veggie dog, I didn't have much to eat, so I agreed and followed him and the other four campers to the dock. 

The park ranger showed us how to cast a circle net to collect bait fish. I practiced a couple time but wasn't very good and the fish were too fast for me. After a couple tries I decided to try my hand at fishing with the bait fish that had already been caught. I threaded the circle hook through the small bait fish and cast out the line of the hand fishing reel. The ranger sad it was like fishing in an aquarium because there were so many fish. I didn't have much luck. The smart snappers were just stealing my fish right off the hook. 

I was getting hungry. I cashed out the line one more time. When I felt the tug, I released my line a bit. The line still felt heavy so I began to reel it back in. Something tugged at my line as I pulled. I watched in astonishment when I hauled in a foot long snapper. This was the second fish I have ever caught, the first was the piranha in the Amazon. The ranger taught us how to clean, gut, and fillet the fish. I wrapped my fish in foil and took it back to my campsite to cook.

That night I feasted on snapper and veggie dogs. I hauled my dessert up to the fort ramparts facing west to watch the sunset just as it began to pour. I gave up on my hope to watch the sunset as all could see was the rain in my eyes and the dark clouds blocking the sun. I decided instead to walk around the moat wall the lined the fort. At night, alone, it's a bit scary. Waves turned up by the storm hit the moat wall and sprayed water over the surface. I walked hoping the crocodile that lived on the island would not pop out and scary me. 

As the storm passed the clouds began to clear. Thousands of stars began to shine over Dry Tortugas National Park. They say on a clear day you can see the arm of the Milky Way, I could begin to see it as I headed to bed. 

The night was windy, humid, and hot. I am never that comfortable sleeping on a small camp mat, adding all the other elements made it very difficult to fall asleep. Once I did, I didn't want to wake up. That morning I packed my bag and I set it out to be picked up by that day's ferry. It was the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park Services so they had a special treat for visitors. After a flag raising ceremony and cutting of a huge cake, they had reenactments of what it was like living on Dry Tortugas so long ago. 

I then headed out with the other campers to snorkel. The visibility on both sides of the island was poor and there were more jellyfish so we gave up and decided to tour the fort. As I walked around the fort again I bumped into a friend I had made at Key West. We decided to try snorkeling one more time. We went back to the piling and it had cleared up a bunch. There were still jelly fish, but they were not the dangerous ones. We got out of the water just in time to board the boat back to Key West. I slept half of the boat ride back, the rocking of the boat was soothing and I was very tired.

Overall Dry Tortugas was a great experience. It's definitely one of those places you got to do at least once. I have always supported the National Park Service, so it was great to spends its 100th birthday on Dry Tortuga. Maybe one day I will be back, hopefully with my own boat. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What is Body Safety Education?

I arrived in Kenya eleven months ago. I am only a month away from my return to the USA. I am a bit sad that I will be leaving but I am hoping to leave a positive change here in Kenya since Kenya has made such a positive change on me. Kenya has taught me so much. I have learned about new cultural practices and traditions. I am nervous I will return to the USA and greet everyone in a room with handshakes and cheek kisses. I have learned a good amount of Kiswahili to the point that words like "sawa" (ok), "pole" (sorry), "asante" (thanks) and "sasa" (whats up) are integrated into my vocabulary. USA get ready to hear a mzungu speaking random words of kiswahili.

In addition Kenya has taught me so much about medicine. I have been working with AMPATH Clinic on a project helping children living with HIV. I have learned the resilience of these children and the dedication of the people supporting them. Kenya is such a beautiful country with so many kind and generous people. I have made life-long friends here and I hope come back and visit soon.

Kenya also taught me how to manage a research project and work with a team to meet our goals. Six months ago one of our research assistants brought to my attention a handful of cases of sexual abuse of children at his clinic. He was asking for help and guidance and we saw an opportunity to fill a gap.

One in three girls and one in five boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18 based on a survey in 2010 in Kenya (1). Unfortunately sexuality is a taboo subject in Kenya and there is a large amount of stigma that surrounds children who have been sexually abused and their families. Rarely children in Kenya receive education about how to keep their private parts safe and prevent inappropriate touches. For many educators and healthcare providers its hard or embarrassing to talk about these topics of sexuality.

Thanks Maria Schlatter (Mom) for the book illustrations
In the hopes to fill in this educational gap my team developed a culturally friendly book that would educate children about private parts, good and bad touches and what to do if they experience inappropriate touches. At the same time the book helps healthcare providers and educators feel more comfortable about this topic. In addition it helps raise awareness in the community about the importance of educating and supporting our children.

Thanks Maria Schlatter (Mom) for the book illustrations
After a four month study we are finally ready to bring this book to the community. Surveys of study participants have created a list of where we can send these books. This includes orphanages, schools, churches, mosques, village elders, community outreach events and more. In the hopes to get these books out we hope to print a thousand books, but we need all the help we can get. 

Please visit: to donate!  Thanks so much for all your help.

(1) UNICEF, CDC, Together for the Girls, Kenya Vision 2030, (2010) Violence Against Children in Kenya Findings from a 2010 National Survey.