Nicaragua Journal 2!

Week two of this exciting trip is drawing to a close. I have so much to discuss and the weekend trip hasn’t even started yet. In class we are learning about cooler and cooler engineering material. I built a flashlight and an AC/DC rectifier! All this stuff must be really simple for the engineers but completely new to me. On the other hand, Spanish is getting more and more boring. Sure, I am picking up a few more vocabulary words here and there but this endless grammar review that we all already know cannot be more useless. Though today Mayela pretty much just taught us cursewords and will help us with more technical Spanish next week. On the bright side, my medical school apps are done! There are at most a few minor tweaks and to narrow down my list of schools. I plan to watch every single NBA playoffs game after submission.

Today I have three events to comment on, the Mother’s Day outing, our work in the hospital, and the gender inequality in Nicaragua. Today was Mother’s Day in Nicaragua, a national cultural holiday even more significant than in the United States. Many mothers had the day off or had reduced hours. Raj and I bought the two mothers in our house flowers after class and invited them to dinner. At first, I wondered to myself “what have I done” as they eagerly brought along the rest of the family and mentioned a restaurant specializing in chicken in the tourism center of town. I wasn’t sure how much money to bring, but I braced for the dinner to exceed a thousand Cordoba. On the way there, I was grumpy at having gotten myself into this situation and that attitude manifested itself in the humidity, how far it was, and how slowly we were walking. Once we arrived, I realized that the restaurant was actually just a fast food place and our meal for six people cost ended up costing only $28. Even on their night out, they picked a fast food place to dine to stay financially conscious. I was ashamed at my annoyance and became more conscious of the financial impact Raj and I had on their lifestyle.

We went to the hospital on Thursday instead of Mother’s Day Friday to give you a sense of the significance of the holiday. My group did even more exciting hospital work; including performing maintenance on more AC units, cleaning centrifuges, and even climbed up to a roof. I was so impressed at the friendliness of the technicians in giving us new tasks and patiently explaining them to us. I realized how capable the hospital was at running on its own. Sure, we provide slightly better tools and more hands for labor, but the technicians were much more skilled than us in the hospital duties. It seemed like we weren’t there to help, but rather to learn.

The last topic that struck out was the heavy gender inequality in Nicaragua. If we thought it was bad in the United States, a feminist would be so uncomfortable. Luckily I don’t have to worry about the stares and remarks that the girls get from random strangers. I also feel comfortable walking home late at night alone as long as I’m not carrying something valuable. But the most interesting thing I’ve noticed is the Machinismo presence in the Church. We learned in class about the controversial abortion ban in Nicaragua, that is one of the harshest in the world. It was pushed through by the Catholic Church, in a country that is overwhelmingly Catholic. The history lesson included how politicians that opposed the ban were systematically destroyed by the church. I can understand the influence and the reasoning behind it, but interestingly, Nicaragua is one of the few countries where prostitution is still legal. Sex before marriage not intended for the glorification of God is also clearly opposed by the bible. This inconsistency reveals that it isn’t quite the church that’s in power; it’s the men in the church. This problem in selectively emphasizing certain passages in the bible and ignoring others is a common problem for individuals, which stretches here to the national level.

Two random memorable thoughts from today: 1) this process completes the breadth of research of my science background, as Yinka puts it. I’ve done basic science organic chemistry research, clinical research, and now translational technology research (not really research, more like learning)
2) Justin Palpant genuinely wondered if I even knew how to curse

First Post in Nicaragua!

I’m currently writing this blog entry from my laptop, which is plugged into an extension cord that I made in one of the lab sessions. This allows me to both charge my phone while simultaneously keeping the fan on from the one wall outlet, and have great flexibility in my room. I can’t believe I actually built something so useful! I’m simultaneously aware that all the other engineers here probably find all of it really easy, but I find the afternoon sessions really interesting!

Today was really exciting! We went to El Hospital Japon, which is on the northwest side of the city. It was a sprawling hospital filled with many small courtyards. Each courtyard began with a central reception and processing station, comprised of benches which served as waiting areas, and was surrounded by rooms where the patients saw the doctor. Someone said that healthcare is almost free in Nicaragua, but as a result, it may take up to two weeks to see a doctor.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the hospital ran. Everyone knew their roles perfectly and there were enough infrastructures to provide adequate medical care. Obviously, this is far below a standard American hospital; the dentistry office had two chairs and the pediatric ICU had three cribs. But considering my expectations from the non-tourist areas of Nicaragua, this was a pleasant surprise. This reflects importantly on the necessity for correct attitudes when doing international service work. Yes, you probably have more resources and better knowledge, but often there is a system already in place that you should not intrude on. Rather, you should try to assimilate and then gradually improve what you can within the system.

Our job for the day was to be as helpful as possible to the hospital. There was a pile of completely broken equipment in the center of the courtyard. Eagerly, the engineers began to organize and form plans to salvage as much of the equipment as possible. That initial enthusiasm wore off though, and we started talking to several technicians working off on a side. They were able to get everyone together and divided off into our groups where we were much more productive.

Someone remarked that the chairs in the dentist’s office looked like torture racks. I actually thought they didn’t look that bad at all. This was during group sharing and perhaps people wanted to exaggerate their stories to make it seem more interesting, and spoken with a hidden sense of belittlement at the Nicaraguan hospital.

The work was interesting and cool. I’ve never disassembled anything even remotely close to an air conditioning unit before. It was pretty hot, but at the end, I felt an immense satisfaction. The recipients of our finished product were very thankful and I took a relaxing break. While we were working, the other engineers starting giving reasons why they were engineers and not doctors. It would be too stressful, wouldn’t be as interesting, etc. But I smiled to myself, knowing that none of those reasons applied to me. Working on a machine doesn’t come even close to working with people. I would much rather be a doctor talking to patients on a case by case basis, than an engineer working on a machine on a case by case basis. I guess I am on the correct career track after all!

Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue

My favorite story of the week was told by the speaker for the intercultural and interfaith dialogue speaker, Abdullah Antepli.

One day he was working as a Muslim chaplain in a hospital when a doctor told him there was a lady on the third floor that would benefit from his service. Abdullah went up to find an elderly Muslim lady, looking sad and clearly uncomfortable with the unfamiliar hospital setting. She was worried that the food wasn’t allowed by her religion, she hadn’t been able to pray, and she was didn’t quite understand what was going on. Abdullah told us that if there was one person in the world that could use a Muslim chaplain, it was her.

He proceeded to calm her worries and explain every question she had. He helped her order the menu items she could eat. He worked with the hospital staff to get her in a position to pray. After some time, the lady was much happier and Abdullah said he had turned her into a “happy Christmas tree.” As he was leaving, the old lady reached out to him. “Thank goodness you came to help me. Before you, a terrible Christian had tried to convert me!” (She was mistaken, she had mistaken the intentions of a doctor with a necklace of the cross.)

But Abdullah said to her, “But the Christian is the reason why I am here.”

Reflect on that story a little. The tolerance showed by the Muslim chaplain is admirable. There is a reason why he gave the opening prayer to Congress, as the first Muslim since 9/11. All the major religions share the notions of love and kindness for others, and all have people who forget this and abuse their religion. Islam has certainly developed a bad reputation because of the extremists within it, as have Christianity. So many people I’ve met are not even willing to consider Christianity (or potentially any other religion if in similar circumstances) because someone in their past has abused the religion and acted against its principles of love and kindness. Indirectly, this story exemplifies how Christianity wants that lady to be loved and cared for regardless of her religion.

Abdullah Antepli writes a weekly column for Duke’s Chronicle. I encourage you to read his other articles here. In terms of intercultural awareness, he also encouraged us to read one of the famous novels of that country, look at the calendar of major holidays, know the history with the depth of a high school history book (and understand why Latin America would hate the United States for its past imperialist aggressions), and be familiar with the World Cup this summer.


Tom Fitzpatrick gave me a bible for my birthday today! It is ridiculously nice and I can’t wait to read it this summer. I’ve read and heard enough interpretations, and now I finally have time to read it on my own to come to my own understanding.

And happy Mothers Day!

Michael Sam!

I couldn’t help but feel extremely happy while watching the following video.

Michael Sam publicly declared that he was gay after his college football season, where he was a standout defensive end at Missouri, earning Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC. At great risk of his professional career, he made his declaration before the draft because he wanted the team that drafted him to accept him and move forward with his football skills.

The comment boards on ESPN are a good place to gain an idea of the general reaction to an issue. People can post either with their real profile and take accountability for their words, or post under fake accounts, essentially posting whatever they want anonymously without fear of backlash. The posts with a great deal of agreement get hundreds of likes, while the highly controversial ones get much fewer likes.

Being the first openly gay player in the NFL is an amazing stride. When Michael Sam first declared, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. After that died down, people expressed frustration and annoyance that they didn’t care about Michael Sam being gay. Now after the draft, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive again. But I want to address those people who don’t see the point. Why do we care that Michael Sam is gay?

The answer is that such a public acceptance is necessary to deal with all the negativity towards gays. Months after Jason Collins of the Brooklyn Nets became the first openly gay player, homophobic jokes still rampaged across the internet, especially in the comment sections of articles that mentioned Jason Collins. Gay players exist in all realms of sports. It is because of these external pressures still practiced by society that keeps them in fearful hiding from becoming public. We may say that we don’t care when their declaration is met with acceptance, but this acceptance is extremely important to other gay athletes so they can see that times have changed and it is alright to become public.

But is it actually okay to come public? Michael Sam is an important symbol to garner public support. His declaration was met with public acceptance because of social progress, because of huge name celebrities that supported him, and because he was an extremely successful football player. But as I was sitting at my laptop this afternoon keeping updated with the last few rounds of the NFL draft, I began to worry. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year should easily be drafted in the first three rounds. Here we are with only the seventh round remaining, and Michael Sam still hasn’t been drafted; ESPN maintains that headline singling him out on their homepage. It was already clear that being gay has negatively impacted his draft stock. What if he doesn’t get drafted at all? The headlines that expected the NFL to have its first openly gay player would need to be retracted. What message does that send to all the other gay athletes? We’ve made some progress, but there is still much to go.

I had to leave for a family outing and when I got back, I was extremely relieved to find that Michael Sam was drafted after all, in the last round by the St. Louis Rams. I guess that this was a good lesson to be reminded that things shouldn’t be taken for granted. If Michael Sam was even the slightly worse football player, things could have turned out very poorly. But still, the last round for such a good player? I have a game-theory based theory on why he was drafted so late. So every team wants to pick the best available player they think won’t be available when they get to pick again the next round. If a team has two nearby picks and want to pick players A and B, they can take into account how much the teams in between those picks want each player. If those teams really want A but not B, the team can pick player A and correctly expect that player B is still around afterwards.

Most NFL teams are not themselves homophobic. There are several teams with forward-thinking managers who would’ve been completely happy to draft Michael Sam in an earlier round. Those who are able to ignore the homophobia and focus only on football would’ve picked him in the first three rounds. But each time they had the option to pick Michael Sam, they thought “hey, I bet this guy would still be around next round because all these other teams would rather not pick him.” This went on until the last round where the Rams picked him before they would have to deal with the huge mess of free agency. Michael Sam’s late draft choice relied on NFL teams relying on other NFL teams to be homophobic. Here’s a nice comment from the ESPN message boards: A black man in professional sports isn’t news today. It was news on April 15th, 1947. Some day a gay man playing pro sports won’t be news. It is news on May 10th, 2014.

The Bible teaches certain views about homosexuality. But it teaches above all else to love and care for others, no matter what they do or believe. Especially if you are a Christian, we must show our love for Michael Sam and for all the gay athletes afraid of persecution should they come out.


DukeEngage Academy

I’m sitting at my dad’s Acupuncture clinic right now, trying to figure out this new insurance billing system. The government just required a new form and his old program (like pre 2000 really old) doesn’t work anymore. I am definitely going to get a part-time secretary to help with these when I become a doctor.

I’ll write a little about the DukeEngage Academy when I take breaks from the insurance filing. My favorite part were the breakout sessions. The first two I went to were fantastic (the last one, not so much). I was trying to decide between Best Practices in Lesson Development, Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue, Life Entrepreneurship, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Reciprocity with Community Partners.

I first went to the Life Entrepreneurship session. First thing I noticed was that the first 10 people in the room were all guys. Eventually, the room filled up to 28 people, of which 26 were guys. This guy was an amazing speaker. He was mid-age, fit, well-dressed man. He talked with a booming voice, looked you in the eye, and inspired you with his smile. I guess a lifetime of being an entrepreneur has developed that epitome of confidence in him. He encouraged us to have a gameplan, and plan ahead to mitigate risks. We should develop a skillset in the shape of a T, a horizontal breadth of skills around a focused vertical skill. We should also use gap analysis, recognizing our weaknesses and acting on them.

He challenged us to consider two main points. The first was to take ourselves out of our comfort zone. The second was to engage in significant personal reflection.

I’ve heard plenty of versions of the standard “challenge yourself” talk, and they seem to get to me every time. This talk specifically helped define the structure behind that abstract concept. He showed us a picture of a path that slopes upwards but gradually levels off. There was mountain farther along the path, but before that there was a ditch that looked difficult to get through. We can slowly improve within our comfort zone, but we will ultimately plateau. In order to reach the next level, we must first change something about ourselves we would normally be uncomfortable with changing. In basketball, I had to adjust my 3pt shot, causing me to shoot extremely poorly for a while, but I shoot much better now. Furthermore in ping pong, I had learn the RPB grip, which caused me to lose so many games for a while, but is so much better for my game now.

He said that if we want to lead extraordinary lives, we need to change from the status quo. We need to take an opportunity window before it closes. A study estimated that 80% of important decisions made before age 35, so use this time for purposeful exploration. Pick anything within your range even if you aren’t completely sure. For an entrepreneur, most of their fear is not fear of failure, it is fear of regret. Reminds me of a great Chronicle article: Be Bold.

The second major point was the importance of personal reflection in leading your purposeful life. There are definite downsides to being a cocky, confident asshole who thinks he can do whatever he wants. The true secret to purpose is reflection. Reflect often, and then adapt. Balance confidence with humility. Be a fearless with your ideas, but also a listening sage. Not only is reflection helpful, but pursuing an impact without personal transformation is unsustainable. Pursuing your ideas takes so much more effort than a typical job. If you never center yourself and build off a stable background, you can easily burn out.

He ended with some closing remarks and answered some questions. Entrepreneurs have two distinct differences from normal people: they are always thinking up creative solutions, and have the confidence to go after them. Some of the most fulfilling lives are lives without a purpose, even if they don’t pay as much.

I’ve personally struggled with the balance between doing something meaningful and doing something that pays well. What about doing something that pays well so you can have the resources to do something meaningful? Can you truly become happy with a job in service if your finances aren’t comfortable and you don’t gain the respect of your peers? How much of that happiness is a temporary high, instead of a long-term satisfaction? I can relate to the feeling of wanting to live a purposeful life; it’s why I chose and extremely enjoyed this talk. But I can also relate to wanting to have a financially comfortable life, especially during a pessimistic period during my sophomore year. But hey, wouldn’t being a doctor would allow me to achieve both?

(This entry has gotten way too long. I’ll talk about the interfaith talk in another post)





Summer Begins!

Oh boy, I think summer has just begun! Between Monday and Tuesday, I got six hours of sleep total, and caught a few naps during DukeEngage Academy. (I can’t wait to transcribe some of the notes and thoughts from those sessions. I absolutely loved the one about Life Entrepreneurship.)

I am back in Florida where the temperature had jumped up 20 degrees at least. It’s in the mid 80’s right now, though apparently it’s in the high 90’s in Nicaragua. I finally let myself sleep when the plane began to take off on the runway, and fell asleep before it cleared the runway. I proceeded to be completely knocked out until the plane touched down two hours later.

There are so many things to do in the few days I’m in Pinellas. Summer break doesn’t mean I’m a lot less busy, things have just gotten more fun!

1. Fill out AMCAS application and write personal statement. This is definitely the most important but I’m pretty sure I will procrastinate this until the end. Related things go here, like coordinating letters of recommendation and selecting schools.

2. Catch up with all these amazing friends I haven’t see in so long. Facebook has its disadvantages (time sink, depression/anxiety causing, insecurity flaunting, etc.) but at least it helps me efficiently catch up with people!

3. Spend quality time with my family. Spend every single minute I can with my little sisters before I leave. Help my dad out at the clinic because he works too hard on his own. I’m not sure how big of an impact I’m making, but at least it’s a gesture.

4.  Create this blogging system. I was somehow appointed Blog Liaison for the our DukeEngage project ( and hope to effectively manage both blogs.

5. Learn! Learn! Learn! Throughout the school year, my favorite source of procrastination was to go link-diving from a Facebook shared article, or opinion article in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or the Economist. I’ve tried reading from the New England Journal of Medicine but I never had the motivation to just sit down and read something. Now with nothing (read above though) to do, I can literally just sit down and read articles all day. I promise to only post and comment on the most interesting ones. Here are a couple of links that are next on my reading list:

Racism and Donald Sterling, there are so many differing perspectives on this!

I’m sure some of you have read about the different responses women and minorities get from professor emails. When I have the time, I prefer not to take things at face value and want to examine the detailed methodology of the original paper

Expect me to include an occasional entry about feminism. Note, I don’t agree with this article, I’m just going to use it

On a related note, popular science journalism is a fantastic way to generate interest in science. And for those of us already pursuing science, it gives us formidable breadth in the field. A lot of headlines are extremely interesting and often fucking awesome (I Fucking Love Science). But I want to kind of explore the cautions needed in “popularization” of science:

(Another interesting paper that talks about the misleading inaccuracies in science publications

Examining the actual paper that claimed that the United States government is more of an oligarchy than a democracy. The results are obvious, but how do you measure that in research? Linked shortened!

I am also really interested in the structure of our health care system. Perspectives from doctors I’ve shadowed, articles I’ve read. Please suggest any good articles you may have. Here’s a potential one:

Let’s hope I have time to maintain this blog. Also please know that I am approaching this challenge with a great deal of humility. Part of the reason for this blog is that I have opinions on a lot of important issues and I want to share them. I also want to keep in contact with friends over the summer. But perhaps the most important reason is that writing is by far my worst skill, and I hope to make significant improvements by actively working on it this summer. So bear with me as my writing hopefully gets better, but I look forward to fun and engaging discussion along the way!

Public Blog!

Hey, this blog will be for my residents, my friends, and for the Duke Community in general. I’ll post events I’m going to, life philosophies, or random pieces of thought. Please come and check often!