High on Humans

Last night, June twenty-third, two thousand and eighteen, I took photos for my favorite band/group/duo on this planet: Oh Wonder.

But before I get into how I got a photo pass & took photos for OW, we need to go back in time. Back in high school I had a friend that was always turning me on to new music; he had an uncanny ability to see talent and potential in artists. He turned me on to the likes of Mac Miller, Kendrick, Chance, and countless others before they were mainstream and had mostly little notoriety (shoutout to you, Jake). So back in 2014, when he hit me up and told me to check out this duo from London called Oh Wonder, I knew I had no choice but to listen. So I typed their name into Google, listened to my first song, and was immediately hooked on their sound. A mix of bright, energetic synthpop and some slower, moody vibes. They only had 2 or 3 songs on Soundcloud and hadn’t played a single concert together. Over the course of the next year, Josephine and Anthony (their real names) released one song on the first day of each month – and let me tell you, the anticipation as a new month approached was overwhelming. As they slowly put out more and more music, the world began to notice in a big way. It seemed like within weeks of finishing their first album, OW was stomping through a world tour, playing at festivals like Bonnaroo and Lolla. In the summer of 2016, I was fortunate enough to see them play a show in Indy at an intimate venue downtown, with only ~400 people there. After indulging in their music for two years, listening through the album easily hundreds of time, I was 20 feet away from them. That night still vividly plays in my mind – it was incredible.

Flash forward to a few months ago, I found out OW was playing a show in Kansas City, and it just so happened to be at a venue literally two blocks from my new apartment; I can see the building from my window! So I bought two tickets (assuming I could find a friend, yikes) and got all excited to see Anthony and Josephine in concert again. Weeks later, I had the idea to email their management & ask to take photos for them during their show (this was about a month ago). I kept it short & sweet and plugged my website, knowing A&Rs are busy and likely wouldn’t reply if they saw a long email to read through – hell, I wouldn’t either. Delete. Despite my efforts, no response. I followed up a week ago and asked again. Persistence is key, right? Nope. Still no response. Then the day of the concert arrived, and I walked over to the outdoor venue while they were setting up equipment and asked a sound guy about talking to their manager to shoot photos and he seemed 100% not about it – he would barely look at me. Walking home to my apartment, mildly defeated but expecting this result anyway. “At least you tried” I kept telling myself.

2 hours before the concert started, I checked my email. I don’t know why I did… it was a Saturday evening, who the hell sends emails on a Saturday evening?? Oh Wonder, apparently. “Hey Austin… (yada yada yada) … appreciate it’s probably pretty late but if you wanted to shoot photos let us know and we'll give you a photo pass.” I almost threw up. Maybe talking to that sound guy earlier in the day paid off. Did he go mention some annoying kid was trying to take photos tonight and said the manager wasn’t emailing him back? Maybe. Either way, I was about to get exclusive, in-front-of-the-crowd access to take photos of my favorite music artists for my first time taking concert photos. Yup, I’ve never shot a concert before. I furiously typed a quick response and hustled down to the venue, camera in hand, to get my pass.

For concert photography, you are only allowed up in the front for the first 3 songs, so it’s quite hectic shooting up there and trying to get a bunch of shots in only 10-12 minutes. Not to mention the shooting conditions are super difficult at times! Normally I take portraits or landscapes where you have tons of time to be methodical, get all my camera settings just right, frame it perfectly, etc. Not at concerts. The lighting is constantly changing and there are other photographers up there with you trying to get their shots, too. Plus, I was a little nervous! After the 3 songs were (sadly) over, I had to leave my special little area but I got to keep my camera with me. I took tons of photos from in the crowd, which gives that cool first-person “I feel like I’m actually there” kind of vibe to the photos.

After 90 minutes of having an absolute blast taking pics, the show was over. I had successfully taken hundreds of photos. I ran home and dumped them all on my laptop, knowing it would take a while to upload them all. I’m not sure what I expected – I didn’t look at the photos too much as I was taking them. But when I went to edit them today I honestly started hyperventilating a bit. Although I’m normally easily excited about editing photos, I was more-than-normal ecstatic considering it was my first concert shoot ever. I was, as OW calls it on their newest album, High on Humans. As much as I love photos of stunning landscapes or animals, there is something special about capturing people. Going through them earlier today I honestly jumped and down at one point… yeah.

Anywho – enough words already! I present to you: Oh Wonder.

A Lot of Sweat, A Lot of Smiles

As I type this, I am packing to leave Kenya. [Edit: I’ve been home for over a week now] It’s been an -eventful- 7 weeks here, and I plan to keep rolling out blogs about my experiences even as I return home. There is A TON to process, which is a driving factor behind me only posting every few weeks. I just haven’t felt like writing all the time, and when I do, it’s hard to stick to one path or train of thought.

My last post mentioned in passing that during the upcoming week, we would find out about if we matched for a pharmacy residency or not (and if so, where we did). Here is an abbreviated update:

This whole “residency search” thing has been a long, exciting, frustrating process. It started over a year and a half ago with a class, followed by tons of time building my resume, chatting with alumni, researching programs, attending meetings and pretending to not be exhausted, etc etc. Then I submitted an application to 13 different programs and waited to hear back from them for scheduling interviews -- which I got less than expected. And let me tell ya, I was really frustrated by the entire ordeal. With my self-confidence plunging, I pulled it together for my interviews and gave it my best, but even afterwards I was still unsure of what my future held… and then I left for Kenya.

On March 20th, at 3:05 in the afternoon (Kenya time), I got the email: Your ASHP Match Result. My stomach dropped as I hesitated to click into my awaiting fate… For the last 6 weeks, I had been preparing to read the words “Dear Austin… Unfortunately, you did not match with a program. Blah blah blah” or something like that. Instead, as my finger pressed to my iPhone, a “Congratulations, you have matched!” appeared in bright blue. I wanted to throw up, honestly. I read on, finding out I had matched with The University of Kansas Health System, my favorite program.

So yeah. In a month, I’ll be moving to Kansas City, getting my own apartment, and taking the next step in my journey. I am still fairly uncertain what I want my long-term career to look like, honestly. And I have a lot of ideas in mind for side projects I’d like to start by the end of 2018, mostly non-pharmacy related, but we’ll see what happens.

Back to Kenya.

Mt. Longonot & Hell’s Gate

Our next weekend trip was to Mt. Longonot, an active volcano a few hours southeast of Eldoret. We left Friday afternoon, knowing we’d need to rise early for our big hike Saturday morning. Longonot is basically a massive crater, and the hike up to the rim took us about an hour. From that point, we hiked around the entire rim (about 7 kilometers) in the burning sunlight. Given that we were just off the equator, applying sunscreen every 90 minutes proved to not be enough, as we all left with some less-than-flattering sunburns. The hike back down was actually one of my favorite parts. Instead of walking, we decided to run down most of it (I only run if it’s downhill because it’s like half the effort and WAY more fun). By the time we got to the bottom, I was pooped, burnt, and dehydrated (despite drinking 2 liters of water throughout the hike).

After the hike, back at the hotel, we were supposed to go for a boat ride on Lake Naivasha, but afternoon thunderstorms quickly thwarted that game-plan. So instead, I made friends with a guy who owned a camel and tried to take some eerie photos of the lake before the storm.

On Sunday, we traveled to Hell’s Gate, which is right next door to Longonot. To get to our hiking destination, we rode some sketchy bikes along a bumpy dirt path, stopping to lay eyes on the zebras, warthogs, and gazelles in the park. Even snagged a few pics of some zebras fighting! After our joy ride, we hiked through a river bed towards “The Devil’s Bedroom”, our final destination – and actually a location used in the filming of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (shoutout to Angelina Jolie). It was a pretty wet & muddy hike, so I didn’t really take my camera out much at all, thus the lack of photos.

Lake Nakuru

Weekend #5 was spent at Lake Nakuru (a neighbor of Lake Naivasha), and I was absolutely jazzed for it. The week leading up to it at the hospital had been absolute (excuse my language) dogshit. A lot of patients passed away, the team was extremely thin in terms of hands-on-deck, and I felt a bit lost in the mix of things. So, a relaxing, enjoyable weekend was much needed. Instead of hiking –  or doing any sort of physical exertion, for that matter – this trip was all about sightseeing. Basically, it was a mini-safari. We tracked down tons of different animals, including the endangered southern white rhino. If you’ve been following the news, you might have heard about how the last male northern white rhino recently died and only 2 females remain in the world. Their cousins, the southern white, are what we saw in Nakuru. There were also hundreds of baboons, buffalo, and zebras. And to our good fortune, we got extremely close to a couple of giraffes that were chowing down food near the road.



Potentially the highlight of the trip came at the very end of our morning drive around the park on Sunday, when we headed up to Baboon Cliff. When we got there, what I thought were statues of baboons (because they were so close), were not statues. The baboons there were extremely used to humans, and instead of running from us, they choose to attack the cars and try to steal your bags. If you aren’t careful and quickly close all your windows, they’ll snag a bag and jump off the cliff with it, knowing the humans can’t follow them down. They then go through it later in hopes of finding food. This is exactly what -almost- happened when a car that came up after us did not realize they needed to close their roof. Photos below for proof, and for laughs.

Thanks again for those of you who still scroll through these things! I’m finally done editing all my photos from the trip and am looking forward to sharing more soon

Rainforests & Land Cruisers

Look, I know what you’re thinking. I get it. A few blog posts in the first few weeks that are happy and filled with pictures, then a mildly depressing piece on mortality proceeded by me disappearing for a few weeks. I apologize. Allow me to take a moment to (start) catching you up to speed.

Kakamega Rainforest

A couple weeks back, the group took our first overnight trip – Kakamega Rainforest – where we stayed at the Rondo Retreat Centre. We were joined by two wonderful people we met at IU House, Steve (a psychiatrist and department head at Georgetown) and Tony (an organic chemist in manufacturing at Eli Lilly). Surrounded by flowers, trees, and wildlife, it was a weekend of rest and relaxation in the rainforest. We started by taking a short, unguided walk where we were able to spot a few monkeys hanging about the treetop. I was enamored. Monkeys have been my favorite animals since I was a youngin and seeing them in the wild was a special moment.

After a quick lunch, the group met up with Jobe, our guide we were required to hire for the longer nature walks/hikes (Jobe – if you’re reading this, and I know you most certainly are not – I apologize if I spelled your name incorrectly). The roughly 3-hour hike brought about more monkeys (there are 4 different kinds at Kakamega), a river, and some gained knowledge about the rainforest. The coolest thing we learned about was the parasitic trees (yup, trees can be parasites) that takeover other trees, growing over their trunks and giving their hosts the middle finger in the process. Survival of the fittest out here, folks. After the hikes, we were treated to afternoon tea and cake, which is quickly becoming one of my new favorite customs in Kenyan culture.

Sunday morning got off to an earrrrly start (like 5 am, or something obnoxious) as we began our quest to reach the highest point in the rainforest before sunrise. With the help of a few headlamps and flashlights, we scurried our way up through the darkness in under an hour. Then we waited. I took this time to walk around alone for a bit and just take in the sounds of the rainforest awaking… birds chirping, monkeys hollering or whatever they do. A billowy fog rolled across the canopy. As the sun slowly rose, the luscious green coloring of the world around me came alive. The group hung out up top for quite a while and Jobe showed us around a few places; we even managed to spot some curious baboons (that were too far away for photos) that ran into the trees shortly after we saw them.

The hike down afforded a stop in a bat cave. I hit my head a few times, cramped caves aren’t notorious for favoring people my height. At the bottom, Tony and I split off from the group to take a peek at the tea fields across from our resort. We rounded the morning out with breakfast before we packed it in and called it a weekend.

One of our pharmacy professors from Purdue, Monica Miller, arrived when we were in Kakamega. She is one of the professors that helps coordinate this Purdue-Kenya partnership program and amongst many, many other responsibilities, is a staple in the pharmacy curriculum as an accomplished educator. Of the three different “teams” that my friends and I represent while on the wards, Monica rounded with my team for her week at MTRH (rounding is when the entire medical team goes around each morning and sees patients, managing their care and deciding their treatment plan). Having Monica with Meg, Lindsey, and me for the week was an absolute blessing, as we were able to learn from her experience and agility as a practitioner. This would end up being the last week we had an actual licensed pharmacist on rounds with us students… the succeeding weeks, we would be “on our own”, calling the shots and making decisions without a preceptor standing over our shoulder (yes, a scary thought indeed).

As the week came to a close on Friday, we geared up for celebrating the medical students’ residency match day and our anticipation for the upcoming trip grew. Our residency match was the following Tuesday and we needed something to take our overly-anxious minds off of it.

Baringo and Bogoria

Two iconic bodies of water, Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria, were the next stops on our weekend Tour de Kenya. We rose early Saturday morning to take off towards Baringo, which was an especially unpleasant wake-up call after being out at the clubs in downtown Eldoret until 2am (woof). I struggled through eating a banana and some crackers to fuel my sleep-deprived and hungover body, and fortunately slept on and off for most of the drive there. I hadn’t heard much about what to expect this weekend except that we would be taking a boat ride and there would be flamingos, maybe some hippos if we got lucky. What actually happened blew me away.

The drive to the lakes was breathtaking; we had to venture through the Rift Valley to get there and I managed to snap a few of my favorite photos from the trip so far, including the one below with the motorcycle riding towards the mountains.

A quick lunch at Soi Safari Lodge (this weekend’s home) separated us from the drive and our first activity of the day, a snake conservancy. Most of our group was excited about seeing/holding these slithery reptiles except for Naomi, who bravely stood at a safe distance and watched as we took turns draping a 6-foot long python (I think?) around our necks. We also got to see some of them enjoy some chicks for lunch, but I’ve graciously decided to spare you from those photos.

Up next: boat ride! We split into two groups and climbed into some fun little boats for a few hours on the lake. As we skimmed across the water, we learned all the different birds we were seeing. Max (our tour company leader) and the boat drivers bought us a few fish from the local fishermen to put on a show. They raced the boats to a nearby island, spotted the African fish eagle (which looks similar to a bald eagle), and proceeded to call its attention by whistling and throwing a fish into the water near the boats. Moments later, the eagle was in full-on attack mode, swooping down with its talons forward to snag its free afternoon snack. We did this twice and although I am not a wildlife photographer by any stretch of the imagination, I got a few shots I was happy with (shout-out to fancy cameras that shoot 10 frames per second). The next stop was Love Island, which we learned was appropriately named by the owner (I forget his name) who has 3 or 4 wives and 30+ children. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.

Making our way back towards the shallow waters by the shore, we were lucky enough to spot some hippos and a handful of crocodiles before the ride ended. With a few hours before dinner, we scurried over to the pool for some relaxation and, you guessed it, tea & cake. It’s a miracle that I’m actually losing weight here. Exploring the grounds after pool time, we found a pair of ostriches that live there, plus a cranky old tortoise that I affectionately named Frank.

The next morning, I jumped out of bed early to catch the sunrise. Making my way down to the water, I was incredibly fortunate to see a fisherman launching his boat with the sun rising behind him. I have always been a fan of silhouette photos and the one I came away with blew me away. It’s such a blessing to be able to captures moments like that. (PS: this is probably my favorite mini photo set I have taken/edited). You know the old saying: early bird gets the... best photos?

Breakfast stuffed our stomachs yet again and we all jumped into the tan Land Cruiser for an adventure around Lake Bogoria, where we were promised to see flamingos. I was stoked to see these pink beauties take flight and expose their black markings under their wings. As we found various flocks, we stopped and snagged pics, moving closer and closer until they got too nervous and flapped away to safety. With our roof propped up allowing us to stand, and wind smacking our face, the cruiser ripped through mud puddles and stomped over rocks with ease. Aqua waters and green rolling hills made a beautiful backdrop as we teleported into what we thought was Jurassic Park (shout-out to Dayna for the reference, it’s pretty accurate). A smile never left my face the entire ride.

Our next destination on the lake was a hot spring that we couldn’t relax in (the water was literally boiling) but we did buy a dozen fresh eggs in preparation to hard-boil. With our eggs cooking in the water, we took turns standing in the stream of the steam and I snapped some artsy portraits that made it look like we were in a white-out. (Side note: thank you to my friends here that always put up with my shenanigans when I ask them to model and help me make cool images, you guys rock)

So, yeah. A few more weekends in the books and my goodness were they fun. Thanks for keeping up with these blog posts even when I disappear for a few weeks (my b, everybody). I hope you enjoyed this massive photo dump! More posts on the other weekends coming soooon!

A Candid Account of Death

It’s 7:15am on Wednesday, March 14th. I just arrived at MTRH (the hospital) with my pharmacy team. Moments after sitting down to begin going through patient files and forming our game-plan for the day, a visitor calmly approaches me.

“Can you check the oxygen on my dad?” he quietly asks, motioning towards a bed about 30 feet away. Caught off guard initially, I reply “of course”, grabbing the pulse oximeter from my pocket and heading towards the patient (*a pulse oximeter is the thing you put on a patient’s finger to read oxygen saturation and heart rate). I quickly slip the tiny device on his finger and wait.

Fifteen or twenty seconds tick past – no reading. Hmm, I’m thinking, this is odd. Let me warm up his hands, you can’t get a good reading on cold fingers. I try again.

Nothing. For the first time, it occurs to me to actually look up at the patient’s face (why hadn’t I thought of this yet, silly me).

Shit. He doesn’t good look. Mouth open, eyes closed, and no noticeable air going in or out of his body. Adrenaline and fear rush through me as I quickly find Megan and Lindsey, borrowing a different pulse-ox and praying mine was faulty. I slip it upon his finger and to my relief, numbers popped up.

SpO2 – 30%; HR – 32 bpm

[For context, SpO2 (the body’s peripheral oxygen saturation) is 94%+ in healthy adults. Heart rate (HR) may be anywhere from 60-100 beats per minute in most adults; there is leeway depending on fitness level, comorbid diseases, etc.]

It doesn’t look good, but he’s alive. Thank God, he’s alive.

What happened next was what I believed to be the right thing to do. I am not ACLS (advanced cardiac life support) trained, yet. I have never responded to a patient crashing. I was scared.

I ran to the nearest nursing station (none were at ours) and explained what was happening, begging for help. They looked at me perplexed. After a minute, a nurse slowly got up and went with me to the patient. Within minutes, she began chest compressions.

Over the next 10 minutes, I tracked down one of the IU medical students, David, to help in whatever capacity he could. There was not a single physician in the wards this early in the morning. Megan helped bag the patient to get air into his lungs while Lindsey ran to various pharmacies in an adjacent building in search of medications, only to find the windows shut, doors locked, and no response to a fist rapping on the door (mind you, one of these was inpatient pharmacy supposedly open 24/7). Trying to get an extra set of hands, I approached a nearby nursing station with three nurses sitting on their phones. My request for urgent help was met with apathetic eyes and complete disinterest. So while we, a group of underexperienced students, tried to stabilize him, a crowd had gathered despite my efforts to pull curtains around his bedside for privacy.

After many more rounds of CPR and one brief stint of ROSC (return of spontaneous circulation – aka his heart was still beating and his lungs were moving air in & out), our patient’s body was far too overworked to keep fighting. He had passed away. With two of his sons at the bedside and a slowly dissipating crowd, we gently pulled the blanket over his head.

This wasn’t my first experience with death. During my critical care rotation at Eskenazi in Indy, I witnessed some pretty morbid things. But this… this was entirely different. I had my hands on this man, I felt the life in his body. And I watched as it slipped away. To be candid, too much was happening for me to process all at once, it’s still overwhelming. I try not to speculate often, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that this man would have survived had he been at a hospital in the States. Would his quality of life have been great? I do not know. To me, the point is to highlight multiple sharp contrasts in the healthcare system here. And to be fair, this story paints everything in the worst possible picture. It was a horrid morning. It is not the norm. Nonetheless, it happened.

At this point, I owe you all some background. I assumed a lot of you are curious about what life is like at the hospital. There is a reason I have kind of skated around the main reason for my being in Kenya. Before I published something about my experiences at the hospital, I wanted to gain familiarity with its systems, resources, and workflow; I needed time.

The last two weeks, I have been rounding with a medical team on the male side (the general inpatient side of the hospital, known as the ‘Nyayo wards’, are segregated by gender). Our team’s daily census, the number of people we care for, is normally somewhere between 15-25, which apparently is a significant workload reduction from the past, where teams commonly reached 30+ patients.

There are a lot of competent and dedicated healthcare workers here; nurses, pharmacists, physicians, dietitians, students… the list goes on. Currently, and unfortunately, we are experiencing a nationwide ‘physician lecturer strike’ in hospitals – meaning all physicians employed by a medical college/university that help educate students and work in public hospitals are refusing to work. The reason for this is incredibly complex and multifactorial, but essentially it boils down to the government refusing to keep their promises and improve their pay, working conditions, etc. Physicians here are not nearly as well compensated as their counterparts in the US. Like, it’s grossly different; so before jumping to conclusions, please understand this strike is not out of pure greed.

So what does this mean for me, and more importantly, what does this mean for our patients? For me, it means I have to take a bigger role on the medical team. Our team is bare, consisting of only medical officer intern (equivalent to a just-graduated , PGY-1 medical student), a clinical officer intern (equivalent to a physician’s assistant student), and us pharmacy students. Of the 5 of us, only 1 is graduated and has a degree. About twice per week (if we are lucky) a consultant (aka physician) is on rounds with us, which makes things exceedingly better. And we are the ones managing the care of the 15-25 patients I mentioned above, roughly half of whom are quite ill and would likely be in an intensive care unit if a bed were available. For our patients, it means they are often receiving sub-standard care. Aware of the this (the strike), many are waiting to come to the hospital until they are intolerably ill. But many specialists are unavailable to provide important services. It is a vicious, vicious cycle.

Here is a list of things we (pharmacy students) do each day, many of which we would not be doing as pharmacy students back home:

  • Help diagnose the patient’s problems
  • Assess the patients each morning, take vital signs, etc.
  • Recommend specific labs and other diagnostic tests
  • Determine the treatment plan for each problem (medications, dose, duration of therapy, etc)
  • Physically obtain the medications from the pharmacy and deliver to the nurses (or patients)
  • Give medications to the patient
  • Track down lab results from the various labs scattered across the hospital campus
  • Consult different specialists around the hospital
  • Talk with patients and family members about what we are doing for them
  • Bring patients food when they refuse eating what is provided by the hospital

There is a lot on everybody’s plate. Our medical officer intern has had a total of 10 days off work since May 2017. Yes, TEN. You read the correctly. That includes weekends. That includes holidays. We are pretty she is actually paying (out of her pocket) to have people help her during the week so that she is not entirely consumed by the workload. Furthermore, the resources at our disposal are astonishingly limited. The medications we have in-stock change on a daily basis. Temperatures and blood pressures are often unable to be taken due to broken thermometers and missing blood pressure cuffs. One of the students on my team didn’t even have a working pen one day.

All of this is to say that things here on the wards are difficult and often frustrating; however, at the same time, the work we are doing as student pharmacists has never been more rewarding. Without our efforts, less people would be going home. We work with a striking amount of autonomy and I am becoming more and more confident with each passing day. Two weeks in and I feel more prepared than ever to handle the workload demanded by residency programs.

The next few weeks will continue challenging me, but I am excited for it. I pray each morning as I walk to the hospital that I will never have to go through a similar experience as the story above, but the realist in me feels that might not be the case. Even as I finish typing this on Monday, another of my patients passed away over the weekend. It doesn’t get easier. Nonetheless, we will continue doing our darndest to provide care at the best of our ability, learning from our successes and mistakes along the way.

I know this wasn’t a happy-go-lucky post, but those stories don’t create the conversations that need to be had here. To those of you still reading this, thank you. Thank you for being curious about my time in Kenya. Thank you for keeping an open mind. And above all, thank you for sparing judgement. We are making the most of a difficult situation.

Onwards and upwards.

Weekend Waterfalls

Who said we have to work alllll the time? During our weekdays here, we work our butts off. But as the 21st century poet/rapper/herbalist Wiz Khalifa put it: work hard, play hard.

The first weekend we decided to take a few “teaser” trips; two shorter day trips on both Saturday and Sunday that would give us just a flavor of what Kenya has to offer. We planned all our trips through Taxi Max, a company ran by (and named after) one of Eldoret’s most popular residents amongst students visiting from the U.S. Max is one of those happy-go-lucky, always good vibes kind of guy that employs about a dozen people for his taxi/tour company. So Saturday morning we packed up our bags and were off to the outskirts of rural Eldoret where we checked out a hydraulic power facility and its neighboring waterfall, Umbrella Falls (this isn’t the actual name, but it’s what everybody calls it and I dunno the real name).

On the way there, once we were further from the city, we passed a lot of farmers and their families. Now, in the city, we get stared at all the time, but people never really talk or wave to us, we aren’t special. So as we slowly made our way through the farmlands, I expected much of the same. Instead, people seemed almost happy to see us, waving with both hands and smiling as we passed by. A group of children we passed excitedly screamed “MUZUNGUS!!!” which basically means “white people” in Swahili, and our entire car laughed hysterically.

Once we got there, Max told us about the place and its history. We learned that ‘Eldore’ stands for “stony river”, but the local Kalenjin people decided they didn’t like the name. So to make it “more Kalenjin”, they added a T to the end, making it Eldoret. I’ll spare you the rest of the history lesson and just show you the photos…

On the way home, Max took a different route so that we could see what the waste management system looked like in Eldoret. Not knowing what to expect, my curiosity was mounting. Now, if you haven’t scrolled through the photos below yet, this is your warning.

What we saw can only be described as humbling. I was close to tears by the time we got through the area. The amount of trash – but more notably the people surrounded by the waste – really rattled me. The images you only see in documentaries or PBS specials, where people are scavenging through miles of trash to survive, came to life before my eyes. The photos I captured by no means even begin to do it justice, but I hope each of you reading this can walk away from your computer with a greater appreciation for just how good we have it in a developed country.

[DISCLAIMER: throughout most of the drive to our destination, I was VERY uncomfortable with the idea of taking photos of poverty-stricken people from the comfort of our vehicle. It felt wrong. But as we drove home, I kept telling myself that I’m not taking these photos for me. I’m taking these photos so that those of you who are not able to see what I am seeing and experience what I am experiencing get a tiny glimpse into the lives of Kenyans. I am still uneasy about photographing and sharing this; however, as a student and photographer afforded a unique experience, I refuse to let this opportunity to document the world pass me by. Thank you for understanding.]


On a brighter note, we also passed a group of boys that ran alongside our car and waved to us – this is my favorite moment to-date since arriving in Kenya.

Day 2: Rift Valley and Kerio View

Rift Valley is where many Olympian long-distance runners from around the world train. Our hike wasn’t terribly long but it was quite steep and scarily slippery given the recent daily rains (we have now moved into wet season in Kenya). We got to the waterfall, a little past halfway to the top, but getting to the base of the falls was dangerous with all the mud and the roughly 60-70 degree drop off that we would have to navigate down. I could have just looked at the waterfall from the top, that was the safest thing to do. But as I stood there looking at the route down, I knew I would never be able to look at a single photo from today and not wonder what it would have been like if I climbed down. My decision was made.


There was a decent haze over the valley all day, unfortunately, so while the lookout point at the top was gorgeous, we could not see too far into the distance.


After hiking back down the mountain, we were in the clear and headed home. The dirt roads had turned into mud roads with the early afternoon rain and after veering off the road a bit to avoid a car stuck in the mud, we found ourselves stuck. I didn’t take any photos and instead tried to help get our safari-style truck un-stuck, which we did after about 30 minutes.

A wonderful, waterfall-filled weekend in the books.

Meet the Crew // See the Crib

About a week in and I can finally (finally) say that I am adjusted to the time here. I still wake up most nights, multiple times, but I am actually staying awake past 9:00 now so that’s exciting.

For the next 7 weeks now, I plan on doing my absolute best on giving you not only a glimpse into my world, but into the lives of the Kenyan people around me. This post will lay some framework for my world and those with me on the trip. There are 9 pharmacy students from Purdue University, including myself, and for many of us it is our first time outside of the United States. I will likely be referring to them once or twice throughout my stay here, so here’s a chance for you to put a face to a name.

The Crew:

The first few days once we arrived were hectic! Between getting adjusted to the new time zone and the Kenyan culture, my body and brain were in a bit of shock. The first day, we went to the ATM and pulled out some Kenyan shilling (Ksh) which take about 100 to equal 1 USD, aka $100 USD = 10,000 Ksh. Cost-wise, everything here is relatively inexpensive compared to back home. Our taxi rides typically cost anywhere from $2-5 depending on the distance and our food (even at nicer restaurants) is normally under $10 per person (the same amount of food in the US would likely cost $20+).

Let’s do a quick Q&A sesh to set the scene a bit.

Where the heck are we living while we’re here?

This was a popular question I got before I left and I understand why; but fear not, we are staying at a wonderful place called IU House – and I know, as Purdue kids we’re supposed to be deeply dispassionate about IU but they have some phenomenal people that helped build a robust global health program here and I am nothing but appreciative for their efforts. IU House houses tons of people from around the world that travel to Eldoret to provide care here, most of which are us (pharmacy students), medical students and residents, and physicians.

Pictured below is IU House(s) – as you can see, it is (in my opinion) a really pretty compound. Before arriving, I honestly had fairly low expectations and was not entirely sure what to expect. They have lots of plants, trees, flowers, etc. which keeps it looking and smelling fresh. There are two gates between us and street traffic, each gate staffed with guards around the clock to keep us safe. Within our second-gate there are multiple look-alike buildings that house the “shorter-term” residents, those of here less than a year. Our rooms are… well… cozy. Max and I share a room roughly 12x10 feet in size, fully decked out with bunk beds, mosquito nets, a desk, a dresser, and a safe to lock up our valuables. Going to the bathroom actually requires us to take an adventure outside, about a whole 5 feet, to our small but adequate place. There isn’t a separate bathtub area or anything for our shower, it’s just part of the bathroom (which you can see if you look closely).

The Room:

IU House Compound:

We have cooks here that prepare lunch & dinner for us every day, and let me tell ya, the food is pretty damn good. Unlike America, they always serve tons of fresh fruit & veggies (read: fresh avocados, watermelon, and bananas on the daily). I have actually really enjoyed trying different foods that I normally don’t eat back home, like curry, which seems to be a pretty popular dish.

On to popular question #2, what the heck are we doing/where are we working?

For these two months, I will be working at the Moi University Teaching and Referral Hospital. Founded in 1916, it’s the 2nd largest hospital in the country (I think) and currently has ~1,000 beds, broken up between general wards, cardiac intensive care, mother & baby, and a children’s hospital. It is a national referral hospital, meaning that the sickest of the sick come here for treatment, where we treat patients from all across Kenya, parts of eastern Uganda, and parts of southern Sudan.

Our work is driven by AMPATH (Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare) which is an incredible organization founded by Dr. Joe Mamlin from Indiana University. It’s basically a huge consortium of various institutions (including Purdue) that are working together to provide care here, mostly focused on HIV prevention and management. Since its birth roughly 20 years ago, AMPATH now treats over 180,000 HIV+ patients each year across 500 sites… how incredible is that?!

Anyway, back to the question. While I am here, my duties primarily focus on rounding on a medical team and caring for patients, helping act as a pharmacist and ensuring all patients receive proper medication therapy. Instead of spending a lot of time writing about this, I’ll let future blog posts and stories clue you in to exactly what I do on a weekly basis.

What’s it been like so far?

There’s really no easy way to put it other than Kenya is very [VERY] different than the US. The most immediately noticeable thing was how much we, as white people, stand out. Everybody told us to expect it, and I absolutely did, but it still doesn’t make it any more comfortable being stared at, honked at, and pointed at everywhere we go. Despite this, the people here in Kenya are almost too nice. Most everybody I interact with has been overwhelmingly amicable, it’s really borderline absurd compared to people in the US.

Things also move slowly. I mean, reeeeally slowly. We spent over an hour in line at the bank just to talk to somebody and over 3 hours in line at a cell-phone store so people could get data on their phones. As another example, we went out to dinner Friday night and it took over 45 minutes just to order our food, and another hour before we even got our appetizers.

Even a week in at the time of me writing this, I am still struggling to adjust to the pace things move here. But, I am trying. Being patient is definitely a requirement here.

Anywho, if you’re still reading this, thank you for bearing with me through that scattered mess of thoughts and words. We took a few day trips this past weekend which I will post about by the end of this week – so more pictures and fun to come!

My Journey to Eldoret

Traveling to Eldoret more or less started on Saturday (02/24), with my parents and I driving up to northwest Indiana, or more affectionately known as “The Region”. I was staying with Meg for the evening before our flight out of Chicago the next day. Our families shared a lovely Italian dinner together before Mark & Sue (my parents) said their final goodbyes and surely cried throughout their 2.5-hour trek back home (kidding, they were probably celebrating my departure).

Sunday afternoon came quickly, and we were off towards O’Hare International Airport for leg 1 of 2, ORD --> AMS (the code word for Amsterdam). Megan’s mom snapped various glamour shots/photos as we made our way from the curb through the airport doors. FREEEEEDOM! (sorry mom & dad). Wow, it was finally starting to feel real.

After a quick blip getting our bags checked, security was a breeze and within 10 minutes we were at our gate, greeted by a few fellow early-bird friends. With time to kill, I decided to unwrap a card game called Organ Attack, which I’ve owned for nearly a year but hadn’t actually played since before I bought it. The one-liner summary of this game aimed towards medical nerds like ourselves: You each get a handful of “organs” to protect and try to kill off your friends’ organs through attack cards such as cancer, hypothyroidism, and acne. It’s a real doozy of a game and is sure to be a hit at the IU House with the rest of our medically-inclined friends.

The first plane ride (Chicago to Amsterdam) was fairly easy despite not getting even a minute of shut-eye. Maybe I shouldn’t have had coke and coffee every time the flight attendants came by… live and learn. The trip was 7 hours and 40 minutes on a ginormous Boeing 747 – the biggest plane I’ve ever set foot on, with 10 seats across and an exclusive upper-deck for those flying first class (see photo below for enormity).

A 5-hour layover stood between us and our next phenomenally-long international flight. After a few failed attempts at trying to get into some of the luxury sky lounges, we settled on a tolerable area that had outlets and food nearby. The plane that took us from Amsterdam to Nairobi held even more people than the first, apparently another 20 rows deeper. The flight was painless, albeit worse food than before, and we arrived in Nairobi completely oblivious to our upcoming annoyances.

We got off the plane and headed towards the immigration line, which took a blistering hour to get through. But after scanning our fingerprints and handing over some paperwork, we were good to go. As we approached our next task, customs, we were nervous after hearing stories from past students about having their luggage searched and being questioned by guards; however; to our delight, we literally walked right through “customs” without seeing a single person. Wow… if only it were that easy everywhere.

Another hour and a half went by before we were (finally) checked into our hotel and by this time it was close to 11:30pm local time. Our domestic flight to Eldoret, our final destination, was at 6:30am so we got an unfortunately short 3 hours of sleep before rising again. Fast forward past going back to the airport, being dropped off at the wrong terminal, taking a bus to the right terminal, and going through security with guards armed with machine guns, annnd we were finally on our tiny 10-row, 23-seater prop jet that took us to Eldoret. The whole flight was smooth except for landing and oh my god we were at our last stop. We jumped into a few SUVs that would take us to “IU House”, our home for the next 8 weeks, and began to take in the sights and sounds of Africa.

I’ll end my first post here, seeing how long it already is… Please feel free to comment below or text me (I can receive iMessages), and ask ANY questions you might have and I will happily answer them!

Short Stay in Seattle

02/10/17 5:15 am – the alarm clock on my iPhone starts screaming, pleading I wake up and turn it off. After a devastatingly short 5 hours of sleep, I hauled my luggage downstairs and made a quick breakfast of bacon and eggs (classic) before I left for the airport.

I boarded the smaller plane, a 2x2 seater, and waited patiently for our departure time. 8:40 came and went, and nearly AN HOUR (and some de-icing) LATER, we were off towards Salt Lake City, my layover city-of-choice on the way to Seattle. But, since we were late taking off, my 55-minute layover quickly evaporated and turned into a 5-minute layover. Running through the SLC airport and swearing under my breath, I got to gate C11 just in time. Ha, so I thought – I missed my connection.

Fast forward 7 hours and I had gotten on a new flight and landed in Seattle, my first time entering the famed PNW. I picked up my rental car and took off towards Kerry Park. This iconic cityscape-viewing spot is placed up on a hill north of downtown, perfectly positioned to show off the skyline and Mt. Rainier. If you’ve ever seen a photo of the Seattle skyline, there’s a 99% chance it was taken at this park. Arriving right at sunset, I snagged a few photos (see below) amongst the roughly 120 other people lined up, whose gear ranged from big cameras with telephoto lenses all the way to iPhones and selfies.


After sunset, I journeyed up to my buddy’s place where I’d be crashing for the next few nights.

Most of my day Sunday was spent hiking and exploring a couple local spots east of downtown Seattle. Stop #1 was the Chirico Trailhead which leads up to Poo Poo Point, my new favorite name for a lookout spot. It was a seemingly easy 4-mile roundtrip hike, but the 1800-foot elevation gain was deceivingly difficult for my out-of-hiking-shape body. Overlooking Lake Sammamish, Lake Washington, and Seattle, the popular paragliding takeoff point offered breathtaking views and I hung out for a while before making my descent.

My next stop was the obnoxiously-touristy Snoqualmie Falls, a 270-foot raging waterfall that offers easy access for even the laziest of tourists to walk up and indulge in. I snapped a few pics and was on my way, it was a bit too crowded for my personal taste, but I couldn’t pass up the easy photo opp. I mean, seriously, look at this thing!

Monday came and brought with it an interview for a potential residency spot at a hospital in Seattle, one that I’m quite excited about. After spending a few hours answering questions about myself and how I interact with people, I left happy with the impression I made and headed “home” to pick up my friends for a night out at a fun restaurant called Stateside, tagged as a French-inspired Vietnamese fusion spot. I didn’t take any photos of the food, but it lived up to its hype. Afterwards, we popped over to a place with Moscow Mules ON TAP. And with that, my trip to Seattle more or less came to a close. Tuesday morning I left for the airport, en route to Denver, where I am currently typing up this post.

Pick Up the Pace

Tens of thousands of people, let loose on the streets on downtown Chicago. Thousands more line the streets, clapping and hollering at loved ones and strangers alike. As I begin writing this blog post, my first ever, I sit from a 10th floor balcony at my friends' apartment in the Windy City (which, I was informed, is NOT because of the wind... us Indiana folk are grossly misinformed).

I headed up to Chicago this weekend to catch up with some pharmacy friends that I spent far too long apart from, shoutout to Meg and Carl for the lovely couch. On my way up on Friday, I stopped at Wabash to visit my brother for lunch and soon after I left, I realized my phone was dying abnormally fast. Now, I've had this iPhone for 3 years now and it's on its last legs, but today it was especially... bad. Relying on my phone for directions in Chicago, I watched as it dropped from 25% to 15% in under 90 seconds. It gets better because this grandpa-of-a-smartphone doesn't charge well and refused to charge in my car. Moments later, my car's brakes start making a peculiar noise. Wonnnderful. After talking to my parents on the phone and exchanging some stress-induced words, I wrote down the directions on paper (like this was still the 20th century, sheesh), buckled up, and continued north. I made it, thank God, a few hours later.

Friday night was spent with friends in Old Town and was mostly filled with pizza and care-free dancing. And in times like this, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to be surrounded by my fun, yet driven friends.

Saturday was divided in two parts; the first half of the day was spent chugging coffee, walking the city, and blowing money on clothes (whoops), while the second half was spent on a couch, cheering on Da Boilas to victory over Minnesohhhda, watching movies, and inhaling burgers and shakes. Personally, I feel like I got the best of both worlds today. A handful of photos from today are below!

Sunday morning started early and I hustled downstairs to watch the Chicago Marathon runners speed past me as I snagged some (below average) photos. I met up with the girls shortly after and we headed back to a fun cafe for some grub before my departure. All in all, a hell of a weekend in the city.

For the end of my posts, I'm going to leave a small, but simple challenge for you to take in the upcoming days... here's the first:

My challenge: Reach out to a friend you have not seen in awhile and set up a time to catch up, whether it's face-to-face or via phone/skype/facetime. It's crucial that we continue to play an active role in each other's lives, even as we get continually busier.