Sunday, April 29, 2012

More wheelchair pics

First public outing post-accident

I'm not doing this whole chronological thing very well. My Mum just sent me these pictures from my very first public outing post-accident. I remember how nervous, anxious, curious I was about the whole thing, namely, how would people look and interact with me? How would I eat at a regular table at the restaurant without getting food all over me and in my cervical collar (aka the food trap). These are pretty much the only pictures I have from my time in acute in-patient rehab. I wish I had taken more and documented my progress but I thought that this would be a period of my life I would want to forget and never look back on.

On the special van, all strapped in. I wore nothing but black sweatpants and t-shirts for several months.

Jen, my ex-housemate. We had only known each other for a month before my accident but I guess we were fated to meet because we love each other so much. 
Mum carrying my lunch leftovers. She was so incredibly patient with me, my temper tantrums, my moodiness, anger, sadness, frustration. It was a learning experience for both of us.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

TED Talk: Aimee Mullins

I'm sure most of you have seen this video before, but I still thought it was worth sharing. Aimee asks the same question I always ask myself "What does it mean to be disabled?" I am envious of her, not because she is tall, athletic, attractive etc. I envy how she can choose to disclose or hide her physical impairment, whereas I don't quite have that freedom. She can make it very clear that she will have difficulty doing certain physical tasks, whereas I think people wonder, for example, why I walk up and down the stairs all funny.

Air travel

Before I got on my first flight, post-accident, air-travel made me incredibly anxious. It still does. I thought that I would be the annoying person, holding the line up while I set off every metal-detector and get the full pat-down treatment. I used to scoff at the people who would take the escalator instead of the stairs, the people who stand and not walk on moving-walkways. Now I am one of them.

Surprisingly, the titanium and surgical steel in my body does not set off the metal detector. However, my knee-brace does and at first I would keep it on while I walked through the detector and get searched. I then got pretty good at taking the brace off fairly quickly and non-disruptively, so I would take it off and put it through the X-ray machine. Now that I don't wear a knee-brace regularly, I don't have to worry about these things and I do feel slightly more liberated when I am at the airport. I am still self-conscious about my gait when I am carrying heavy bags (I've had to give in to the extortion of the SFO baggage cart) or when the gate is a long way from the security checkpoint.

I experience quite a bit of discomfort (a different kind to this discomfort) when I sit down for long-periods of time so I try to get aisle seats on the RHS of the plane so I can stick my left foot out.

Going to the loo on the plane is incredibly unappealing, even when your bowel/bladder functions are not impaired. I try not to drink/eat very much in the hours leading up to a flight so that I can avoid using the airplane toilet, but I'm sure I'll have to one of these days. If I do, I will use a long male-catheter so that I can cath standing up (hoo-rah!) - this is the only benefit to having a flaccid sphincter (yeah, that's what it is called). I did, more than just briefly, consider calling my blog that. But it probably would have turned up under searches for porn sites.

My leg-brace wasn't all bad. It did spark a conversation that led to a wonderful friendship with a really cool couple I would have had otherwise never interacted with (I don't have any other friends over 60 years old). It did let me board the plane early, although I did not really take advantage of that because  I would just feel douchey. Now that I don't wear my leg-brace, I guess I'm going to have to resort to making friends with my dazzling personality.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Uh-oh...I'm turning into one of them!

#44 Blogging for the Folks Back Home

April 11, 2011

It's where you post you photos of 'bad English'
Facebook is one thing: it’s a great place for hip status updates and posting a ton of pictures. But there’s an even better option for the first-time volunteer or the Expat Aid Worker on a first deployment…starting a blog.
Blogging for the folks back home (not to be confused with blogging to display your superior thinking) allows parents, friends, former classmates and advisors, the public in general even, to follow along and experience your new life at almost the same pace you do.
When setting up a blog for the folks back home, you’ll want to make the title some clever variation of your name and the place where you are posted during this first overseas EAW-type job or experience. Good words to include are “stories from” or “my life in” or “chronicle” or “Africa” or “nomadic” or “odyssey” or “adventures in…”  or “from [your home town/state] to [the country you are now working/volunteering]” or “[Slang word for people from your home town/state] in [place you are now living/working]“. Another good choice is a title that includes a term for foreigners (gringo, mzungu, blan, farang) in the local language, or a common colloquialism or phrase from where you’re stationed.
Your blog is where you post that first set of photos that you take upon arrival: ”Here’s where I’ll be living for the next 2 years!” or “Met the neighbor kids – they love hanging out in our compound! Look at those brown eyes!” or “Yep, this is where I’ll be showering” or “OMG the spiders here are ginormous!”

And those pics of you with "the locals"
It’s where the first of many photos of you and “the locals” goes up. It’s where you post that shot of you grinning and ironically sporting the traditional outfit that the women from the under-5 feeding and weighing project gave you. It’s where your earnest face, windswept hair and Chaco tan lines come out full force as you become one with the people.
When blogging for the folks back home, the important thing is to prove you are blending in well with your new surroundings. You also want to reassure worried parents that you are fine and that yes, you are in Africa, but no, you’re not living in range of Somali pirates and that Ivory Coast is actually on the other side of the continent, so you’re not at risk from the conflict there (if anyone’s actually heard that there is a conflict there… if not, just skip over that, it will needlessly worry them).
Your blog is where show all your friends that you are bad ass and you ride around the capital city sometimes in tuk tuks or matatus or chapas or tap taps or on the backs of motorcycles or in the beds of pick up trucks. It’s where you display your fake prowess at carrying water (or something else) on your head like the locals and the pictures of yourself standing next to war junk.
Blogging for the folks back home allows you to vent about the cultural differences while at the same time being magnanimously accepting of them. It’s where you do your virtual eye-rolling about how many marriage proposals you get each week from the local guys; where you moast about the number of mothers who offer their daughters to you. It’s an especially helpful platform for complaining about immigration officials, local government incapacity, inefficiency, and bribery; and for expounding on your unique and intimate experiences attending local weddings in Asia or beybi chowers in Latin America. It’s where you air your homesickness and disappointment at missing cultural activities and events back home.

Carrying things on your head!
Your blog is where you show the pictures of the broken down bus and how you totally took it all in stride despite the fact that you stood in the sun for 7 hours trying to hitch the next ride. And how it was really horrible, but gosh, looking back now, it was all in good fun. And you got to meet some local people while you waited and they were so sweet and they gave you some mangoes [insert pictures of cute brown babies and kind mothers].
Your blog is where you subliminally work to convince the long-distance partner you left behind that you are still faithful. Or maybe you talk about how everyone at the market thought your local boyfriend was just there to carry your bags, or that your local female friend was your maid, or maybe you yourself were mistaken for a local by someone. Your blog is where you go into some detail about getting sick and navigating the local health system. It’s where you share your dismay at your first attempt at getting a haircut, or going for a Thai massage, or trying to buy a pair of shoes or underwear. It displays your photos of the food at the local market (Wow, look at all the fresh fruit! or OMG they eat [insert name of insect, part of an animal, or household pet] here.). Your blog is where you rail against the gender discrimination you find around you.

Anthropologically rich, your advisors would say....
It’s where you chuckle or ruminate about the local customs, especially those having to do with local healers, cures, superstitions and other beliefs that you find humorous, ridiculous, fascinating or shocking. And then maybe you explain that you’re not really making fun of those customs, you’re just pointing out how contradictory they are to the main religions in the country or how they go against common Western knowledge about good health practices. Or you might ponder the anthropological richness and the fact that people here actually know more than people at home. You might post some shots of local healer posters, and some photos of churches, mosques, temples, palaces, sacred religious places, statues and monuments.
There will be lots of pictures of beautiful natural spots, or the ex-pat bar, or the nice place you stayed at while on break. There will be shots of bad English phrases on t-shirts, signs, menus and the backs of buses and taxis. There may be photos you took on the sly, knowing that it was inappropriate to take them. You will assume that none of your local co-workers or friends or anyone from the country where you are working will ever read your blog, so you will feel free to tell it like it is, without worrying about someone finding your observations offensive….
Over time, your blog will change in tone, or perhaps you’ll stop blogging for the folks back home altogether, as culture shock ebbs and you go about your normal business and things don’t stand out as strange anymore. [Note: you may need to pick up blogging again when you make your first visit home and discover "reverse culture shock."]
Since blogging for the folks back home normally takes the form of a diary or journal rather than an analytical discussion on development methodologies or aid work theory and practice, it may become a liability when later you become a snarky aid blogger (after you’ve snagged a real aid job) and a large part of your spare time is spent making fun of people who resemble your old self. (See Destroying Idealism).
So it’s wise to use an assumed name when blogging for the folks back home. Later in your career you definitely won’t want anyone forwarding around that blog that you wrote back in the early days when you had no idea. Your field cred will seriously suffer.

Expat Aid Workers

This site doesn't really apply to me, but I thought it was amusing nonetheless. I think being Asian makes me feel like the term "expat" is not applicable to me. I did grow up in Hong Kong after all, where "expats" referred to the gwailos. 

 #39 Chaco Tanlines

March 28, 2011
This post comes to us from Cissy, a former Peace Corps Volunteer who now works for Kiva.

Chaco tanlines. The true mark of a hardcore expat field worker. With a 50% discount given to Peace Corps Volunteers, owning a pair of Chacos is practically a requirement for those based in tropical climates. A Chaco tanline separates the Expat Aid Workers that sit in air conditioned offices in the country capital from those that are out in the community getting dirty with the locals.
When community-based EAWs congregate, it is natural for them to compare and judge each other’s level of commitment to helping the poor by each others’ Chaco tanlines. Along with depth of contrast in the tanlines, another way to determine how hard an Expat Aid Worker works is the condition of their Chacos and feet. If an EAW has a deep tanline, but spotless Chacos and no dirt stuck under their toenails, this raises a red flag. They may be spending a lot of time outside, but not necessarily getting dirty at the farm and in the market with the locals. The more pairs of Chacos you go through, the stronger your devotion to poverty alleviation.

Chalk up some field cred with Chaco tan lines...
Along with the tanline badge of courage, Chacos also provide a way to be “fashionable” in the field. The numerous models and designs provide Expat Aid Workers with conversations that leave room for moasting, such as, “Wow – haven’t seen that pattern yet – are those new?” Response: “Yeah, I wore through my old pair in only 3 months – can you believe it?! The 4 hour roundtrip treks on my mountain bike to the farms to help the villagers plant seeds really takes its toll. This style and design just came out – not many people have them yet.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What will I be doing?

Aside from learning Spanish, I will be working for the Transitions Foundation of Guatemala. Matt first made me aware of this non-profit organization, that provides various vocational and educational programs for disabled Guatemalans. Amongst their various enterprises, they have a wheelchair building workshop, a prosthetic & orthotic clinic, special-ed programs and a rather fierce wheelchair basketball team, I think.

Here is a video (dubbed English version) profiling one of the founders, Alex Galvez.

Initially, I will be helping another founder, John Bell, with work that does not require Spanish language skills. Some of my projects will be trying to identify and quantify metrics that measure the benefit of making a disabled person mobile; fund-raising; project-management and logistics around the building of their new factory. Hopefully, once I've got my Spanish mojo going, I'll be able to interact with patients a little bit.

Send-off party pics

Emily and Sam kindly hosted.

George, probably talking animatedly about giggling Saudis.

Mr. & Mrs Chang, and Eu-jin on-call for work.

Why this blog?

My main impetus for creating this blog is to document events, thoughts and feelings on this adventure I am embarking on. I don't speak a lick of Spanish (nor am I particularly facile with Romance languages) so this will be rather comical. I also want to document as honestly as possible the various challenges I will experience as a Spinal Cord Injury survivor, travelling and living in a developing country where resources for the disabled do not abound.

Here I am, less than thrilled about my wheelchair and turtle-suit.

 I have been quite anxious about figuring out SCI-related logistics e.g. how do I transport 3 months worth of catheters and latex gloves (my bowel & bladder function are impaired)? How will I manage to take public transportation or walk from place to place given my limited mobility? How do I politely tell the host-family that I can't eat any more food because of my GI-issues without offending them? Will there be sufficient lighting in the shared bathroom for cath-ing mysef? Sometimes I think it is terribly unfair that I need to think about issues like this, and then I am overwhelmed with sadness. But it is what it is and I can't let these inconveniences intimidate me and prevent me from living life.

I have such awesome friends

I have such wonderful friends! Felt quite a bit of sadness knowing that this would be the last time for awhile that I would see this group that supported me to much throughout my accident and convalescence.

This blog was their idea, btw, as is the oh so witty blog title.