Academic Signing Day

56 pages, a 30 minutes of oral presentation, and 30 minutes of Q&A later. I can gladly share that I passed my Master's Thesis Defense and have officially submitted my thesis to the Graduate School.


I'd also like to share that I had a really, really successful Ph.D application cycle. Per my last post, I applied to six doctoral program. I was rejected from Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill and I was accepted into UCLA, University of Michigan, Drexel University, and University of Minnesota. They were all essentially fully funded. 

This is a pretty big deal to me because I have been told to "just get a job" instead of thinking about doctoral programs when I started my MPH program AND I nearly had my spirit broken during my fellowship in Tanzania.

Example: I had a potential recommendation writer tell me partway through the application cycle told "I' don't have enough practical skills to get into a Ph.D program" and pulled his offer for the letter. 

First of all, most people in academia don't have "practical" skills, but I digress.  

I say that to say, if you want something, do it, and surround yourself with individuals that will not only support you but hold you accountable to your goals and aspirations. The accountability part is a major key. In all seriousness, if I didn't have those people who knew that pre-Tanzania Taylor really wanted this, I wouldn't have bothered with the process.

Any who, it took me a very long time to decide on a program. Literally January to April. There are a ton of moving parts to consider such as program fit, prestige, mentorship, location, proximity to home, vibe, location, traffic, weather, cost of living, car insurance, job placement of previous students, diversity, etc. The list goes on and it gets longer as time goes by.  I did three visits, talked to tons of faculty, students, alumni in person, via telephone, email, Skype, you name it. As an introvert, it was exhausting.

After weeks on weeks of soul-searching, I was able to confidently make a decision. Ultimately, I followed my heart, chose the best "fitting" program, and negotiated in order to make choose the program where I could be my best and most productive self.

In September, I will start a fully-funded Ph.D program in Health Policy and Management from...

*drum roll please*

If anyone is interested in learning about navigating admission or funding Masters and Ph.D programs, I'd be happy to share my "how-to" in my next post. Let me know!

Graduation is coming!

Yes! Graduation is May 19th, but of course graduating comes with a new set of stressors: figuring out next steps and wrapping up coursework. Per my previous post, I ended up applying to six doctoral programs, mostly centered around health services research and health policy and management. To date, I have received three acceptances, two rejections, and the last is still pending.

This semester, I have defended my Master’s Thesis proposal and now working towards submitting it by mid-April. With acceptances, visiting schools, and my thesis work I have been in a slight state of confusion as I am deciding on where to go. Around 2 AM this morning, I took some time to read my statement of purpose for some motivation. I figured I would share a few paragraphs of the introduction as I have found that it is not an easy thing to articulate in 10 words or less while I am chatting with friends and family:

In the summer of 2017, I had the unique opportunity to propose and independently conduct National Cancer Institute funded research in Tanzania for three months. I conducted semi-structured interviews with original questions in Swahili related to barriers to secondary cervical lesion screenings and treatment in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where 50% of women with an initial positive cervical lesion screening are not seeking a verification screening or treatment, and 80% of women are suffering from late stage cervical cancer by the time they seek treatment. Through collaboration with three hospitals and trained local nurses, social workers, and social scientists we conducted 60 interviews. Since my return to the United States in August 2017, my research team and I are actively working to publish this work in a peer-reviewed journal and to disseminate the results to medical professionals at hospitals in Dar es Salaam. My goal is that the hospitals will use the findings to implement an intervention or develop new policies to reduce the cervical cancer mortality disparities between women in developed and underdeveloped nations.

This experience has played a crucial part in planning the next steps in my academic career as it tied together my complementary interests in research, community engagement, health promotion, and health equity. However, at the end of each interview women would often say something along the lines of, “I tell you all my business, what can you do to help me get the treatment I need?” I left Tanzania feeling troubled by my inability to influence upstream policy changes and population-level interventions that could reduce the onset of preventable conditions, and motivated me to gain the skillset needed to eliminate disparities. This experience helped to refine my research interests, and influenced my decision to pursue doctoral training that will put me in a position to influence actionable strategies to address disparities.

I am passionate about exposing and eliminating racial and ethnic, and gender disparities in access to high quality, preventive services, specifically the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and cervical cancer screening, treatment, and control. Additionally, I am interested in exploring the role of structural racism on healthcare quality. My long-term career objective is to generate actionable scientific evidence that can improve the lives of minority, underrepresented, and underserved populations through research, practice, and policy change. My goal is to become an academic health equity scholar and educator, and to conduct and disseminate policy-focused research. Additionally, I recognize the lack of women of color in academia and I have had a difficult time identifying role models that have had similar lived experiences and perspectives as it relates to navigating academia as a black woman. Therefore, I aspire to be a culturally-competent and trustworthy researcher that is able to engage marginalized populations in research while playing an integral role in mentoring the next generation of researchers, especially scholars of color and women.

Essentially, in 10 words or less (or 19), I want to be an advocate for vulnerable communities and mentor the next generation of scholars and change agents.

Where I've been and where I'm going

Time has flown by since my last update and I didn't intend for 4 months to go by before sharing how my experience in Tanzania ended. To be honest, I was pretty troubled for a variety of reasons. The experience rocked my world.  I came home with little time to process before diving in my last fall semester and figuring out my next steps as quickly as possible since my plan was to apply to doctoral programs. When I left in May I was 1000% confident that I'd be applying to someone's PhD in Social Epidemiology program. Long story short, this summer was a wake up call as Epidemiology wouldn't have trained me in the way I needed. I think that explains the internal and external struggles I was facing while working with seasoned epidemiologists this summer. This is by no means a generalization, but in my experience this summer, it seemed like larger samples and statistical significance had greater value than what I had proposed to do, which was explain why half of Tanzanian women with suspected cervical lesions were not seeking follow-up or treatment. All in all, I think it jaded my view of what a career in academia looked like for me. 

Going back to the project itself, I came home to all of my transcriptions. As promised, Dr. John had then in my inbox by the time I landed in D.C. However, they are summarized transcriptions and I am not going to be able to qualitatively analyze them as I had hoped. My total sample consisted on 60 women and their stories. I am extremely pleased with this and I plan on spending time over the winter break to complete my analysis and a come up with a game plan for dissemination. 

What's next?

I don't know yet. As I alluded to earlier, I was very confused about how I would approach my doctoral applications. Essentially, I wanted to do more than expose disparities through data analysis and interpretation. I wanted to go a step further and conduct research that can explain disparities but also influence change through health and policy interventions. For those reasons, I been focusing on applying to Ph.D. programs related to health Policy & management and health services research.

Lessons Learned

Ultimately, I've learned that I am exceptional. And I've continued to be as exceptional as possible regardless of all of the hurdles and risks that I've taken. My confidence took a hard hit this summer and in the last few months as I've been preparing to submit my doctoral applications and figure out life after graduation. I spent the entire summer advocating for myself and the women in my study and it was hard. I am very proud of what me and my team accomplished, given the short time frame, limited resources, a very hard to reach population, and my language barrier. 

But since my return, I've been told to either postpone doctoral study or to avoid it all together "and just get a job" because "I have no experience and I'm no researcher" and it shows because "of my small sample size" and "no publications". Even after securing an NCI grant, implementing, and completing a study in Tanzania for a very hard to reach population of women. Even after, I was accepted to give an oral presentation at the 2017 APHA conference. Even after, telling anyone who would listen that I enrolled into my MPH program with full intentions of enrolling in a Ph.D. program soon after. I've learned that this experience with nay-sayers won't be my last and lastly, although I am sick and tired of being told "no", I now know how to recognize them in the future.

I'd like to thank and acknowledge my friends Khadija, Stacey, Taylor, Elizabeth, and Flora for all of the time they invested in me and this project. I wouldn't have made it without the love and support you all showed me. Asante sana dadas. 


Seven more sunsets

Believe it or not, my time in Tanzania is quickly coming to an end. My work is nearly done. I’m pretty recharged after spending last week with my mom. It was nice to show and explore Dar es Salaam with her. Not to mention, all of the shopping we did. I had a pretty strong spell of homesickness after she left but at that point I had ten days left and today marks the beginning of my final week. Two of my roommates, have left so it’s been a bit lonelier than usual. Keeping the morale high is the key to enjoying these last few days. Just as I was getting use to the quiet in the apartment and recovering from being homesick, I found out my great-grandmother passed away last night :'( . Not only am I far, far away from my family, it is pretty likely that I’ll miss the funeral arrangements. This seems like one of the worst things that can happen while one is abroad but I’m fueled by the fact that I’ve come this far and she wouldn’t want me to stop now.

Research-wise, I have finished data collection and transcribing the interview audio files (Thanks to Michael!). With the help of my amazing research assistants, Elizabeth and Flora, we have completed 60 interviews! All that is left is TRANSLATION (#majorkey). My hope is to have all of the translating complete by Friday or Saturday. I’d love to be able to say that I came home with my “golden goose egg” (shout out to Ellesse!). I’m excited to see the results.

My goals of the week: (1) have data in English by Friday; (2) finish my presentation for University of Nebraska and the National Cancer Institute; (3) continuing writing my manuscript; (4) give out gifts, thank you cards, take pictures, and say my goodbyes.

Cross your fingers and send good vibes!

Now that I have cooled off, let’s talk.

Two weeks ago or so, I posted a status about how I was extremely overwhelmed and frustrated. I actually wrote a lengthy and detailed blog post about everything I had experienced with work that week. I clicked “publish” and  *poof* went the Internet. Naturally, I was mad about that but honestly it was definitely for the best. It wouldn’t have been the most professional thing I’ve ever written – It was very angry and blunt reflection titled, "Unapologetically meticulous".

All I will say is that I strongly believe that my gender (woman vs. man), nationality (American vs. Native), and ethnicity or perceived ethnicity (they refused to acknowledge my identity of as an “African American” so they refer to be as “Black American”) is playing a huge role in the lack of respect I have received and it is reflective in the progress and maybe the quality of my project, in my opinion. I have strong feelings about that but if you’d like to hear more, I’d love to clarify in-person when I get back to the States.

More objectively, here’s what’s going on with my project:

Recruitment: 203 women are eligible for my study. To be eligible a women would have received a positive VIA result in 2015 and 2016 at either the Magomeni Clinic or the Temeke Hospital AND were referred to Ocean Road Cancer Institute for a follow-up screening.

Support: After my birthday, my research assistant Flora was hospitalized and will no longer be working with me. Last week, I was introduced to a nurse, Elizabeth who will be serving as my new research assistant (RA). Before I realized Flora was sick I was already lobbying for a second RA because as I mentioned I have to make 203 and in an effort to eliminate selection bias, we need to make three attempts for each number at different points in the week and day. Meaning that is potentially over 600 phone calls and I have almost 3 weeks left :).  Last week, I trained Elizabeth on my IRB protocol and taught her how to use my audio recorder. She loved it once she got the hang off it. She asked me how much they cost (Here, they are $100-$250… I know because I wanted to buy a second one) and I promised to give her mine once we finished. You should have seen her face! Also wanted to add that before the training, we talked a lot about our families and while we were talking about that I guess she noticed my tragus piercing. She abruptly stopped talking, grabbed my face to turn my head, and looked at my right ear. I couldn’t tell you whether or not she approved of it but it happened! Anywho, she’s been great, she plans to continue dedicating her evenings and weekends to the project until we have completed the list. So far she has completed almost 15 interviews and nearly finished half of our list in barely a week. We meet every other day to check-in on her progress, talk about her observations, and address ways to probe specific themes as they come. Administratively, I copy the new audio files from the recorder to my laptop and flash drive, collect and scan completed questionnaires, compile audio files with de-dentified questionnaires (hey IRB hey!) and send to my preceptors and newfound transcriber and translator.

Troubleshooting & Problem Solving: Elizabeth called me this morning (which prompted this post because troubleshooting and problem solving happens on a regular basis) and told me she had a problem. I went to work and found her (I thought she wiped the audio recorder accidentally or something of that nature), she was really worried and told me she was in an accident, her phone no longer works, AND the audio recorder wasn’t working (as she opens the empty battery compartment and digs out of one the AAA batteries from her purse). Remember how happy she was about the recorder earlier? Imagine having to tell someone you broke it. She was terrified. You know my first thought was it has to be the battery, at least, I was praying that was the issue. I reassured her that it had to be the battery and if not, we can figure it out. I tried to plug it into Macbook and it turned on and I transferred the new files (#smallvictories)! I went to the grocery store and purchased a pack of AAA batteries for about $1.50 and voila, the recorder works! Another small victory. As you can imagine, Elizabeth was praising the Lord that everything was okay. I asked her more about her accident because I was surprised she was even at work. She told me she was on the back of a “piki piki” (motorcycle)… I was warned to never get on them so there’s no need to explain further. I’m just glad she’s okay. The next problem is her phone. I texted my preceptor and told him what happened and proposed we buy her a small phone so we can continue. He agreed and hopefully she has it tomorrow morning. We shall see!

Miscellaneous thoughts: After hearing brief summaries of some of the interviews I think unintentionally uncovered some controversial themes and I have been warned that I may have to fight to publish all of my findings. My project is basically an assessment of the community needs. Knowing the needs will be helpful for designing interventions or policy change in the future to help Tanzanian women. Now I’m left wondering, what do researchers do in this situation? I want to be transparent for the sake for influencing an effective intervention but what do you do if you are receiving pushback?

25th Birthday Safari

I've safely return back to Dar es Salaam after our trip to Northern Tanzania. We flew out of Dar on Friday, June 23rd and made it back last night. The trip was beyond amazing and exceeded my expectations. It was definitely a great way to turn 25!

Friday, June 23rd - Arusha

Taylor, Stacey & I went into to work for a very productive two hours. I mentioned in a recent Instagram/Facebook post that I had made it to my second clinic and had obtained their logbook of 2016 cervical lesion screenings the day before. I worked pretty late into the night to complete my list of eligible 2016 Temeke patients (those with a positive screening and received a referral to Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI)). I spent the two hours on Friday scanning ORCI's cervical cancer screening registration book with hopes of cross referencing both logbooks. The idea is that if a women appears in ORCI's registration book then she sought follow-up and/or treatment and are not eligible for my study. We left work around 10:00AM, walked home, did our final packing, had an early lunch and make our way to the airport around 11:30AM to caught out 2:20PM flight to Arusha.

Upon arrival to Arusha we met our driver, Ziggy (he was awesome). We were driven to his manager's office to pay for our safari and finalize trip details. We were hosted by Kili Slope Tours & Safari, the safari was all inclusive for $1,050 per person which covered breakfast, lunch, dinner, and housing from 6/23 to 6/28. One the first night we stayed in Meru House Inn. 

Here are some of my favorite pictures! I'm also very proud to say I took all of these on my Nikon D5300 in manual mode.

Saturday, June 24th - Lake Manyara National Park

Overnight Accommodations: Octagon Lodge

Sunday, June 25th - Serengeti National Park

Accommodations: Serengeti Mawe Luxury Camp

Monday, June 26th - Serengeti National Park

Accommodations: Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge

Tuesday, June 27th - Ngorongoro Crater

Accommodations: Meru House Inn

Wednesday, June 28th - Return to Dar es Salaam

We had the day to explore the Cultural Heritage Centre , which was a beautiful gallery of African paintings, portraits, carved furniture and sculptures. It was also a nice place to buy souvenirs loved ones back home. We spend about 3 hours or so there then at the best lunch ever at Africafe then flew "home" to Dar arriving around 6:00PM. After I fought the taxi driver for a reasonable price (they wanted $35 when the cost should be 30,000 TSH (which is about $15), three minutes later we secured a cab for, sat in traffic for about an hour and made it home around 7:00PM.

 Click here to see the entire photo album from the Safari!


Last week you may remember that I shared that I still hadn't started data collection for my project... You may also remember that I was scheduled to go to to the Magomeni clinic on Thursday. And I did... go to Magomeni but was still unable to collect anything.

First off, getting to Magomeni was a journey in itself. Khadija and I were going to take the bus but realized as we were walking to the bus station from Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) that Khadija's phone was still at ORCI, and we turned around to get it. Normally, it would have been fine to go without the phone BUT since Khadija has been my liaison to the nurses at Magomeni, it was pretty important that she was able to reach the nurse in the case that we were running or late or something like that.... It was a good thing we did! We were scheduled to leave ORCI around 12:00PM and arrive at Magomeni at 1:00PM. We ended up getting there around 2:30PM, aside from forgetting the phone, we got lost, were stuck in traffic, and wrongfully almost towed. Once we finally got to the clinic we learned that the nurse, Sister Alice, was not clear as to why we were there due to some miscommunication between the supervisors at ORCI and Magomeni. She seemed pretty nervous and did not allow me to look at their logbook to pull my sample. However, I was able to give Sister Alice copies of my questionnaire, recruitment, and consent scripts for her to review. As a result, I was told I could come back on Friday with my preceptor to make up for not getting much accomplished on Thursday. Long story short, we did not go but I was told we’d go on Monday. 

Yesterday (Monday), I printed a few copies of my questionnaire and consent forms and I typed up a list of patient phone numbers that I would use to build my sample from the Magomeni clinic. Last years' CEESP fellow could not use names in her data collection (for IRB-related reasons), therefore the identifiers she used were the patients' phone numbers and the month and year of their cervical screening. So I had to sift through the Magomeni logbooks month by month and match patient names to their phone number. Sounds tedious right?? It actually wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. In about an hour and a half I matched about half of my participants (I should be returning tomorrow to finish matching my sample).

I SAY ALL OF THIS TO SAY, that today, I was paired with a trained sociologist, Sister Flora and we ran a pilot test of the questionnaire and conducted FOUR interviews.  The questionnaire worked well!!! All I need to do is make a few minor changes to my recruitment script and we are all set!! As you can imagine, I. AM. PUMPED!!! BUT in just four interviews I heard A LOT. They were very heavy, emotional conversations and the results so far are so alarming. :'(

I wish I could share more, but that’s why we have journal articles and manuscripts. =P

Next steps:

  • Obtain the rest of my Magomeni sample
  • Start putting together my Temeke sample
  • Recruit
  • Interview! Interview! Interview!


Great way to close out my first month in Tanzania!

Things are moving "Pole Pole"

Pole pole is Swahili for "slowly, slowly"

In the past week, a lot of my friends and family have asked how my research is going, especially because it looks like I'm on a long vacation - which is definitely not the case!  

In my first week, I received the approval from the UMD Institutional Review Board (IRB) to move forward with the data collection. Right after I got the IRB approval, my methods and consent process changed pretty drastically, so I had to submit a lot of amendments. Initially, I was going to collect data prospectively in in-person semi-structured interviews. However, my co-investigator and the ORCI physicians thought a retrospective approach via telephone interviews will be best, and if doesn't go well we can incorporate the prospective approach. My concern centered around making contact with women who were screened from over a year ago, but I liked that the telephone interviews could would make it easier for women to participant in the study (assuming they still have the same number and are still living), but we shall see, I adapted. *fingers crossed*

Last week, I had the Swahili versions of my questionnaire translated by one of the ORCI physicians on Monday. The plan was to bring the nurses from the rural clinics together for a training on the protocol and pilot test of my questionnaire on Wednesday. I was all set and excited for this step because it meant that I would be out in the field in no time. However, neither of the nurses showed up and at the same time, I lost all communication with the ORCI physician; who has been serving as my preceptor and coordinating the training with the nurses. So I showed up to work Thursday and Friday hoping and waiting for something to happen. While I waited, I taught myself how to use NVivo, (mixed method analysis tool), put together my codebook, and worked on my literature review for the manuscript. Unfortunately, none of the nurses ever came and I never received any explanation or updates from my preceptor. As you can imagine, I was beyond frustrated. Between my strong frustration, an upset stomach, and homesickness I had a good cry Friday evening.

I updated Dr. Soliman on my lack of progress Friday afternoon, I was told that my preceptor had mentioned being on holiday (vacation time) but neither of us knew exactly when that started. It's also Ramadan, which could have something to do with the pace, but I'm not entirely sure. A few weeks ago, Dr. Soliman decided to provide an additional $2,000 to my grant award to incentivize the nurses and physicians to assist me and my project. I received the direct deposit Friday afternoon and on Monday morning I emailed my preceptor to tell him I had it and needed a safe way to withdraw the $2000 in Tanzanian shillings. Sure enough I got a response and a few updates. It seems like he's passing me off to another physician, Khadija, who is an MPH student at University of Nebraska, she is writing her thesis this summer and graduating in August. Anywho, he gave us the phone number of one of the nurse supervisors from the Magomeni clinic so we coordinate a meeting and training session. As far as I know, Khadija and I will be going on Thursday but I do know if that is set in stone yet. I'm also still waiting for meet with the Temeke nurses as well so I can finally get the ball rolling. I'm getting nervous about the timing, I've spent a good chunk of my time waiting to start.

However, on a positive note...

I found out that my abstract on adult male HPV vaccination initiation and completion rates in the U.S. was accepted for an oral presentation at the upcoming 2017 American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting in November in Atlanta! I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to share my research and network with like-minded professionals. Not to mention, I'm going to try and squeeze in a visit to Emory!! Since, I'll applying for doctoral programs in the upcoming application cycle, this couldn't have come at a better time!! 

I also had a great weekend! We went to The Village Museum for 6500 TSH (~ $3) to learn about Tanzanian tribal culture, history, and housing. We also enjoyed a traditional dance performance for 2000 TSH ( < $1). I also bought a lot of souvenirs at the end :)

On Sunday, we took a 30 minute boat to a nearby island, Bongoyo for 20,000 TSH (~$10). There was additional fees such as entry to the island and Marine Reservation fee but I don't remember the specifics. I believe we paid close to 70,000 TSH total (~ $30). We arrived on the island around 10:00AM and left around 4:30PM. While we were there we rented a huge umbrella, woven beach blanket, and chairs for 5000 TSH (~ $2.50), snorkeled for 5000 TSH (~ $2.50) (Sidenote: I don't swim well so this was a huge personal accomplishment), walked/hiked the island trails and relaxed on the beach. It was much a much needed trip after an emotional week.

Lastly, I had a few rough days with the food last week but I think I've been managing okay. I have GERD (or acid reflux), for me, triggered by fried and greasy foods, which is how I would describe 85% of the food here. Even with taking my prescribed medication, it was still pretty bad and because of it I was not sleeping well. But I've resorted to eating bland foods like white rice and frozen veggies until I can figure out something else. #smallvictories

Despite my minor frustrations, I'm still happy to be here and apparently still experiencing culture shock. It really helps to receive emails and texts from my friends, families, and professors -  so keep 'em coming!

My Weekend in Zanzibar, Tanzania!

This past weekend we travelled by Azam Marine fast ferry to Zanzibar, a nice sized island about 80km away from Dar es Salaam. The ferry is a 2 minute walk from our apartment which is super convenient. We left Dar at 7:00AM on Saturday morning and took the 3:30PM ferry home, we were heavily warned about the returning evening ferry for being extremely rocky with passengers vomiting all over the cabin. We thought sitting in Business Class ($40) would prevent us from witnessing the "vomit fest" instead of sitting in the Economy Class ($35). I normally don't get seasick but I took a Dramamine on the returning ferry just in case and I was fine! It probably helped that I focused on watching 3 episodes of Dear White People and a portion of Southside with You - Thank goodness for Netflix's downloadable content! Luckily, we did not witness said "vomit fest". It took us ~2 hours to get to and from Zanzibar. If get seasick, I would suggest you take the earliest ferries instead of the evenings ones. If you would like to leave in the evening like we did, there is also an option to fly back to Dar es Salaam for ~$50 to $60 one way. 

Compared to Dar es Salaam, nearly 100% of the Zanzibar population is Muslim; it was a great learning experience to be there for the first few days of Ramadan. Therefore, you have to be really mindful about how you dress. I was told to dress conservatively while I'm in Tanzania but in Zanzibar specifically, its taken much more seriously. So if you wondered by I'm always wearing long sleeved maxi dressed, scarves and long pants that is why. 

Day 1: Stone Town, Zanzibar

After arriving in Zanzibar around 9:00AM we went straight to our hostel. We stayed with Jambo Guest House, I'd definitely recommend it if you're in the area. The rooms generally run for pretty reasonable. I shared a triple with Stacey and Taylor, we paid about $22 per person per night. Tip: If you plan to stay here if your significant other you will be required to present a marriage license. Otherwise, you'll have to get separate bedrooms.

We spent the entire day exploring Stone Town on our town, despite being pestered and followed for a guided tour. Once you get past the hungry tour guides it is truly a wonderful place. The town is definitely representative of its name. (You'll have to view the pictures below to see what I mean). I reminded be of a labyrinth, with high walls and narrow cobbled walkways - think Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wind ;). It's pretty easy to get lost here but we found out way. It was kind of scary at night and I don't think there's a way to taxi around because it's too narrow for cars but maybe next time I will try a Bajaji? (explained in previous post). There is so much to do and see there - we visited the Slave Market for 10,000 TSH (~$5), the Hamamni Persian Baths for 2,000 TSH ($1), the Sultan's Palace Museum (Beit al-Sahel) for 6,000 TSH ($3), a variety of shops for souvenirs and antiques, and saw the beautiful #DoorsofZanzibar. I would definitely come back to see the attractions we missed as the House of Wonders (a portion of it recently clasped so it is under construction). I can't wait to bring my mom here when she visits next month!!

Day 2: Spice Tour & Beach

Sunday morning around 6:00AM we were greeted with super heavy rains, which lasted for almost 2 hours but thankfully we were able to enjoy the rest of the day with very little rain. We went on a Spice Tour hosted by the hostel we stayed with at 9:15AM. The Spice Tour included a ~2 hour hike through the plantations and sampling of a ton of fruits, herbs and spices, lunch made with fresh vegetables and rice nicely seasoned with the local spices, and a trip to the beach. All for $15!

During the tour, we tried countless fruits and spices. We also learned about their purposes, origin, and history. We tasted/smelled/saw fresh clove, starfruit, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, cocoa, avocado, pomelo (grapefruit), nutmeg, peppercorn, and cinnamon straight from the Earth (featured in pictures below)! Midway through the tour, we were able to purchase handmade soups and oils produced from the plants we learned about during the tour. I bought 2 bottles of coconut oils, and 4 bars of vanilla, lemongrass, turmeric, and langi langi soap for 20,000 TSH (~$10). At the end of the tour, we shopped from the infamous Spice Market! I purchased a ton of spices, such as cinnamon sticks, pilau masala, curry, ginger, cloves, and turmeric along with a variety of teas and coffees flavored with banana, peppermint, ginger, vanilla, and cinnamon all for 30,000 TSH ($15)! We had lunch at a nearby home then spent some time at a beach for about 30 minutes away then took the ferry back to Dar!

Explanation of Cinnamon

Explanation of Vanilla Bean

Overview of My First Week

Hello everyone! Instead of sharing what I did every day during my first week, I figured it would be best to break it down by categories and pictures. 


We have a four bedroom, three bathroom apartment on the 22nd floor in City Centre with a nice view of the city skyline and the ocean front! The city is super busy, they're are usually people outside walking around throughout the day. I'm not sure when most businesses open in the morning but the street vendors are always set up before we leave home at 8:30am to get to work.  I imagine the stores open at 9am and everything closes around 4:00pm. Restaurants seem remain closed until after the last prayer of the day, around 6:30pm. There are 6 prayers a day: Fajr (~05:13AM), Sunrise (~06:24AM), Dhuhr (~12:20PM), Asr (~3:41PM), Maghrib (~6:14PM), and Isha'a (~7:22PM). The Call to Prayer call be heard from all over City Centre as we live near two beautiful Mosques. Between the early sunrise around 6:00AM, the first Call to Prayer, and me being a light sleeper it's hard for me to sleep through it. But thanks to my friend, Noelle, I have an eye mask and earplugs which have been the best! Thanks again!


I'm sure a lot of you are wondering how the heck I ended up spending my summer in Tanzania, so let me quickly explain... In January 2017, I was accepted into a National Cancer Institute funded fellowship program, Cancer Epidemiology Education in Special Populations (CEESP) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). During the application process I was asked to propose a project relating to cancer, so naturally, I decided to look at cervical cancer. I worked closely with the program director, Dr. Amr Soliman and proposed a research project analyzing disparities in cervical cancer follow-up screening and treatment usage among Tanzanian women. I'll basically be interview these women and ask them WHY they did not use their referral for a second opinion and/or treatment. The project is a continuation of last year's CEESP fellow who found that ~50% of women who receive a positive cervical cancer screening at their local clinic do not use their referral to the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI), which is the only cancer treatment center in Tanzania. I was drawn to Tanzania as it there is a huge need to research in this area as cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Tanzania, in fact, 80% of ORCI patients are being treated for cervical cancer. At this point, you may be thinking about the HPV vaccine and how it prevents cervical cancer. As it stands right now, the HPV vaccine is not available in the country. Needlessness to say, I'm happy that my work, hope it will bring these barriers to light so they can be addressed and resolved.

 Ocean Road Cancer Institute

Ocean Road Cancer Institute


The people here are so sweet! I feel like I get special attention compared to the other three fellows. I've been told that I look like I could be Tanzanian so I've been approached a bazillion times in straight Swahili and I either give the blank stare and give reply to their greeting and ask if they know english. Most of the time they know english which is nice, but being on the other side of the language barrier is tough. Luckily, I have 14 more weeks to get it together. Right now, I depend on smiling as it pretty universal. 


It has been unexpectedly difficult to find traditional Tanzanian food. Most of the Tanzanian food I've had was from the Canteen behind ORCI. I've tried Ndizi Samaki (Fish & Plantains), Ugali Mboga (Vegetables), and Mali Mboga (Vegetables and Rice). I have eaten more Indian, Lebanese, French and Chinese food; such as Mixed Vegetable Curry, Fafafel, Crepes, Prawns & Mixed Vegetables, etc. I'd probably find more traditional foods on the streets but I was strongly discouraged from eating street food. Though I haven't had a ton of Tanzanian food. I've noticed their diets are very carb-based. Most of the dishes I've had/seen has a huge serving of rice or other carbs with a small portion of protein, and a smidgen of vegetables, if any. I've been "adventurous" and purchases mangoes, oranges, carrots, potatoes, and kidney beans from street vendors. As long as I wash and/or peel fruits and vegetables myself then its good to eat.


You've probably assumed its blazing hot near given I'm in Africa and Tanzania is by the equator. And yes, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't HOT. But thankfully, it is the rainy season so it is the mildest temperatures of the year. I haven't checked the weather too many times because either way I dressed conservatively and all covered up, but the mornings typically start at 77 degrees and the peak temperature has been around 87 degrees. I almost want to say its hotter in Maryland, but I'll hold off as I still have to get through June, July, and August! LOL. Back to the rain though, it is unpredictable... and it doesn't play. The locals don't seem to be phased by the rain and don't use umbrella so I thought I could suck it up, and I did for the first five days or so but on Saturday we were rained for a solid 35 minutes. Now, I shamelessly whip out my umbrella whenever it drains! It never JUST drizzles here. It's always escalated to a long lasting downpour.


LOL. I laugh because being a passenger and pedestrian are equally scary! There are a lot of intersections here with no street lights, stop signs, crossing guards, cross walks, right of ways. Additionally, the closest thing to a street sign I've seen is Pepsi advertising. They don't use any of the signage we use in the states. As you probably guessed, I do not drive here. We usually walk, day and night. If we are going somewhere outside of City Centre we usually taxi. Which can be hard because they're are no standardized taxi rates here. The driver throws out a drive which is usually too high (my hypothesis is because they know we are not local and assume we have the money to blow) but we've learned to negotiate. They don't like it at all but if you tell them "never mind" or "that's too high, I'll find another taxi", 99% of the time as you walk away they'll beep their horn and accept our price. We have also tried "Bajajis", which are like a little golf cart built over a motorcycle, the rates tend to be a lot cheaper than taxis but can only safely hold 3 people even though the drivers claim 4 people is fine!!! Words can't express my experiences with them thus far, just watch the video LOL.


As I just mentioned, most people speak either Swahili or English. Here are a few phrases that I'm working on:

  • Habari = Hello/How are you?
  • Nzuri = Reply to Habari 'how are you?'
  • Karibu = Welcome
  • Jina langa ni.... = My name is...
  • Natoka = I'm from...
  • Kwaheri = Goodbye
  • Asante = Thank you
  • Hapana asante = No thank you

Fun things we did this week

Every night, we have typically ventured out to different restaurants within and outside City Centre. On Saturday, we ventured to the Kariakoo Market, about a mile away from our apartment. It know as one of the busiest and most thrilling markets in Dar es Salaam. Our mentors here thought we were extremely bold and brave after we told them we went there. The outdoor portion was full of vendors selling every fruit, vegetable, bean, grain, and spice you can imagine. The inside was like a warehouse with tons of outdoorsy, gardening merchandise. Unfortunately, we were told the area was not a safe place to being valuables. So I didn't get pictures with my phone or camera but maybe one day I'll be more comfortable! Saturday night, we went to an upscale restaurant, Seacliff, which was on the waterfront in the touristy area of Dar. The dinner was hosted my Dr. Soliman, the CEESP Program Director and he visited us CEESP fellows and our ORCI physician mentions. On Sunday, we planned on going to a small island, Bongoyo, which was a 30 boat right from the Seacliff Market. But when we woke up it looked pretty bleak so we decided against it. GLAD WE DID. We went to brunch at Epi D'or Bakery & Restaurant then went to shop/window shop at the Slipway Market. On the walk to the Slipway Market, we came across a few local shops full of clothes and decor. We decided to go to Slipway Market first return to these shops. Remember those long-lasting downpours? Yeah, it happened again. We shopped around for about an hour. And then came the downpour... We camped out at coffee shop for over an hour and ended up giving up and walking to the local shops I mentioned earlier. We tried on a bunch of her dresses. They were beautiful but none of the fit, I would definitely come back to her to have something made but I ended up buying a pretty red and blue flowy top for 15,000 shillings. After that we headed back home in a BAJAJI. Cooked the dinner using the veggies and rice we bought on Saturday and made vegetable curry over rice. :) 

If you have any questions or want me to read about a different aspect of Dar let me know!! 

Until next time <3

Journey to Dar es Salaam

After a long, long day I finally made it to Dar es Salaam!

On May 14th, I flew out of Dulles Airport at 11:00AM and arrived in Addis Ababa by 5AM EST. This trip is covering a lot of “firsts” for me. This was my first international flight and my first time travelling on my own.

The flight definitely was not as bad as I was expecting. I think I was more concerned about how I would pass the 13 hours. The first half was not that bad but it got pretty difficult after we passed the sun at this point. For some reason, losing the sun drastically affected my mood and enthusiasm, plus I was exhausted and only wanted to sleep. Right in the beginning I was drifting and then the plane dropped suddenly and everyone was screaming, then we were experiencing turbulence for the next 5-10 minutes. If it was not turbulence I was either awaken up by a baby crying or for a meal (I think we ate around 4 or 5 times during the flight – which was new for me). The last 3-4 hours were the hardest. All I wanted to do was rest and I couldn’t (even after Melatonin). So I resorted to the starting the series Dear White People. Kudos to Netflix for the downloadable content! Before I knew it, the sun was rising again and we were in Addis Ababa where I had an hour and a half layover.

We arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia around 7:00AM (12:00AM EST). My experience in Addis Ababa wasn’t what I was expecting. Since I barely slept on the first flight I was hoping to sit in from of my gate and take a quick power nap before I boarded. My gate was housed in a small space (probably the size of half of basketball court) with 6 other gates, so imagine how crowded and hot it was! Mind you, I was wearing a UMD hoodie, long joggers, and hiking boots!!! Needless to say, I stood the whole time and probably almost fainted. We were supposed to start boarding at 8:30AM and take off at 9:05AM, but board was crazy! People were cutting and shoving to give their boarding passes and load the shuttle, which drove us to the plane. We didn’t end up leaving until about 9:40AM. This flight was a lot easier as it was able 2.5 hours. I ate again, took a melatonin and KO’d for a majority of the flight, which I definitely needed because the process to entering the country (show travel immunizations, fill out visa application, get fingerprinted, pay $100 USD, wait for visa to print, find luggage, and go through customs). I took me a little over an hour I think. I knew time was valued differently here than it is in the US. So I tried not to stress because I honestly wasn’t in a rush to get to the next step of obstacles.

After leaving customs, I exchanged some USD to Tanzanian shillings (1 USD = 2,200 Tanzanian Shillings), negotiated at Airtel for a local sim card and data plan. Data, by the way, it extremely inexpensive here! I believe I paid 25,000 shillings, which is roughly 12-13 USD, for 6 GB of data and 75 local minutes!!! Then I grabbed a taxi and was taken to my new home. I thought 695/95/495 can get bad but traffic here is something else! I think we sat at a standstill for at least 25-30 minutes; again I tried not to feel rush because I had nothing else to do and it was the tail end of a long journey (also, the driver simply put the car in “park” and watched basketball on YouTube while we waited). After that, we sailed pretty smoothly and I was united with my fellow CEESP program fellows, Stacey and Taylor from University of Michigan. Our fourth roommate, Richard will be joining up Wednesday afternoon.

Now for the food!! Like I said earlier, I had plenty to eat while I was up in the air but once I got to my apartment and unpack I was starving!! Pretty much all of their restaurants do not open until 6:30PM and it gets dark around 5ish, so it makes getting dinner more challenging because it’s dark by the time restaurants open and we’ve walked to most places. You may ask, why don’t you go grocery shop and cook at home instead? Well…. I haven’t seen a grocery store yet; we went to a market, which is maybe double the size of a corner store in Baltimore City, it sells more than a corner store but there are no fresh fruits and vegetables. And for some reason cereal costs up to 20 USD! It’s actually MUCH cheaper to eat out at restaurants than it is to grocery shop and cook. For example, I had mixed vegetable curry for dinner my first night for 10,000 shillings (10 USD).

We can’t discuss international travel without mentioning the dreaded jetlag. Did I have it? I guess so. I think it help that I was barely sleeping the week prior to leaving (because I had final papers to submit before I took off) and hardly slept while I was in the air. I went to sleep around 11:00PM pretty easily but I woke up to use the restroom around 3:00AM and I woke up confused, as if I forgot for a second that I had flown across the world and thought I was home. Then I couldn’t sleep because it was a bit warmer than I’m use to. Luckily, my friends and family at home were still awake so they kept me “company” until I eventually went back to sleep.

Nakutakia siku njema!


Public Health Research Day

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of presenting my own research on, "Human Papillomavirus Initiation and Completion Rates Among Males: The Role of Race and Ethnicity" It was an awesome experience. I didn't win any awards but I was offered an opportunity to work on legislation regarding the HPV vaccine by an attendee. I couldn't have done without the assistance of my professor, Michel Boudreaux and  my super supportive cohort.