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The Power of Support July 7, 2010

Posted by amarkon in Brazil, Doctoral, Graduate, Individual Fellowship.
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So, where did we leave off? Well, I was in Ribeirão Preto getting ready to start a project dealing with the slightly nasty disease known as dengue. Like I said in my prior post, I was back in my country of birth—Brazil. I speak Portuguese fluently, and I do consider myself very involved in Brazilian culture and whatnot. But it’s still incredible how many unexpected things can happen. I could spend hours just listing every single unexpected event that happened to me during my stay there, but I’ll just quickly sum up the most pleasant of said surprises—the never ending kindness and generosity of the people with whom I worked.

I had been fortunate to have had contact with these people two years ago during an internship related to my master’s degree. This meant that I arrived in Brazil already knowing that I’d be treated well, but I just could not imagine how nice people would actually be during my stay. It was incredible! If I wanted to talk to somebody, not only would that person schedule some time to see me (regardless of their position or other commitments) but they would have some delicious Brazilian coffee and some sort of nice little snack ready-made or bought fresh, just for me! This hospitality was everywhere, including at the Secretariat of Health.

In fact, my collaborator, my advisor, and I all were invited to a nice informal dinner at the house of the head of the epidemiology department. She prepared a ton of amazing Brazilian specialties just for us—all from scratch! (Just do an image search for pernil assado and pão de queijo, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. That, and you’ll get jealous.) I will never forget all the kindness on their part. It’s nice to know I have a great understanding with them. Not only did I have complete support for my project, I also believe I have made life-lasting relationships. You just can’t beat that!

As you can imagine, the support I got from all these people in Ribeirão Preto was just incredible! I had some pretty lofty goals for this project. I pretty much decided to try and get done in a single month what should probably have taken more time, yet I accomplished all of my goals for this project! How you ask? Well, speaking Portuguese helped … but, once again, I can’t help but credit the support I got from everybody down there. Oh, and what I’ve learned in my master’s and what I’m currently learning during my PhD may also have helped just a tad …

Moral of the story: never underestimate how much easier your life can be when you have other people’s support.

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Researching dengue in Brazil … so it begins June 29, 2010

Posted by amarkon in Brazil, Graduate, Individual Fellowship.
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So let me start off my blog post by introducing myself—my name is André Markon and I am a doctoral student in Epidemiological Sciences at the School of Public Health. I will be contributing to the II blog over the next few weeks describing my experience in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, over the start of the summer.

I went to Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, to develop my dissertation. I work with a disease called dengue fever, which is quite nasty. In fact, a prominent dengue researcher once said that dengue probably won’t kill you, but you wish it would. Put it like this—your whole body aches, you have very high fevers, and you can even have some digestive “issues.” It’s not what I’d call my idea of fun. Oh, and there’s no vaccine currently available, and standard treatment consists primarily of rehydration therapy … lovely, no?

I bet you’re currently asking yourself why on earth somebody would waste their time working with something so nasty. (At least I would if I were you.) My interest in dengue began when I was in college after taking a parasitology course. My interest continued to grow throughout the years. Then, during my master’s, I went to Brazil to work in a public health center in Ribeirão Preto. The time I spent working at that center was amazing and heavily influenced my decision to pursue my PhD in epidemiology. The center was so overrun by dengue patients of all ages, and I just felt like I personally needed to do something about it. So that’s how I got into dengue …

And why Brazil? My first answer is “Why not?” Secondly, I am originally from Brazil—I was born in São Paulo city, but have spent most of my life here in the U.S. (on account of my dad’s job). Yet, I have always had a very strong connection with Brazil. Heck, I’m sporting a Brazil soccer jersey right now as I type this blog. (After all, it is the World Cup.) So, upon combining the reasons I just mentioned with the fact that dengue affects most of the country, it becomes pretty obvious why I went down there.

Now, why Ribeirão Preto? Heck, where is RP? It is a fairly large city some 3.5 hours north of São Paulo city. It is the center of the Brazilian ethanol production industry (most cars in Brazil run on sugar cane alcohol or a mixture of fuels that include ethanol) and suffers from quasi-yearly dengue epidemics. Another factor that brought me to RP was the fact that there are 11 or so universities and colleges in this city of just over 550,000 inhabitants, offering me the ideal infrastructure to do a “solid” dissertation that could someday have a real-world impact. In the next blog I’ll start talking about the experience itself … ’til then … tchau tchau for now.