Month: April 2014


I just wrote this as a status update and I thought…I should put this somewhere.  My project is not comparative, but I just can’t ignore how Brazilians find utility in the description of the slave trade when talking about sickle cell.

It will forever be interesting to me that even in the most clinical of Brazilian papers characterizing the molecular structure of hemoglobin, you’ll find a sentence like: “Some 2.5-40 million slaves were brought to Brazil from Africa through the slave trade and were distributed in nearly all regions of the country.”
A US (scientific) author just never goes there!
I did a search on the words “slave” and “sickle” in PubMed and samples from Mexico, Lebanon, Tunisia, Iran, and Trinidad come up. I can’t find one American – and Brazil samples (specifically from the NE) are in relative abundance. ‪#‎scienceingeopoliticalhistoricalcontext‬ ‪#‎ishouldwriteablogaboutthis‬ ‪#‎mydissertationwillthankmelater‬

I touched on it some in my dissertation proposal and have plans on expanding the thought for the real deal:

Brazilian author Lervolino (2011) states:
“Originally from Africa and brought to the Americas by the forced immigration of slaves, it is more frequent where the proportion of African descendants is greater (the northeastern region and the States of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais). In these regions, we observe new cases of sickle cell disease in every 1000 births and sickle cell trait carriers in every 27 births. It is estimated that approximately 2500 children are born every year with sickle cell disease in Brazil (49).”
Consider a similar description of SCD for the United States by American author Hassell (2010):
“The number of individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD) in the U.S. is unknown. Thirty years ago, the U.S. sickle cell anemia population was estimated to be 32,000–50,000, based on reported gene frequencies derived from testing of African-American neonates. Subsequent population estimates of over 50,000–80,000 for both SCD and sickle cell anemia (a common form of SCD) are noted in a variety of publications, usually without a specific reference. Specific methods used to obtain these figures are not provided but are usually discussed in the context of the frequency of sickle cell anemia in the U.S. African-American population as determined by newborn screening data (S512).”
Though both authors accurately describe what the estimated prevalence is for their respective countries, there is a difference in how the populations are mentioned. Scientists’ training and views are shaped in particular ways based on a number of variables, including national identity. In studying how illness is socially constructed: “we explore the effects of class, race, gender, language, technology, culture, the political economy, and institutional and professional structures and norms in shaping the knowledge base which produces our assumptions about the prevalence, incidence, treatment and meaning of disease, (34)” (Brown, 1995). As Fullwiley explains in The Biologistical Construction of Race: ‘Admixture’ Technology and the New Genetic Medicine, the interpretation of technologies (as well as the description of associated prevalence rates derived from said technologies) can never be separated from the epistemology of their creators (Fullwiley, 2000).

Content (Originally Posted: October 21, 2013)

i am sitting by the window working (well, blogging at the moment).  i have just watched/listened to early evening rainfall and have found the Brazilian arts station where the last show was the sound of just the brushstrokes made by an artist followed by the melodic voice of a cantora.  the breeze is light with a small edge of chill to it and is coming through the open window to gently make its presence known.  i’m still in my lounge pants and am pretty darn content.  Like, man this is lovely, content.  I like it.

this is in huge part to the change in my surroundings this week.  my friend Lenildo is on a work trip to Argentina this week and has let me squat in his lovely apartment.  High pressured shower (we’ll get to that later), a full bed, a washer machine, cable (not that important, but nice), and most importantly a lack of bugs and nasty room mates.  Man, am i grateful.  Also, I can walk easily and in the evenings to food, a market, acai… I also am joined by a friend I made at a LASA conference who happens to be in town to visit the archives and gets the spoils of this sweet apartment as well.  Talk about an upgrade in consideration and cleanliness.

Last night, after working I decide to wash my hair at 2AM.  The hottest shower I have taken in Brazil in my five times here.  SO GOOD.  Except the longer and hotter the shower, the more energy it draws and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was drawing so much energy that I caused a power outage in the apartment at 2:30AM.  Which meant instant freezing cold water and and complete darkness.  Thankfully, I decided to switch my routine of wash hair, condition hair, wash body to wash hair, wash body, condition hair.  I was on the third quarter of the condition comb out when -DARKNESS.  I was jamming to Spotify tunes and the wifi and consequent music got silenced too.  I hopped out.  Turned on the iphone flashlight, finished the last quarter.  Tried the fuse box – nada.  Got dressed.  Wrote a note to Rosanna apologizing for all of the hair everywhere since I didn’t get a chance to clean it up thoroughly and warning her of situation, and sat in the light of the street lamps to twist my hair.

When I awoke, Rosanna cheerfully told me it was super common and she just asked the porteiro to switch the fuse for the main apartment downstairs.  OH.  I thought about talking to the porteiro downstairs last night but honestly it was 3 AM by that time, my hair was wet and unpresentable, and i knew i didn’t have the energy or vocabulary to explain the situation.  i probably would have been fine, but i’m glad that R got to the bottom of it all.

Always a new lesson to learn here.  Learning and growing.


Captain’s Log (Originally Posted: October 8, 2013)

Captain’s Log 007
I’ve been here a full week in this new habitation of orange juice and skinny jeans. About 47 left. But who’s counting.
It seems I’ve taken to recording sounds when I move in. Here are some Brasilia sounds:
Some thoughts so far:

  • i’m beginning to interact with my apartment mates more after almost a week of locking myself in my room watching ‘girls’ and catching up on sleep. there’s only so much shoshanna one can take after all, plus i finished the series. right now there are three folks: alain-a doctor who’s studying tropical medicine, jervasso, a prof of some sort, and a young lady named bianca. all i know about her is that she scored the best room.
  • we have a weekly cleaning service. i think my mates don’t wash the dishes and just wait it out till they get washed each week. and yes, there is a separate door for the cleaners in each apartment.
  • i’ve started my research officially today. went to the children’s hospital. thought i was going to get a tour and meet some folks. in addition to that, i observed a couple who were told for the first time that their child is diagnosed with SCD. the mother cried. she thought her child would die by age 5-you know, according to google. it was intense and unexpected.
  • also. full steam ahead. i have officially started entering items in my calendar for me to remain organized as i have a meeting with the person who led the charge for affirmative action at UnB, persons involved in the initiative around the health for the black population at ministry of health, professors here who share like interests, and the governmental agency that deals with the promotion of race-all in the next 3 days. yep. this is happening.
  • i feel like my porto is increasingly getting better and worse at the same time
  • seems I’m transferring myself from the politics of sickle cell in the US to the politics of sickle cell in Brazil. Oy. Its clear I will have to tread lightly and be a neutral as possible. can’t afford the cut off.
  • after class today i went to the cafeteria (I thought it was the sole source of food at 30 minutes walking distance from me but there is mini fake lake-side dining at the gas station about 15 minutes away if i get desperate. seriously, its like a restaurant)…any way i went to the cafeteria and it was swarming with young people. i mean hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of them. and of course there was a line to pay for lunch and then the line(s) to receive the lunch. too many lines, too many people. i left for the almost empty cafe steps away.
  • this bug situation. i went to the housing office to see if i could switch rooms. i was told no. i was told that they only come between 5 and 9 so make sure door/windows are closed and there is no light to attract them. i was told that the housing manager had to dispose 2 kilos worth of bugs from his own house (so why should this privileged american be any different-he didn’t say that. but i felt him thinking it). i was told to deal with it. alrighty then. i will.
  • the first time i walked to campus, i heard what’s best described as audio feedback. loud and screeching. i thought it came from a machine. i soon found out it came from the trees. presumably insects in the trees and not just in the evening. daytime too. its kinda amazingly loud and i suppose everyone here is used to the sound. i recorded it on my way to class today:

O fim … for now.

It’s The First Of The Month (Originally Posted: October 5, 2013)

…not really.

I’m reflecting every month (and in between) on the state of science. How it’s all going. My reflections. Its the 5th, a Saturday night and I’ve been here (Brasilia, my first post) for four days. I’ve been to Brasilia once before for four days on a hybrid work/student trip. It’s nice enough, but I will always be partial to the coast. I know two people here: my University of Brasilia sponsor, Cristiano and a friend I made in Atlanta, Lenildo, who was visiting as a fellow at Emory and who worked for the Ministry of Health, now PAHO. If you have to know two people, I’m guessing that these are the ones to know.

Cristiano picked me up from the airport, delivered me to my housing, bought me groceries so that I’d have some essentials immediately (hello, toilet paper!), and then walked and drove me around so I’d be familiar with my new settings. Then I met with the School of Portuguese and the International Exchange office…all of this right off of the plane. Shortly thereafter, Lenildo took me to lunch and I passed out afterwards. After waking he came back and took me to a Walmart equivalent.

My place is basic. There is a common living room and kitchen and five individual rooms. I think 4 of the 5 rooms are filled. I’ve met a Jervassa, Bianca, Bridgette, and Marco, but I don’t think Marco lives here. I haven’t seen him since. But I met Bridgette fleetingly and haven’t seen her since either. I don’t know. The internet keeps going out, but you can steal from other floors and so far I haven’t been without. I’m hoping to meet more people in the Portuguese class I’ll be taking and when I’m out of the apartment. Right now I’m in the apt a lot. Lenildo, bless his heart, told me today (after we spent the afternoon at his friend’s house) that he doesn’t want me to spend too much time in the room because I’ll get sad. Truestory. Yesterday I got this super heavy feeling of loneliness. I think because many of my friends were at a Department party for school and I was seeing glimpses through social media. I expected this feeling and expect it will come back, but am looking forward to finding my rhythm. It’s only been four days so I’ll cut myself some slack (mostly because Vanessa told me to).

Regarding the work, I haven’t really started thinking about it yet, though I have posted some preliminary recruitment materials on my Research Facebook profile. I meet with Cristiano and Lenildo tomorrow to discuss my project as a whole and my work plan. I imagine that between class three times a week, archival research (and its subsequent translation-OY), interviews, and meetings, I’ll be very busy. It has been nice waking up to my own internal clock and gorging on TV. I felt like I haven’t pumped the brakes for at least 2 years. I feel optimistic about getting what needs to get done on this leg and that’s basically setting everything up. I have a meeting with the director of the sickle cell program for the Ministry of Health in mid-October and will be prepping for a major round of interviews in late November when I attend a national conference on sickle cell disease in Salvador. I will also be attending a health equity meeting afterwards, extending my stay.

Heeeeeeeeeere we go!


Here are some pics for the first couple of days here:

One of the "blocos" ... I live in Bloco G
One of the “blocos” … I live in Bloco G
Where the magic happens...
Where the magic happens…
C'mon son.
C’mon son.
In the new Black Student Union.  I was told that I could study there.  Post about the Union and Affirmative Action on this campus later.
In the new Black Student Union. I was told that I could study there. Post about the Union and Affirmative Action on this campus later.
The box of groceries that my sponsor brought me.
The box of groceries that my sponsor brought me.
Look Ma!  Cassava by the bagfuls.
Look Ma! Cassava by the bagfuls.
Right before I left the states, I invested in a real raincoat.  Good thing.  On Friday after a clear sky the entire day, I head out to walk to my portuguese placement test 30 minutes away and the skies open.  Happy to report I was as snug as a bug in a rug...and dry after an hour walking in the rain.  I am also happy to report that I finally FINALLY tested above beginner I level.  I even got a question on the test right that no one else did.  I'm still novice, but at least I'm not the lowest level novice anymore!
Right before I left the states, I invested in a real raincoat. Good thing. On Friday after a clear sky the entire day, I head out to walk to my portuguese placement test 30 minutes away and the skies open. Happy to report I was as snug as a bug in a rug…and dry after an hour walking in the rain. I am also happy to report that I finally FINALLY tested above beginner I level. I even got a question on the test right that no one else did. I’m still novice, but at least I’m not the lowest level novice anymore!
Dinner with Lenildo.  A first:  Tuna on my pizza.  It was kinda tasty.
Dinner with Lenildo. A first: Tuna on my pizza. It was kinda tasty.
Pois nao!
Pois nao!
Saturday, Lenildo took me to a birthday BBQ.  They plied me with food and drink and seemed to be amused with this American researcher.  They were all from the oral health area of the Ministry of Health.  A bunch of crazy dentists!
Saturday, Lenildo took me to a birthday BBQ. They plied me with food and drink and seemed to be amused with this American researcher. They were all from the oral health area of the Ministry of Health. A bunch of crazy dentists!
Chicken hearts!  Tried them a few years ago and now I'm good.
Chicken hearts! Tried them a few years ago and now I’m good.
my new city for a month!
my new city for a month!


The First (Originally Posted: September 4, 2013)

I had lunch with one of my mentors and committee members, Camara Jones, last week who suggested that I write my reflections at least once a month on my project, where its going, where my head is, what I think some next steps might be.  Even though it’s before anything has officially started in-country and is the fourth, I want to put something on paper.  On screen?

Tonight my heart is heavy in thinking about Syria, in remembering Trayvon, in thinking about the black Cuban doctors who were booed and harassed once they entered Brazil to aid the poor and rural by white elite doctors.  So much trouble in the world.  As I’m getting ready to depart for field-work, I know I’m not the first or the last who has felt anxiety about what’s to come.  But I have heaps of it.  I have received so much support for my project and for me and I have in general been on the receiving end of SO much love.  I feel it.  I accept it.  I marvel at it really.  All of this.  This journey is so much more than me.  I say it all the time.  What I’m doing and where I am, who I meet, and where I end up is bigger than me and bigger than what I can see.  So why do I feel so anxious?  GAH.  Maybe because I just had to write a brief bio and choked when I tried to describe me without using “health scientist from the centers for disease control and prevention.”  Time for a new identity, Melissa.

Sigh.  I am not a title by any means, but boy how much of that title helped develop who I am as a woman, a scholar, a professional?  A bit.  What I’m going to focus on is the long-term vision.  The leap of faith.  The reminder that its bigger than a title.  And we forge on.

But for realz though, 15 days left in Atlanta and the timer goes off.  EEEEEEEEEEEEK.

Alright, the point of this post was not about a freak out.  The point is to reflect about where I am in the process.  Well, I still have a lot to accomplish.  I won’t go through the September to do list.  Its massive.  But it will get done.  It’s not like Brazilians do anything in advance.  I’ve got time.  Right?  I’ll keep telling myself that.

Let’s hope for a proper “First” post on October 1st…or thereabouts.


Some Here And There…Pics and Musings (Originally Posted: July 8, 2013)

More iphoneshia for you!  I’m ruminating on a few blog posts of more substance though i know my family (and friends!) love the pics.  One will be titled “always being black in brasil”.  It’s my fourth time here and I’m still always a little surprised how the stuff i read about in journals and books plays itself out in real life…my life.  Every summer I’m here it’s something different and I know it’s just the nature of the beast…Brasil is what it is.  And while me being a smart scientist from America in some circles puts me into the Brasilian “white” box (which comes with certain privileges), for many,  most, none of those things matter.  In Rio, I was made to change eating venues for a dinner meeting once a professor and potential collaborator realized I was black (yeah, it’s not happening); In Salvador, I was not allowed entrance into a restaurant until I forced them to allow me to eat there since they were clearly serving people and was seated in the rear of restaurant when I requested seating in the front so I could watch the sun set; and now in Sao Paulo, I have had the most ________ (I still can’t find the word for it) ongoing interaction with my lodging host that reminds me everyday about the racial relations in Brazil.  It also has me thinking sincerely about what a year will be like (living-wise) here when I return.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Brasil and all of its ongoing contradictions.  It continues to fascinate me and I admit to the sadomasochistic relationship that we’re in.  As a friend reminded me — this is the life I chose.  God knows its a good and blessed one.  And as another friend reminded me:

so I’m trying.  I’m being respectful and I’m actively looking to move for my last 3 weeks…because at the end of the day I deserve peace of mind and kindness too.  We’ll see how it goes.

In the meanwhile!  I’ve been adventuring all over town.  This should have probably been split into two posts, but here it is…CH-ch-ch-check it out.

some here

near the end of today’s (sun, july 7) day after visiting parque ibirapuera

pretty, ne?  it's like the central park of sao paulo
pretty, ne? it’s like the central park of sao paulo


Fela on side of Afro-Brasilian Museum
Fela on side of Afro-Brasilian Museum


some here and there...

some here and

some here and and

some here and and musings

Brazilian Elvis...everyday.  same spot.
Brazilian Elvis…everyday. same spot.


sisters!  same mom.  same dad.  isn't genetics cool?
sisters! same mom. same dad. isn’t genetics cool?


true story
true story


i came for the popsicle, the drink was extra.
i came for the popsicle, the drink was extra.


we're with the band...
we’re with the band…

Sao Paulo’s Street Art (Originally Posted: June 22, 2013)

Sampa has a pretty vibrant street art scene as evidenced by this link:

I’ll be adding all the ones I come across when I have my phone/camera here. None of the ones I’ve seen so far are even catalogued above.

Check it.

São Paulo's
São Paulo's Street

UPDATE: On my last day in Sao Paulo, roomie, classmate, friend Andrew and I went searching for the street (name escapes me) that was known for street art before samba.  We found it!
On my last day in Sao Paulo, roomie, classmate, friend Andrew and I went searching for the street (name escapes me) that was known for street art before samba. We found it!

São Paulo's Street Art 1
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Settling In Sao Paulo (Originally Posted: June 15, 2013)

I just arrived to Sao Paulo and it’s not like Rio, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Brasilia…
Some compare it to NYC, but I haven’t picked up on that vibe just yet.
I’m here to learn more about Brazilian history, take portuguese classes, pre-lim interview, finish IRB, apply to two fellowships, meet with Paulista oral historians, and maybe get some samba on?

In the moment of getting my stuff unpacked, I took out my new Zoom recorder…Cuz I’m serious ’bout my scholarship and my iphone will no longer do!

Listen. You have to go to my new cowbird profile. WordPress won’t let me embed.

Son Of A Biscuit! (Originally Posted: May 6, 2013)

son of a biscuit!

Guess who’s moving to Brazil for a year? This girl.


As per usual, I’ll be chronicling my international antics here. I’ll be in São Paulo June and July for language training and research purposes. Then back to the States for a month or so and then off again for the year!



Brasília is the first stop for 1 month, followed by Rio for 3 months, I’ll be narrowly missing Carnaval, but will be experiencing my first one with friends in Salvador, where I’ll be for 6-8 months. Carnaval, World Cup, oh and interviewing and researching and stuff too!


Are you coming to visit?! You should.


It’s gonna be an adventure!