Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Case of the Disappearing Tradition by Michael Rosamilia

La Selva Research Station, Costa Rica, Fall 2016,

In an interview with a Nicaraguan man who moved to Costa Rica when he was fifteen because his father told him to go find work, he told me that Costa Ricans don’t use traditional medicine nearly as much as Nicaraguans. He said that when he first moved here, more people knew about the healing effects of plants. But now they all just use La Caja, the Costa Rican nationalized health system. At dinner with my host brother in San Jose, he told me that he couldn’t believe his father still made him drink lemon tea when he had a sore throat. It was an action reflective of a relic of a dying tradition, and one that he did not seem sorry to see go. On a small farm in Boruca, a woman with no native heritage, but who had married a Borucan man and immersed herself in their culture showed us a book she wrote about traditional uses of plants both in cooking and in medicine. She wrote this book to try to save this knowledge that no one from the younger generations seemed interested in preserving. It seemed, at first, that the youth of Costa Rica has collectively decided to ignore the knowledge of their grandparents in favor of the shining promise of “real” science. Teas and tinctures for white pills and white coats. So if everyone appears to be running away from this burning building, why is it that we are going toward it trying to salvage its remains?
            How about we approach this question by trial and error? Attempt number one: the cure for cancer is somewhere in that forest and it’s our job to find the person that knows about it before they die and the plant species before it dies. This answer seems nice at first until you consider that championing indigenous knowledge as your own discovery is not necessarily the most ethical thing to do and that testing the effectiveness of plants against cancer cell lines is a worthy cause, but it simply isn’t what we are doing. Moving right along then to attempt number two: the US needs to return to natural medicine because our synthetic medicines are toxic. I’m never one to knock the safe use of natural or tradition medicines. The real problem with this solution instead lies in the fact that it suggests that the usefulness of traditional knowledge is primarily to satisfy the desires of people from the US, or members of other cultures no longer grounded in their own medicinal traditions.
            My faith instead lies in attempt number three: the initial assumption is incorrect and the entire country of Costa Rica is not truly running away from traditional medicine. If you visit any of the biggest and fanciest malls in San Jose, there is a very US consumerism feel to them. Walking down the San Jose streets, there is store after store offering “American styles” and “American imported brands”. As is the case in many foreign countries, especially in the Americas, a major part of the mainstream chic is to dress and act like you are from the US, and the US method, with the exception of a few questionable nutritional supplements, is to avoid traditional medicine. Therefore, when talking to a person from the United States and an outsider, it is no surprise that most Costa Ricans I spoke to seemed to reject that aspect of their culture. So then why is it useful for us to come here? Maybe if we as future medical and public health professionals could understand the culture of traditional medicine and realize that the vast majority of our synthetic medications are based on biological molecules and steer clear of the generalized rejection of all plant-based medicine that is so common in the field in the US, we might change the culture of medicine in the US just a little bit, because the rejection of one’s own culture due to the close mindedness of another is truly a tragedy.

 By Michael Rosamilia

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Learning Experiences at La Selva Biological Station by Jesus Barreto

When leaving La Selva Biological Station, I pondered about my past couple of months. I don’t believe my study abroad experience was what I expected and, at first, it was definitely not what I originally wanted. For me studying abroad was a last minute shot in the dark for the last available program, as I needed a change from the status quo of being overworked at UNC. I wanted more of a carefree, travel the world, and meet interesting people experience, and while I definitely experienced some of that, I got a lot more that I did not necessarily want but definitely needed.
            I’ve realized that I have not been overly challenged in my life in two separate fields: academics and interpersonal relations. On the academic side, while I have always taken difficult classes and aimed to achieve the highest score possible, I cannot say I have ever put academics as my first priority for an entire semester. This semester has been the most academically challenging in the sense of constantly having to be working and maintaining an academic mindset, which is something I have never had to do.
            On the social side of things, I have always been and will always be as extroverted as a person can be. This extroversion has granted me a lot of ease in creating good relations with people and, for the most part, has made interpersonal relations come to me with ease. On the other hand, however, I have never had to spend four months with the same small group of people. This semester has been the most socially challenging as, for almost every day since the middle of January, I have been surrounded by eleven people who I would most likely not be around that much back at school.
            What have these challenges gifted me? I worked non-stop for the last two weeks on a research project that I actually felt passionate about. My body ached and my mind was ready to give at any second, but I learned to persevere through the exhaustion and had a hell of an experience at the same time. I developed a research project that I can see myself working on in the future and I felt like I got a glimpse at a side of Costa Rica not many people can say they did.

          In the end, no, I did not “go out” every month. I did not have the time of my life. I would not willingly choose to go through a semester similar to this again. What I did get, however, is a better understanding of who I am as a person, an idea of what I personally want to do as a professional in the future, and, most importantly, a maturity and confidence that I never knew I lacked, that will take me anywhere in the future. Thank you OTS.