Greetings Earthling! Thank you for joining me on this journey.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience life in India as the 2018-2019 CASI Sobti Family Fellow. There really are no words for the gratitude in my heart for all the people that have made this reality possible.
The upcoming posts will be inspired from what I observe in my research, daily life and travels here in this magnificent country. For now, a bit about myself and my work here:
I was born and raised in Miami, FL, the child of Chinese immigrants. While my parents have lived in the U.S. for nearly 30 years and have since become citizens, my experience has always been woven with my Shanghainese heritage (more on this in a future post). Experiencing multiple cultures from a young age, plus the progressive deepening of my understanding of what it means to be queer and woman in this world, has built an individual who never wants to stop exploring the human condition through the countless expressions in which It chooses to blossom.
When I started college, I was most seized by the question of why we do the things we do. Why are we violent? Why do we harm others and even more paradoxically, ourselves? The world I consistently saw around me was full of pain and often irrational. My inner world, not knowing anything else, reflected the same.
Unsatisfied by theories of psychology, I initially aspired toward medical psychiatry and I studied Biological Basis of Behavior, a multidisciplinary degree that focused on neurobiological, chemical, physical mechanisms of behavior and disease. I learned about neural pathways fueling substance use, the receptor densities of mental health disorders.
I also learned about the massive uncertainty around solutions offered as mainstream treatments to neurodegenerative disorders, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, addiction — and even broader health conditions, such as cancers and endocrine disorders. A neuropharmacology course taken in my sophomore year made me question how I would morally face being positioned as a psychiatrist to whom patients come for answers and prescriptions to medications that generate far more profits for pharmaceutical companies than the number of lives improved.
Outside the classroom, I was swept up in a whole other set of lessons. I was surrounded by a community of peers fiercely contesting our sick society from multitudes of angles — environmental injustices, unsustainable and violent policies, racism, institutionalized inequity, our disconnectedness with each other and our own selves.
And the conditions I saw as a nutrition program coordinator in a West Philly school, as a public health intern in the slums outside of Trujillo, Peru, as a volunteer at the Prevention Point syringe exchange in Kensington, made it undeniable that human suffering has external causes that are preventable and must be addressed through changing the systems that fail so many of us, and in fact, all of us.
Spending a year as an HIV counselor and program associate at the Miami IDEA Exchange, the first Florida syringe exchange and harm reduction program serving people who inject drugs, and throughout the past three months in India, I’ve continued to see the role poverty, homelessness, trauma, lack of empowerment and toxic social conditioning plays on health and human behavior.
At the same time, I have witnessed unbelievable resilience in the most downtrodden communities. I have met individuals who defy statistical inclinations and surpass all expectation. I have seen alternative approaches to living healthily, even within our structurally violent societies. People helping people, people helping themselves.
In Auroville, an experimental township dedicated to realizing human unity located in the state of Tamil Nadu, where I researched the intersections of spirituality and sustainability in health care in 2015 as an undergraduate (my first time in India, a really really incredible period of life that propelled me to seek a way back to this country), I saw an example of a health system that incorporated non-allopathic ways of healing and definitions of health that embraced spiritual experience, protecting our planet, and prioritizing access to all.
My work this time around in Delhi at the Public Health Foundation of India focuses on the massive health burden created by the consumption of oral tobacco and areca nut products. In India, smokeless tobacco use causes the majority of tobacco-related deaths and disproportionately affects low income populations. My project examines what ‘quitting’ means in the spaces occupied by slum women. While only capturing a slice of reality, I hope that the knowledge gathered may contribute toward solutions that help people flourish and see other ways forward, while supporting the transformation of this machine via policies that make sense for our collective well-being.
With full data collection beginning in the new year, and my time so far focused on preparation and some field interviewing, I will wait to report on my research topic. I can say that on a personal level, this time in India has been inexplicably bountiful, and the sparks of realization continue with where Iyouwe-humanity are at.
I leave you with something that my dear friend Chandresh shared with me in our time at Savitri Bhavan in Auroville. To the wide-eyed 21-year old trying to find herself, he said something along the lines of
“I do not believe in falling in or out of Love with a person. Being ‘in Love’ is a constant condition with no object. I am in Love with everything around and all that is.”
Imagine if every person on this Earth moved in Love.