Rondas

For my Independent Study Project, I have been in Putre for the past two weeks. The majority of that time I have been traveling with the healthcare team to many of the smaller towns for what they call Rondas. Essentially what that means is that the entire team of the Family Health Center or Centro de Salud Familiar (CESFAM) travels in a van with the basic equipment needed to provide healthcare services to the more rural towns in the Andes. The team includes a doctor, medical technician, nurse, nutritionist, psychologist, child education/development specialist, as well as a Qulliri and Yatiri, who are the traditional healers. The full Rondas with the entire CESFAM team travels to each town once a month. During this time they set up in the town for anywhere between 2 to 5 hours. Patients are usually waiting or trickle in during the time we are there. I went with the team for all 6 days of full Rondas this month. We went to a total of 10 towns in 6 days. For the majority of the patients we saw, this is the only time they have access to healthcare unless they have a vehicle to drive to Putre. Putre is on average about 2 hours away from these towns but many people come from even farther just to visit with doctors during the Rondas. This is even more complicated when you factor that most of the patients tend to llamas and alpacas. Generally, they don’t have another person around to take over the care of their animals and are forced to put them in a pen on Ronda days.

 

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Some of the alpacas roaming around.

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The van that the Ronda team travels in.

 

During my time in each town, I have a short questionnaire of 10 questions that focus on what type of healthcare and treatments the patients tend to use since they have access to traditional doctors and a clinical doctor during this time. What I found was that almost 80% of patients visit with both doctors during the Rondas and that roughly 70% use both traditional remedies, as well as prescribed medication. However, the majority of the people I talked with also told me that they generally take traditional remedies and only take pills if they have a chronic disease or if their sickness has not cleared up while taking traditional treatments. This was not surprising to me though. I had anticipated that traditional medicine would still be a large part of the culture in the Andes. What did surprise me was the conversations I had with the traditional doctors. I had expected that they would believe the current intercultural healthcare system was a step in the right direction but would have many suggestions for improvements. What I found instead was that for the most part, they are exceptionally pleased with how the system is currently working. This has changed a lot of the outlook of my Independent Study Project.

 

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A volcano in Lauca National Park behind a small town.

 

Going on the Rondas has been a very eye-opening experience for me. It completely redefined what I think of as rural. Many of the people I met live with only their family members close to them. They don’t have access to stores to buy food and need to choose their vegetables carefully to have ones that will last until the next opportunity they have to go shopping. They live off of the animals that they care for and that is the majority of what they consume. Also, at first I thought that seeing a doctor once a month might not be necessary. I don’t go to the doctor that frequently and nor do many of the people that I know. However, I realized that’s the difference between having the privilege and luxury of deciding when I need to go to a doctor. These people don’t have an option many times to go to a doctor whenever they feel sick. They have a single day every month to get any prescription pills they need to handle any sudden illnesses. Additionally, only three of the towns that we went to had children in them. The majority of the patients we were seeing were elderly and many were battling with some sort of chronic illness that needs to be controlled. Even with the Rondas, often patients have to come to Putre, or even as far as Arica which is an additional two hours away from Putre, to get some sort of testing done. While the Rondas help bring more accessible healthcare to these people, maintaining a healthy life is still an obstacle for many of these people.

 

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A church found in one of the more rural towns.

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Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

South Island’s Greatest Hits

The mid-semester break at University of Canterbury has come and gone. Returning to class after so much time off is a hard reality, because I know that no lecture or lab can compare to my ten-day road trip of South Island.

It was an old-school road trip. My German flatmate and I navigated 1700 miles of two-lane highways with little more than a road atlas and the advice of visitor centers. We knew where we wanted to go, but we weren’t sure what we would find once we got there. We didn’t plan any activity more than a day in advance, we rarely looked anything up online, and we never used GPS. We were driving by the seats of our pants. What could go wrong!

For a plan that was so last-minute, I was lucky to have so compatible a travel companion. Considering that we grew up on different continents, Marius and I have a lot in common. We’re both quiet. We’re the same age, have similar music taste, and share a strong sense of responsibility. As we stocked up on groceries the night before our departure, I could tell that we were going to work well together. Our cooperation would be important, because for the next week and a half we would be spending day and night inside the cozy confines of his newly acquired camper van.

 

20170419 Angie at Queen Street Holiday Park

 

Despite our lack of planning, the trip went smoothly. The worst of our troubles was a leaky transmission that had to be repaired when we got to Nelson, our first stop,on the north coast of South Island. That cost us a full day, but we gained it back later.

 

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A giant pine cone.

 

 

Walking around Nelson while we waited on the repair was a pleasant way to pass the time, but the reason we’d driven that far north was to visit Abel Tasman National Park. Once we got the car back, that’s where we headed. We spent our second night on the road inside the park at Totaranui Campground. The campground is right on the ocean, and a short walk from the Abel Tasman Coast Track, the park’s most famous hiking trail.

 

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Abel Tasman Coast Track.

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Abel Tasman Coast Track.

 

We got up early the next morning and spent all day hiking what we were told is the most scenic portion of the 37-mile Coast Track. The trail wound its way through the jungle, over gentle hills, and down onto the beaches. The meandering route added to the sense of adventure.

Our fourth and fifth days were mostly spent in the car. We backtracked from Nelson until we reached the West Coast, then headed south. We stopped for a sunset walk at the famous Pancake Rocks (which I had already seen in January), then drove on to Greymouth, where we spent the night. The next day, we continued south on Highway 6 all the way to Wanaka.

 

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Pancake Rocks.

 

Along the way, we did a bit of hiking at Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. The two have a reputation for being the world’s most accessible glaciers, but Marius and I were unimpressed. They’ve both receded so much in recent years that there’s not much left to see. A new sign at Franz Josef says that the only safe way to get onto the glacier now is by helicopter.

 

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Franz Josef scenery.

In Wanaka on day six, we hiked to the top of Roy’s Peak, a 5177-ft mountain that gives spectacular views down the length of Lake Wanaka. It was the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done. By lunch the next day we were in Milford Sound, our turnaround point on this ten-day journey.

 

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Roy’s Peak scenery.

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Roy’s Peak scenery.

 

For an international tourist destination, Milford Sound is incredibly remote. The Sound is actually a fiord. It’s part of Fiordland National Park, and it’s those sheer-sided fiords all around it that make it so geographically isolated. It wasn’t discovered by Europeans until 1812, and there wasn’t any road access until Homer Tunnel was completed in the 1950s. In the 65 years since then, not much has changed.

 

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Milford Sound.

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Milford Sound.

 

Marius and I were surprised by how few facilities there are at Milford Sound. The only substantial buildings are a café, and a cruise ship terminal where a handful of companies compete to sign up tourists for daytrips aboard their vessels.

We’d hoped to rent kayaks for an hour or two, but were disappointed to learn that the only way to get out on the water is as part of a guided tour. The least expensive option available that afternoon was a cruise/kayak package that cost a lot more than we had planned to spend. The cruise was better than expected, but the kayaking was boring. There is nothing adventurous about a leisurely paddle with a group of tourists.

Aside from our pricey day at Milford Sound, we traveled cheaply, splitting costs every step of the way. Food, fuel and accommodation cost me an average of $43 per day.

Our second-to-last stop, Queenstown, was my favorite. On the afternoon that we arrived, Marius and I took the Skyline Gondola to get a bird’s-eye view of the city and Lake Wakatipu beyond. There’s a fancy restaurant at the top of the Gondola, and, more excitingly, a downhill racetrack for gravity powered carts. Marius couldn’t match my years of racing experience, but he put up a good fight, and we both had loads of fun.

 

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Skyline Gondola.

Driving is my greatest passion. Sadly, I misplaced by license on the way to New Zealand, and haven’t been allowed to drive since. That’s my biggest regret of the semester, but it made the Skyline Luge that much more gratifying. I finally got to scratch the itch.

 

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Skyline Luge.

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Skyline Luge.

I had the next day in Queenstown all to myself, because Marius was going skydiving without me. (While I’m sure skydiving is an incredible adrenaline rush, I have no interest in paying hundreds of dollars for so passive an experience.) On our Gondola ride down the mountain the day before, a Canadian sitting across from us had recommended the Ben Lomond Track, which goes all the way to the top of the mountain above the restaurant and luge. Having spent most of the last week in a car, I had a lot of pent-up energy, so I decided to go for it. The sign at the trailhead said it would take 6-8 hours round trip. I did it in 4.5, and that’s including a one-hour lunch break! It’s a beautiful thing to be young and healthy. It felt great.

 

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Ben Lomond scenery.

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Ben Lomond scenery.

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Ben Lomond scenery.

When Marius and I met back at the car, I learned that his skydive had been cancelled due to unpredictable winds. I felt sorry for him, because I knew how much he was looking forward to it. That was going to be the highlight of the trip for him. Missing out on it seemed to take the wind out of his sails. We had planned to spend another two or three days on the road, but he said he wanted to be home by nightfall the next day. That was okay with me. We both had a lot of homework to do before classes resumed, and we would still have time for one last stop.

I had hoped we would return via Dunedin, South Island’s second largest city, but Marius is more interested in New Zealand’s nature than its culture. After seeing how disappointed he was, agreeing to return via Mount Cook was the least I could do.

The visitor center at Mount Cook National Park is a fascinating little museum. I could have spent half a day just admiring all the exhibits, but time was ticking, so we took the advice of the woman at the information counter and drove to the trailhead for the Hooker Valley Track. It was a windy, but pleasant 90-minute walk that led us over several suspension bridges and ended at Hooker Lake. New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook (12,218 feet), loomed tall in the distance. Before leaving the park, we also drove to Tasman Lake for a shorter walk.

 

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Mt Cook National Park.

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Mt Cook National Park.

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Mt Cook National Park.

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Mt Cook National Park.

 

We made it back to Christchurch without incident. We pulled up to our flat shortly after sunset and unloaded the car, satisfied with our trip, and happy to be home.

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Filed under Oceania, Trevor in New Zealand

Your Guide to Ghana

As my classes come to a close, I’ve begun to reflect on my time spent in the country that I’ve called my home for the past three months. It has been packed to the brim with adventure, amazement, and wonderful memories. Now that I have become familiar with many aspects of Ghana, I want to offer a guide of my personal favorite suggestions of where to go and visit if you choose to study abroad in this part of West Africa.

  1. Cape Three Points

Last night, I arrived home after a tiresome journey from the furthest southern point in Ghana. It is called Cape Three Points and it holds the most picturesque beaches that I have seen in this country. At Cape Three Points one can participate in a variety of activities from surfing to taking in the views from a quaint lighthouse after a hike through a nearby village.

 

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I could not believe the color of the water, it was intense and inviting. We all had to soak up the views for a few minutes to take it all in.

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The lighthouse. It takes about twenty-five minutes to hike through the village and up the mountain.

 

  1. Cape Coast

Another point of interest that any traveler should venture to see is a place called Cape Coast. This popular and historic spot is known for its national park, a natural rainforest where visitors can tiptoe through the treetops on a stunning canopy walk. Along with that, be sure to take a tour in the old slave castles that were used in the Triangular Trade.

 

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High up in the treetops, I enjoyed the view of the lush rainforest. As long as heights don’t frighten you, this walk is fairly extraordinary. If you’re lucky, some visitors spot elephants down below!

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In a slave castle called Elmina, this door is haunted with the memories of slaves who entered and never returned. It was an enlightening and somber experience to walk through the walls of the castle so riddled with unforgettable atrocities. 

 

  1. Mole National Park

Mole is a national park destination where visitors can stay in northern Ghana. The park is home to a wide variety of animals such as elephants, baboons, and warthogs. One can can take an early morning or late night safari on a hike (or a jeep!) and see the wonders that occupy the African savanna.

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Our late night tour started around 9 o’clock and lasted for around two hours. We saw a multitude of animals while touring the dark sanctuary. 

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This was one of the magnificent elephants we encountered on the early morning hike. It was an remarkable occasion to have witnessed a real African elephant so close and observe his daily routine at the water hole.

 

  1. Bojo Beach

If you find yourself looking for a pleasant and peaceful day trip, Bojo is the place to go. The private beach is only accessible by a short canoe ride. The island makes the perfect place for a cool dip in the Atlantic Ocean, or tanning spot while reading your favorite novel.

  1. Wli Falls

Located in the Volta Region, this waterfall is essential on the must-see list. The falls take about a twenty-minute hike to reach, but the view is well worth the excursion. Even the chilly water is welcoming to take a break from the heat.

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All of the members of my study abroad program came together for a group photo in front of the falls. (Also including two other Gilman recipients!) Swimming in this splendor was surreal, and probably one of my favorite moments in Ghana.

 

  1. Afajato

The tallest mountain in the country dwells in the Volta Region. Though exhausting, the hike up is more than worth the journey. On top, the view full of natural beauty represents the spirit and wonder of the country.

 

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I could not help but pose with the Ghanaian flag after feeling particularly accomplished following the tricky mountain trek.

 

  1. Kumasi

Next to Accra, Kumasi is one of the largest cities in Ghana. There is an abundance of activities to do, but Kumasi is known for its unique shops and art centers. At the village of Bonwire, one will find the traditional kente cloth weaving. Not far from this spot exists a market where handmade wood carvings are sold in designs so detailed it’s hard to believe the craftsmanship.

 

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This is one of the expert weavers of kente. He may spend days or weeks on the same piece of cloth, depending on the number of colors and intricacies that are woven into it. It is a skill that is hard to master, and takes years of practice to perfect.

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

Integrating Into South Korean Culture

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

Intercultural vs Multicultural

When I started this study abroad program we were told a lot about the concept of intercultural medicine. It seemed to be what everyone we talked to was aspiring to create within the Chilean healthcare system. Now that I have had time to see the problems and goals of an intercultural healthcare system, I am not sure that I agree with the concept. For starters, the majority of people who have spoken to us about trying to create an intercultural system of healthcare are people who do not identify as indigenous and don’t use traditional medicine. On the other hand, those who do practice traditional medicine and often times do identify as part of an indigenous community in Chile have spoken to us mostly about their desire for better communication between Western medicine and traditional healing. In fact, several have even spoken against the current model of intercultural health that the government has tried to implement.

The Chilean government has been trying to promote intercultural health by including traditional medicine within their health centers. While this seems to be a good first step for creating an open dialogue, there are many downsides to this. The first being, that this allows for people to claim that they are intercultural without actually communicating. This was the case in Putre with the Aymaran traditional medics.  While the Yatiri and Usuyiri/Qulliri have their own office at the health center in Putre, the doctors don’t refer their patients to them as frequently as their claim of interculturality might suggest. Although, the traditional medics do refer patients with a higher frequency than the biomedical doctors. Obviously, this doesn’t support an environment of equality between the two systems of medicine and it also excludes patients who do not know to actively exercise their right to see traditional doctors.

Another problem with this system is that the current system of interculturality requires both medical practices to be housed within one building. Since the biomedical system is the one defining this type of interculturality, this means that the traditional practices are expected to move within pre-existing biomedical health centers. While for the Aymara people this doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the traditional practices, the Mapuche practices are severely impacted in a negative manner. For the Mapuche, the spirituality of the place where the medicinal plants are collected and where the Machi (the Mapuche traditional healers) work are equally, if not more, important than the actual remedies taken. Due to this, many Mapuche people believe that having the Machis practicing within hospitals and health centers decreases the actual healing abilities of the Mapuche practices. Again, this indicates a lack of respect or understanding of the traditional practices.

The Mapuche that we have spoken to throughout the program have told us that for them, a better system of intercultural health would have a system of communication and referral between Machis and health centers, but that each would continue to practice in their own respective places. However, this is only based on several conversations with people who identify as Mapuche. In general, I feel as if I have heard more conversation about the intercultural health system from the Mapuche people than I have from the Aymara.

During our time in Putre, the majority of the conversation about intercultural health came from the biomedical side. This sparked my interest and is currently the basis of my Independent Study Project (ISP). The ISP is a month long research project that is the culmination of our time in Chile. I will be spending the majority of my time in Putre speaking to traditional medics such as Yatiris and Qulliris about their experiences working at the health center there. Additionally, I would like to speak to the people who use the traditional medicine available at the health center and potentially speak to a Yatiri who does not work within the biomedical system. I will also be traveling on rondas (medical rounds in which the professionals of the Putre health center travel to other rural towns in the mountains who do not have their own health centers) to speak to the citizens who use these services. I hope that I will be able to find out more of the Aymara opinion on the current model of intercultural healthcare. Would they too prefer a more multicultural system with better communication and understanding between biomedical systems and traditional practices?

 

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Belen is one of the towns that I will be traveling to during the rondas. It used to be the largest town in the area but has since decreased in population.

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Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

The Sickness

It starts off as a slight pang
A post, by a friend, of a food you miss or a person you’ve not seen in a while
Your heart twitches
And your brain sighs, closing the laptop.
Go outside and do something fun, you tell yourself
The group chat is blowing up, people want to see you
People want to travel
Everyone’s making plans and if you don’t, you’ll be lonely, and stuck with your thoughts this weekend
But you? You don’t really want… any of that…
You want, to get snacks at your bodega
One you know is thousands of miles a way
And you want to meet up with your partner, and your best friends,
Even though you know you’re six hours ahead and you can’t even Skype them, because they’re still sleeping…
You want to wake up to the smell of bacon, which people don’t eat here, especially not in the morning.
You look outside and the French “skyline,” with the gorgeous view of the Cathedral you could not stop talking about months ago,
The tiny houses with gorgeous balconies and windows,
Cloud your memories,
The fond ones you have of the foggy, starless New York skyline,
One which blinds you and wakes you up,
Thrills you.
It starts to dawn on you,
I really miss home.
Ah, there it goes. The realization.
You should’ve never let that thought in your head because now that it’s there, it will plague you
Over the next few weeks, you try your best to keep enjoying the things
That are no longer novel to you
The cheese, the rich flavor of which, you are now used to
The fancy wine that is beginning to taste the same as Barefoot,
Even though you swear you can tell the difference
Now that it has sunk in,
The sickness has you obsessed with what’s better and so wonderful about your home.
You find yourself discussing what to eat,
Realizing, that Chinese takeout a la New York City is not on the menu
And French people don’t make collard greens
And roti, curry goat, oxtail, bake and sardines, and aloo is nowhere to be found,
And your family is light-years away, so you can’t have it.
You miss the sound of your culture’s accent.
That sing-song Trinidadian accent,
It’s so beautiful
But it’s difficult to find any Caribbean people that you can befriend here
No one who knows the joys of being Caribbean
You flashback, to a night you hosted friends,
One guys asks you,
“Is that the Confederate flag?!”
He’s Austrian, he doesn’t know you
But still, you’re shocked
It’s TRINIDAD. It’s not the Confederate flag! How does he not know that???
Relax
You can barely recognize any flags or capital cities or languages,
So you aren’t entitled to your anger
But still, it hurts
You are somewhere where your culture is unknown
Yet you feel it missing in your bones, and it boils in your blood
Thank God I have family across the border in Germany
Seeing them will soothe me, but there’s weeks to go
So thank God I grabbed that hot sauce from my Oma
If I can’t have Caribbean food, or really, good ethnic food,
I’ll make it myself. And I’ll burn my mouth with Trini-style hot sauce
And I’ll act like it’s the spices when tears roll down my face
Because I don’t just miss the cuisine or the cultural smorgasbord that is my group of friends and family back in the States
But, I miss… feeling at home
Sometimes,
The adventures can be too much
Too much fun? Maybe
Too much novelty? Maybe
Too many memories? Maybe
But maybe it’s just, not enough similarity
Maybe being homesick is what I get for pushing myself to the edge of my comfort zone
Maybe this is
The small price to pay
For experiencing the wonders of world travel, exploration of culture, and new experiences
It hurts
Every day
And it’s getting worse,
Especially as my course load piles up and the time approaches for me to make homecoming plans
But instead of being depressed
Instead of responding to the pang in my heart
And the emotional breakdown
I will embrace it
I will live with the ache in my heart,
Longing for my friends, my family, and my home
But,
I will continue to enjoy my time here
Until this place makes me feel as comforted as the thoughts of home do.
This homesickness is just another simple ailment
With clear symptoms which are treatable:
A few doses of newfound friendship,
A steaming cup of French culture,
And a teaspoon of fond memories before bed,
And I’ll be cured.

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Filed under Tammie in France, Western Europe

A Day in the Scottish Life

I have a Scottish address.

I wake up under two slanted skylights on the wood-paneled A-frame ceiling above my loft, through which Saint Andrews usually serves me a blue sky and fast-flowing clouds drifting like sea foam toward the ocean, only a minute’s walk east.  A chorus of seagulls and other small birds surf the sea breeze or roost on the narrow chimney tops of these old British homes.  My loft stays fairly warm, but I pull on a robe and slippers before descending the stairs.  Since my rental is part of a much larger structure not originally intended for multiple-occupant residency, the carved wood banister and plush navy carpet puts the square white plaster and brown tweed flooring of my every past apartment to shame.

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There are lots of doors in these old British homes, which I think is designed to better insulate and control the heat, but it also optimizes sound insulation and privacy between various parts of the small structure, as well as providing added fire safety.  So at the foot of the stairs I open a beautiful glass-paned door into the hall, which leads to a little foyer on the right and a bathroom to the left.

Foyers seem to be a common staple to these old homes.  Walking around town, I see a lot of front doors framed in small pop-out rooms extending from the primary structure, usually abundant with windows – like a small green house for people.  I assume that the household packs into these rooms on sunny days to optimize their vitamin D intake.

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A glass foyer.

My mail comes through a slot in the front door.  This may be “a thing” in some parts of the States, but as a Californian it’s completely new to me, and I love it.  Sure it barricades the door and I have to step over it when I come through, but if I’m inside already it’s just added insulation.  Best of all, there’s no need to tromp through the elements for statgecoach-era communication!  Speaking of which, my community is highly communicative.  I’m not absolutely sure if other places I’ve lived are not or if their communications just got lost in the glut of spam mail.  Which is another thing I love about Britain: you can legally refuse spam mail.  When I attempted to do this in the States I was informed that the U.S. post is required to deliver every article even if it’s addressed to “Resident.”  Although I’m opposed to passively endorsing this waste on principle, I was completely powerless to stem the tide.  In Scotland, I can just put up a little sticker on the slot specifying, “Addressed Mail Only, Please” and voila – no more spam!  I was extremely excited to purchase one but since there’s no consumer bread crumb trail established yet for corporations to follow to me, or because they’re just less overbearing in general, I haven’t been compelled to employ it.  Besides, I’m afraid that it might deflect the community mailings, which I quite enjoy.

The bathroom at the other end of the hall is a proper bathroom with full bath as well as toilet, but most Brits will scoff if you refer to a room without a bath as a “bathroom,” since what we would call “half baths” in the States are really just a toilet (and they call them as such, as well as the “Lavatory,” the “Gents” or my personal favorite, “The Loo”).  And if you’re ever abroad and looking for a public toilet, you might try the door labeled “WC” and hope it’s a Wash Closet and not the private carriage of a Wembley Cockfoster or Wimpleton Cumblebutt.  A “Wash Closet” is another name for the Loo, and a common identifier throughout Europe.

Straight across the hall from the bottom stair is another door leading to the kitchen, so I pad across the slate tile floor in my slippers and fire up the electric kettle.  Electric kettles are to British homes what coffee pots are to American ones.  Everyplace I’ve stayed within the UK, be it hotel, b&b or cabin in the wilderness, came equipped at minimum with an electric kettle and tea fixings.  You can acquire a conventional coffee maker, but they don’t come standard since not everyone drinks it.  This is fine, however, since I’ve lately discovered that percolated coffee is kind of crap, thanks to a devious friend who cured my disinterest in the stuff by gifting me with a fancy French Press.  Back home I’d taken to bringing the water to boil in an old fashioned tea pot, but the ordinarily patient Brits drink such copious amounts of hot beverages that they can’t be bothered to wait, so electric kettles it is.  And they do come in handy.  Mine sounds like a miniature jet engine taking off, but I depress the small pedal at its base and then exit the room, closing the door and sealing the bulk of the noise pollution behind me.  I then attend to my morning necessities, and when I return a few minutes later the kettle is silent and the water is steaming.  I scoop some coffee into a cheap press I acquired on Amazon, pour the water and seal, allowing it to steep for a few minutes while I wash the dishes.  My kitchen sink overlooks a very British view, with a tiny courtyard framed by the stucco wall of a neighboring courtyard to the left, the back of a cobblestoned structure across, and my own entry at right, with a wash-line and small tree framed at center.

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The kitchen view.

I take my freshly pressed coffee back across the hall into the sitting room, where I enjoy the morning sun as the fog burns off.  In St Andrews, a typical day seems to include all kinds of weather.  It no longer concerns me if it’s suddenly raining when it was sunny ten minutes before, as odds are it will be sunny again before I next remember to look up from my work.  I once experienced three showers interspersed with dazzling sunlight over the course of an hour.

After I’ve had my coffee and caught up on my favorite web comics, I head back to the bathroom and give the pull switch right inside the door a tug.  This turns on the water to the electric shower, though it doesn’t start running until I switch on the heating mechanism, itself.  The heating element is encased in a plastic structure attached to the wall, and as soon as I depress the “on” button the water pours forth and the water is heated internally.  Since the water is heated on demand, there’s no need to keep water in a tank constantly boiling, and there’s no possibility of running out of hot water – a particularly nice feature in any communal living space.  It’s unclear to me why electric showers have never caught on in the States, since they’re quite common in other parts of the world.  My brother had a rather fraught encounter with them in Mexico, and they were standard at every stop of our family trip to Thailand.  Developing nations like these can lead to poor or dilapidated installations (leading to my brother getting a nice morning wake-up shock when he adjusted the temperature on the metal faucet) but the strict regulations in Britain rigidly separate the weak current from coming into contact with anything conductive, and a quick google search returned no alarming statistics related to shower incidents.

shower

The electric shower.

When it comes to my favorite features of the British home, however, radiators may have the edge: these are metal heaters warmed by steam, and typically placed throughout the house; my small apartment has a total of 7: one in the foyer, the hallway, the kitchen, the bathroom and the bedroom, and two in the sitting room.  Towel bars are strategically placed directly above them in the kitchen and loo, so that wet towels have been merely a fading memory while I’ve lived here.  I can control the temperature of the radiators via the central control station in the kitchen, or adjust each one individually by the knob at its base.  The knobs each have a dial reading snowflake to fan; dials are typically set to the snowflake position when Scotlanders are away from home, so that a minimal amount of heat is maintained to keep pipes from freezing.  The opposite end of the spectrum indicates that the valve is fully opened for maximum heat.  I keep all but the radiator in the loft on max, and then manage the actual temperature of each simultaneously through the central heating system – a wall installation with a temperature dial and three functions: On, Off, and Timer.  The timer allows me to have the radiators come on before I get up in the morning, turn themselves off when I’m usually out of the house, and take the chill off again before I get home.  I initially thought this would be an incredibly useful feature, but since I get around mostly by walking, now, I tend to be a self-fueling furnace myself.  (Really cuts down on the heating bills.)  Switched on, the radiators pump heat at just the right temperature to rest your bum against without burning; also known as cat-magnet temperature; a fact which British cats exploit as you’d expect.

cat radiator

I dry off with my warm-and-toasty towel, slip into a polyester robe and slippers, and return to the kitchen. One of the hardships of transitioning to a new culture is adjusting to the different groceries available.  Somewhat surprisingly, differences persist even within the global market; one of the primary jobs of the controversial European Union, for example, is to make import goods more difficult than local ones to acquire.  Many brands available in the U.S. are branded differently in the U.K., making them difficult to search for or recognize on a shelf, but other more localized brands aren’t imported at all.  In my case, Dennisons canned chilli beans and Hickory Farm’s summer sausage were cornerstones of my diet that suddenly became unavailable.  But rather than dwelling on the inaccessible, it’s a good opportunity to discover similar delights that are exclusive to the host culture, so that you are primed to enjoy that same crushing state of dietary withdrawal in the reverse!  There can be no return to innocence from having known Scotch eggs (boiled eggs baked in breaded meat), cumberland (deliciously spiced) sausages, pasties (like commercial Hot Pockets but better), sausage rolls, macaroni pies (just as they sound), mulled (spiced) wine, sticky toffee pudding (ginger cake with hot toffee sauce), shortbread, and buttered CRUMPETS (to which english muffins are an inferior mongrel cousin, and no substitute).

crumpets with egg and jam

Crumpets with egg and jam.

Another delight of renting in the UK is that even budget apartments often come equipped with a dishwasher and clothes washer.  Some clothes washers even double as dryers (they flip on a switch) but most include a traditional clothesline for the purpose.  Due to space restrictions, the compact machines are generally installed in the kitchen or bathroom, and are often completely camouflaged among the cabinets.  I pull a load of clean clothes from the washer under my kitchen counter.  It’s too cold outside, yet, to take advantage of the clothes line, so I attire the household radiators in my various garments.  The house soon smells of clean laundary.  Within the hour I’ll be able to encase myself in a preheated shirt, socks and trousers (don’t call them pants in Britain unless you mean to have your audience imagining your underpants!).

laundry machine 2laundry machine 1

These old homes don’t come preinstalled with as many outlets as modern ones, but I’ve managed this with the use of powerstrips.  Cable internet also doesn’t seem to be common here, but my Broadband DHL gets about 40Mbps, which is as much as I ever got out of Comcast.  It’s also less expensive: I rent the phone line for £18.99 and pay £10.00 for Unlimited data, which comes to a monthly bill of about $37.50 USD.  I’m going to miss this when I leave.

I pop online now to order some take away (delivery or take-out for those of us from the States).  Websites like OrderTakeaway.co.uk and just-eat.co.uk make this absurdly easy.  I locate my venue in their directory and make my selections from the online menu. At checkout, I enjoy the convenience of another quirk of British life: residence-specific postal codes!  I don’t know how this works, but every time I need to fill in my postal address, web forms always start by asking for my postal code.  I plug in my post-code, which is a 7-character alphanumeric string, and upon entering that information, the webpage propogates the remainder of my address, right down to the name of the residence.  Since I’m in a complex, it only asks me to confirm my house number, which I select from a drop down list of my nearest neighbors.  Now if only this would catch on in the States.  I suppose there just aren’t enough numbers…

Deliveroo

Deliveroo- a popular food delivery service.

I select to pay by cash or card and within the hour there’s a knock at my door.  The take away service outsources the delivery to another company called Deliveroo.  What’s interesting is that these guys usually arrive by bicycle or moped, so I can only guess that the company employs staff in every neighborhood to maintain the efficiency I’ve observed.  The delivery person hands over my order with a brief exchange of pleasantries and departs, without waiting for a tip.  Since employers are required to pay a living wage without factoring in gratuity, tips are not expected.  The minimum wage in Scotland is about $9.30 USD, beating out the federal minimum in the US by over $2.00, even though cost of living is generally lower here.  The minimum wage hasn’t been raised in the States since 2009, whereas in Britain it’s gone up every year in the past decade.  What’s interesting about the absence of tipping culture is that servers aren’t obligated to be nice to customers in the hopes of netting a little extra.  The downside is that service doesn’t always come with a smile, but the upside is that when it does it’s typically genuine.  My Deliveroo drivers always seem pretty happy with their lot in life which, in my view, makes the interaction feel less exploitative and more positive all around.

I could really get used to this life.

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