Mystery Kidney Disease in Central America

This week my radio story was broadcast on Public Radio International’s “The World.” This was an effort of a reporting project from The Center for Public Integrity and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Please read the excellent article written by Sasha Chavkin and Ronnie Greene for a more in-depth investigation of the story.

The following is an excerpt from the radio piece:

A mysterious epidemic is sweeping Central America – it’s the second biggest cause of death among men in El Salvador, and in Nicaragua it’s a bigger killer of men than HIV and diabetes combined.

It’s unexplained but the latest theory is that the victims are literally working themselves to death.

In the western lowlands of Nicaragua, in a region of vast sugarcane fields, sits the tiny community of La Isla. The small houses are a patchwork of concrete and wood. Pieces of cloth serve as doors.

Maudiel Martinez emerges from his house. He’s pale, and his cheekbones protrude from his face. He hunches over like an old man – but he is only 19-years-old.

“The way this sickness is – you see me now, but in a month I could be gone. It can take you down all of a sudden,” he said.

The story was also published here:

PBS NewsHour online

BBC News in English and Spanish


Happiness in a taxi ride

Many of you remember my video from my first day in El Salvador. The video was of my taxi ride from the airport. My good friend Irene sent her taxi driver of many years, to come pick me up.

Perhaps it’s his name, Arquimedes, that makes him special, that gives him insight that many of us lack. In the video, he is the one in the passenger seat. His cousin Roberto Carlos is driving because Arquimedes’ car was in the shop, something that occurs often for Arquimedes. But he doesn’t mind.

Since this day Arquimedes has taken my friends and me to many places. I have come to look forward to my rides with him. You see, he is always smiling, always has a joke to tell. Whenever I ask him how he is doing he says “Muy bien, aqui con mucho trabajo gracias a dios.”

I consider myself to be a happy person, more or less. I sometimes have trouble moving past bumps in the road. I too often focus on what is wrong, instead of what is right, what I have to be thankful for. This is something I work on everyday.

I have asked Arquimedes a few times why he is always so happy. I do this often. I like to ask people who appear to be, generally really happy people, why they are this way. I mean, perhaps I missing something, perhaps they can impart some words of wisdom. Usually I am and usually they do.

Arquimedes tells me he is a happy person. He likes his job. His happiness, he says, is in putting a smile on others’ faces. This morning he told me there are so many sad and poor people in El Salvador that he wants to make people happy. What a beautiful sentiment: to measure our own happiness by the joy we bring to others. As my father would say in “being of service to others.”

Now I understand that we are each responsible for our own happiness. Only ‘I’ can make ‘me’ happy, relaxed, grateful, peaceful, etc. But as a person who is affected by the energy of other people, I realize the importance of treating people with kindness. I’ll give you another example. I went to the post office here in San Salvador on Monday. I was having a bit of a rough day. After I left that post office I felt great. I wanted to smile at everyone. I just sent a package. But the employees were so kind. We talked about Christmas, family, love, education…and I could feel their positive energy, and the genuine nature of our exchange. This always amazes me, how a small interaction with someone can change your day. I love it.

I am going to truly miss Arquimedes when I leave. I need to tell him that. The only interaction we have is in the car, going from one place to another, but he has a major impact on my day. This morning I told him I would like to ride with him one day for a few hours. I like the idea of seeing all the different types of people he picks up and all the areas of the city and countryside he travels. I hope to take some pictures and do an interview with him. I’ll be sure to share when I do. I am sure each of you has someone like this in your life. Take some time to ask them what makes them tick. At the very least, you won’t miss the opportunity to let them know, they make you want to be a better person.

We are enough

I am writing this for myself but also for all the women who are special to me. Our worth is not measured by social fallacies that are meant to act as milestones in our lives.

I am 28-years-old and I am not married and I do not have children. That’s ok. In fact, that’s great. I’ve had many, many incredible experiences, gained confidence, learned to love myself and take care of myself. I’ve spent time figuring out what I want without having to compare it to what someone else wants. I know that I will be fine if I am alone. I am not afraid of that.

One of my good friends here in El Salvador told me a male family member of hers recently gave her, what I am sure he thought to be, good advice. “You need to get married,” he told her. “You are almost 30 and a man is not going to want you after you turn 30.” She is 27-years-old.

He told my friend that by 30 or so, once a man is set in a career, he looks for a woman who is around 25. Now, I am not simply going to dismiss this confused soul’s backwards idea of the role of men and women to the fact that he is older, and that he comes from a very traditional Latino background. These stereotypes exist in the United States as well. Yes, they definitely do.

How about the fact that there are men out there who want a partner? How about men who want a woman who has a successful career and has had life experience? How about women who want a man that looks at her as an equal? I know I want to be with a man who appreciates my strength and my individuality.

News flash: it takes time to develop a solid sense of who you are. God, I have changed so much throughout my 20’s. I am so much more confident in who I am and what I want now, than when I was 22 or 23. Right now I am in a much better place to share my life with someone than I was even three years ago. Frankly, the thought of marriage still scares me. Maybe I’ll be ready someday and maybe I won’t.

My friend and I discussed that it is now very common in the United States for women to get married and have children in their thirties. However, I have also met young women in their late 20’s and early 30’s here in El Salvador who are in no hurry to get married and get pregnant. Recently a very intelligent 15-year-old, wise beyond her years, told me she does not want to get married until she is at least 30. Get it girl. Live YOUR life.

I am not going to pretend like my, forgive me I hate this term too, ‘biological clock’ has not started ticking. Yes, I have fallen prey to this fabricated timeline that is supposed to determine when I am ready to give over my body to carry children. I am also not saying that I don’t want this. I do. But I also would not give up the journey my life has taken for one second. I would not trade in the time, that I made the choice to take, for myself. I also do not want my friends who have done the same to feel like they now need to hurry to make up for lost time. As if their beauty and spirit is going to go out like a light at a certain age. Women have fought throughout history for their rights, for their voices to be given validity. These women would be proud of us. Embrace your choices ladies. They are yours.

Just listen to this little one 😉