Kibera Photo Walk

Last week, a fellow intern and I, along with two KDI staff members – Amos and Abdallah – spent an afternoon walking around Kibera, cameras in tow. The point was to capture water quality at different points along the river, but it was also a great excuse to capture some of the things we experience daily in Kibera. Amos and Abdallah are both awesome photographers, so I have included several of their photos below (as noted). It was a fun day.

photo by Abdallah: construction workers taking a break

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children playing in their parents’ vegetable stand

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colorful fences

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photo by Abdallah: the makings of a flavorful stock

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photo by Abdallah: fish for sale

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Amos taking pictures

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Wilson is always hard at work in the KDI office

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cute kids everywhere

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the railroad tracks in Kibera

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photo by Abdallah: charcoal for sale

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“take a picture of me being free” – man smoking a joint

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photo by Amos: children chanting – probably something between “take my picture” or “give me sweets”

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puppy in a trash pile

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Jack, fellow intern

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New Year, New Travels

Posts on this blog have been sparse as of late. That’s because I’ve been busy preparing for a trip and then going on said trip! This time, my travels take me to a week in Mexico City and surrounds with my sisters, and a week in Guatemala with the group Engineers Without Borders. I’m currently enjoying free wifi and a trendy cafe in Antigua, drinking Guatemalan coffee an people watching. I couldn’t be more tired, though. Last night was New Year’s Eve, of course, and I managed to stay awake until 12:30 to ring in the new year. Actually, despite trying to go to sleep at 12:30, I managed to stay awake nearly the entire night – with a 4am wake up call for a 6:30am flight and my nagging paranoia that I would not wake up for it, not to mention my irrational, half-asleep fears of not finding a cab to the airport, my mind would not really shut down. That is a real rarity for me.

Nonetheless, I made it to Antigua and am enjoying the mix of expats and locals, trendy cafes and colonial architecture, and volcanoes and pleasant temperatures. As usual, I have been eaten alive by some kind of microscopic bug, to which I seem to be severely allergic while no one else so much has an itch. The worst part about this is that I have been bit mostly on the neck and face, which makes me look like some kind of diseased leper. Luckily, I found a really cute, lightweight, $5 scarf in Mexico that stylishly covers most of them up.

Anyway, I have been eating some amazing food – Cemitas, mole poblano, chiles en nogada, chile rellenos, tacos al pastor, tortas – and enjoying every minute of it. Here are a few photos to enjoy from my iPhone!





Old and New Photos

Yes, I am procrastinating… again. I managed to sneak in a few solid hours of very productive work today on my paper on neoliberal policy and its effects on health outcomes for poor people in Nicaragua. I like that paper. The topic is interesting and its flowing nicely. Right now, though, I’m working on a community profile for Hammond, Indiana. This. is. boring. It’s one of those papers, you know – I didn’t choose the topic (except for choosing the city), and having to write about the mundane aspects of a post-industrial city are not exactly exciting me. So here I am, posting pictures from some recent outings.

The countryside of New York looks an awful lot like the countryside of Wisconsin, though Eric will quickly point out that there are hills in New York. Ok. Point taken. We were recently visiting Eric’s family’s country house in Otto, New York for his brother’s and my new sister-in-law’s wonderfully small wedding. Here are a few shots from that lovely fall day.

Eric and his mom. Love this moment.

And here are more images from my time in Nicaragua this past summer. Clockwise from the top left corner:
-a statue in the cemetery in Granada set against a bright blue sky
-reflections in the window of moto-taxis
-the main square in Granada
-old-fashioned potter’s wheels in San Juan de Oriente
-coffee in multiple stages of production – from berry to roasted bean
-a local artisan in San Juan de Oriente makes traditional ceramics on the old-fashioned potter’s wheel


My time in Costa Rica (top three photos) and Panama (bottom three photos) were characterized by outdoor excursions and city fun. Clockwise from top left corner:
-a snail in Corcovado National Park
-sunset view from Finca Maresia in Bahia Drake, Costa Rica
-beaches on Isla del Caño
-a large ship carrying more than 4500 cars through the Panama Canal
-graffiti in the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City
-views of the modern Panama City from the original city ruins


Finally, my sisters and I had a fun little weekend in Seattle back in September. Here are some shots:

of course we hit the market

oh the irony

sisters in front of the gum wall



feeling kind of lonely while they both play on their phones

truffle popcorn and wine? um, yes please


Amber is really, really white


more from the hike

And that’s it!

Almost Bibimbap

This life of mine has gotten busy. Whew. Here’s what has been on my plate lately:

  • School – 16 graduate credits, 4 classes, 5 papers/assignments due in one week
  • Work – I’m still trying to work 8-12 hours per week at my engineering job
  • Research Assistantship – I started working for a lab that is researching agent-based modeling of groundwater resources for use in the public sector. That’s a mouthful – and that was the shortened version. This job takes about 10 hours/week of my time, but in exchange, I receive a small stipend and a tuition waiver. That’s right, I don’t have to pay tuition. So worth it.
  • Engineers Without Borders – I just got involved with this group for a project they are doing in Guatemala. They are working to install a new pump for their water distribution system. The project is an integrated effort among planners, engineers, and public health students. My work will involve taking a community census and I’ll be traveling with the group to Guatemala in January. For now, in my spare time – ha! – I’m writing a plan for the work while I’m down there and trying to develop a collaborative team with professors and other public health and planning students.
  • Moving! Yes, we moved! When we found out our landlord was defaulting on her mortgage, we thought it best to try to find a new place to live that we liked rather than scrambling to find something passable when we get kicked out. We didn’t have a lease anymore, so we weren’t totally sure of our rights and just figured it be easier to start the long, drawn out search for a decent apartment in the summer/fall yet. And we did! We found a pretty neat space only 4 blocks from our old place. In that same week I had five assignments/papers due, plus all the other above stuff, Eric and I were busy packing all our belongings into boxes. Talk. about. stress.

So we’re all moved in with just one shelf to put together and a few more pictures to hang. So far, we’re really liking our new place, and the cats are really enjoying running up and down and up and down our new stairs at night. Seriously.

I made this bibimbap at the old place a number of weeks ago – before the craziness (see above) set in. It’s not a very authentic recipe, which is why it is called Almost Bibimbap, but it certainly tasted good. For me, one of my favorite parts of a good bowl of bibimbap – a Korean dish of rice, veggies, meat, egg, etc etc – is the crispy rice that gets all crusted to the side of the stone bowl. This is hard to replicate at home, but I think I came pretty close with the method outlined below. Oh, and I made it vegetarian because that’s what Little Blue Hen did! The Korean pepper paste – gochujang – is essential for authenticity. Try to pick it up at an Asian grocer or perhaps Whole Foods.

Almost Bibimbap

inspired by Little Blue Hen

Spicy Cucumber Salad

1/2 english cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 tablespoons Korean red pepper powder or
gochujang pepper paste (or I just used red pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Whisk together salt, pepper paste, rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Toss with cucumbers.

Cabbage and Bean Sprout Salad

Approximately 1/4 – 1/2 head of a large Napa cabbage, chopped finely
2 cups bean sprouts
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in cabbage and bean sprouts and cook for 1 minute. Meanwhile, whisk together the other ingredients minus the salt. Drain the veggies and mix with the dressing.

Seasoned Mushrooms

1 pound portobello or white button mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons or more of a neutral oil like grapeseed oil

Heat the neutral oil in a pan and saute the mushrooms and garlic, adding more oil as needed. When the mushrooms are almost cooked through – they should reduce quite a bit in size – pour in the sesame oil and sesame seeds.


Cooked brown basmati rice
3 tablespoons neutral oil
Spicy cucumber salad
Cabbage and bean sprout salad
Seasoned Mushrooms
1 egg for each serving, fried

Cook the rice in a rice cooker or pan. Heat the oil in a pan and put the rice in the pan, packing it down. Let the rice crisp up on the bottom, then stir it around a bit and let it sit for a few more minutes. Work in batches like this until all the rice is nice and crispy.

Divide the rice into bowls. Top with each of the salads, and then top the whole thing with a fried egg – make sure the yolk is nice and runny. A big scoop of gochujang goes on top. Serve like this, but mix it all together before eating!

Back in the U.S.A.

So my plans of blogging while abroad completely crumbled. For one, I did not have a computer with me (just the ipad and my iphone), so I had to go to an internet cafe and pay to use a computer just to blog… and well, who wants to be sitting in an internet cafe when there are colonial buildings to see, toucans to listen to, and Spanish to speak? Yeah, me neither. So hopefully I can catch up on some of the things I’ve been up to now that I’m back… of course, though, I’m now back in school – and loving it after my first week – working part time at the same engineering firm, and soon I will start my Research Assistantship, which adds another 10 hours per week to my workload. yikes.

Anyway… what most people want to know now is if I can speak Spanish or not. The short answer is un poco… a little. I took two weeks of Spanish classes – 40 hours of instruction – and while I learned a lot, how much actually stuck with me is a different story. Once I left my Spanish school, I started staying in hostels… and well, hostels are not good for Spanish! You meet people from across the globe who have varying levels of Spanish skills, but most commonly, everyone spoke pretty competent English. So we spoke English. I found myself using the same words and phrases in Spanish over and over… where is the bus station? How do I get to Boquete? Me llamo Abril. Como el mes. My name is April. Like the month. Yes, my name is a month.

Anyway, Nicaraguans and Panamanians speak fast… and don’t exactly pronounce the s at the end of words, so even if I could ask the question I wanted to ask, I was not guaranteed to understand the answer. And this fear of not understanding the answer made me a rather shy Spanish speaker. I found it best when I was with others who spoke no Spanish at all… then I had to be the one to speak and listen and understand. If I was with someone who spoke better Spanish than me, I’d often just lean on them to catch the answer to our question.

In the end, I learned enough to get around comfortably… enough to know how to get to these cool places:

The cemetery in Granada, Nicaragua.

Sunset in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Costa Rican beach near Corcovado National Park in the Peninsula de Osa

Scarlet Macaw in Corcovado National Park

Passion fruit at a coffee farm in Panama

The Panama Canal

Flowers and buildings in Panama City

Graffiti in Casco Viejo, Panama City

Casco Viejo – the old colonial city in Panama City

I’ll share stories and food another time… must get to some homework now!

Blackened Salmon + Big News

I can finally announce on these interwebs the exciting and fun things happening right now. I let my employer know last week that I will be leaving my position so I can attend school at the University of Illinois at Chicago for a Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy this fall! Better yet, my current employer offered me a part time position – a win-win since they can still use me for several projects, and I can still earn an income and go to fancy dinners.


And… there’s more… between now and August (when school starts), I will be spending a month and a half in Central America! Two wonderful friends of ours are getting married in Cozumel, so we are flying down for a week of fun in Mexico. After that, I fly to Nicaragua to learn Spanish and travel! Here’s the itinerary:

June 28: Fly to Cancun, head to Cozumel, learn to dive!
July 3: Head back to mainland Mexico, explore ruins, caves, etc
July 10: Fly to Fort Lauderdale (due to odd routing, I will be spending two days in Miami)
July 12: Fly to Managua, Nicaragua, take Spanish classes
July 27-August 16: Work my way through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama
August 16: Fly to Chicago from Panama City, Panama

Yay! More details on these exciting developments later, but for now: blackened salmon. Yum. Sorry for the poor quality of pictures – I snapped these around 9pm back in the day when leaving work at 5pm meant going home in the dark.


Blackened Salmon

2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
1 fillet fresh, wild caught salmon

Mix the spices together and set aside. Coat the salmon with the spice rub and let it sit for approximately 10 minutes. In the meantime, heat a pan with some butter or olive oil to medium high heat. Pan sear the salmon until the insides are opaque and the outside is nice and crisp. That’s it!

Pho Bo – aka, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Eric and I tend to travel like we eat out – rarely, if ever, duplicating the places we go. When we first moved to Chicago, we instituted The Restaurant Rule: one new restaurant every weekend. While we don’t follow this rule so religiously anymore (I could eat Urban Belly every weekend if Eric would let me), it gives you an idea of our philosophy on travel. That is, there are so many places to visit, we’d like to see them all before doubling back.

But, just as we have started doubling back on some of our favorite restaurants, I imagine it is almost time to start doubling back on our favorite destinations. Almost. And the first place I want to go back to? Vietnam. Between the amazing food and a culture so far from our own, I’ve never been so mesmerized.

These girls started taking pictures of us walking down the street, so we took a few photos in return.

cheap fabric abounds

I tried to take a cooking class while we were there. I thought I registered for a class, but as can be commonplace in Vietnam – or anywhere you don’t speak the language – we had a bit of a miscommunication. I woke up early and took a taxi to class, only to find that the kitchen was closed. Nonetheless, I found a fantastic Vietnamese cookbook when I got home. Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen makes Vietnamese food accessible without dumbing it down or “Westernizing” so it is unrecognizable. I’ve already made a number of dishes from this book, and they’ve all been delicious.

the iconic tiny plastic kid stools at every restaurant

gotta add in the super hot peppers


Perhaps one of the most recognized Vietnamese dishes is the classic soup, Pho. It generally comes in two varieties – Pho Bo, with Bo being the word for beef, and Pho Ga – ga = chicken. Pronounced fuh, Pho is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can eat it in between meals, on the street corner, sitting on child-size plastic stools. Anytime, anywhere, this soup is the shit. I was also happy to find out that some of the Pho I’ve had in Chicago tastes very similar to the versions we had on the street in Hanoi – authentic, indeed.

I made my beef stock before I decided I was going to make Pho, so I had to improvise a bit. There really is not much to Pho, so the broth is very important. To make mine a little more authentic, I simmered my stock with star anise and cinnamon and tossed in some fish sauce at the end. If you can, though, definitely make a fresh stock with Pho in mind.


Pho Bo (aka, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen, recipe written as I made it

8 cups beef broth or stock
1  1/2-2 pounds dried banh pho noodles (at an Asian market, they’ll be labeled this way; at other markets, they’ll probably be called rice noodles)
1/2 pound flank steak, sliced into thin strips against the grain
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
salt and black pepper

Garlic chives or scallions
Bean sprouts
Thai chiles
Lime wedges

Warm the broth in a large pot. If you are not making the stock yourself, simmer chopped ginger, cinnamon, and star anise in it. Slice your onion and let is soak in cold water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. In a large pot, boil some water. When it is boiling, turn off the burner and submerge the rice noodles. Let them sit for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are soft. Drain immediately and rinse the noodles in cold water.

Meanwhile, heat some neutral oil in a pan and sear the steak. You want to keep it pretty rare because it will continue to cook in the broth when the soup is served. Prepare all the garnishes – chop the chives, wash the sprouts, thinly slice the Thai chiles – and BE CAREFUL – these guys are hot!

When you’re ready to serve, layer the ingredients in a bowl – rice noodles on the bottom, then the steak, then the onions. Then ladle the broth over the top, and garnish with herbs, bean sprouts, limes, and chiles.

Creepy Crawlies in Borneo

Ah, bugs. There certainly were plenty in Borneo. Eric had a stomach bug (actually, he had multiple stomach bugs), I was eaten alive by sand flies, and then, of course, there were these bugs:

We saw tons of HUGE bugs! These fun guys roll up into a little ball when they're scared.

giant snails

giant millipede

it's a leaf bug!


eric and i both had nightmares about this centipede.

Ok, let’s not get technical with the insects vs. mollusks. It’s still big and a little creepy, so I feel I can include it here.

Of all the bugs, though, that last one really shook us. We discovered him on a night hike – hanging out on a tree just a few inches off our path. Of course, it looks gross, creepy, downright disgusting. But when our guide – a man who has been leading people through the jungle for 9 years – was afraid, well, we could not get this bug off our mind. Apparently he bites – hard – and you’ll pass out if he does manage to have a nibble.

That night, I could not stop thinking about that centipede. My skin was crawling, and I just wanted to wrap myself in a blanket and seal myself in a bug-proof room. Not possible in the jungle. I even woke up in the middle of the night to Eric pacing around the room. His legs itched, and he could not sleep. I had him rub cortizone cream, deodorant, anything on his legs. Nothing was working. Needless to say, we did not sleep much that night.

That bug really penetrated our psyches.

Honeymoon Gluttony

We’re back! After a month of wandering around Southeast Asia, we arrived in Chicago at 9am Saturday. I’ll be busy writing up posts on everything we did in addition to trying to recreate the amazing food we ate, but for now, I have a few pictures of some of the amazing food we ate.

Best thing we ate in NYC: the famous pork buns at Momofuku

Pork Belly Steam Buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC

The jet lag has controlled us the last two days. After 36 hours of traveling and sleeping on airplanes, I went into a coma for about 4 hours, then stayed awake until 4am. Laying down in a bed and stretching out my legs under my down blanket was pure comfort after being couped up in economy class.

This was amazing. Toasted Manti with garlic yogurt.

Toasted Manti with Garlic Yogurt and Broth at Prune in NYC

The trip went like this: 4 days in NYC prior to departure. It was actually quite warm (high of 50 degrees F the day we left), but snow blanketed the city. It was just three days after the first of the massive snow storms in the Northeast, and the streets and sidewalks were a mess. Regardless, we managed to eat some scrumptious food.

best thing ever. mango and sticky rice. you haven't had mango until you've had it in Southeast Asia.

Mango with Sticky Rice on the streets of Bangkok

Then we flew to Seoul. With a 12-hour layover in Seoul, we took a tour of the city and ate some bibimbap (rice with mixed veggies, beef, and spicy paste) and bulgogi (marinated grilled beef). The meals were good, but the photos haven’t uploaded to Flickr yet, so I haven’t included them here. After that, it was on to Bangkok. We had just one day in Bangkok – we ate street food, saw some temples, and checked out the infamous Khao San Road. We also had about 5 hours to kill in Bangkok at the tail end of our trip, which is when we picked up this amazingly juicy mango served with coconut-y sticky rice. Probably the highlight of Bangkok.


Bun Bo, aka Vietnamese Beef Noodle Salad, in Hanoi, Vietnam

From Bangkok, we flew to Hanoi, Vietnam. We had some glorious meals in Vietnam (in addition to several sub par meals), but the Bun Bo shown above may have been my favorite. Our hotel recommended this place – a small restaurant that serves only Bun Bo. The salad is served with tender butter lettuce and a rich, flavorful broth. Yum.

and the final product - wow.

Marinated beef, grilled tableside and served with crusty bread, on the streets of Hanoi

Another day in Hanoi, we were wandering around looking for a lunch when we spotted, and smelled, this amazing grilled beef. It’s grilled at your table in lard and butter with tons of vegetables. The famous banh mi, Vietnamese bread, was flaky and crusty on the outside, and soft and doughy on the inside. It was incredible.

We had a whole snapper and sting ray, plus two bottles of water, for a grand total of about $9.

Fresh seafood at the Night Market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

After Vietnam, we flew to Malaysian Borneo, where you can go to the well-known night market in the main city, Kota Kinabalu. All the vendors display their freshly caught seafood, so you can pick out what you want and they’ll grill it up for you on the spot. Pretty amazing stuff.

a Balinese specialty - crispy duck!!

Crispy Duck in Ubud, Bali

Finally, our last stop was Bali. In Ubud, the famous dish is this Crispy Duck – a small Balinese duck that is grilled and then deep fried. Served with the super spicy sambal shown below, it was a tender, delicious meal.

that spicy spicy sambal. it looks so good, i want to eat it by the spoonful, but one small bite burns my mouth for hours

Very spicy Balinese Sambal

This stuff is more potent than you’d think. It looks so delicious that I wanted to eat it by the spoonful, but it was so spicy, I could only stand a small bit at a time.

rambutans and snake skin fruit

Rambutans and Snake Skin Fruit at the market in Bali

Lastly, we had some amazing fruit. Besides the juicy mangoes, I also loved the snake skin fruit. It peals ridiculously easy and has a texture similar to an apple. It is dry – not juicy like most delicious fruits – but it’s sweetness is seriously delicious.

I’ll be updating on more adventures soon. I already went to the book store today and picked up a Vietnamese cookbook, so I’ll be sharing some recipes soon as well.

Colombia Preview

I came back from Colombia on Tuesday evening to a cold but fresh Chicago. The cool air actually felt good. Clean. Thin. A far cry from the thick, sticky humidity of the Colombian coast. I’m covered in mosquito bites that I can’t stop itching, and I apparently still smell of the coconut oil rubbed all over my skin and hair just a few days ago on the beach in Taganga.

I’m still working on sorting through my photos (and videos!), but I thought I’d share a couple of the fabulous meals I had in Colombia. The fish was out of this world (and cheap!), and I’m sad to say I did not get a picture of any of the arepas I feasted on in the streets. Or empanadas. My favorite part of being in Colombia was the fresh tropical fruit. Mangos, pineapples, papayas… and those are just the fruits for which I know the English translation. There are all kinds of other crazy fruits that people sell – cut up for you in easy to eat pieces – and I have no idea what they were. Still, mango is my favorite, and I ate it every single day. Once it came dusted with salt, pepper, and lime juice. Seriously delicious.