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How do you fit a frog, a humpback whale, a wolf, and a horse in a last floor apartment of Harlem, New York City? This is not a funny riddle (I guess it could be), but the actual question that we just formulated in our living room, after conducting a very intense discussion on totem animals and what we believe one is. The whole conversation came up as my co-fellow Katie tells the story of when, while taking a course on ‘Alternative treatments’ during her Masters of Public Health, a professor guided the whole class into a guided imagery, for which they walked through a forest, dived into a cave to the center of the earth and reached a clearing. At the clearing Katie sat down, thinking that the whole thing was not going to work. It was then that she turned around to face an old, wise-looking wolf. I suppose I met my totem animal – the horse – through a guided imagery as well. It was not one about totem animals, actually quite far from it. But hey, nonetheless I met him. Liz did not provide details on the modality of the encounter but hers is a humpback whale, she knows it. We read the traditional interpretation and that’s the one – no doubts about that: the characteristic trait of the humpback whale is nurturing and I happily admit that had it not been for Liz cooking many a meal for me this year, I would have probably starved during the fellowship. As per Taiki he appears not to have had a formal encounter with his totem animal yet, but he just knows that it is the frog. ‘The frog is a symbol of fertility’ he reads from a description of the totem and the three of us giggle. ‘Oh well’ he asserts ‘You know I am passionate about reproductive health’.

Whether we believe in totem animals or not, I think there is a strong parallel in the diversity of our spirit animals and in the differences in our characters. I very much doubt that four people like us would have ever even crossed each other’s path, had it not been for this fellowship. And yet, notwithstanding the differences amongst us, and the occasional discontent about “whose-dishes-are-these-in-the-sink-they-have-been-here-for-a-while” we managed to create our own equilibrium and we have become truly good friends, who care for each other and cherish each other’s company. Thanks to this fellowship year, we have not just learnt a lot about global health, but also (and perhaps sometimes more important) we have become more wholesome human beings, polishing each other’s characters through diversity and companionship. Had it not been for this adventure, the whale would have kept below water, the horse would have run away from the wolf, and the wolf would have met the frog at the pond but they probably would have minded each their own business.