Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My weekend away

I left the city for the weekend, which was a refreshing change of
scenery. I stayed at a lovely Catholic mission that was recommended
by my language teacher. I had a bit of a run in (quite literally)
with a barbed wire fence on Friday night, but thankfully that was the
low point. There was only one other guest at the place, a middle-aged
Brit who was great company. I practiced my language skills quite a
bit while I was out hiking, because the guides spoke English with
varying degrees of proficiency. I also got to practice using the verb
'to grow' because I talked about all of the different fruits that we
do or do not grow much in America and why.

I'm going to do something I don't do very often on this blog, which
is post a lot of pictures. Here are some images from my weekend. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Post on Economical Academic

I forgot to mention that I wrote another post for that blog about craigslist. I'd been working on it for a while before I left and I posted it last week! Go check it out.

Internet at a snail's pace

Once again I find myself in the position of trying to apply for
something over an agonizingly slow and intermittent internet
connection. I did about 95% of my grad school applications and
correspondence over dial-up in RFC, and it's not something I would
advise for anyone.

Today I went to three internet cafes to try to get online with my
laptop. The first one was completely empty except for the
receptionist, which I should have immediately realized was a bad
sign. I was told their network is down and won't be working again for
about a month. Bummer, as that's the most convenient place. She told
me to try the post office.

The second place said I couldn't connect my laptop, so I should try
across the street. I went across the street to the third place and
asked if I could connect my laptop. They said no, because it would
compromise their protection against viruses to have other people
connecting their computers. I tried to say that I have a Mac and it
doesn't get viruses, but I don't think he understood. He didn't know
any other places where they would let me connect my laptop, so I
decided to just check my email on one of theirs. Wow, it took a long
time. The screen was also displaying type about 50 characters behind
what I was typing, so I just typed without worry about typos since I
couldn't see them to correct them until two sentences later. Overall
a very frustrating experience. I'm going to stick with my habit of
visiting the internet cafe at the upmarket touristy complex where my
language classes are held. It's more expensive, but not much so and
the speed and ability to connect my own computer make it well

I've decided to apply to a multidisciplinary program at my university
because they have some openings that can be filled by continuing
students. I've been corresponding with Herb and another professor to
figure out if I should apply. I'm not entirely sure how it will fit
with my plans, but I'm going to try to figure that out and apply this
week. I've been talking about it with Helen, whose intended project
is quite multidisciplinary. I should get to work on that now...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oh dear...

...I think I might be allergic to mangos.

When I was about 10 years old my mom discovered that she is allergic
to mangos. Mangos and poison ivy are in the same family, and both
contain urushiols that irritate some people. My mom broke out in a
poison ivy-like rash around her lips and on her hands from cutting
fresh mango. I've never had a problem with it, and never even reacted
to poison ivy until last summer (I think this might be in part
because I learned very early from my mom how to identify poison ivy
and thus avoid it because she's quite allergic to that too). I also
hardly ever eat mangos since they aren't local and are often expensive.

On Saturday morning I ate half of an enormous mango for breakfast. It
was delicious. On Monday morning, I felt a tingling on my upper lip
and by mid day I had bumps forming all across my upper lip. I thought
it was a cold sore, because I get those, but I don't get them on my
upper lip and usually I don't get them on my lip unless I sunburn my
face (it took me years to figure this out). I was diligently not
picking at it and I treated it intensively with that Abreva sore sore
stuff. Today I've noticed a few spots on my nose (fresh mango is messy).

Last night I bought a small, perfectly ripe mango for about 25 cents,
and I ate it this morning for breakfast. It wasn't until after I'd
eaten it that it occurred to me that I might not have cold sores at
all, but mango rash on my lip instead. So, I suppose I'll see what
happens over the next few days. I think I can still eat mangos as
long as I make sure to wash my hands and around mouth right afterwards.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Figuring this out

I think my last posting cut off too soon. I wrote some other stuff
that isn't that important, but I don't think it actually posted.

Anyways, I've decided I'm not going to try to push through with the
permits. I had a meeting today (Monday, but this won't be posted
until Tuesday) with someone at the university and he suggested
several people that I should write to. He also thinks I shouldn't
rush the permits and should focus on getting the sense of things
while I'm here now. He also said that my intended weekend trip won't
work for a weekend, so I'll have to think about a useful place to go
this weekend. I'd like to see some critters.

Somewhat frustratingly, I'm having trouble tracking down some books.
Sam said to me in the US, "Oh, I don't think you can get them now-
you'll be able to find them in Ukenzagapia," and today I was told, "I
think you have to get those books in the US if that bookstore you
already visited didn't have it."

I'm staying near a church and they're singing (part of?) Handel's
Messiah right now. It's quite beautiful- a far cry better than the
usual shouts from the bus station or the call to prayer. The rhythm
of life here is different. The tropical days are the same length as
the night, and it's not a good idea to wander around the city after
dark so I'm stuck in the hotel after about 6:30 pm. I've been going
to sleep incredibly early for me (10 or 11 pm), but also getting up
very early (6:30). Since I had to drastically change time zones
anyways this has been fine.

People here are so encouraging of my language skills! People are so
impressed when I talk to them in the local language and I tell them
I've only been here for a week (although I wasn't starting from
scratch). They always say, "You speak very well!" It's really great
that they're so encouraging of my rudimentary attempts at the language.

I can't wait to go shopping for clothes here. I'm excited about
buying gifts here too for family & friends. I haven't bought anything
'fun' yet. One of these days my new friend Helen and I will go
together. It is great to have Helen to hang out with. We go to
language class together, eat lunch together, study the language, have
rooms on the same hall, and can just hang out. I can't believe how
much we have in common (first year Ph.D. students on reconnaissance
missions in Ukenzagapia for almost the same timeframe).

Now I need to focus on writing emails to various people about my
project. Meanwhile, something imitating the sound of a bagpipe plays
"The more we get together" song outside my window...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Avocados and stuff

One of my favorite things here- huge, cheap avocados. The one in the
photo below cost about 30 cents and it's twice as big as the ones you
can get at home. The biscuits next to it cost about 80 cents, but
unfortunately they taste like they sat next to the pesticide section
in the grocery for too long. I suppose that might be why they were on
sale. I only ate two and threw them out, which is something I rarely
do (especially here).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Greetings from Ukenzagapia!

I meant to post before I left but my family was visiting and there was much to do, so I didn't Sorry readers! FYI, I definitely won't be posting as much as usual while I'm here. Today is the first day I've been able to get online with my laptop (it was much more difficult than I anticipated).

Well, there is good and bad news. The bad news is I won't be getting my permits in time to really do anything. The good news is that I can just wait and pick them up next year without paying the fees again. I found this out on Wednesday morning, so now I'm working on what to do instead. I knew this might happen, especially since the short notice I gave them, but it's still a bummer. I was getting excited about the idea of catching critters, which definitely won't happen now.

I met a Brit at the hostel who was by herself and I for some reason had a hunch that she might be here for research. My hunch was quite right. She's in a very similar situation to me, except that she hasn't even tried to get permits yet. She's in the first year of her Ph.D. and is here taking language classes and trying to get a sense of what her project will be. We had a great conversation about my situation and she suggested I join her language class. This is the first of three weeks but they haven't done much yet and since I have a bit of prior experience with this language I'm ok having missed the first few days. I went this morning and I'm planning to finish the 3-week course, then head to my field sites as a tourist.

This is the first time I've really traveled by myself for any length of time, and so far I think it's ok. The hardest part is being such a conspicuous westerner on the streets. I got totally ripped off on something I bought on the street the first day, but it could've been worse. Something like that happens to everyone so I'm not going to beat myself up about it. It's annoying to always have men trying to talk to you on the street and you don't want to be rude but you just have to. Acknowledging a greeting is like giving them permission to follow you and talk your ear off. I think I'm getting better at the "Don't even bother talking to me" walk and facial expression. I just have to act disinterested and calm. It's not like they're dangerous, they can just be annoying. Now that I have a friend to walk with it's not so lonely and we've been helping each other out since we're in remarkably similar situations. I'm also really glad to have a friend to practice my language skills with.

So, now that I'm going to be spending the next two weeks and the end of this one in language classes, I've got to figure out where I want to go this weekend since I don't really want to spend two straight weeks in the city.

Ok, this has been a jumbled post. I'll post again another day (with pictures! I decided to buy a new camera) but I'm not sure when. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

logistics and permits

Today I had a meeting with another grad student who also works in Ukenzagapia. We spent most of the time talking about how I actually get the permits in hand to do my research. All I have to do is go to four different offices in two different cities that are 9 hours apart. Then I can go to my field site and start doing work- hopefully. We'll see how this goes. Surprisingly, the meeting left me optimistic that I actually might get my permits this summer.

We also talked about practicalities such as which cell phone company to go with and which hotels and internet cafes to visit. The best advice I got from her was to buy a receipt book to keep track of purchases that wouldn't normally provide a receipt. I never would've thought of this myself.

I've been vegetarian for the past 6.5 years (oh my gosh, has it really been this long?) with some flexitarianism during other international travels. I didn't have a sense of how easy it would be to stay veg in Ukenzagapia but the grad student said she has no trouble (although she does bring many Clif bars for times when biscuits just won't do it). I think I'll just listen to my body. If I'm getting really hungry and there aren't any non-meat protein options I'll eat meat. I'll also eat meat if I'm served it as a guest, or if I try to order something without meat and they serve me something with meat broth anyways.

I had lunch with Leo today after getting all the useful tips above. I told him I wasn't going to try to catch critters this summer because I thought the most I could hope for would be identifying sites if I even get my permits at all. He thought I should at least try if I do get the permits, so I'm taking some of his equipment to catch critters. This is going to make my bags heavier than I'd hoped, but if things go according to plan I'll be able to get some (more?) data this way.

I didn't quite get my budgeting done yet and I haven't done any more packing. My family is coming to visit tomorrow and I leave on Sunday! I'm so excited!

thankfully I was wrong!

So, it turns out that yesterday I misread the email about my summer paychecks- I actually will receive ~$2500/month for two months! I'm glad I was wrong in this case. I'll earn $4,978 this summer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

money woes & complications

Today I found out that I'll be making a lot less as a TA this summer than I was previously led to believe. I won't get a paycheck in June, but I already knew I'd miss a paycheck completely. But I was led to believe that I would be earning about ~$2500 per month for the other two summer months, which is more than I earn now (~$1850 per month). This would make sense considering that I'll be in the classroom twice as many hours per week this summer. Today, however, I found out that I'll get one ~$2500 and one ~$1250 paycheck which is exactly equal to two month's normal pay during the school year. I like teaching, but this kind of BS makes me not want to.

In short, this means that over the summer I'll be earning $3,714 for a workload that will be equal to what I normally have over the course of a semester for which I get paid $8,356. Shouldn't this be illegal?

Tomorrow I have to sit down a figure out a whole lot of budgeting for my trip. I need to budget for expenses in Big City that will be automatically deducted from my account while I'm gone, and I need to figure out how to balance my personal vs. grant funds for this trip. Complicating matters further, I'll have an advance on one grant but the other one I'll have to spend my own money and get reimbursed. Ai! I need to do some serious spreadsheeting to keep track of everything. I just opened an ING Electric Orange account on Saturday and thankfully the debit card came today. I'll use this to access the advanced grant funds while I'm abroad. I'm leaving my normal debit card with Jon so that he can continue to deposit his paper paychecks into my account (his bank doesn't have a local branch and we use a joint ING account to move money between our respective checking accounts- it's kind of complicated).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

one more thing to do

I finished my paper last night at 3:15 am. Whew! What a relief to get that done. I slept in this morning and went in late. Herb had the paper back to me with comments by 4 pm! He said he thinks it is in pretty good shape to go to a small journal like Taxonomically Specific Journal or that I could work on further developing the big picture and broader issues for it to go somewhere else.

Today I did my students' grades, so I only have one more assignment to complete- my web page. I got it online but it's not quite complete. I feel so free with all of this school stuff behind me! Now all I really have to worry about is my trip to Africa. Piece of cake. I'm leaving in 5 days. I started getting things together tonight. My goal is to carry no more than 40 pounds. We'll see if this happens. Tomorrow I'm running errands to pick up some things I need.

I'm so excited to not be going to school tomorrow! I realized that with the exception of the week after my appendicitis, I've been at school every single weekday this semester and worked several weekends. Not tomorrow!

In the midst of all the stress recently I almost forgot to mention that I got Grant D! I'm on a roll! However, because of my permit issues Herb is concerned that perhaps I should contact the granting agency and explain my situation (i.e. that I won't be collecting data on that part of the project this year) and see what they say. He said I should talk to Leo about it because it's more his field. I've got quite a few things to sort out about grants and accessing funds in the next few days. Today was the last time I'll see Herb for several weeks.

Oh, bummer news today. Jon's camera is broken, or at least the display screen is. This is especially a bummer because I was planning to take it to Africa. Jon lent it to a friend over the weekend, but this friend said he took care of it so what can we do? Even if he had broken it, this friend is barely scraping by with rent and food so there's no way he could afford to replace it. I also imagine that it isn't cost effective for us to repair it unfortunately. Looks like I'm in the market now for a new digital camera- and quick.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm not going home until it's DONE

Yes, I'm still talking about that stupid review paper that has been consuming my life. I just finished a major section so I'm taking a quick blog and ice cream break. I am not going home until I've emailed this to Herb. I fell asleep on the couch for an hour and a half earlier this evening so I should be good to go for a while. I think my goal right now is 2 am. I've been on a roll for the past two or three hours so hopefully I can keep it up.

I was pretty excited about this review paper until Saturday afternoon. I'm not sure what happened, but suddenly it seemed so overwhelming and insignificant. I haven't found the enthusiasm back unfortunately. I had a serious case of writer's block from yesterday until about 9 pm tonight. I read and read but couldn't get my thoughts together. During that time I managed to find at least 40 bazillion new articles that I should read. Do you do this? My desktop, which normally has only the hard drive icon so that I can see my pretty desktop pictures, is almost completely full of pdfs. I really love Google Scholar, and I love it that they have made it so easy for me to import citations into EndNote (if I didn't delete those icons right away my desktop would be overflowing). Leo told me that "cite while you write" would change my life and I think it has.

I think this version will be better than my last one, but what I turn in tonight isn't going to be anywhere near complete enough to submit for publication. I see more revisions in my future if Herb still thinks this is worth pursuing. I wish I'd been able to get this done earlier in the semester so that the lab group could read it once more before summer. But for tonight, my goal is to get something acceptable turned in. Better get back to work...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

can't focus...

I'm working at school today because I really need to do more on this review. Yesterday I read one useful article but didn't do any writing. I just want to be done with this, at least before I go to Nyota. Since this is also an assignment for Herb's class, it's due tomorrow. AHH! I can't focus. I leave for Nyota in a week and there are so many things I have to figure out before then. I'd rather be worrying about those things than this paper. Ok, I had to vent. Now back to work. I have 3 hours and 50 minutes to work on this paper before I'm going home to get ready for Herb to come over for dinner tonight.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Write a sentence, eat a grape

I'm still at school. I'm not going home until I make satisfactory progress on this review paper. It's been slow going tonight. I've only added a half a page in the past 3 hours (although that does include a 1 hour nap). Mostly I've been reading, thinking, jotting notes, thinking more, and then maybe writing a sentence, or repeating the read-think-note process. I had another organization breakthrough for one of the sections. I think tonight's goal is to write the logical thoughts out for that section without worrying yet about the examples from the literature.

I really need these big sections of uninterrupted time at this stage in the (re)writing process. It helps me to bait myself along with small rewards for myself like sending an email, reading blogs, or eating snacks. Then I reward myself for bigger accomplishments by telling myself I can't do something I want to do until I reach a certain point. Tonight my reward will simply be going home. I don't expect to make much (if any) progress on the paper tomorrow, so tonight's work time is really important. I'd better get back to it!

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Yesterday evening I was chatting in the hallway with two guys from my program. The architecture of our building is such that I don't usually cross paths with grad students from other labs so I don't talk to these guys much outside of classes. Anyways, we were talking about our different research plans for this summer, the job market, food prices, and complaining about various things (these two guys like to complain a lot in a jovial sort of way). They asked about my plans for this summer and I regaled them with tales of the various hoops I'm jumping through, blah blah blah. Then one said, "So why are you going to Nyota instead of Neotropical Field Site where Herb works? Wouldn't that be easier?"

Regular readers will recall that I did a long post about this in January when I was trying to figure out where to go. But this post isn't really about my reasons- it's about how I replied to that question and why my response is bugging me.

The first thing I thought to say to the question was that I have a better opportunity to make a name for myself at Nyota. There are many people working with critters in the Neotropics, but there's only a handful of people working with them in Africa. I said I'd be more able to establish myself as an expert in the field. Then I also mentioned that I also really wanted to go for reasons I couldn't quite explain, and I told them about my conversation with Leo when he said, "You really shouldn't underestimate the value of your heart in making a decision like this." Plus Nyota's a great place to study what I want to study, Sam thinks my project is a great one, yada yada scientific reasons.

Afterwards, I thought, Why was the first thing I mentioned that I wanted to "make a name for myself"? I must sound too ambitious, and that's not the main reason anyways. Now I'm totally hung up on the idea that I think I might have sounded "too ambitious" to my (male) peers, and even moreso I'm contemplating why I'm still thinking about this conversation that they've probably forgotten. Considering that my goal is to teach at a small liberal arts college where I'll be doing more teaching than research, it doesn't make sense that my first response would be related to prestige in research. On the other hand, maybe I subconsciously felt like I had to say something like that for them to respect my justification. Still further, if one of my goals is to become a respected expert in my field, why should I be ashamed to articulate that? Even before the conversation changed focus yesterday, I thought, I should also explain to them that teaching is important to me too so that I don't look like a fame-seeker. This is totally whack, since I really shouldn't feel the need to backpedal or justify ambitious research plans.

Somehow, this antiquated idea that women shouldn't be "too ambitious" is still down there somewhere inside me, and I want to get it out.