Monday, August 31, 2009

Organizing myself

Ever since I got back from Ukenzagapia I feel like I've been spinning my wheels while I try to figure out everything that has to happen this fall and then how I'm going to make it happen. Tonight I stayed at school much later than I'd planned (it was completely dark when I left) but I did manage to identify goals and deadlines for:

-preliminary data analysis
-poster for a conference
-small grant proposal (did I mention yet that I'm out of money?)
-short note
-review paper (the same one I've been talking about for months)
-getting a database online

I've scheduled all sorts of deadlines for myself for these projects amidst the numerous exciting things happening before the end of October (my best friend's wedding, a trip with my parents, 4+ visitors at our place for several days, visiting SFC, a camping trip, hosting a bridal shower, and attending a conference).

Tomorrow I think I'll start to schedule these things more specifically into the rest of the week, and maybe my weekly schedule in general. I've now identified what it is that I need to do instead of feeling overwhelmed by it all and thus procrastinating because I don't want to deal with it. Organizing myself in this way has really helped me feel like I can get down to work.

Tangentially, Herb told all the new students in the department that I'm "the most organized person on the planet." This is hardly true (Jon can confirm this), but once Herb forms an idea about someone, everything they do thereafter fits into that mold. I'm glad Herb has such a flattering and apparently unshakable impression of me. The planning I did today actually fits that impression of organization.

How ignorant am I

I just invited my fantastic awesome student to lunch to talk about her summer research experience. I invited her to lunch. During Ramadan. When I know she's Muslim. *rolls eyes at self*

So much for a bloggy week last week. More posts coming, really. There's lots of partially finished ones floating around.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Or not...

I was all mentally prepared to talk with Herb for like 2 hours on Monday morning, but apparently he had other plans. About 10 minutes into our conversation, he abruptly left to go meet with some other students. I thought he would return so we could resume our conversation, so I only half-invested myself in other tasks. Several hours later, my labmates confirmed my suspicion that Herb had actually left for the day. Damn.

Sometimes you have to be more pro-active about meeting with your advisor.

Today during lab meeting I asked when we could talk more, so we're meeting tomorrow morning. I hope I can get at least an hour of his attention because I have like 1000 things to talk about with him, such as:

-what I did all summer
-how to analyze
-what to do with it
-what I didn't do
-what Leo thought I was going to do
-what's happening in Ukenzagapia while I'm here
-when I'm going back to Ukenzagapia
-how I'm going to pay for it (I'm out of money)
-my should've-been-finished-months-ago review

I want to talk about everything with Herb before I talk about it with Sam and Leo. Gotta keep my ducks in a row. And committee members.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gearing up

It's going to be a busy semester. I've spent the last week mentally preparing myself for it but not doing much actual work. Tomorrow I have a meeting with Herb to talk about what I did and didn't do this summer. I'm looking forward to it.

I'm hoping to get more blogging in this week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Long payback chain

Our money is a total mess right now. I was supposed to get an advance from one of my small grants in the form of a check. It takes them forever to write checks so it wasn't cut until June 1 and was supposed to arrive before Jon left for Ukenzagapia. It didn't.

We borrowed the money from our tax account (since UBC doesn't withhold taxes from my paycheck).

Then I was a victim of ATM fraud and all of that money and more was stolen. My bank returned the stolen money after a few weeks, but then they closed all of my accounts with them. So, my nicely sorted savings all ended up in one messy heap.

In the meantime, I borrowed $1100 from my Ukenzagapian contact Dr. K. for my last month of fieldwork.

I wanted to pay him back before leaving Ukenzagapia but didn't have enough money in my remaining debit account (it was all tied up in other unlinked accounts or undeposited checks), and even if I did daily limits would've prevented me from getting out all of the money in cash. If I didn't pay him back then I'd have to work something out with Sam or wire they money (very expensive). On top of what I borrowed, I owed him a few hundred dollars for other things.

My American friend in Ukenzagapia generously offered to lend me over $1000 in local currency and I could pay them back with a check sent to their sister in the U.S. to whom they owed money. I used their money to repay Dr. K.

Yesterday I finally deposited the check for the grant balance.

Today I repaid my American friend via her sister.

Now I only owe money to myself.

Someday I'll get all of our money back in order. Soon, I hope.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

If I could do my first field season over... are some of the things that I would change.

1) Maps. I came with terrible maps. I really, really should've sat down with Sam with a better map and talked with him about which sites to use, how to get there, and how long it would take. I probably spent two weeks just getting my bearings, mostly on foot. Also, the slow internet meant that using Google Earth was virtually impossible, though I realized after finally seeing my sites in GE that I could've cached images and that would've been very useful.

2) Data. I would've entered data as soon as possible after collecting it. If I'd done this, then I would not have had to go back and collect data that went missing for 2 months in the bottom of my backpack. Once I caught up on data entry (with Jon's help) it wasn't too difficult to keep up on it.

3) Equipment. I should've tested all of my important equipment before leaving. Of course I knew this, but instead relied on "hope" (which as I said earlier is about as effective in the field as it is a method of birth control) because the weeks leading up to my departure were so chaotic. Some equipment that I was using on a pilot-testing basis needs further adjustments, so I've hauled it back even though it's heavy and cumbersome and I really would've preferred to leave it in Ukenzagapia.

4) Language. I really, really need to find a way to make myself continue independent language study when I'm in the field. I just kind of got stuck with my level of proficiency. For a while I was meeting in the evenings with someone, but I wasn't impressed with him as a teacher and I'm not sure how to find a good one. I have two different language instruction books that I could easily work on by myself, but it's hard to get the motivation to do that after a long day in the field.

5) Advice and advisors. When I encountered problems I think I should've contacted them sooner, especially Sam. Sam knows so much but he doesn't always offer it unless prompted.

All in all, I'm satisfied with my first field season. I wish I'd been able to do more, but I can't beat myself up over and there's still more field seasons to come. I'm looking forward to having time back in Big City to mull things over and plan for next time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Resettling in

When I first arrived back at the apartment it felt a little bit strange. I'd kind of forgotten what our home was like! I've quickly become re-accustomed to life in Big City with Jon and I don't think I'm having any problems with return shock. Maybe traveling back and forth gets easier each time and the transitions smoother once you know how to fit in in both cultures and places.

I did, however, have a very strong need to tend to all of my plants. And plant new things outside. This reminds me why I don't want to be gone next summer.

This week I'm trying to get some things out of the way for what is shaping up to be an extremely busy fall semester. I'm glad to have some time on campus before classes start again. It's nice to be back.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Flying high with hives

I'm not sure how it happened, but I'm writing this from business class on my trans-Atlantic flight! On an economy ticket! And I didn't even ask for an upgrade! I was assigned a seat in business class. My seat fully reclines, I have my own outlet to plug in my laptop and I have more legroom than I could ever ask for. This is amazing. I overheard a conversation across the aisle and I'm not the only on sitting here with an economy ticket. Pretty darn awesome. This is my first time ever flying business class. We were delayed on the ground but I didn't care at all because I was in a great seat.

My first flight was fine, though about 6 hours before my flight I realized I was covered in hives. It was really strange though, because the hives were all concentrated in places on my body where the clothing was tight like around my waistline and across my back and shoulders. Really weird. It's actually similar to what happened to me two months ago. In reflecting upon the commonalities between then and now (unfortunately there are many), I suspect that I am getting hives from eating cashews. Two months ago I was also breaking out from poison tree rash (did I mention that I got it again after being clear for several weeks?). Perhaps when I my body is already reacting to urushiols I then get hives when I consume them? This is my theory.

I've been eating cashews for years with no problem, though it's possible that here I have encountered more cashews that are unroasted or have higher urushiol levels for other reasons. It's hard to pinpoint this though because I suspect that there is a 2-3 day delay between when I eat the cashews and when I get the hives. Rena had a bunch of cashews that she shared with me when we left Nyota on Tuesday morning, and they definitely weren't fully roasted, maybe not at all. I even snacked on a few of the remaining goodies as late as Thursday afternoon. I may have these hives for a few days.

Last time I got hives I started taking the prednisone right away, which also cleared up my rash. This time though, my rash isn't nearly as widespread and I didn't want to suppress my immune system shortly before extensive airline travel. Instead I've been taking Benadryl every 4-6 hours, which does have a noticeable effect on the hives. They move around though and seem to regroup in new places between doses. I've got them on my face and ears now too, though I think it looks like I just have bad skin so I'm hoping they don't try to quarantine me when I go through customs or something. I'll take an extra Benadryl just in case.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Going home

I'm spent my last two days in Ukenzagapia with an American family, and I think it will make the transition back home a little easier. Like I mentioned before, I've gotten used to life here, for better or for worse. I wonder if I'll experience return shock in Big City. Tonight I'll get on a plane and within 24 hours I'll be back with Jon. We live in an amazing world.

I've got my ipod charged and two books to read (In Defense of Food and A Primate's Memoir). My path home is far, far less arduous than last year, and I'm optimistic that my luggage will arrive with me (unlike last year) since I only have one connection. I'm also leaving a huge amount of stuff in Ukenzagapia at the University or my friend's house, including several books that I just don't want to keep hauling back and forth.

I think I did what could be done in my first field season and I'm looking forward to going back. But most immediately, I'm looking forward to going home :-)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Last night in Nyota

Rena and I are both leaving Nyota early tomorrow (now this) morning.
We had our field assistants over for a good old American dinner of
fried chicken, mashed potatoes, bread with butter, tortillas, refried
beans, and guacamole with coconut rice for desert (hey, we did the
best we could with what we had to work with). It was a hit.

Everyone finally left around 10 pm, and that's when we really started
packing. I pulled out my big backpack for the first time in several
weeks to stuff some dirty clothes in the bottom. Lo and behold, what
did I see but a bit of a yellow write in the rain notebook sticking
out from under the lining! MY MISSING NOTEBOOK! I wasn't sure whether
to laugh or cry. We went back and re-collected nearly all of the data
in that notebook, much to my field assistants' dismay, not to mention
my own. It is a relief but frustrating at the same time that I found
it just hours before leaving.

Losing my notebook did have one positive outcome: I went back to all
of my sites and collected another piece of data in addition to re-
collecting the original data. I doubt I would've collected the new
data for all of the sites if I hadn't had to return for the other
data. The new data I collected led to the aforementioned insight into
the system that contradicts current literature. So, it wasn't all for

I'm sad to be leaving Nyota, and it hasn't really sunk in just how
soon I'm going to be home. Most of the things that were initially
uncomfortable here have become normal and routine: bucket baths every
day, riding on the back of a motorbike, being stared at wherever I go,
going to bed and waking up early, eating chapatis and hard boiled eggs
every day for lunch, always being ready for the possibility of losing
water or electricity, and combating poison tree rash by avoidance and
regular use of IvyBlock.

I'm starting to fall asleep as I type so I'd better just end this now.
Perhaps I'll write more thoughts later once I'm in the city.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Crunch time

Not only is this my last few days of collecting data, it's the last
chance to fulfill various social obligations such as dinners with
people. This last week also coincides with a visiting colleague of
Rena, a visit from my Ukenzagapian advisor/contact (Dr. K), and a
whole bunch of interesting students staying at Nyota. I've got several
things to blog about but I think my days and nights are booked from
now until I leave Nyota on Tuesday morning, so blogging may be light.
I hope (think?) Sunday will be my last day in the field and then on
Monday Rena and I are cooking American food for our field assistants.
I'm going to be back in the city, and then back in the U.S. in a week!

Monday, August 3, 2009


Tired- that's what my field assistants keep calling my diameter tape.
Unfortunately it's the only one I've got. I've totally lost count of
the number of places where it has broken (it's at least 8). Metal
measuring tapes suck.

My boots are tired too.

As is my rain jacket. The stuff that keeps it waterproof is all gone
from the upper back and shoulders, which is probably where I need it

I don't think my boots or rain jacket are coming home with me. I've
had them both for about 7 years. Is that a respectable amount of time?
They've been all over the world with me. If I leave them here, they
might get 7 more.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

When the going gets tough...

...I tend to hesitate and change my mind. Or proceed slowly with
trepidation. This is something I've finally realized about myself.
Admitting your problem is the first step, right?

This unfortunate tendency of mine manifests itself in all sorts of
situations. I do it at the grocery store if something I was planning
to buy seems too expensive, then I change my mind about what to cook.
I do it in the field, walking through brambles. On second thought
maybe I shouldn't go this way after all. On paper, I'm going to record
10 kinds of data. In the field I think oh crap, how am I ever going to
do all of that? So I hesitate and think maybe I can do without some of
that information. I second-guess my decision to do whatever it was I
was going to do. I'm the kind of person who can spend more time
thinking about the best way to do something than it would take to
actually do it. This is a problem.

I think this is part of what I was trying to get at with my post about
needing to be more of a badass. I just need to keep my head down and
power through (that's for you, Jon). At least more often than I do now.