Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nyota news

Over the summer, there was some drama surrounding money that I lent one of my field assistants to buy a motorbike. He said he bought one but no one actually saw it. Monday morning was the moment of truth: Did T actually buy a motorbike? Yes, indeed he did. It's nearly the same as B's motorbike, which is great because they can teach each other how to maintain it and share spare parts if necessary. I'm the envy of Nyota's motorbike riders because I have a real, certified motorcycle helmet from the U.S.A.* as opposed to the cheap helmets they sell here that feel more like suped-up bicycle helmets.

I'm living with two other grad students in the same house I stayed in last time (with a hot water shower). One is a biologist and the other is a social scientist. They are nice guys and I think we'll all get along great. One is vegetarian and the other is happy to eat vegetarian so that's wonderfully simple. The same woman who cooked for me last time is cooking for the 3 of us. Mommy Dog is still hanging around and she gets so happy when she sees me that it makes me smile. 

I'm 3 days into field work now and it's going ok so far. It's taking a little longer than I'd hoped, but that is to be expected. The project I set up last time is going well, and this time I'm expanding on it. The roads are worse than last time I was here, though not too dreadful as long as it hasn't rained.

I finally got paid today- nearly two weeks late. I'm still waiting on several hundred dollars.

*Thanks to a loan from my friend who isn't going to be riding a motorcycle anytime soon because she's expecting a baby in November.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The bad luck bus

Before I start talking about being unlucky, I should say that I was able to get all of my necessary permits to begin research in just 8 days. I DID walk into that government office on Wednesday and pick up the permit they said would be ready on Wednesday, but even more remarkable, on Thursday I walked out of a government building in less than 10 minutes with the final permit in hand. It was awesome. Now I can begin my research!

My field assistants met me in the city, and we left this morning for Nyota with 5 heavy bags/trunks and 5 rolls of fabric. At the nearest large town, we have to switch to a bus that runs only once per day. It leaves Nyota in the morning, and returns in the evening... except when it doesn't.

When I was leaving Nyota in April, my field assistants came to my house before dawn to help me haul everything out to the road to wait for the bus. We waited. Then someone came by and told us the bus never made it back from town the previous evening because the roads were too bad. We were waiting for a bus that wasn't going to come. I needed to get to town in time to catch a bus to the city, for which I had already purchased a ticket. I had too much stuff to just get on a motorbike, so the only thing we could do was wait for a lift from a passing vehicle. It's very common for people to do that here.

One of my field assistants, T, was using my phone to call the city bus station to get the number for the town bus station to tell them I'm running late but I'm on my way when a lift showed up. It was the car from the research station, and inside was the neighbor lady, the guy who tutored me in Ukenzagapese, and the guy I rented my house from. They threw all of my bags and trunks on the rack on top of the car, not bothering to tie them down (it had a 'lip' on it so things just didn't slide off but they did slide around). There was room for me but not my field assistants, so they said they'd find other lifts and meet me at the bus stand. 

Not far down the road, T passed the car on the back of a motorbike. Not long after that, my other field assistant, B, passed me in the back of a pickup truck. I'd left first but now they were both ahead of me. Around that time I realized that I didn't even have my phone to call them because T had it when I got in the car! The road was terrible and we passed several stuck lorries and I'm amazed that all of my luggage stayed on top of the car (I think because it was heavy). It takes at least an hour to get from Nyota to town by car, so I was resigned to missing my bus and taking a later one. When the car arrived at the bus station, I was thanking the driver and getting out of the car when T and B ran up and told me to get back in! They said my bus had just passed a few minutes ago, and the bus company called the driver and they would wait just down the road for us. All of the other car passengers hopped out, T and B hopped in, and the driver rushed us down the road to catch the bus. 

We drove. We passed 1 small town. Then two. Then three. Then we realized the bus hadn't waited long enough and we had to turn back. We we back the bus station, unloaded my things, and switched my ticket from one bus company to another, just as the other bus pulled up and we hurriedly loaded my things on and I said a rushed goodbye to T and B. It was a crazy, hectic, stressful morning that ended up ok (and reinforced to me how many friends I've made in Nyota), but it all started because the bus didn't come back the night before.

Today we arrived in town at the usual time, but the once-a-day bus to Nyota was completely sold out. They had no seats and no luggage space available. Strike two for this annoying bus. It even left five minutes early this afternoon, which is unheard of. We had waaaaay too much stuff to get on a motorbike, and normal taxis usually can't make it on the rough roads, so we decided to wait at the start of the road to Nyota for a lift. I sat with the luggage and chatted with a friendly 15 year old boy from near Nyota who wants to go to the US when he finishes secondary school. 

After about 2 hours of waiting around, someone with a land rover type vehicle offered a lift to everyone else who was waiting around to go to Nyota (for pay). Everyone would have fit just fine, except this crazy white lady (that's me) had apparently brought all of her material possessions to Ukenzagpia and needed them in the car. There was no roof rack, so they all had to go inside. I sat up front between the driver and an older man. Squished in with my bags were at least 5 adults and 3 or 4 children, probably more, including only one of my field assistants (who sounded like he might have been under one of the bags). I felt really bad for all of them. One guy spent the whole ride half-standing hunched over the driver. That couldn't possibly be comfortable. My lap was covered in bags of bread and my feet were slowly cooking from the heat of the engine. It was hot, bumpy, and uncomfortable (not just physically) but we made it.

I was greeted by the neighbor guy and one of the guards, and the two other grad students I'm sharing the house with this time, and they all helped me carry things to the house. I'm staying in the same bedroom as last time. It's great to be back in Nyota. I just hate that bus.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cautious optimism

On Monday I was told that I'll be able to pick up one of my necessary permits on Wednesday. That would be great, as the other permits depend on this one. Fingers crossed.

In other news, my university continues to amaze me with its fantastically awful money management. I didn't get paid this month. I'm transitioning from one funding source to another this month, and it's not really happening on the accounting end. An 'emergency' payment was supposedly made, but it hasn't reached my account yet and the shit is going to hit the fan in a few days when our exorbitantly high electricity bill will be automatically deducted. Now including my paycheck, I'm waiting for more than $5,000 from the university. All of these payments have been (or in the case of my paycheck, should have been) in the works for at least 3 weeks. I'm making it work, for now, but what a pain in the ass.

Here's hoping that on Wednesday I have a permit and $5000 more in my account.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Making connections

Small Friendly College has a program in Ukenzagapia right now, led by one of my professors whom I know well. I've been trying for weeks now to figure out when I can see them, as our paths will unfortunately only cross briefly while I'm here in the city. I finally got a response and it looks like I'll get to have dinner with them tomorrow! I might also tag along for some of their other activities, depending on my schedule.

While standing in line at customs upon arrival, I met a woman who is leading a group of Canadian students and we exchanged cards* and a brief conversation. I just got an email from her, and she wants me to come talk to her students about my research. I'm not sure what exactly she wants me to talk about, but I think this is her first program to Ukenzagapia and maybe she's struggling a bit to fill the schedule!

The other day I was at a government office getting one of my permits, and an Ukenzagpian who I met briefly in Nyota recognized me and asked me to pass a message on to someone I know in Nyota. Somehow, that little encounter really makes me feel connected here. I'm knowing people all over the place!

*This means I remembered to bring my cheap grad student business cards, and I've already handed out two!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Details, details...

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship comes with a one-time $1000 international travel allowance.  Awesome. I'm using it for this trip. Or, rather, I guess I was planning to.

I filled out the online form to request the funds. I bought my ticket. I flew here. I got approval. In the approval email, they say:
Use of U.S.-flag air carriers by international travel allowance recipients
is required by the International Air Transportation Fair Competitive
Practices Act of 1974 known as the "Fly America Act." The conditions that
pertain to the use of U.S.-flag air carriers are found in GC-1*, Grant
General Conditions (07/02).
 It really would have helped to have this information printed in big letters at the top of the request form. According to this list, my ticket is not with a US-flag carrier. #!@($^#. It's been one of those days. Now what do I do?

If you have an NSF or NIH grant, must you always fly US-flag carriers?

Writing, resubmitting, and advisors

So about that short manuscript. I wrote it. Sam and I revised it. I submitted it to OK Journal. It was immediately rejected without review. Sam suggested I consider submitting to Better Journal or Regional Journal. I chose Regional Journal because I'm 99% sure Better Journal will reject it. We submitted to Regional Journal. It was reviewed and rejected. We appealed to the editor- can we resubmit if we make it shorter? No.

Sam says we should revise, shorten, and submit to OK Journal or Better Journal. But it was already rejected from OK Journal and it's not going to fly with Better Journal. I think we need to send it to Small Journal, which is what Sam and I talked about when we met last week. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Getting better all the time

I'm getting good at leaving for Ukenzagapia. Maybe too good, Jon said as we parted ways at the airport. It's become a routine. We borrow our generous friend's car to get to the airport, I know where and when to get food in the terminal, and now I know where the gates are in the different airports because I've flown the same route three times. My bags were 1-2 pounds below the limit and I even recognized one of the women working at the gate.

It's still hard to say bye to Jon though. I was crying in the security line. Anyways. I'm at the connecting airport now and my taxi driver friend Violet will meet me at the airport in Ukenzagapia and take me to my American friend's house. Then I'm going to (hopefully) fall right asleep so I can wake up on Wednesday morning and start jumping through hoops for my permits again.

Speaking of non sequiturs, I know I haven't blogged as much in the past few months. I've started posts but just never finished them. I think I tend to blog more 'in the field' so perhaps blogging will pick up again. I also haven't been keeping up on other folks' blog so my apologies to those bloggy friends out there who I've been neglecting.

Friday, September 10, 2010

(almost) all my bags are packed

On Monday I'm leaving for my 4th trip to Ukenzagapia for another field season. My husband suggested that I get everything packed by tonight so that I have the weekend to remember and track down things I may have forgotten. Brilliant!

I'd say I'm 90% packed. I need to buy a few last-minute things (mostly gifts and a few drugstore items), pack my hiking boots (after I finish waterproofing them again), and pack my carryon bag. I have about 20 pounds to spare right now. This has never happened before. I've never packed my bags for Ukenzagapia and been below the 50 pound limit. For each trip before this I've written about how I was way over the limit (here and here). 

I should perhaps mention that the reason that my bags are comparatively light this time is that I have boxes of stuff stored all over the country (my friend's house, the university, and at my field site). Every time I go I bring more stuff and leave it there. I think I could equip a small field station now.

Anticipating that my bags would be relatively light this time, I offered to bring things for other people. I'm bringing more things for Dr. K, some for my friend in the city, stuff for some guys who work in Nyota, and several things for another American who is just starting his fieldwork in Nyota. It's mostly electronic items because they are difficult, impossible, and/or expensive to get in Ukenzagapia. This time I'm bringing more usb modems, a new laptop battery, lots of rechargeable batteries, extra computer ram, a used digital camera, a measuring tape, headphones, rite in the rain paper, a laptop cover, and a flash drive.

I also went to the bank today to get out a large sum of money (most of what I need for the next 2 months) in the newest, crispest $100 bills the bank teller could find (last year I wrote all about why). It was enough that I actually used my money belt to carry it, which is something I'm not sure I've ever done in the US before. 

I'm getting a lot better at this international field work thing. I'm more prepared than I've ever been- physically, logistically, mentally, emotionally. I hope this feeling persists!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tools for a scientist: September Scientiae

Anthropologists can study civilizations by examining their tools. This month, we can learn a lot about what some science bloggers do by hearing about the tools that they use in their daily science lives. You might pick up a useful suggestion or two along the way, be it software, pens, or notebooks!

rocketscientista calls this the most wonderful time of the year. I knew there'd be at least one person who wanted to effuse their love of office supplies! She tells us about her quest- and success- in search of the best lab notebook ever. I'm sure others will want to find out what it is. Also, she gets to play with liquid nitrogen. Awesome. But perhaps best of all, rocketscientista uses owl pellets. How? You'll have to read her post and find out.

Rocksinspace has a great list of supplies that keep her organized including multiple colors of pens and special notebooks. She also has 3 terabytes of external hard drives and is going to need a 4th soon- she works with enormous data files! On her blog she also shares a revelation about the disorganization of pdfs on her computer and is now getting reorganized with Mendeley.

FrauTech literally has a toolbox. She's got some timeless classics (drafting pencils and calipers) as well as the more sophisticated tools of today (matlab and a 3D modeling program), some basics that few of us can do without (coffee and Excel), and some things that are unquestionably tools by anyone's definition (screwdrivers, wrenches, a hammer, and more). Can you guess her field of work?

ecogeofemme doesn't obsess over school supplies but associates this time of year with new clothes. She also finds that the new lab she has joined as a postdoc is missing some of the things that belong in a lab based on her previous experiences.

Jaxwolf does a lot of her science in the field and has to be ready for anything with the ten essentials. She'd rather not head to the field without a GPS, compass, maps, first aid kit, multitool, waterproof notebooks, and duct tape. That stuff is amazing.

sarcozona gets the prize for most unique tool: the cone guillotine. What in the world is a cone guillotine for? You'll have to go check it out, complete with a photo.

microbiologist xx needs some sterile wooden sticks and a whole lot more for her research. She tells us why the microscope is her favorite tool, and includes some awesome photos to illustrate her point!

Melissa from Confused at a higher level shares some outstanding advice for anyone starting up a lab (especially at a primarily undergraduate institution). She has great suggestions for how to make the most out of start-up funds by thinking long-term. In the same post she shares an A-to-X list of things she uses in an experimental condensed matter physics lab. I love it!

NJS (Scientist Rising) reminds us that a lot of science doesn't happen in a lab (or in the field). Her work relies on her "laptop, research group computers, the department computing clusters, and a supercomputer or two." One advantage of computer-based work is that it's easily portable and she shares some tricks for managing connections with the other computers. Without those tools, she might have "killed at least one computer."

Like NJS, Alyssa's (aka Mrs. Comet Hunter) research relies heavily on computers and the internet. She wonders if she's missing out or isn't a "real scientist" because she doesn't work in a lab or do field work. As host of this month's theme, I say nay! Computers and the internet are most definitely "real science" tools, and both field and lab work have their drawbacks. If you have thoughts on the matter, you can join the discussion on Alyssa's post.

Two different bloggers wrote about their love for R (a free statistical package) and LaTeX (a free typesetting program). mariawolters calls R "the one tool I couldn't live without." As an academic who has frequently changed institutions, she is liberated from the software subscription ties of any particular university to various other [expensive] statistical packages. Eugenie also tells us how she uses Mendeley (another free program used for managing and annotating references) and BiBteX to make bibliographies in LaTeX. So much free software!

fridayafternoonwriter has learned which tools are most important to her while writing up her thesis: good software (no one else mentioned many of these programs), good hardware (wide screen monitor!), good music, and good tea. Her post reminds me that the small things that create our optimal work environment are important, too.

I have absolutely loved reading all of the different posts for this month's carnival. Thank you to everyone who contributed! I've learned about many tools that I didn't even know existed. I hope that everyone enjoys these glimpses into different fields of science!