Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Traveling for Easter

I'm staying with my friend in the city again. Oh, how I love unlimited, fast internet access and skype. And chocolate chip cookies. Her house is like an unofficial American hostel- there are 4 Peace Corps volunteers here now too.

I'm glad to have a break from the field. The timing of this is good- right in the middle of my trip. I need more money for this last stretch. Unfortunately, I am having money access problems again so I have to use my credit card for cash advances. So. frustrating.

Tomorrow I'm leaving to go visit my host family from when I studied abroad. After all, I've come this far (three times now) so I'm finally going to get back to this other city where they live. I'm really looking forward to spending Easter with them. They have 3 daughters who are going to be a lot bigger than the last time I saw them!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Today we finished everything that we needed to do before Easter! I am so happy. Several things went faster than I anticipated. Tomorrow morning I head back to the city. I am looking forward to a break from field work. I've been working 65-80 hours per week for the past 4 weeks. This week I've worked 30- but it's only Tuesday!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How long will it take?

Today we were were able to completely finish something that I thought would take two whole days. This is awesome. Things always take longer than I expect, so I am thrilled that at least this one thing took only half the time. I am especially happy because last night I was thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to freaking out about my project like I did last year. Dr. K. (my Ukenzagapian contact/advisor) is here now and scheduling this part of my project is a little complicated by the Easter holiday. Anyways, I was really worried about the schedule but after talking about it this morning with Jon I think I have it under control (or planned at least).

The weeks are flying by! I have already been here for a month. Things are generally going well. I still think sometimes that I'm not very good at field work but I think I'm getting better. I'm here to learn, right? I'm not here to know everything already.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My theme song: I Have Confidence

Jon started a record collection several months ago and with a $1 limit we have acquired all sorts of interesting records. One of my favorite finds is the Sound of Music soundtrack. After listening to it a few times, I realized that the song "I Have Confidence" should be my theme song when I'm feeling discouraged about my research. This song is absolutely perfect. On this trip I've been listening to it some days before I go in the field and humming it when I start to feel down.

Does anyone else have a theme song? Something that helps you get pumped up?

If anyone finds a link to a good version on YouTube, please post a link in the comments. It's always better to hear something than to just read the lyrics alone, but my YouTube searching capabilities are pretty limited right now.

Here are the lyrics. I've italicized my favorite lines.

What will this day be like? I wonder.
What will my future be? I wonder.
It could be so exciting to be out in the world, to be free
My heart should be wildly rejoicing
Oh, what's the matter with me?

I've always longed for adventure
To do the things I've never dared
And here I'm facing adventure
Then why am I so scared

A captain with seven children
What's so fearsome about that?

Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries
If I don't I just know I'll turn back
I must dream of the things I am seeking
I am seeking the courage I lack

The courage to serve them with reliance
Face my mistakes without defiance
Show them I'm worthy
And while I show them 
I'll show me

So, let them bring on all their problems
I'll do better than my best
I have confidence they'll put me to the test
But I'll make them see I have confidence in me

Somehow I will impress them
I will be firm but kind
And all those children (Heaven bless them!)
They will look up to me

And mind me with each step I am more certain
Everything will turn out fine
I have confidence the world can all be mine
They'll have to agree I have confidence in me

I have confidence in sunshine
I have confidence in rain

I have confidence that spring will come again
Besides which you see I have confidence in me

Strength doesn't lie in numbers
Strength doesn't lie in wealth
Strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers
When you wake up -- Wake Up!

It tells me all I trust I lead my heart to
All I trust becomes my own

I have confidence in confidence alone
(Oh help!)

I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see I have confidence in me!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Maybe I should be working with people?

A professor of mine once described how her interest in teaching developed. She said that during grad school, the goals in her research seemed so distant, so far away, and the rewards of teaching could be so immediate. That has always stuck with me.

I had a difficult day in the field because another thing turned up in a site where I wasn't counting on it. For a while I laid there and stared at the sky, contemplating if this project I'm trying to do is even possible. I've had all these exciting ideas for projects and haven't been able to actually do any of them yet. I'm not feeling quite so desperate now as I was earlier today, but my frustrations in the field make helping people with their computers seem all the more rewarding. Today I helped someone install a program, reset someone's password, and helped someone else take a screen capture to put a map in a document. I know I can do those things, and I know they help people. I can see the result of my actions.

Maybe this is my Ukenzagapian equivalent to baking bread. But, it really makes me think maybe I should be working with people.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Didn't read the field guide

Some organisms are very predictable. They are always found in particular places or situations doing particular things or growing in certain ways. Sometimes, though, those organisms defy our expectations and do something or occur somewhere totally weird. When that happens, Herb likes to say, "That (animal/plant) didn't read the field guide!"

So here I have a plan for an experiment. It's based on particular things occurring or not occurring in particular places. I was nearly through setting up in a site that wasn't supposed to have this thing, and OH NO there it was. That thing obviously didn't read my experimental plan.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bring two of everything

This year I brought two of almost everything. Almost everything. I only brought one laptop (ok I brought three, but only one was mine), one camera, and one GPS. Sadly, my GPS didn't fare too well during the flight. I packed it in what was supposed to be my carryon, but they made me check it. I took some things out, but not my GPS. I thought it was tough, but not tough enough to withstand the pressure that made that crack.

Thankfully, it still works. I don't think it has its water resistance anymore, but it does what I need it to do. For now.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Poison Tree Battle

If you've been following my blog for a while, you may remember that last year I had some problems with a plant at my field site that I refer to as Poison Tree because it gives me a poison ivy-like rash. It's just like poison ivy, and it's everywhere. Since I can rarely follow trails, I encounter it a lot while bushwhacking. It's impossible for me not to touch it, and it gets on the things I bring in the field including my clothes, backpack, and equipment. I know from last year that I can react from touching stuff that has been in the field and then touching my skin. As a result of my sensitivity, I have a number of precautions that I take.
1. I always, always wear long pants, long sleeves, and a hat even when it's really hot. The only exposed skin is my hands, neck, and face.
2. Before going in the field, I apply IvyBlock which was created to bind the urushiols in poison ivy. Thankfully it is also effective for Poison Tree. This product is a godsend. I reapply after lunch or when I know I've just touched it a lot or if it brushed my face.
3. As soon as I return from the field, I wash my hands. Then I take off my field clothes and bathe with lots of soap. I carefully put aside my field clothes until the next day (or for laundry) and then change into clean clothes for the rest of the day.
4. If I touch any of my field gear once I'm back at the house, I wash my hands. Field notebook, GPS, camera, backpack, clothes, whatever. This means that I wash my hands about 20 times a day. If I lean my arms on my field pants to tie my boots in the morning while I'm wearing just the tshirt without my long sleeved shirt, I wash my arms. I feel kind of silly but I know I have to be really careful.
5. I wear my field clothes for no more than two days in the field and then wash them. I wash my rain gear and hat once a week.
6. I don't mix my field and non-field clothes while washing.
7. I clean surfaces in my house that my field assistants have touched or sat on with soap and water. They don't react to Poison Tree and so they don't hesitate to grab it or sit on it.
8. I try not to sit down or lean on anything in the house while wearing my field gear.
9. I will wash my backpack by hand every week or two (it's a big pain), and in a machine when I return to the city (at least once).
In spite of all of my precautions, I have a growing patch of rash on my lower back, a few small spots on my hands and wrists, and some spots on my leg. My hands I understand, but back and knee? My legs are always covered, as is my back, which means both of those are from me spreading it from somewhere else. It's not bad though and I know it would be so much worse without the IvyBlock. I hope they invent something soon that I can spay on my clothes. Well, I'd better go wash my hands again.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The things I take for granted

Today I was teaching my field assistants in their second lesson on the computer. It's kind of a painful experience to watch someone who isn't familiar with a keyboard slowly pound out a word or two. I learned touch typing in 5th grade. They are learning to touch type now. I put a free typing program on the laptop and they are both highly motivated to improve their typing skills so that they don't have to hunt and peck. I had completely forgotten what it was like to learn how to type, but I sure as heck am grateful for those classes where I had to type with a handkerchief over my hands.

Tonight I was at the field station helping a friend download and install some antivirus programs on his laptop. While we were waiting for the first download to finish, I mentioned that my parents just upgraded to some insanely fast internet connection. He said, "So people have internet at home?" It was only then that I realized that me talking about my parents' internet connection not an ordinary conversation here. Yeah, most Americans have internet at home, and if not they can go to a cafe or library.  If I would've though for a fraction of a second I would've come to the same conclusion. I thought I was making a comment on speed, but what he heard was more a comment on access at all.

Lastly, my friend saw a UBC page that mentioned SPSS and he said, "Oh! I've been trying to get that program but I can't find it anywhere. It's very difficult to get here." Why can't you get it online? "You need credit card to buy them." Duh. Oh my gosh, of course. He doesn't have a credit card and so he can't buy anything online. I offered to use my credit card if he really need something and he can pay me cash. E-commerce is missing out on a lot of potential buyers.

I think I take my computer-savvyness and computer-priviledge for granted except when experiences like these come along. What do you take for granted?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What a day

Today was far more eventful than I'd prefer. This morning we had to switch the day's plans to a different site because of transportation problems. I rode with my field assistant B on his motorbike, and T followed on a different motorbike with someone else. So far so good. There we were, going along the dirt road and honking for the turns, when suddenly a bicycle appears on our side of the road. We swerve, they swerve, disaster averted- except that another bicycle was right behind. We were already as far over as we could be because there was a wall of earth from when the road was cut from the hillside, and the bike couldn't swerve in time.

We collided with a young man, probably about 16, who was bringing the morning milk to the dairy. B and I ended up on our sides with the motorbike on our right legs. The bicycle was behind us on its side. The rider cut his knee and elbow but was otherwise unharmed. I was bruised and B was scraped when his knee took the brunt of the fall. The headlight on the motorbike was knocked out and the bicycle wheel was badly bent. Two more bicycles stopped to check on us. A motorbike stopped. T caught up on the other motorbike. Then there were 8 men there discussing who was at fault, and B demanded that the boy pay for his headlight to be replaced. I stood back and stayed out of it. The general consensus was that the boy was at fault because he was riding on the wrong side of the road when there was plenty of room on his side because the road was in good condition (there). I felt bad for the kid but at least he wasn't terribly injured. He'll be fine as long as he cleans up his cuts.

So, after a delay of an hour or more because of the accident, we finally got to work. But apparently that wasn't enough excitement for one day. As we started our last site, we heard the dreadful sound of crashing branches. It's difficult to know what is falling or what else it will take down and the three of us ran every which way. I sort of fell and scrambled on the ground as fast as I could away from the sound. When the noise stopped, it was clear a sizeable branch had fallen and landed about 5 m from where we were working. Thankfully, it wasn't large enough to take anything else down with it. I cut my knuckle and scraped my wrist in the scramble and was covered with dirt. Today is a great reminder of why I need to carry a first aid kit in the field and why I need to retake the Wilderness First Responder course. Yikes.

I'm looking forward to a nice, boring evening watching my bruises develop.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Simple things

I just heard the sweet, sweet sound of my own electric water kettle boiling. Why all the excitement? Well, I'm glad you asked!

I got here (to my field site) on Monday. I made arrangements to stay at the field station until I could get things sorted to rent a house because it is much cheaper. I gave the house-renting people a letter in August asking for repairs to be made to a particular house that I wanted to rent. I emailed them several times but received no reply. On Tuesday I went to talk to them. It would be too expensive to repair that house now, so they offered me a different one. Actually just a few rooms in a very large house but for a very nice price. After briefly considering my options (including renting the (dumpy) house I was in last year, I decided to abandon my dreams of the cute little fixer-upper on the hill and rent rooms in the big house because it already has a bed, mattress, mosquito net, and even a shower (or at least some of the fixtures for one). Totally. awesome. I made arrangements to move in on Thursday evening, thus giving them time to clean the place and change some of the outlets (they are an old type for which I do not have an adapter- I had the same problem last year).

On Tuesday the power went out during the day while I was in the field. It came back on on Wednesday night. Without power it is difficult to do much on the computer and I reserve the use just for necessities related to field work prep. But whatever. I just have to expect that here once or twice a week.

On Thursday I talked to the guy about the house and he said the shower isn't ready but otherwise it's ok. Great. That evening I got a lift (important since I now have SIX bags/boxes) to the new place, after dark. I couldn't get any of the lights to turn on even though there were bulbs and there was a light on outside. There also wasn't any running water inside (sink, toilet, nothing). I had neither electricity nor running water. I unpacked all of my things using my headlamp and a candle (kindly provided for the frequent power outages), and I eventually went to sleep.

I slept terribly. I'm staying in this house alone so I slept so lightly and I think I woke up at 3:15 or some ungodly hour and never fully went back to sleep. I needed to get an early start because I arranged for a lift at 7 am from a guy who lives down the road and works up near where I am prepping an experiment, so starting early seemed better than walking for well over an hour to get there on foot. I got up and got everything together, no breakfast (no way to prepare it without electricity), and was just starting to tell the guard outside about the problems with electricity and water when my ride showed up. I gestured to him to wait a minute while I tried to explain the problem to the guard in Ukenzagapese, that I would be gone all day, but I was leaving a key so that the problem could be fixed. I went inside to lock up, and when I came back out, my ride had left without me! He hadn't seen me and was already running late so he left. I tried to call, but couldn't find his number fast enough. I hurriedly tried to explain my problems (now a third- no lift) to the guard and then set off down the road on foot cursing and trying not to burst into tears because I had no water, no electricity, no breakfast, and no lift. I didn't even have much charge in my phone.

I hauled ass down the road and made it to my destination in only 70 minutes, and once I composed myself enough that I knew I wouldn't start crying I texted Jon to ask him to call me. It was good to talk to him, but I was in such a foul mood. I had a lot to do today and missing that lift really felt like a huge blow. By the time I got to where I was going it was fine though. I listened to podcasts and worked until my field assistants came and then we got down to work, and actually managed to accomplish everything we needed to do today (that's practically a first). I ate a whole coconut and some berries and drank 2 liters of water before I got back to the house tonight. Still no water or electricity.

Thankfully, on Tuesday I was invited to have dinner with the local priest tonight (Friday), so I didn't have to scrounge together food for myself. I had a lovely dinner with the priest and two nuns, and then returned to the house around 10:30. The guard came with another man, and they turned on the water! The only problem now is that there's too much water- the shower faucet doesn't turn off. They say they'll get someone on the problem tomorrow. I was able to fill a large bucket for the time being. Then the two guys set about solving my electricity dilemma. Guess what they did? They went to the house next door to grab some new bulbs. Apparently, every single bulb in my house was burnt out! Why didn't I think of that? I guess it didn't occur to me that all 7 bulbs or whatever wouldn't work, and most of the outlets are the wrong shape so I couldn't try those either! I'm sitting in the hallway with my computer, phone, and electric water kettle plugged into my universal power strip, and I could hardly be happier. It's a good end to a long, hard day.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Return to Nyota

After 10 hours of travel I arrived at Nyota today with my field assistants. Thank God I had them to help me move SIX heavy bags/boxes. Tomorrow we get down to work! I haven't even been here a week yet.

I'm pleased with my language ability so far. I don't feel like I have forgotten much, and my comprehension seems even better. Today I carried on a long conversation in Ukenzagapese with the man sitting next to me. There were many things that I didn't understand, but he spoke slowly and clearly enough that I usually understood what he was saying (eventually). We talked about the weather in Ukenzagapia and the US, the problems of Ukenzagapia, why foreigners want to visit Ukenzagapia, whether or not I or my parents have a farm (and why not), what kinds of fruit we grow in America, what kind of food is most important, what kinds of plants we saw along the way, and what kinds of animals live in the forest in the US. These are all pretty common themes in the simple conversations that I have here.

In other news, I definitely picked up a cold on the plane to Ukenzagapia and it sucks. I have a wicked runny nose, sneezing, and a cough. It feels weird to have a cold when it is warm outside. Anyone else share that experience?