Sunday, February 27, 2011

Whew... praise!

I am up waaaaaaaay past my Ukenzagapian bedtime and tomorrow I'm launching a big project but I've been prepping like crazy for the past 3 days and then got an email from Sam that had to be answered urgently and still need to reply to someone else before i go to sleep. But anyways, I had to reply to Sam about this project of his that I'm helping with. I'm basically supervising it on the ground but didn't come up with it. It overlaps with what I'm doing so it's not too difficult but it isn't my first priority and it has caused a few headaches.
Basically, I've been really worried that we haven't done enough for his project, so much so that I was nearly in tears about it in November. I sent him the email update tonight with trepidation and was seriously thinking about not checking my email in the morning in case his reply is bad and then puts me in a funk all day.
He replied right away and said, "This is quite impressive- well done!"
I literally breathed a sigh of relief. It is so great to hear praise sometimes!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Meters and feet

This week I'm starting my big new experiment in the field. We've been prepping for it the last few days. Unfortunately, I realized about 5 days ago that I didn't have enough of one of the supplies that is essential to this experiment. I thought I might be short, but I thought I had enough to start and then I could ask Sam to bring more when he comes in a few weeks, but it turns out I was way too short- I had about 1/3 of what I needed. When I calculated how much I needed before I left, I calculated it in meters, but then I bought it in feet. What a stupid mistake!

So, this put me on a mad hunt for more of this stuff, and fast. This meant going to the nearest city. I got the name and number of a hardware store from someone in Nyota, and it sounded like the guy had something suitable. I asked around to try and get a lift to town, but I had to go the very next day since there was no flexibility in my schedule and this was now urgent. I didn't find a lift, which meant getting up well before dawn to catch the !#@$*^%$ Nyota bus. I hate the Nyota bus.

It took me 3 hours just to get to the nearest sealed road on the Nyota bus (that's about double what it should take). Once there, I had to get another bus to the city. Before that though, Jon and I talked on the phone for a while and he was having a terrible day and I was trying to be supportive but I hadn't eaten breakfast yet and he was crying and I was crying in this narrow corridor between two buildings at the bus stand. I was feeling so overwhelmed. But I sucked it up, put on my best don't-mess-with-me face and then caught the next bus to the city.

I haven't really been to this city before, in spite of its proximity to Nyota as the nearest place for things like fast internet and western food. Cam drew me a map, and I navigated my way to the shop that said they had the supplies I needed. The shop owner was extremely kind and helpful, but it turned out they didn't have exactly what I needed or have enough of an alternative. By the time I left that shop, it was after 11 am and in order to catch the Nyota bus I had to leave the city by 12 or 12:30. There was no way I'd make it.

I spent the next 2 or 3 hours going from shop to shop asking where I could get the supplies I needed. I rode on the back of bicycles all over town, going in circles and criss-crossing my path. At each shop they helped direct the next bicycle driver to the next one. I was determined not to leave until I had found something I could use. Finally, I ended up at a little shop that Cam goes to frequently for his supplies, and they had something suitable. 

At that point I had missed my chance for catching the Nyota bus, so I decided to make the most of my time in the city. I got my lost phone number replaced,  drank some cold, fresh juice, withdrew money, and shopped at the used clothing market. Only then did I start heading back towards Nyota.

There's just one bus to and from Nyota every day. It leaves Nyota before dawn and drives to the nearest town, then leaves mid-afternoon to come back. If you miss that bus, then your options are 1) hire a taxi or 4wd- very expensive. 2) catch a lift with a car or lorry headed to Nyota, 3) hire a motorcycle to take you, or 4) wait until the next day. I was really hoping to catch a lift, but it was too late in the day for many vehicles to be headed that way. I called people I knew in Nyota to ask if they knew anyone coming back on a motorcycle who I could ride with but no luck there. In the end, I hired a motorcycle to drive me for about 5 times as much as the bus ($10). The 70-minute trip on the crappy, narrow, curvy road (without my helmet) is probably the most dangerous thing I've done in Ukenzagapia.

I arrived back in Nyota 12 hours after I left. It took an entire day. All because of stupid meters and feet... and the Nyota bus.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Small victories in accounting craziness

Holy miracle of miracles, it turns out that the ticket for my previous trip actually came through on my credit card as a US-flag air carrier charge after all, which means all of my worries about violating the Fly America Act were for naught. Hooray!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Going back in time... with cell phones

In some ways, working here feels like going back in time. I imagine in many ways this must have been what it was like in many parts of the U.S. about 100 years ago, especially places like rural Appalachia.

For example:
There are a few local stores, one or two in every village, that sell a little bit of everything. One man stands at the window and measures or counts whatever you ask for. It's basically a "general store". 

Roads are poor. It's a constant battle to keep the roads in good condition.

Hitchhiking is common. If you have to walk miles and miles with your milk, produce, or firewood, you'd be thrilled to catch a ride from any passing vehicle that would take you. Since there's just one bus per day, hitching a ride can be the only other option, and everyone does it.

It's a cash economy- and you'd better have small notes because nobody wants to change the big notes for a few bananas.

Market access for cash crops and produce is made difficult by the poor roads.

Families are big. 

Kids play with anything, and mostly make their own toys from cast-off items. Chickens, knives, leaves, old bottles, rope, sticks, plastic bags, broken buckets, anything. I think this is just something that kids do instinctively- the difference in the U.S. is that usually they aren't allowed to play with such "dangerous" items anymore.

The kids who are able to go to school often have to walk very far (an hour or more). 

Many people (kids included) don't know when they were born.

People suffer from many diseases and parasites and children and adults are smaller as a result.

Death in childbirth is unfortunately common, and a hospital is a long way away. 

Households than can afford it (such as mine) often have domestic help, instead of mechanized modern conveniences (e.g. a woman to help with cooking and laundry instead of a washing machine and a oven/microwave/fridge).

Yet, at the same time I have cell reception in most of the areas where I work, and I can sit here, miles from a paved road, on the internet over the cell network. It's kind of surreal, and makes stark the extreme inequality in the world.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bad and then good

On my second day here, my phone fell out of my pocket on the road when I was getting on B's motorbike. We went back about 20 minutes later to look for it, but by that time it was long gone. I really liked that little Nokia :-(

I actually had an extra phone with me that I intended to give as a gift (for no one in particular). I also have another sim card that I use for internet, so now I am having to take my phone apart every time I get online until I can get to one of the telecom stores to get them to replace my sim. I will be able to get the same number back which is good, it's just a matter of getting to town to do it.

Also, my American friend sent a new Nokia (I hate the spare motorola!), brownies, and cheese with her daughter who came to Nyota on a field trip with her school!

I've been getting ticks, which has never happened before. They are teeny tiny, like the size of this period. I also pulled a fat one off that had clearly escaped notice for a day or two (or more?).

I still had some permethrin from when I brought it in 2009, so I treated my field clothes. I think that will solve the problem.

In less than a week I had poison tree rash on my hand and wrist. Even worse, I actually forgot- of all things- to bring more Ivy Block! I have some left from last time, but not 3 months worth.

American friend's sister-in-law is coming in a few weeks, and she told me to have some Ivy Block sent to her house and she'll bring it! So I'll have more in about a month. I'm also going to try something called Oral Ivy. I'm pretty skeptical but it was only $8...

The electricity hasn't been very good. We've been out of power about 1/3 of the time I've been here so far, including a 48-hour and 24-hour outage. Those are the worst.

Is there an upside to not having electricity? I guess it could be worse, and I just try to do the things that don't require electricity like laundry and equipment prep and be extra-conservative with my laptop battery use. Oh! I guess I did get to try out the solar shower that I brought, which works wonderfully. It also reminds me how fortunate we are to have electricity. I try not to take it for granted.

The internet is even slower than I remember it.

I do have internet, and it's so slow that I can easily go a whole month on less than 500 MB, which is only $2. Awesome.

My favorite field pants are wearing out (new holes with every thorn I encounter), and I don't love my second pair.

There are lots of really cheap used clothes here (thanks to all of the developed countries sending them here and undermining the development of a local clothing industry), so I think with enough searching in town I should be able to find some suitable replacements.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hey, I'm getting pretty good at this!

Every time I come back to Ukenzagapia it gets easier and easier! It's wonderful! My American friend and my taxi driver friend Violet help me in the city, and this time I only stayed a few days. T and B traveled with me back to Nyota with my things, and Cam was there to help us when we got off the bus. I arrived here on a Sunday night, and we started work Monday morning. I de-parasitized Mommy Dog (inside and out), I moved into the same room as last time, and this time I even have a desk. There's something incredibly comforting about returning to a familiar place.

Field work is off to a great start. Project setup has gone faster than I anticipated, and there have been some great synergies with other folks in the area. I still have some insecurities about being a scientist, but I'm feeling so much better about my ability to do field work compared to when I started in 2009. I haven't even come close to freaking out about my research on this trip. Of course, my project isn't going exactly as I'd planned, but it's nothing insurmountable.

I'm starting to get so comfortable here that the thought of starting over in a new field site when I finish my Ph.D. is not appealing at all, though maybe not so daunting if I do it in the U.S. The end (of field work) is almost in sight now- hopefully just one more trip later this year! Wow. I've come a long way in the past 2 years.