Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pictures II - Heather

Waterfall on Mt. Kili trail at Kenya/Tanzania border

Mt. Kili from the field and from Camp...see the icecap?
Teaching kids to use the camera..and striking a pose

Hippos and Elephants at Amboseli National Park

and Planting trees near a furrow

Pictures!! - Heather

Amboseli National Park (Game Ride!)

Maasai men making fire

Gathering water with Mamas. A leather strap attached to the container is placed on my head. I am holding both sides of the leather strap. It was about a 10 minute walk from the water back to the boma

Goodbye Kilimanjaro - Heather

What an amazing trip. Great friends, great people, all connected by fun and exploration. My last few days in Kenya were some of the most memorable I had. The presentation on Monday went well, and I was so glad to have been both a participant and audience of the presentation. That day, community members began filing into our camp as early as 10 am, and our presentation began officially around 11 am. Everyone seemed excited, but admittedly there were a few people who began nodding off 10 minutes into the presentation (the range of education level was large…not everyone there was literate). Thankfully, there was a soda break right before my portion of the presentation, so everyone had enough sugar in their system to stay awake for my discussion of the findings for community sanitation and hygiene. It was such a great feeling to stand up and speak to the community members about the results from our field work. It was a full circle moment, having spent so much time collecting this data in the field. However, my favorite part came after the student presentation, in which project collaborators and community members were asked to speak in an open forum. One person from each of the three benefiting communities was asked to volunteer to speak about the Kimana Water Project, and every one of them agreed that their lives had definitely improved as a result of increased water quantity. I had the sense that community pride and support for further improvements was building up in the air. It helped that the man I had interviewed as a key informant during our evaluation was using his preaching skills to rally up a sense of excitement and empowerment in the crowd, helping them realize their full potential in terms of their contribution to the future. Even the women were vocal, which was especially great since the new constitution in Kenya, giving women more support, was passed last week. I sat in my spot for the full 4.5 hours, intrigued by the discussion between the community and officials. Later, I ate lunch with my friend Mary, who I had interviewed in the field.
Everyone left around 5, and it was time to crack down on our written report, which had us up until 3 am and then again at 6 am. Finally, at 9:30, we handed in our reports and headed to Amboseli park. We saw lions this time, and came even closer to elephants, hippos, and cape buffalo. At Amboseli lodge, we sat down and drank the most delicious and well-deserved cappuccinos I have ever had, while doing our best to protect our food from sneaky monkeys (unfortunately for one student, his chocolate bar was a victim). The next and final full day, we had a de-briefing of the program, packed, and later that night had a “Maasai prom.” We took over the kitchen to make food for taco night, and came to dinner in our Maasai gear. No one had the energy to dance, but a few friends and I spent some time jumping with the Maasai guards. The next morning we prepared to leave. I like to imagine Mt. Kili was saying goodbye to us, because she stood outside our camp more visibly than ever. After 5 weeks of being together, our goodbyes to the African students were short and sweet, and before we knew it they were gone. Twenty-four hours later, I was back in New York. I am thankful for the hot showers and running water, but I already miss Kenya. It was an experience I will never forget and will always appreciate. And to everyone involved (readers, family, SEBS, SFS, and my lovely new friends), I must say:
Asante Sana! (thank you very much!)… for everything.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Public Health and Goats - Heather

Yep, that pretty much sums up this past week at Kilimanjaro Bush Camp. We have finished the data analysis on our public health project, and our next steps have been to condense our evaluation into a written report and an oral presentation. In the midst of all this writing, we celebrated a student’s birthday Maasai-style. We bought what every man would want for his birthday: a goat. Unfortunately for the goat, this gift is traditionally meant as dinner and not as a pet. Although I could not bring myself to watch the actual slaughtering, I heard it was swift and painless, as the Maasai are very good with their knives. I was able to stomach the cleaning and cooking of the meat, both of which are a cultural experience within themselves. The meat is cooked on sticks around a fire, and then everyone sits in a circle as the meat is cut from the bone and passed around. Being a vegetarian, I didn’t participate in the eating, but appreciated that just about all parts of the goat are eaten. After the birthday party, it was back to the grindstone. Our presentation to the community is tomorrow, August 9th, and we have been working hard to finalize it. Today we spent 3 hours going over our presentation with just the SFS group, and then another 4 hours going over it again with a translator. The translator for our presentation has just left, and we were told by a professor that we need to decrease the length of our presentation by at least half within the next 3 hours. At the same time, we have our final written reports due tomorrow night. Whew.
In other news, yesterday we were able to fit in some time for community service. We volunteered at a mobile health clinic, which was held on a Maasai man’s property. Signs were placed around the property to designate different health “sectors.” I worked in the nutrition sector and was given the task of handing out de-worming pills to mothers and children 5 and under. It was hectic for about 30 minutes, but afterward things quieted down and we spent most of our time chatting and playing with babies. I enjoyed meeting the community health workers and the head of the clinic, Dr. Kimono. Having a degree in nutrition himself, he was very excited to hear that nutrition is also my focus, and made sure that I received his contact information in case I decide to “marry a Kenyan man” (his words) and work here permanently. Afterward, we were treated to fresh fruit, sodas, and of course, more goat. Aside from that, our days and nights have been spent in front of the computer. Although I am feeling stressed now, I am looking forward to our presentation, when our chumba will be packed with community members here for the results of our presentation and the free lunch. Everything we have done so far has been building up to this point, and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow is almost here. It promises to be a very long (and hopefully rewarding) day. Wish us luck!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shooting for the Goal - Heather

This past week has been a blur. Even as I look at my brainstormed list of things to touch upon in this blog, I am amazed by the number of things we did in these 7 days. The week started randomly at a local church where, although we may not all have seen the light, we enjoyed the singing and dancing that made up the majority of the 3-hour session. Later, we put on our hiking gear and trekked a small trail towards a beautiful waterfall that flows from the melting icecaps at the top of Mt. Kili. And because of this hike, I can now say that I’ve been to Tanzania, having explored a whole 4 x 4 section of it. The rest of the week has been a whirlwind of data collection, volleyball tournaments, community service, and data analysis. At the beginning of the week, we conducted our focus group discussions to talk about the impacts of the project we are evaluating. Acting as moderator of the discussion, I sat with six community leaders, 3 other students, and a translator in a circle formation in the woods (sticks and all) where meetings are often held. My job was to ask the assigned questions, and probe for information when necessary. Two hours later we were back at camp and I was preparing for my next assignment of interviewing a key informant of the project. I conducted about a 30-minute interview with a representative of the local Ministry of Agriculture, an intimidating experience, but one I did not regret volunteering for. The next few days were spent entering quantitative data and piecing together the qualitative information we had just collected. Finally, we were able to take a slight break from our work at camp and go back into the field to do volunteer work planting trees by a furrow. It is hoped that these trees will prevent soil erosion from contaminating the water that community depends so heavily on. Later that same day, we got schooled in football (soccer) by Kenyan students from a nearby primary school. It would’ve been more embarrassing if the school hadn’t sent out its A-team, consisting of 6’ something, 15-year old boys. I tried my best, but spent most of my time on the sidelines teaching the younger kids how to use a camera. Definitely a much safer position. Since then, we have really hit the ground running. We have one full week left, which means our report and final presentation to the community are right around the corner. We’ve been given a crash course in statistical analysis using a program called Epi Info. We are currently using this program to create what’s called dummy tables, which are essentially tables that describe our results. However, dummy tables are not for dummies (bad pun, I know). There are errors to fix, variables to categorize, and an overwhelming amount of information to work with. Our patience for each other will definitely be tested this week as we attempt to organize our data, finish our report, work on our other assignments, and find time to shower. Stress levels are currently high, but as I look out at the sun setting from behind my computer, I am calmed by the realization that I am in Africa, living my dream, and doing something amazing.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Food and Names

The best way to experience another culture is to experience their food. At least that's what Andrew Zimmern (from Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods) says. If culture is related to cuisine, then it must be a good sign that the food in Botswana is delicious. I have enjoyed everything I have eaten (except cucumbers, which I just do not like). Just a warning, Batswana love meat, so it is a little harder to be a vegetarian. My mom in Mochudi told me that eating a meal without meat is almost as if you didn't even eat at all. If you like meat, then you will enjoy the meat in Botswana, which seems tastier and fresher than in the US. I'm sure that it is indeed fresher and uses fewer growth hormones and chemicals in general. Many families raise their own cows, goats, and chicken so they know exactly how their animals have been raised and how fresh their food is. A traditional meal includes a maize or sorghum meal cooked so it has the consistency of mashed potatoes, vegetables that remind me of spinach, and usually beef. (I'm sorry if my description of food is lacking as I much prefer to be eating it than writing about it) There were a few things that surprised me about food in Botswana. For example, they eat pasta. My family enjoys covering it with a meat gravy, but other families add ketchup (their version of tomato sauce). They also have supermarkets, which provide almost everything that one in the US would. However, there are many street venders and small shops that sell food as well. Fast food gaining in popularity as KFC, Chicken Licken (a South African chain that reminds me of a slightly altered Chick-fil-a), and Pie City (serving primarily meat pies, which look like hot pockets, not fruit pies) are popular places to stop and get a quick bite.

What's in a name? In Botswana, quite a lot. Every Setswana name has a meaning. My name, Tiro, means work. Some other common names are Mpho (gift), Neo (also gift), and Lorato (love). Children are usually given names by their parents who use the name to describe something in their life. For example, if a woman is about to give birth and her husband or boyfriend suddenly leaves her, then she may name the child Mathata (problem or trouble) to describe the circumstances of the child's birth. Or if the child comes in a religious period of life, he or she may be named Thapelo (prayer). It may seem unusual for children to have names that may affect them negatively throughout life, but according to Setswana culture, if a mother is feeling pain, she must pass it on through the name to the child. If not, the mother, and quite possibly the child, will have that pain forever. Many names are also unisex (Mpho), while others are primarily male (Tiro) or female (Motlalepule). Motlalepule happens to be one of my favorite names because, although it's a female name, it means he who comes with rain. So, if a girl is born in the rainy season, she may be named Motlalepule.

Photo 1: Traditional cornmeal, spinach, and meat
2: Potatoes covered in meat with carrots
3: Fat cakes (fried doughy goodness) with some type of meat. If you look carefully, there is no fork in the picture because I used my hand. Eating without utensils is quite common in Botswana.

As you can see, the common theme is meat. And all of the above photos are of meals eaten at my house in Gaborone.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A great Birthday!!

Mangrove Sea Star!

Mangrove View

Some Transecting

Sea Fan with Blue Chromis

More Transects

View when surfacing Capt Lowell!

Some interesting sights

Beautiful Sunset and we even saw the Green Spot!

Well a lot has happened in the days… almost too much to write!

We went to a mangrove to study juvenile fish. It is a great place for growth and diversity because a mangrove is very difficult to manor in and can protect the young fish from more experienced pray. We snorkeled for about an hour in water that was less than 2 feet. The grass was just about as tall as the water and it was very hard to see where you were going because of all the sediments. Many of us experienced stings from stinging cells on the grass and had the marks to prove it afterwards! The trick to seeing life in this difficult environment was to remain still and let them come to you. When everyone was still schools of young fish flew by. One school went on forever and I could only estimate over 500 as they went by me in all directions. The important thing to know about mangroves is that they are great for protecting against storms. However, since they are beachfront land, they are often torn out for development. Here on LC, the mangroves are thriving because of lack of development. Already most mangrove ecosystems are gone, but those that are left should be saved- not only to help cushion the impact of storms but to help the declining fish population from decreasing further.

The next few days were filled with studying and learning the various coral types, fish and plant life of the sea floor. Every single student was amazed at how much information they could learn in less than a week. Corals and fish now have names instead of shapes and colors. We took a large quiz only to find out how much we all have come to know.

Scuba dives are amazing and I am enjoying every single eyeful. The reefs are so large! I think this will spoil me for future dive places. There are just so many places to look… and not enough air in your tank! I have done 6 dives already and each location seems to be more beautiful than the next!

In my dives I have seen Great Barracudas, turtles, and countless fish. It really boggles the mind at how little we know about the ocean. Its vast resources have been largely unexplored below the surface. Even as a student who has taken oceanography there is just so much more out there. I wish everyone could dive at least once here, to understand- or maybe even take a glimpse into another world.

Yesterday we were filmed conducting scientific research while diving. We took transects, quadrates, measured and even took notes on our slates. ( A transect is generally a large tape measure that is extremely difficult to place in the environment. Because of the moving currents and life, it always ends up fallings somewhere hard to retrieve!) We were evaluating biodiversity at the bottom. We were looking for sites of disease but luckily did not find much. The reefs here are in good shape.

Our second dive that day was a lion fish round up. We searched the dive site for these invasive species that have no natural predators in the Caribbean. There is much question about how these pacific animals came to these waters but many believe it was from the pet trade. Because of this, many researchers have permits to catch these animals. We were fortunate to witness 3 captures in only 30 min!

Today is a very special day….my Birthday! I have the unique opportunity to live immersed in research and who else could say they spent their 21st birthday in paradise? Today we will work on our final presentation proposals. It seems so quickly that we will all have to think about what we will be doing for the remainder of our time here. Two students and I are tackling sustainability issues of the research facility. As we all know, there is always room for improvement! This facility is cutting edge as an off the grid building but there some issues that we would like to see addressed. I will update you on that when the project is approved.

Today we will learn about the ICON station that is just outside our lagoon. It is a pole that was installed by NOAA ( National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) to record temperature, salinity, and a ton of other measurements. Central Caribbean Marine Institute pretty much overseas it and uses its data for studies. We are learning more info about the ICON today from one of the in house scientists.

Around 2 we will conduct Whelk counts and maybe even do some cliff jumping!

Hope all is well!