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

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!


The Beauty of Nature

Most people visit Botswana, not to study public health or HIV/AIDS, but to explore the natural beauty of the country. So I have decided that this post will be dedicated to the incredible sights and sounds of nature. Last weekend in Botswana presented the perfect opportunity to travel as Sir Seretse Khama (Botswana's 1st president) Day and a Public Holiday extended the weekend to 4 days. So some of my friends and I took an overnight bus from Gaborone to...

Livingstone, Zambia. Why Zambia? Because of Victoria Falls, what many consider to be one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. The city of Livingstone, which happens to be right next to the Falls, is named after the famous explorer David Livingstone. The famous phrase "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" originated when explorer HM Stanley set out to look for Livingstone, uttering the phrase upon finding him. To be fair, there are no words that can do any justice to Victoria Falls. Even pictures fail to capture their full beauty, excitement, and power. Even though this is currently the dry season, the amount of water flowing over the falls and the resulting landscape left me speechless. When venturing close to the falls, I decided not to purchase or rent a poncho (if anyone hates getting wet, I highly suggest renting one). A minute later, I was completely soaked. At least I can say I have taken a bath in Victoria Falls. During my stay, I also took a beautiful sunset cruise down the Zambezi (the river that flows over the Falls) and, I still can't even believe this, bungee jumped with the beauty of the falls behind me. While I am terrified of roller coasters, bungee jumping was an entirely different feeling, which actually makes me want to skydive. But that's for another adventure.

During the long weekend, I also took a safari in Chobe National Park located in northern Botswana. Chobe is famous for its large elephant population, which I was lucky enough to experience. I was amazed to see a herd of about 20 elephants slowly walk from the distance, up to, and then directly past our vehicle (and just out of arm's reach!) to get to the Chobe river for water. The beauty of these enormous animals moving so gracefully was unbelievable. Overall, the weekend was amazing and unforgettable.

Ga gona mathata (there are no problems aka life is good)

PS. I have uploaded pictures for this post. My previous posts should soon have pictures accompanying them as well.

Top: Sunset on the Zambezi
2: Victoria Falls with the spray from the Falls creating a rainbow
3: Elephants in Chobe
4: Leopard sighting in Chobe

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Making Friends is my Hobby" - Heather

This quote by my translator Joseph is what I like to think describes the last 3 days I have spent surveying households in the Kimana region. After almost 6 hours going over the draft of our survey, one pilot survey, and another 4 or so hours going over the survey again, the group was finally ready to start collecting data to assess the impact of the Kimana Water Project. The aim of this project was to increase the supply of safe water to benefiting households by construction and rehabilitation of furrows. To evaluate its success, the group developed a questionnaire addressing water use, sanitation, and health issues of the targeted population. Since Wednesday, we have been spending about 7 hours out in one of three regions, going from house to house, surveying both Maasai people and people of other clans. It has been a very interesting experience so far. Despite the fact that I cannot speak to most of the people directly, I feel like I am a developing a connection to the community. I definitely have a stronger understanding of the community’s character, and I feel more grounded in the experience that I did even four days ago, when everything still felt so surreal. So far the households I have been to have been receptive to our poking and prodding in their personal lives. We may get laughed at or teased for some of our funnier sounding questions, but more than often the joking is friendly and the question is answered. One of my most memorable moments so far occurred my first day out in the field, when my partner and I met this 19-year old woman named Mary, who was so excited to meet American girls around her age. I felt like I was her long-lost friend who had finally come back to visit. She and her family invited us to sit down in their home, and we sat around laughing and drinking chai with the family and our translator for awhile after we completed the survey. Later, Mary said she would slaughter a chicken for me the next time I came back, making me promise that I visit before I leave. Other experiences in the field have been less heart-warming and more matter-of-fact, such as when we enter a boma (several households owned by one Maasai man, who is polygamous) and both the man and at least one woman is there. Due to the nature of some of the questions, our survey must be answered by women. However, if a man is around, more often than not he will insist that he is present for the survey, and he will answer as many questions as he can. From cases such as this, I have learned to hold down my feminist guard and to never ask for the woman’s name first, for fear of insulting the man and losing all chances of gathering data. Other lessons I have learned: make eye contact, speak clearly, do not judge, laugh with others (even if they are laughing AT you), and listen (even if you don't understand what is being said).
Gathering data is our purpose, but meeting people (“making friends”) is the source of inspiration. Like the children I met today, who watched with wonder and excitement as I turned paper into finger footballs, I am excited to be seeing the world in a different light, and learning to appreciate the simple things that life has to offer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some diseased Coral :(
One of the great views from the bottom

Me in the lagoon outside of Central Caribbean Marine Institute....(where I am staying)

My first scuba dive of the trip to Sail Fin 2 Little Cayman.... this pic is taken at about 50-55 ft below surface! The reef was gorgeous! ... and I even saw a great Barracuda!

Some pictures that would not upload the other day.... the server is quite small so I will try and upload a few pictures each time I post.

Hope all is Well


Monday, July 19, 2010

LC Begins!

Well I have landed! After making my way to Grand Cayman and hoping a 12 person plane to Little Cayman. Along the way to LC I found three other students to chat with along the way. (They all wore something Rutgers… I however did not. Go figure)

Once here, I was amazed by the sheer beauty of the island… LC itself has one road and one central location which encompasses the airport, post office, fire station and police station. By the airport( I mean a strip of paved road) with a wooden room. It has the cell phone numbers of the 2 police men posted and invitations to a island wide birthday party for some person….and nothing else. I think the general store is somewhere in that vicinity but we have yet to take an island tour. The first day was full of introductions and inquiry but we were all eager to learn. I dipped my feet in the water and instantly felt the need to go in – but we have the buddy system here.. You cannot go anywhere without a buddy off campus. What I mean by campus is running, biking, or anything on the water. The campus itself is a large beach front home like setting that you would see anywhere in the Caribbean. Its brightly colored walls have a few main places kitchen, bathroom dorms etc. The bathroom is an off the grid composting facility and there is very little water usage.(Its not as bad as you would think. Its not an outhouse, but there is no running water. ) Lights are conserved and internet is only available in the classroom. The classroom faces the ocean and is unlike any typical stuffy classroom. The sea breeze cools the room and makes the weather almost perfect.

Internet is generally good with some touchy times when everyone is on. Our meals are prepared by a cook but we were warned sometimes the supply boat will not come. From this, we have been warned we may need to survive on PB&J for a while. (that hasn’t happened yet) The food is ok, mostly a southern type that I generally do not care for but…. Everyone has to eat!

The night was hot and the bugs were EVERYWHERE! Thankfully they were not generally in our bedroom but I have never seen so many bugs at one time. Lights went out at 9ish and the entire island is pitch black. The only light that can be seen was the experimental sea column about a mile off shore and some lightning that broke over the ocean.


Days start early about 7 am and don’t end until 9 or so, so everyone was excited for the action packed day. After breakfast (cereal) 3 of us went out for a snorkel to Grape Tree Bay and were amazed that merely 50 ft offshore from our bedroom was an extensive coral reef. The reefs are shallow but beautiful. ( about 8-10 feet at max) I have taken some pictures and hope that everyone can see them! I also took a video… its hard to stay stable in the moving ocean! Hopefully I will get better with time.

At 9 the class went out for snorkel exploration. 30 minutes to explore some of the area and record what we saw on our dive slates…. writing underwater….. is like learning how to write all over again. We did another 30 minute dive using a quadrant and meter stick to record one small area and took a coral tour. All of this was less than 100 meters from our home.

Lunch (I made PB&J) and then an extensive lecture where we learned over 25 identifying ways to categorize coral and fish. The lecture was so informative that all students were actively trying to categorize their data with the information. Afterwards there was a knowledge quiz that was based on fish markings, fins and fish families. We all were amazed at how much we had already learned in less than a day at sea.

The rain has rolled in and has come down on and off the whole day. Rite now I’m waiting for our evening lecture and student presentations to begin. Our pre-course work was to complete a 10 minute presentation based on a topic from our textbook and article readings. I chose Marine Protectorate Areas and thoroughly learned a great deal in my Environmental Policy courses back home. An article even referenced Dr. Bonnie McCay (my professor)!

Tomorrow is a full day where we will snorkel again at the other side of the island at Preston Bay. We will do a cross section diagram and lobster, conch, diadema and lionfish distribution study. After that we will have an island tour….and hopefully I will be able to tell you a little more about LC.

There is just so much to tell…

I hope all is well… because I don’t think I ever want to go home!


Friday, July 16, 2010

Living like a Mama - Heather

Tuesday was our first non-program day. Relaxation, however, was not in the schedule. We were up by 7 and on our way to the boma where the Maasai live by 8:00. Once there, we were paired up and handed over with one Maasai woman, or “mama” to live with for the next two hours. My partner and I greeted our mama, who welcomed us into her home. We stepped through the dark, narrow hallways into the 4 x 4 kitchen/living area and sat on kitis (stools) as she took our bags. She did not speak any English (and we, of course, could not speak Kiswahili), but we tried our best to communicate. We told her our names, and she introduced us to her 3-year old daughter, Mandi. She then asked us if we wanted tea, or “chai,” which we attempted to refuse as kindly as possible, for fear that we might get sick from the water. Next, we stepped outside the hut, and began the process involved in the main reason we had come: to fetch water. Our mama grabbed three empty containers, and we began our trek to the water source. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at a small stagnant pond, and my partner and I were immediately grateful for not accepting the chai. As our mama walked into the middle of the pond, pitcher in hand, a herd of donkeys walked passed us and straight into the pond, which they drank from and relieved themselves in. Our mama came out of the water with full containers and wrapped a leather strap around the two largest containers (about 10 gallons each). As she grabbed the first large container, she walked past my 6’3”, 200 pound male partner and placed the strap around my forehead like an oversized headband, with the container hanging on my back. She placed the second large container on her own head, and handed the one gallon container to my partner. I walked back to the hut with her in that fashion, trying hard to keep my balance. Once back at her hut, I was then given the pleasure of doing our mama’s dishes as my partner idly watched from his kiti with a smirk. Of course, I didn’t mind helping out our mama, especially since it is females who fetch the water and tend to all household needs in the Maasai culture (this was a learning experience, after all).
The rest of the time spent during these last few days have been dedicated to academics. We have been given a crash course in public health research, being introduced to organizational tools such as conceptual frameworks and CSPro, a computer-base program. We also had the opportunity to learn about local health care in Kimana Kenya by touring a nearby health clinic. The impact of limited resources on the clinic was clear, but the staff was clearly dedicated to their clients. Ahead of us, we have two more presentations, one on a questionnaire we developed and another on research indicators. This past week and a half has been highly academic, but soon we will start our work in the field.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Village Life

Last week, I stayed with another host family in the village of Mochudi, about 45 minutes outside of Gaborone. Mochudi isn't the typical African village that I pictured in my mind. Even though there were huts built from mud and straw as well as animals roaming throughout the streets, Mochudi was much bigger than I imagined, having a population of about 40,000. More like a small town than a village. Although my family was traditional in some respects, owning a cattle post (which I will get into later) and cooking traditional food, they were also westernized in some aspects (although slightly less so than my Gabs family). They owned a car (actually 3), which my Gabs family does not even have and enjoy cooking pasta and chips (french fries).

During my stay in Mochudi, I worked at a local clinic. To my surprise, the clinic there and the one where I worked in Gaborone were very similar. Maybe that was because Mochudi is more of a growing town than the tiny village I was expecting. I also noticed that the social and cultural customs that impacted the clinics in Gaborone also were present in Mochudi. For example, the lack of professionalism (from my viewpoint) that occurred when nurses interrupted patient appointments, which actually come from the absence of personal space, a cultural trademark.

I also visited my family's cattle post, which is simply a farm where animals are raised and, in some cases, crops (mostly maize and sorghum) are grown. To get there, we drove 45 minutes away from Mochudi, half on paved roads and half on dirt, leading to what seemed to be a cattle post located in the middle of the bush. Cattle posts are common in Botswana and many family own at least one. My family kept about 100 cows, 50 goats, and 25 birds (a mix of chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese). They let the animals roam free at certain times of the day to graze. Cows graze at night while the goats graze during the day to avoid the hyenas and jackals. My brother also showed me how to catch a chicken with my bare hands (go for the legs). What is not surprising is that my family slaughters these animals whenever they need meat. And later, I even got the pleasure (if this is the right emotion) to slaughter a chicken. While I am against animal cruelty (don't worry about the chicken, it was a quick death), I also enjoy eating meat. Somehow, I think it's better to know where exactly your food is coming from even if you have to slaughter it yourself than simply buying a mass produced product from the supermarket.

During my stay in Mochudi, I realized just how little time I have left in this beautiful country. As of this typing, I have just over a week left. It's sad to think that I will be leaving the place I have called home for the past 6 weeks. My host mom even told me that when I get married, she will fly out to my wedding. There's a certain kind of friendliness and hospitality that is unique to Botswana, something I will dearly miss.

Top picture: The view overlooking part of Mochudi from atop a a nearby hill
2: Some of the cattle on my family's cattle post

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Alison - Little Cayman; Big Adventure

Little Cayman^
Grand Cayman

Seeing as I believe I am among the last in the group to depart from the US I cannot help but be extremely jelous of all of the other postings thus far. For those unsure, I'm Alison a senior Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behavior and Public Policy and Planning double major (yes I know its a mouthfull). I will be spending my time abroad on the remote island of Little Cayman at The Central Carribean Marine Institute. For those that think my trip may be a vacation - I hope you are right, but the work has already begun! In preperation for the course I have become PADI scuba diver certified. I have procured just about all of my textbooks, 7 in total and am in the process of reading my substaiantal pre-arrival homework. (I hope all those books won't cost me extra when I board the plane!)

My program is based on research about the prestine reefs of the Cayman Islands. Every student needs to pick a research topic and I have chosen Marine Protectorate Areas. I hope that my stregnths as a policy maker and semi- scientist will help me to not only learn, but create some meaningful work. I have already learned from my readings! Although I do wish I paid more attention in Intro to Oceanography freshman year!

At present time I am day dreaming about my beach front residence and opportunity for new friends....

I will let you know that I considered myself a semi pro photographer and plan on having a ton of pictures... and hopefully even some video. I recently purchased a special diving camera so that I can take pictures and video while I am scuba diving! I hope that I can share my once in a lifetime experience with all of you.

One of the scariest things I would have to say about this travel is that the remote island of Little Cayman has less than 150 people living on it and no doctor! I come from Bayonne, NJ with over 70,000 people in 2 square miles. My view of the Hudson River is not quite what I have seen in pictures of Little Cayman (LC). I know things will be different but I am looking forward to its challenges and promise of adventure!!

4 days and counting!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Haraka Haraka Heyena Baraka - Heather

Quickly quickly has no blessing. This is a popular motto in Africa, where learning to take your time is a welcome virtue. However, here at Kilimanjaro Busch Camp, time is of the essence, and we are finding ourselves having to spend our minutes very wisely. Our days here are well packed, full of exploration, learning, and fun. So far, we have been beginning our days around 6:30, with breakfast at 7, then two classes, lunch, class or fieldwork, volleyball, dinner, activities, research, then bed. Yesterday, we met several female members of our neighboring Maasai community. Dressed in long, bright, colorful clothing, the Maasai women greeted us with a traditional song and then welcomed us to join them in their dance, which consisted of a lot of bouncing, clapping, and ear-to-ear smiles. Next, it was our turn to sing to them. We returned the favor by singing a horrible rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” which mostly resulted in puzzled looks from our Maasai counterparts. Thankfully, a Kenyan student was able to redeem us by singing a traditional song of his tribe. Once in the Maasai village, called a Buma, we were given the chance to go inside the Maasai houses, which are made mainly of cow dung and sticks. Today, we visited the main location of the Kimana Water Project, which is working to provide clean water (a very rare and valuable commodity in Kenya) to local households. The land is so arid here compared to anywhere else I’ve been, and it’s unbelievable to see the amount of work it takes to supply potable water to just one community. We have been learning a lot about the resource issues in Kenya, and the challenges that this country faces are daunting. The basic problem is that there is very limited water to go around, which is fueling conflict between pastoralists (such as the Maasai), agriculturists, and wildlife. When we finally go out into the field to do our surveys, it will be interesting to hear from the community about the effectiveness of environmental and public health initiatives that are already in place. Until then, we are busy working hard to learn as much as we can about Kenya and the Maasai, and finding time for games of volleyball and charades. Other goals of mine: snap a good shot of Mt. Kili, avoiding poisonous snakes and stinging caterpillars, and having a food fight with a baboon.
Serenia! (Goodnight!)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Clinics, Combis, and Cup

So last week, I started working in a clinic for part of the week. I happen to be working in the Old Naledi Clinic, Old Naledi being the original neighborhood of the city of Gaborone. Because it is so old, all of the homes are falling apart and overcrowding is a problem. The clinic, while more modern than many of the homes, has its own share of problems. The most significant one is its lack of water. Lack of water? a clinic? Yes it is true. During the day, construction nearby forces the entire neighborhood's supply of water to be shut off, including the clinic's. This means no running water for washing hands or sanitation as well as no bathroom use. To compensate, the staff fills tubs full of water when there is water available. One thing I have noticed is that hand washing is not a very popular activity in Botswana, especially with soap. Sanitary practices are apparently not very prioritized here. There are also different cultural norms that affect how the clinic runs. In Botswana, there is no such thing as personal space. At home, my brother will often barge into my room to talk to me and take note of the various items I have sprawled out. Once, he spotted the cookies I left out and he insisted that we eat them immediately. The cookies, as you may have guessed, are no more. In the clinic, it is normal to see nurses take phone calls while treating patients or disrupting conversations with patients to have conversations amongst themselves, behavior we, as Americans, commonly see as unprofessional. While these cultural differences seem to affect how the clinic runs, I think that these problems can be relatively easily remedied. The major medical problem affecting Botswana is HIV/AIDS. As of now, 18% of the entire population (all ages) are HIV positive and if certain age groups are measured, the percentage can jump past 35%. But in the last decade, Botswana began offering anti-retrovirals free of charge to all affected Batswana. Even more, the government also offers TB drugs for free, as TB incidence rates are directly related to HIV incidence rates. The outlook of this medical pandemic is getting better as within the past 5 years, the percentage of HIV/AIDS patients has started to decrease.

The best part of my day, however, is lunch time when I go over to the soup kitchen next door to volunteer. The soup kitchen serves the underpriveledged children of Old Naledi, many of whom have been orphaned because of HIV or are HIV positive themselves. Volunteers help cook lunch for the children as well as play with them. Seeing so many children enjoying themselves and eating tasty, healthy food (sometimes the only meal they will eat all day) is such a heartwarming feeling. Mathata, the man who runs the soup kitchen, grew up in Old Naledi himself, one of the roughest places in Gaborone. Through his hard work as well as the many volunteers he's had over the years, he changes the lives of children by not only giving them sustenance, but also providing a role model to look up to.

On a different note, this past Monday was special in Botswana. The last Monday of the month is payday. While that means happiness, it also means danger. Many people go out and drink...and then drive home. Drunk driving is a problem in Botswana, as is driving altogether. Many of the people are aggressive drivers and it is fairly common to see combi drivers driving on the shoulder of the road or jumping the curb onto the sidewalk to move past traffic (which during rush hour is horrendous). A few days ago, the combi I was on happened to fit 19 passengers (yes I counted) on a vehicle that can safely seat 15. And when I said safely, I actually didn't mean safely as there are only 2 seatbelts on the combi. One thing I find funny is that combis, while on the verge of falling apart, will often have very nice stereo systems. Many also have names, which are represented by stickers on the back window. Some include The Big Fish, Twice as Nice, and my personal favorite, Ninjas. Ninjas has recently been put up for sale, so the back window reads "Ninjas For Sale."

I just wanted to mention one last thing before ending the post. A trip to Africa this summer would not have been complete without attending the World Cup. Luckily, I can say that I was there. Everyone in my program got tickets to the US vs. Ghana game. What's even more unbelievable is that we secured transportation and our tickets the day before the game. The experience was amazing. Words cannot describe all of the emotions that I felt. The tens of thousands of fans cheering, the pulsing of the vuvuzelas, and the sheer excitement of being at the World Cup still seem like a dream. I even met a woman who attended Rutgers but was living in Joburg. The only disappointment was that the US was knocked out. It was a country against an entire continent and, unfortunately we lost. But at least Africa's World Cup hopes are still alive. Hope everyone is enjoy's what's left of the World Cup.

Go siame.

Top picture: The combi "Big Husband" waiting at the bus station to fill up. The most crowded combi I was ever in had 22 people in it...
2: A night view of Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa
3: The US team proudly lined up in front of their flag

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Africa's Drum (or is that my heart?)...Beating Louder - Heather

Less than one week from now, I will be living my first day at Kilimanjaro Bush Camp (KBC) in southeastern Kenya. During the past few weeks my feelings about this trip have been a random mix of excitement and pure intimidation. I've read the field journal, gotten my shots, done my shopping, conducted some background research on the Maasai tribe, and have repeatedly hyped myself up by watching Shakira's World Cup music video of "This Time for Africa." And I'm still not sure I'm ready.

But I'm not going to let fear get in my way. Yesterday I received my pre-course assignment from the instructor. I have been assigned to the "sanitation" group, which means I will conduct a literature search on information involving sanitation in developing countries. The topics are meant to be very broad, perhaps to get us thinking of the "full picture" of public health issues before we narrow them down to those that specifically involve the Maasai tribe we will be working with. In many ways I am thankful for this assignment. Having something academic to do makes me feel like I already have one foot, or perhaps my big toe, in the camp and the goals that go along with it.

Speaking of goals, I have a few of my own. Although I have been assigned the topic of sanitation, I want to investigate issues involving my own personal interest, which is the relationship between food, environment, culture, and public health. One thing I have learned is that the Maasai's staple food includes meat, blood, and milk, and that the Maasai are a traditionally nomadic tribe that relies heavily on goats for food. However, I wasn't able to find much information about their rates of nutrition-related disease, if any exist. Another goal of mine is to get to know our neighbors, the Maasai tribe. I want to learn first-hand their customs, view-points, and their general perspective on life. While I hope that our group of students becomes tight-knit, I don't want this camaraderie or the sense of familiarity that other students provide to prevent me from branching out and discovering what it means to be a Maasai tribesmen living on the foothills of Mt. Kilmanjaro.

A brief description of what we will be doing at KBC:

- Taking courses on the regional ecosystem, Kenya politics and economy, public health, and research methods

- Getting "hands-on" research experience through field work and by using software to create questionnaires and data entry screens as well as to analyze data

- Developing part of a monitoring and evaluation plan to determine the impact of public health systems already in place

- Exploring the Maasai culture

With an approximate 10-hour work day, 6 days a week, I expect this experience to be intense, exhausting, and of course, extremely enriching.