Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What happens when there's political disturbance?

For the most part, Ecuador has followed the means of democracy for a few decades now--believing in democratic voting procedures, debates, and a system of checks and balances (though, this is currently being disputed). Politically speaking these days the Ecuadorians are pretty happy with their president, Rafael Correa, and support many of his decisions from banning bullfighting to media reform (according to this BBC article). He's recently gotten public support after the referendum questions were revealed, which means if all goes well Correa will be President for a third round. Well chicos y chicas, right now I'm not in favor of the government's actions.

On May 23rd, 2011 there was a full blow military force to close down illegal mines in the province of Las Esmeraldas, specifically in the villages of San Lorenzo and Eloy Alfaro. Conveniently, this province is the primary location where my PI and the EcoDess projects take place. The aforementioned villages are two out of five villages we want to sample in, but they were severely impacted by the government's actions. The President said, "El operativo fue con base en el estado de excepción, que decretó el Presidente en los cantones San Lorenzo y Eloy Alfaro, para impedir la explotación de oro," which translates to "the operation was based on a state of emergency, in San Lorenzo and Eloy Alfaro, to stop the exploitation of gold." At the same time, this forceful destruction and dynamite usage on 67 mining machines caused a severe amount of environmental damage in addition to the damage already caused by the illegal mining. The nearby rivers of San Lorenzo and Santiago were tested for their microbiological and chemical water quality by Instituto de Higiene Izquieta Pérez and the National Department of Water (Secretaría Nacional del Agua) to find that there are increased levels of bacteria, aluminum, mercury and arsenic. Keep in mind these rivers are the primary source of water for almost all of the villages living on the coast.

So the question is, should the government deal with illegal mining like this again? For me, I would have to belt a resounding NO. Of course I'm biased because I sure as heck would hope that things settle down so that it is safe to continue our research project, but moreover this issue clearly demonstrates the ignorance of governmental actions on the community's outlook. People are angry in these villages. It's already hard to come by potable water on the coasts. This action made drinking clean water that much harder to come by. At the same time, the illegal mining action was an income generator for several families, now what? It's definitely a controversial issue because the illegal mining itself had been causing damage to the environment for six months previous to the military operation. Were they poisoning themselves without even knowing it?

Don't worry Cathy or Leah, the University of San Francisco de Quito already sent some field directors to scope out the situation to see if it's safe before any of the students from University of Michigan or Emory get into the field. If all else fails, there is a potential plan B to work in Southern Quito on a hospital-based project with details TBD. Links to some articles on the illegal mining can be found here, here and here. Slightly more controversial: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55869.

As for now, I've been tuning in to spanish soap operas, grabbing coffee with students, and watching spanish movies (seen below) to apply what I'm learning.

Cross your fingers guys, I'm gonna need some luck these next few weeks.

P.S. More appealing pictures of Quito and some nearby sites will be up after this weekend.

Sara's arrived

Sara's arrived in Dublin but shhhh.... she's sleeping! Update coming soon.

That means everyone's on site and IRES is ON!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I've arrived in Middle Earth!

Well everything has gone smoothly so far, finding internet that I can use currently has been a bit of an obstacle, since I have to wait a few days for my ID to come in so I can get into the lab building after hours, which means that over the weekend (which is right when I got in basically), no internet! Though I found a McDonalds with free Wi-Fi, I used up the data allotment in about 10 minutes :( but the McCafe at that McDonalds had legit baked goods! They wouldn't let me take a picture though, so again, sad-face at McDonalds!

Anyways, my adventure so far ....

The flight over here was LONG, but I was asleep for most of it, which was good since I arrived in the morning, so I wasn't extremely jet-lagged, just tired for the first few days from traveling in general and getting used to new settings.

Also learned that barf-bags really DO work... and don't leak .... yeyyy lot's of turbulence! (and it was right as we were landing too haha!)

When I was at the San Francisco airport, I saw artwork made of reused items ... which was cool and all, until I saw a tire bucket, which as it sounds, is a bucket, made of used tires ... which would be nice as art, if they weren't sold EVERYWHERE in the Middle East as a really cheap bucket and we used to haul dirt in Jordan last summer! And someone is getting credit to display that as art? That's like taking a toy sand pale, and displaying it as art, without doing anything to it. Come on!

Then at the airport in Auckland, to get to the domestic transfer terminal, I had to run outside in the rain (really HEAVY rain) for 10 minutes since I didn't have enough time to wait for their shuttles, and made my flight JUST in time - though what they didn't tell me, was that NZ domestic flights, you only get one carry on, so I had to check a bag for $75! and my cards weren't working! So I had to go exchange my cash, so thank goodness I listened to Cathy and brought lots of cash with me! I have found out since that none of my cards seem to work here even though I told my banks I was going abroad, but they DO work at ATMs, just not anywhere else, so cash it is!

The Accommodations

So now you have heard all about my few hiccups! Onto the good stuff! The hostel I'm staying at, the Kiwis Nest Hostel, is awesome! Not only are the people great, which I could have told you before I got here since they responded to me through my emails (and quickly) and offered me a good deal, but the location is PERFECT! I'm about a 1 min 30 second walk from the University, about a 6 min walk from my lab and the hospital, and the walk there is straight through the main shopping strip in town! It looks like I will only have to pay for transportation if I go on a weekend trip outside the city to see other parts of the country, never when I'm in town! Since I've gotten here, I've looked into some places that I didn't see in my research at home when looking for accommodations, and this place has the best price and is in the best location!

The room itself is like a small dorm room, I have a twin bed, a desk, a closet, a LARGE window, and a little bar table thingy by the door. Tiny but all I need. The hostel itself has several shared kitchens and kitchenettes and refrigerators, and equipment for cooking, a washing machine, dryer and clotheslines, several shared bathrooms (you can pay for a more expensive room with your own bathroom, but that's not mine) and a TV common room. So basically, it is like a really upscale dorm room. PLUS, I don't have to worry about cleaning any of it! Just my dishes when I'm done using them, but the staff clean the bathrooms each day and everything and will service your room whenever you ask, so I don't even have to worry about dealing with my own bed sheets or vacuuming or garbage! So, for the price of the cheapest flat around here, I get everything I need, a great location, my own room, and I don't have to clean! The only possible downside is that I can't really afford to pay for internet by the hour to have in my room, but it is an option in an emergency (since now I am more set up in the lab getting internet shouldn't be as much of a problem) and the house doesn't have central heating and it's winter here ... though it is like winter in Atlanta so blocking the wind is fine and each room has a space heater, so it hasn't been a problem at all! :D

Above is the view out away from the city from in front of the hostel.

Sheep and Ketchup

I've noticed that ketchup in foreign countries is SOOO much better than in America! In Jordan, Dolly's ketchup is super sweet and amazing, and the ketchup here has a uniquely flavored vinegar that is really yummy! I don't know why American ketchup is so lame, but my theory holds true! To make this a little less random, the first night I was here I took myself out to a nice dinner (since I will be living on rice and peanut butter most of the time now that I've settled in) and tried venison for the first time, something I've always wanted to try. The meat itself is ok, though I do think I prefer beef and lamb over it, but the meal overall was awesome! And it had fries, hence the ketchup. I also made friends with my waitress, Claire, there, and she is a 4th year student here at the University and lives with 3 American international students and a Canadian, so I got her contact info and one of her flatmates who is also going to be doing research here when the semester ends contacted me :D so yeyy, friends!

Also, the sheep I saw on my way to the hostel from the airport were so much cuter than the sheep in Jordan! I guess they are different species, but the sheep in Jordan made me not like sheep as they were really creepy looking with creepy eyes, though the sheep here are soo cute!

The City

Dunedin is a small college town, and it is DEFINITELY just that! The population here seems to be almost all students, or people associated with the University (aside from the people who run the businesses in town, though a lot of the workers there are students as well!) and the demographic looks surprisingly a lot like Emory ...

It turns out winter break is soon for the students here though, so from June 24th to July 10th, the town is going to be pretty dead, and exams are in about a week, so it will be pretty quiet.

Food so far

The ice cream here is amazing! Super creamy and NZ's Hokey Pokey ice cream is very very vanillay and creamy and with chunks of toffee in it, it's incredible! The cakes here are also pretty good and the restaurants and cafes all are great so far. Only thing is aside from some of the baked goods, and there being more lamb and seafood on the menu than in America, I can't really figure out what is uniquely New Zealand food. There are a TON of sushi, Korean, Thai, and Indian restaurants here, as in the majority of places to eat fall into one of these categories. Guess it's a good thing I love those types of food, though I wish I could figure out more what would be considered local, guess I'll have to work on that. I have managed to find locally brewed beers though (don't worry, I'm legal here as well as at home, yey being 22!) and the main student pub is about as far away of a walk from where I'm staying as a walk from Eagle Row to the DUC, so less than 5 minutes. The beers I have tried are pretty good, especially since I am not a fan of beer usually, but the guide book I picked up before my trip raves about a few of their brews, so I figured I have to at least try them while I'm in town!

Yummy peppermint slice and AMAZING homemade fizzy lemonade with mint!
The Work

This week I'm mostly doing background reading from textbooks my advisor has and then getting started on the data collection, so it's a nice way to ease in to the new setting. Also the department here is very much like the anthro department at Emory, so it's very comfortable for me and I am pretty much on my own to work at my own pace, with other people around doing their own thing too. I got to go to the department weekly meeting today and listen to a presentation update on the work one of the professors here is doing, which was interesting to hear as it seemed like a way to discuss obstacles and see what others have to say about them. Also I went to a basketball game on Saturday with my advisor, as her husband's company is one of the team sponsors, with my advisor and one of the PhD students here which was a lot of fun and cool to see the differences between professional basketball here and at home, where the last NBA game I went to was of the Bulls back when Michael Jordan was playing ... so VASTLY different! There were maybe only 1500 people in the stadium total, but then again, I was told that the Otago Nuggets won their first game in three years last week .... and that streak didn't last.

Basketball game ... and a competition at half time to win a bar tab ... with some girl competing in a (Lilo and) Stitch onesey ...

And that's it for now! Sorry this post was a bit long, but it's encompassing a very busy week :D


Helsinki City Center

Helsinki City Center Tour
Above is the a Market Square (Hakaniemi). There's a bunch of these around town with fresh produce, food, and annoying Gypsies selling you expensive souvenirs and flowers.

Tuomiokirkko, the Lutheran Cathedral. This Socialistic/Welfare State system is marvelous - everything is free to get in! Universities are all free, meals are subsidized by the government, and a surgery costs around 20 euros.

Orthodox, Russian Cathedral. They were having a wedding in there. It was pretty neat, but I couldn't find the location for the reception =(

ReindeerPan - Mix of Potatoes, Veggies, Reindeer Sausage, Reindeer Meatballs served with Lingonberry Sauce and Gravy (the same stuff you'd get with the Ikea Swedish Meatballs). Man, this stuff is GOOD. It was heavy and very gamey, but lots of flavor. Also tried their famous Salmon, Mammi (gross), Karelian Pastry (OK), Glogi (awesome drink), Viili (hard yogurt), Pulla (awesome desert), and Hesburger (Finnish version of McDonalds). Also, everything in the supermarket is organic and whole-wheat (and very pricey).

Statues and Swedish architecture everywhere in City Center. This was at around 9PM.. Haha. It doesn't really get dark.. just very dusk I'd say. Sunset around 11PM or so, sunrise around 2AM. In late June/July, there is no darkness.

Lots of people in downtown. Malls are huge and pricey. Blondes everywhere.. I feel very out of place. This is an entirely different culture. People here are very quiet, introverted, and shy... until the night =D Stories on that later, perhaps.

Parliament building. Pretty sweet - toured the building (for free of course). Also went to the rock church (underground church), Sibelius monument, Finlandia concert hall, and the Finnish National Museum. Going to Olympic Stadium, Suommenlina Fortress/Island, more churches, etc next weekend.

As for lab work, it's pretty awesome. I'm learning a new coding system (LabView) which is extremely tedious and even more difficult than MatLab (which I use at Emory). I'm working with a graduate student to design the task and hopefully get it working by June 1st. We'll be working in the "BioMag" of the hospital recording E/MEG from subjects for the entire month of June. Then I will most likely takeover the project and begin analysis of the data. Also, my PI lent me his bike! Very useful.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Welcome to Vancouver!

This is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I've visited. :) Look at the waterfront...

I arrived a couple of days ago and am really enjoying it so far. Our current neighborhood is nice and the air is very fresh because the city is so close to water. It's a little bit cold (10-15*C), but I don't mind because it's perfect for running. :)

I will start work officially on Tuesday, but plan to visit Simon Fraser University and my lab on Monday so I can get more familiar with it. Until then I plan to explore the city a little bit more.

All in all, everything is going fine. My only quip is that prices here seem to be a little on the high side, but this may be because I'm living very close to downtown right now. We'll see what happens when I move closer to the university.

I'll update next week with a post about starting work. Bye bye until then! :)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Oxford at last

Greetings from the other side of the world - my first trip to foreign soil!

Flight out of New Jersey to London - very early in the morning... Plane landed at 7:45 pm

The bus transit station connected to Heathrow Airport was actually very simple. Note to self: always buy "Open Return" tickets (just like return flights, it's much cheaper and you can come back whenever!)

The best way to get to know a new college town is to show up on Thirsty Thursday at midnight. I'll spare you pictures of typical student activity on Broad St and High St (always entertaining) and skip to the beautiful night sights :)

Oxford Town Hall (or something like that...)

Ah, there it is... I've arrived.

So I stayed my first night in the Oxford Backpackers Hostel. It was 1:30 in the morning (they technically closed two hours earlier) but good old-fashioned British hospitality won the day and I was given a room (or maybe it was just good business sense...). Either way, I was trying to not wake up the other 8 people already sleeping in Room #11, so no pictures =) Being right next door to a club, my earplugs have already come in handy! It's a fantastic place that I recommend to anyone coming through Oxfordshire... everyone has a great sense of humor (WiFi password is 'ihatepasswords').

Look, Cathy! I've already found one of the places to visit on my list...

Right now, I'm directly next door to the famed Eagle and Child pub - where C.S. Lewis met with his contemporary philosophers and authors while reasoning through Christianity vs. Atheism.

Yes, Cathy - that's TWO in my first 12 hours here :)

I'm sending this from upstairs in the Greens Cafe. Note to Self #2: free WiFi hotspots are turned off for lunch, 12-2 pm (why, I have no idea...) but for now, it's time to grab another croissant and be on my way!

The next few days will be spent settling into the room I'm renting for the summer, getting my Academic Visitor pass at Oxford, meeting with the P.I. of the lab (Robin Dunbar) to FINALLY communicate face-to-face about my project, and visiting local workout facilities! I'm still deciding whether or not to purchase souvenirs for anyone... ;)

'Til we meet again,

Sunday, May 22, 2011



Welcome to Helsinki!

For those who haven't left yet - carry with you a copy of your RETURN flight confirmation e-mail.

Got a bit lost with the buses. Wound up in
downtown and Helsinki's major train station.

Emory and Ravens: Represent. Room is a bit small, but the 4 other guys I live with are cool.

There is no air conditioning (it's 51F right now.. or around 15C). Work begins tomorrow.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A New Life in Quito

Written in the ATL airport with no free wifi:

First post—it’s always the hardest. After two weeks of spending pretty much every waking moment in the lab trying to complete my independent research project, I finally feel ready for the Ecuador trip to begin, somewhat. I’m anticipating visiting a third world country, but from many people that I’ve spoken to they say that the city is great—basically first world—but you travel an hour outside in any direction and you’ve hit the rural areas with health and wealth disparities galore. I’m excited to hit the ground running, as many of you know I would be. I should be meeting with a few of our collaborators at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) on Friday, May 20th to make sure we have enough supplies for our field study at the end of June. If not, then we’ll have to order it through Emory and make sure they get in before Marissa Grossman (my research partner!) comes down to Quito on June 2nd. Looks like we're planning on doing 400 assays every other week for 4 weeks from the end of June through July. In the meantime we'll be helping out with the current projects so we have space when ours begins. Ahh nerves, excitement and curiosity are hitting the roof! It’ll be a pretty darn busy summer: Spanish school (5-6 hours a day of individual tutoring for 3-4 weeks), blogging, complete my research report, ORIENTATION 2011, and preparing/going into the field for the water microbiology study. The next time I post I would’ve already landed and started to adjust to the high altitudes. Fingers crossed I don’t get altitude sickness! Adiós!

From Quito, Ecuador:

For those of you who think that Quito is incredibly warm all day long you are VERY wrong. Because Quito is about 2800 meters above sea level it gets incredibly chilly at night and in the early mornings, but the afternoons are super warm or chilly (again) or raining. Definitely temperamental weather. I'm currently living with a host family that consists of a German guy dating an Ecuadorian girl who are both a year older than me and only speak Spanish. It's pretty awesome. One downfall: cold showers, I would almost argue the warm bucket baths in Africa were better. :-P

I went in to the USFQ lab earlier today to talk to our collaborators about supplies and other materials we need for the field study and eventually celebrated one of the microbio lab doctor's birthday! Everything here is so reasonably priced. Each meal is about $2-3 dollars and staying with my host family is about $10 a night. Did I mention the currency is US dollars? My Spanish needs some brushing up for sure but I can pretty much understand what everyone is saying...so far. The public transportation is also another thing to boast about. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good with 1 trolley bus, 1 metrobus, and 1 ecovia bus: all travel north and south on main roads--10 de agosto, América, y 6 de diciembre. The entire city is about 45 km wide so it's not too difficult to get around, but I've definitely gotten lost for a couple hours trying to feel my way through the streets.

I think I'll spend the weekend running in la parque carolina, which is right next to my host family house and check out la Mariscal that's known to be a 'hoppin' nightlife place. Bring on the salsa! It's a little bizarre, but I almost feel like I could live here for a very long time before wanting to go anywhere else. Let's see how the research experience turns out and we'll go from there. Chao!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Preparing for winter!

After having just finished up my junior year at Emory, I'm preparing to go to the other side of the world and research in New Zealand for the summer! As an anthropology major, I have spent my last two summers excavating in Jordan, but now I will try my hand at studying in a lab abroad.

My research at Emory is with Dr. George Armelagos where I make thin sections out of ancient Sudanese Nubian bones to look for evidence of tetracycline labeling. These ribs are about 1500 years old and are extremely well preserved. Next year I will be writing an honors thesis on my work with these human remains and continue to examine the evidence left by this antibiotic and its possible origins of ingestion by the population.

This summer, I will be working on a project that is a bit different than my research in Atlanta - I'm going to be looking for evidence of erosive arthopathies, which includes diseases such as gout, in human remains from Polynesia. Rather than cutting up bones with a band-saw and creating thin sections to look at under a microscope, I'll be studying the gross anatomy of these bones to look for pitting and lesions caused by specific diseases. My mentor for this summer will be Dr. Hallie Buckley of the University of Otago in Dunedin. She, like Dr. Armelagos, is also a paleopathologist.

In the mean time, I'm here in Chicago, resting up from the school year and preparing for my adventure down under! I just purchased a pair of hiking boots suited for winter weather, as my other pair are meant for the desert and won't keep my feet very warm. Even though I will be working in a lab most of the time, I am going to definitely do some hiking over there and spend as much time as I can outside in that beautiful country! The only thing I'm sad about is that I will be missing summer, as I'm used to working outside all summer as either an archaeologist or a lifeguard, which is what I've done for the last 7 years, so this will be a definite change! To cope with that though, I have some warmer hiking clothing so I can ignore the fact that it's cold and spend time outside, so it should be just fine! :)

I have a week left before my departure and almost everything is taken care of, except for my laundry! I will have to get to that next ...

Monday, May 2, 2011

The beginning of my Ecuadorian Adventures

With the end of finals just around the corner, the summer is looking mighty fine. My Ecuadorian adventures will begin on May 18th, 2011 and go up until August 14th, 2011 where I will come straight back to ATL in preparation for Orientation 2011! No doubt, it's going to be a fun-filled summer with much more of a 'roughin it out' type lifestyle for a good 12 weeks.

First, I'll be traveling to Quito, Ecuador where 2-3 things will happen:

1) Moderately serious to serious note--I'll be taking about 3 weeks of intensive Spanish schooling and staying with a host family. Let's keep our fingers crossed that I come back with a bit more fluency under my belt.

2) Less of a serious note--After taking Spanish classes in the morning, I'm hoping to take some salsa classes in the afternoon for $5 per hour! I doubt this would make me a pro, but it sure sounds like a heck of a lotta fun!

3) Seriously--I will also be going into the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador laboratory to make sure that we are fully prepared before heading into our 4-week field sampling (in Northern coastal Ecuador) with 2-weeks in between to process the samples in the Quito lab.

A significant portion of my research will involve collecting water and soil samples to test for antibiotic resistance to
Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is a common indicator used to detect fecal contamination (i.e. poop in the environment). The research project I will be participating in is called EcoDess where environmental health researchers from the US and Ecuador are interested in the intersection between diarrheal disease and environmental change. Fortunately for me, this type of research is EXACTLY where my passion lies: poop and water. Who would've thought anyone could be attracted to that combination? ;-) Trust me, there’s a ton of us.

I'm sure I'll squeeze in some time for traveling around the country/countries (keep up with the blog and you'll hear all about it!), but until then get ready Ecuador because we're gonna fall in love with each other by the end of this trip.