Thursday, June 26, 2008

A day in the life of a chemist in Africa

I realize that I have a tendency to get rather introspective with my posts, so I've decided to lighten things up a bit with a snapshot of my life here in Tanzania.

06:30 - Wake up and shower so that I can get into the computer lab right when it's unlocked at 07:00. The traffic on the connection is slowest early in the morning and late at night, so I can use Skype to call Kiana. It's 21:00 the previous evening in Seattle, so I give her a heads up about how the next day is shaping up.

08:00 - Breakfast: two eggs, sunny-side-up. The first night I was here, my host mom asked me what I like to eat. I mentioned that I like eggs for breakfast, sunny-side-up. The next day, she actually came home from work to show the nanny how to make the eggs for me, and that's been my breakfast every morning since. They have this red pepper sauce here that I really like to put on my eggs. It's called Crystal, and all the writing on the label is in Arabic, except where it says "Made in Louisiana, product of U.S.A."

08:30 to 12:30 - Mimi ninajifunza kiswahili (I learn Swahili). They developed an intensive Swahili course for us that focuses on the basic grammar and vocabulary that we'll need to function at our hospital assignments. I can now say things like "I don't like siafu. Siafu like to eat me. I am going home now for the meal of the afternoon." The language course is very effective, and I occasionally give myself a headache trying to conjugate. Fortunately, we get 30 minutes for tea and peanuts at 10:00.

12:30 to 13:30 - Lunch. I stay at the home of MS-TCDC's marketing director, who lives on the compound, so I get to come home and have re-heated leftovers for lunch. The students who live off-campus have lunches packed for them, usually a boiled egg, PB&J, and a banana. They tell me that next month I'll be living with a bachelor and eating in the hospital cafeteria. I'm going to miss this place.

13:30 to 17:00 - Engineering. For the last week we've been learning how to build power supplies. We built our own full-wave bridge rectifiers (a device to convert the AC from the wall to the DC required for most electronic equipment) and added capacitors to filter out the noise, as well as a voltage regulator to allow adjustment of the output from 1.2V - 24V DC. Today, we took each other's power supplies, broke them, and gave them back to each other to fix. It was a lot of fun. If that sounds like fun to you, you might consider a career in science. If that sounds like something that only a nerd would enjoy, you would be correct.

17:00 - Beer and guitar. There's a little room off to the side of the cantine where they sell beverages and snacks. 500 mL of beer sets me back 1200 Tanzanian shillings, or about US$1. I can choose from among 7 different types of lager. Or I can have a Coke. I choose Castle. Phil, another EWH student, usually joins me for a drink and a jam session. He plays guitar but didn't bring his. He did bring a harmonica, so we play every song in C major.

18:00 - Band practice. There is a band made up of MS-TCDC staff members that practices on the lawn outside the gym several days a week. I've made friends with them, and I often hang out at practice and attempt to learn African music. The rhythms are complex, and a bit hard for a Norwegian like me to grasp, but I have fun. Today they let Phil and I pick up some guitars and play with the band. We were in the middle of teaching them to play the blues when some siafu started crawling up my pants. Everyone thought I was just dancing until I started screaming. They all got a kick out of that. "Did you get a 'good morning?' " they wanted to know. Apparently, that's local slang for a visitor in one's drawers. I was more fortunate than little Ben was in the same situation, and the visitors did not make it past my knee.

19:00 - Dinner. The best part of the day. Beans, rice, meat spiced with garam masala, chapati, and, of course, bananas. They have an avocado tree outside that's producing more fruit than they know what to do with, so we've been having avocado and (insert fruit here) juice with every meal. It looks funny, but tastes good.

20:00 to 23:00 - Chill. The TV and radio are always on (at the same time), and I sit in the living room working on homework, blogging, and absorbing Swahili. The one-story, three-bedroom house is currently home to 8 people, so there's never a quiet moment.

23:00 - Sleep. I have crazy dreams. I don't know if it's the malaria meds or what, but my dreams lately have been like surrealist epic films. My favorite so far was about the tiger who became an Old West sheriff and kicked all the British Colonials off the beaches. On good nights I dream of Kiana (sometimes she's a pirate).

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