Friday, January 23, 2015

Proverbs don't make for good science

"Our mentor will wake up the sleeping dogs in us all."

This was one of the responses that I received on one of my tools.  Every month I receive pages of qualitative (long-response) data that I have to sift through and pull out key words so that we can measure the effectivity of our study.

"The heaven above welcomes this new knowledge."


I can code "dog" and "heaven"?

=COUNTIF($D$2:$D$241,"*dog*") = 1
=COUNTIF($D$2:$D$241,"*heaven*") = 5

So our study is working?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bridal Showers

When a woman gets married, the ladies in her life get together to give her advice on her marriage.  They throw her a Bridal Shower. 

Last week, I went to a Ugandan bridal shower for a coworker.  We ate, gave thoughtful and (almost) dirty advice to the bride, gave gifts and played games. “What was Annette wearing when she first entered the room?”

It was really no different from the many (many) bridal showers I have been to in the US or even India.  But this isn’t one of those “women are the same all over the world and isn’t that beautiful” kind of entries.  Because there was a difference in what I saw at these parties.  It was subtle but crucial.  The advice on marriage was all different. 

“There’s not much to tell,” said an older Indian woman with dhaal stained fingertips.  “You’ve already seen the guy.  That is half the battle.”
And the conversation was closed about the husband.  For the rest of the party.
“Know how to make a good sabji and listen to every word she says.”
“Know how she cleans.  It’s important to know how she cleans.”
The advice was all about the mother in-law and food.  And how to make the food for the mother in-law.  
“You know how to make a good kitchari, right?”
The husband was barely mentioned.  He was an accessory to the marriage between bride and mother in-law.
A happy mother is a happy marriage.

“Just make sure you know how to please yourself.”
“ You can’t rely on a marriage to make you whole.”
In the US, the advice is about how to make the bride happy and how to sustain the love. 
“Make sure you two have activities outside the house together.”
“Go out to eat!”
“Travel together!”
“But never forget about ‘you’ time.”
A happy wife is a happy marriage.

“He will be a child,” advised the eldest woman at the Ugandan bridal shower. “You will need to know how to take care of him.”
“We work hard all day, but when you get home he will be expecting a smiling wife, happy and loving.  You need to be that woman.”
The Ugandan advice was all about the husband and how to make him happy.
“Stay pretty so he won’t stray.”
A happy husband is a happy marriage.

And the subject of babies?
“Have them soon, she’ll expect them. Hope it’s a boy!”
“Have them soon, he’ll want a big family.”
“Have them soon, nobody wants to be an old mom.”

Not sure about the secret to marriage but there is a worldwide consensus that I need to start having babies soon.

I better go massage my ovaries. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Help who you know

Help who you know, where you know, what you know.  Help your neighbors, clean up your backyard.  Black people are being shot on your block.  Veterans are dying of starvation, in the winter, outside of Madison Square Garden.  Why travel to Africa and Asia when homeless shelters in Brooklyn are turning away women and their children every day?

This is a question that I have been grappling with for a better part of my adult life.  These are my answers:

  1. I’m an epidemiologist.  Where are the coolest diseases in the world?  In the Amazon, in Calcutta, in the valleys of Uganda.  That’s where shit gets exciting.  And yes, Washington D.C has 155 people per 100,000 diagnosed with HIV in 2011.  The highest in the country.  (Talk about helping your backyard Obama…) But the truth is, I like my diseases vector borne.  Give me a mosquito over a young male any day.  And that’s the truth of it.  I want the ebola epidemic not the obesity epidemic.
  2. I’m not digging a well, I’m running a study.  I was given the resources to get an education that lets me do what other cannot.   I teach people what I’ve learned.  I work with the ministry to help their counterparts achieve what they want to see happen in their country.  Give a (wo)man an insecticide treated mosquito net, protect him for 3-5 months.  Teach a (wo)man how to run a randomized control protect him from malaria for life.  Kind of.  And when my students become teachers I have worked myself out of a job.  Again.  It’s beautiful really.  Kind of.
  3. I’m grateful.  That the work I do in these countries gives me so much.  It’s exciting, sexy, enriching.  I learn from learning.  My cat has become the most cultured animal in the world.  I love that my work takes me to clinics on the Rwenzori mountains.  That I roll my eyes with annoyance when a monkey delays my car.  I’m over here for an adventure and I still want a few more years of it.
I’ll return to the US to help my neighbors one day.  But for now I’m following the mosquitoes.

One of my clinics.  Jelly?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


I am (so) aware that this is the life that I’ve chosen.  I want to live a life where, at the end of the day at the dinner table, I could feel I did good.  That’s what I tell people.  Where at the end of my life I can see the little ripple I made and hope it doesn’t break too soon on the shore.  That’s what I tell myself.

But sometimes I feel like I’m trying to make a ripple in a hurricane. 

My contract is over and once again I’m looking for a job.  Once again I’m uprooted and uncertain and alone.  It’s exciting, isn’t it?  I’m looking at jobs in Cambodia, Myanmar, Swaziland and India.  Another adventure! 

But I’m watching my ex-boyfriends get married.  My friends have babies.  And I’m…moving again.  I do it because I love it but this love keeps tossing me around.  HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO SAVE THE BABIES IF YOU KEEP MAKING ME START OVER?  Shouting into a fundless storm. 

So come March I may have to pack my bags, and my damn cat, and move.  But I’m young, and I’m free and I do what I do because I love what I do.  I’ll start new and keep going on going on because I’m not ready to slow yet.  I hear Cambodia has some of the most beautiful temples in the world.

Fuck the ripple.  I’m going to make a tidal wave.