Bone Marrow Registry–Sign up Now!

While procrastinating on my dissertation, I usually spend a lot of time on reddit looking at cat pictures, earthporn (oh mother nature, you so fine) and browsing for science articles–but mainly aww-ing over cat pictures.

However, today on my front page, I came across a video post of a terminal Leukemia patient posted by his friend. Eric has battled with cancer and beat it 6 times (check out his blog and bucket list here). However, this video is what he has deemed as his final confession.

Now, I’ve been bitching and whining about this dissertation for longer than I’d like to admit (due on Aug 21st!). And being extremely homesick for the last several months (having not spent more than 6 months in any one place since starting this blog almost 2 years ago), sometimes I can be a little down. While social networking sites like Facebook help me stay in touch with friends from home, as well as everyone I’ve been lucky enough to meet abroad, it’s hard to get a constant stream of how everything is changing. Sometimes, it feels like you’re being left behind–missing and not sharing these life changing experiences. Some friends got engaged last year when I was in Africa, and now more will probably start doing the same. People are moving, buying houses, thinking about children and having careers. Being hardly home and celebrating my last two birthdays in the field (23rd in DR-Congo and 24th in Nigera), I still feel 22 and not ready for any large commitments outside of pursuing more research. I wonder if it’ll be hard to relate with everyone when home and vice versa.

This video blog by Eric has put things into perspective on how lucky I am to have my health, great parents and hilarious and supportive friends.One of the items on his bucket list is “Get as many people as I can to sign up on the bone marrow registry.” Looking through the comments on reddit, several people have decided to sign up–myself included once I call them and ask them send me a swab to the UK (I’d rather register in my home country).

I never thought to join before since needles and surgery terrify me but looking at the Donation facts, it is actually a simple procedure with minimal negative health effects and discomforts. Being someone’s match can mean saving someone’s life.

We’re only here for short time, the least we can do is make a difference–even if it’s only one person. So why not start now and look up your country’s bone marrow Donor program and register today.

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“You are Welcome” and Machine Boys

Smiles flashed and hands waved as the local Hausa and Fulani people greeted us in their sonorous voices, “You are Welcome.”

Back in Abuja, my first response to this was confusion as the cadence of the phrase flowed each word into the next. I simply thought everyone was saying “You’re Welcome” before realizing they were welcoming me into their country.

The hands raised greeting accompanied by “Yaya” or “Sanu” filled our walks and shopping experience while we stocked up supplies for the next 2-3 weeks spent at Kwano.

After the SUV took us as far up into the park as it could go, the machine boys were called. Waiting with our luggage and food supplies at Gashaka village, we heard a roar as a gang of motorbikes flew towards us; dust in the hot heat.

Having gotten a late start on the day, we were hoping to get to Kwano before sunset. We were warned the roads were quite bad and the going would be slow. Only 9-10km away, it would take about an hour. For reference, from Serti to Gashaka, roughly 40km, it takes about 1.5 hours.

Here, the motorbikes were called machines. Very young boys learn to ride them and make money ferrying people up the mountain or into town. We needed 6 bikes between the two of us, our groceries and all that luggage.

The locals seemed pretty excited as we were the first students to come since last year. The children watched us shyly as their parents, some who were staff, introduced themselves and then we were off in a cloud of dust.

Although it hadn’t rained recently since it was the dry season, the steep terrain made the ride difficult with constant hopping on and off the bike during each hill. The breaks on my bike were broken. On one of the hop-offs, my leg got burned on the exhaust–the mark of Gashaka! My own fault for forgetting to change into pants. Unfortunately, the burn later popped while sleeping–causing more problems later.

Both M and I were having issues with bikes as she had gotten into a mini-crash earlier in the day. Luckily, both bikes were going slow over a bridge crossing and no one was hurt. Behind her, I just happened to be taking a video and had caught the whole thing on camera. Watching it later at the tourist camp, we saw a shoe flying in the air.

moments before…

Arriving in the dark, M and I were both exhausted. Felix, the camp manager, made us some local food for dinner–rightfully assuming we were both too tired to do so–of eba (similar to DRC’s fufu or South African pap) and a thick, aromatic stew with some kind of meat. Eating with your fingers once again!

We moved into our rooms, unpacked and settled in for the weekend. The local staff left the next morning, but not before we gave Felix money to buy us some fruit in town. Our time in the market was short and we weren’t able to get enough fresh things. M and I then had the whole place to ourselves for 3 days before getting to work on Sunday.

The days were lovely as we sat listening to cries of different monkeys and explored within the proximity of the camp. However, nights were a bit scary as we were getting used to being alone and somewhat in the wild. Sitting out in the open one evening, we heard trudging around. Flashing our headlamps in the direction of the noise, eyes wide open, it was just a civet bumbling around. Phew…

Walking to the toilets (basically just an area designated for peeing and further off, a hole for #2’s) was a chore, as your imagination ran away with every little rustle of the bushes. In the evenings, we became “pee buddies,” just taking opposite ends of the dirt pile. However, if you wanted to do more serious business, you were on your own in the dark.

We realized several of our eggs had broken on the trip up and rotted in the heat. Gagging and choking back vomit, we washed out everything of the stench. Our dinners were quite simple for the next  couple weeks: rice, beans, onions or pasta and tomato paste.

We each brought some goodies from home to supplement the meals. I had brought mainly treats–Nutella and extra crunchy peanut butter, some (melted) chocolate–while M had brought more spices. While packing, she had hurriedly bought some salt and pepper…which turned out to be black pepper and white pepper which we both found hilarious.

Conversations soon turned towards food–as it so often does in the field. Dreams of stuffed crust pizza, indian curries, lovely rare steaks…

Our next town day would be in 2.5 weeks. We definitely needed to explore the markets more for treats.

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Drop Cars and I need to ease myself…

“45,000 to Katsina Ala.”

Looking at our Gashaka Information Packet, it explains we should pay roughly 30,000 Naira the whole way via private taxis—or “drop cars.” Having too much luggage between us, it was simpler and only slightly more expensive than the minibuses. We also hoped to get to Serti, the small town outside of Gashaka-Gumti National Park, by that evening—nearly impossibly with minibuses that have to fill up first, stop often and cram additional people in, fitting like human tetris pieces.

Our route was Abuja—Lafia—Markurdi—Katsina Ala—Takum—Marraraba—Beli—Serti.

Up early and at the Karu Motorpark by 6AM, we were trying to negotiate our way out of Abuja. Surrounded by a group of eager drivers, we were glad to have James, our driver from yesterday, with us for support.

I whispered to M, we should start out at 10 and not go higher than 15.

45 is too much—10.”

“The gas prices have gone up, 45 is good price.”

“No, that is too much, we don’t have that much money.”

“Okay, how about 30?”

“No, we were told it would cost 30 to get to Serti and Katsina Ala is only halfway.”

Scowling and discussing among themselves in one of the many Nigerian local languages, James pulled us aside.

“Look, his taxi has a broken wheel and that one has no spare tire. You shouldn’t get into his car, find someone else.”

James looked up, said something in the local language, and shuffled us back into his car. The men clamored,

“Ok! OK! 20!”

“Your car is broken.”

“Ok, I’ll call my friend.”

“We won’t pay more than 12,” we responded.

“Look, prices have gone up and the roads are bad, you won’t find anything for that price.”

James nodded in agreement that it would be difficult.

“Ok, how about 15?”

The man nodded and called for his friend who arrived 5 minutes later. James looked the car over, approved the facilities and helped us load our many bags over.

Finally! We were off on our way. However, the excitement wore down with the rising of the sun. The car bubbled with the midday heat that was exacerbated each time the car slowed  down in cities and at every stop for petrol.

M looked over at me, “Do you need to pee?”

“Yeah, I could go.”

Looking at the handbook, it said to notify your driver to stop on the road by politely asking:  “I need to ease myself…” M gave this a go.

“Excuse me, I need to ease myself.”

“What?!”

“I need to ease myself…”

“WHAT?!”

“I NEED TO EASE MYSELF!”

“WHAT?! PISS? WHAT?”

“WHAT? YES! PISS!”

“PISS! OK OK.”

Holding in our giggles barely, the driver stopped as we clambered out into the sparse vegetation. Oh boy was it hot! Used to cloudy London, hopefully we’d adjust for field work.

Nearing Katsina Ala, our driver asked, “How much more will you give me to take you to Takum?”

This was the next city over. We looked at each other, mouthed some numbers and agreed, “17 to Takum.”

He agreed and offered to call us a friend to take us further. Upon arriving, we waited in the dusty heat. Curious locals peered in with braver ones coming over to chat. The local women wore beautiful fabrics with bright prints and colors that you would think would clash but worked marvelously together. Our couchsurfing host had recommended buying some fabrics and asking one of the local women to make us a skirt–already making a mental list.

His friend finally arrived—a short cheerful man with an odd accent.

“We’ll pay 10.”

“20!”

“That is too expensive.”

“The roads are very bad from Beli to Serti.”

“Your friend took us more than halfway and we only paid him 17 and you’re asking for more. How about 12?”

“That is because the road is very bad and now the fuel is so expensive.”

“We won’t pay more than 15.”

“OK.”

Finally moving on, fingers crossed we’d make it by dark. It was around 2pm and sunset was in 4.5 hours. Our driver seemed less keen, stopping every now and then in small towns and disappearing off to probably say hellos. At one point, he comically brushed his teeth  (quite vigorously) and offered us Suyaa shish kebab with special seasoning.

The road after Beli was riddled with potholes and cracks—slowing us down.

“See how bad the road is.

We agreed—but we still weren’t willing to pay 20,000 Naira.

Arriving in the dark at the Tourist Camp, we were sweaty and tired from sitting in a hot metal box all day. Unfortunately, the cherry 7-UP we had saved as a celebratory drink for arriving was now lukewarm and no longer refreshing.

We booked a room and organized to meet with some GPP (Gashaka Primate Project) and GGNP personnel to get us to Kwano, the field site, the next day.

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Reminiscing and Musical Funks.

Going through old blog entries written while in Nigeria to edit and slowly post, I came across this (written in February on a train to Mannheim to visit my brother!):

One year ago, I was a flurry of emotions over leaving Lajuma for DRC. I was living in a house full of Dutch and German students who I had absolutely fallen in love with. Lajuma is most definitely the happiest and at peace I have ever been.

Since leaving in early summer 2011, I’ve managed to almost see everyone (with a few exceptions) that I’ve gotten close to since then—which is really lucky considering none of them live on the same continent as me. To those I haven’t seen, we FB chat or email every now and then. It’s been much easier, living in London to visit them as I did this past weekend. After meeting some researchers I would like to potentially work with in the future, I used mitfahr once again and headed to Cologne. After a night of dancing, Kolsch and live music, I left after a quick goodbye to Utrecht to see Anja, Demis and Marjolein. Unfortunately missed a few people but will hopefully make the circuit again before heading back to America before Thanksgiving.

So recently I’ve been in a musical funk, and have been listening to my Top 25…which naturally has brought on the reminiscing and looking at old photos (while I’m supposed to be grant writing) on the train. Each song reminds me distinctly of a different time and place:

September and October are filled with Lion King, Kate Nash’s “Foundation”, Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz’s “Lucky”, rock ballads and Vampire Weekend—reminding me of Beccy, Ben and Anja and Demis.

November and December are The Door’s and The Shins for John and his leopard sighting as well as Bob Marley—dancing with Venda students on Christmas.

And then January, more Shins and Bill Evan’s Trio on the sunny beaches of Mozambique.

February comes the more soft sounds and eclectics of Feist, Noir Desir, Cat Power and Eric Clapton with a special playlist devoted to sleeping outside beneath the stars – classical music and Amelie.

DRC was lonely, with a mesh of all these songs as I was pining for people gone home or left behind with the added addition of Lily Allen and The Mamas and The Papas.

Last summer was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros–I’ve come home.

Last fall was Adele and Amy Winehouse, Bonobo and Aphex Twins.

Sometimes listening to the music, I’m momentarily transported back.

Now I’m in a bit of a musical funk but will hopefully catch a groove in Nigeria. Ever since leaving Africa, my wanderlust has gotten worse; a frantic mess of frenzied energy with no output since most of the time I’m stuck in front of a computer. I miss rock climbing and falling. Sometimes, most times, feeling a bit bland. Losing all the heights of emotions, and stuck mainly with frustration. I need the movement, fresh air and peaceful quality that is lacking completely in London.

I need to get moving.

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Back to the grind…

Almost 4 weeks back and it feels like I never left! Been meaning to update on the Nigerian baboon adventures but have been bogged down with writing, analyzing, procrastinating and who knows what else…Can someone focal me to tell me where all the time has gone?!

The tan is pretty much gone as London has been cloudy and dreary–where is the summer? Not that it matters much since most time is spent in “Hell” aka the 24hr computer lab on campus. Hopefully after my first draft deadline (extended to this thursday), there will be some baboon photos, stories and reminiscing!

Overall, Nigeria was an eye-opening experience to how stressful and fun managing your own research can be. The people were absolutely amazing and welcoming and the baboons were hilarious and loveable when they weren’t being assholes running up waterfalls or steep terrain. Too bad it was such a short time! But hopefully after finishing this Master’s, I’ll find myself back in the field again!

In the meantime, it’s back to the grind…

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“I want to go to America”

“Chong Chong”

Um, excuse me? M gives me a wide-eyed amused look. 

“Are you from China?”

“No, I’m American.” “She’s American.”

“You do not look American. Where are you descended from?”

“My parents are Chinese…”

Sigh…Not this again!

Getting up at 5AM to the ululations exulting from the mosque, I was in a hired drop car (thanks to my gracious hosts for setting it up!) to pick M up from the airport. We were now waiting in the immigrations office–a brick building filled with officials harmlessly flirting.

“She is mine,” the big boss said pointing at M to another, having established, or claimed, her as a new girlfriend earlier that morning.

Apparently, I belonged to the other. Fabulous–whatever can help us get through quickly.

Earlier, in the morning, we had gone to the moneychangers–or basically some men by the side of the road with sacks of Naira.

“How much for pounds?”

“250 Naira for 1 GBP”

Perfect! Giggling at the novelty of this seemingly sketchy but perfectly legit transaction, we finished counting out the change multiple times. Then settling in with our deceptively large pile of money, we headed back to the couchsurfing host’s house to deposit our loot and draw out enough money for the day.

Arriving at the immigrations office around 10AM, as the only foreigners, we didn’t have to wait in line. Shuffled into a separate yellowed brick room with one large desk, 2 broken chairs and a fan, we waited.

“Ah Geisha.”

…whatever. “American.”

“You be my girlfriend,” he said claiming M. The officials were chatty, charming and unfortunately would not budge as we discussed fees.

“We are doing conservation work here, oh that is so expensive!”

“Yes, we charge Americans more because it is so difficult and expensive to get into America for us.”

Fair enough…

14000 Naira per person. This on top of the fee charged online and the surprise fee at the embassy in London when you apply in person.

Damn.

“I have been to America: Houston, Texas, Philadelphia…” a matronly official announced.

“Why is it so difficult to get to America? We would like to go to America.”

“Well, if I were the immigration officer, I’d let you in for free!”

We spent over an hour chatting and trying to figure out what was going on and what we needed to do–pulling out forms, invitation letters to the park, showing passports. The officials were fairly entertaining, if the process wasn’t so slow–giving up chairs for us to sit on as the room filled with the midday heat.

“Where are you going?”

“Taraba state”

“Oh! That is very dangerous, we do not want you to get kidnapped. Why don’t you fly?”

“We don’t have very much money, it’s so expensive and so is this extension…” (They give you 1 month on arrival and we needed 3).

“It is not safe, we are worried, you need to find reliable transportation.”

Oh my.

Eventually, they decided things needed to be done officially with photocopies taken, files drawn up, etc etc and we would be able to collect our passport at 2-230PM.

So off to run some errands in the meantime. First, we needed to get some ethanol (for my hormone samples). After getting stuck in the red, red dirt, some locals obligingly helped us shove off into traffic. Cars will zip through the dirt between highway lines, U-turning into oncoming traffic–which luckily (or unluckily) was a bit dead-locked. Dozing on and off in the heat and sweating, we just wanted the day to be done.

At an dilapidated building, we searched for the medical supplies. Not used to the heat–exhaustion and hunger were settling in. The brick walls were spray painted with “NO PUBLIC URINATION, POLICE ORDER” with a man defiantly spraying on it.

People made clicking and kissing noises at us to catch our attention.

“Ah, sweet, take my brother?”

What?

Finally, after asking around, someone finally knew what ethanol was. Purchase complete! Looking around, I’m so glad we brought our own first aid and sterile needles.

After a pit stop back at the house for some lunch, we returned via taxi and a mini-motorbike ride. More waiting.

The big boss (“The hunter cannot be hunted”) flexed his authority in front of us by showing his power over his crew. Being on his good side has it’s perks.

Sleepily sitting in the heat, we just wanted our passports and to go.

“You can stay ’til July”

“You must come and go out with us.”

Smiling and laughing politely,

“We will visit in May on our way out of Abuja.”

“Ok! You stay with us til July?”

Sure…

Scribbling their numbers for us, we finally left and headed home–sweaty and salty and very very sleepy. Catching the short motorbike ride, out taxi took us back for showers, catnaps and then beer with the hosts.

Couchsurfing has been amazing in Abuja–I’m so glad they were here to host! Having arrived earlier, they made me feel so welcome and less lonely about the big change. Introducing me to people, giving advice–I feel better about being in Nigeria.

a little blurry--posing in front of the washington state map

Tomorrow, we pack up and head towards Gashaka. Hopefully it will only be a 2 day journey. I’m very excited to re-live my chapas experience. This is most likely the last update until we leave the field end of May as there will be no internet access.

Baboons, here we come!

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Hot Hot Heat

“Hello, you’re welcome, I like very much”

He said, pointing to my sunglasses perched above my sweaty forehead.

“You give to me? Yes, thank you. I like very, very much.”

Hopeful look.

“I like these very much too. Thank you, have a nice day.”

Shopping for some fruit and wine to bring back to my couchsurfing host, I had walked out in the midday heat that was oppressively hot. The sky was filled with dust and the local mosque shivered golden and blue along the skyline.

“Bonjour!”some worker called out—despite the language spoken in the city being English. I haven’t spoken French since DR Congo.

Ça va?”

A green, beat-up taxi (they’re called ‘drop cars’) off Nile Street honked as I tried to walk nonchalantly towards a busier intersection away from the house—that was easy enough.

“Supermarket please. How much?”

“200 Naira.”

Now in a large, cracking cement building, doing shopping, I remembered that in Africa, I am “white.” Curious eyes followed, people introduced themselves and were quite friendly.

No fresh fruit. So I left and decided to hire a car for the day. The next cab that pulled up was driven by a very serious man with fine scars cut delicately along his cheeks in simple crisscrossing patterns. He ferried me around to a local fruit market where I bargained for pineapples, watermelons, avocados and some green oranges.

Next stop—where’s the wine?

Several shops later, we ended up at a Chinese bakery where a young businessman from Shanghai became very excited.

“You speak Chinese?”

“A little. Wo de zhongwen bu tai hao.” (A little, my Chinese isn’t very good…)

After giving me his number (my little list growing!) and wishing me good luck, Olilobello (taxi driver) and I continued our search for wine that was unsuccessful so we finally headed back to my host’s home. The rest of the evening was spent playing in the pool with little Deborah and one of my hosts.

In the evening, the ‘International women of Abuja’ assembled for an amazing Italian dinner that made you forget you were in Africa. Coming from all embassies, the ex-pat crowd is small. Sitting and listening to all their stories of travel, Nigeria and other places–it must be fascinating work. I’m in love with anything that involves movement and travel.

The restaurant chef was a tiny Italian women who didn’t speak a word of English. Grandmotherly and sweet, she had been brought down to cook authentic Italian food. She was simply adorable. Armed with an impressive wine selection, this will probably be the best meal I’ll eat for awhile.

Ending the evening with some tea and chitchat, I’m so happy to be back in Africa. The terrible flighty feeling is somewhat at rest now.

Tomorrow, my fellow American will arrive and we will spend the day going to immigrations to extend our visas, buy supplies and prepare to head into the bush!

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