Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The first week and a half: An update

So now that I've been in Zambia for 11 days, I'm long overdo another blog post. I will skip past talking about the Zambian Trade Fair we went to on our first day, or describing the house we're staying at as Leslie has already done both of these things here and here.

Instead, I will talk about work. While here, Leslie and I are working with several faculty members in the Department of Economics at the University of Zambia (UNZA). It seems like we will be working primarily on a costing study that IHME and UNZA are carrying out. We spent most of last week going through the absurdly long survey instrument (and learning a fair bit about the Zambian health care system and the challenges of writing an instrument that actually asks the questions you want to ask) and this week we are doing prep work for training the field staff who will conduct the survey. In a few days a coworker from IHME will be arriving and next week the training itself begins. Then onto the pilot, revising the instrument, and the main study itself. Costing is not my normal area of work at IHME, and while I don't think it will ever be my favorite topic this study is super interesting. I'm totally floored by the level of detail that we're looking for and the shear quantity of information that we will be collecting. Since I know essentially nothing at all about economics, I don't really know how this data will be analyzed but I think there are nearly endless possibilities in terms of different topics that could be pursued.

My favorite experience at work so far happened earlier this week. We had just obtained a list of the districts and health facilities that have been sampled and will be included in the main study and it was time to try and layout a rough plan for how the field work is going to happen. While Zambia is not a huge country it is by no means small, and apparently travel in certain parts of it is challenging and expensive. We were lacking a map, so one of the members on this research team hooked up his computer to a projector and found a map online. Another member of the research team then grabbed a stack of post-its and began marking the location of all of the districts. Then everyone stepped back and the Zambians in the room all groaned as they looked at some of the districts that had been selected. Evidently one of them is nearly impossible to get to, and several others are about as far away from Lusaka, where we are, as you can get. But we can't mess with our random sample! Instead we soldiered on and made highly sophisticated decisions based on the arrangement of post-its.

Outside of work Leslie and I have been a bit lonely; we don't know anyone in Lusaka and we've been warned not to go walking outside at night (ironically, this usually this takes the form of: "Zambia is really safe! Don't go out at night!!!!!). We're starting to make some friends, in some pretty funny ways, however. We usually use the same cab driver, Steve, to get to and from work. A few days ago he pulled up at our house with another person in the car heading to UNZA - this other person happens to be another American who is working at UNZA for a few months. We ended up having lunch with her and some of her coworkers a few days later and they happened to know of some of our coworkers from back in Seattle and vice versa (global health is a deceptively small world). Then last night, Steve came to take us home from work and delivered us a note: evidently he had been telling another American student working in Zambia for the summer about us and she decided to leave us her email address. We're going to try to meet up with her at some point too. I find this whole thing a bit amusing because at home I'm not much one for meeting people. But I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures, and I've actually found this quite fun.

Someday I will post more pictures. But first I will have to take them, so today is not that day.

The end!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Africa: getting there

I am officially in Zambia. It took from Thursday evening in Seattle to Saturday afternoon in Lusaka, via a car, four airplanes, and another car, but here I am. Leslie and I decided to take pictures of ourselves at each leg of the journey. Most of them are self-portraits, so you can't actually tell where we are and really the only difference is the level of tiredness increases throughout, but nonetheless, here is our journey:


We had some issues checking our bags: US Airlines was super confused about the fact that we were continuing on from Charlotte and DC to Ethiopia and then to Lusaka and it took several phone calls to figure out just how to have our bags do the same. My hopes of my bags arriving with us (or at all) dimmed somewhat at this point. Nonetheless, after saying goodbye to the bags (temporarily, I hoped) we made our way through security and to our gate with enough time to spare to have this picture taken and hang out for a bit before getting on our overnight flight to Charlotte. I have to say that this was my least favorite flight of the trip: I should have been able to sleep as it was nightime, Leslie and I had a row to ourselves, and I was up at 4am that day, but it just didn't happen and that was very frustrating.


This picture is us on the airplane we took from Charlotte to DC before we left. I had a bit of an adventure trying, unsuccessfully, to find a bagel at the Charlotte airport (which is massive). Other than that, this stage of our trip was uneventful and the flight to DC was nice and short.

Washington, DC!

In DC Leslie and I scouted for electrical outlets to recharge our laptops and nooks before getting on the insanely long flight to Seattle. That was really the only thing we did while we waited for the flight to Ethiopia.

The plane to Ethiopia was the nicest plane I've ever been on. Jeremy tells me that this particular plane could not have been more than about 7 months old and was possibly much newer. We photographed it extensively: the picture above is us on the plane before take of; this next one is of the headrests, which we were super-thrilled about (as evidenced by Leslie's expression);

this one is of a USB port and random button that we never ascertained the purpose of (so let me know if you know);

this one is of dinner. I've never been on a plane before that served a meal, so this part was kind of fun. The food was reminiscent of college, which is to say that it was certainly passable, but not wonderful. Having the food all in little containers on a tray reminded me of Mike was little and I would cook lunch for him and we'd pretend we were at a cafeteria (he actually called it 'cafaterlia style').

It's amazing just how long 12.75 hours is. I continued not being able to sleep very well, but I did manage to read two books, watch two movies, play angry birds, take the pictures above, and wander the cabin admiring people's cute children and reading over people's shoulders. It actually was kind of fun, but really, really, mind-numbingly long.


This picture is of us in the Addis Ababa airport. We ended up in this terminal for no more than 10 or 15 minutes, but I had to get a photo of my first non-American airport. I also managed to document Leslie's first step outside of a plane in Africa:

The plane we took to Harare and to Lusaka was considerably less nice. It also beeped. A lot. And both times we landed I honestly thought the entire thing was going to shake itself apart. I managed to actually sleep a little on this plane though, however, so that was good.


I've been informed that taking pictures in Zambian airports is a no-go, so this picture is again on the airplane. After this, took us about 9 million years to get through customs and then another 2 million years to figure out how to declare the 4 laptops we brought with us. Our bags did get there though: i have never been so happy to see my purple duffle bag coming towards me on the baggage carriage. When we finally got out, the two researchers from the University of Zambia we will be working with were waiting for us. Evidently they'd been waiting for awhile: there was a miscommunication between IHME and them and they were under the impression we were arriving at 9am, which is actually when our flight left for Lusaka. It was nearly 7 hours later when we actually arrived, so we very much appreciate their patience because we never would have found our way to where we're staying otherwise.

So far we've done very little in Zambia except a meager attempt at grocery shopping yesterday which will need to be repeated today (hint to future travelers: look up the exchange rate before going to the grocery store in a foreign country). Once we do something interesting, I will post again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

v. short interlude from packing

I'm packing for Africa right now. 6 weeks in Zambia + 2 weeks in South Africa + travel time = almost 2 full months away from Seattle. A preview of what (will hopefully) be extensively documented as it happens:

28 July: Leave Seattle
30 July: Arrive in Lusaka, Zambia
31 July - 9 September: Do my research abroad and practicum in Zambia
10 Sep: Fly to Johannesburg to meet Jeremy, and then on to Port Elizabeth
11-18 Sep: Various locations between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town
19-22 Sep: Cape Town
23 Sep: Leave South Africa
24 Sep: Arrive home (via home, actually, since I'm going through Chicago back on the way to Seattle)

Back to packing!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tasty Food

Jeremy's birthday is tomorrow and we had a birthday party for him last night. I made lots and lots and lots of food and I was very proud of how pretty it all looked, so Jeremy kindly photographed some (though sadly not all) of the food.

Here are the chocolate covered strawberries:

And the brownies with Andes' candies pieces:

And the toast with...

Spinach and artichoke dip...

and bruschetta.

(Not pictured but just as tasty: party meatballs; chocolate mousse; chips and guacamole; carrots and dip)

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I'm supposed to be writing a paper for school. Which is why i am blogging instead, because honestly, this requires so much less of a concentration commitment than a paper does.

Today started out sunny, a lovely reminder of the the few beautiful days we had earlier this week and a very welcome departure from the general horribleness of this part of the year. But now it's raining, and it's very, very windy. Jeremy is off doing interesting things, and the wind is making me paranoid, I keep hearing things in the apartment and thinking that people are breaking in. How did I ever live by myself?

It's going to be a busy few weeks; as soon as I'm done procrastinating in this way I am going to FORCE MYSELF to FOCUS on school work. It must get done this weekend so I can FOCUS this week on work so that I can FOCUS next weekend again on school work so I can FOCUS the week after that again on work. And then, hopefully, there will be a bit of a break. I remember being exceedingly busy during parts of college and I think I was better at it back then. Now there is a part of me that is always evaluating is it really worth it. I actually don't think this is a bad thing, at least not yet, as my natural inclination is to just take on whatever is thrown at me to prove that I can always do the hardest thing. I don't think I want that to be my whole life though, so maybe this is the start of me being better balanced. Or maybe I'm just growing lazy in my old age.

Tomorrow, having finished much of my school work for the weekend because of the amazing FOCUS that I'm about to engage in I'm baking cupcakes with my friend Megan. I'm looking forward to it: the last time I made cupcakes was in college in the middle of the night with Kristin, and it was a good time (we were very FOCUSED). I actually found one of the recipes that we used, I remember it being quite tasty, but it may have just been the lack of sleep or else the general jubilation at being done with my last major college requirement. But beyond the cupcake part of tomorrow, I like Megan and now that we don't share an office I don't see her very much anymore.

Okay. Back to work. For real this time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


[Disclaimer: I began writing this on New Year's. And then forgot to post it...]

Jeremy and I are in Illinois right now, visiting with my family for the end of the holidays. On Thursday my parents ditched us to go to my Dad's work Christmas party and Jeremy and I headed to downtown Naperville to walk around and enjoy the Christmas lights. It was dinner time and we ended up at a Mexican place that my parents used to force me to go to when I was a kid, back in the days when I didn't eat most foods and certainly didn't eat anything that might (possibly) be spicy.

While we were sitting and waiting for our (very tasty) meal, I asked him about his top five experiences in 2010, and he had me make my list as well. Not too surprisingly, our first two were the same:

1) Getting engaged - January 9

2) Getting married - September 11

It's a bit obvious to put these on our lists, but these were both great, great memories. Ones, in fact, that I've been intending to blog about (and still intend to at some point, mostly because I want to commit as much of those days to memory as possible). We also shared a third experience:

3) Kristin and Pat's wedding - July 31

It was really fun for me to be in their wedding and it was also the first of my friends to get married where I knew both partners really well as individuals instead of knowing one through the other. I also had a great time seeing Greenville again, meeting up with my favorite professor from college, and seeing all of my favorites from college (oh, Al, Amanda, Justine, Nicole, I miss you). It was also fun making the drive down to Greenville from Naperville with Jeremy (stopping to get a marriage license along the way) and making a stop at the lake on the way back before heading back to the airport.

After this our lists diverge. Jeremy had no trouble picking the next item on his list - flying with the blue angels (see here). He had, I think, a bit more trouble picking the last event, since he had a pretty awesome year and did many a crazy aviation related thing, but finally settled on the delivery flight that he took with Air New Zealand a few weeks ago (and here).

I chose a hike that Jeremy and I took to add to my list -- this hike was beautiful and a bit more challenging that what we usually attempt, so I felt really hardcore afterward. It also was a hike that we very briefly and unsuccessfully attempted in 2009, so it was nice to go back and correct that failure.

I had a hard time coming up with a fifth event. I think this is because of a central problem posed by 2010: with the (very, very large) exception of all things wedding-related, I didn't really do much in 2010 except work and school. It made me a bit sad, really, to think about how little else that I did, and one of my goals for this next year is to get out a bit more, and not be so overwhelmed by school and work. I finally settled on having my dad visit in February of last year. It was fun to show him around the city and, in a notable departure from normal, it was a beautiful few days.

If I can manage, wedding related blog posts to soon follow. I realize I'm super behind on this, but hey, no one has to read it if they don't want to.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I love my job. I feel the need to start with that, and to let it be known that I am fully aware of how blessed I am in my work and (particularly) in my coworkers.

In the past month or so I feel that I've regained the joy in my work that I had during my first months (excepting, of course, the ridiculous first few weeks). I had let go of a lot of this joy and excitement about the things I get to do, the things I get to spend time thinking about, in the anxiety and pressure of helping to publish two papers, of numerous speedy revisions on these papers, staying up all night attempting to code things I don't fully understand, finding errors several weeks later in completely different places, and having to stay up all night again in an attempt to fix them. But mostly, in the constant worry that something else would go wrong, already had gone wrong. And in a sense this was all pretty ridiculous, the level of anxiety I allowed myself to get worked up too, but at the same time it was not all crazy, because in the present the quality of my work makes a difference to the people who I work with and in the future it is possible that the outcomes of my work may be put to other uses. Nonetheless, I very much want to be able to handle the stress better; not just for myself, but because I know that I let my anxiety and worry bleed out into those around me, the people I work with, my friends, Jeremy.

Over the past month I started working on a new project; I love working on this project. I'm more than a small bit worried that at the end of it we won't be able to accomplish what we would like, but I think the topic is interesting, the methods are interesting, the data are interesting. I'm working with someone I've not worked with before, which is nice as well, another person to learn from. The work is also a lot more focused than the work I've done in the past--a single country, rather than all countries--which I ultimately prefer because for me, at least, it means a deeper understanding of what the numbers actually mean and working, albeit distantly, with people who have a personal connection to the estimates.

I'm nonetheless having trouble getting over the shear volume of things that I Do Not Know. It's utterly frustrating; I hate having to ask for people to explain things multiple times (though am blessed with working with people who are almost universally graceful in this respect), I hate admitting to not knowing things that I, at least in theory, could already know, and I hate not knowing how to go about getting to a place of better understanding. I constantly want to explain to people that I really do know and --more importantly to me at the moment--understand a lot of things: I can tell you many things about organic chemistry, for example, or genetics, or physics. I'm confident in my ability to teach these things as well, which is something that I, legitimately or not, take some measure of pride in. But these things are not at the moment particularly useful, and that's okay, I just would like to be at the same place with the things that would be useful. This is all, of course, a testament to the extent to which I define myself and my value to others by my abilities; this is probably appropriate in a work setting, but I've never been great at separating my work from the rest of my life.

And today, despite being a day of again getting to work on a project I enjoy, was ultimately frustrating because I don't fully understand the things I would like to fully understand. This frustration was severely compounded by being switched back to a project that I not only feel much less equipped to accomplish well but also am far less enthused by. And frustration with myself, additionally, for letting my frustration be so apparent to my co-workers that it's now a burden on them as well. I must, must, learn how to keep these things to myself or at least to the people who I am legitimately close enough to--so basically Jeremy and a few friends--that I can reasonably expect them to share this with me. I feel moderately hypocritical saying that in this type of venue, but I think I can reasonably expect that it's really only those people who read this blog in any case. And perhaps even not them, given my extreme infrequency in posting.

All this to say: I am done, insofar as I am able, unnecessarily complaining. I am done, again as far as I am able, letting my frustration get the best of me, and particularly letting my frustration affect others. I am trying, as much as I can--and in all honesty this really isn't hard to do as long as I'm the least bit intentional because I am so blessed--to remember how privileged I am in my work and the people around me in all areas of my life. And I am writing this down so that when I forget all of this, which will almost certainly happen, I will see it and be reminded.

the end.