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!