My posts ended abruptly. Anyone who reads this probably knows me, but just in case: I’m back in the US. An emergency repatriation flight for the US suddenly arose in April (I mean less than a week between notification and takeoff), and I took to to make sure I would be back in the US by my wedding (which is this Saturday). It turned out to be a good call, as commercial flights only recently resumed on a limited basis.
I’ve been asked a few things about the flight, so here’s how it went.
We got a call from the embassy about a flight, then an email asking for the identification details. Usually the embassy does a BCC, but they forgot this time (probably in the chaos of arranging the flight– the representative confided to me that the airline was asking unreasonable luggage limits and they were negotiating). OF COURSE someone hit “reply all” with his sensitive information. I hope he’s doing ok.
Since I had been hoping for this option, I had already mostly wrapped things up with the bank. I did have to leave most of my things, unfortunately, since we only had an allowance 2 suitcases with strict 25 kg limits. I abandoned the deposit for the apartment and the company payed my final bills and disconnected everything using that money. There were so many repairs required on that apartment that I had never had time to bug them about…. anyway, I don’t regret leaving that. I did not have time to wrestle my social security money back from the government, a process that requires at least a month, so that’s probably lost. I am not upset over this because I never counted on being able to recover it.
The cost of the flight was about $1800, double the normal cost (it’s a charter flight).
Abidjan had a mandatory mask policy at the time (they still do). and yet several airport staff did not wear them. The embassy led the show on the way out, and had us organized neatly, socially distanced. Two couples had dogs. One was a little tiny dog with bulging eyes which must have been drugged out of its tiny brain, since the eyes were not quite pointing in the same directing. Very much like a pixar character.
Apparently you cannot take small electronics repair screwdriver sets in carry-on luggage. I am sad to have lost that. They also took my water, and COME ON we’re the only ones on the flight and our passports have been verified multiple times by this point.
Anyway, there was no takeoff time. Everyone came early, so we left early. The small connection plane was packed, although by some miracle there was an empty seat next to me. I kept my FFP2 mask on (saved from the day they were handed out at IUGB) and passed on the chicken sandwich. We had a stopover in Togo, where they supposedly required gloves (only a handful of us wore them, though). Social distancing went completely out the door as we stood in line to get our boarding pass. The white couple behind me in line were coming from Mali, where apparently no measures were adhered to.
Again, we got on the next plane immediately. There were no movies or even power in the seats, but they did feed us. Most people slept. I was impressed at everyone, even the children, wore masks most of the time. There was one family up at the front whose children were loud several times, once in the middle of the night banging on the wall with an empty cup. In the loudest way possible. The children to my left were silent. This flight was not full, although there were not that many gaps. I had an empty seat next to me once again.
It’s a long flight without movies, but we landed in Dulles without incident, and then I self-quarantined in my parent’s trailer with my kitty for two weeks, finishing classes remotely. Frankly, it was easier than being in Bassam since the internet was consistent.
Anyway, there you have it. I’m not sure what comes next. I’m almost finished job interviews for a couple of jobs (and receipt of multiple rejection emails). I would love to go work outside the contiguous US again some day, but that is not to be for now. This blog will continue, since the US is not excluded from “world.” We’ll see what happens.
As I wrap up, a quick note on this coronavirus: you’re seeing the scientific process happen in real time. This is normal. We take previous knowledge on respiratory viruses and say, “we think that sanitizing surfaces will help reduce spread, so everyone wearing masks will probably be harmful because nobody has the training to wear it correctly without touching it.” Time passes, we objectively count cases in mask-wearers vs non-mask wearers and take virus samples on surfaces and in exhalations or droplets generated by speech, and we realize that it spreads much more by droplets than by surfaces. So the guidelines change with this new knowledge. They were wrong the first time, yes, but given the information we had it was just bad luck that this virus behaves differently.
Same thing with treatments and other guidelines– we’re making systematic observations and comparing outcomes in condition 1 vs condition 2. We’re finding the virus behaves like we expect in some ways, and not in others. Sometimes a study comes out with an observation, but 5 other studies find the opposite. There was another factor throwing off the results of the first study, then. This is the process of science.
Another note: scientists are trained to be skeptical and ask for proof and be critical of evidence. We have meetings which consist of an hour of completely tearing apart studies, finding all the flaws. Rival groups can be terribly bitter. Reviewer Number 3 is a meme for a reason.
Also, scientists are trained to listen to evidence even if their hypothesis is wrong. I’ve seen people in labs get upset and angry when the data disprove their pet theories, but they publish it anyway, not altering data. Sometimes with thinly veiled bitterness. Everyone is subject to unconscious bias, but the Scientific Method is designed to prevent that from influencing results by stating what you’re going to measure and how, what you’ll see if you’re right, and what you’ll see if you’re wrong. It’s not perfect and there are a lot of times the data is spun consciously or unconsciously, but usually someone reading the paper can draw their own unbiased conclusions. Sometimes scientists do make up data. It’s not a perfect system. That seems to be the minority. When they’re caught they can lose careers. Some branches of science have an issue that someone reaches a conclusion, and everyone builds on that without confirming it, but biological sciences tend to require re-confirming discoveries and proving things multiple ways, which helps catch chance weirdness. For example, when I studied a protein I needed to confirm my studies in multiple cell types. If we had mice I would have needed in vivo studies.
TL;DR: It’s very rare that most scientists go along with a theory because one person or even the majority say so; they usually require hard evidence that has held true over and over again. They also love to prove each other wrong and find flaws in rival’s works.
Here is my suggestion for you: Try to avoid news media. Hit up Science, Nature, The Scientist, NEJM, WHO, John’s Hopkins, Sawbones podcast, This Week in Virology, Science vs, and others like these for news. That way, you won’t be hit with so many appeals to emotion or made to feel afraid or hopeless. This pandemic could have been a lot worse. Science organizations are taking measures to eliminate policies facilitating inequality. There is hope and knowledge, and more of it each day, but the news isn’t really helping you see that.