Saved by varying standards for indecency

A while ago, my Chinese neighbor, a young woman, had come over to get water. It was halfway through filling up the tank that I realized I was rather underdressed. This was fairly embarrassing.

Another story has come to light that makes it far less so.

They are part of a gaggle of Chinese who live in this apartment building. The main gathering place seems to be a two-bedroom one floor down. Our apartment complex consists of two buildings, more or less facing each other. A new colleague moved into the other building a couple months ago. This means that her balcony faces the balcony of the Chinese. Ok, you’re caught up.

She told me this week that she had her parents over and they were sitting on the balcony. Suddenly, one of the Chinese men walks out, stark naked.

“Fortunately, my Dad doesn’t see too well.”



This is super-late, but I just got my camera back today. It took me a week to even notice it was missing, that’s how busy it’s been.

Back in the holiday day, we went to Assinie-Mafia, better known by me as “you should go there” or “you should take your parents there.” It’s an hour drive from Bassam, on the border of Ghana.

Continue reading Assinie


I had mentioned that the university lost several people recently. Yesterday, they sent two buses of faculty, staff, and students to the funeral of the beloved supervisor/driver. (I knew him has “I wish he had picked you up form the airport.”) This man had had a heart attack before, and so the suspicion was that it was his heart again. He did not take care of himself, and screening is not as rigorous here as the US. He was in his 50’s and left behind 4 or 5 kids. Take your dang medications, people.

Continue reading Funerals

Institut Pasteur and Misc School things

Forgive me. It’s been an insanely busy semester, and 90% of my energy is spent either fielding complaints from students who want points for plagiarized labs or labs they didn’t turn in or figuring out how to do things like arrange field trips, then dealing with criticism of faculty members who suddenly know exactly what needs to be done by yesterday….. and then are wrong. Nobody appreciates being laughed at when she’s been doing her best for many weeks, asking for advice, with 3 other major projects to do besides class, and you have been silent.

There have also been several deaths at the university or connected to the university. There have been more outside the university. Only one of those that I know of was elderly. The rest…. one heart problem, others unknown.


A while ago, we went to the Institut Pasteur for a field trip. I won’t complain about the mixup in start times any more. Hopefully one day the tech who plans things will learn to communicate.

Perhaps I won’t have the students write a paragraph on what they expect to see anymore, because many were disappointed. The CDC it is not.
Continue reading Institut Pasteur and Misc School things

Happy Halloween? Abissa? All Saint’s Day?

Yesterday was the start of mid-semester break. Tomorrow is a holiday. Friday is a field trip. So, time to maybe catch up on work? I’m happy to be able to serve the university in something other than tormenting biology students, but can we please find a middle ground? Oh, and it’s also Abissa, that week were everyone forgives everyone for their past wrongdoings. Lots of parties and drinking and happy people.

Oh here’s a story: We don’t yet have transportation for Friday. Continue reading Happy Halloween? Abissa? All Saint’s Day?

Just Life

You’ll have to forgive me. It’s a crazy semester.

Water: Last Tuesday, we finally bought a pump. It’s not the pump recommended by anybody but the vendor, but the vendor is Lebanese. The locals tell me Lebanese are fairly reliable. And, it was– wait for it– on sale. A sale?!

I told you about the previous haggling experience? How they asked for 100,000 when I was told to pay 50,000 (“Oh no, they won’t try to raise the price for you!”) and when I walked away they literally ran to the road with the pump in a bag to sell it for 50,000. Well, consider that next time someone walks into your shop who is in no mood to mess around.

Anyway, this was the middle-of-the-road pump, from China (Ingco Tools brand). More expensive, but we were out of options. We got the pump, and called their plumber, who surprise surprise wasn’t available. Fortunately, LM had mentioned a plumber who was condescending but competent (sounds good to me!), and that person was able to install it that day without problem. Well, he did need to get a $50 electrical cable (30,000 CFA), because nothing is ever without problem entirely. The whole process was from 8:30 AM ish to 4:30 PM.

Now I have had water nearly a week, and today marks the first day it’s not a weird beige color smelling of grease. Should I mention that it’s revealed a leaky toilet, so I have to turn off the water whenever I don’t use it? I don’t want to be too  negative, but I want to give you an accurate window into life here. This is not a big deal.


Speaking of. I’m a little superstitious, believing somewhat that if I say something good will happen, it won’t. Expect the worst, hope for the best, don’t jinx it, etc. It’s a little sad, but it works, because you’re always prepared. So once and a while we’ll be planning something, and she’ll state the (unlikely) best-case scenario (“We should be back by 2 PM”) and I’ll state the (likely) worst-case scenario (“So plan for 6 PM, then”). Seems sensible to me. It goes the other way, too– sometimes she points out the worst-case scenario (“We have to proofread it, because he writes too informally”).
But, I’ve noticed that sometimes it bothers her. Definitely there are many other folks here that dismiss the worst-case scenario outright. Then last week, she said, “Don’t proclaim it.”
“Proclaim it?”
“You know, calling things into existence.”
Is that it? Is that what the problem is? It’s a bit “prosperity gospel,” which is very much prevalent here. I wonder if that’s a cultural or religious thing, or both? How prevalent is this “if you say it, it will happen” mentality? I’ll be keeping my ears open from now on, and be more careful about what I say amongst the Ivoiriennes (expats seem to have no problem with this and talk much like I do).


In other news, my potential collaborator at the university has disappeared from the face of the Earth (more or less). It’s a weird story that I won’t go in to here because I don’t have enough information. The official reason for his disappearance was that his contract wasn’t signed, but that’s not a big deal here and he should know it. He also just left his students hanging, not showing up to class, and didn’t consult with the Dean at all, and none of these things seem to fit his character. We’re not really sure what the truth is at this point.


It’s been so busy this semester I haven’t had the brain space to really pursue my less responsible students and to agonize over who deserves the grade their getting. That may be a good thing, because they’ll be getting the grade they deserve and hopefully get a wake-up call.
The bio 1 class is the worst– they are constantly asking questions during the lab (and when they aren’t I let myself be sucked into important but distracting conversations with the Nigerian professor, who is new to teaching), and then they flee the class before I talk to the students I need to talk to. The result is that we’re halfway through the semester and two students don’t have a group for their research project, but I need to talk to them together. And most of the class can’t access Turnitin to submit their papers, and they don’t wait around or come to my office to figure out how to do it. They’ll just have to take responsibility or fail the lab, because I can’t keep up!
I guess I can expect each semester to bring different students? This semester, my students are (as far as I can tell) honest, but they are terrible at critical thinking. Even taking a question they had no problem with on the quiz and simply paraphrasing the answers threw a good portion of them for a loop.
They’re also pretty apathetic towards biology. Usually there are a few interested students, but even the students who were interested in Bio 1 have lost steam. Is it because I haven’t been able to put as much time into preparing for class? Hm.

As a side note, I’m appalled at how little detail we’re able to cover in this college-level class, and the Nigerian prof is appalled at how much detail there is! Even though she has a doctorate in environmental science, her education in biology is minimal. She’s confessed that genetics seems like magic to her.
“You don’t really believe that humans evolved from monkeys, do you?”
*Feeling the floor has dropped out from under me* “Uh, well, no, but that’s because I’m Christian, ok? It makes sense.”
This is my biggest weakness as a professor here– It’s hard to relate to my students. To me, I can’t even imagine how anyone could dismiss evolution, because it’s so obvious. We use the theory every time we use genetics– to find the best model organism, to hypothesize whether humans will react the same as our mice/yeast, to find drug targets, to estimate toxicity, to design drugs, to design pesticides, to understand why we don’t die from antibiotics and pesticides…. it works. You’re not doing anyone any favors by saying it’s ridiculous. But I’ve spoken enough about this before, and time to move on here!


Have you ever considered how weird physical pain is? It’s just a bunch of nerve firings, and yet there is nothing that will make you more miserable. The fear of it will take over your mind, and going through it only makes you obsess over it more, fearing that it will happen again. The threat of experiencing pain has been with me the past couple of weeks. One of those pains I avoided, the other is a dental issue that may still become reality. Maybe I’ll tell the story later, when it’s settled. It’s just nerve firings, brain, stop.

Share data? Why do that?

There is a group of Chinese men that lives in my apartment building*. They are loud and I get the impression there are a bunch of them crammed into one apartment (judging by the noise level and the number of shoes outside the door). They stare at me ambiguously when I happen to pass them coming in/out. However, often when I come home in the evening, the entire apartment building smells like a Chinese restaurant. Two thumbs up.

Continue reading Share data? Why do that?


Yesterday a recent graduate and I had an interesting conversation.

This guy is currently working in the IT department– not because it’s his specialty, but because he wanted a job until he got something in his field (political science). He’s also the best at getting tech fixed so we’ve all gotten his number and go to him with problems.

Continue reading Poverty

Small things

It’s really the little things. Small victories like getting your water deposit reimbursement by yourself (ok, so the guard had to go make copies of my passport, but at least I didn’t have to drag AN there?). The gecko that fell off the ceiling when you slammed the door. Someone who responds quickly to an email.  A taxi driver who doesn’t overcharge.

It is the best thing that there are now three of us who travel to the agent to pay rent.

The gentleman at the agency who has helped us all move into new apartments, Jacky, is amazing. The other couple needed a bill for rent; their building’s guardian had given them the wrong bill (probably either because he cannot read or because he has trouble telling white people apart*).  We got there during the lunch hour (12:30-2), with 15 minutes until 2. Normally, we’d be lucky if anyone came at 2:15; Jacky saw us at 10 of and took us right in to his office to fix the bill problem.

Let me repeat that: Ten minutes early.

He even asked me if I had finished the rest of the documents with the old apartment.

Continue reading Small things