Internet Problems and Afrikland Hotel

Monday, April 23

AN: Maybe I should print the exam. It’s not until Thursday, but…

Me: You never know, here. You’d better.

On the one hand, it’s nice to be right. On the other….

Continue reading Internet Problems and Afrikland Hotel


Languages, juju curses

I hope you all had a blessed Easter.
We had a nice, quiet lunch.


So after the last post about the Malian people coming in and farming the forests….

There’s a woman who sells roasted peanuts on the corner of the university. I don’t know where she gets her energy. Every day I pass her, I’m greeted with, “Eeeeeehhh, camarade!” and given what I like to think of as the secret handshake (slide your palms together followed by a fistbump, then touch the fist to your heart. She takes such delight in teaching me things, such as schooling me on African French. She’ll speak to me (usually too quickly) the same phrases over and over, each day, until I start repeating them back to her. She asks me questions that she obviously doesn’t care about the answer.

Me: Je suis ici lundi.
Her: Eh? *confused look*
Me: Lundi?
Me: En deux jours?
Her: *face lights up* Aaaah, Lehn-di! Lehn-di!

It’s obvious French is not her native language, because sometimes here friends are there and they understand me.  (Maybe that’s why she’s so excited to teach me French? And is actually fairly good at it?)

Turns out, she’s from the Bambara people, which probably means she’s Malian. …so now I’m probably going to learn Bambara, too.

Other very common words/phrases (excuse the lack of appropriate accents):
On dit quoi? – What’s up?
Vas á oú? – Where are you going?
‘Ya monné? – Do you have change?
Faut monté – Said by taxi drivers when they accept your conditions (destination, change availability, etc)
Faut….- You have to…. Nobody says the “il” in “il faut”.
Bic – Pen
Yah koh! – I’m sorry; an expression of sympathy and encouragement.
C’est ca – That’s right, that’s it
Pas de problem – No problem
Ca c’est combien? – How much is that? This is the grammar used here. None of the stuff you learn in an actual French class.
On peut…. – Can I…./ is it possible to… I tried the “Puis-je….” suggested by Google translate when I first arrived, and nobody understood what I meant.
Pallu – Short for palludisme, or malaria. Small change, but it threw me when I went to the pharmacy.

Continue reading Languages, juju curses

Course maximums and registration deadlines are for sissies.

Last week was week two, and my classes were both at the maximum of 15 studies. I assumed that was it, assigned work, sorted students into groups for their research assignments.

You know what they say about the word assume.


Meanwhile, did I mention our microbiology supplies have come? It’s always like Christmas when supplies come. Here, it’s a Christmas miracle.


Me: Really, we should keep bases and acids separate. So they don’t fall over on each other and blow up the building.
Tech: We need more space.
Me: Yes.
Tech: And the bottles are not good, so the chemicals are evaporating. That’s why I keep the window open.
Me: …Wait, what?

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?

Lebanese Food, Moving, etc.

We went into Abidjan for haircuts, shopping, and birthday lunch. It was particularly interesting.

We got off the bus at the typical Total station (gas station).
“Go over to the road,” LM said. “There’s a taxi that MM wants that looks clean.”
We approach the taxi as the driver sticks a little glass bottle with a green liquid up his nose. By the time I had gathered my thoughts enough to comment, we had negotiated the fare and were getting in. I figured that if they didn’t protest, then maybe it was medication?

But let’s face it: medication is rarely colored neon green.

Continue reading Lebanese Food, Moving, etc.