Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wondering where I am?

Maybe that's a bit self centered :) Maybe you're not wondering at all and figured I've been working away interviewing ankle biters (children that is, not mosquitoes or black flies) and having meetings in excruciating heat in tukuls. Though generally true, not the case lately! I've only had limited access to the internet for the past couple weeks, so here's a general life update and I'll get back to the more well thought out posting a bit later. I'm working on a baseline survey on children's health and nutrition status and knowledge and after recalculating the sampling frame at least a million times we've finally got everything going and we had the training and got the sampling started. I was nominated to be the one to prick their fingers and take blood samples to test them for anemia. Given that a lot of little kids in very rural towns already cry and run away when they see me, going after them with a needle and a wacky machine that checks their blood didn't exactly help matters. But, after months and months of pricking my own finger to teach people how to check their blood sugar and doing diabetes education I was quite the pro and only one girl cried so hard I couldn't prick her finger at all :) We're sampling children in primary 3 and 4, but because of movement and conflict and not attending school at regular intervals among other things, the kids in primary 3 and 4 range from about 8 or 9 up to 16. And the interesting thing is that those are only guesses because none of the kids know approximately how old they are, let alone their exact birthday. Plus many of them are malnourished which leads to stunting and delayed puberty so even estimating their ages is hard. So with interviews, physical exams and sample collection we've gotten through three full schools and still have quite a ways to go.

Last Friday morning we left before the sun rose to drive from Mvolo to Juba which is about 8 hours by car. Most of the time is because the roads are absolutely horrendous despite attempts to keep them maintained and avoiding the potholes is quite the task. On top of that we had a full car with one person coming down with malaria and another throwing up every 30 minutes with car sickness. Not a trip I'd like to repeat! I then spent the weekend in Juba which was quite fun since there is another intern (Arpan) based there. She was in Juba for about a year in 2005(?) so she gave me a grand tour and also knows many people still living here so I finally got a look at what the ex-pat scene is like as well as what's outside Hai Malakal (the area of Juba where we're based). I spent Sunday at the USAID complex (where there's a swimming pool!) talking to ex-pats and hanging out and meeting people which was a lot of fun. Hearing the stories of everyone working for different NGOs and UN agencies was fascinating, as was hearing the perspectives of the newly arrived versus those who had been here for years.

Then on Monday almost everyone in the agency headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a retreat. We stayed at ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) which was nice and not filled with animals like I imagined :) The retreat sessions were a bit like a recap of many of the classes I've taken at school, so it's good to know I'm learning the right stuff, plus it's amazing seeing everything that goes into supporting the people who are in the field implementing programs. Judy and I (another intern from Columbia, based in Pagak) got out to explore the city a bit which was exciting, Addis is a pretty cool and I'd definitely like to go back. And of course the food was amazing, everyone was surprised that I'd had Ethiopian food in the states, but the funniest thing of all is that when Judy and I were at Emory together we actually used to go out for Ethiopian together. Small world. I have some great pictures and photos of traditional Ethiopian dancing which is like nothing I've ever seen. I'll get them uploaded soon! We flew from Addis to Juba on Friday, but unfortunately I was the only American left in the office because a number of people are off at meetings or on leave. Arpan and I headed out to a local place called Bedouin Bar where there was a big barbecue and american music and a bit of dancing. They were projecting American movies without sound and somehow the ones they chose to best represent America were Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and Pulp Fiction. It was definitely a fun 4th although I was quickly reprimanded when I suggested trying to make our own fireworks (people said that everyone would think it was fighting. i was only kidding anyhow!). But it was lots of fun. I realized that this was my 4th July 4th that I've spent out of the country. I was arriving in Paraguay, picnicking and water fighting in the Dominican Republic, summiting Mt Kilimanjaro and now traveling around East Africa and hearing stories about life in South Sudan from veterans of hardship posts around the world. But I must say, there's nothing like watching fireworks in the states, maybe next year :)

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