Saturday, November 18, 2006

More busy weekends!

The weekend of Veteran's Day, my high school friend Clay visited from DC. We hung out with some of his friends in Atlanta, went to the Georgia Aquarium (home to 4 young nurse sharks and 5 beluga whales), and went hiking.

The leaves were in the middle of changing colors - this is at the Centennial Olympic Plaza across the road from the aquarium.
Holding up boulders by the Chatahoochie River

The week of November 13-17 was the EIS fall course. We all had to give a presentation on a research project (I presented my Niger work), which was actually more fun than advertised, and had some instruction on scientific writing and forensic epidemiology. It was so much fun to see classmates again, as everyone was back from all the places they had dispersed to. Once again, there was something social every night.

On Friday, my classmate Jim held a "leather" party, which was much fun! I had a lot of fun breaking out the black leather pants. Here are Jim and I in our leather (yes, further confirmation than I am really short).

This is my friend Meredith- she finished the EIS last year in the immunization branch, and joined the malaria branch when I did. She's like my big sister and her office is one door down from mine. She is absolutely wonderful!!
Shua is one of my EIS classmates (based in DC) - so much fun to see him again!
EIS gals

This is Jamie - he just finished the EIS in the malaria branch (2 years ahead of me) - he's now a malaria liaison in DC. I miss him, so it was nice to have him in town! Yeah, he's really tall!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

November 8

After two weekends of traveling, I'm back in Atlanta for a couple weeks. I went to Nashville the last weekend of October and got to catch up with some fun folks, and meet others. One of my favorite Vanderbilt residents just had a son, so I went over to meet him - what a handsome little guy! Driving through the mountains between Nashville and Chattanooga with all the leaves changing was just glorious! No pictures though - a little hard careening around mountain passes with a camera in one hand. :)

When I got back to Atlanta, I had a little pumpkin carving party. The EIS officcer in the parasites branch has two adorable little boys, and one of the pumpkins was almost as big as them!
This past weekend, I was in Kansas City for my roommate from medical school's wedding. Since I got in on Friday, I got to help decorate for the reception. The flowers were beautiful! That's me clowning around with the rose in my teeth. :)
The groom (Shawn) and the groom's cake (with the cake's baker) - no, that's not a cooler full of beer on the table next to the wedding cake - that's a cake! It's all cake, icing, and candy. Even the labels are edible. Amazing what can be done with fondant!!!
Medical school roomies - Hilary Ann, Yen-Lin, and I all lived in a 400 sq foot dorm suite for two years - and we're still friends!! Hilary Ann was absolutely lovely! She is now an emergency room physician, and Yen-Lin is a pediatric radiation oncologist in Boston.The Sunday morning brunch - left to right - me, Yen-Lin, her husband Dai, Shawn, Hilary Ann, and Hilary Ann's mom.

Next up: visiting with a good friend from high school this weekend, the fall EIS course next week, BOTC the weekend after.... oh, and I have to figure out what I'm doing for Thanksgiving!! I'm really looking forward to seeing all the EIS officers who have been dispersed around the country back in town again. There should be more fun party pics. :)

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Ah - settling back in Atlanta. When I arrived back from Niger, I had two weeks until pediatric boards, so I didn't do a lot of socializing. I did get to connect with Sarah, an awesome woman I met in Niger. We were on the same plane home, and talked for hours over our pain chocolat and cafe au lait. In the words of Anne of Green Gables, she's a kindred spirit! She was in Atlanta for a conference, so we went out for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant.
I spent most evenings at Starbucks with my friend Deidre, as EIS officer a year ahead of me, who was in the pediatrics class I started with at Vanderbilt. She didn't get to take boards last year because she was deployed to Katrina. So nice to have a study buddy!

Peds boards were Oct 23-24. I didn't realize how many former Vandy peds residents would come down from Nashville for boards - here's the crew! It was a fun reunion. There's one notably young resident. Andrew (the one guy in the picture) was a med/peds resident with me, and his wife Deb and son Henry came down with him. (And yes, the relative risk for being blonde if you do a peds residency at Vanderbilt is quite statistically significant!)
The peds boards were 2 days - 4 three hour sections, each with a 150 question book - yes, still on paper, and grueling! I ended up finishing most of the sections with some time to spare, so I would run up stairs and hang out with Deb and Henry.
Me and Henry - the world's most irresistible almost three year old!

Samir and Vidhya put on a post boards dinner that night, invited a great assortment of classmates (many with kids), and then announced that they are expecting, too! So there was much celebrating, and much passing babies around! For those celebrating by imbibing, the rule was "baby before beer". (Although someone pointed out that in the beginning, it's often beer before baby.)
Tommy (the baby in this picture) had just started eating a paper plate. Tommy's dad had just taken Infectious Disease boards. (but that's Samir holding him)

Christine and baby Gia

Kate and Tommy

Disclaimer: None of the said babies belong to those pictured with them. :)
Gosh, you'd think no one ever feeds Tommy!
I had another great treat the next day when my friend Richie, also in my med/peds class at Vanderbilt drove through with his 6 month old son Richie Jr., his beautiful wife Rosmira, and her parents, on their way to visit his parents in Florida. What a gorgeous little boy - so serious! (Actually, he mostly slept.)

Richie, Rosmira, Richie Jr., and Rosmira's parents

What's next? Visiting Nashville this weekend, going to my medical school roommate's wedding the weekend after that, having a highschool friend visit the weekend after that, BOTC the weekend after that... and trying to get Niger data analyzed, the protocol for my next project sent off for IRB approval, several writing projects and presentations done....but at least I no longer have to study 5 hours a night!!!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The End!!!

After our grueling trip back from Timia to Arlit and then Agadez, we had another grueling drive from Agadez back to Niamey. These pictures were taken on a break at a gas station in Tahoua, where I drank two bottles of coke.
Moussa is utterly spent.

All the guys resting on their prayer mats
And the girls look just exhausted!

Back in Niamey, I had a couple days to get my visa extended (which was pretty easy) and to work with Etienne to get all the data downloaded from the PDAs (which was very hard). A dear friend of my family, Rev. Scott Clark, was in Niamey for a conference on using Arabic script to write local languages, so we visited the national museum to see if he could find any examples there. We didn't, but were directed to a research institute dedicated to studying and preserving them, which was fascinating.
The National Museum was fairly impressive. There are both pavilions and artifacts, and a fairly decent little zoo.
Beautiful water birds....
And a hippo waiting for his pool to fill back up

One of the dinosaur fossils - they have some pretty amazing skeletons in their collection!

This poor thing is the remains of the most famous landmark in Niger, the arbre du Tenere, or Tenere tree. At one point it lived in the desert and was the only landmark in the vast Tenere desert between the Air Mountains and the oasis of Fachi on the 600 km long camel caravan route. In 1973, a Libyan truck driver backed into it, and it has lived it the National Museum ever since.

Night in Tima and leaving the mountains

I had promised the teams a sheep (the favorite meat) to celebrate when they finished the survey, and they held me to it. Only problem is that sheep are pricey in Timia! I shelled out 80 bucks for a sheep, which they decided to have roasted. I was a little apprehensive (fortunately I never had to see the sheep in one piece), but it was delicious! With all the teams, drivers, and military, there were 22 of us, so the meat was divided into platters that we all sat around.

Pouring tea - love that stuff! And loved watching him make it.Our platter of sheep :)
In hierarchical Nigerien society, the drivers and the military were sat down together, so I decided to turn the hierarchy on its head and sit with them. Gotta love all of us with our bottles of Coke beside our now empty platter - we made short work of it!

I did pay a visit to the gals.

Bed time - there weren't mattresses, so the girls just put a mat and a blanket on the ground and all piled on. Timia was the first time I was cold. I looked down at the thermometer in the cold early morning and it was down to a bone chilling 78 degrees. Oh well - I was still happy I had brought a jacket, and glad to crowd under a blanket! The climate is much milder in the mountains than the surrounding desert.
Peole started getting up at 4:30 the next morning, and we were on the road by 6 am. It took us eight hours to drive the 130 miles back to Arlit - you'll see why.
At one stop, I had a chance to jump in back with the military guys for a picture. The guy who took it cropped our heads, but I just love it. The two I'm sitting between are Akadam Bougnasse and Damotane Adebamba (he's the one who was always making the tea).
Apparently, when it rains in the desert, the fine sand turns into the worst mud imaginable!
Our vehicles made it through this OK, but then ran into trouble....
Our land cruiser was the one that kept getting stuck and having to be pulled out.... (note the window replaced with wood - that's the one that got caught in the riot in Niamey and had a window knocked out)
but at one point 3 of the 4 vehicles were stuck and the fourth had a flat. Idrissa managed to get us all unstuck and back on the road, but it took a lot of team work.
Moussa and Sanouna with their pant legs rolled up.

Timia 2

Timia is known around Niger as a mountain oasis that is an incredible fruit producer, so we took a tour of one of the orchards. Most of them are a thin irrigated strip between the mountains and the sand, but are incrediblly luxurious - grapes, date palms, apples, oranges, pomegranates, mandarins, grape fruit, all practically on top of each other, and trees just weighed down with fruit. I have never seen anything like it! I bought a sack of grapefruit and a sack of pomegranates.


As Timia sees its fair share of tourists, a couple small hotels have sprung up, and one has a pair of ostriches, some Barbary sheep, and several Dorcas gazelles. As large animals in Niger have been hunted almost to extinction, it was a treat to see them, and these folks are trying in their limited way to guard their existence. The animals have fairly large enclosures and looked healthy and well cared for.

Me trying to convince a rambunctious little Dorcas gazelle to hold still for a picture.

They are absolutely precious!

When the sun set, we climbed to the top of the hill to the fort with a guide, who showed us around the inside of the fort and explained its history. Here are some of the orchards, seen from the top.

Here is the village of Timia, illustrating that it is just a thin strip along the edge of a sandy mountain valley, with surrising lushness. In the foreground are the pits out of which the mud for the houses was dug - they now fill with water for livestock.

The guide on the left on one of our military escort on the right on the fort's balcony. Yes, I am small and stout next to Tuareg! The military guy's name is Akadam Bougnasse, apparently a classic Tuareg name, and he's got to be at least 6'6". He had such striking facial features that I had trouble tearing my eyes away from his face on occasion. I never got a picture of him smiling, but he had a great smile. That afternoon he accompanied me and Idrissa everywhere we went, enjoying the sight seeing, but always alert and clearly on duty. Made me feel very protected!

Timia 1

Our teams finished mapping and surveying Timia by noon, so we had the rest of the afternoon off, a much needed break and the official end of the survey (the other 6 teams had already finished and were back in Niamey). We spent the hot part of the day sleeping under a tree, then I joined Idrissa, the Red Cross logistician, for some sight seeing. A few kilometers outside Timia are some waterfalls that originate from a mountain spring, so they flow year around, even during the dry season, though they are only a trickle if there hasn't been recent rain.

The spring originates in this little cave behind a tree and flows through the valley.

The terrain all around is incredibly rocky and almost barren, except for occasional trees and a sparse dusting of grass in places.

There was a Tuareg rebellion in 2004, and our military guys told us about chasing Tuareg rebels up hills of boulders like this.

But soon you cut down into the valley and see the beautiful blue pool of clear cold water. There are several smaller pools in the rocks above, as it's sort of a multi-tiered waterfall. I and a couple others swam across a couple times, climbed up the rock wall on the other side to look at the little pools above, then dove back in. It was the most refreshing, invigorating, exhilarating swim I've had in a long time!
The rocks around it have been sculpted into waves by the eons.

Group pic in the pool, before I decided to go for a real swim.

In the middle of the village is a conical hill with a French fort, built in 1952, nestled on top. It was never actually used for military purposes, but the view from the top is amazing!
The well in the middle of the village.