Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Independence from everything

This week is the beginning of holiday season in Panama. No, not Thanksgiving (though I'm thinking that being surrounded by Americans is an excellent opportunity to make a turkey, if only I can figure out a way to not have an oven on for hours on end -- it may be the rainy season and cold*, but that's only by Panamanian standards) but a series of days to celebrate independence. Today is independence from Colombia; Thursday is the same thing, but in Colon (it took a couple of days for independence to make it across the isthmus I guess); the 10th is the first call for independence from Spain; the 28th is actual independence from Spain, and the beginning of December marks Mother's Day, which is also considered a national holiday. And then there's the more or less standard Christmas and New Years holidays. I've been told that nothing of an official nature is accomplished here from now until the new year, which is easy to believe.

Not that any of this applies to lowly graduate students. Although I do enjoy holidays, because there are fewer people around the lab to distract me (or to have to share equipment with). I'm thinking more about December 3, which marks my own personal independence from Panama return date. Coming up both far too quickly and not soon enough.

*If you thought I was a cold wimp after living on the west coast, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

and on the seventh day, she rested

Busy, busy, busy.
A little too busy, actually. I'm in the midst of collecting data for a conference in January, reading like mad for this mini-project and you know, that doctorate thing I'm supposed to be working on, and staying in the lab far too much for my own good.

So today, I decided to take a day off. Precipitated by spending all of Saturday in the lab, and getting overly frustrated with the relatively simple tasks I was attempting to accomplish. So today, I did fun house things. CBC Radio (thank God for streaming online radio), laundry (you know you are in the lab too much when laundry becomes a fun task), hanging curtains in the kitchen, reorganizing the living room, and I think I might yet prime my bedroom. My roommate has led me into a painting binge. We did most of the living room -- from baby puke yellow, to a rich red against a warm, nearly mauve-pink neutral. It looks good. Really. The red still needs a few more coats before it's finished, but I'm waiting for her to get back before I do that. And I'd really like to get rid of the dingy, industrial look of my bedroom. Washing the walls and changing the curtains made a huge difference, but now that the painting urge has been released, I feel like taking the next step and putting at least primer on the walls. We'll see.

I shouldn't really be taking the day off based on the amount of work I have to do, but there is, I suppose, a limit. I have been feeling far too stressed for my own good, and I've decided that it is due to me trying to do everything at once. Yes, there are lots of things that I need to and want to do, but trying to do everything at the same time tends to lead to nothing getting accomplished.

And it feels good, so I'm going to run with it. 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hill Top Living

So, I moved again this week. Let me say, it's much easier to move when everything you own fits into one suitcase and a few small bags. And even though I hardly brought any books here with me, I have a disproportionate number of them already.

Instead of living well on the other side of town in the middle of a traffic nightmare, I now live on a forested hill, reasonably close to work, in a former American canal house. It's lovely. A big room, window, back patio overlooking jungle, and apparently the occasional visiting monkey (I hear they like to visit -  I have yet to see them here). And I only share with one other person, as opposed to six. Much better.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Happy Saturday all. I'm enjoying a relaxed morning at home with a pot of coffee and streaming CBC radio. Lovely. Next up is studying Spanish. Fun.

Anyways, I thought I would point out that I have activated comments on this blog, as on all of my other blogs. I hear reports that people have had issues with being able to post comments though, so here's a primer. At the bottom of this post is a link to add a comment. Click on that link and you'll reach a comment box. That's where you write your comment. Once you've done that, you choose how you would like to be identified -- I believe it's a little drop down menu. If you aren't a registered user, you can still comment either giving your name, or as anonymous. In any case, you will also have to verify that you are human and not a spamming robot and type in a code. Nothing difficult. If you're still having trouble, you can always just email me. That's cool too. I love to hear feedback in any form.


In other housekeeping news, housekeeping, or the lack thereof, is becoming a problem.

At the moment, I'm sharing a house with a number of other people. A Panamanian couple, a Colombian, a French couple and another French girl. People are generally nice, but the kitchen (and most other public parts of the house) are a mess. Conveniently, we have a maid coming in to clean twice a week. But that doesn't change the fact that dishes don't do themselves, and that insects and other less than welcome guests are attracted to piles of rotting garbage. It's not quite that bad, but as I write, the sink is still full of dishes from two days ago, and the table is only clean because I cleared up after somebody else's breakfast.

Unfortunately, it makes living in this beautiful house much less pleasant. Nothing say unwelcoming like a big pile of stinky dishcloths and other peoples unwashed dishes when you come home after a long day of work. It's not everyone who causes problems, but it is definitely an issue.

Luckily for me, I have decided to move. Not only has living with so many dirty people been less than fun, but the house is REALLY far from where I work. And because I value my time I've been taking taxis to work. Which is getting REALLY expensive. Individual rides aren't so bad, but it's adding up. I've also had a really hard time doing any work here. Not only do the housemates leave messes in the kitchen, they leave their crap on all of the other horizontal surfaces. Which makes it difficult if I or anyone else wants to make use of said surfaces. So, I've got a place lined up with another person from my lab. It's quiet, it's nearer to work, the house is amazing, and I think it will work really well.

So next weekends project is moving. Again. It's too bad, as my current house is really convenient for everything except work (and living with so many other languages was a really good way to force me into speaking more Spanish).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Living in the Lab

This weekend marks my second week back in the lab. It hasn't actually been terribly eventful, and sadly, I haven't accomplished much. Yet. That should be remedied shortly.

I'm waiting for a sonicator and looking for a plankton wheel. And maybe some Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA). That last one isn't super necessary though, as long as I get my sonicator.

So what, exactly, will I be doing?
Well, the basic idea of the experiment is to see if larvae are able to eat little tiny spheres of plastic, even if they aren't larvae that are supposed to be able to eat. Different larvae have different ways of developing. Some of them are small, and feed on unicellular algae in the plankton to get bigger before they metamorphose to their juvenile form. Others are bigger, and have enough yolk reserves from mom that they don't feed in the plankton, but they still swim around. Still others have given up that plankton step altogether and finish their development in their capsules -- sometimes even still having the same or similar structures for swimming and feeding in the plankton even though they don't seem to use them. I'll be feeding different types of larvae various sized microspheres, to see if these structures are still functional, even if they aren't being used in the same way.

It's not quite what I want to be doing for my dissertation, but it's an excellent and simple project to get me back into the rhythms of the lab and to play with the animals. That is the goal of my time here for the moment. That, and to figure out exactly what I want to work on. I guess it's as good a place to start as any.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


My most frequent interaction with people in Panama takes place in taxis.

When I first arrived, I hated taxis. For one thing, at orientations we had been warned not to catch a taxi on the street, not to take a taxi if there was another person besides the driver inside, not to stay in a taxi if the driver picked up another passenger, not to go through certain neighborhoods... not to do a lot of things. Good advice, all of it, but not terribly practical.

For one thing, standard taxi operating procedure is to pick up as many passengers as possible to maximize the fares, and calling a taxi is just silly. In some places my requests to call a taxi have met with the advice that it is easier just to catch one on the street, or that a called taxi will never come (and personal experience has taught me that calling a taxi only gives them an excuse to demand more money, because they had to drive to come and get you).

On top of that was/is my continuing lack of Spanish skills, and of course the joys of elevated gringo (aka rich white tourists) pricing.

But the longer I am here, the more I enjoy taking taxis.

For one, there are the thrills of riding. Driving in Panama is an extreme sport -- not for the faint of heart. And taxi drivers are the elite champions of driving.

For example, my cab this morning was gunning for the Panamanian speed record in crossing the city. He didn't talk the whole time, didn't charge me too much, and never once came to a complete stop. Slower traffic was warned with a honk and overtaken by whatever means necessary. This guy was serious about getting me to work.

Other cab rides have been in questionable vehicles -- engine warning lights on, speedometers broken, no door handles, dents, no suspension to speak of. These cabs are going for records in car quality. Some of the cabs I've taken, you hope that you make it to your destination without having to get out and push. So far, I've only had to leave one taxi for mechanical problems, and they started before we got moving.

Cab drivers can be interesting. Lately, I've been running into more and more who speak English -- a very recent event, probably springing from my catching cabs along the Causeway, a highly touristed area of the city. Today I had a cab driver that spoke excellent English, and didn't stop talking the whole time. He was also looking for a wife, and a job with the Smithsonian, so I think he had decided I was the perfect opportunity. I was busy planning an exit strategy, and deflecting requests for my phone number. Other cab drivers are openly hostile to people that are from outside Panama. A friend of mine got involved in a lengthy discussion with the driver about tourism and taxis. As a taxi driver, much of his income relies on tourists, but he refused to believe it (this discussion came about because he was blatantly ripping us off, and being a jerk about it). According to him, his income came from the canal and those big cruise ships that pass through. Those big cruise ships full of... tourists. It was a very entertaining discussion.

Now that I'm not taking cabs with my Spanish speaking friends, the conversation is by necessity much simpler. Usually revolving on basic conversation. So far I haven't run into too many jerks. And haven't been involved in an accident.

So lets keep it that way. On both counts.


Well, it finally got the better of me.
I haven't had time lately to write anything terribly interesting, and as the blog of an acquaintance once put it, real life has a way of cutting down on blogging. Not that everyday interesting anecdotes don't happen, but that they become less interesting to write to yourself about.

But today I had the urge, so I decided to start a blog. And I thought the title was funny.

So bienvenidos to my new blog.
I make no promises to update regularly, but I'll probably be here once in a while.