Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fishing in Woods Hole: Northwest Gutter

No, this is not about the movie or related to the movie salmon fishing in the yemen. This is about me going fishing and swimming with friends/lab mates after passing my quals. After studying for months, having tense muscles from trying not to think negative and going to sleep with my mind still riotously wide awake, I had a bit of relieve when the post-doc in the lab invited us (by us I mean myself and the summer student who is now actually a part-time member of the lab) to come fishing and swimming with him. We said sure. You see, working in the lab in a place like Woods Hole is not a big deal in the winter. In the summer, it's almost torture to look out the window and see the water spread as far as your eyes can see, sail boats, speed boats and yes canoes, bopping up and down the blue water.

But you can't really go out as you wish, because you are in the lab, working on a planned experiment. Yes, you can walk by the harbor after lunch, or sit by the park and watch summer hoarders and tourists act silly, but to actually go swimming or fishing or picnicking takes a little bit of time and planning and shelving the lab work, at least for an afternoon.

Woods Hole is blue and green all summer and very white all winter

So yes, when the suggestion for fishing came up, we said yes without thinking twice. Well, we had to plan experiments so that we had a bit of free time that Thursday afternoon. And so we got ready with fishing rods and hooks shaped like exotic fish and eels, dusted off the swim suits, lathered on sunscreen, packed some beer with ice, and off we go. 

It was most enjoyable, the wind was cool against the sun stinging rays. We went around the lab and under the drawbridge and into the distance. We glided on smooth waters and slowed around rocky waves. I didn't bring my camera, so we took pictures using our summer, now part-time students' camera phone.

I tried my hands at fishing and was not very successful. I saw crabs and small schools of fish sprinting in the shallow water and got scared of swimming. I am paranoid and I was so sure one of those bubbly jellies would get around my feet. I did walk around for a while and lots of tiny fish nibbled at my feet.

The post-doc in the lab caught a blue fish. He likes fishing, so no surprise there. He cleaned out the fish and we all got some piece. I made pepper soup out of mine. Incredible! I think I will prepare it for the lab someday. An afternoon out swimming (well, I didn't really swim) and fishing (well, I didn't really catch) is exactly the fun thing to do right after months of quals study.

Woods Hole is really beautiful. I sometimes complain about not having a car to get around. I wish I could easily get to Harwich and Bourne and Hyannis more often. But within the small, academic village of Woods Hole, I still find immense exploration possible. I can walk to small rivers and sit and enjoy the quiet. I can catch the ferry to Martha's Vineyard in minutes if I wanted to, I can walk to Nobska Lighthouse and others in less than an hour. There is so much I get to do in the little village of Woods Hole and so much more to do and see still.

Woods Hole is a pretty little place that I complain about, yet enjoy immensely.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

centre de promotion de l'artisanat

The centre de promotion de l'artisanat is a place in Cotonou that showcases art and craft in different forms. Specifically, drawings, carvings and paintings. An artisanat is a place where skilled craftsmen (and women) create interesting objects and pieces. This got me a little confused in the definition of art and craft. Art is expressive, think literature, music, paintings and sculptures. Craft, on the other hand, isn't. A craft can be decorative art, like vases, small decorative paintings and so on. But then again, I suppose a craft that is expressive enough can be described as an art.  (o_O)?

Can you see the name in the distance, atop the blue canopy?

At any rate, in this little quaint place in Cotonou, the main attractions were carvings and drawings. By driving slowly around the center, we were able to see most of the drawings, sculptures, drums and other artistic elements carved from wood. There were also unique yards of colorful clothing, known as ankara and one of a kind jewelries on wooden stands.

Do you see women in colorful blouses pounding yam in one of the drawings in the above picture? Pounded yam is a staple dish in western africa. Enjoyed by many but prepared by few, this filling dish is quite intricate and precise in preparation. Can be painful as well, if your palms are not used to holding long pestles in a firm grip.

 Most of the craftsmen stayed inside these hut-like buildings, shielded from the blazing afternoon sun. And those that were outside sat beneath trees with big, green branches that provided a cooling shade. Cotonou, just like most african cities can be unmercifully hot in the afternoons.

This is my favorite object, the object in the center on a step ladder. It looks like something out of shape and symmetry. Humanoid in form, but without eyes and almost hunch-back in appearance.

I love the little houses in the centre de promotion de l'artisant. They look like huts and appear to be made from mud. In truth, the house are made from concrete blocks.

The roofs, however, are very interesting. They look like huge canopies hung over a house. I wonder if this is to provide adequate cooling from the sun or simply decorative. Or both.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cotonou, Republic of Benin

After spending a couple of days in Porto Novo, we moved on to Cotonou. Cotonou, although not the capital of Republic of Benin, is the financial, government and economic center of the country. All the major ports (both national and international), government houses, embassies, airport and central religious houses (i.e. the national mosque) are in Cotonou.

To get into Cotonou, we crossed a bridge and overlooking the bridge into the far distance is the Oueme River. The river flows into the Atlantic Ocean. There are small fishery and local merchants trading around the river. There are stories of erosion of nearby lands into the Oueme River and off into the Atlantic (don't know how true that is). While crossing the bridge, our driver said if we look closely, real closely, we can see Badagry, a small town between Lagos and Republic of Benin, in the distance (don't know how true this is either).

Entering Cotonou

Upon entering into Cotonou, we had lunch with friends (I tried ordering in French and failed miserably). I was so hungry I cleared my plates before taking in the lovely and cool ambience of the restaurant. Once our bodies were sated and reenergized, we explored the city some more.

The buildings in Cotonou are very modern, contemporary and artistic. Quite different from Porto Novo, which has a more conserved, historical and cultural vibe. Not only that, Cotonou is also undergoing major construction at the moment. While driving around the city, we noticed that there were many building constructions well under way. Needless to say, in the next few years, Cotonou will look even more grand and appealing than it does now.

The Parliament Building

And then there are sculptures! There's something about sculptures that defines a city artistically. Three-dimensional visual art is something almost everyone appreciates even when you are not thinking about it. Cotonou is bursting with sculptures, I could barely take pictures of all of them. In the heart of Cotonou, there is the centre de promotion de l'artisanat. A center filled with everything art, from drawings, to wood-carving, to painting and sculpting. The art of Cotonou is not old, like gothic art or traditional romantic art, it is modern, new with an african vibe. It is fascinating!

Peace Statue

Place de l'Etoile Rouge

A quick thinker will obviously notice the divergence between the cities of Porto Novo (see this post) and Cotonou. I cannot tell if these differences stem from political conflicts, cultural differences or something else. What is apparent is that there is a disparity in economic and financial status. Been so close together geographically only makes it even more glaring. And although I wanted to think about this a bit more, I resigned myself to simply making my observations without providing myself substantial evidences. Something simple I can draw from comparing both cities are: Porto Novo is rich in culture, is more conserved and traditional while Cotonou has a city vibe, with more hustling and bustling, and is the commercial and governmental center of the country.

Regardless of my theories, I took so many pictures in both cities that my camera battery went dead. (>..<)!

I enjoyed the time I spent both in Porto Novo and in Cotonou.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Porto Novo, Republic of Benin

There are no two places more divergent in architecture and economy than the cities of Porto Novo and Cotonou of the Republic of Benin.

While I was in Nigeria in May, I went to the Republic of Benin. Why? Because it is so close geographically. It is bordered by Nigeria to the east and a trip from the heart of Lagos into the Seme Border will take you just about two hours by car. Also, my dad wanted to visit a few of his friends so I tagged along for the free ride, free food and ...well, free everything.

When we got to the border, I wanted to take pictures but as is typical of many African states, there were fierce looking border patrol people in khaki-like uniforms, that I dared not act the tourist. Truth be told, the best bet in a place like that was to act as inconspicuous as possible and in a grey and black dress with cream-colored cropped cardigan, I blended quite well into the dusty air and grey clouds. Although the border is notoriously known for "unofficial transports", it is still well guarded and required a passport and/or student ID (if you are a student with a guardian present).

My first impression of Porto Novo were the adjectives, brown and dusty. After leaving the sweaty border behind, We rode along the very quiet and unpopulated villages until we got into Porto Novo. Porto Novo is the official capital of the Republic of Benin, however, it did not look like a capital, economically nor by architectural standards (when compared to Cotonou). Porto Novo has a relaxed and cultural atmosphere.

On the road to Porto Novo 
Cows on a small hill!

Our host family were very warm and inviting, most of them spoke French, Yoruba and English quite well and so communication was not much of a problem. I met a young lady who is a polyglot. She is just about 16 years and speak at least 5 languages fluently (or close to fluently). She speaks English, French, Yoruba,and is learning German and Spanish in school. Impressive!

My room was bare and cool, a refreshing sight from the stuffy, humid air outside. There was also some very traditional attire waiting on the bed for me. I assumeed it was customary, however, I politely declined wearing them. Although I am not exactly mysophobic (more commonly known as germophobic), I do have a fear of contamination, but not of germs. If that makes sense (⊙_◎)?

traditional clothes (center) left for me on the bed, next to my "normal" attire (left). 

Our host graciously took us around the city, describing the various sites and buildings of importance. And although it was 7pm, it was still light out and the city was vibrant with people buying selling or simply going home after a day's work.

The next day, we were invited to service. I had a plain simple skirt and a blouse which I thought was presentable. But our hostess took one look at me and went fishing for one of her daughter's traditional dresses. I definitely could not refuse this time, as she insisted that they would look so much better than my so-called "everyday clothes".  And so, I bravely wore a more conserved, traditional dress to service that morning.

After the service, we got ready to leave Porto Novo. We said goodbye, o dabo and au revoir to our host family and said hello, bawo ni and bonjour to our new host as we headed into Cotonou. Porto Novo has a village, community-based vibe,  it has a rich culture, with very open-minded and welcoming citizens. I'm glad I got to experience it.

Back in my normal clothes and loving it!
A very nice statue on our way out of Porto Novo.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Artiscence or Artiscience? I Ponder.

I have always loved Arts and Sciences. Going to a liberal arts college only made it easier. So much so, I majored in Biology and minored in English Literature as an Undergrad. I read anthologies voraciously while simultaneously studying Genetics and Biochemistry. Minoring in Eng. Lit brought much needed relieve from studying (and barely understanding) Physics and Biotechnology. Some of the classes I took for my minor were:

1. English: Tragic Vision (and you guessed it, we read Oedipus, Chronicles of a Death Foretold, and Hegel versus Aristotle's Tragedy Theories).

2. The Old Testament ( the Old Testament as literature; its cultural relation to biblical times and its impact on the subsequent literature of the Judeo-Christian world).

3. Creative Writing ( learning to write imaginative short stories and poems. fun class).

4. Short Story Workshop (an advanced workshop for short story and novel writers aiming at publication).

I love to write, read, sky-watch, sing, travel...and I am into astrophotography (barely there yet...). So yeah, you get the point. I love Arts as much as I love Science. 

So when I wanted to start blogging, I wanted a name that reflects me the most. Something that incorporates my love for art, science, travel, astrophotography, sky-watching, reading, writing, music and all the other crazy hobbies I have ^..^.  I came up with the name Artiscence. Which, simply put, is a combination of Art and Science, with the letter 'i' in science acting as a conjunction letter between art and science. Sort of like the glue between two words.

So, imagine my surprise when I saw the word Artiscience as well. As an actual word! Not found in the dictionary...yet. But definitely a word, and here comes the meaning:

artiscience [ar-tis'i-əns]: n., 1. the theory and practice of integrating art(s) and science(s); 2. knowledge of relations between arts and sciences. Hence, artiscient: adj. exhibiting or practising artiscience.

I don't if I should be pleased or indignant about this discovery of mine. One the one hand, I thought I was being original in coming up with my blog name (in a way I was as I had virtually no idea anything else existed until I saw this video). On the other hand, I am quite pleased that I was on to something when I came up with a name that reflects arts and sciences. And that someone else somewhere could arrive at the same idea.

Here's the video explaining their version of how an amalgamation of arts and sciences came into one word.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I Passed My Quals!

I passed my Qualifying Exam!

What is Quals?

Qualifying Exam (Quals) or Preliminary Exam (Prelims) or Generals is THE examination that qualifies/transitions a graduate student to continue graduate studies.

The quals varies based on institutions, but there are some basic concepts that they all follow. Most Bio-med programs (Bio-med might include STEM: Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) follow these concepts. These concepts include some or all of these:

1. A Written Thesis Proposal (or a proposal based on something other than your thesis project)
2. An Oral Examination (Presentation) (might be chalk board or powerpoint)
3. You must have completed some basic requirements such as classes, lab rotations, TAship, ...
4. You should have a good idea what your short term and long term goals are, as far as your research goes. Although this might be tentative (that's ok), you should be able to back up your reasoning.

My quals process started in January with Choosing Committee Members (which I will probably write a post on soon). Then a preliminary meeting in March with my chosen committee members and my Mentor. Then a set date for my exam in July. My written proposal is based on my thesis project, so I had to be as confident in my ideas as I can possibly can without becoming over-confident or obnoxious. You should however be the most knowledgeable on YOUR ideas in the room.  My exam was on July 19th 2012 and lasted a little over two and a half hours (2 1\2 hrs).

It was pretty serious and I was tensed the first 10 mins, I relaxed into my presentation and grew confident as they asked me questions. They stopped me as I presented to ask questions. My first question came pretty much after my third slide and went on like that for most slides. I had about 28 slides excluding my title slide, biography slide and the outlines. The most questions came on my motivation slides, which explained the motivation for deciding to conduct this project and my preliminary data slides, which, although the committee actually liked my data, they still bombarded me with questions about them and wanted to see more. I guess that's good in a way.

Overall, I can honestly say that my committee and I had more discussion sessions than question and answer sessions. I was strong in my general biology, immunology, developmental and metabolism background but not so strong in my Biochemistry. My PI/Mentor was amazingly awesome in contributing sparse vital information on my behalf, yet he remained mostly inconspicuous verbally for the most part.

After passing quals, some people refer to themselves as ABD (All But Dissertation). This means they have fulfilled all requirements for graduate training and are only left with defending their thesis.

How do I feel after passing quals? Like this:

 and like this: