The Semester Begins

I’ve officially made it through the first two weeks of classes at UNAM!  For all of you who have been eagerly asking this question, my classes (modules as they are called here) are as follows:

  • Physical Chemistry III
    • Mostly elementary quantum chemistry with a little spectroscopy and statistical thermodynamics
    • 30-35 students in their 4th or 5th year (who were confused at first as to why I was there)
    • Meets for lecture 4 hours each week, plus a 1.5 hour tutorial on Wednesday evenings and 3 hour practical session (lab) on Thursdays for molecular modeling and computational chemistry
  • Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Discovery/Development
    • Two “half modules” that are taught by a combination of faculty members (the same at the moment) each meet two hours a week with a practical session every two weeks
    • 25-30 students in their 2nd year
    • I have a group literature assignment coming up where I’ll be reading about the role of recombinant DNA technology in the Drug Discovery and Development process
  • Theories of Ethics and Moral Philosophy
    • Counts for my Philosophy requirement at PLU
    • 30-35 students in their 2nd year
    • Meets for lecture three hours a week with a short (one hour) written assignment each week

I’m also working on a research project with Dr. Renate Hans, an organic chemistry lecturer here who teaches the Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Discovery classes. Her work primarily involves the chemistry of natural products, seeking to identify active compounds in medicinally used plants. This semester, I’ll be working with Peltophorum africanum, a deciduous tree native to southern Africa, extracting organic compounds from various plant samples, filtering, purifying, and then sending samples to be analyzed in South Africa where NMR spectra will be sent back to UNAM for characterization. In addition to that, it’s likely I’ll help out with other things from time to time depending on faculty needs. I’m looking forward to the experience learning some new techniques as well as learning my way around a new lab.

Now for some photos from earlier this month!

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This little guy seemed to enjoy visiting us on the boat (and eating fish...). There are around 2 million seals living on the Namibian coast!

This little guy seemed to enjoy visiting us on the boat (and eating fish…). There are around 2 million seals living on the Namibian coast!

Here’s my room at Emona… well the room I had before we left on our study tour. We moved to a larger building just before leaving, but my room is pretty similar. There’s no AC in the buildings, but they are mostly concrete I think, so they stay pretty cool relatively speaking- we still got fans for each room on our first supply trip. The nice thing with larger supplies (fans, fridges, water filters, etc.) is that anything that can be stored and used for next years group comes out of our supply budget, not out of our individual pockets. Like the rooms at PLU, they felt pretty unwelcoming at first, but they’re really not bad once you have things arranged and, if you’re me, posters up on the walls. Also, some pictures from our Walvis Bay boat tour way back during our second weekend here. I felt like a tourist for the first time since arriving, but it was nice to do something with all 10 of us that involved so little planning for most of a day. I also enjoyed exercising my french with a couple from Bretagne, France who were on holiday in Namibia. When we got back to the harbor, they got out their map and showed me all the places they’d been and where they were off to next. I hope they had a good end of their trip and are back home safely.

I posted a few pictures from skydiving in my last entry, but these are a few more. When we went skydiving, there was an option to have a photographer dive with you to take photos and film, but I took the cheaper “handy cam” option where the person who is strapped on  to you holds a camera while you fall. For being a bit cheaper, I was still happy with the quality and was still able to get some decent “photos” out of it with screen shots of the video. Enjoy!

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0131151645That was a pretty great weekend. Speaking of things that are pretty great… we had a pretty great study tour at the end of January. That’s supposed to be a joke. We actually had a really, really great time. I gave a quick synopsis in my last post, but here are some pictures to prove that we were actually did all those things.

Our first night was spent in Otjiwarango at a rather fancy place (see the dining room table to the right!). After a tasty dinner and good night’s sleep, we were up early to head out to the Cheetah Conservation Fund—a research facility, education center, veterinary clinic, museum, and model farm that seeks to “work with all stakeholders to develop best practices in research, education, and land use to benefit all species, including people” (CCF mission statement). We had a very informative and engaging tour of the facilities from the current operations manager as well meeting Dr. Laurie Marker, Oregon native, who moved to Namibia in 1991 to begin developing the program. What was most impressive to me was the extent to which the center works very much directly with the people whose actions they hope to influence.

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An CCF Ambassador

Instead of just telling people how to farm differently, CCF runs a farm so that they can test out and modify the practices they hope to promote. They also recognize that in order to conserve cheetahs, they must seriously consider and balance with the needs of farmers, hunters, and other species. Namibia currently has the largest wild cheetah population in the world but most of these live on farmland creating a perceived conflict between farmers and the predators. While cheetahs are the most obvious matter of concern at the center, there is also an active and important program which works to place livestock guard dogs with sheep farmers which are effective in preventing most livestock kills by cheetahs and other predators.  The center focuses on keeping cheetahs out of captivity and in the wild (they are not at all interested in breeding captive cheetahs) but do provide homes for many non-releasable cheetahs who were rescued at a young age as orphans or with injuries (including the “ambassador” here). I could go on and on… we received a lot of information and were there for over three hours, but I encourage you to look them up or attend a presentation the next time Laurie is in the area as she comes fairly often to the US for fundraising. Here are a couple more photos of the site including the CCF goats which are used for milk, cheese, and ice cream as well as an example to farmers of how it is possible to thrive while allowing cheetahs to roam on their land. Also pictured here is the CCF Operations Manager, Brian, who gave us a fabulous tour of the site, shown here in front of a vegetable garden, a new addition intended to help feed staff and volunteers in a sustainable manner.

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Our next stop was Opuwo where we stayed for three nights and two days. While there, we took a day trip to Epupa Falls on the Angolan border (below) which was beautiful, but we were pretty worn out by the day of driving. Eating lunch near the water, we were all wishing for a swim, but crocodiles hiding beneath the murky water meant no wading allowed.

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Our lodgings in Opuwo, Namibia

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Epupa falls with northern Namibia to the right and southern Angola to the left

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Some nice rock near the falls

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Our van driver showing us the location of Epupa on the Namibia hand map

We also visited a mobile school and a rural homestead. While the “road” out to the school was rough to say the least, the drive was well worth it. We were able to visit three classes of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students. With each class, we introduced ourselves and observed a little of what they were working on. The 2nd graders were learning to write their names and 4th graders were working on story problems in math which Jan helped to teach a little. The highlight of our visit was asking both 3rd and 4th grade groups to sing for us. I’d seen or heard groups of rural African children singing before in, but hearing the energetic harmonies in person was absolutely, indescribably beautiful.

We were all a bit teary eyed after listening to the singing, but managed to return a decent rendition of “Amazing Grace,” albeit without any harmonies or foot movement. We also had fun with “The Hokey Pokey” first with the 4th grade group, then with the other two groups by popular demand. Along with us, we brought food supplies to leave with the school, but wished we could have brought more. Pencils and books were in short supply. As a mobile school, most of the classrooms were tents so that the school could move with rural groups that traditionally moved often. However, even traditionally mobile groups are becoming more stationary in order to remain closer to concentrations of goods and services in towns (as I understand it).  Thus, one of the classrooms we were in was a more permanent structure painted and built from cinderblocks (where Jan did a teaching demonstration). We took group photos with the classes as well to have sent back and the 10 of us took other photos, the children eager to see the results for themselves, before finally saying our goodbyes.

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On the same day, our driver also took us to visit the homestead where he grew up which was a meaningful experience, far off any tourist’s path. What I’ve enjoyed most so far about this program (and for that matter, my month in Martinique last January on another PLU trip) is the cultural immersion so adeptly orchestrated by our PLU faculty program director. The opportunity to study abroad is a enormous privilege and a uniquely valuable experience for those who are able (financially and otherwise) to take advantage of the various offerings. While international travel is no cheap ticket, I greatly recommend taking the leap while in school as opposed to (or in addition to) saving up for tourism and other travel in the future (if you have that choice to make).

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Rural homestead near Opuwo

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Our knowledgeable and good-humored driver along with one of the grandmothers at his homestead and the gifts we brought

Visiting this small, rural homestead is just one example of a part of Namibia that tourists are not often a part of, not only visiting the homestead as complete outsiders, but being introduced by our tour guide who grew up and had stories and insight to share about the relationship between rural and urban Namibia. Although Namibia has recently been classified as a “middle income country” by the United Nations, and there are some very wealthy people here, much of the country still lives in poverty and it can be argued that the classification does not accurately represent reality. At the same time, Namibia has a lot of great things going. Wildlife conservation related legislation here sets and example for Africa and the rest of the world. A policy was signed calling for 50% female representation in politics by this year. I could go on… Like any nation, Namibia has it’s strengths and its weaknesses which are important to learn about when visiting any new country.  The depth of understanding about Namibia that we have been able to gather in just our first month here is incomparable to anything reading or listening to media could hope to provide. I am so very grateful.

Love to all back home! I’ll post a bit more about Etosha and our rural homestay in another few days here.

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