Day 1 (again): New Yorkers son locos

Yesterday morning was a whirlwind of craziness. Here’s what happened:

  • Pablo and Lia left for the morning to go to their respective job/school things.
  • I unpacked and repacked all of the things that I brought from South Africa (duffel and a small suitcase) and had left in the closet in Baltimore (very large suitcase).
  • Rode my bike to Baltimore’s Penn Station to see if they had bike boxes and what I needed to do to get my bicycle on the train.
  • Rode my bike to the shop to get the pedals removed and the handlebars loosened. It was closed until an hour before my train left.
  • Locked up bike and called an uber.
  • Proceeded to have a long discussion about race, AIDS, and community disengagement as we drove to make key copies at Ace, retrieve my luggage from the apartment, and then dropped everything off at the train station.
  • Left two suitcases at Penn. Walked with my ukulele, purse, and messenger bag to the bike shop.
  • Got bike adjusted so it could fit into a box and then walked it back to Penn.
  • Waited patiently as the very helpful man behind the counter got my bike in the box and tagged my luggage. Responded with corny jokes.


I still had about twenty minutes before my train came and my phone was losing charge, so I went to the bar to plug it in (and for a gin and tonic). Also managed to order some curly fries for the road. It was a wonderful morning. Hopped on the train, caught up on some work, and then saw this out my window:


NEW YORK! That’s my new home. And when I stepped off the train and into Penn Station, it was abuzz with activity unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was breathtaking, and exactly like I had imagined it.


I grabbed some postcards to dash off to friends from this little shop. It wasn’t terribly overpriced (4 for $1!).


Spent some time texting while I waited for my luggage (pictured below, big shout out to Debbie for having the forethought to purchase it for me years ago in 2006 for Christmas. They’ve been the single best present I’ve ever gotten), and then called an uber to bring me to my new home. Here’s a view out the back at the traffic, skyline, and aforementioned luggage.


Here’s my street in Washington Heights (westside neighborhood above Harlem):


And my building!


This is a photo of the lightbulb in my room on the ceiling.


And the room itself. To take this photo, I am standing in one corner of the room and the bed is in a futon position. Just to give you an idea of what they mean by “small” when they say that NYC apartments are “small.”


So, what’s the total damage?

  • $15 for the Uber drive around Baltimore,
  • $5 for the bike adjustment,
  • $20 to ship it on the train,
  • $5 gin and tonic, and then…
  • $45 for the Uber between Penn and my new apartment in the Heights

Overall, < $100 for my move to New York! Now I just need to buy some hooks, a lamp, and some hangers 🙂

Excited to start my first day of work at UNICEF tomorrow. Will tell you more about my upcoming projects in the next post!

Day 85: Why Does America Spell It “COLOR?”

Ah, the Potchefstroom Color Run.

A coordinated mess of corn starch and pigment being thrown in your face as you jog, attempting to catch your breath with an open mouth, alongside four rambunctious children (that aren’t even yours).

Carla, Nandita, and I bought our tickets on a whim last week. Then my host family asked if we could bring the kids along. So we did, loping around the North West university’s property, across fields, and through the streets. It was great to see a bit more of the city and catch the contagious smiles off strangers drenched in rainbows.

Our outfits weren’t too bad either:



Day 84: Yes.

We just got government approval to begin our study. Woah.

When I looked down at my phone and first saw the email, I literally hugged the closest person next to me while walking down the street (a stranger). Then I immediately needed to sit down because I was so lightheaded.



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This. Is. Happening.

Day 83: Hopeful Launch


Our study staff started this week!

So I’ve been incredibly busy onboarding them, teaching them all I know about HIV/TB/IPT, and getting them ready to start the study. Just hoping that Provincial approval comes through soon. We really went out on a limb hiring people without even knowing if we are going to be able to put them in clinics to begin the trial… eeks! Cross your fingers.

Above is a picture of our study session. They caught onto the health belief model and scientific vs. empirical efficacy so quickly! Tomorrow we’ll visit a Teko clinic to observe the flows of both staff and patients.

After just three days of training, the staff told me, “Everything is coming together now. The way the health belief model explains why doctors do or don’t prescribe IPT. Eiish, those barriers are just too much to overcome, especially if they don’t understand the benefits! Our cues to action will be a good thing in those clinics”

My spirits are officially lifted. IPTUS team pictures coming soon 🙂

Day 79: Rocks and boks

Time for a short road trip up North to hike the Kgaswane Nature Reserve in Rustenburg and to see where 2/5ths of the world’s hominid fossils are from: the Sterkfontein Caves!


Nandita took the wheel to Rustenberg first. She says she’s still “figuring out” driving, but she’s a pro at this point. It’s nothing like India’s street lawlessness, and she is able to maneuver close to any situation – including the winding roads on mountain cliffs. If that’s not confidence, I’m not sure what is!

(photo credit: carla)

We took the Peglarae “interpretative trail,” which means that it’s for physical exercise and educational purposes. Totally looked that up right now, because when we were hiking it, I kept making jokes about interpretative dance and interpretive rocks. Nandy was convinced the trail animals would come out and sing to us about which direction to go à la Snow White.

The mountains were just the right mix of flats and challenging up/downhills. At every turn, I sort of wished that I had paid more attention in geology class; there was quartz and limestone and all sorts of interesting geological formations.

Afterward basking in our post-trail sweat and glory, Carla plopped in the driver’s seat and sailed our mother boat to the Sterkfontein caves. For only having driven a manual car for three hours before, the ride was pretty smooth. We even filled up on petrol!

The caves were, by far, the neatest thing that I’ve done since being in Africa – even better than shark diving, which sounds ridiculous…. but I prefer staying local and discovering the nooks and crannies (in this case literally) of nearby landscapes. Baiting the sharks kind of made me uncomfortable.

The Sterkfontein Caves are located in the Cradle of Mankind, just north of Johannesburg. They contain the remains of some of humanity’s most complete pre-human and hominid skeletons. According to our tour guide, the caves had mouths that opened to the sky and our ancestors fell into the holes because they had bad eyesight. TBH, I’m a little skeptical about his story, but the caves were really neat. We also got to wear hard hats and see some really beautiful birds.

The Italian miners used these natural openings to mine limestone to help wash all of the gold that was being found around the region. Eventually they got so tired of going in and out of these holes that they decided to blast an opening into the caves instead though. So you use that opening (with some stairs) to get into the caves:


There are stalagmites and stalactites, giant corridors, and all sorts of weird rocks inside.


You feel like a mouse among giants. There are a few lakes in the caves as well:


There used to be academic scuba divers who would explore the depths of these lakes and tunnels. That is, until 1984 when a diver’s tubing was cut by a shark rock. He was fortunate enough o find a dry piece of land and air, but the other divers couldn’t find him after two weeks of searching. He was found much, much later but had already died from hypothermia and starvation.

After the cave, you can see the tops of the excavations where they found the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africans (aka Mrs. Ples) and the statue of the man who found it. You can either rub the nose for good luck or the hand for wisdom, but not both.

With the speed at which our approval process has been going, it was a nose rub for me.

(photo credit: carla)

Day 78: Patience for Pilsners

Finally! I present to you, the famed PHRU technical training!

I was tickled by the fact that the data capturers took time to make and print out a sign for our all-day workshop.

During my third or fourth meeting with the PHRU Operations Manager, I offered to teach a class about Word, Excel, RedCap, and Google Drive. Katlego was very much on board, and the other Hopkins students were happy to contribute their time to make handouts for the session. Many thanks to all of them for their aid before and during the workshop 🙂

The session lasted ALL day. The data team was determined to learn though and endured it with much patience. I tried to design the whole thing as a hands on experience with people following along with their own computers. First, we created a Word document the looked like a paper survey, then we created a digital version on Google drive, and then we analyzed the resulting data with Excel.

Lengthy, but I broke it up by sharing some dance moves.

During our lunch break, I asked for a team picture (which I’ve been trying to get since my second week in Africa). So, it is with great pride that I present this:

(Photo Credit: Carla)


After the workshop, in celebration, we went to Coobah’s and shared some drinks:



Day 76: Srsly Soccer

Every Wednesday, the PHRU team goes to play soccer at a nearby school and this week, I decided to join.

Their opponents? The Aurum Institute, which according to their website is “a proudly African, public-benefit organisation with over 18 years’ experience in leading the response, treatment and research efforts to eradicate TB and HIV. We have been working alongside government, the mining industry, among NGO’s and in communities to better understand global health challenges to provide real solutions.”

Let’s just say they’re funded by AngloGold Ashanti. In other words, an organization established to improve public health in the interest of economics.

I expected our soccer team to be in ratty gym shorts and sneakers. Instead, it was an all dude team with matching socks, shorts, and jerseys. Their cleats were impeccable and all colors of the rainbow.


I’ve played indoor soccer with McMaster-Carr on five occasions and needed to YouTube videos on how to play soccer. So given my experience level and lack of proper equipment, I bowed out.

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And we won!

Day 75: Two Smiles and Clinical Trials

Yesterday’s positive moment was the feeling after plowing through a large chunk of training materials for next week. Doubt that my new staff will be hired and ready to go on Monday, but it feels good to have a solid plan.

Tickets have been rebooked and my return to the USA is not September 17th. I think those few extra days will make all of the difference.

Was so happy with my new tickets and workshop materials that I walked around the office and celebrated by taking goofy selfies with my colleague Edwin:


Day 74: Hold ’em or Fold ’em

When they first described Klerksdorp, South Africa to me, I thought we might be headed to a village that was 2-hours from the nearest grocery store. Then I looked at Google maps and realized Klerksdorp was basically a northwest suburb of Chicago with fewer sidewalks and more dirt roads.

From Johannesburg towards Klerksdorp, you take the N12 treasure route, so named for its bountiful dirt veins that yield gold and other precious metals. The dust gets in your nose and mining machinery dots the landscape. But you know that you’ve gotten close to a town when a sprawling mall seems to crawl up from the horizon as you draw near. The superstructures seem out of place. As you drive through Klerksdorp, though, you pass by neighborhoods and central business districts and shiny car dealers. And if the mall guarded the entrance, then Rio guards its exit.

Rio is a large casino that has a conference hall, hotel, and even a go-kart racing track in the front. There are only two karts, though, so don’t get too excited. I’ve been to Rio twice – the first time was because we were trying to do a “best of Klerksdorp” tour. Now, usually poker is called “Texas Hold ‘Em,” but in this off-brand casino, it was called Arizona Hold ‘Em. Liz, one of the Hopkins students from Arizona, was obviously excited by this prospect. We sat down to play (R25 minimum), and I lost immediately. Seeing that I only had R25 more, I decided to draw out our time at the table.

The dealer was new to the casino and had been pretty bored before we came to chat him up. We talked a bunch about his family, the types of jobs he had before Rio, and quickly had him laughing at our dumb jokes. At this point, Liz took her phone out to take a picture of the table so that she could send it back to her friends and family in the Mother State.

You would have thought that the whole world stopped spinning in that moment.

The poker dealer’s face fell and he glanced nervously from side-to-side, “You can’t take pictures in here! We’ll have to ban you for life if you do.” We chuckled, but then realized how serious he was. So Liz put away her phone, and we played another round. Then we left.

As we piled in the car, Liz decided that she didn’t have any reason to go back to Rio and started to hatch her plan to take a photo of the table when we went to Rio next. This was almost two months ago.

Cut to last night.

Liz is grabbing a Savannah Dry from Rio’s bar and the bartender is rinsing off a glass to give me tap water with lemon (no ice). To start gambling, you buy a card that you then load money onto it at a slot machine. When you’re done, you cash out of the slot machine, and it leaves a digital balance on your card that you can take to another slot machine. The casino lore has it that you should sit down at a machine as soon as someone leaves it – sort of this weird idea that they are giving up too soon and that picking up where they left off is the “nick of time.”

But we weren’t looking to win. We just wanted a picture.

We surveyed our surroundings, came up with code names for all the security personnel, and tried to blend in with the locals. People gave me advice on how much to bet and when, and I fluctuated between 125 credits and 15 for several hours as we caroused from machine to machine. The key was to constantly have our cell phones out, texting one another at awkward picture-taking angles without ever turning on our cameras.

Then we sat down at THE machine nearest to the Arizona Hold ‘Em. Octopus was engaging in conversation with the Big Boss. Shady Eyes had just ducked out to the bathroom. Big Bill was taking a walk around the other side. Operation Peri Peri was about to commence. I put my money in the slot machine and looked over at Liz who was casually swinging her arms around and texting. I suddenly ran out of money and darted a look to her, frantic, “Do I put in more money? Are you done? Have you done it?”

I’m like.. sweating here.

I shove another ten rand in the machine and impulsively pull the card out. The machine says, “CARD ERROR CALL AN ATTENDANT FOR HELP” There is no period at the end of the sentence, and it bothers me. I look around for someone to help and start pointing at the machine, realizing that I can actually start a small commotion to pull attention towards me and away from Liz.

“I don’t know what I did!! This machine is broken! How do I get my money?”

A security guard named David comes over. He says I need to press the betting button one more time and then he’ll transfer the remains to my card. I tell him that maybe he should press it because he might be lucky. But he says that he’ll lose his job if he presses the button.

So I press it and watch as the machine spins and spins and spins an lands on a straight row of two bars each. Lined up, beautifully, in a mini-jackpot.

And we walk away with R262 and this: