Last Friday I jumped through the final hoop to get my degree. In theory, this means that I am done. I have a new title to my name and am making the last corrections for my book (aka my dissertation). I have tickets out of here and a great vacation planned. Yet my day to day has not changed—I am still working long hours to get all of the ends tied up so that I can finish well. Beyond that, there are papers that I will be working on for months. So, while I am technically done, I feel far from it right now.

an image of a scientist

Today I spent what I hope was my last day in the clean lab. While it is not something I am sad to say goodbye to, it is the one place I am guaranteed to feel like a scientist. In contrast to my field work, research in the clean lab is exact.

Before entering the room, which is pressurized to prevent any air from entering the lab, little white booties are put on over my shoes. Then I stand on sticky mat to clean off the bottom of the booties. Upon entering the room, which of course requires the correct code to unlock the door, a white lab coat is put over my clothes. Then I am surrounded by the soft hum of the air filters and the fume hood with the black and white checker floor beneath my booted feet. While in the clean lab, I work with dangerous acids and use disposable equipment, all while wearing safety goggles and special gloves. I work in concentrations of parts per million and parts per billion.

If you were to walk into the lab today, there would be no question in your mind about what you saw—everything points to a scientist hard at work. It makes me smile. And then I laugh because I prefer to be the scientist jerry rigging equipment in the field covered with mud from head to toe. But if anyone ever asks, I can say that I was once the perfect image of a scientist.

a date

The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight. After more than four years here, I have a date for the defense of my dissertation. If all goes well, the last major hurdle to being done will be completed the afternoon of December 7.

recent silence

I’m sorry if you have been checking the blog and have been disappointed
due to the general lack of substance that has been posted. Life has been
busy and exhausting here. That does not mean not good, just that the
last thing I want to do at the end of any day is sit back and reflect on
all that is going on beyond the processing necessary to prepare for the
next day. So today is Thursday, the day I have designated as the day of
rest this trip, so that is what I am doing.

What does that mean? It means lounging in my pj’s all morning. It means
sitting in Martine’s kitchen talking and playing with the twins. It
means doing laundry. It means listening to the girls sing random songs
from musicals. It might even mean taking a nap this afternoon. Maybe a
long walk before the sun sets. Today it also means a blog update.

Since I have arrived I have met with all organizations involved in my
project, had initial meetings in 4 villages who I started working with
last year, and then met with 3 of those villages for their final
debriefing. In 2 of those villages I closed out the project, something
that I will do in a third tomorrow. This is a task I wish I could avoid,
but with the work done and my PhD near its end, it is unavoidable.
Thankfully, this has been easier than anticipated, though no less

The project is continuing in two villages–one of the four from last
year and the village that it started in, where I live. Due to a new well
being drilled in the other village and a few other individuals leaving
due to jobs in other villages or towns, this is requiring doing a
training like I have done in the past. Trainings are normally 2.5 days
long. As time is limited, the training will take place in 1 day this
Saturday. It is always sweet to watch people as the grasp new concepts
and become scientists with their own little ‘field lab’, so this should
be another good, though hectic day.

On Monday we will head to Cotonou. Tuesday night my parents arrive.
Wednesday I will head north with my parents and everyone else will board
the plane for elsewhere. This trip is flying by.

chinese food and laughter pre-6am

This morning I was up at 5am after nearly 9 hours of sleep. By the time I got to the hotel last night I was not overly coherent and was thankful to make it to 8pm before I gave up and crawled under the fluffy down comforter of the king size bed in my room here in D.C. So at 5 am when I was awake, hungry, and finishing getting caught up on emails and people’s blogs, I grabbed my left over General Tsao’s chicken and stir fry veggies from the window sill (figured they would stay at least a little cold there), and figured I would work on the last blog entry for this trip. That is when I found out that my blog has been updated to ‘new blogger’ and that I do not have access right now. So, this will, like all the other blog entries, be sent to my lovely brother so that he can update it for me… 

What all happened when I was up north and there was silence on the blog? In a nutshell: we took water samples using old technique and a technique that has never been used the way we (successfully) used it, had meetings with the village and the local branch of the water organization I work with to let people know that my trip to Benin in May will be my last and that the project will then be handed over to Steve & Moussa, and I tried to greet as many people as possible. In the capital we managed have more meetings, lots of work with the anthropologist working with the project this year, and do a little bit of shopping. I even managed to get my toes and fingernails painted ‘with designs’ during the day before I flew out.

What does this all mean? For the research and the project, it was a good trip. For me, it was a whirlwind and hard trip. I only got to spend one night in village. I am so thankful for my one moonlit shower and dinner under the stars, but not enough time to just ‘be’ with my friends. It is the beginning of the end for me in Benin. It is hard to hand over a project that so much has been poured into, the schedule exhausting, and sad to think of saying farewell to trusted friends. But it was good to return. It was bittersweet.

My next and final trip is planned for around May 16 or so. I will be in Benin for about three weeks of work followed by one or two weeks of pleasure travel. One or both of my parents (depending on work schedules) will be joining me for that time to meet the people and explore the place that has stolen part of my heart. I hope to see parts of Benin during that time that I have not yet explored and also hope to say a good and proper goodbye to my friends. So, until I return to Benin in a few months, I am signing off.

it has been a while… 10 july

Since I last updated you on life in Benin. As per usual, nothing goes exactly as planned. The most interesting change of plans that affects a lot of things is the loss of one of the villages I had planned to work with on the first day of the last training. The training itself went quite well, and I was once again blessed by a wonderful meal at the end of the training. Since the finish of training Sat afternoon, I have had two meetings with a new village, and will be doing a third training there this Thurs–Sat I will only be training four people, so I should be able to do shortened days there, which will free up some time for other things.

The new village is near my village, and has inquired about the training before to one of the water committee members from my village, asking for the project. They were incredibly well organized at the last visit, and I am excited to work there. My chauffeur commented that he did not think that we were going to be able to find a new village to work and actually get work done with how little time I have left, so God is gracious. He also commented on the unity he saw in the village. As he actually understands Datcha, all I can say is that God is gracious.

upcoming trainings

The first training will happen this Thursday thru Saturday, the second training is the following Thursday thru Saturday. Each training is hosted by one village, and another village sends four individuals to the hosting village for the training. As the villages are within a 30 minute drive, we travel to and from the villages. During the lunch breaks the first I will also be doing some sampling that needs to happen, and surveys will occur this Sunday afternoon at two villages as well. My time will be full, but before it all I get the glories of market day on Wednesday.