Thursday, May 31, 2012

Science! and Haitian history!

So, I've been here in Paris/Orsay for about a week! Things have been mostly great, and I've been kept plenty busy! So far, I've been into Paris every single day (although if this post gets too long, I might miss out on tonight's potential Parisian adventures!). I'm starting to think I'd better get to know Orsay and Bures-sur-Yvette a little, too - I hear there's a huge park of some sort not too far away, not that I'm feeling a lack of nature on my UCSC-esque campus. :)

Everyone in the lab is very nice, and I'm starting to settle in and wrap my head around everything that's being thrown at me. Every now and then, I get a story or little memory about the Haverford of Lenny's college days - always fun to hear about what was different/similar. As of this afternoon, I'm working on at least 3 or 4 different (although some are somewhat related) projects, so until I started my notebook and started writing down all the fly crosses and genotypes, I was floundering a bit. Now it's making more and more sense, and Lenny's really good about making sure I'm understanding things as he throws lots of info at me. I got to start playing in the lab today, rather than just doing lots of reading about flies and my protocols, so that was fun and made the time pass surprisingly fast!

Since I have a few different projects, I'll be doing a few different things as the summer progresses. I'll obviously have to do some crosses and maintain some fly populations that I'll be using, so I started to practice that today. I set up my first 7 crosses! I clearly have a ways to go in the technique area, as a couple of flies escaped from probably every other vial, but I'm not too concerned because it's my first time trying these things. My other protocols will involve dissecting larvae, removing their imaginal eye discs (the "organ" of sorts in the undeveloped larvae that will eventually become the eyes during metamorphosis), staining the eye discs with antibodies, and taking images of the fluorescence patterns. I got to start practicing dissection today, too! I tried 3 larvae and had success in 3 out of 3, without too much time! :D The thing that took the longest was just building up the will (and dexterity) to rip the poor thing apart - it's a pretty quick and easy death, but we don't kill them before yanking their brains out by their mouth hooks. (too gory? yeah, I kinda think so too. whoops!) But all in all, I feel like I'm going to get the hang of it, and if the antibodies work, we'll be in business!

Not much to say about Haiti this time; I'm almost done with the history book (I can't wait to move on to Paul Farmer!!), and things have finally calmed down a little bit in terms of corruption and violence (I'm up to about 2005), partly due to the more recent leaders being better educated than those of the past, and also due to foreign powers intervening in the name of democracy/stability etc etc. I don't know if it's the influence of the author's biases, or if it's because of the story and the facts, but I'm feeling pretty conflicted about Haiti's history and the current political attitudes. The only times that Haiti experienced any periods of (relative) peace and actual development of any kind of infrastructure were actually the times when foreign powers like the UN and/or the US were partially (or completely) in charge of government management. Even when a seemingly "good," well-educated Haitian takes over, each time, corruption always seems to end up getting the better of him. Each ruler was so concerned with eliminating all possible political enemies, that they forgot to focus on any real issues like poverty, child slavery (the restavek system), hunger, a dying (dead?) agricultural economy... the list goes on (unsurprisingly). Given all the things that have been tried by foreign powers to set Haiti on the right path, I hate to say it, but it just keeps looking hopeless! (Note: I have about 8 years left of history to get through, and this guy has yet to explain what he thinks of the earthquake etc. No idea what his ultimate conclusion will be yet.)

So this author has suggested many times that part of the problem today is the Haitians' attitude; apparently many of them take the view that their country's poverty and unfortunate situation stems from all the vile and evil actions taken by foreign powers over the years, so countries like Spain, France, and the USA "owe" them for all of our years of colonial occupation and extortion (and it's therefore not 100% Haiti's own responsibility to deal with everything and get themselves back on track in the world). That may have been true for Spain/France, albeit hundreds of years ago (plus, after declaring independence, Haitian leaders still ran the country poorly and didn't eliminate slavery for quite a long while), but this wasn't really true for the US, which occupied Haiti more recently (and very peacefully/benevolently) and carried out many more infrastructure improvements than during any other period of Haitian history. I don't know how widespread or accurate this perceived attitude is among Haitians today, but (after rambling my way here) this is the reason for my feeling conflicted. I want to go help them in whatever small way I can, and I want to respect and support them 100% if I can, but if this is the prevailing view, I hate to say this but it just seems like a bit of a cop-out! It's possibly/likely(?) that this stems in part from simple lack of education about the history and what really went on; it wouldn't be the first time that history books were skewed based on who they were written by and directed towards. (Also, there's apparently a huge reliance on foreign aid that skews the country's population to be extremely dependent on that aid, sometimes to the point that products or labor in Haiti aren't profitable, so people may end up being less productive or ambitious if the product of their work can't compete with the free/cheap items and services coming in from elsewhere. While I know there's a huge need for medical work, I'd hate to end up helping perpetuate these atmospheres of finger-pointing and lack of self-reliance; I guess and hope that the fact that I'll be helping with community health education will off-set that somewhat because the goal is to empower the locals by putting their health in their own hands? Another conflict/dilemma to think about...) I'll be very interested to have some conversations with the locals in and around Jacmel to get their side of the story straight from the source, not from Mr. Biased Philippe Girard. :) 

OK, so I guess I did have a lot to say about Haiti. Not sure if I expressed it the way I wanted to (or if it even totally makes sense); I'm still learning the language surrounding these kinds of issues and I am trying very hard not to imply the wrong things when it comes to sensitive issues like these. I'm still super excited about going, so don't wrongly interpret my saying that I'm conflicted. :) And it has also been reassuring to see the progression towards a (slightly) less violent atmosphere as I've moved into more modern times in the book.
**Mom and Dad, don't worry too much - most of the violence that I'm talking about has been targeted political violence, and I don't plan on running for president while I'm there, so I think I can avoid becoming a target. ;)

Alright I need to get out of here and into PARIS!! I'd be interested to hear what any of you readers have to say about the issues at hand here - opinions, fun facts that you already happen to know about Haiti, etc. :) (Doing my best to be as mentally prepared as possible before I go!!)


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