Julie’s first post – the first few days

Julie's first lecture in Liberia!

Julie’s first lecture in Liberia!

We had an exhausting but great first day in Monrovia. We had a surprisingly restful first night, in our hotel which is something of a hybrid between Best Western and summer camp. Small bed, wood ceiling, small wooden wardrobe, a single chair and desk. However, the room is air conditioned, the shower is huge, and we even have a small fridge.

After our first breakfast (we skipped the beans and franks and canned mixed vegetables, opting for corn flakes and toast), we headed to the Dogliotti Medical School. Our hotel is several miles from the medical school and our driver (Poko) battled the fierce Monrovian traffic to deliver us to the school at 9:30am. We were met by the single remaining preclinical faculty member, who told me that I would be giving my first lecture at 10am–and lecturing for the rest of the day. I had to do a lot of scrambling, but I gave 6 lectures over the course of the day. The classroom has bench seating, ceiling fans and a small screen, but the students (about 60 total, a combination of first and second year students) were mostly attentive (or overwhelmed?) and seemed appreciative. I have no idea what will happen in the following weeks, but expecting the unexpected will be a good coping mechanism.  It was sweltering in the classroom, but Rick and I have been given an office with fans and a wonderful cross-breeze. It is in the high 80’s during the day, 100% humidity, rains every night but thus far the days have been sunny.

Rick had an equally busy first day, unpacking boxes and taking first steps to setting up the computer lab. I think he has already blogged about it, but they unpacked and set up about 25 computers in the new computer lab. Many more steps needed until they are networked and ready to go, but it was a very productive day. RIck had several able assistants who helped him with the work, and importantly, who are becoming invested in keeping the place running after we leave. We were both really wiped out by the heat and the activity.

We left the school around 4:30 pm and enjoyed another wonderful meal on the beach last night. The seafood is delicious and the pounding surf of the Atlantic, only few yards away from our table was gorgeous. The beach is south facing and the closest southern land mass is Antarctica! The restaurant had set up an outdoor TV so everyone could watch the first game of the world cup. I expect that the world cup will dominate discussions over the next few weeks.

Another restful night despite the rain, roosters and barking dogs, and the ever-present traffic noises.  No classes today, so my colleague Anne Gilroy (anatomy professor and my new teaching partner at UMass) and I are planning to go shopping (first on the list is a phone and a 4G air card to generate some internet at the school) while Rick and our colleague Jim Comes (UMass librarian) go back to the school to continue the work of pulling cables, setting up networks and moving the process forward. Jeff Bailey, the fifth UMass faculty member of our team will be arriving on Monday, hopefully with solar powered fans and a drill (neither of which made it to the shipment).

Anne and I will be dividing up the teaching time over the next few weeks, and I expect that I will be writing new lectures. Fortunately that hotel does have internet, which will be helpful on the days I’m not actively teaching. As I mentioned above, the preclinical faculty members of the medical school have essentially disappeared. The school is in financial difficulty and no one is getting paid–in some cases for over a year. As a first-time participant, this feels very disconcerting, but the medical school has been around for 50 years and survived the civil wars (just barely), so the current financial crisis may just be a small hiccup in the ongoing history of the medical school.

Despite the early challenges, it is wonderful being here!