Monthly Archives: June 2014

All work and no play? No!

Sunday June 15th, Jim, Julie, and I took a short tour of Monrovia.  It was mostly an automobile tour and since almost all businesses are closed on Sunday, there was little traffic.   We visited several neighborhoods and the monument in tribute to the original freed American slaves that founded the democracy here.  It was both uplifting and somewhat sad.  Uplifting to see people laughing, living their lives in spite of the conditions, uplifting too when you see people doing whatever it takes to advance their place and their country.

p.s.  – there’s a slideshow here, it might take a minute or two to appear.



A small technical challenge

Friday the 13th… perhaps that should have told me something.   No matter how much planning you do there will always be some surprises.  Today it was electrical.   The medical school campus building was mostly destroyed during the civil war and then partially rebuilt by the Italians until they ran out of money during the Euro crisis.  While the building now appear structurally sound, there are a lot of things left undone.  Not the least of which is the electrical supply.  Add to this that there is a budget battle going on so that the school cannot get electricity from the LEC (Liberia Electric Company) and must run on a generator.   In summary, there is unfinished wiring and the electricity is what an engineer or electrician would call ‘dirty’ because a generator with out proper stabilization produces a variable output.  Oh, did I mention that the output is also limited a bit?

So today I met Tucker, the University of Liberia’s electrician.  He is resourceful, like most Liberians.  Tucker, Japa (he works for the Medical School here) and I reviewed our requirements for the equipment and we fell a bit short.  So, off we go to the market to buy wire (and when I say ‘we’ that means they all go and I buy).  An exciting trip back by motorbike (3 to a bike) and three hours later Tucker has hot-wired the old UPS that was not going to be used from the server rack we delivered to provide clean power to the 20 workstations in the lab.  Success!  Oh, remember the Friday the 13th thing?  When we began testing the load on the re-purposed UPS something went ‘BANG’ and shut everything off.  I looked at Tucker suspecting his wiring but it turns out it was one of the Acer workstation’s power supply incorrectly set to 110v.  We will need to ship them a new one.   We also lost one of the HP workstations, unknown cause and not power related.  So we are down two.

The end of the day saw us finishing the server rack physical setup and running Ethernet wiring through the attic to the computer lab.   I left around 5pm as Japa was finishing putting ends on the cables.  All in all maybe not such an unlucky day after all.

Our new electrical setup for the computer lab workstations

Our new electrical setup for the computer lab workstations

The server rack almost fully populated with new systems, fans, and UPS's

The server rack almost fully populated with new systems, fans, and UPS’s











Still a bit of wiring to go....

Still a bit of wiring to go….

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!


June 12th, our first day in Monrovia

Sunny today, big storms last night. It is winter here which is also the rainy season.

We started our day with a car ride through Monrovia traffic.  Our driver, Poko is a young man who seems to take the harrowing traffic in stride.  Ann Gilroy and  Jim Comes are here and are acting as our guides/chapporones and we are happy to have them.  They have both been here many times.

We met the head of the medical school and much to Julie’s surprise she discovered sh would be giving four lectures today to both 1st and 2nd year students. She spent part of the morning and her lunchtime preparing for the additional workload.  I took a couple of pictures of her lecturing but left the camera in the computer lab.  I’ll post tomorrow.

As for the computers, I spent the day unboxing, sorting, and working with some of the staff from the school.  Jim was there most of the day as well. By the end of the day 20 workstations were powered up and most of the server rack was reconfigured and populated with new equipment and fans.  I think both Julie and I were exhausted and elated at what we had completed day one.
Here’s a shot of the computer lab towards the end of the day.



And a shot of the pile of boxes before the team hauled them out.


Travel to Liberia

June 11th, 2014
We left Worcester by shuttle to Boston’s Logan airport at 3:15pm, June 10th.  It is now 3:45pm, June 11th, UTC which is currently 4 hours ahead of EST.  That makes it 11:45am back in Massachusetts.  We have left Accra, Ghana and are enroute to Monrovia, Liberia, our final leg.   Just as an aside, it occurred to me that I have now been to almost every continent (not Antarctica), that’s weird.

We are going to be met by someone from the University of Liberia to help usher us through the customs and then Poko, our driver, will take us to the Bella Casa Hotel.  We were pretty lucky on the flight from JFK.  The couple next to us moved away from their seats leaving three seats in the middle for Julie to stretch out and sleep and two next to the window for me.   It has been so rare in all my travels to get this and it almost felt like an upgrade!

Before we left UMass Medical school we had a chance meeting with Katherine (head of the program) as we waited for an elevator.  She’s been trying to tie up all the loose ends around this overall project and has been struggling with poor telephone connections and other issues.  Julie and I are hopeful we can help to fix some of the issues after we settle in.  I’ll try to post this from the hotel.  Success, we are in our hotel!

Oh, for our friends Steve and Meg, the Delta safety video included this placard….


So, sorry Meg, you cannot fly the goats on Delta anymore. 🙂