16. Starting week two at APOPO making myself useful

I started off this new week at APOPO in Cindy’s office, catching up after my first week and also so that I could conduct her interview. It was a really nice one and I find her very down to earth and humble, so it’s an honour to have such a brilliant scientist spend her time talking to me. We spoke a lot about her PhD thesis; a really interesting study which showed that lab rats are able to imagine scenarios that aren’t right in front of them, and then measured which regions of the brain were involved with this thought process. This work can be used to understand more about cognitive degenerative diseases in humans (such as Parkinson’s).

I spent some time in the rat kennels just seeing all the cute little rats sleeping. I didn’t catch any of the training today so I’m hoping that I can see them in the morning.

Two sleeping rats curled up in their nest

Then I read parts of Cindy’s PhD dissertation which is a beautifully bound book. It’s very well written and I really love the acknowledgement section; it always makes me happy to read when people genuinely thank and praise others. It’s really interesting to wonder whether I might study for a PhD one day and create a similar type of book! I’ve never really thought about what a PhD would involve before now.

Today the weather has made everyone feel lethargic and the highlight of the day was probably when Lily and I heard a funny bird call and I saw a big goose-sized bird flu over the office. We shot outside and spent a while trying to find whether it landed in one of the trees nearby. Sure enough it was a hornbill and had settled in a tree just outside the fence. It has a really distinctive call and Lily was trying to work out whether it was a silver cheeked or trumpeter species.

I wanted to know more about the numbers of rats in each location and so I asked Judy, who manages the database of all the rats for a list. She gave me an exported copy of the whole database which includes every APOPO rat that has ever lived. I noticed that some of the rats had actually moved around or passed away so I spoke to Cindy about whether perhaps I could help by starting an audit. Cindy sent me a more focused list as the starting point and I began by auditing the rats in the retirement cages. It seemed like quite a good rainy day task so I just kept going and I made it through all of the retired, male and female rats at Head Office, which just left the breeding kennels. It isn’t a quick task to update the spreadsheet so that’s going to keep me going for a while.

When I was walking in the dark towards the road to find a pikipiki to take me to Black and White restaurant I suddenly stated having some doubts. I thought that perhaps I should have called for one of the drivers that APOPO uses a lot (knowing that I would have to wait ages even if they say 10 minutes). But the first pikipiki that rode past span around and came back and said that he would take me to Black and White for 2000TSh. I hopped on. The road made me laugh a little. There were enormous puddle across the whole track which has now got a decent alternative route around, but the second puddle provided us no such luck and we got stuck! Luckily it wasn’t so far from the edge that I couldn’t jump to the bank and teeter along in the dark holding gingerly on to a barbed wire fence. Sometimes you just have to laugh, eh?

The sounds and smells tonight are amazing. The air is trying to clear so there is just patchy cloud covering a blanket of stars and a super bright moon. The smells of cooking were everywhere, even some gorgeous freshly baked bread.

The restaurant Black and White seems really nice and has good reviews. There are loads of places to sit spread out over a wide landscaped and terraced garden. Ha. I wasn’t taking any chances though so I’m sat right down by the bar but out under the stars. There’s no way they can forget I’m here tonight!

It’s so much harder to communicate when people think they are better at understanding a language than they are. I just managed to get a glass of white wine when I spent quite a long time trying to be sure I was getting red wine. And I am 100% sure I have to buy the whole carton of juice when I was trying to ask for a glass. But it’s not going to break the bank so I’m not worried about it. My fault for not knowing enough Swahili, so it’s funny rather than distressing.

I’m ordering a bunch of different things so that hopefully I have some leftovers to supplement either breakfast or lunch.

Rather than chancing it with a passing bajajai, I texted Mustaq, a local bajaji driver that APOPO recommends and he came to pick me up, arriving just as I made it out to the carpark! It’s nice that he knows exactly where the rest house is so I don’t need to worry about giving directions.

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