Saturday, December 17, 2011


We've finished our field work in Bangladesh! Overall, despite a few hurdles, everything was pretty successful.  Now it's time for the long trip home...though hopefully not as long as our trip here!

Friday, December 16, 2011


It's been real cold (tunda) in the mornings here in Bangladesh.  Down to the lower 60s!  We're all trying to keep warm...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hilarity ensues

It was an adventuresome day today in Munshiganj.  Our field lab is growing by the table…

…and Ethan seems to be shrinking by inch.

A kid, curious about what we were up to, came over at one point and told us that I was skinny and Ethan was fat.  He said we were both strong.  I’m not so sure about any of that...

In an effort to demonstrate my ‘lean muscle’, I decided to move a table from one side of the field to another.  As is customary, I did this with the table on my head. However, as I tried to walk, my foot got stuck in the muck of the field. The soil made a tight tackle on my legs while my upper body continued its inertial direction forward – surely enhanced by the teetering table perched on my noggin. Gravity then took over: I was a stiff board, splattered into the muck, table and all.

I had some choice words. Ethan, showing great concern and compassion for the man who controls the fate of his graduate career, laughed uncontrollably and ran for the camera. The crew of onlookers also seemed to enjoy the show…

Here I am with the table, as it plots its next attack.

An Aroma of Arsine

Here is the field we are working in:

Working in the wet conditions to sample these channels has proved both challenging and rewarding.

Here I am using the Hach company arsenic test kit. This kits converts arsenic in solution to arsine gas, which reacts with an indicator strip to determine the ppb of arsenic in the original solution.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Crop circles, mist, and sunsets

Well, Ethan has been carrying the weight on the ol' weblog so far, so I figured I (Matt) might contribute a little.

Ethan has been working pretty hard and has taken well to our 'lab' away from home.

Below, he demonstrates his patented  sternum filtering technique, ideal for rice field sampling.

I actually spend most of my time soaking in the sun and eating samosas, but every once in a while, I try to help out...there is a lot of field 'demucking' that must be done.

Overall, we're lucky to spend our days in a beautiful place.  The flat terrain, flooded fields and tropical latitude allow for dramatic changes in lighting throughout the day, and moments of tranquility abound...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Munshiganj Musings

Our hired help doin' the heavy lifting...

Taking in the field site and measuring a few channels

Our experiments examine arsenic adsorption by sampling the wetting front as paddy fields are flooded, sampling the flow along irrigation channels, and sampling the flow of water through modified irrigation channels. Early on we realized that the very wet conditions were going to be a major obstacle to good research. Standing water will intermix with irrigation water and prevent us from taking accurate measurements. Additionally 20 cm of muck is challenge to equipment and sampling protocol.

At first rubber boots seemed like a good idea...

Then we realized... "When in Rome do as the Romans do"

Ahh that's much better :-)

Flying High

At 8:00 pm, we went up to the Emirates ticket counter and 'camped out' for tickets. Unfortunately for us, wave after wave of travelers approached the Emirates desk to check baggage leaving us uncertain of our chances. Each of the passengers were accompanied by family, friends, other well wishers and mounds of luggage, rendering any determination of passenger numbers impossible. Luckily 20 folks with tickets for flight EK 202 JFK-DXB did not claim their tickets 1 hour prior to the flight, allowing us to grab them on standby. As it turned out, receiving tickets was only half the battle.

We received our tickets 40 minutes before departure and believed we were home free with ample time to reach our gate before departure. Unfortunately for us, JFK security gridlocked due to a combination of piles of carry on luggage accompanying kids with non English/Spanish speaking parents. Bag after bag set off the x-ray scanner due to laptops, DVD players, DVD's, juice, illegal toiletries and fruit. Additionally the full body scanners were set off by jewelry and piercings. At one point, one of the TSA agents reading the x-ray machine simply stood up and walk over to a corner by himself for five minutes and then returned. The mix of English, Arabic, Farasi, South East Asian languages, Kenyan, and crying baby created the most hectic scene I have ever witnessed at a security screening. The final boarding call came while we were still in security and with out mad sprint from security to the boarding gate, we just made it on time.

The A-380 is easily the biggest airplane I have ever flown on, with two decks and three boarding ramps connecting it to the terminal. The flight was wonderful, Emirates has amazing flight staff with lots of little extras that set it apart. For example, just before takeoff they bring everyone a wet steaming hot rag that just instantly improves your day. They also bring around hot tea multiple times during the flight. Even though these comforts are small, they greatly improve one's disposition, especially if one has just spent the last 11 hours sitting on cold hard JFK concrete. In addition to the little extras, Dubai airlines has amazing inflight entertainment options with live print and broadcast news, podcasts, TV shows, 176 movies, thousands of songs, and inflight games. Between napping and the flight service, I really felt like the world was looking by the time we arrived in Dubai.

After much persistence and droopy-eyed begging, Emirates agreed to put us up in one of their hotels free for the night along with an excellent free dinner and breakfast buffet. Morale was high in the morning and remained so through out the flight from Dubai to Bangladesh. During our flight I managed to catch glimpses of the Indus River, Mount Everest, and the Brahmaputra River all which were pretty neat. We arrived at Dhaka on Dec 7th at 4:30 pm local time tired but in high spirits and reading to get to work.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fanciful Flying

Though neither of us slept well, waking up at 3:00 am for a 6:00 am flight out of RDU posed little challenge for Matt or I as both of us were pumped to get underway. After several months of work, we felt we had a trip with strong goals and a solid plan to address these goals. When the taxi arrived we loaded 200+ pounds of equipment along with 60+ pounds of personal gear into the SUV,  allowing only a small crevice for me to slither into. Our plans called for us to fly a regional American Airlines carrier called American Eagle to JFK before switching to Emirates Airlines for a leg to Dubai and then on to Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

Arriving at the terminal, I filched one of the huge aluminum alloy baggage carts from a snoozing airline employee, and proceeded to wheel our gear into the line for baggage check. Despite entering the terminal 15 min before baggage check opened, at 4:00 am, a lengthy line was already forming. Other international travelers also had carts piled high with baggage, but due to the diligence and competence of the American Airlines representative, we were quickly through and on to security. After a cursory glance at my passport by a half-asleep security guard and a trip through the x-ray body scan, we were headed toward our gate. At 5:30 we were loaded aboard the regional jump jet; this was a very small plane with two rows of seats on one side of the isle and one row on the other side. The only positive attribute of the plane was the young, cute, and inexperienced flight stewardess. I suspect she had already been awake for a considerable period of time, as she frequently confused Raleigh with Chicago during the flight. The flight departed on time and everything was hunky dory for ~1 hour, when the first signs of trouble surfaced. 

I was happily napping when awakened by an announcement from this stewardess that we were no longer headed toward JFK and were instead headed to Boston. After some initial confusion we learned that fog was preventing us from heading to JFK and we were being diverted to Boston because, I suspect, our flight was a low priority, with plans to refuel and wait out the fog, then return to JFK. We were informed that a travel agent would come aboard in Boston to provide updates to everyone on the status of connecting flights. Later we would come to question the motives behind such cheery pronouncements of customer service and good will. 

Coming in to Boston, our pilot took us on a long, low, sweeping path which gave us a great view of the harbor, the town, and the light houses on small rocky islands out in the harbor. Therefore it came as a shock when, upon landing in Boston, we learned that American Eagle no longer ran services in Boston and, as such, we did not have a travel agent looking after us or even a terminal to dock in. After a while they decided to take us to an old terminal section no longer in use only to discover that the loading ramp no longer worked. After ~45 minutes of repair work, they managed to connect the ramp and the jet only to announce that we were to stay on the plane for another 45 min while they waited on the fog status from JFK. Finally after ~1hr and 50 minutes on the tarmac in Boston, someone decided to act and transfer us to a larger, higher priority plane heading to JFK.  At this point, fast action could get us to JFK in time for our 10:40 departure to Dubai.
We exited our plane and had to wait for carry-ons side checked into the regional plane resulting in the loss of valuable pole position on the way to just the two travel agents trying to deal with the Crisis.  After a time American Airlines realized that two travel agents cannot deal with connections for 75 people so they doubled the number of people they had dealing with the situation. Finally we got to an agent to try to help us, after only a few minutes of trying to solve our difficult situation, his boss comes up and in a haughty accent exclaims “PRESHAH!, PRESHAH!, PRESHAH!, HARRRY, HARRRY!, HARRRY!!!!”. She then proceeded to totally shut down the agent trying to help us and railroaded us onto the flight to JFK. Despite throwing down on the throttle, we landed in JFK as the flight we were supposed to be on took off. 

I can't help but believe that if the agent had finished dealing with us, we would have been on a flight to London and the Dubai, only losing a few hours instead of ~ 1 day. In addition, if American Airlines had four flight agents helping people and moved faster to get us off that plane and into the larger one, we would have made it to JFK on time for our Emirates flight. So now we wait, either to board a flight for Dubai tonight at 11 if we are lucky, or if we are not lucky to board a flight tomorrow morning.