The Project and the Wildlife

Our first week of our PIPS (professional internship for PhD
students) placement has begun, time to start the project. For Hans, this was to
create a production pipeline for a transferable skills video training series.
For myself, a similar project but for a bioinformatic video training series.

To start off the week, we attended the first of a weekly
meeting held with all staff from the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)
hub at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the place where
we are doing our PIPS. We gave a short introduction as to who we were and what
our projects consisted of. All the other staff then introduced themselves to us
and went around and discussed what they had been working on over the past week
and any issues that arose. It was nice to feel welcome and to hear what things
people were involved with. Tea, coffee and snacks were added bonuses too of
course!

This followed with a meeting with those supervising our
projects. We discussed the project in greater detail and really broke down the
individual tasks and considerations that may be worth thinking about with these
video series.

For our projects, the primary goal is to produce pilot episodes
and a technical user guide which will feed in to continued video production for
later staff, students or placements. By doing this, we can work out the best
format for the videos based on feedback, try to identify any potential
limitations or issues, and to lay the groundwork for a full-length continued
video series.

From here, it was time to research and evaluate what else is
out there. By seeing what other successful series do well or poorly, we begun
to gain a better understanding of a potential niche we can fill and how we can
better market ourselves to suit the needs of early-career African students and
researchers.

We also were able to create a first draft of a script for
our pilot episodes. I tried to combine a few different elements to showcase
what is possible with the video series. The topic I chose to work with for the
pilot episode was sequence alignment the tool BLAST. This is one of the
fundamental tools of bioinformatics and so I thought it would serve as a good
introduction to how the video series could go.

Along-side this, our first week was also spent learning how
to best use the equipment, troubleshooting issues that arose, scouting out
potential filming locations, evaluating and testing the best software to use,
and then subsequently learning that software. Many of these steps had steep
learning curves but we we’re lucky, YouTube tutorials really are a life-saver!

This week flew by, it was Friday already. On Friday
mornings, at ILRI we have a meeting where we discuss a theme of the day. Its
outside accompanied with tea, coffee and snacks….my kind of meeting! For this
meeting, we were exploring more about the core values of ILRI: Respect,
Responsibility and Responsiveness. This took the form of a teamwork exercise.
We all had to line up standing shoulder to shoulder. Then we had to balance
balloons between us and the next persons shoulders. We then, as a team (of
about 11 people) then had to reach a finish line without touching the balloon
with out hands and without letting it drop. To add a sense of urgency, we were
also competing against teams doing the same. Our team slowly inched forward bit
by bit to reach the finish. A fun activity but it did stress the importance of
team-work and communication at the same time.

The weekend had approached! Friday evening, we spent some time with new friends playing games, watching the six nations rugby and being very creative with some culinary creations.

On Saturday I took advantage of the great recreational facilities on the ILRI campus. I used the gym…followed by a swim!

Then it was Sunday and time for some exploration. We woke up
bright and early, we were heading to Nairobi National Park. It was our first
taste of safari, time to spot some animals. But first, we had to pay to enter.
As we were queuing up to get out tickets, we were greeted with a curious little
friend. A very determined small monkey made an appearance, promptly raided a
small rubbish bin for snacks and then off it went.

After getting out tickets, we drove around the park routes
with our eyes peeled. Within a minute or two, we had seen our first set of
animals. Giraffes, ostriches, hippos and crocodiles all happily relaxing around
a small watering hole. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first.

We continued traversing the paths, some significantly easier
to navigate than others eagerly looking out for wildlife. It never felt like it
was very long before we saw something completely new. The hours passed by and
the number of sightings crept up and up, we really managed to see a lot.

Some of the main highlights include many of the incredible birds of prey, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, hartebeests, warthogs, hippos, crocodiles, ostriches, gazelles, antelopes and monkeys.

The most exciting for me however was getting to see one of the very rare rhinos, we nearly missed it as we drove past. It was far in the distance and blended quite well with the background, but then I noticed the horn….stop the car!

We stopped off for a light lunch at one of the quiet viewpoints, we could see some animals off in the distance but thankfully nothing close by to swipe our food. We had an impressive view of a valley right near the edge of the park.

Following this, we drove to a ranger point where we had the opportunity to explore a section of the park on-foot. For virtually all of the national park, you are confined to the safety of your vehicle (sensibly so) however, there is a small walking route section providing you are accompanied with one of the rangers. We meandered through trees on the side of the river bank surrounded by various wildlife. Along the route we saw crocodiles, a hippo, turtles, a monkey…and probably many things that we didn’t see (although they almost certainly saw us).

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience of the national
park, I have never gotten to see animals really roam free like that. The
diversity of the wildlife was incredible, and the landscape of the park was
quite something. From parts of the park close to the city, you can see the city
skyline behind which gave rise to some cool shots. Having such wild nature in
front of skyscrapers was quite a contrast which I am sure not many national
parks can offer. I couldn’t recommend Nairobi National Park enough, it really
is a must see for visitors to the city!

All in all, it was a busy first week, but we made lots of
progress with our project, and we got to see some of the incredible nature that
Nairobi has to offer. Let’s see what next week has to offer!

Danny Ward

————————————————————————————————————

[“This work was
supported by the Norwich Research Park Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP),
by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of the United
Kingdom (BBSRC) through the BBSRC-STARS grant with reference BB/R020272/1
awarded for the ABCF Bioinformatics Community of Practice, and by the BecA-ILRI
Hub through the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program. The ABCF
program is funded by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade
(DFAT) through the BecA-CSIRO partnership; the Syngenta Foundation for
Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA); the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF);
the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and; the Swedish
International Development Cooperation Agency (sida)”

Key
personnel/contributors linked to this project:

BecA-ILRI hub (Nairobi) – Dr. Jean-Baka Domelevo Entfellner ¦ Dr. Peter Emmrich ¦ Dr. Wellington Ekaya

John Innes Centre/UEA
– JIC Graduate School Office ¦ UEA Internships and Placements team ¦ Hans
Pfalzgraf ¦ Danny Ward    

We would like to
extend our gratitude to all those listed, along with all others, who
contributed and supported towards this project in various capacities – this
wouldn’t have been possible without your help
]

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5 Things You Likely Never Knew About Boeing’s 747

How one aircraft revolutionized air travel and created a whole new generation just itching with wanderlust.

Source: Forbes.

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Todra Gorge & Aït Benhaddou

Our drive to Todra Gorge started with camel milk.

We went off the beaten path a bit and found some at a small farm. I tried a sip, and it tasted much like cow’s milk but less creamy.

That morning, we were driving from Merzouga, near where we’d spent the night in the Sahara, and arrived at our hotel near Todra Gorge mid-afternoon.

Some of the group took the rest of the day as a break, but most of us went for a walk through some farms into the gorge — a lovely walk of just over an hour where we saw groves of almond trees and other crops, like broccoli and green beans.

The gorge itself was a beautiful sight, but the stroll was my favourite part. I’ve never considered myself an outdoorsy person, but I’d gotten used to being in nature and on the move while travelling, as my last few trips were quite active and hiking-heavy. Only when dodging through trees and hopping across streams did I realize I missed it.

We spent the night there with a dinner of couscous at the hotel, then headed out again in the morning to Aït Benhaddou, with a couple stops along the way, notably at a place for Moroccan spices and herbs. We got a demonstration by an herbalist, who walked us through the spices used in Moroccan cuisine as well as their natural remedies, from saffron to black-seed.

We arrived in Aït Benhaddou early afternoon, after lunch at a local restaurant where I had merguez sausages. The town, which has several film studios, is known for being the site of many famous sets, from Lawrence of Arabia to Game of Thrones.

The earthen fortified village itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and 8 families still live there.

As we toured the site, our local guide pointed out corners where sets had been constructed, like the small ring in Gladiator. We saw some guest rooms, like the one below…

…and lots of photos and movie posters from film sets posted around the site.

We also got to peek into old homes, like the kitchen here (no longer in use).

One part I especially enjoyed was seeing a Berber painter at work in one of the rooms around the giant complex. He painted using natural ingredients like Moroccan tea or Indigo, and then burned the painting to make the ink show up, which he demonstrated.

It was a very nice village to walk around, with remnants of film sets here and there.

We climbed to the top and were greeted with a lovely panorama of the surrounding hills and desert.

After making our way back down, we visited a rug-making collective of beautiful handmade works and got another demonstration of the craft to wrap up the day.

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