In Which I Forget my Shoes, Play with Fire, and Learn the Letter “H”

Liza David - Ecuador


December 2, 2010

You know how you run around the house making sure that you have everything you need and then you leave the house with a sense that you forgot something-something quite important? Well that happened to me. I left the house with a foreboding feeling that I forgot something.  And I did. I forgot my shoes. This means that I worked today in my socks. Which raises the question how does one forget one’s shoes? After all, just to go outside requires shoes, no?

Well here in Ecuador rainy season has begun. This means that to get to work I wear boots. I also bring along a pair of dry shoes so that I can walk around indoors without trudging mud everywhere. It is especially important not to trudge mud into the laboratory, where I am currently working. In the lab, we grow fungus and bacteria to make coffee plants stronger. We disinfect everything before we use it. Wearing lab coats is a given and we also have nets for our shoes, so that we do not bring any dirt into sterilized areas.

After putting the nets over my socks, I found out that my supervisor would be leaving me for the day. Most of the technology in the lab is somewhat broken and she was going to try and fix the steam-sterilizer. (It has happened where we cannot even open the steam-sterilizer let alone turn it on). Therefore, I would be conducting today’s procedures solo. She stayed to help me prepare the important solutions and gave me instructions on what to do and then left. I had to make sure that the solution was at the proper acidity level. This meant that I got to use the “peh-hachay” (pH) machine and had to add an acidic solution because the number was too basic. Previously, I had difficulty remembering the letter “H” in Spanish, often times confusing it with the letter “J”. No more! Now that I know how to use the machine and more importantly what it is called in Spanish, I will remember the letter “H” in Spanish. I also needed to disinfect some of the materials that we use. We disinfect materials by lighting them on fire and then spread the fire to different surfaces through the use of alcohol. It is so much fun to sterilize objects when fire is involved.

After ensuring that both the solution and the bacteria are ready, I confine myself into a small lab area meant for these types of experiments. I sit there-in my lab coat, goggles, mouth protection, and socks-all alone, removing the bacteria and placing it in the solution. As I do this delicate work I am struck by two thoughts: the first is that it is beyond awesome how I am doing this work and am only eighteen years old. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to sit in a lab by myself. It is empowering how my supervisor trusts me in doing the procedure properly. The second is how much more comfortable work is in just my socks.

Liza David