The unBalanced ecoLOGist: Hope and Promise in Khartoum (Use R!)

I just wrapped up an 11-day visit to Khartoum, Sudan, where I co-taught, with my colleague Ahmed Siddig, a six-day intensive short course intended to cover designing reliable biodiversity monitoring studies, basic analysis of the resulting data, and the fundamentals of the R programming language. With approximately six hours available each of the six days (nearly equivalent to the amount of lecture time in an average semester-long course), our initial syllabus included: introductory lectures on data needs about biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa; using biodiversity data to inform environmental policies; sampling design; a morning field exercise to collect biodiversity data on the Shambat campus of the University of Khartoum, in and around the grounds of the Faculty (i.e., Department) of Forestry; a discussion of best practices for data management; basic R (interface, syntax, data entry, manipulations, and exploratory data analysis); and using R for standard ecological statistics applied to biodiversity data (rarefaction and extrapolation, occupancy and detection probability, ordination and classification, and hypothesis testing using regression and analysis of variance). There were also a few skills-building lectures tucked in after hours: success in research and teaching; science communication; and open discussion of how to apply for overseas opportunities.

This seemed like a reasonable schedule and a reasonable goal for a workshop attended by an expected 20 or so M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, junior and senior faculty, and established forestry and wildlife researchers at government agencies. Files would be shared using Dropbox and we would be building scientific capacity among the current generation of young Sudanese researchers and conservationists. Success was assured.

And then our expectations met reality.

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Dispatches from Abroad: A Khartoum Kick-off

Well, I had hoped to finish writing my last post about Valparaiso before I left for another around-the-world journey, but… here I am in Khartoum, on the east bank of the Nile, and one must live—and write—in the present.

I left Boston for the long trip to Khartoum on the afternoon of Tuesday the 31st of January, just a few days after “45” (he-whose-name-shall-not-be-written) issued the now-stayed executive order banning immigration from seven countries, one of which is Sudan; ironically, and barely noted by the media, two decades of economic sanctions imposed by the US on Sudan had been lifted by President Obama a fortnight earlier, apparently with the agreement of incoming-45. My itinerary took me from Boston to New York to Frankfurt to Cairo to Khartoum, where I arrived at 03:30 local time on Thursday, about 32 hours, and four on-time flights (thanks JetBlue, Singapore Air, and EgyptAir!) after I had checked in at Boston. I was met plane-side on the tarmac by my hosts from the University of Khartoum School of Forestry, passed rapidly through Sudan’s passport control (far more rapidly than I expect to get through US CBP—given the two-page Sudanese visa that now graces the middle of my passport—when I return to LAX in mid-March after my sequential trips to Germany and Australia that follow my stay in Sudan), had a nice cup of tea in the VIP lounge, and finally settled in, around 05:00, at the University of Khartoum Guest House. My colleague, host, and former Ph.D. student, Asst. Prof. Ahmed Siddig of the Forestry School at the University of Khartoum, thoughtfully laid in a few snacks to tide me over until breakfast the same day. Although I slept through until 13:30, barely having enough time to scarf down a quick lunch before my first meeting (click on an image to see larger ones).

 

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