Arriving in Ulaanbaatar

Getting to Mongolia in some ways is simple, in some ways is not. How it’s simple: Americans do not require a visa, and at present no COVID testing is required. I say at present, because COVID seems to be spiking again across the world. South Korea is now actively screening for Monkey Pox. How it’s not: From Raleigh, I flew to Atlanta, then to Seoul, then to Ulaanbaatar. My journey was more than 24 hours. The last two times I flew to Asia, the flight path left Alaska and crossed Russia en route to Asia.  This time, we stayed out over the Pacific until we reached Japan.  The Chinnghis (Genghis) Khan airport is recently rebuilt and quite modern. I quickly got through customs, claimed my bag, and caught a ride to the city.

Mongolia is an amazing country!  It is land locked between China and Russia – some neighbors, right?  When Mongolia asserted its independence, it was at first the “People’s Republic of…” influenced strongly by their Russian neighbors.  In the 80’s, as the Soviet Union crumbled, Mongolia took steps to establish its own democratic government, and has remained so ever since.  This is one of the least populated countries in the world.  Most of the land is wild steppe and Gobi desert, and the people here are traditionally nomadic.  They are herders, and live in portable structures called “gers”, or what we call yurts.  The capital, Ulaanbaatar, is a large, cosmopolitan city.  I’m staying on the 17th floor of a lovely high rise hotel. There are many ecotourism sites where you can stay in a traditional ger. If I had more time, I might try that.

The Mongolians are incredibly welcoming, accomplished, and well educated, with a literacy rate equal to the US.  They have broad social and religious tolerance.  So far, they have not run many interventional clinical trials, and that’s what brings me here.  I have come to train them to run a study of a new COVID vaccine.  The Mongolian government reached out to the vaccine developer and promised to provide financial support if they agree to test their vaccine here.  They hired my company, FHI Clinical, because we specialize in running studies in remote places around the world.  Originally, we planned to train the clinical site who will be running the study.  Word spread quickly, now we are training 57 professionals, including members of the Ministry of Health.  The local team pulled it together brilliantly, like a major conference complete with banners, binders, and name tags.  We brought a translator who will translate our words for the participants. So!  Here I am, and training begins tomorrow.

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Schools and Roads

I look forward to describing the roads in Liberia.  Before I do, I want to reflect on education.  I saw many children in school uniforms while I was in Liberia.  There are public, private, and missionary schools.  Too many to be regulated.  It looks like anyone can hang a shingle and create a school.  Parents must pay tuition, and the real schools – the good ones – are expensive.  So, most children get a minimum of an education.  The literacy rate for women 15 and older in Liberia in 2020 was about 35%.  There is no requirement that children attend school, so I also saw many children working and playing during the day, apparently not attending school at all.  And I see this reflected in our work.  Many of our study participants sign their informed consent forms with a thumb print.  Reading is not big in Liberia.  You don’t see people reading for pleasure.  I saw no library.  Many of the most educated professionals in Liberia have English skills (the primary language of Liberia) that are not sufficient in a professional setting.  Aspiring students are asked to take the TOEFL exam – the Test of English as a Foreign Language.  I read reports from my team in Liberia, and they are full of errors of grammar and spelling, with random capitalization.  We are trying to raise up the clinical research infrastructure in Liberia, and part of it is investing in education for our team.  The NIH has a stunningly generous program called Enhancing PREVAIL which provides full scholarships and living expenses plus salary for employees accepted into accredited degree programs.  We also support remote learning and certificate programs meant to raise the skills of our team.  I would love to introduce a professional writing program to help our team – especially our leadership team – achieve writing skills appropriate for business. 

Now let’s talk about the roads! 

Traveling around Liberia is quite an adventure.  There are indeed many paved roads, but the majority of roads are unpaved.  Even in downtown Monrovia, the main thoroughfares are paved, but as soon as you need to turn off onto a side road, it is generally unpaved.  Unpaved, and not maintained.  On the paved roads, there are traffic lines that no one pays any attention to at all.  There are cars that plod their way through traffic, but I saw no working stoplights or streetlights for that matter.  They exist on some main roads, but I don’t think they have worked for quite some time.  In addition to the cars, there are many many motorbikes, sometimes carrying 3 people, weaving through traffic.  And as is common in West Africa, their answer to taxis are called keh kehs.  These are little 3-wheeled vehicles, that also weave through traffic, moving off road or wherever they find a path.  A sound I will always associate with Liberia is the constant, gentle horn taps as cars weave near motorbikes and keh kehs to alert them to be careful.  Here’s a picture of a new one, but I saw no new ones in Liberia.  They were in pretty bad shape – clearly having seen many scrapes! 

Many of the keh kehs have some kind of slogan on the back.  Some reference the owner, others say things like “Jesus is alive” or “God protects me” or “No work no food”.  One read “Make cash not friends”.  Since the roads are absolute bedlam, cars generally can’t move very freely.  This means opportunity for people selling random goods!  They wander through the traffic selling anything and everything – I have seen every kind of food, soft drinks, q-tips, car mats, brooms, newspapers…the works. 

There is a long road you must take from the airport road in Monrovia to reach our biorepository lab deep through the rubber plantations run by Firestone.  There is also a chimpanzee rescue there which is fun until one of them throws a handful of pebbles at you.  😉 The road to the lab is unpaved and I really think it is a huge overstatement to even call it a road.  Our driver had to very slowly weave back and forth all over the road to avoid the largest ruts and pits to avoid getting stuck.  Once, some sensitive equipment still packed in their shipping boxes arrived ruined because the road was so rough, even well packaged, screens cracked and pieces snapped.  Now, imagine you are the lab director living up to two hours away and one of the -80 freezers alarm goes off because of an interruption of power or system failure.  You have to make your way in the dark along this dangerous “road” to investigate.  Both ways!  Our staff have to commute on that road!  It is unbelievable.

Our journey from the Cape Hotel to the airport took us 2 hours, mostly along unpaved, congested roads.  This is not an easy place to navigate.  Thank goodness we have a crew of professional drivers.  Also, the US embassy transports Americans to and from the airport for ease of access. 

Once at the airport, we passed through at least 5 stations before reaching our gate.  There was a duty-free store there, which seemed utterly out of place, selling liquor and expensive perfume.  To travel home, we required our vaccination card, proof of a negative COVID test within one calendar day from the start of our journey, an entry form with QR code for Belgium, and of course our passport.  None of these are simple to acquire.  If you lose track of even one of them, you’re not traveling that day!  One nice (and kind of scary) surprise was going through customs in Washington.  I have Global Entry.  Pre-COVID, it required me to scan my passport at a kiosk in customs, answer a few questions on the screen, snap a photo, then print a receipt.  This time, the first instruction was to aim the camera at your face for a photo.  That was also the last instruction.  Out came a receipt with my full travel details and personal information.  Done.  Kind of cool, kind of terrifying.  And friends, this was my puffy, unwashed, 26 hours on the road face.  No problem – they got it exactly right.  That is scary technology, and I am most certainly ON THE GRID.  So are you, probably. 

I was so happy and grateful to be home!  After a hot shower, my bed never felt more luxurious.  And now I am back to my normal life, but enhanced with respect for my colleagues in Africa, compassion for the people there, and gratitude for my comfortable life in the United States.  I look forward to returning!

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Party Time

My counterpart in Liberia was able to arrange for a PREVAIL-wide party while we were in country.  It was on a Saturday, scheduled to begin at noon and go into the night.  In the hot Liberian sun!  I packed a big hat and sunscreen so I was ready.  The event was designed to be a mini-Olympics, pitting our noble PREVAIL teams against the student teams on the campus where we work.  There were three events:  Men’s volleyball, Women’s kickball, and the main event – FOOTBALL!! 

Volleyball

The game was in progress when we arrived.  All the teams that day had uniforms, with ours proudly referencing our research program: PREVAIL!  These fellow played aggressively and competitively.  In the end, the trophy for Volleyball went to the students (AMD).

Kickball…

A word about Liberian Kickball.  This sport was created in Liberia specifically for women to play.  A few decades ago, there was no time and space for women’s sports in Liberia culture.  Kickball Liberian style is a lot like baseball, but the pitcher rolls a soccer ball and the batter kicks it.  It is now an institution for women raised in Liberia.  These women are FIERCE!  I really enjoyed cheering them on!  I love that much of this team was made up of my peers, which is to say, middle aged women.  Note in the photo that they played in their stocking feet.  Luckily the field was mostly sand, but if you don’t have shoes for your kit (uniform), you play in socks.  I want to buy these women kickball shoes!!  After a very good fight, PREVAIL lost to AMD. 

The Main Event:  FOOTBALL IS LIFE

Now, this is the only match people really took seriously.  First, the team made their entrance hanging out of cars that circled the pitch while they were cheered on.  Our Project Management Assistant from one of our sites did the play-by-play, and Oh Man he was funny.  “Oh my WORD!” he would exclaim after a good play.  “Rest easy in your seats!!  We will most certainly triumph!”  The game ended in a 2-2 tie.  They took shots on goal for the win, and PREVAIL TOOK THE CUP!!!!!

Feast

Around the middle of all this, some of our staff set up a buffet.  I joined the queue with my colleague Leslie who splits her time between Liberia and Uganda.  I said, “Leslie, you need to tell me what all of this is” and she said “I usually find it’s best not to ask”.  So I put a little of everything on my plate – a very spicy meatball, some smoky rice, grilled pork and chicken, Liberian potato salad, and some cabbage salad.  My friends, it was delicious!!! 

As the football game started to wind down, a live band began to play and people started to dance and sing.  Such a joyful scene!  I will never forget the amused and approving smiles as I jumped up to dance with them.  I saw my CEO grinning at me out of the corner of my eye.  😊  If you have the great good luck to visit another culture in a faraway land, throw yourself in!!  Sing and dance and laugh and eat.  Hug your new friends close and thank God for showing you the power of the human spirit. 

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Health Care Soldiers

We recognize and respect our military for their bravery.  Since the invasion of COVID, we recognize and admire our front-line workers.  Please let me tell you about the brave armies of doctors, nurses, lab technicians, clinical researchers, etc. who rush into the middle of epidemics of the most infectious and fatal diseases known to man, in the middle of a civil war.  I have had the privilege to sit with my colleagues from NIH and their subcontractor Leidos and hear their war stories. 

When I say war stories, it is not a euphemism.  The regions where they work – Liberia, People’s Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Guinea – these are countries who routinely erupt in bloody coups and civil wars.  War and infectious disease go hand in hand.  These governments are broadly corrupt which means the politicians are affluent and the majority of citizens live in poverty.  The US government via the NIH and its subdivisions are constantly responding to outbreaks. 

Many people question why the US invests so much money in the developing world.  They look to all the need in our own country and wonder why we do not start there.  I understand that.  Think about COVID.  It began in China and exploded.  First, Asia…then Europe, and I felt like I was sitting on the beach watching the storm approach.  In 2014 there was a large Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia.  You should be TERRIFIED of Ebola.  Most people understand that.  Well, this world is a lot smaller thanks to air travel and the scale of international collaborations.  A handful of American aid workers were infected with Ebola and brought to the US for treatment.  I practically held my breath until they got the all-clear.  We invest in the developing world where infectious disease emerges and first spreads with the goal of stopping or at least slowing it.  We try to learn about it, and quickly develop screening tests and treatments, so when it inevitably reaches our shores, we are prepared. 

Our government also studies terrible diseases from a defense perspective – how do we protect our soldiers and citizens if an insane dictator weaponizes it? So, who are the people who rush in?  They aren’t getting hazard pay.  They aren’t trained military.  They are nurses, researchers, grandmothers and nurses, fathers and all forms of civilians.  My NIH colleague was explaining that she has to take a course every 5 years to train her on things like evasive driving, how to grab the wheel when your driver is disabled, what happens inside a car when bullets are fired, where to hide behind a car (and where not), how to evade people following you, and how to crawl to safety in a dangerous situation.  She said certain employees have to complete a training where they put a bag on your head and march you for 16 miles, like a kidnapper might.  And they willingly rush to these parts of the world where help is needed.  Another colleague shrugs it off and says, usually they just want to walk you to an ATM and force you to withdraw cash.  Like that’s no big deal.  These people are unsung heroes of global health.  The don’t get paid a whole lot.  They are here because they care and they can help.  They seek no praise or recognition.  I am in awe.

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And there is much charm…

Despite the disease and destruction in Liberia, you will find the people here charming.

Women carry enormous parcels on their heads.  They walk down the street in the blasting heat with bags, baskets, and buckets balanced on their heads.  They make it look effortless.  I noted they wear a halo of a twisted scarf on their head onto which they balance their bundles.  They seem never at risk to drop them – I even saw a woman with a parcel on her head on the back of a motorbike.  Interestingly, almost no men do this.  Seems to be a woman’s mad skill.

Day 2 in my hotel, when I walk through the door at the end of the day, I am greeted enthusiastically with a “Hi, Joy!”.  In the restaurant, Cyrus our waiter brings my colleague her white wine spritzer as soon as she arrives.  Yesterday, a young man noticed my boss’ shoe was untied.  He dropped to the ground to tie it for him.  He protested uncomfortably but the young man insisted, cheerfully.  My colleagues here work incredibly hard and care passionately about their work and their teams.  Through they have lived through atrocities, this is a land of big smiles and big hearts.  I feel very welcome and protected here.      

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Wrecked

Today I had my first good look at Liberia.  The best word I can think of to describe it is wrecked.  I wish I saw it 20 years ago.  I look at the crumbling infrastructure and I wonder how nice it would have been back in the day.  Monrovia is a city on the Atlantic Ocean, slightly above the equator.  It has beautiful beaches.  It also has the bad luck to be impoverished and corrupt, with a bloody brutal history.  In this land, some people still eat the hearts of their enemies.

Liberian rebel sentenced in Switzerland for war crimes, cannibalism
Story by Reuters
Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT) June 18, 2021

On April 12, 1980, the President of Liberia was overthrown and murdered with his cabinet by Samuel Doe in a violent coup.  Doe ruled for 10 years until HIS assassination at the beginning of the first Liberian civil war.  I could tell you more stories of horror, but suffice it to say, things didn’t really look up for Liberia.  Corruption is still the brand here.  The infrastructure is destroyed and now 68% of people live in poverty.  The civil wars left horrible scars.  No one is replacing the destroyed buildings – they patch over patches until the whole capital looks like a shanty town.  Any halfway decent structure is protected by a tall wall topped with razor wire.  Outside of my hotel compound, past the guards who monitor the gates, people set up sidewalk stalls, hoping the affluent hotel guests choose to wander out on foot to see what they have to sell.  A US dollar goes way father than it should.  When a country crumbles like this, one of the first things it loses is adequate healthcare.  Now horrible diseases, long since conquered, are back in force.  Polio, tuberculosis, typhoid, and even leprosy are no strangers here.  And THAT is why I am here.  Working for a program studying lots of terrible diseases.  Trying to force these evil genies back into their bottle.  I visited the best lab in the nation today, and learned they are handling Ebola and Lassa fever samples in a BSL-2 lab.  They should only be handled in a BSL-4 lab.  There is no BSL-5.  The staff here are taking incredible risks with their lives, working with these samples without adequate protection.  No one has been infected in the lab, thank God.  There is not one single BSL-4 lab in all of Liberia.  Of course they know the danger, but they are brave and they are heroes.  So yeah, let’s help.

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My Liberia Story Begins

COVID has grounded many of us travelers for more than 2 years now.  Today, I resume international travel in a huge way.  Once more, my business is taking me somewhere far and strange to me – I will spend almost 2 weeks in Liberia.  I lead a large research program as a subcontractor to Dr. Fauci’s division at NIH.  This program began during the civil unrest and the accompanying Ebola outbreak in Liberia.  The US and Liberian governments collaborated to found PREVAIL: Partnership for Research in the Ebola Virus in Liberia.  It has now expanded to be called the Partnership for Research in Infectious Disease in Liberia.  In addition to Ebola, we are studying Lassa Fever, HIV, and yes – COVID. 

My career, until recently, has been spent working with pharmaceutical and biotech companies developing new treatments for serious diseases.  I now have a new fraternity of colleagues who focus on the most broken and dangerous parts of the world to address the global health crisis that comes from political unrest and extreme poverty.  We met up with 2 of our colleagues from NIH – veterans of research in Africa.  They started trading war stories, as veterans do.  Of the 4 of us, I am the novice in this region.  All three have not hesitated to rush into war zones with deadly infectious outbreaks.  Imagine trying to manage the cold chain for vaccines in the middle of a war zone in sub-Saharan Africa.  All in a day’s work.  The elder NIH colleague spoke of getting stranded in the bush when their driver failed to fill the gas tank before picking them up, and of how another time their car was surrounded by an angry mob, rocking it back and forth, simply because they didn’t know who rode inside.  She said “There are some stories you just don’t tell your family”.

I am traveling with the CEO of my company, who spent a lot of time in Sierra Leone during the last Ebola outbreak.  He told me the civil unrest that began in Liberia spread to Sierra Leone, and it was a brutal ordeal.  This was just a few years ago.  He told me I should brace myself to see a lot of amputees.  The gangs of insurgents would raid a village, conscripting the men and boys to fight with them.  If they refused, they were offered two choices:  long sleeves or short sleeves.  If they picked long sleeves, their hand would be amputated above the wrist.  If they picked short sleeves, they lost their arm to the shoulder.  He also explained that the unrest incapacitated the health care system.  As a result, many people did not get basic vaccines.  Polio has made a big comeback, as a result.  He told me I will see many people handicapped by polio.  This explains when the travel health agency I visited gave me a polio booster vaccine.  I was also vaccinated against typhus, yellow fever, pneumonia, and hepatitis A and B.

So, here I go.  Getting ready to board my flight to Liberia by way of Cote D’Ivoire.  Planes stop in Cote D’Ivoire to refuel and re-supply, so they can get out of Liberia after dropping us off.  It isn’t safe to leave planes overnight in Liberia, and they cannot get the resources they need in country.  Not many airlines fly from Europe to Liberia.  Maybe just Brussels Air. 

Today it is my turn to get initiated in this noble fraternity.  I am sure I will have some stories to tell.

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A Day at Ombuto

I thought today I would give you a view of what my days are like at this culinary vacation.

8:30 am: breakfast. My breakfast includes strong Italian coffee with frothed milk, a slice or two of prosciutto, a small wedge of cheese, a slice of crunchy bread, some fruit, and a small glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Sometimes I drizzle a tiny bit of honey on the meat and cheese.

We are free until 3, so I set off on an excursion. Today I visited Cortona. Oh!! Really gorgeous. If an artist designed a town to be the idyllic and stereotypical Tuscan town, it would look exactly like every one I have seen. It’s the kind of beautiful where you shake your head in amazement and declare out loud “Are you KIDDING me?!” Yes, the beauty of Italy is no exaggeration. It’s, if anything, so much more than you believe it could possibly be.Image

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I return by around 1:30 and find the other students finishing up some amazing lunch. There is always plenty remaining for me. Around 2 I relax, walk around the estate, or sit in a chair on my terrace staring at my view.  Here is my suite at the villa:

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At 3, we meet in the dining room with Chef Paola, and she reviews all the dishes we will prepare that day. We remove the recipes from our books to take notes. There are usually at least 10 per day…some easier, some more challenging. All delicious! Today we made rabbit, Tuscan meatloaf, beet and potato ravioli, broccoli pasta roll, orange custard and shortbread cake, leek crepes, vegetables in puff pastry, biscotti, and pistachio crusted stuffed pork. We put on our aprons and choose a station in the kitchen. Then the magic begins! Paola begins giving us assignments. We each work on a few dishes. Today I made the leek crepes, orange custard for the cake, and the beet and potato ravioli. Pasta the old fashioned way, stretching and rolling it until it is as thin as silk, which is really hard to do without tearing it or getting it stuck to the surface. Around 6:30 we take a break and there is always some fantastic treat. I think the point is really to give the staff a chance to clean the mess we made before the final push to completion. There is a woman who speaks no English. Her job is mostly to continuously wash dishes so we always have bowls, measuring cups, pans, etc. We don’t wash – no time! Paola expects us to work hard and precisely and we do! She circulates giving advice, demonstrating technique, and performing quality control. I have learned to be very careful about the exact size things should be cut. She is strict!  Here is our kitchen:

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We finish by around 7:30 when she sends us out of the kitchen for a break before dinner, usually served around 8:15 (early by Italian standards). The dining table has been set by the kitchen assistant or the resort manager, Sheena, using flowers and branches from the estate to set truly gorgeous tables. The first night we all changed for dinner, but since then we are all so whipped we sit in chairs in front of the dining room fireplace and drink wine until the first coarse is served. Dinner is usually 4 courses, and I tend to have a few bites only of each. I am here to learn to cook, not eat, so I want to taste everything but I have finished nothing! Tonight our first course was an onion soup you eat with a fork. The next course was my ravioli and the broccoli roll. The 3rd course was a trio of rabbit, Tuscan meatloaf, and the vegetables in puff pastry. Dessert was the “Grandmother’s Cake” which was the shortbread layered with orange custard. Each savory course is paired with wine, and before dessert, they bring out (no exaggeration) at least 30 bottles of cognac, limoncello, grappa, etc. Then we sit around talking for awhile, before peeling off for bed.

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When I return to my rustic and cozy room, I inspect it for critters and evict any uninvited spiders or (tonight) slugs. We are in the country here, and they have no screens. Part of the charm! I get ready for bed, and check in with home events, and sometimes write my blog. Then I fall asleep thinking about where I’ll explore tomorrow!

Buona notte, tutti!

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Excursion Day

Today was excursion day!  We boarded a bus that had no business being on the scary gravel road, and headed to Arezzo.  This region of Tuscany is made of medieval walled mountain towns.  They are full of architecture from the 13th century forward, and usually have remarkable cathedrals or a castle.  The cathedral in Arezzo, despite being 800 years old, had the most amazing altar I have ever seen:

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Next, we headed for our wine tasting at Villa La Ripa. The owner and his family are the 5th to own this villa in 800 years. He bought it 20 years ago. It had originally belonged to a Medici. He was telling us the history over a glass of wine in his music room. The walls were covered in frescos which he said dated back to when that part of the villa was built in the 16th century. He gestured towards me and said so does the chair I am sitting on. Yikes! In the US this chair would be in a museum. He found a marble capital (top of a Roman column) which led to some research that confirmed the ancient Romans lived on that spot and also that they produced wine.

The owner is a neurologist and psychiatrist, and named his award winning wine “Psycho”. Here he is, and his lovely sitting room. He says he and his wife use all 35 rooms in the villa!
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Next we headed to an olive oil farm. The family grows olives and has a press that appears ancient. The son is running the business, and explained that local families bring their olive harvest to his press also. He showed us how the oil is made, then his mother made us lunch and served it to us in their family home. We met many people in his family, and his father, who spoke no English but communicated through me in French, proudly showed us a book that had a photo of his father shaking JFK’s hand as part of an agriculture diplomatic visit in 1961. The lunch began with an olive oil tasting, with the son presenting all of his experiments with flavor. Lunch ended with an obligatory tasting of his grappa (he makes a small amount of wine, also). It was such a wonderful visit with two families to see how they live and to learn about their products. Here is the olive oil farm:
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He told us how he is planning a big party for the family’s 600 anniversary in the villa in 2021. It will last a week with a different chef every day, and we are invited!

We ended the day with a visit to a goat dairy, where we had a goat cheese tasting (goat ricotta – yum) and saw goats get milked. Fun day.
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Back to our villa where we had the minestrone soup I made in our first class and delicious panna cotta (kind of an Italian flan) for dessert. Class again tomorrow, and maybe Cortona if the weather is good.

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Pizza Night

Though I thought 9 was pretty late for breakfast, I was the first person there.  Cool gadgets Chef Paola has that I do not: automatic milk frother, electric orange juicer.  Great coffee, whole grain bread still warm from the oven, local cheeses…mmmm! Next I decided to venture off the estate to explore the local castle.  This was scary for me because of the winding one lane gravel road, and the chance I would never find it again if I left.  But mustn’t let fear hold me back, so I rallied and set forth.  I found myself driving through the heart of an ancient medieval village.  I found a place to park, and explored the town. image Where Florence was filled with Americans, I saw none this deep in the countryside.  Just locals in animated conversations, gesturing madly.  Va bene, va bene!!  At the end of town was a beautiful little church where a saint is buried: San Fedele.  No one was there, but it was open.  They had old fashioned real candles (not the electric ones in most city churches now), and I lit one for my grandma Anna who died six years ago this Friday.  It’s nice to be Catholic in Italy. image Finally I hiked up to the castle on the top of the mountain. poppi-castello

After exploring the castle, which has an amazing library of books from the 15th century forward, I found my way home for cooking class #1. Today was pizza night, but we made lots of other dishes that will go towards our dinners later in the week. We prepared pumpkin custards, pizza dough, pizza sauce, minestrone soup, puttanesca sauce, bruschetta topping, parsley sauce, panna cotta, an onion soup, and a peach and almond tart. I made the minestrone soup and the pumpkin custards with another student. I call this photo “Fire is GOOD”. These earned us a round of applause at dinner.
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We each made a pizza and cooked it in an outdoor stove. They cooked in 7 minutes at approximately 900 degrees.
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I ate one eighth of that yummy pizza, even after skipping lunch. Gotta pace myself!

Tomorrow I am planning to go to Livorno in the morning. After I successfully returned from my morning adventure today, I will have a full car tomorrow.

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