Professor describes Pakistani trip
When Ireland beat Pakistan in the World Cup in Cricket, Citadel Biology Professor Alix Darden was dismayed to learn that the Pakistani coach was found dead the next day.
Darden was in Pakistan for 10 days in March as an invited speaker and facilitator for the session on the opportunities and challenges of microbiology education during the Sixth International Biennial Conference of the Pakistan Society for Microbiology held in Islamabad. She also organized and facilitated a two-day biotechnology workshop in Karachi called Biotechnology: Tools for the Future.
Darden donned the traditional female Pakistani garb for the April 18 meeting of BioCid, the biology honor society, to tell cadets about her experiences in that country.
“The first I did when I received the invitation was to check out the online State Department travel advisories,” Darden told cadets. “There were warnings against travel to Pakistan because of terrorism.”
Not to be deterred, Darden started preparing for her trip and was immunized for malaria, typhoid, and hepatitis A and B.
Once in Pakistan, she found herself confined to her hotel for two and a half days due to the volatile political climate. If that wasn’t enough, she couldn’t eat anything fresh because the local water was not potable.
“The milk was not pasteurized,” she said. "You couldn’t eat fresh vegetables or fruit—anything that might have been made with water. Everything had to be heated. I found myself longing for an apple.”
When Darden did finally get out, she found Pakistan to be a very noisy place with beautiful textiles and brightly painted buses offering public transportation. Horse and donkey carts were commonplace, and the cities were polluted.
But what seemed to shock Darden most were the lab conditions.
“The long flowing salwar kameez that is so beautiful,” she said, “is a potential hazard in a lab where it can drag unnoticed in chemicals, bacteria and open flames.”
As an American, she found that she was revered by her Pakistani peers simply because she was a Westerner. To the Islamic female students, who live at home until they are married, she was perceived as very brave.
“Scientists think of themselves as an international community unrestricted by borders and communicating via the language of science,” said Darden. “It was enlightening to experience first hand the science education and microbiological issues studied in a developing country, many of which were, surprisingly, similar to our issues.”