Sunday, March 16, 2014

Protect This!


Currently, the Pathfinders are in Minca, a town in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Colombia.

We are working with MisiĆ³n Gaia, a local Non-Government Organization, to help protect diversity, develop low-impact environmental processes, promote awareness of conservation and responsible consumption as well as encourage respect for nature.

This translates into us working on a daily basis on educating schoolchildren and adults about environmental processes and issues, and building sustainable environmental structures, such as composters, composting latrine, permaculture gardens, and seed beds.

That being said, these projects, and our entire trip, costs money.

To raise awareness for the environmental issues in Colombia, as well as money for our trip, the pathfinders are uniting for an educational campaign “Protect This!”

We will be providing daily information about the environment issues and profiles of local wildlife, as well as photographs of the area we are trying to protect.

You can support us at Follow us on facebook at to learn more about this wonderful area of the world.


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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Story of Two Drinks


Recently, while traveling through Guayaquil, I purchased two delicious, Ecuadorian produced drinks. One was a delicious tomatillo juice, and the other was a Rockstar energy drink. Now, I know what you are asking… How on earth is the Rockstar energy drink Ecuadorian? As it turns out, dear reader, there is a bottling plant in Guayaquil, which is just an hour and a half boat ride from the island where we are currently staying. Seeing as this drink is not available worldwide, and this is in fact the first time we have encountered it since we embarked, I have been drinking quite a bit of my favorite energy drink.

On this fateful day, I purchased more than a dozen (they don’t have it on our island), put them in my backpack, and began walking to the pier where I would catch a boat back to our island. On the way, I walked through a naval base, and was stopped by a couple of seamen who were on break. As it turns out, they love Rockstar, and it was their favorite drink. Seeing as I had so many, I offered them both one, and we talked for some time about what they do. As one was a medic, we also talked about what it is like to become a doctor in Ecuador verses in the United States. After some time, during which they were extremely kind as I spoke in broken Spanish, they escorted me off the base and thanked me for the drinks. This was an extremely wonderful interaction I had with local people that was facilitated by my favorite drink.

My favorite drink

My favorite drink

The interaction I had from the tomatillo juice was of a different type.

Both me and Conor had breakfast with a glass of tomatillo juice. Tomatillo juice is made from red tomatillo (rather than yellow tomatillo which Americans are more familiar with), and is rather like a mix of tomato and strawberry juice. We had confirmed with the owner of the restaurant that the juice was made with purified water before we ordered it.

He lied.

For two days after our trip to Guayaquil, the major interaction Conor and I had was with the toilet, as we suffered through two days of vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and constant nausea. While I already noted the importance of purified water, this gave me first hand experience with the problem.


And now, after my experiences with these two Ecuadorian drinks, I am very hesitant to drink any more tomatillo juice, even from other restaurants, but am more than happy to get a caffeine boost from my Rockstars.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Turing malaria into a positive thing: fundraising time!

So, I’m currently ill, and am not able to due much, but I am doing this:

So, it’s time for our Ghana Fundraiser. But, as I am typing this, I am fighting malaria…

Not in the humanitarian, handing out mosquito nets and medicine way, but in the malaria is in my blood way…. In the sweating and headaches and taking 15 pills a day way…

And so, I’m asking for your help. Even with me currently fighting this infection, the work of the Pathfinders Project and our current partner AFAWI, the Alliance For African Women Initiate, is still going strong. But to continue, we need your help.

Please consider supporting our cause. I am prepared to offer the following bonuses, in my malarial state,to incentivize your donation.

For just $10, I will give you a shout out on facebook /twitter.

For $25, I will send you information on avoiding HIV/AIDS (one of the other blood borne illnesses prevalent in this area), the very same information I have given to hundreds of at risk children here in Africa.

For $50 I will send you an explanation of how a little parasite is able to give me (and millions others every year) all of this malaria suffering.

For $75, I will write you a poem. Any topic, and any rhyme scheme or other way that you want me to write you a poem, you got it.

For $100, I will draw a cartoon explaining a biologic phenomenon just for you.

For $150, I will write a blog post about you, and how much your generosity means to me.

If you have any other suggestions of things you would like me to do, please message me at Ben (at)>

Make sure to check it out, and donate at

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Z/Zed discrepancy

(This post was written as we were in our 3rd week in Cambodia)


For the last few weeks, we have been in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and working with the Bridge Of Life School. We are teaching English to the students of this school, who speak Khmer (the language of Cambodia). There are two classes of students (each about 25 students), one working on conversational English, and the other on the basics, such as English letters. We have been working mostly with the students learning English letters, and it is proving a challenging environment for me.

Now, I became a certified (in the state of Minnesota) tutor my sophomore year of college, and I have a huge amount of experience in the area. But, I tutor mostly college level science (biology, chemistry, and physics), with some ACT prep and math thrown in there, but nothing like working with children this young. It seems like the average age of students learning English letters is ~7, and I haven’t tutored someone that young since I was that age myself. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that I haven’t tutored English before, much less English to speakers of other languages.

When I am teaching English to these students, I have to speak slowly and carefully, making sure to pronounce things as clearly as possible, so as to not teach them poor pronunciation. Not to mention all of the differences between their English and what I learned. Due to Cambodia’s history (originally a colony), they say Z as “zed”, not “zee” as I am used to…. And the first time a student looked at me with confusion when I said our 26th letter, I had no idea what I did wrong. I first thought that the student didn’t know the letter….

But then as I realized the problem, I had a minor freak-out….

I had already taught several children that that letter is Z(ee). I wondered how many children I had ruined…. Language is cumulative, and habits stick around. Could this incorrect information stick with this child? Could it spread? Would my volunteering, no matter how well intentioned, actually make the child’s education less effective?

Would this child be worse of because of me?

So…… Yea….

I am looking forward to teaching science instead….. Besides the fact that I know how science works, and I have experience in science education, it is something that doesn’t scare me.

Science education is already so strongly based on cultivation of concepts. The things you learn in elementary school are not correct. They are simply in the right direction. And every few years, you learn the things you though are not really the way things work…. And then a few years later you learn that again….. And again… And again….

And so it is not simply about learning facts, or concepts…. Science education is about learning to flow and understand, and to make sense of things that don’t make sense….

And I am good at that. I like that….

But not this “Zee/Zed” crap.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

25 Minutes

A 5 liter bottle for the house,

A 1.5 liter bottle for me.

Another 1. 5 liter bottle for Conor.

And another for Wendy.

Wendy and Michelle have “reusable” water bottles, so 700ml each for those.

That is roughly the amount of water we, the Pathfinders Pack, drink a day. And so that is the amount of purified drinking water we need to produce per day.

A total of 10.9 liters….. Plus drips and spills and mis-measures, so closer to 12 liters….

12 liters per day must be purified.

We use a SteriPEN provided to us by Michelle. This remarkable gadget uses UV to purify water, dismembering the DNA of the would-be pathogens with its 254 nm shine. The SteriPEN has 2 settings, one for 500 milliliters, and one for 1 liter. Our processing time sped up after I made a 1 liter “beaker” using an old 1.5 liter bottle, a 300mL bottle, a pocket knife, and math reminiscent of 3rd grade.

The SteriPEN takes 90 seconds for a 1 liter batch, and so purification for our 12 liters takes 18 minutes of pure UV light-show. 18 minutes of 90 second batches separated by pouring out the purified water into a more suitable container, and pouring in water from a jerrycan.

It works out to about 25 minutes to purify all the drinking water for a day.

Michelle and I do the bulk of the water purification, and so we will spend that 25 minutes chatting…. Or arguing….

More than once, I have been unable to sleep and will spend that 25 minutes in the middle of the night, listening to Skeptically Speaking, or jamming out to music to the light of the SteriPEN.

I may spend those 25 minutes reading wikipedia articles, or pursuing through lab reports or microbiology textbooks on my ipad.

And sometimes I will just spend those 25 minutes in silence, reflecting on the day, or myself, or my path…. And thinking…. Contemplating….. Dreaming….

25 minutes to keep us drinking purified water. 25 minutes to prevent the local bacteria from colonizing our guts.

25 minutes to prevent hours over the squat toilet.

A necessary 25 minutes…

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Modern Embassies


The PathfindersProject trip is a long one…..

This trip is a year long, in 8 countries, and with more than 10 service location. So a lot of planning went into the trip…..


That being said, things change, and success favors the prepared and the flexible, so one of the precautions we took was to register our trip with the US Embassies in the countries we are going to.

email from embassy

One of several email notifications we have received.

This means that (since we live in the technology age) we get email updates from the Embassies whenever there is a concern, with information about the concern, including suggested safety precautions.

Now, this is a wonderful service provided by our government, and I feel it is very appropriately done.

That being said, they provide more services, such as apps for your smart phone (makes sense), a facebook page to like (seems a little silly) or even following them on twitter

Now it’s not that I don’t think these services should exist (I’m sure lots of people gain from it, with almost no cost to upkeep) but I just think it is absurd that you can follow your embassy on twitter….


The Official Twitter page

Oh the world we live in… It is beginning to make me feel like a crotchety old man.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Missing them….

So, today was our last full day in the village. We will be heading back to Siem Reap tomorrow afternoon. And after only a week in this village, a week without running water, electricity, Internet, and non-squat toilets, I have begun to adjust to this way of life…to adjust to sleeping on the floor under a mosquito net, with dogs barking in the night….

And I will miss it.

I will miss the stare of the villagers, who haven’t seen white people in long enough to make us a spectacle. I will miss the meals, made lovingly for us with good will, love, fresh rice, and dramatically oversized portions. I will miss having Chia translating the words of his friends, newborns and family to us, as they don’t speak any English at all.

And the monks and children that we teach English to, who have likely never heard a native English speaker before, and the huge smiles on their faces…. I will miss them the most.

I’m not sure if I will grow to miss the references to how I am the “Fat Man” (fat is a good thing here, so they mean it as a compliment) but I think I may.

I doubt I will miss the dogs barking and fighting all through the night (keeping me up) or the woven mats for sleeping, or showering with a bucket from a pot of rain water in front of the neighbors, or the squat toilet….

Oh squat toilet…… I will miss you least of all…

But then, who knows?

The mind is a fickle, silly, sentimental thing, which has a habit of remembering things too fondly….

Tonight, we had a going away party, and afterwards, the women who hang around us at home, and make us food, and watch us when we eat it gave us a gift. They represented the families who now have wells (and fresh water) thanks to our support. They gave us their blessings, and their thank you-s, and wished us good travels and a safe return, and told us to come back to this village someday. They told us they they may not remember our names, but they would remember us, our faces (my fat-ness), and they reiterated their gratitude for what we did for them.

I will miss them….

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