Dr. Susan Burns stood in front of an eight-foot diameter concrete ring beneath the words, Uganda Equator. She straddled the line painted on the ground. Despite his jet lag and her offers to help him, Mike lugged a five-gallon bucket of water toward her. He’d just arrived from the U.S. to help Francis update the database at the malaria research facility. Earlier that day, Francis had invited them to the equator to see the Coriolis effect up close. The men had dismissed Susan when she told them it only worked on big things, like weather. “It’s science,” they said, ignoring the fact that Susan was a researcher, an epidemiologist. PhD was embroidered onto her lab coat.
Going to the equator would take time away from her research, but Mike and Francis wouldn’t shut up, as if repetition would convince her. “Clockwise in the south. Counterclockwise in the north.” Francis swirled his hands in opposite directions. “Straight down in the middle.”
Her parents always spoke to her the same way about her work. “If mosquito bites are causing problems, then kill the mosquitoes.” They didn’t understand the scale of the problem. It was bigger than a few mosquitoes. Hundreds of millions of people were infected with malaria now.
Before this morning, she hadn’t seen much of Uganda. She’d been working sixteen-hour days in the lab. The drive along Kampala Road to the tourist trap had reminded her of the roads connecting small towns in Ohio. Here, the dirt was deep red instead of brown, and papyrus grew in the fields instead of corn. Cattle grazed on the side of the road, too, but they were different.
“They are ankole,” Francis said. “A sign of high status. Susie, a woman like yourself would do well to marry a man whose family can offer one in payment to the bride’s family. The larger the horn the better.” Francis and Mike laughed at her.
“It’s Susan. Or Dr. Burns.” She set her jaw and swallowed her anger. She would prove them wrong about Coriolis. That would be enough.
Francis placed a box on the ground. It held three funnels. The outer two had a swirl painted in them that spiraled down into the hole at the bottom, mirror images. The one in the middle was unadorned.
Susan stood directly in front of the funnel in the north. “Only gravity will work on the water. It’s about positioning. Let me demonstrate.”
She reached for the bucket, but Francis grabbed it. He poured the water into the funnel to his right, to the south. “Clockwise!” he said. Mike nodded while Francis repeated this to the north, his left.
“No!” Her voice was higher than she had intended. “Stand directly in front of each one—”
They smiled at her as if she were a child.
Despite her protests, Francis repeated his demonstration several times until the bucket was empty. Then the men took selfies together inside the white ring.
Susan straddled the line and stared at them. They were two mosquitoes. The problem was bigger than these two fools. She looked out to the papyrus and the red dirt and the cattle. “I need to get back to work.”