Mahabuba (Maha) Akhter, Research Coordinator, Division of Endocrinology

Maha (center) with Teresa LaMonica (left) and Anita Thompson-Heisterman (right), both assistant professors in the UVA School of Nursing.

I was born in the Murshidabad district of the state of West Bengal in India, about 120 miles from the state’s capital, Kolkata [formerly Calcutta]. It is an area with a complicated history and shifting political borders: after Indian independence from British colonial rule was achieved in 1947, West Bengal (predominantly Hindu) became part of India, while the mostly Muslim East Bengal became part of Pakistan–and then, in 1971, the independent country of Bangladesh. And it was to Bangladesh–to its capital, Dhaka–that part of my family (including me) moved when I was 14 years old, and where I received my secondary school education. I met my husband there, and in 1995, with our two boys, we moved to the U.S. We came to Charlottesville because at the time my brother-in-law was studying at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce; he eventually moved on to California, but we stayed here!

I am the second of ten children (the oldest, a sister, died in an accident); my father was a physician, and my early years were spent in a small village, to which I still feel strongly bonded. I’m fortunate, though, to have lived in many different settings–from that remote village, to the large and overcrowded cities of Kolkata and Dhaka.

Maha receiving her M.S. diploma, with Carolyn Engelhard, associate professor and director of MS-PHS Programs in UVA’s Department of Public Health Sciences.

In Bangladesh I worked as a practicing physician in the government health service for 11 years, before coming to the U.S.  At UVA, I found work as a lab specialist in a lab attached to a reproductive medicine and infertility clinic. I’ve held several different positions here, including on the hospital’s phlebotomy team while working to complete my M.S. in clinical research. I’ve also worked as a research assistant in the Neurology Department’s Memory and Aging Care Clinic. Currently, I work as a research coordinator for two stellar faculty members, Dr. Robert Carey (Endocrinology) and Dr. Robin Felder (Pathology) who have a grant to study salt sensitivity and blood pressure.

What do you like about your job?

Most of all the people, who are a great source of knowledge and experience. Whenever I have a problem, I feel there is always support and reassurance. Also, I have a fair amount of independence in carrying out my job responsibilities, and I’m encouraged to make use of UVA’s professional education resources.

Maba (far left), with sons (l-r) Tonu Nauage and Onu Nauage, and husband Shafique Ahmed.

Proudest achievement outside the professional realm?

I’m very proud to be the mother of two sons who are each working in their own fields. One lives in Texas, and the other in Falls Church, Virginia.

I’m also proud to an active member of my community and involved in cultural events in both Charlottesville and Lynchburg. I learned a lot about the U.S. healthcare system as an observer for University Medical Associates, and I have given presentations, for the last three years, to UVA nursing students discussing the differences in culture and in access to health care in Bangladesh compared to the U.S.

Maha (center, rear) with group of UVA students at the International Center, where Maha taught a class on Bengali cooking.

What are you usually doing on the weekends?

I spend a fair amount of time visiting my sons. And I regularly volunteer at The Haven shelter for the homeless in downtown Charlottesville, teaching cooking classes and supporting The Haven’s fund-raising efforts and overall aim of reducing homelessness in Charlottesville.

I’m involved in a variety of cultural events, including Charlottesville’s Festival of Cultures and the annual United Nations’ “Mother Language Day,” which is sponsored, here in Charlottesville, by Literacy Volunteers of America.

What’s one thing you always have in your fridge?

I love to drink milk, but it must be hot!

Where do you like to go on vacation?

Anywhere I can see the abundant beauty of nature.

What about you would surprise us?

Some may not know that I have a medical degree from Bangladesh.

Also–fun fact!–I’ve used the food delivery services in Charlottesville, like Order Up, to learn about different restaurants and cuisines around town. And it’s a good way to meet some of the UVA students who do the deliveries!

Words to live by?

There will always be problems–but there are also, always, solutions.

Who is your hero?

My father is a continual source of inspiration. He was a practicing physician in India for 57 years, serving faithfully in one community for most of his career.


Maha’s recipe for Chickpea Curry

Maha says this is one of her favorite recipes: “It’s  a very good  option for vegans, with a unique salty-sour taste, and can be eaten alone or with rice or naan.”

Ingredients:

1 cup canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans) /kabuli chana
1 onion, chopped
2 clove of garlic sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds, toasted and then ground
Additional 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of turmeric powder
Pinch of red chili powder
1/2 tsp ginger powder
2 red  potatoes, boiled and mashed
2 tbsp tamarind juice
Brown sugar or sugar
Pinch of salt to taste
1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
1 lime, sliced

Instructions:
Heat oil in deep frying pan, add onion and sauté until it is translucent. Add sliced garlic and fry until golden brown. Add ginger powder and sauté one minute. Add canned tomato, the remaining spices, brown sugar and salt. Cook until the oil begins to separate. Add  mashed potatoes and chickpeas. Cook on high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and tamarind juice.