The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Me Talk Nzuri One Day

November 5, 2009

By 4:45 am, Nini already had the fire started and was ready to go for the day. We each had more super sugary chai and half a leftover chapatti for breakfast while having a most interesting conversation about animals.

She chased the chicken out because it was scratching about at our feet for chapatti scraps in a most irritating manner and I asked her if she ever liked to eat chickens. She told me that she did like to eat chicken, but that she was not eating any chicken now.

“Why are you not eat chickens in the now?” I inquired.

“Because the cat comes in the night and eats the little chickens and the hawk comes in the day and eats any chicken and now I have only one little chicken and one big chicken. Also, I like eggs better.”

I told her that we have many chickens at one of the places where I work (Happy Trails) and she wanted to know about them.

“I don’t know how many because the like dog but not (coyote) or the bird big big with (pantomime a talon with my non-slinged hand) comes in the night or the morning to eat them. But no many are food now because now they have a man-chicken who hunts the big animals.”

I’m not sure that she understood that I was trying to say that hawks and coyotes used to eat lots of the chickens, but that a rooster now protects them, but she found my answer amusing nonetheless.

She also asked about my horse again – she wanted to know why I had such strange animal, I think, because she asked why I had a horse but not a cow.

“I have a horse because I like to ride the horse and my mama likes me so she bought it. I like cows too, but mama and baba are saying no cows and too no goats and no sheep also. They are liking the meat of cow but to go to buy in a meat-store.”

She seemed to think this answer made sense, though she was particularly amused by the idea that my family purchases all of our meat at a store. She also told me about her children, though it was very confusing because I am sure she was including the children of her co-wives because by the time she had listed all of the names and approximate ages and where they were (of which I only understood maybe a quarter of because she was speaking so rapidly), there must have been at least twenty of them.

Then we started talking about school. I asked her where she had learned to speak Kiswahili, because most Maasai children don’t speak Swahili until they start going to school. She said she had never been to school, which makes sense given her gender and age, but that she had learned her Swahili from all of the children of the boma as they studied. She spoke beautiful Swahili – just another example of what an incredibly intelligent and wonderful woman my Nini is! She told me how many children in her village go to boarding school, even at young ages and wanted to know if the same was true in Amerika.

I explained, “In Amerika, children that are small going to school very close to home because they have missed mama and baba but children that are big-big go far away because…because…because…we want to learn more. Big students live and eat and sleep at the college.”

She also wanted to know what I want to do for work after college. This was a difficult thing to explain using my Swahili skills, but I gave it my best shot.

“The work I want is like to be an animal doctor, but no. Like being a teacher but no also. Like to study many animals in Afrika and Amerika. Sawa? (You got it?)”

I don’t think she really got it and I’m pretty sure she thought I was crazy, but that was as good as an explanation as she was going to get!

Unfortunately, by this time the morning dose of mafuta was beginning to get to me again and I had to excuse myself. She was most concerned that it was her cooking that was making my “tumbo mbaya” (stomach bad) and I assured her it wasn’t, even though of course, it kind of wise, but I didn’t want her to feel bad as its not her fault that my body isn’t used to animal fat!

I told her that “My stomach is bad because of the doctor-food” while pointing at my bottles of pills and we left it at that.

When I returned, we went out to milk some of the goats. I did surprisingly well at this, given that I am a) a mzungu and b) was milking by straddling the goat to hold it still and using my good arm to milk. After the milking we went for a quick visit to Lisa and Mara’s house, which was nice. Its always a relief to speak in English for a brief time after hours of struggling along in sub standard Swahili.

Our next task was to fetch more water to cook the midday and evening meals. Nini seemed to have recognized that I was perhaps stronger than my mzunguness and sling would imply so this time she gave me the big jerry can. The hike to fill it was perfectly fine, but the way back gave me a killer headache! Maasai women are incredibly strong – my Nini must weigh only ¾ of what I do and yet is far better at carrying water than I.

After a brief rest, we went out to gather firewood with Lisa, Mara and their mama. Nini wound the leather strap I would be using to carry firewood around my waist in true Maasai style in order to free up my good hand to carry an axe.

“You are small!” she exclaimed as she tied the strap. “The clothes were so big I thought you were very fat like you had a child in you!”

It was a true, if less than flattering description of my appearance given that I was wearing as loose fitting clothing as possible so it would be easier for me to get it and out of with minimal movement and bending of my left arm.

After watching Nini sharpen the machetes and axes and trying to teach Mara how to sharpen them too (I didn’t learn – it is a two handed sort of job), we set off to find firewood. We walked until we reached a good brushy area filled with “Olerien”, the preferred wood of the Maasai and then the mamas started hacking away at limbs, stumps and still living trunks while us wazungu stood awkwardly around and helped by dragging branches out of the way and stacking the wood in piles, when we could.

Eventually we had several healthy stacks of wood and the mamas tied into bundles with the leather straps so we could all carry it on our heads back to the boma. Before we could return however, the mamas decided that we all had dirty teeth and they cut tooth brushing twigs from the olorien for us and we had to spend a good twenty minutes or so brushing away in the brush before they loaded us up with our bundles of wood. Mara remarked that carrying such long pieces of wood this way made her feel like a buffalo with very large horns. Putting away the firewood once Nini and I had reached our house was also quite an awkward task to perform one handed, but I managed it, breaking the longer pieces by stepping on them instead of breaking them with my hands the way Nini did.

Next Nini cooked ugali and potatoes while a very unhelpful translator who just got upset with my mama for not making me enough jewelry stopped by and irritated us. Eventually he left and we resumed our conversations in broken Swahili. After he left, Lucy came by to have lunch with us, for which I was very grateful. Even with Lucy asking on my behalf for Nini to reduce the portion size three times, I still wasn’t able to finish the plate despite my very best efforts.

Lucy was convinced that we had a meeting with the other students at the village school like we had the previous day, which seemed strange to me as we had all agreed after a short discussion with Mwalimu Ken, that we didn’t need to meet and would prefer to spend the time with our families. Of course, when Lucy and I arrived we found absolutely no other students waiting and it had started to rain, though pour would be a more accurate description. We started to walk around town in the rain and ran into Meryl and Heather, who had walked all the way to the store from their boma, which was many kilometers from the village center. Meryl told me about singing the song “Silent Night” for her host siblings – because they had been dancing for her when they sang, she decided that she would do the sign language motions she knew for “Silent Night” from being in choir. She explained what she was doing to the children by saying “My hands. Look at them. My hands they are singing for the people who cannot hear.”, so at least I wasn’t the only one confusing my hosts in Swahili!

Next, Lucy and I went to the store because she needed to buy some sugar and flour. She also bought us each a piece of “bubblisi” or Big G, a particularly sugary and generic sort of Kenyan bubblegum that I have come to love! After leaving the school, we ran into Lucy’s little sister, Cecilia. Cecilia and her best friend were running around town in their green sweaters and blue skirts (school uniforms), having a great time and were all too happy to come stare at the mzungu for a bit, though they ran away laughing after they greeted me shyly in English and I responded in Swahili. At this point the rain started again and we huddled under the eaves outside a butcher shop, which just happened to be the same place Meryl, Heather and their mamas were taking shelter, so it ended up being quite fun.

Once the rain was coming down a little less forcefully, we went and visited a random friend of Lucy’s. They chatted in Kiswahili while I stood there, with mating chickens just outside the door my only form of entertainment. Eventually, we left and visited another eight or so women, each of whom Lucy described as being “the mother in law of my uncle”, which was a little confusing, but they were all very nice and quite shocked when I could greet them properly in Maa. Speaking of greetings, I also had to bow my head anytime we passed an older man in town so he could touch the top of my head as is the Maasai custom. I really didn’t like this – I would have had no problem if it was just an issue of showing respect to elders, but I didn’t like the idea that I should show more respect to the older men than to older women like my mama.

Eventually we went back to the school house and waited for Habibu, Simon and Ken to pick us up and take us back to Nini’s boma. Once they arrived, Lucy and I hopped in the back (the first time I’d ridden in the back since acquiring my sling). Riding standing in the back of the trucks is really fun, but not something I’d recommend in the pouring rain and with only one hand to hang on with. I ended up banging my bad elbow pretty good several times and smacking my jaw against the bar when we kind of fishtailed on our way down across the small creek. Luckily there was no bruise, but I had a killer headache the rest of the day and well into the night!

While I was out, my mama had prepared a special surprise for me. She had gone to a relative’s house to pick up some special items to show me, so that with Lucy’s help as a translator, she could teach me more about Maasai culture. The first item was a beautiful leather purse made out of sheepskin and decorated with shells, beading and ornate leather stitiching. It was called “embener maasai” and it is a special bag that a woman is given on the day of her marriage by one of her female relatives. She packs very special items in it and on the way to her new home, she may carry other things, but her husband must carry this bag for her. The next thing was an “orkayla maasai”, a sort of Maasai wedding dress, a leather smock that goes over one shoulder and over the rest of the woman’s clothes and is decorated similarly to the bag with shells, fancy stitching and beadwork. It is also usually made of sheepskin.

Nini tried it on and then insisted I try it on too. I’m sure it looked ridiculous on me, a hulking big mzungu girl, but Nini told me I looked “ehseedie sana” or “very nice” and I felt flattered! Even more, I was touched that she wanted to share so much of her culture with me – especially when she told me that she had gone to fetch these particular items because they were once she herself had made. She asked me to please tell my friends and brothers and family at home about them and about the other things she had taught me about Maasai culture. She said she isn’t sure what people in Amerika think of Maasai but that she wants them to know that the Maasai are a very good sort of people.

Lucy left to go check on Mara and Lisa while Nini and I admired the marriage items once more before putting them away. Then I realized that I still had Lucy’s cell phone in my pocket from when she had put it in there for safekeeping during our wild ride back to the boma, so I ran over to the other house to give it to her. By this point, I though the whole situation and everything else in the world was hilarious – I’d reached the stage of exhaustion, where even pain couldn’t stop me from feeling absolutely giddy!

I watched Nini cook chapattie and beans again for dinner while I swept out the house, nearly running headfirst into a skinny brown cow’s rump when I failed to look where I was going first while sweeping the pile out the door. After I came back in, a Maasai man and woman I hadn’t seen before came in and visited with Nini for awhile. They talked only in Maa and as a result I still have no idea who they were or why the visited. Eventually they left and Nini and I had a quiet dinner. This time she listened to my cries of “Attaraposhe!” and understood that I would need to leave the house shortly after the meal – the mafuta had struck again, I fear!

When it was getting close to bedtime, Nini turned to me and spoke to me in Kiswahili. I didn’t know every word she said, but it was one of those incredible moments when you are in perfect understanding with someone just because the emotion behind the words is so heartfelt and true.

“Nylabu,” she said “last night, I could hardly sleep at all. You were so far away and I kept worrying about you. What if you were cold in the night and needed a bigger fire, but weren’t able to do that because of your bad arm? Or what if you need to go out and you can’t open the door with one arm? Or what if you start to really hurt in your arm and you need help? Tonight, I will sleep right here next to you and if you need anything in the night, all you will do is say ‘Nini’ and I will get up and I will help you.”

Sure enough, she did sleep right next to me, which meant that I didn’t sleep at all (literally, not once did I fall asleep all night), because not only did I have a hard Maasai bed, I had a very bony Maasai woman who liked to move around and snore in her sleep digging her knees or elbows into me with increasing regularity, but all of that aside, it was one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me in my life.

I can’t believe how quickly I’d become part of Nini’s family and how concerned for me she was. Maasai women are incredibly strong, lifting loads with their small, wiry loads that would give many American gym rats pause. They are so wise, knowing how to cook, how to build a house, how to tend to a sick child. But I think they must in some way have bigger hearts than everyone else too. In Maasai culture, children are raised in a communal fashion. If a child’s parents aren’t caring for it properly or are otherwise occupied, someone else will make sure it is fed, comforted or has a place to see.

I feel like its an incredible testament to Nini, that she could immediately see past our differences and see that I, big and tall and as pale glowing white as I am was really in many ways just a child very far from home! I hope that I can incorporate some of this open heartedness in the way that I relate to other people and the world – thought I doubt that it will ever come as naturally to me as it does to Nini.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kwaheri baharini! (Goodbye ocean!)

November 29, 2009

I have to start off by saying that I really can’t believe this is coming to an end so soon. The weird wonderful pattern of life on the program has actually started to feel normal. Just this afternoon, I spent almost two hours doing my laundry by hand on the front porch of my baanda and then hanging it to dry on nearby trees, all the while belting out Johnny Cash songs while listening to them on my iPod. If you’d told me three months ago I’d be hanging up my socks and underwear and singing “Cocaine Blues” twenty feet from my professor’s house, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy, but such is life on the LC East Africa ’09 Program. Luckily, my roommates (and those in the neighboring baandas), were more amused than irritated by the impromptu concert – Lydia probably put it best by telling me “there’s something both really entertaining and just a little bit scary about your 15 year old looking self singing about ‘taking shots of cocaine’, ‘burning with a wild desire’ and ‘shooting bad bitches down’ in such a sweet little soprano voice.”

The last day on the reef was incredible. We anchored the boat right next to the island/sandbar of Maziwe and spent three wonderful hours snorkeling, just for fun, not research, before having lunch on the island. I saw HUGE parrot fish in all sorts of fantastic colors, found several cool (but empty) crab shells and Peggy and I spent quite a while playing with non-stinging jellyfish like creatures and petting sea anemones. I also very much wished I had an underwater camera because Rachel and I saw lots of fish that looked like the character Dorie from “Finding Nemo” and I very much wanted to take a photo to show it to Brody. Speaking of cameras, I also brought my video camera out on the boat today and got some very funny shots of people snorkeling.

I’m so sad to be leaving the coast tomorrow morning. I love it so much here, and who knows when, or even if, I will ever get back. There have been so many amazing, amusing and simply awesome things that have happened this week. Among them:
1. Heather giving Douglas and Maggie, two of our wonderful Tanzania rafiki (friends), swimming lessons. She was a great teacher and Douglas and Maggie proudly demonstrated how they could swim without life jackets today at the reef!
2. Talking to Mwalimu Ken about how far we (Mara, Rachel, Lydia, Kim, Heather and Lisa) had swum out during the night dive while trying to find the reef and having him reply that he was glad he had no idea where we were as if he’d know we were that far out he would have been back on shore panicking.
3. Kai spearing a sting ray with his homemade wood spear during the night dive, but losing sight of it due to the strong current, after he surfaced and left it pinned to the ocean floor.
4. Kai giving a presentation tonight on fishing tactics used by local fisherman and palm wine. Palm wine is a local liquor made by binding and cutting the coconut buds in a special way which allows fermentation to occur naturally within the plant. He concluded his presentation by producing three nalgene bottles full of palm wine he had purchased earlier in the day and pouring us each a cup. It was delicious – sort of fruity and yeasty and just a bit fizzy. He was even a true gentleman about it and borrowed a strainer from the kitchen to strain out the bugs!
5. Zach swimming the last few days with only one flipper because of a severely infected toe.
6. Lydia being stung by a big jelly fish and sporting the welts all over her face, torso and legs to prove it after attempting to due a hand stand in the ocean during a night time swim.
7. Eating Thanksgiving dinner with all of the wanifunzi and our friends.
8. Awkward showers in the baanda bathroom which is located so that anyone who is anywhere near the vicinity of Rachel’s bed is staring directly into it.
9. Regularly freeing Mara and Lisa Wanifunzi from their baanda after their roommate Kim kept locking the door from the outside while they were still in it.
10. Killarai and Douglas telling distressing tales of the state of the choos (bathrooms) at government sponsored secondary schools in Tanzania.
11. Petting sea anemones and feeling them grab at my hands with their sticky appendages.
12. Waking up each morning to the sights and sounds of the Indian Ocean.

Well, that’s all for now as its late and I’m exhausted and starting to really stress out about Kai and I’s zebra and sand perch presentation that will be occurring in only four days time. But I’m trying not to worry too much and make sure that I enjoy the remainder of my time in East Africa.

Lala salama!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dynamite + Coral Reef = Dead Fish

November 28, 2009

Today I saw one of the most profoundly sad scenes I have ever seen. Right before a small group of wanifunzi (Kai, Anton, Zach, Heather, Peggy and I) arrived at Maziwe, the legally protected coral reef, with some of our Tanzanian friends, some local fisherman had (illegally) dynamite fished in the area. They fled the scene as soon as we arrived, but as soon as we started snorkeling it wasn’t hard to see what they had done.

A large and fresh dynamite scar marred the bottom of the ocean floor, decimating a section of fire coral. The bodies of fish of all sizes were everywhere. Kai, Heather and I dove down and collected many of them. There were a few decent sized groupers and goat fish, what seemed like an entire school of small snappers, a few parrot fish, an angelfish or two and hundreds of tiny fish about the size of my thumb. We debated about taking them back to shore with us to dissect and study further, but ended up under the advice of our Tanzanian rafiki, leaving them at the reef because Maziwe’s status as a protected reef means that nothing should be taken from it, even if it is already dead.

It’s just incredible to me that people can continue using techniques as obviously unsustainable as dynamite fishing. The damage it does to the reef is indisputable. Can’t the fishermen understand that by hurting the reef system, they are also hurting their future catches? That there won’t be any more fish to catch if they don’t have the habitat they need to survive?

It is so easy to think of the ocean as this huge, untamed and inexhaustible expanse of open water that provides food of all sorts for the masses of the world. But it is really important to remember that massive as it is, like anything else it does have its limit. I’m not saying that I think no one should eat fish – just that like anything else, there are sustainable ways to go about doing so that are better than others. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has published a really great set of guidelines, listing tasty and sustainable types of fish to be eating depending on what part of the world one is in. If you haven’t looked at it before, I’d recommend checking it out! Whether or not it inspires you to make any changes in fish eating habits, it is pretty interesting. I’ll leave the URL for it at the bottom of this post.

I’ve got to go now and work on a power point presentation about zebras!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Under the sea, under the stars...

November 27, 2009

Today has been a very strange and contradictory sort of day. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between feeling mostly ok (but very tired) and quite sick every couple of hours. I also had the distinctly unpleasant experience of throwing up a little bit in my snorkel after I thought that eating a mid data collection snack would be a good idea!

The sand perch continue to be much the same – there, but less than thrilling. Nevertheless, I’m having a fabulous time out on the reef all the same. I also dove to new depths today despite severe sinus pressure due to the fact that my clipboard broke and several hours worth of data drifted away in the current and was sinking out off the edge of the reef! I swam after it as fast as I could and really did go at least a good ten feet deeper than I ever have before it pursuit of it. Now I have the data and I’m a bit more confident in my diving abilities, so it ended up being a win-win sort of thing, I think.

My research partner, Kai, continues to stick his hand in every crevice and hidey hole possible in the coral reef in the hopes of coming out with an octopus or lobster. This didn’t work out so well from him today when he stuck his hand inside of a giant clam and it closed around his finger with a part of it that had been crushed a little and was very jagged and sharp. He’s got a really nice, pretty deep gash across his middle finger now, but in true Kai fashion, all he did was swim up to the sand bar and beach himself for fifteen minutes before heading right out to watch some more sand perch. A little vomit in the snorkel is nothing compared to that!

I saw several large moray eels hiding under coral today. The reef just gets more and more enjoyable as I become better at recognizing where different creatures are likely to live. I also saw my first “alligator fish”, a truly strange looking creature, today because Kai was very concerned that I hadn’t seen one and made it a mission to scare one up out of the sand for me.

The highlight of today however, was the “night snorkel”. I’d been preparing for it all day – I took an hour nap after lunch before working on the zebra and sand perch data and then napped for a couple more hours in lieu of dinner in the hopes that I might be a little less tired.

Around 7:45pm we all met down at the beach. We had enough waterproof lights or headlamps in Ziplocs that there was about one light for every two people. I swam with Mara and though we overshot the off-shore reef by quite a bit – we turned around when we were having difficulty swimming through the big waves – eventually we found it. We also saw some cool creatures in the sea grass too. Many of the fish were attracted to the invertebrates attracted to our light, so we saw a slightly different set of fish than we normally see during the day. We even petted a puffer fish, though to our dismay he did not puff up in the slightest, but seemed entirely unconcerned about out presence. We saw many cool invertebrates – I will try to look them up in some of the books tomorrow and write down what I think they may have been. We also sort of swam right up on a squid. Mara tried to grab him and he took great offense at this and sent a great cloud of ink our way, which somehow seemed even more impressive at night than it does during the day.

Eventually, Mara got cold and I got tired, so after just under two hours out in the beautiful Indian Ocean in the moonlight, we swam back to shore. We both wanted to swim back in as far as possible, so we essentially beached ourselves – we didn’t stop swimming until our knees started hitting the sand as we tried to kick with our fins.

I thought I would be more than a little scared during the night snorkel, but I really wasn’t at all, though I did make sure to keep a good grip on Mara’s wrist when we were in the bigger waves because she was the one holding the light! I was just too taken with how incredibly cool the whole experience was. It is amazing how just when you start to think you know something about the reef and the sort of creatures that live there, all you have to do is go out at a different time of the day and things look totally different.

The moonlight was also incredible tonight. Mara and I turned off the light a couple of times and in the shallower areas you could still see the bottom! A couple of times I peeked up at the stars and it was one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen in my life. I felt so very lucky. I wish everyone could have this experience because words and pictures can’t at all capture the sheer sense of wonder we were all feeling.

In a very biology nerd sort of way, I also found myself wondering what sorts of adaptations the night time fish have that make them more suited to a nocturnal lifestyle. Most of them weren’t anything too out of the ordinary in appearance. They were different than the other species I’ve seen so far, but there weren’t any crazy extra appendages or easy to see structural adaptations of the eyes or anything.

If I were Ariel I would never leave the sea because there are such wonderful things around, right there on the ocean floor!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Who needs a turkey when you can have a snapper?

November 26, 2009

I apologize in advance, but I feel like I have no other option than to be ridiculous festive in the writing of this blog and simply list a small selection of the many things I have to be thankful for in my life. I’m feeling a bit less sick today (or at least have gotten better at ignoring the nausea, throat soreness and headaches, even if the fatigue is still proving challenge).

So, things I’m thankful for in no particular order, whether they be serious, silly or just plain strange:
1. My mom – because she’s awesome and also because she’s made sure that I have good taste in movies and chocolate; insisted that I learn how to write in a readable fashion (though I apologize for my inability to adhere to basic grammatical convention – the fault there is mine alone!); tried her very best to instill some sort of fashion sense in me and is supportive of all of my ridiculous endeavors.
2. My dad – because he’s also awesome and because he’s a fabulous cook who caters to my vegetarian tastes; he’s taught me a lot about some really good music (yay for Meat Loaf!); he likes to go see musicals with me and he also supports my strange adventures, from horseback riding to a semester abroad in Africa!
3. My dog – Lancelot the Labradog is the world’s best dog. I feel like everyone gets that once in a lifetime dog who is perfect for them in every way at some point in their life, but how lucky was I to find him when I was only twelve years old and he was a four week old puppy? Clearly the fact that he has turned out so well despite the fact that I knew nothing about dogs in his formative years speaks volumes about his innate excellence.
4. My “barn families” at Arbor Grove, Happy Trails and Talisman Farm, especially those I call “chums” regardless of their ages. I’m thrilled that so many of you have been following along with my African adventures.
5. My horse – Spector and I haven’t always gotten along so well, but now he is one of my very best buddies and I’m proud of how far we’ve come together. I’m even prouder of the fact that my six year old brother can now ride the “wild beast”!
6. This whole study abroad program – I could write pages and pages just on all the things to be thankful for here, but I’ll try to keep it succinct. To sum it up, can I just say that I spent my Thanskgiving snorkeling on a beautiful reef in the Indian Ocean and then went back to shore for an amazing fish feast prepared by Mwalimu Ken? Does that explain it well enough?
7. My friends Rachel and Lydia here in East Africa. We’ve all kept each other sane in so many ways and are now a very random sort of sisterhood.
8. Mama Susan in Riruta and my Maasai Nini for showing me what East African hospitality and openheartedness are all about.
9. My family in general, especially the whole Marshall Clan. Things are always a bit crazy and chaotic, but they never fail to be fun!
10. The fact that creatures like hyenas, leopards, jackals, hippos, secretary birds, octopuses, martial eagles, kudu, eland, dik dik, zebras, gazelles, twiga, elephants, hyraxes, warthogs, weavers, bee eaters, aardvarks, baboons, vervet monkeys, lions, cape buffalo, wildebeest, water bucks, bush duikers, sykes monkeys, hartebeest and so many more exist in the world and that I have seen and learned about them.
11. Horses and dogs and domestic animals in general. Sometimes people are just too hard to understand and having other wonderful creatures in my life makes things so much simpler.
12. Books, books, and more books. I cannot wait to see the inside of a bookstore or library again.
13. The friends that I stay in touch with though I haven’t seen them in a long time. I’m thankful that we choose to stay in touch with one another – you are all so important in my life.
14. Musicals and showtunes for being on my iPod to cheer me up on tough days, make endless trot sets around the track more entertaining and for inspiring me to run that extra mile.
15. My little brothers – especially Brody who I am sure is doing a fantastic job of caring for the Labradog in my absence.
16. Smoothies. Life has been difficult without smoothies these past three months! I cannot wait to be reunited with my blender.
17. ACMA, my arts high school. I think that being surrounded by artists and being challenged to think outside of the box is something that will continue to serve me well even as my academic life becomes more and more science oriented.
18. The beautiful running and hiking trails that are waiting for me at home.
19. All of my non-horse related friends (and also the horsey ones that hang out with me outside of the barn). I do need to get away every now and then and be forced to wear something other than slobber covered jeans and boots caked with manure. I know its not easy to convince me of this sometimes and I thank you for your continued efforts!
20. The world, for being such a large and amazing place with so much left for me to explore!

I have so much more to be thankful for than this, but twenty seems a good even list and I’ve simply got to enter some data on sand perch before the battery dies!

Missing you all terribly!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So, Rachel, Lydia, there may or may not be a giant scorpion in the bathroom...

November 25, 2009

Feeling quite sick again – and have stayed in from the reefs again. I was up most of last night with a sore throat, head ache and feeling very nauseous. This is going to sound crazy, but the ocean is so very close and loud that when I close my eyes to try and sleep I actually feel as if the entire baanda is rocking in the waves, which only serves to make me more nauseous! Though, how I can really complain about the fact that the Indian Ocean is fifty meters from my front door?

I thought about trying to go out, but ended up deciding that if I was so nauseous just lying in bed and listening to the ocean that I didn’t even want to stand up, that I would be good for nothing by the time I rode in a boat for an hour in the hot sun and made it out to the reef.

I’m still frustrated about not being able to do much of anything and there’s now talk of sending me back to Arusha early to a hospital or hotel, but I’m not going to let that happen! I still have so much to do as far as tests, presentations, data collection and essay writing is concerned. I’m also very much looking forward to the couple of days in the Usumburu Mts. that the bio group will get to experience on our way back to Arusha and I’m determined not to miss them.

I feel really bad because I think people are starting to get worried about me because I’ve been sick for a pretty decent amount of time. Lisa C. has actually asked me to start keeping a list of when I have what symptoms so that I can show them to a doctor if necessary. I wish I could convince people not to worry – both my friends here and my family back at home. I’m a bit miserable at times, but not dying by any means and I’m still happy to be in Tanzania!

Though to be perfectly honest, a small part of me does wish that I had taken my parents up on their offer of an immediate return home. Cuddling with the Labradog in my bed with half a dozen pillows and piles and piles of blankets sounds like just about the most wonderful thing in the world right now. Really I just keep wishing Lance was here. I had a dream last night that he was and we took him out on the boat with us to the reef and he wore a life jacket and was just dog paddling around having a grand old time, though of course he panicked in true overly devoted Labradog fashion every time I had to dive under the surface to look at a sand perch. It seemed like such a real dream that I actually panicked for a minute when I woke up in the middle of the night and looked around and couldn’t find him anywhere!

Life here continues to remain surreal in other ways, though. The other night Lydia stormed out of our baanda, flashlight in hand in order to chase away a particularly chatty bush baby that had decided to take up residence in the tree right in front of our house at about four am. We continue to be at war with the “wadudu” or insects that reside in our baanda with us, though fortunately we have a small “squamate”, a friendly sort of little gecko who hangs about licking his own eyeballs and eating the ants that crawl out of sink. I also may or may not have seen a very large scorpion in our bathroom last night. I’m not sure if I really did or if it was merely one of my frequent, illness inspired wadudu nightmares. Either way, I can’t remember doing anything about it, so all of the residents of my baanda are treading lightly and peering into corners in case it was real, which it very well might be because Heather and Peggy have already killed several in their baanda, which they have nicknamed “The Wadudu Guest House”.

I wish I could explain how beautiful it is here. Right now as I type, sitting in the kitchen/dining area under the baolbub tree, I’m watching the waves roll in off the Indian Ocean and catching a slight breeze. I bet the other wanifunzi are out seeing whales and sea turtles and all other manner of cool creatures.

I'm in the most amazing place on earth!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sort of asleep, but also sort of snorkeling...

November 24, 2009

So, I went out the reef again today for some snorkeling and research! Kai and I each watched eight sand perches, so now we have a total of 16 data points/samples for our aquatic study, which is still terrifying as that is hardly any at all, but better than none, I guess!

I continue to be ridiculously and unnecessarily exhausted. I slept on the boat both going to and on the way back from the reef which was nice, but also kind of makes me a little bit sea sick. It was a bit rainy on the reef for a while this morning, but the sea was still pretty calm, though I kept running into problems with very small stinging creatures of some sort getting trapped in my spandex pants and stinging me a whole bunch! I ended up taking off the spandex and risking sun burn to avoid the stings.

Today I saw a quite large moray eel, a lion fish swimming out and about and a very large octopus that Heather was harassing with one of Peggy’s flippers. I love snorkeling and this whole marine aspect of biology quite a lot – I just wish that I didn’t feel like my entire body was one giant lead weight – swimming is so difficult right now. I have a ton of mosquito bites all over my feet (as everyone does), from yesterday evening and my flippers were starting to rub on them, so for the second half of the day, I took them off and swam flipper-less, which was even more difficult, but also felt really nice for my feet to be free!

The sand perches aren’t really proving to be all that interesting yet. Mostly they just sit on the sandy patches in between big patches of coral and are quite well camouflaged. This is good in some ways, because it means that I can keep up with them and even dive down to check their sex (males have stripes on their cheeks, but females have spots) without them running away from me, despite the fact that I’m moving as slowly as humanly possible, but also a little underwhelming because after watching zebras all last week, they just seem a little dull in comparison. Every once in a while, two females will meet up and the larger one will get quite upset and chase the smaller one away from the area where it is feeding, so that is pretty exciting, but other than that, I haven’t seen them interact socially with one another.

We had a quiz this evening after dinner, which I didn’t do too well on, but I don’t think I failed either. It was hard because even though I studied a lot with a big group this afternoon (okay – my eyes were closed and I was kind of slumped over for most of it, but I was trying really hard to stay awake and absorb the material), the questions weren’t really very comprehensive, but instead were about very small, strange details.

School and school work stress me out so much, especially tests. This worries me a bit – if I get this freaked out about class, how much will real world work make me crazy if I actually succeed in getting a biology job?

My baanda mates, Rachel and Lydia, continue to be amazing and really nice, though I’m worried I’m beginning to drive them crazy. I know that I’m no fun right now – but being smiley, optimistic and entertaining just isn’t something that can happen when I’m devoting every bit of my energy simply to staying awake and maybe getting some work and a blog post done too.

I’m tired of being tired. Current best guesses on what is making me sick are: a) mono or b) swine flu. Can’t really test for either here in Tanzania, so I just hope it is whichever will go away the fastest!

Miss you all! I should go and work on my Maasai essay some more now, but really I just want to sleep!

PS Wanted to share this quote, ‘cause I’m using it in my Maasai essay and I think it is one of the prettiest things I’ve read:

“I have a great concern for Mother Earth. We have gravely mistreated her. But when we speak of the environment and the depletion of resources, we sometimes forget that our greatest resource is our children. My people have a word to describe the moment when all is in harmony – we call it Beauty. But Beauty can find no foothold in despair…We must work on many levels, walk many wheels, that lives may be spared – the lives of the people, and the lives of all those other species with whom we share the world. Our contributions, no matter how small they might appear, carry an equal importance, for they will all contribute to the harmony that allows the world to walk the wheel of Beauty.”
- “The Trees Are Crying” by Charles De Lint

Sunday, November 22, 2009

No time to be sick!

November 22, 2009

I apologize because I feel like my blog has gotten way too “woe is me, I am sickly” in the past couple of days. Yes, I am sickly but there is no reason for woe is me at all because:
1. I’m in one of the most beautiful and my most favorite places in the whole world here in Pembe-Abwe.
2. I went snorkeling this morning in water filled with the remnants from last night’s coral spawning event and as a result saw lots of cool things like feeding butterfly fish and “swimming crabs” – small crabs with specially adapted hind claws so that they can swim along the surface of the water.
3. My baanda mates, Rachel and Lydia, continue to be ridiculously nice and understanding despite the fact that I must be the most frustrating person in the world right now due to my propensity to either fall into a nearly unwakeable sleep for hours on end at a moment’s notice or to be fighting hard not to cry because I’m just so exhausted!
4. I made it in time for food at both breakfast and dinner today. (I was too tired to get up for lunch, but Rachel even offered to save food for me – that’s how nice she is!)
5. Lisa C. continues to be wonderful as well and even let me put my useless minutes for my phone onto her phone (where they work), so that I could try to get in touch with my family again.
6. I talked to my dad briefly and he’s going to have my mom call me – I’m sure she just had a lot going on yesterday and ran out of time to call me back, but I was very irrationally worried that something bad had happened, so I’m glad to know that everyone is ok!

I’m still frustrated though because I’m just so exhausted. I haven’t been this tired since I had mono a couple of years ago and even though I try just to rest, its an uneasy sort of rest because I’m panicking about all of the things I still have to do. I think anyone who knows me knows that I’m the sort of person who likes to do things well, especially things that I care about and the work I’ve done so far on this program is important to me and I’d really hate to screw it up now but in some ways am feeling like it is inevitable at this point.

There’s just a lot left to do! On my list is:
1. An essay about the Maasai homestay
2. Enter the zebra data into the spreadsheet
3. Analyze the zebra data
4. Run stats tests on the zebra data
5. Create a power point to present the zebra research study for Dec. 3rd
6. Collect sand perch data
7. Enter sand perch data into the spreadsheet
8. Analyze the sand perch data
9. Run stats tests on the sand perch data
10. Create a sand perch power point
11. Finish my species lists for birds and mammals
12. Organize the lists taxonomically
13. Study for a quiz on the lecture topics that is happening in two days

I’m staying in from the reef tomorrow. My research partner has an independent study thing that he has to do and I’m just going to try to sleep extra and also get all of the data from our zebra studies entered into our data sheet (which is a long, slow and extremely tedious process) and maybe get my Maasai essay finished too.

I can’t help but feel a bit defeated at the moment because all of this is feeling like such an insurmountable task. Everyone is being really nice to me and really understanding, which of course I’m happy about in many regards, but it also irritates me to think that people are having to go out of their way to make things easier for me because I’m incapable of stepping up and really getting things done.

I’ve been awake for almost two hours now, so am exhausted yet again!
Lala salama,

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Swimming in slow motion...

November 21, 2009

Today has been yet another really interesting, drug induced surreal sort of day. I haven’t taken any more sleeping pills since yesterday morning, but I continue to feel the effects. I still fill ridiculously emotional. I just got up to go to dinner, but took such a long time to wake up from my nap (fifteen minutes) and walk over to the kitchen area that the other wanifunzi had already eaten everything. I almost burst into tears on the spot because it feels like a ridiculously personal insult that they didn’t leave me any food – obviously that isn’t really the case and they probably just didn’t realize I wasn’t there or thought I wasn’t eating – but I’m just so exhausted and out of sorts that everything feels like its directed personally, you know?

Instead of crying, I grabbed my laptop and headed back to the baanda and I hear I am now, trying to catch up on the past couple of days and try to talk myself back into some semblance of a normal emotional state and remember that everyone doesn’t hate me and the only reason I just had a Coke and some Juicy Fruit gum for dinner was because of my own slowness and laziness.

We went out to the reef this morning around nine. I was able to lay down and sleep in the boat all the way to Maziwe, though when we got there, I was the last one in the water because it took me a minute to wake up and then get all my gear on. Of course this meant that my research partner had disappeared into deeper water looking for octopus and schools of fish and Mwalimu Ken and I had to spend more than an hour trying to locate him as no one really wanted to leave me swimming around unattended!

I was still definitely under the influence of something, as I really felt like all of the fish were moving in slow motion and that I was swimming in slow motion too. It was kind of fun, but also kind of scary because I felt like I was working so hard, but I was still swimming so slowly. I was really worried about falling asleep in the water because it was so nice and warm and soothing, but luckily I never did. I wasn’t very aware to begin with, but Mwalimu Ken caught up with me pretty quickly and reminded me to clear my mask, helped me adjust my snorkel (it had been all askew) and defog my mask. Breathing/coughing through the mask was difficult and hurts my chest quite a bit and diving is nearly impossible because of the incredible pressure that it puts on my sinuses, but I still loved being back in the water snorkeling.

Once I finally got in touch with Kai, we swam around and looked at two species that were possibilities for our independent studies, sand perches and bird rasses. Kai preferred the bird rasses – the males are big, blue and flashy with long noses, but mainly I think he just liked them because they go in and under corals that Kai could feel into in the guise of seeing one, but in actuality hunting for octopus. I preferred the sand perches because they are very intricately camoflagued and often spend lots of time hanging out on the sandy bottoms areas of the reef before swimming off to fight or court or feed, which means that they were easier for my slow motion self to keep up with! I was going to just go with studying the wrasses, since I pretty much picked the zebras for the terrestrial project, but after his assessment of the situation, Mwalimu Ken suggested we do the sand perches because they would provide a more close parallel to the sorts of male dominance observations we’d made during our zebra study. Also, I think he was probably aware that our study is more likely to be a “Hillary watches perches while Kai hunts octopus and lobsters” sort of study and wanted to make sure the organisms I was watching would be ones I would actually have a chance in hell of keeping up with.

I slept all the way back into shore and didn’t wake up once until the boat had already dropped anchor and everyone was gathering their gear to get off. Sleeping on the boat is amazing – the rocking of the waves is so soothing and the breeze skimming across the water is a pleasant and cooling contrast to the otherwise sticky day.

After lunch (and another quick nap, for me), we were instructed to swim out to the reefs offshore and take a look around. I went out with Kai and the nesting girls (Lydia and Rachel – who are currently observing the creation of nests for eggs by damselfish). It was a very long swim. It took us almost forty five minutes to get out deep enough and find the reef and the surf was pretty high so it made keeping track of each other difficult. Rachel actually went in just before we found the reef as she was getting worried we never would. I stayed out for about an hour and a half, but then had to go in because I started yawning a lot and was worried about falling asleep again. By this time, there were other people out swimming there too, but no one else wanted to come back yet, so the swim home alone was a little nerve wracking!

I made it back to the beach and Rachel was quite relieved! She’d been wondering how I’d managed to stay out there so long. After a much needed shower and a change into semi clean clothes, I took yet another nap. Rachel woke me up for dinner, but I was too lazy and slow and missed it.

I feel bad because Lydia is giving her presentation on warthogs right now and I should be there, but I’m still irrationally really upset with the group for not leaving me any food (which I guess is good in a way, because it means my appetite must be back?) and everyone has had more than their share of crazy Hillary for the time being, I’m sure.

Temporary insanity aside, I’m really happy to be back at the coast and so excited to start working on the sand perches. Its very exciting because not a lot is known about sand perches, especially in this part of the world (though some research has been done in the Great Barrier Reef), so we really will be finding the answers to questions other people haven’t even asked before. I’m really in love with the whole question asking part of the scientific process. It reminds me a little bit of creative writing – that you start with wanting to know the whole story, but instead of waiting for whatever sort of random inspiration you just set up the procedure correctly so that the world can tell you the answer.

Tomorrow, I’m going to start following around individual sand perches for ten minutes apiece and recording what behaviors they exhibit and for how long. We’ll see if Kai does too - he made himself a wooden octopus hunting spear today, so he might be otherwise occupied.

Lala salama – I’m exhausted already!

Friday, November 20, 2009

And then I turned into a raving crazy...

November 20, 2009

Doing some more catching up on the night of the 21st. Yesterday was a rather crazy day because I took another sleeping pill in the morning in order to knock myself out for the twelve hour bus ride. I had a cup of tea at breakfast in order to be awake enough to pack up my stuff, but as soon as possible after that, I fell asleep in the back of the bus curled up in two seats inside of my sleeping bag. I stayed asleep for most of the trip.

Anytime I did wake up, I felt very, very sick to my stomach and alternately really giddy or very depressed. I got up for a little bit of lunch and tried to be social a little bit, but it didn’t really work. I don’t remember much of the trip really, other than when we had to all get off the bus to ride the ferry across the Pangani River, so I had to wake up and go sit out on the ferry and then the ferry got overloaded and was kind of grounded at the dock and it took a very long time to get that all sorted out so that we could make it to the other side eventually.

When we got back on, everyone complained about how bad it smelled – the scent of too many fresh off safari wazungu all crowded together all day, so I was glad of my stuffy nose and sleeping pills!

By the time we reached the coast, it was dark and I was an emotional mess. The double dose of sleeping pills within twenty four hours had not been a good thing. I was very, very homesick, having a lot of stomach pain and was, as I told my father when he called later in the evening after Peggy lent me her phone to send a text, “very sad about the whole world”.

Thinking back on it, I was very, very sad about sea turtles and how they are endangered and this made me think about pandas and how they are dying too, which in turn led me to think about polar bears and how sad they are because all of their ice is melting like on the t-shirt my friend Molly has, which shows a cartoon of a very, very sad white bear standing sort of tip toe on a shrinking ice berg. I’m not really sure why the polar bears were the saddest thing I could think of, but they were and later that night I even had a dream that my littlest brother was very upset with me that I had gone all the way to Africa but hadn’t saved a single polar bear. I woke up from this dream crying!

After I talked to my dad, who was very nice and reassuring, I sat out in front of the baanda on the steps and waited for my mom to call. I was sitting out there, staring at the stars and crying when Kai walked by and asked what was wrong. I told him that I was fine and nothing was wrong, but clearly he didn’t buy it, so he came and sat down with me and gave me a hug, which of course meant I started absolutely bawling and explaining to him too that I was sad about the world and just wanted my mommy to call me! Eventually he calmed me down somewhat and I went in to try to sleep, though I was really, really upset that the Tanzanian cell minutes I had bought wouldn’t work with my Kenyan SIM card and it took me quite a while to fall asleep.

Eventually, around 11:45 East African Time, my mom did call! I was so happy to hear her voice, though I was rather incoherent in response to her questions. According to Rachel, (who unfortunately was also woken by the cell phone ringing), I answered my mother’s first question of “Where are you now?”, with the inexplicable and quite untrue answer of “I’m on a bus looking at plants!”, despite the fact that I was definitely laying on a very nice foam mattress in a wooden A-Frame on the coast. The conversation continued in much this same vein for quite some time and I commend my poor mother for sticking it out. It really helped to talk to her and hear her voice, even if I was being a total crazy and I feel bad for worrying her – she must’ve been more than a little freaked out to know that I was so out of the loop and so far away without a thing she could do about it!

This delightful little anecdote explains clearly, I’m sure, why I don’t normally like taking even drugs that I’m supposed to take as prescribed to me by my doctor and even the students on the trip who’ve previously given me a bad time about my choice not to partake in mind altering substances of various degrees of legality now very much respect my choice not to do so, given that something as innocent as sleeping pills has the ability to turn me into a raving crazy.

That said, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to apologize enough to Lydia and Rachel for spending most of the night bawling about being homesick, the sadness of the whole entire world and of course, mostly just the depressed polar bears who are drowning because their ice keeps melting because we humans are destroying the planet.

As off right now, I don’t think the meds have quite worn off yet, so the world still seems like a sad place, especially for polar bears, but I’m definitely not on a bus looking at plants, so I seem to be at least taking a right step in the return to a normal thought process.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Goodbye to the bush...

November 19, 2009

Catching up on the 21st, due to the craziness of the last couple of days. The 19th was a crazy whirlwind of a day. We packed up and left Oldonyo Sambu quite early in the morning in the hopes of avoiding mud pits and traffic so that we could get to Arusha in order to have time to go shopping and use the Internet before heading off for our week of research in remote and beautiful Pembe Abwe.

The drive was breathtaking and bittersweet – our last trip through the bush and in Land Rovers. Just before we stopped to fix a flat on one of the vehicles, we saw what must have been hundreds of wildebeest galloping in the distance, weaving their way in and out of the trees. It was quite a formidable sight – “The Lion King” certainly had the wildebeest depicted correctly, I think.

Eventually, we did make it to Arusha. The Dorobo drivers dropped all of us wanifunzi off at the group’s favored dining establishment “McMoody’s” (or as its advertisements say “McMoody’s – the taste to taste”), where most people ordered shakes, burgers and fries. I opted for just an ice cream sundae because my stomach was feeling particularly hivihivi (so-so/iffy), but I was kind of jealous of Lisa and Rachel’s mocha shakes when those arrived.

Next, Lisa, Kai, Rachel, Lydia and I walked down to the Maasai market. On the way to the market, we met a very smooth talking man who introduced himself as “Mr. Professor Simba” and informed Rachel that she was his “sister from another mister” and Kai that he was his “brother from another mother” and that he would help us find good prices at the market. Oddly enough, this did turn out to be true as he did help Lisa find a very nice pair of sandals for half the price another vendor wanted to sell her.

I was really quite feverish and out of it, so I was pretty proud of myself for managing to talk down the price on two beautiful scarves from 20,000 shillings to 12,000 shillings. They are quite nice and though I initially thought I might give them as gifts, now I think I may keep them to wear because unlike jewelry, I will actually wear the scarves and it would be nice to have something in my wardrobe to remind me of this trip whenever I wear it.

Lisa, Lydia and I ended up sitting and talking to some very nice Maasai women who were out in front of the main market area, beading and selling their wares. They were quite taken with Lydia’s gauged ears and with out attempts at conversation in Kiswahili and Kimaasai. The even brought out extra stools for us to sit on so we could join them in the shade and really have a good conversation. Lydia even helped bead for a while!

Once again, I was so struck by how warm and welcoming East Africa women are. While the men selling things in the market were really aggressive and unpleasant (one man even grabbed me by the arm and tried to drag me back into his shop after I left without buying anything), with the women sellers, the bartering felt like more of an exchange and an integral part of the process, rather than an unwanted ordeal.

I was so surprised, in such a positive way, the women we chatted with were genuinely interested in us as people, not just as wazungu customers. We told them about our Maasai homestay experiences and the were thrilled that we had enjoyed ourselves and loved our Maasai mamas. There was never once any pressure from them to make a purchase or exchange anything at all of monetary or other value and I just couldn’t believe how at home I felt perched on a stool in the middle of a bustling market, despite the fact that I was sick, white and so dizzy all of the colors of the brightly beaded bracelets and baskets were kind of weaving themselves together in front of my eyes.

Eventually, Lydia, Lisa and I left in search of internet. They found good connections at the place under the Meru Guest House, but my laptop wouldn’t connect so I parted ways with them and went to the upstairs of the Arusha Backpacker’s Hotel. After updating my blog and sending some e-mails (most of them pathetic, sick sounding ones to my family, I think), I hiked down to Shop Rite and picked up some more dried fruit, new pencils, gum and an ice cold Stoney Tangaweze (my favorite East African soda).

I waited in the parking lot with the other wanifunzi until Douglas and Killarai came to picks us up in the Land Rovers. We went back to the Peterson’s compound in Olasiti to spend the night and to have a barbeque with out friends in the general culture program who had come over for the night from their Olasiti homestays.

It sounds like they are having a fabulous time and I’m a bit jealous of them for getting to spend so much more time with the amazing Petersons, but I’m still glad I’ve been on extra safari. It sounded like all of their projects were going really well and everyone seemed to be loving their homestays, though poor Meryl was sick!

Devin also helpfully supplied me with sleeping medication, which ended up proving to be an adventure in more ways than one – starting with the fact that when I took it that night, it started working and I could feel my heart rate and breathing slowing, which made me panic and not want to fall asleep, so the resulting adrenaline rush actually kept me awake, fighting the medication!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mountains and miserableness

November 18, 2009

I'm currently in a royally foul mood as I can hear all of the other wanifunzi climbing up the rocks to watch the sunset and laughing and having a good time, while I'm laying in my tent all feverish yet again. I was doing okay this morning and managed to make it through watching the striped creatures with only a minimum of diziness and nausea. We had a bit of an exciting morning because just a couple of hours into our work, the heavens opened and it began pouring harder than it ever has during the time we've been in East Africa. Driving in the tire ruts during the heavy rain was quite a bit like driving directly in two small but furious parallel rivers and I was very impressed with Killarai's skill in getting us all back to camp - even without windshield wipers!

This afternoon, we hiked up Oldonyo Sambu again. I'm embarassed to admit that I didn't make it all the way to the top, much as I had wanted to. I stayed with the group that only climbed to the first ridge and stupidly enough had to actually lay down on the rocks and borrow a jacket to use as a blanket because I felt so weak and cold. It was an amazing view though, and I'm glad I went, though not so glad about the field ID test we took along the way - my brain (and the rest of my body) pretty much feels like much right now, so I don't think I did so hot.

I"m trying my very best to remain optimistic, but its getting very difficult. Sure, others in the group have had their illnesses, but this drawn out fevery thing is just getting ridiculous. I'm trying so hard to do everything, but I just can't and its very, very frustrating to me. I really hate it when I can't do something or people think I can't do something and all I'm doing on this trip is being a pathetic, sick, weakling! I'll stop the complaining though and try to share a few of the amusing moments of the day:

- Kai's current nickname from the locals is "Tembo", which means elephant.
- Due to the fact that Rachel's wet suit makes her look like a super hero, she and Lydia have decided on superhero names for themselves based on the fact that they are researching reproduction and nesting. Rachel is "Super Spawn" and Lydia her sidekick, "Small Fry".
- Kim really enjoys describing zebra and impala mating in a very loud voice as often as she can!
- Last night, I kept having terrible dreams that bugs were crawling over at me and at one point woke up with a HUGE stick insect on my cheek. My first instinct was to throw it as far as I could - unfortunately this meant I threw it right at my sleeping tent mate. I felt so bad and wasn't sure wait to do - I didn't want to wake poor Rachel up by lurking awkwardly over her while shining a head lamp in her face. Luckily, mere seconds later, the insect crawled back to my side of the tent and I was able to evict it.

I'm really sad to be leaving Oldonyo Sambu, as this is the last time "in the bush" for the trip. I really do love the wilds of Tanzania. This might sound silly and somewhat terrifying to all of you at home, but I do hope that my work and life take me back here at some point, hopefully to live for a time. Sickness aside, I feel so at peace and wonderful here and I'm actually crying a little bit right now because the thought of leaving is making me so sad. I'm also quite depressed that feeling so bad has really prevented me from living this past week to the fullest and experiencing all that I can. I'm not sure when the next time I'll get back out to the bush in East Africa is - not any time soon, that is for sure and I'll miss it all incredibly. Though I'm excited to be going home so soon, I'm sure there is a part of me that will always long for the wild beauty I've gotten a chance to know a bit on this trip.

Time for a nap!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sick on Safari...

November 17, 2009

So, since the middle of last night I’ve been totally sick and feverish again, but am trying to persevere, because despite feeling alternately way too hot and freezing cold (which should be impossible under the mid day East African sun) and having many of my joints swelling and aching, though it may sound hard to believe, I’m really having the time of my life!

I went out with Kai and Killarai again to search for zebras this morning. We watched several more stallions and of course had many more interesting conversations. Topics today included:
1. favorite films – Killarai’s is “The Hangover” because it “has both strippers and cocaine in it” and “the man calls a purse a satchel!”
2. the difficulties female athletes sometimes experience with menstruation – not really sure how this one came up, but they both were really curious and the discussion was much less awkward then one would initially suppose
3. how far into a relationship one should give a girlfriend earrings – this thanks to a story my tent mate told Kai about receiving a pair of earrings for a gift from her boyfriend. Unfortunately, Kai and Killarai have both decided to use our time in the truck to quiz me about how to be a good boyfriend, though I’m useless to answer those sorts of questions – most of all for the earrings one – I don’t even have pierced ears!
4. Kai asking me who calls me “Hilly” as I’ve told him many times that “Hillary” is just fine and I really like “Hill”, but no one is allowed to call me “Hilly”. My response to who calls me “Hilly” was, in my cranky and fevered state “people I don’t like”, so hopefully he will get the point and stop it! Researching with Kai really is like field studies with a little brother in tow.

We came back for lunch and while Lydia used my computer to data entry for she and Rachel’s weaver nest project, I brought out my iPod and introduced Lydia to many wonderful showtunes. She’s got excellent taste in music – loves “The Last Five Years”, “Avenue Q”, “Dr. Horrible”, “Evil Dead: The Musical” and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I played her the song “Times Like This” from “Lucky Stiff”. She’s also decided that she too is madly in love with Matthew Morrison from “The Light In The Piazza”. I’m hoping to update my iTunes software in Arusha so that I can make she and Rachel safari playlists!

After lunch, Kai and I went out with Lisa C. and Killarai to go look for more zebras. We saw zebras mating less than 25 meters from the truck! It was so cool – though sadly my video camera was freaking out again and refusing to zoom in and out – what a missed opportunity. However, the hot sun proved too much for me this afternoon, and we went back to camp after only two hours because I was starting to feel really sick and dizzy, and staring at moving stripes wasn’t helping.

I passed out in my tent for a couple of hours and missed the slaughtering and roasting of a goat – which I’m disappointed about on some levels because it would have been cool to see how the Maasai do things and good for me to really see where meat comes from, you know? But also, I’m a little bit relieved too as I’m sure it only would have reinforced my vegetarian leanings. I’ll eat fish every now and then, as I’ve got no problem catching and killing one of those myself, but there’s no way I’d be able to kill and cut up a goat! Call it mammalian bias, but that’s where I draw the line!

I did emerge from my tent when I heard the Maasai start to sing around the fire. I brought my camera out so that I could record their songs. Of course, once they started pulling people up to dance, I was the very first one and despite my protests that I was sick, there was no getting out of it. And not only did I get pulled up to dance once, I was one of only two people who was asked by the Maasai to dance twice! I tried my very best to jump dance like them, but I was so dizzy!

Kai was upset with me for not being in my tent sleeping and for drinking caffeinated soda as he was of the opinion that I needed to be sleeping so that I would be ready to go for more zebra research tomorrow and fish research next week on the coast, but there are some things that are always worth dragging yourself out of the tent for, unless you are actually dying, and the Maasai singing and dancing are one of them.

This trip has been hard for me, in that I have gotten sick quite a bit, but everything is such a once in a lifetime opportunity that I hate to back down and miss out on things. I know that in the years to come, I will remember the good times, amazing people, beautiful animals and incredible experiences much more than any feelings of illness, so I’m trying to rally as much as I can. That’s not to say that I didn’t spend an hour this afternoon feeling homesick and sorry for myself, because I definitely did, but I was able to convince myself that having a fever while watching zebras in Tanzania is infinitely better than being sick at home on the couch.

I like to push myself hard, to try to get the most out of everything, but I often have trouble knowing when enough is enough – I’m just hopeful I’ll make it through the rest of the trip more or less in once piece. I can sleep for a week straight when I get home, but I can’t watch zebras, climb mountains, dance with the Maasai and stand in the back of a Land Rover while a crazy Tanzanian driver guns it across the grasslands.

I’m supposed to be using this blog as a place for “academic reflection” in addition to personal journaling and I guess I haven’t really done too much of that lately. Last night though, the Petersons’ friend, Fred, talked to us about his work trying to help local people change political policy in ways that will benefit both themselves and conservation efforts at the local level and he said a number of things that really got me thinking about the way conservation works. It was his opinion that being a politician was more important than being an ecologist in the realm of conservation, because really the way environmental decisions are made has more to do with economics and political power than ecology.

I agree with his description of the decision making strategy, but I feel like ecology is just as an important piece of the puzzle. How will you know how to go about conserving something once you have decided to do so unless you can understand the system behind it? He also talked about how so very little of the money foreigners donate to conservation really goes into the economy at the local level. He believes that if local communities are paid to maintain the habitat of the animals so beloved world wide, that they will begin to take pride in the production of such a valuable tourist commodity – the opportunity to view East African wildlife. He mentioned that in the US, National Parks have become synonymous with conservation, but that in Africa that strategy won’t work due to the fact that so many species are migratory and need not only protection in their dry and wet season areas, but also a clear path to travel to and from their different home ranges. Because of this, its clear that community based conservation is the right answer. Once again, I’m even more in awe of what the Petersons are doing with their nonprofit group, the Dorobo Fund, to help both people and the environment in Tanzania.

I’m hoping that as I give the other members of the LC group and their families copies of the video that I’ve taken here in Tanzania, they might feel comfortable each pitching in a couple of dollars that would then be sent to the Dorobo Fund to use on one of their conservation projects. So far, people seem pretty agreeable to the idea. It is incredible how far so few resources can go here and I would love for this year’s LC group to be able to support such an amazing organization, even if its in a very small way.

Miss you!
- Hill

Monday, November 16, 2009

Striped Studs

November 16, 2009

Last night Kai and I decided to shift the focus of our last few days of research to zebra stallions and the various roles they play within the herd, so we spent our morning watching various male zebras for up to twenty minutes each. It was very fun because we saw so many different social interactions – from mutual grooming to solicitation of females to herding his harem to keeping an alert eye out for predators, just to name a few. Killarai was our driver again, though frighteningly enough he let Kai do a lot of the driving again!

Researching with Kai continues to be equal parts entertaining and frustrating – he’s super enthusiastic and also wants to spend absolutely as much time in the field as possible which is nice, but he doesn’t really get the idea of being quiet so as not to scare the animals – for example, yelling “I see a dong!” when discovering that an individual is male is not an effective way to habituate the herd to our presence. However, he’s often unintentionally hilarious when he is talking to Killarai and plotting various ways to make sure that his entire stash of Tanzanian souvenirs makes it all the way back to the US or when offering Killarai “umgumbe nyama Amerikana” (his name for beef jerky for the US, that is not actually close to correct in either English, Maa or Kiswahili).

We came back for lunch and right now he’s taking a turn at entering data on the spreadsheet we have set up on his computer. Its great that our group has two computers, as via flash drive, we are able to put all of the info on both machines so even if something happens to one we won’t lose it, but it also means that mine gets borrowed a lot by other groups (which I’m glad can happen so they can have an easier time with their data, but selfishly makes me a little sad as the blogging/journaling I’ve become so addicted to had definitely been suffering as a result)!

Other fun things from the last couple of days I’ve forgotten to mention:
1. Anton giving a presentation on naked mole rats or “sand puppies” and telling us all that the social structure of the sand puppies is more like termites or ants, with a supreme queen who controls the reproduction and success of her colony through hormones.
2. Killarai getting a lecture on the best way to smoke from several LC students in the truck this morning.
3. Rachel giving a presentation on fruit bats – I kept thinking of my tiny and awesome brother, Brody, because he loves the fruit bats at the Oregon Zoo. Rachel and Lydia have never been to the Oregon Zoo before, so we decided that during spring semester we are going to take Brody and go. Even though he’s only six, I’m sure that he’ll think going to the zoo with two of his sister’s cute friends is a pretty good deal!
4. Kai getting out of the truck to try to find the tail from an impala kill we saw the other day because he’s decided that he wants to put an impala tail on the handle of his Maasai short sword.
5. Rachel freaking out about moths at night because she has an irrational fear that they will try to lay eggs in her ears.
6. The camp staff making us mac and cheese for dinner! We were all really excited, especially the meat eaters in the group as theirs had bacon in it.
7. Kai keeps wanting me to tell him stories while we are out watching zebras which irritates me because I don’t want to talk because it might frighten away the zebras and because I can’t remember long fantastical epics the way he seems to think I should be able to. We’ve already done the Chronicles of Narnia (or as much of it as I can remember) while driving and my standard response to questions when we are actually watching zebras is “Sijui” or “I don’t know”, because simply explaining my desire for quiet has not worked at all!
8. Kim trying to comb Jeremiah’s hair into a ‘fro.
9. Going out to take my laundry down and having to squish or knock off all of the ants that had crawled down the clothes line onto my socks, underwear and shirts! I was very careful – ants in the pants, literally, while trying to sit still and watch zebras would be absolutely miserable!
10. We get internet for 4 or 5 hours in Arusha! I’m so excited and I apologize in advance to anyone who I haven’t e-mailed back yet – I’m trying, I really am and I do so love to hear from you!

Miss you,

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Zebra Later and The Hornbill Boys

November 15, 2009

Yesterday, Kai and I went out in the morning in one of the Land Rovers with Killarai to watch zebras as usual, but oddly enough had trouble finding them! Eventually we did find some, but we decided to go back to camp for lunch and use the afternoon to start doing some data entry since we’ve collected so many sample so far!

I ended up going out in the afternoon with my friends Lydia and Rachel while they looked for more weaver nests. It was great fun – weavers are incredible little birds and the way the trees look when they are covered in weaver nests is very reminiscent of Dr. Seuss illustrations. We had great fun standing in the back of the Land Rover and hanging on while Killarai drove it a fast-as-light forty five miles per hour. Which doesn’t sound that fast when you think of driving at home on the highway, but forty five on a dirt access track in the middle of the bush in Tanzania is a different feeling entirely!

Back at camp, we were all really excited because Daudi, his awesome wife Trude and two of their friends from Arusha, Kim and Fred, had arrived to spend the last few days camping with us and birding with Mwalimu Ken. We ended up not having out usual evening lecture on some aspect of vertebrate biology because they were too busy searching for birds!

And now I’m getting lazy and trying to conserve battery for more data entry, so I’ll just leave you with a quick list of amusing incidents:
1. Kai spent all day discussing how much he wanted to try “amarillo” and Killarai and I had no idea in what he was talking about. Turns out that he meant “amarula”, a very sweet, caramely sort of cream liquor which is indeed very tasty!
2. Kai trying to drive the Land Rover – equal parts amusing and terrifying! I really want to drive as well, but given the fact that the stick is on the left because the steering wheel is on the right means that I probably would be incapable of shifting gears given the fact that my elbow and wrist are still quite weak and painful on and off.
3. Kim deciding that “zebra later!” is a clever pun on the phrase “see ya later!”
4. Watching a lone wildebeest run away from the Land Rover repeatedly as he kept running away only to end up in the exact place we were trying to drive to! Poor thing probably thought we were trying to hunt him down.
5. Zach and Anton imitating the pair bonding dances of the hornbills they are studying. This is priceless on so many levels. Its already commonly accepted knowledge around camp that at some point, Anton will lock Zach in their tent and just unzip it enough to toss in food now and then so that Zach can concentrate on laying eggs – just like horn bills do by holing their mates up in trees and blocking the entrances with mud.

Wish you were here!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Maasai! Friends! Lions! Yes!

November 14, 2009

Writing on the morning of the 15th as early morning journaling seems to be becoming somewhat of a routine and a very nice way to start the day. Yesterday was another amazing day spent observing zebras in their natural habitat. Kai and I are already starting to notice patterns in their behaviors. The big, “harem master” stallions seem to spend much less time feeding than the others and more time looking around for danger and chasing their mares back into line. The smaller stallions, who seem to hang out on the edges of the herd are much less concerned.

After another 6 or 7 hours out in the field yesterday, we now have a total of 107 five minute samples of individual zebra watching! We talked to Mwalimu Ken and his advice was to analyze the data today and see if the patterns we are observing are reflected in the data and then perhaps use the remaining days here at Oldonyo Sambu to ask a slightly different and more specific question about some aspect of zebra behavior. We’re really interested in the differences between the behaviors of the two groups of stallions (and also getting quite good at determining the sex of an individual zebra from quite a distance), so hopefully the data are showing a pattern already and we can focus our efforts in a stallion-y sort of direction starting tomorrow.

I’m getting very good at distinguishing individual zebras from one another, which is very, very exciting! I love looking out at the herd and being able to think “Oh, I’ve looked at that one already!” I still especially love watching the zebra foals – I’ve seen few things in my life that are as awkwardly delightful and delightfully awkward as a very young zebra!

I’ve taken quite a bit of video of zebras, so I’ll share that with you all later and stop boring you with never ending descriptions of how cool I think they are!


PS Highlight of last night was when Kai, apparently while out of his tent to use the choo heard lions roaring in the distance (as we all were) and yelled “Maasai! Rafiki! Simba! Ndiyo!” (Maasai! Friends! Lion! Yes!), we think in the hopes of encouraging his Maasai friends to go on a lion hunt. This attempt failed, and all the rest of us heard in return was Kim verbally abusing him for being so very loud!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another day with the striped donkeys...

November 13, 2009

Yesterday was amazing! Kai and I left camp at 8am and did not return until after 4pm (and that was only because we had to be back by 5 for a lecture). We watched zebras all day and recorded a total of 50 individual five minute samples of zebra behavior. Even though we were out for a long time, I never did get tired of watching them. We saw foals nursing, mares grooming one another, stallions curling their upper lips, zebras kicking and biting at one another, mares weaning their foals, zebra nap time for almost entire herds and zebras taking turns rolling in a particularly excellent and dusty/muddy patch.

It was really cool to watch them because they are so horselike in many ways and yet so different in others. The stallions will rear up and spar on their hind legs just like horses, but they also fight kind of by kneeling down and striking at one another with their heads, by slamming their head into the others chest and trying knock it off balance. Zebras are also really creative about finding ways to scratch their itches. One individual was standing over a scrubby bush that just reached its belly and walking back and forth over into in order to get rid of a tummy itch!

The only thing I don’t like about doing zebra research is that we have to stay in the truck the whole time. This is because while the zebras aren’t scared of us in the vehicles and we can get quite close before disrupting their normal behaviors, they are very scared of people in foot as most African mammals are, because of the fact that from the very beginnings of their evolutionary history, they have been hunted by humans. However, if there is a time when it would be good for me just to sit around for a week, it is definitely this week as I’m still feeling rather hivihivi (iffy/fifty fifty/so so) and I really want to be better by the time we hit the coast so I hopefully will be fit and ready for hours of snorkeling and not still sick enough that I keep getting cold in the water.

Kai is a really good and enthusiastic research partner, though it is a little bit like working with a very overgrown little brother. I’m constantly reminding him that we can’t try to hunt things with spears because it would ruin our research and that it isn’t funny to poke me when I’m perched precariously on the top of the truck while looking through the binoculars, but so far we’re the only group who has made the decision to stay out all day, for which I ‘m really glad. After all, when is the next time I’m going to get back to Tanzania to follow zebras around?

Our research is going well, though we are seeing less dominance asserting behaviors than we had expected to, so it will be interesting to see if we can really collect enough data to answer our primary question, or if we will eventually focus in on one of the other ideas when it comes time to present our findings. I really can’t believe people do this sort of thing for a career – its pretty amazing!

Of course, I’m still terrified when I think about all of the school I still have left to go before I can maybe have such a cool job, but at least there is a goal in sight! As usual, the Lewis and Clark Registrar decided that I wasn’t a student there (this is the third time this has happened) even after I send in my class choices and I wasn’t registered for anything at all when Mwalimu Ken used his satellite phone to check and see if all of us who had wanted to had been able to register for his Animal Behavior class this spring. Thankfully, he was also able to use his phone to actually register me for courses and I’m now signed up for Chemistry, Animal Behavior and Evolution this spring. I’m still hoping to take something fun, like maybe a writing class, but I can figure that out next time I’m in Arusha. Only in East Africa would I be discussing my future academic plans with my advisor while doing my laundry!

Other amusing incidents of the day include:
1. Rachel giving her presentation on bats. She did a great job and it kept reminding me of my little brother, Brody, every time she talked about fruit bats because Brody and I love to watch them at the zoo forever. Brody will be so thrilled when he find out that I’ve seen some of the biggest fruit bats in the world, the Pemba Flying Foxes!
2. The Maasai trying to teach us how to throw spears. We were all pretty bad. I was spectacularly bad.
3. Kim spilling her Fanta underneath her chair and Mwalimu Ken then making one of his ridiculous puns about the fact that she had created a “fanta sea”.
4. Mara, Lisa and Kim seeing a zebra with a blonde mane in tail while out researching impala harems.
5. Kai finding out that I’ve read most of the Star Wars novels ever published and asking me to tell him Star Wars stories while we were watching zebras. Unfortunately (or is that fortunately?) this phase of mine lasted only a year in eighth grade and stopped as soon as I actually made friends in high school, so I couldn’t remember anything well enough to help him out!!
6. Our truck got stuck in the mud and Kai, one of the Maasai and I had to help push it out of about two feet of mud in order to continue on. Obviously, it was my one good armed effort, not Kai’s football player strength that made the difference!

Miss you all! I realized that even though the fact that I have less than a month left here is terribly sad, it also means I get to come home and see you all which makes me very excited. But if anyone wants to come back with me soon, that would be more than ok!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Zebra watching and hyena talking...

November 12, 2009

Its not even lunchtime yet and already today has been excellent. Kai and I spent our first morning doing zebra research! Our methods of collecting the data must look pretty funny when viewed from an outside perspective. One of us picks out a specific zebra in the herd and yells out “Head up!”, “Head down!”, “Chasing!”, “Displaced!”, “Nursing!” or “Grooming!” anytime one of these activities happens and the other runs a stopwatch for five minutes while writing down the times each of these activities start to occur, so that later we will be able to calculate the cumulative average time spent performing each of these activities for mares, stallions and foals and also for zebras in herds of different sizes.

The main question we want to answer is: Does the amount of time spent maintaining dominance hierarchies differ between zebras in large herds and zebras in small herds? We think that zebras in large herds will likely spend more of their time interacting with one another simply because there are more individuals among which an order must be maintained.

It is advantageous for zebras to be in larger groups because it reduces the risk of predation for each individual which means that each zebra can spend more time grazing and less time looking around for things that might leap out of the bush and eat it! We are recording “Head up” (non grazing) and “Head down” (grazing) time to see if at some point a larger group actually decreases grazing time instead of increasing it.

It was really fun to head out in the truck with Mwalimu Ken as our driver and one of the camp Maasai as a guide. It took awhile to find a place where the Maasai weren’t out with lots of cattle and pushing away the zebras, but after a while we were able to find it and the real work could begin. Strange as it may sound, I LOVE staring at zebras for hours on end and am now even more sure that field bio is the way to go, career wise! The sky started to dump buckets again, so we headed back to pick up poor Sam and Miles who were out examining ants on whistling acacia and headed back to camp for a bit. However, we will be headed out again after lunch in order to watch more zebras and I’m super excited!

Camp is much more quiet, still, without the GC students, but life goes on its usual amusing ways.
1. This morning, Kim walked up to Douglas and started singing the song “I Believe I Can Fly”. Douglas, an avid birder and native Tanzanian said to her in reply “Why do you think that if you don’t have any wings?” She was undeterred and continued singing until he suggested if she really believed that, why didn’t she climb to the tall rocks, spread her wings and jump!
2. Rachel and I continue to function as Kai’s alarm clock. She unzips his tent and says very sweetly and quietly “Kai, its time to get up!”, whereas I kick the side of it and recite irritating rhymes or lyrics from showtunes.
3. Rachel and I continue to wrangle beetles and bees out of our tent. I am the best beetle catcher, able to pick them up with my fingers without crushing them and she is a far superior bee chaser, able to shoo them away with just a composition notebook for a tool.
4. Our Maasai guide kept inexplicably getting out of the Land Rover and slamming the door, frightening our zebras away!

Sadly enough, I get excellent cell reception here, but due to the fact that I wasn’t able to buy minutes in Arusha have no way to let my family know that I “probably don’t have reception in Oldonyo Sambu”, but rather have excellent reception! I want to tell them all about how cool watching zebras is and how much I love this whole science thing after all.

I just wish I could figure out some sort of field biology career that involves horses. There has to be somewhere remote in the world where the best way to observe your study creatures is from the back of a horse, doesn’t there? Because if I could ride around all day, watch creatures in their natural environment, do experiments, take tons of notes on it, write up big papers about everything and travel back to civilization every now and again for human company, internet access and smoothies, I’d be as happy as a zebra in a field of green grass free of lions!

I wish you all could be here and see how amazing this is! Since the rains have started, its like a different world out here! The bush is teeming with life of all shapes and sizes and I’m right in the middle of it!


PS Evening update: Didn’t go out in the afternoon again because it was raining so hard that all of the zebras would have been hunkered down in the brush and hard to see. I worked really hard on organizing my hyena notes instead and even ended up giving my presentation this evening. Rachel helped me out by letting me practice it for her in our tent (which was hilarious because I kept getting nervous and starting over and then realizing I’d forgotten a note card or had them out of order, or something equally ridiculous) and then listening to the whole thing over again only a few hours later. I think it went pretty well, though I did say “um” a few more times than I would have liked and I’m not really sure if I had the right content or not because I was the first one to give my vertebrate presentation. I won’t bore you with all the hyena notes right now, but if you’re curious I’d love to talk about them more when I get home! They are absolutely amazing creatures and are my personal favorite safari animal!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Missing Meryl and Laila-Bear...

November 11, 2009

Actually writing this on the 12th, due to the fact that charging never quite happened yesterday due to an extremely impressive rain storm in the afternoon.

It still felt very strange yesterday to wake up in the morning and not be surrounded by our General Culture friends. I particularly missed hearing Meryl yell “Laila-bear!” as she often does when tying to ascertain the whereabouts of her tent wife, Laila. After breakfast, we all got ready quickly and piled into the trucks to go for a game drive to see what was around and finalize our ideas for our independent projects.

Again, we saw zebra. Or as we would say in Kiswahili, pundra, mingi sana (very many zebras)! We literally saw hundreds of them! And as the rains continue, more and more will leave Tarangire National Park and enter the area around Oldonyo Sambu as part of their regular migratory pattern. Kim and Lisa saw the impala they were searching for, Lydia and Rachel found weaver nests created by several different species, Sam and Miles spotted some whistling acacia teeming with ants and Peggy and Heather saw so many possibilities for plant related research they haven’t yet reached a conclusion about what to study! The only disappointed ones were Zach and Anton who didn’t see any baboons.

We headed back to camp for lunch and to work on our project proposals. After Kai and I had some time to discuss our procedure, we sat down with Ken to discuss it. Of course, Mwalimu was rapidly distracted by a bird and took off running across the rocks to get a better view, but eventually we returned and ironed out the kinks in our data collecting protocol.

Zach and Anton decided that they would like to go search for baboons again, so Lisa and I decided to join them. It was a tight fit in the truck, with me, Zach and Anton in the back seat and Lisa in between Killarai and one of the Maasai in the front. But it only got tighter when Kai saw us leaving and ran to catch up. Then the arrangement was me sitting sideways on Kai’s lap in order to not hit my head every time we hit a pothole, which meant I was probably stabbing Zach with my bony knees every few seconds. Kai also dragged me out backwards the first few times we stopped to look around and almost dropped me in the mud, which I really was not a fan of, so Lisa was really nice and let me cram in front too to avoid lap sitting. I really hate sitting in people’s laps anyways – I would rather be sat on if crowding must occur – and the lap sitting is exponentially worse if being dropped in the mud might happen at the end of it, so I was pretty happy to escape.

We ended up hiking up part of a baboon trail on the mountain. I had decided to tag along at the last minute and as a result was wearing my thin, very slippery nike flip flops, certainly not the best foot wear for climbing a rocky, muddy mountain slick with baboon poop. It was really fun though, and I didn’t fall, not even once! And although we saw no baboons, we saw a very majestic male impala and a beautiful family of elephants – three big mamas, one juvenile and two very small calves!

We returned to camp just in time for dinner. At dinner, I decided to do my hyena presentation in two nights time (so now, tomorrow night) because I would rather just get it over and done with than drag it out and be assigned to go on some day. Also, I think that entering and analyzing zebra data is about to take up much of my time really, really soon!

The other notable thing that happened yesterday was the discovery of the two crazy spiders in camp. One was (including legs), slightly smaller than my palm and very tarantula like. Being the biology students we are, our natural reaction was to poke it with a stick and see what happened – it reared up on its hind legs and bared its fangs at us! Sadly, my camera was out of batteries and I didn’t get any video, but some of my fellow wanifunzi took great pictures. Just as we were about to finally leave the poor spider alone, another crawled up. This one was slightly smaller (but still huge) and not hair, but it was a deep, bright red in color, except for the back part of its body which was a darker maroon color. Everyone thought there might be a spider duel, but the two mostly ignored one another and eventually scurried away into the rocks, away from the wanifunzi and their headlights, cameras, field guides and sticks.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing how different everything is here since the rains have come. There are termites flying around everywhere! Once they find mates, they drop their wings and fall on the ground. Animals are feeding on them everywhere, including a number of cool frogs we hadn’t yet seen before. The grass is starting to grow a nice, bright, cheerful green and even the acacia are starting to put out leaves.

In Oregon green can be taken for granted, but in the grasslands of Tanzania it’s a celebration, a holiday of sorts for all of the animals who come rushing out of the dry season refuge of Tarangire and into the newly restored land.

I wish communication was easier so you could all be reading this as I write it – not days or weeks later!