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, October 31, 2009

A safari halloween!

October 31, 2009
HALLOWEEN in the bush!

Our Halloween festivities ended up being quite fun! Many of us put our names in and drew them out to dress up as each other, while others just dressed as whatever they could scrape together a costume of. As a result, at our party we had:
1. Meryl dressed as Mwalimu Ken by wearing high wool socks, a grey t-shirt, a backwards baseball hat, a pair of binos held on my two straps to mimic the super special binocular holder and by making constant observations about rare birds.
2. Rachel dressed as Zach by wearing athletic shorts, wrapping a pair of spandex around herself to mimic Zach’s Obama skirt and we duct taped my black bandana and a piece of notebook paper that we wrote “Obama ‘08” to the back of it to better emulate Zach’s look. She also purposely held off on washing her hair so it would be nice and crazy and wore a headlamp and carried a camera in order to “document Anton’s life”.
3. Laila was Kim, wearing black athletic shorts, a tank top and a red bandana and leaping on top of people excitedly, trying to drag Douglas and Simon over to join in the fun and attempting to swing dance with the “Kai” of the evening.
4. Devin was Kai, wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to imitiate Kai’s sleevless shirt that used to be white. She also wore his safari hat and had his walk down perfectly.
5. Zach was Laila and wore a frighteningly tiny pair of running shorts with Laila’s purple fleece headband and a purple tank top. He also carried a mug and pretended to misplace it constantly as Laila often does.
6. Elly was Rachel R., wearing a grey t-shirt, athletic shorts and a necklace. I think she may have incoporated some nervous nail biting into her routine as well.
7. Lydia was Rachel Y., which she accomplished by wearing sunglasses, attempting to be poised and wearing signs taped to her which read “Asians are HAWT!” and “Stop killing the planet!”
8. Rachel Y. was Heather which she accomplished by laughing like Heather, wearing a a long skirt, a top which could have been a maternity shirt and constantly flossing her teeth and bending down to check out plants/fungi/dropped pieces of egg salad.
9. Heather was Lydia. She wore pink shorts, a purple tank to stuffed with extra socks to enlarge her chest and made zebra stripped ear plugs out of notebook paper and a permanent marker that she duct taped to her ears.
10. Kim was Natalie, she wore a knit hat and arranged her hair just to have a few wisps hanging out the front like bangs. She wore a button up shirt, rolled up khakis, tucked a cigarette into the hat, wore glasses and had Natalie’s mannerisms down frighteningly well.
11. Lisa was Devin which she accomplished by stealing some of Devin’s clothes and being endlessly cheery and optimistic.
12. Kai was Lisa – he snuck into her tent and stole her favorite kanga which he wore over a pair of red underwear. Unfortunately, as a man he is not practiced in the art of tying on a kanga as a dress and we saw far more of the red underwear than anyone had planned on. He also wore her safari hat and tried to giggle girlishly, though the highlight of the evening was when we looked over to see Kai with his back to the group taking a pee in the woods while still wearing a kanga dress! He wore the kanga far longer than anyone else in their costumes and even attempted to perform what he knew of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” music video dance around the campfire as it become quite late and the group got a little smaller.
13. Michael was the Kool Aid pitcher of red Kool Aid. Pretty much everyone on the trip is a Dane Cook fan and as a result his sketch about the Kool Aid man being top heavy and able to be defeated by being kicked in the tights as become a wonderful inside joke. He managed to piece his costume together with a red sleeping bad, a Maasai blanket, a pair of sunglasses and a pair of long underwear. That combined with his constant yells of “Oh, yeah!” and pretending to crash through people’s tents made his costume pretty obvious.
14. Peggy was a superb starling, one of the most commonly seen birds here. She wore black tights, a red shirt with a white scarf tied across her chest so that she would have the “white band across the breast that distinguishes the superb from the Hildenbrandt’s starling” and then wore a blue jacket to be her blue wings and back and made a small beak from paper. Of course, this meant that she had to be captured and banded by Meryl as Ken Clifton, who all the while provided very official commentary on the process while Peggy squawked and flapped her wings.
15. Nicole was a cheetah, wearing black spandex and a cheetah print kanga with a painted on nose and whiskers.
16. I was Elly, wearing a crazy safari hat, a black fleece and a kanga as a cape (this being another joke resulting from a rather crazy bonding activity on the coast). I also tried my very best to emulate her wonderfully infectious, deep belly laugh, though I’m afraid that I fell rather short on that account.
17. Alex, with the help of Douglas, was the choo! They removed the stakes from the tent surrounding one of the camp toilets and wrapped it around themselves and walked around in it for a few minutes.
18. Anton was an “early hominoid” which meant that he fashioned an alarmingly small sort of loincloth out of the remnants of his Obama skirt and a belt. He then ran around grunting and waving a stick for most of the evening.
19. Natalie was me which she accomplished by wearing khaki pants that were falling off, an orange shirt and a green bandana (of course pulled down so far on her forehead that it was not in any way attractive). She had my mannerisms down quite well – touching her face a lot, always standing with more weight on one leg or the other and trying to smile a lot because she thinks I do, but really that just made her look creepy and predatory. She also talked about horses, which was hilarious and even dedicated one of her shots during the “washers” game we played (kind of a cross between horse shoes and shuffleboard) to “Jeremy the Arabian stallion” – which was great and made even better by the fact that it was the only shot she made in the whole game where the washer actually went in the hole as it was supposed to.

The washer tournament was quite heated. My teammate Lydia and I lost the first round, but stuck around to watch some of it. In the end, Alex and Kim were defeated by our camp guides Simon and Abraham because Simon has ridiculously good hand eye coordination and was incredible at the game.

Everyone who had candy with them shared it so we were able to each “Trick or Treat” for a hard candy or too. Overall, it was a really great evening and I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people who have become my friends.

Also, somewhere along the line, Lydia and Natalie got into a very heated discussion about which celebrity I resemble. It was decided that I have Kate Winslet’s eyes and eyebrows and Meryl Streep’s chin and cheekbones, thoug

Before I finish this entry, I have to go back earlier in the day and tell a really serious and actually quite terrifying story. After lunch (and a whole morning spent working on my Hadza essay and my hyena project), I decided to go on a hike with one of our Maasai guides, Olotriaki, and Kim, Alex, Heather and Lydia. We hiked straight up a very steep hill and came to a gorgeous rock outcropping which we all clambered up in order to be treated to a fantastic view of the surrounding area. We also saw a rock hyrax and a pair of tiny little bee eaters who were an iridescent blue green color (I’m not sure what species yet) – I was too slow with my camera to catch the hyrax, but did video the bee eaters flittering and fluttering around.

On the way down, Heather, Kim and I crawled down first. Then Lydia went. As she reached a particularly steep section, her foot slipped and she fell at least fifteen feet, kind of bouncing off of the rocks as she went until she finally landed hard on her back. Luckily, the backpack she was wearing shielded her from any serious injury and she escaped with only a few scrapes, swollen ankles and lots of bruises. Olotrieki even found her bino lens covers and water bottle! He was probably the most terrified of anyone and clutched Lydia’s arm most of the way back, I think to prevent anymore mishaps!

I am so glad she is fine, but it was so terrifying. Watching something like that happening feels like it is going in slow motion and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It was also a really powerful reminder of something I’ve felt a lot here in East Africa, but don’t think I’ve really written about yet.

As Westerners, I feel like we have this expectation of safety in life in general, something that just really isn’t present here. I’m not saying that I feel this program puts us in dangerous situations or anything (because they are very careful about our safety). Its just that being aware of your own abilities and limitations is so important here in a way that it isn’t often at home. The rocks we are climbing aren’t part of well known hiking routes. At our current camp site we’ve been instructed that sleeping under the stars isn’t an option because of the “friendly” local hyenas who might just decide that a mzungu in a sleeping bag might make a nice dietary change from dead cow. Everyone is always getting sick and it’s a personal decision about how much to push it when you aren’t feeling well. There are scorpions and snakes.

I don’t feel scared though. I think there is value in being more alert to your surroundings. It makes you more observant and appreciative and alive. While I’m excited that I’ll be going home in a month, how much less colorful will life be without twiga hunts, miscommunications in Swahili, nearly being scraped out of the side of the truck by acacia branches several times weekly, college football players dancing by the fire in kanga dresses, “tent wives”, sleeping twenty feet from a herd of zebras and hyena sightings?

I miss you all and hope you are doing well! I’m alternately loving and hating the isolation from internet and phone calls I’ve been experiencing these past few weeks. I missed a phone call from my Dad this morning while I was studying, which makes me really sad! I hope he doesn’t give up and tries again soon!

-Hill!

Friday, October 30, 2009

A kinda sad feeling day...

October 30, 2009

Feeling rather sick and sad (so if you’ve actually read this far in the massive entry update, you can skip it if you want), but I feel like its important to be honest in my blog. I’m being lazy and writing the whole thing as a list, so here goes:
1. Really homesick and don’t really have a way to communicate. Cell has service and is working, but I have no minutes so can’t call or text home and tell them they can call me back.
2. Realized how much weight I really have gained on this trip just from eating too much of the wrong things. I was doing pretty well, but homesickness has definitely gotten the better of me these past couple of weeks and I’ve eaten a few more sweets than I really every should! Am resolving to make changes to fix this, hopefully before I return home, but I’m still really upset with myself for allowing it to happen in the first place.
3. Failed at going for a run this morning. Made it ten minutes before I just felt so naesuous and dizzy that I had to give up. Had to watch Alex and Laila run for almost an hour and feel really jealous of the fact that they are not getting fat and are still in shape somehow!
4. Worried about my Hadza essay. I’ve now outlined the whole thing and have written the intro (and am setting aside the evening hours, my most productive writing time to finish it), but am worried that it will not be good enough and that it won’t get a good grade.
5. Worried about my Maasai homestay some more – I don’t speak Maa and even though I will try to eat milk and meat if offered (as I know it will be), I can’t imagine that the combination will make me feel very good at all!
6. Stressing about who my partner will be for the independent bio study. Rachel, Kai, Lydia and I are the only ones who haven’t paired off yet and we are going to meet and discuss the situation, but I don’t want anyone to feel left out at all.
7. Missing my dog something terrible – I don’t know why the feeling has come on so strong all of a sudden, but I just can’t stop thinking and worrying about him.
8. Been trying to take a nap all day but it has been so loud that even with my iPod in and cranked all the way up, I haven’t been able to manage it.
9. So sick and frustrated of feeling sick.
10. Really, really wanting to talk to someone from home!

Things aren’t bad here, I’m just having a kind of hivi hivi day is all. I’m trying not to worry or get anxious, but sometimes I think its better to just set aside a couple of hours or even a whole day if necessary and get it all out of the way so I don’t have to have it drag on and on and on.

-Hill!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In the land of Mary Leaky...

October 29, 2009

Writing this on the 30th while my computer is hooked up to the generator so that I will have full battery power left this evening for writing the essay on Hadza development that is worth a full 20% of my second IS course (which is to my mind, a little bit of an overwhelming percentage for one essay).

Yesterday was a travel day, so a lot of time spent in the truck, but there were several cool things that happened. The first of which was our stop at Oldavi Gorge. Some cool things about it are:
1. It is the main place where Louis and Mary Leaky did their archeological research. They are pretty amazing people because:
a. Louis Leaky was the first person to sponsor Jane Goodall’s work with chimps in Tanzania in Gombe Stream.
b. Mary Leaky discovered an early hominid skull there, which inspired many more archoleaigcal expeditions to continue work there.
2. A very famous series of footprints preserved in layers of volcanic ash was found there which features:
a. Three sets of hominid footprints
b. Guinea fowl prints
c. The prints of a small three toed horse mare and her foal
3. The shifting sands
a. A large hill of dark grey or black sand that blows all together, very slowly and has moved hundreds of meters over the years.
b. Periodically there have been conrete markers placed of where the sands where each year. It was pretty cool to see the first marker, for 1969, before the sands themselves could even be seen.

Also along the way we saw: golden jackals coming out of their den, two species of vulture picking clean an impala carcass (we were actually able to get out of the trucks and take a very close look the carcass, which was neat), several new species of harriers (birds) and an aardvark carcass (remarkably spotted by Kai) being devoured by maggots by the side of the road, which also neat to watch.

We arrived at a campsite in the hills where it is slightly chiller and foresty – though not as damp and green as the Nou forest, where we will be staying for the next couple of days to rest before our Maasai homestays and work on assignments.

We drove past a manyatta, a temporary Maasai village constructed for the purpose of having age-set rituals to initiate the current morran or warrior class into the junior elder class. The ceremonies haven’t started yet and we are hoping that we will be able to go see some of them in the next couple of days.

Baadaye,
Hill

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ngorogoro adventures!

October 28, 2009

Catching up on the evening of the 29th – I didn’t have an opportunity to charge my laptop yesterday, so I jotted down some quick notes about things I wanted to be sure to mention, so here goes:

I woke up at 4:45 am in order to ensure that I would have time to shower. I did – it was well worth the early wake up time because the water was HOT!

We divided into smaller groups for more van/jeep like vehicles, as big trucks like the ones we have been riding in are not allowed in the crater. I rode in bio van #1 with Mwalimu Ken, Peggy, Heather, Lydia, Zach and Anton. Our guide Erneste Mosi was kind of the usual touristy Tanzanian guide – filled with many helpful facts that aren’t ever exactly true, but extremely fantastic.

When we first pulled up to the gate for the Ngorogoro Crater Conservation Area, we were greeted by an extremely touristy site – a line of singing and dancing, smiling Tanzanians performing a song about all of the many animals in the Crater while wearing zebra print vests. Ngorogoro is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tanzania and as a result, there was even a small gift shop that all of us wanifunzi wandered into. I did make one small purchase – a bumper sticker for my car that reads “Hakuna Matata!” (No worries/problems!)

We loaded back up into the vans and headed into the Crater, a bit worried because it was very foggy and pouring rain, so even though we were excited to see rain because of the drought here, selfishly, we were a bit worried that we wouldn’t see as many animals. Luckily, once we descended into the crater, it was quite sunny, though still very windy and the lighting was excellent for photography and seeing all of the amazing creatures.

Ngorogoro was amazing in some respects, but disappointing in others. Because it is such a heavily traversed area, the animals are very used to humans in vehicles and as a result will come quite close. This is cool to see them so near, but also, I think a bit sad, because it feels more like an open air zoo than actually seeing animals in their natural habitat. I wonder how much of what you observe in a place like Ngorogoro is actually the animals’ natural behavior. Nevertheless, we saw some truly amazing things:
1. A family group of jackals (4 of them) hunting an eland calf. The mama kept turning and chasing them away and eventually even the baby kicked the leader in the head!
2. A pride of lions (about 20 females, young males and cubs) on the prowl for lunch. We saw several frightened zebra run away, watched them chase a sounder of warthogs, stalk a cape buffalo and continue on in search of more prey, though we didn’t witness any kills. The lions came so close to the vehicles, but I felt bad for them because the drivers kept moving the vans to get closer and closer and while it was cool to be near them, it its really sad that it happens every day.
3. A pair of ostriches mating.
4. Another lioness and her cub crouched by the side of the road by a Cape Buffalo carcass.
5. 50 or 60 hippos hanging out, rolling over, yawing, splashing themselves and generally having a lazy day in the “Hippo Pool”.
6. Kori Bustards (or as Douglas the safari guide calls them, “Kori Bastards”), the largest flying bird in the world
7. Yellow bill kites around the picnic area who were so bold that at one point one dove down and snatched food right out of Michael’s hand!
8. Elephants with HUGE tusks way off in the distance.
9. Vultures and hyenas on a carcass.
10. Hyenas lounging by the side of the road for an afternoon nap and another hyena trotting off in the distance carrying a spinal column of some sort in its mouth.
11. Many, many Grant’s and Thompson’s Gazelles. I can now definitely accurately tell the difference between Grant’s and Tommies! Yay!
12. Zebras running, socializing and grazing.

We camped last night at a campsite right outside of the crater, which was really cool. Even there, the animals were really habituated to humans. For example:
1. An elephant was drinking out of the main water source for the campground.
2. A pair of zebras galloped madly across the lawn between our tents and the choo (bathroom) while I was washing my hands, barking as they went.
3. A bush pig rooted around in the backpack Heather had left outside of her tent until Kai frightened it away.
4. I was getting ready to go to sleep when I heard Lisa say “Kai! Will you walk me to the bathroom? There’s a herd of zebras between us and the choo!” This of course, was really exciting to me, so I unzipped Rachel + I’s tent just enough for me to stick my head out and I spent much of the night watching the zebras graze, scratch each other’s withers, nip and cow kick at each other playfully – much like the horses I know at home do. It was so relaxing and just what I needed. At many points during the night they were mostly less than twenty feet away. The sound of zebras grazing reminded me so much of the peaceful sound of all the horses munching their evening hay after I feed them when I am barn sitting and it made me feel much, much less homesick. I only moved all the way back into my tent after I dozed off and woke up with my head resting on the grass mere inches away from a rather large pile of zebra droppings – I’m glad my tent wasn’t a few more inches to the left!

Overall, I think that its important to have places like Ngorogoro because there need to be places where people can go and know that they can see lions, warthogs, jackals, zebras, elephants, etc. so that they can get excited about them and want to do their part and donate time, money and just generally make an effort to be more environmentally friendly in their lifestyles so that as the human race in general we can gauruntee that these incredible creatures will be around for generations to come. But at the same time, I don’t think that its really truly the best way to conserve wildlife in general. I think its just as important to maintain areas like the Yaida Valley, where the twiga still run from humans because they are just as likely to be eaten as looked at and oohed and aahed over.

As amazing as Ngorogoro was, for me the Hadza experience was much more real because I was experiencing the true behavior of wild animals like twig and baboons – they run from humans, as they well should!

The places that I’ve enjoyed the most so far on the trip have been the places that are still the most “wild”, inhabited only by the Hadza and traditional pastoralists. I’m really worried that as the human population keeps growing that these wild places will cease to exist. There are already too many humans in the world and our population only continues to increase at a ridiculous rate. People may make the argument that there is still plenty of space in the world for more humans, especially in areas like East Africa, but the truth of the matter is, having been here for almost two months now, I can see that unlike the lush, green area in Oregon that I call home which has many highly productive agricultural areas, much of the climate here is so harsh that almost all agriculture outside of very select regions fails.

I guess I’m just a little bit disgusted by own species sometimes. I mean, we’ve done some pretty amazing things – traveled to the moon, set up communications systems effective almost worldwide, made huge advances in medicine, etc. but we’ve also done a lot of terrible things. Every year, we come up with more effective ways to kill each other, are responsible for the extinction of many species of plants and animals, continue to destroy the environment and pretend like everything is just fine.

I feel really guilty to be such a part of all of it. Not that I feel that I’m solely responsible or anything silly like that, but I of course do my fair share to contribute to the world’s problems. I use (as pretty much everyone in a Western country does) excessive, extravagant amounts of water to shower, wash my clothing, clean the dishes, water the lawn , etc. I have my own car and often drive it considerable distances as the only passenger. I use iPods, computers, cell phones, electricity – all of which are nice, but not actually necessary for life. I alone generate so much garbage – wrappers, packages, uneaten food – some of which is recycled but much of which still goes to sit in a landfill. Sure, the landfill may not be right alongside the road as it is here in East Africa, but the truth is that it still exists somewhere. I participate in a sport which involves putting a large four legged animal (who can walk quite nicely his own four legs) into a big metal box on wheels and using excess amounts of fossil fuels to haul it around long distance. And I’m more environmentally conscious than many of my friends and family? That’s a terrifying thought!

I’m not quite sure how to reconcile all of this with my lifestyle at home. I’m not going to forgo the modern world and become an Oregonian Hadza, or anything like that, but I’m definitely going to have to make some changes. There are definitely small changes that I can make that hopefully over time will add up and lessen my own personal carbon footprint. Horseback riding, while totally frivolous, is something I don’t want to give up, so I think I’ll really try hard in other areas of my life to be a better, more aware world citizen and reduce my impact.

The ideas I have had so far are:
1. Be more conscious of my water use – don’t run the dishwasher unless its full, take shorter showers, etc.
2. Be more committed about buying local produce – I need to make time to go to the farmer’s market even if it feels like I don’t have any.
3. Become a vegan – I don’t intend to be ridiculously strict about it and will still eat dairy, eggs, etc. if other people cook, but when I’m in charge of making my own food there are many other alternate things I could make. Livestock production, on the scale that we in America do it is absolutely devastating to the environment and I think I’ve been lying to myself for a long time by pretending that being a vegetarian helps this at all while I still eat other animal products.
4. Plan my car time better – between work and school I will still likely be doing quite a bit of driving, but if I can plan in advance, I can make sure to stop along the way for shopping, etc. instead of going home and making separate trips.
5. Rely more on my own two feet for transportation – a two or three mile round trip to the grocery store, or a four or five mile round trip to the library is nothing, given that I’ve met many people here in East Africa who have to walk for hours in order to get to school or work.
6. Buy more things used – clothes, shoes, etc.
7. Depending on my living situation this spring/summer, grow some edible plants of my own, even if it just a small herb garden in pots on the window sill.
8. Add non-dog friendly ingredients to recipes last – that way my lab can have the leftover veggies which he so enjoys and are very good for him, instead of the food being wasted.
9. Make sure I always have my own water bottle and mug in my car so that if I do buy something to drink, I don’t have to use a paper or plastic cup.
10. Really try to share the experiences I’ve had here with other people in my life. I don’t want to be preachy or irritating because I feel like all of these kinds of decisions are really personal ones that everyone has to make for themselves on an individual basis and I’m not doing a particularly good job myself on limiting my own environmental impact as it is. But at the same time, I hope that maybe by sharing my videos, photos and stories from this trip I can help the people I know who haven’t had this experience understand some of the truly wonderful things that are in the world and then maybe they will be inspired in some small way to think about little changes they could make in their own lives.

Sorry this has been so long and serious! I promise more light hearted entries soon! I’m going to try very hard to live a much “greener” life when I return home and if anyone has any further suggestions for me (or wants to provide a helpful reminder now or then), I would much appreciate it!

Miss you all,
Hill

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Here in Ngorogoro Crater, there are lots of animals...

October 27, 2009

Today was rather uneventful – mostly spent driving from the Yaida Valley to a campsite about 15 minutes from Ngorogoro Crater, where we will be safari-ing tomorrow. I’m very excited about going to Ngorogoro. It is very famous for being a very good place to see lions and hyenas among other creatures. I’m especially excited by the prospect of seeing hyenas – I’ve been researching them more and the more I learn about them, the more I am convinced that they are absolutely the most interesting East African animal.

But anyways, I just wanted to take the chance tonight to jot down a few quick things that I haven’t written about and don’t want to forget:

1. Kim trying to teach one of our safari guides, Killarai, American slang, like “What’s up G?”, which got the response “What is G?” “You know, gangster!” “What is gangster?”
2. Kai informing me on the truck today that with my bandana, oversized grey fleece pulled down to me knees, light colored hair and facial features that I resemble the character “Link” from the Nintendo 64 game “The Legend of Zelda”. He said this like it was a positive thing, but somehow I don’t feel so flattered being compared to a preadolescent, animated medieval elf-boy. On the plus side though, at least Link does have a cool horse, so I guess some things about the comparison are accurate at least.
3. Kai actually used the phrase “You scared the bejesus out of me.” During the twiga hunt yesterday.
4. It is a running joke around camp now that I am an abusive tent spouse due to the fact that Rachel has a very sunburned/skinned nose and a big scratch right above her eye that is turning funny colors from a whiplashing acacia branch during the hunt.
5. For Halloween, us wanifunzi have decided to draw names out of a hat and dress up as each other.
6. My video camera is working again! I tried to take it apart with Devin’s tiny pocket knife to help me undo the screws, undid part of it and blew out some of the dust, but then dropped it really hard on the ground. After picking it up, I noticed that the picture was actually clearer and decided that I couldn’t possibly make it any worse, so I closed it back up, held it in my hand and slammed it against the ground another 4 or 5 times. Now its working better than ever and even auto focusing more quickly than before it started having problems! Clearly this isn’t a good long term strategy, but I’m thrilled that it will at least be working for Ngorogoro. I was in a foul mood all last night because I thought that I would be seeing all of these fabulous animals and have no camera!
7. Everyone is getting really excited about the fact that I’ve been videoing things and people are starting to ask for copies of it. I think this is super cool, because unlike everyone else in the group I have essentially no cool and useful skills that are useful for the making and retaining of friends, so at least I can make movies!
8. I helped take down and fill in the “choo” (safari toilet) this morning. As much as people complain about it, it really isn’t a bad job – just remember not to breathe in through your nose and you are good.

To end on a more serious note, I am getting increasingly more nervous about my Maasai homestay. I know all of you at home won’t even get this entry until after Maasai homestay time, so I’m hoping you will see that I was worried about nothing!

Chakula cha jioni ni tayari! (Dinner is ready!)
-Hill

Monday, October 26, 2009

Words cannot even describe the awesomeness of this day...

October 26, 2009

I suppose I could start at the very beginning and work my way through the day in a linear fashion (as the whole day was AMAZING!!!!! – yes the irritating capital letters and excessive punctuation are entirely necessary), but the fact of the matter is, I never dreamed I would be able to start any story, much less a true one with the phrase “I hunted a giraffe today”.

I hunted a giraffe today, late this afternoon in the company of many of my fellow wanifunzi, Daudi, Mwalimu Ken and our Hadza hunter friends. We went out in small groups of three – five wanifunzi per one hunter early this morning and one of the groups happened to shoot a giraffe with a poison arrow. Generally the protocol when this happens is to leave the animal alone until it dies and then track it because if you chase it, the adrenaline and survival instinct will kick in and the animal will run much farther than if it is not pressured. So the group came back for lunch, told the rest of it about it and a couple of hours later we all headed out to find the twiga!

I was so excited – which may sound weird, given my love of animals (especially fuzzy, four legged ones) and my vegetarianism, but life here is so different. I wouldn’t have any qualms at all about eating a wild animal who has had a full and interesting life and was brought down by a small human with a bow and arrow. That, while certainly not “fair”, is definitely “natural” and makes sense to me in way that factory farming and the like never, ever will. In fact, I even decided that if the opportunity arose, I would eat at least a bite of twiga, impala, kudu or any other game meat that comes my way.

I’m planning a return to total vegetarianism upon my return to the States, of course, and am even toying with the idea of trying to eat vegan more often than not, but right now, (and at the risk of sounding too cheesy to be taken seriously), I’m not just learning about the circle of life, I’m living it and it seems silly not to take advantage of a once in a lifetime sort of opportunity.

This morning was one of those opportunities. Rachel, Zach, Anton and I went hunting with a man whose Swahili name is January (after the month in English, but pronounced with a Swahili flair). Anton and Zach were of course wearing their new Obama t-shirt skirts, while Rachel and I were the ones in the group literally wearing the pants. In addition to observing and trying not to get in the way of January’s hunting, we were assigned to record the different spore (hair, dung, etc.), tracks and different animals we saw. January was very helpful and caught on to what we were up to quickly, giving us his best estimates as to how old the various signs were and even pantomiming different kinds of horns or tusks when we didn’t know the Swahili word and he didn’t know he English one for a certain kind of creature.

Within the first five minutes, he shot twice at a squirrel in a tree, but after that it seemed pretty clear that he considered his hunterly duty fulfilled and that he much preferred socializing to stalking anyways. One of the most important aspects of Hazda hunting is the practice of stopping to take frequent smoking breaks. I supplied January with a piece of very girly baby blue notebook paper and he used it for the duration of our outing to tear pieces off in order to roll tobacco in for a good smoke. Wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I purchased the notebook back at home, but he sure enjoyed it.

While we were out with January we saw: squirrels, baboons, impala, mongoose, steinbuck, birds and kudu. We saw signs of: jackal, impala, warthog, zebra, twiga, dik dik, steinbuck, leopard, bush pig, greater kudu, lesser kudu…just to name a few. It was so incredible how he could identify all of these creatures by the slightest hint of a foot print, a patch of hair or a pile of dung. He also told as about what his favorite ones to eat were. Twiga, warthog and impala were at the top of the list. He thought baboon and kudu were ok and informed us that the Hadza will never, ever eat a hyena because hyenas eat men. (Or at least, this what we thought he said – but we all agreed upon this meaning so hopefully our Swahili is right!).

He took us to see some incredible, very, very old cave paintings. They were in among a big rock formation, which we ended up kind of crawling through and then on in order to end up on top to see yet another stunning view of the valley. He welcomed us to the rocks by saying “Karibu nyumba na nyani. Inaitwa nyumba na nyani kwa sababu nyani mnapenda kulala hapa.”, which means “Welcome to the house of the baboons. This place is called the house of the baboons because the baboons like to sleep here.”

Due to an unfortunate combination of our Swahili skills and the wind whistling through the whistling acacias, we first heard “nyani” as “nyanya” and “kulala” as “kufa”, which meant that all told we initially believed that he was welcoming us to the house of his grandmother where she had died. Luckily, we were able to sort this out among ourselves rather quickly before asking any embarrassing questions about said grandmother or anything of the sort.

After many more smoke breaks, a quick sprint chasing after a troop of baboon, an even shorter sprint after a group of impala (they’d been alerted to our presence by the baboon’s danger calls, even before our clumsy wazungu feet gave us away) and more fun conversation with January, we arrived back at camp to receive the exciting news about the twiga. Some of the other groups had killed a couple of hyraxes (large rodents), so we watched while the Hadza women first gutted them, then put them in pots of hot water over the fire so they could loosen the hair enough to scrape it off of them. Some of the L+C students even tried charred hyrax liver cooked straight on the coals of the fire, though I was not around for that part!

Chasing the twiga was an experience unlike anything I’ve known previously. While I don’t have any desire to go home and start hunting deer or anything, I can understand some of what might draw people towards hunting. I wanted so badly to catch the twiga, especially when it was just ahead of us and we were running, barreling straight through thorny thickets of acacia in an effort to keep sight of it. Eventually many of the wazungu got stuck in the acacia and we kind of fragmented into smaller groups and we were forced to give up on catching the twiga as it was starting to approach night time and the poison’s effects appeared to have worn off as the twiga had been shot in the rump, not near any major veins and though it had first been running in the “drunken” manner typical of large animals poisoned by Hadza arrows, it had been running strongly and in a straight line when last sighted.

So the fittest (in this case, the twiga, certainly not the bedraggled pack of wazungu wanifunzi) survived, to live and eat and breathe and die another day. I feel kind of weird sharing this with all of you – you must think I’m crazy to be so thrilled to be running around in the bush with the Hadza and shooting at animals with poison arrows. There is a part of me, and I would think that if you were here, you would feel this way too, that just recognizes instinctually that this is what humans do, this is why we are built to be such good long distance runners, to run not quite as fast as, but farther than our prey.

Humans are animals too and just like how all dogs, even the fluffiest little lap pet still has a little bit of wolf in him, in the way he’ll pounce on a stuffed toy, grab it by the neck and shake it, even pampered wazungu college students still have something of our African hunter ancestors in the blood that runs through our veins. There’s a lot to be said for instinct. After all, at least in my case, not even more than half a dozen years as an herbivore can change that as a human, its in my given nature to be a predator, to feel excitement at the prospect of catching something else. As a runner, I felt like I understood part of what running is actually for. As a scientist, I understood what is meant by the term “prey drive” in reference to predatory animals. As a human person I felt excitement, awe, disappointment, elation and curiosity. Quite a lot garnered from four hours chasing after an ungulate the size of a small house, I think!

I’d like to say once more, that its difficult for me to be so candid about my experience on the twiga hunt. I feel like admitting to the fact that I enjoyed crashing through the brush following twiga tracks, drops of blood, broken branches and patches of hair as found by the Hadza hunters will make some of you think quite differently of me. It is such a unique experience though, that I feel honesty is important. I think everyone has “twiga hunt” moments in their own life time and the more we can all learn from each other the better. That said, if you have any serious concerns about my views on twiga tracking, I’ll be happy to debate them with you when I return home!

Baadaye,
Hill

PS Very sad news. My video camera, Delilah, appears to be broken. It will not focus on anything at all and I keep pushing the reset button as it tells me to, but nothing is working! I am very sad as in two days time we will be in Ngorogoro Crater, the premiere wildlife viewing destination in all of Tanzania and I will likely have no videos  I’m about to perform a video camera dissection with the aid of the screwdriver on my trusty pocket knife in the hopes that I will be able to meddle with something and make it work at least a little better. Wish me luck!

Words cannot even describe the awesomeness of this day...

October 26, 2009

I suppose I could start at the very beginning and work my way through the day in a linear fashion (as the whole day was AMAZING!!!!! – yes the irritating capital letters and excessive punctuation are entirely necessary), but the fact of the matter is, I never dreamed I would be able to start any story, much less a true one with the phrase “I hunted a giraffe today”.

I hunted a giraffe today, late this afternoon in the company of many of my fellow wanifunzi, Daudi, Mwalimu Ken and our Hadza hunter friends. We went out in small groups of three – five wanifunzi per one hunter early this morning and one of the groups happened to shoot a giraffe with a poison arrow. Generally the protocol when this happens is to leave the animal alone until it dies and then track it because if you chase it, the adrenaline and survival instinct will kick in and the animal will run much farther than if it is not pressured. So the group came back for lunch, told the rest of it about it and a couple of hours later we all headed out to find the twiga!

I was so excited – which may sound weird, given my love of animals (especially fuzzy, four legged ones) and my vegetarianism, but life here is so different. I wouldn’t have any qualms at all about eating a wild animal who has had a full and interesting life and was brought down by a small human with a bow and arrow. That, while certainly not “fair”, is definitely “natural” and makes sense to me in way that factory farming and the like never, ever will. In fact, I even decided that if the opportunity arose, I would eat at least a bite of twiga, impala, kudu or any other game meat that comes my way.

I’m planning a return to total vegetarianism upon my return to the States, of course, and am even toying with the idea of trying to eat vegan more often than not, but right now, (and at the risk of sounding too cheesy to be taken seriously), I’m not just learning about the circle of life, I’m living it and it seems silly not to take advantage of a once in a lifetime sort of opportunity.

This morning was one of those opportunities. Rachel, Zach, Anton and I went hunting with a man whose Swahili name is January (after the month in English, but pronounced with a Swahili flair). Anton and Zach were of course wearing their new Obama t-shirt skirts, while Rachel and I were the ones in the group literally wearing the pants. In addition to observing and trying not to get in the way of January’s hunting, we were assigned to record the different spore (hair, dung, etc.), tracks and different animals we saw. January was very helpful and caught on to what we were up to quickly, giving us his best estimates as to how old the various signs were and even pantomiming different kinds of horns or tusks when we didn’t know the Swahili word and he didn’t know he English one for a certain kind of creature.

Within the first five minutes, he shot twice at a squirrel in a tree, but after that it seemed pretty clear that he considered his hunterly duty fulfilled and that he much preferred socializing to stalking anyways. One of the most important aspects of Hazda hunting is the practice of stopping to take frequent smoking breaks. I supplied January with a piece of very girly baby blue notebook paper and he used it for the duration of our outing to tear pieces off in order to roll tobacco in for a good smoke. Wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I purchased the notebook back at home, but he sure enjoyed it.

While we were out with January we saw: squirrels, baboons, impala, mongoose, steinbuck, birds and kudu. We saw signs of: jackal, impala, warthog, zebra, twiga, dik dik, steinbuck, leopard, bush pig, greater kudu, lesser kudu…just to name a few. It was so incredible how he could identify all of these creatures by the slightest hint of a foot print, a patch of hair or a pile of dung. He also told as about what his favorite ones to eat were. Twiga, warthog and impala were at the top of the list. He thought baboon and kudu were ok and informed us that the Hadza will never, ever eat a hyena because hyenas eat men. (Or at least, this what we thought he said – but we all agreed upon this meaning so hopefully our Swahili is right!).

He took us to see some incredible, very, very old cave paintings. They were in among a big rock formation, which we ended up kind of crawling through and then on in order to end up on top to see yet another stunning view of the valley. He welcomed us to the rocks by saying “Karibu nyumba na nyani. Inaitwa nyumba na nyani kwa sababu nyani mnapenda kulala hapa.”, which means “Welcome to the house of the baboons. This place is called the house of the baboons because the baboons like to sleep here.”

Due to an unfortunate combination of our Swahili skills and the wind whistling through the whistling acacias, we first heard “nyani” as “nyanya” and “kulala” as “kufa”, which meant that all told we initially believed that he was welcoming us to the house of his grandmother where she had died. Luckily, we were able to sort this out among ourselves rather quickly before asking any embarrassing questions about said grandmother or anything of the sort.

After many more smoke breaks, a quick sprint chasing after a troop of baboon, an even shorter sprint after a group of impala (they’d been alerted to our presence by the baboon’s danger calls, even before our clumsy wazungu feet gave us away) and more fun conversation with January, we arrived back at camp to receive the exciting news about the twiga. Some of the other groups had killed a couple of hyraxes (large rodents), so we watched while the Hadza women first gutted them, then put them in pots of hot water over the fire so they could loosen the hair enough to scrape it off of them. Some of the L+C students even tried charred hyrax liver cooked straight on the coals of the fire, though I was not around for that part!

Chasing the twiga was an experience unlike anything I’ve known previously. While I don’t have any desire to go home and start hunting deer or anything, I can understand some of what might draw people towards hunting. I wanted so badly to catch the twiga, especially when it was just ahead of us and we were running, barreling straight through thorny thickets of acacia in an effort to keep sight of it. Eventually many of the wazungu got stuck in the acacia and we kind of fragmented into smaller groups and we were forced to give up on catching the twiga as it was starting to approach night time and the poison’s effects appeared to have worn off as the twiga had been shot in the rump, not near any major veins and though it had first been running in the “drunken” manner typical of large animals poisoned by Hadza arrows, it had been running strongly and in a straight line when last sighted.

So the fittest (in this case, the twiga, certainly not the bedraggled pack of wazungu wanifunzi) survived, to live and eat and breathe and die another day. I feel kind of weird sharing this with all of you – you must think I’m crazy to be so thrilled to be running around in the bush with the Hadza and shooting at animals with poison arrows. There is a part of me, and I would think that if you were here, you would feel this way too, that just recognizes instinctually that this is what humans do, this is why we are built to be such good long distance runners, to run not quite as fast as, but farther than our prey.

Humans are animals too and just like how all dogs, even the fluffiest little lap pet still has a little bit of wolf in him, in the way he’ll pounce on a stuffed toy, grab it by the neck and shake it, even pampered wazungu college students still have something of our African hunter ancestors in the blood that runs through our veins. There’s a lot to be said for instinct. After all, at least in my case, not even more than half a dozen years as an herbivore can change that as a human, its in my given nature to be a predator, to feel excitement at the prospect of catching something else. As a runner, I felt like I understood part of what running is actually for. As a scientist, I understood what is meant by the term “prey drive” in reference to predatory animals. As a human person I felt excitement, awe, disappointment, elation and curiosity. Quite a lot garnered from four hours chasing after an ungulate the size of a small house, I think!

I’d like to say once more, that its difficult for me to be so candid about my experience on the twiga hunt. I feel like admitting to the fact that I enjoyed crashing through the brush following twiga tracks, drops of blood, broken branches and patches of hair as found by the Hadza hunters will make some of you think quite differently of me. It is such a unique experience though, that I feel honesty is important. I think everyone has “twiga hunt” moments in their own life time and the more we can all learn from each other the better. That said, if you have any serious concerns about my views on twiga tracking, I’ll be happy to debate them with you when I return home!

Baadaye,
Hill

PS Very sad news. My video camera, Delilah, appears to be broken. It will not focus on anything at all and I keep pushing the reset button as it tells me to, but nothing is working! I am very sad as in two days time we will be in Ngorogoro Crater, the premiere wildlife viewing destination in all of Tanzania and I will likely have no videos  I’m about to perform a video camera dissection with the aid of the screwdriver on my trusty pocket knife in the hopes that I will be able to meddle with something and make it work at least a little better. Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Down in the valley...

October 25, 2009

Last night, I slept outside on the big rock overlooking camp with many of the other wanifunzi. It was the perfect sort of night to do so – clear and just chilly enough that I was nice and cozy inside my sleeping back. I slept a bit farther towards the edge/drop off of the rock than most of the others probably would have, but I found the perfect me sized little dip in the rock that I fit inside of just perfectly when all curled up and had a wonderful night’s sleep. I woke up very early this morning, just before five, and was able to watch the sunrise in its entirety. Much as I miss things from home right now, I am sure that I will pine for Tanzanian sunrises when I am back in the US.

After a quick breakfast, packing up the camp and quick stop by the kitchen tent area to pack sack lunches, we took off hiking across the floor of the Yaida Valley in order to reach the other side’s ridge, where we are now camping for the next two nights. We were led by a couple of Hadza hunter men and they did shoot with their bows and arrows at a bird and a couple of impala – though the handicap of two dozen wanzungu prevented them from making a kill. It was still incredible to watch them though. Like the Maasai, they are every bit as much a part of the environment as all of the wildlife.

I really enjoyed the hike, despite the heat and sun. Though it is silly and romantic, I really enjoy the idea that I’m walking in the same place as my most ancient ancestors. When I sit up on a high rock and gaze out at the horizon, some small part of my can’t help but wonder what my many times great grandmother was thinking of when she sat in the same place and likely saw a similar sight so many years ago.

When you don’t look carefully, and especially when you are hiking for hours across its great expanse, the East African plains in the dry season look absolutely barren. It’s a true testament to the sheer tenacity and creativity of life that so many different plants and animals, including the Hadza themselves, have adapted here to survive. Though the acaia trees may look dead and bare, most of them are alive and provide food for many big browsers like the twig who have adapted to be able to consume them despite their wicked thorns. Many acacia also host large colonies of different types of ants. Though the grasses are dried and tough, they still provide nutrients for the grazing animals, which in turn can be eaten by larger predators.

On our walk we saw kudu, impala, a yellow winged bat, a monitor lizard, a hyrax, an African hare many different types of birds and recent signs of elephants, aardvks, porcupines, elands, bush pigs, wart hog and dik dik, just to name a few. Of course, many of these wouldn’t have been obvious without the help of our Hadza and safari guides. It is amazing to meet that such a dry, harsh place is absolutely teeming with life – you just have to know where to look for it.

It makes me want to, when I return home, become better at identifying the plants and animals native to my home. Though I don’t want to live a total hunter gatherer lifestyle and renounce all modern conveniences or anything like that, I think it is kind of sad that someone who loves nature as I do isn’t more in tune with it – and all the resources are there – I just have to make the choice and follow through to make sure that I am learning and understanding my own home.

The only unfortunate thing about the hike was that for much of it, our Hadza guides requested we be quiet for hunting purposes (that wasn’t bad – it was kind of nice to have some time along with my thoughts finally), but eventually I started thinking about home and now as a result am more homesick than I’ve been in weeks. Meryl suggested making a list of things that I want to do when I get home/things I miss and adding to it as I think of more things. I did that for a while before writing this blog post and oddly enough it was very helpful – it didn’t make me dwell on things, but I found that as I wrote each thing down I could kind of let go of it and move on to the next until I got all of the things that were really weighing me down written and out of the way.

Well, I should probably get going as our evening presentation, this time by Michael on honeyguides, is going to begin soon. But before I go, a few entertaining things that didn’t fit in quite anywhere else.

1. On the last part of the hike today, Lisa, Natalie, Devin and I were making “imaginary ice cream sundaes” in an effort to drive away the heat. It wasn’t working, but it was great fun.
2. Zach and Anton have sacrificed the long sleeved Obama ’08 t-shirt that Anton brought as gift for someone in order to make two Daudi like skirts out of it (the best part being of course that Zach’s reads “Vote Obama ’08!” or some other such slogan right across the ass). Also, the shirt wasn’t quite large enough to make two long skirts, so they are more like mini skirts. In true Daudi fashion, the guys are not wearing shirts with them and are currently wandering around camp in them causing quite a stir!
3. Our sandwiches for lunch today were “grilled cheese” after being carried in our packs for hours under the sun.
4. I think my host family from Riruta just tried to call my on my cell phone. It was my Baba’s phone number that flashed across the screen and I picked it up and said hello, but East African callers have the annoying habit of calling and then hanging up as soon as you answer so you will call them back (and thus absorb the cost of the call). I would call them back, but I have no minutes left and am hours away from the nearest shop that would sell them.

Miss you,
Hill!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gathering with Sisa...

October 24, 2009

All of us wanifunzi spent the first half of today in company with a group of Hadza, a tribe of hunter gatherers native to the area. Some of the Hadza hunter men, came to camp to collect us and led the whole gang of us to one of the main Hadza camps in the area. We each got to enter a traditional Hadza hut, a small structure created from slender branches and woven grasses, designed to be created quickly and left behind to eventually weather away back into the landscape when its inhabitants leave for greener pastures. There is just enough space inside for its inhabitants to sleep and have a small cooking fire.

The Hadza are a very small statured people, so some of the wazungu (like Kai) could only just stick their heads in and take a look. I felt so tall! It was such a strange feeling – I’m not a short person, really, but five foot four is never really considered tall, at least in any situation I’ve been in previously.

Next, we met up with a group of women to go searching for the roots that are one of the traditional foods of the Hadza. Both of the Rachels, Lydia, Natalie, Elly and I ended up digging with three very welcoming and wonderful Hadza women. Two of them told us only their Swahili names, which were Helena and Mesa, but after talking to Lydia, Rachel R. and I a for a while, the third gave us her Swahili name, Mary and her gina na nyumbani (her name of the home, or Hadza name) which was Sisa.

Under their guidance, we each tried using the sharpened sticks for digging at the roots, though none of us were terribly successful. We all had fun sharing the Hadza and English words for various kinds of plants or parts of the body. I wish I could type out some of them for you, but the Hadza language involves many different clicking noises in addition to vowels and consonants similar to those we are familiar with, so I’m not sure at all how to even begin spelling it!

Then, one of the Hadza men noticed that there were holes in the tree that signified the presence of a type of small, stingerless bee that the Hadza often collect honey from, so he climbed up with his axe and began chopping away at the trunk in order to expose the honeycombs. He handed down pieces to all of us and we each took a bite (some of getting a few of the stingerless ants along with the honey and comb… again, bye bye vegetarianism, haha!)

After that, we went to pick berries with the Hadza women. I’m not sure what they were called, but they were quite tasty – straight off of the bush they tasted a bit like dates, though they took a bit of chewing as the skin was tough and you had to be careful to spit out the four quite sizeable seeds contained in each. Sisa was my group and I’s guide again and even showed us how she can climb right in, on and among the slender branches of the large bushes in order to pick the ripest berries at the top. At one point, her mtoto (child) who she was carrying in a kanga-sling on her back woke up and stared at all of us white people with the largest, most surprised eyes I have ever seen in my life!

Next, we all gathered under some shady trees and tried our hands at making fire the Hadza way, with a fire stick. I couldn’t get the hang of a it, but a few people in the group did and soon we had a big fire going so the Hadza could cook the roots we harvested, simply by dropping them on top of the fire, in among the coals. Uncooked, chewing on the root is a bit like eating sugar cane, very tough and fibrous, but it contains a lot of water (though no sweet taste). After the root is cooked and the outer part of it pared away with a sharp knife, it tastes a bit like a very, very bland and slightly starchier potato.

I really enjoyed spending time with the Hadza. I really love the phrase “live in the moment”, but always have trouble incorporating that into my own way of life. No one does it better than the Hadza. They don’t store things for use in the future – each day they simply harvest and use up what they need, working only as hard as they need to (which is, from a wazungu perspective, very hard indeed). I’ve never met a group of people who seem to truly enjoy one another as much as the Hadza do. Their work was frequently interrupted by laughing, talking and joking. They were teasing our translators, Douglas and Habibu, so very much in a fun and light hearted way.

Though we were definitely a curiosity to them, I didn’t feel like a zoo animal that was being pointed and laughed at, the way I have in many other Swahili speaking situations. I mean, at one point I asked Sisa “Which is the naming of your childrens?”, while pointing to the one child she carried on her back and she simply smiled at me and replied “Monika”, genuinely happy that I was talking to her and not caring that my language left much to be desired.

After a few quiet hours at camp, the Hadza men tried to teach us how to shoot their bows. I tried a couple of times and though I couldn’t draw the bow back enough (it takes about 80 pounds worth of force to do that) to shoot the arrow far enough to hit the target Douglas had made out of a cardboard box (and which Mwalimu Ken had helpfully labeled with an “A” on the bullseye, a “B” on the next ring and so forth…), I was able to shoot it in a straight line, so I was pretty happy about that.

During the archery practice, it became apparent that the Hadza men definitely have a favorite among the L+C wanifunzi. Kai has spent many hours with them trying to make fire and fashioning arrows and given that he finally succeeded, the men have taken to calling him “Moto” (“Fire”). Though the rest of us took turns with bows and arrows, Kai never seemed to run short of arrows as his pals kept supplying them along with cheerful chants of “Moto! Moto! Moto!” as he shot, towering above all of his new friends by several feet.

Because it was getting close to sunset, Zach, Anton, Lydia, Beto, Claire and I snuck off to climb up a big rock formation we’d noticed close behind camp to get a better view of the sky. It was a fun little adventure – in order to get up to the highest point on the rock we actually had to climb up a very oddly shaped little tree and then make an awkward sort of scramble.

The sunset was the most beautiful I have ever seen – we had a 360 degree view of the entire Yaida Valley and there was a slight breeze. We ended up being late for class and missing most of Jazz’s termite presentation (for which I felt very bad about), but it was so worth it. Despite the fact that I’ll feel guilty and like a terrible person for being late when I knew going in to our adventure that it would be the likely result, I’m still glad I went.

I spend so much time being unsatisfied with myself and the way I’m handling everything - be it school or work or making friends or life in general, that I forget to be like the Hadza and live for the moment. During the sunset, surrounded by friends, but just sitting silently and watching the spectacular light show unfold in the distance, I had an entire half and hour where I was just so entranced and full of joy that I really was living in the moment. It was an incredible feeling – one I’ve had several times here in Tanzania – and that feeling of inner peace and contentment is something I hope to bring home with me.

The camp fire too was another one of those live for the moment times. Though I’ve been feeling really sick to my stomach and been trying to fight off dehydration due to various intestinal troubles (just started Cipro yesterday - a three day course of antibiotics that will most likely knock out whatever is causing the troubles) and really just wanted to go to sleep, I held out and stayed up, hoping the Hadza would sing again.

They did, beginning with a song about a child crying in the rain. We sang too – “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (in a three part round, haha) and then they sang back and we continued swapping songs and dances for quite a while. The Hadza performed many songs about different plants and animals and we sang “Haukuna Matata” (which they loved, given that the “No problems/worries!” is in language they speak), “God Bless America”, “Here Comes The Sun”, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “Amazing Grace”. Then Rachel Y. got out her wood flute and played for the Hadza – this confused and delighted them. They were quite amazed at what the “China” could do! (Rachel’s father is from Taiwan and many people here have difficulty understanding that she is as “Wamerika” as any of the blonde and blue eyed members of the group) Some of them even tried the flute, though most were quite puzzled by it.

For a dance song, we did the “Macerena”, though not a one of us knew the words!

Then Betto stood up and announced that he knew a very famous song and we should all join in as we would certainly know the chorus! He then cut loose with some Brazilian samba song that none of the rest of us knew and valiantly samba-ed his way around the fire, while both Hadza and Wamerika laughed and clapped.

The highlight of the evening for me though, was when I somehow talked/pleaded/begged/bullied/convinced Zach into singing the Blitzen Trapper song “Furr” with me for the Hadza. “Furr” is one of my very favorite songs and though it isn’t really a traditional folk song, it sounds very much like one. Our rendition was hardly perfect, but even though Zach and I have totally different singing styles, it seemed to be well received and I had a great time. Though the Hadza couldn’t understand the lyrics, I felt better signing something to them that has a story that means something to me, instead of a silly song that a bunch of just happen to know.

I wish you had all been here to sing around the campfire with me!
-Hill

Friday, October 23, 2009

Running in circles...

October 23, 2009

So, I’m actually writing this mid-afternoon on the 24th, as the heat of the middle of the day here in Yaida Valley really prohibits any activites other than studying, reading, writing or lounging around in the shade.

Yesterday morning, Laila and I had quite an exciting adventure indeed. We went out for a quick run in the Nou Forest before it was time for breakfast and packing up to leave and got lost. Terribly lost. As in ran around in circles for nearly two hours before Lisa Clifton and two of the Wairaqi men came and found us. We were both so horribly embarrassed and I’m going to feel bad about it for weeks to come. I just feel terrible that they had to waste time looking for us.

On the positive side though, Laila and I were really good getting lost together buddies. Neither of us panicked, we retraced our steps as far as we could and were systematically trying each trail in an effort to find camp from the main “road”. In fact, when Lisa and the guys found us, we were quite close indeed, just in a slightly different direction than from where we had left.

Because Rachel is the most amazing “tent spouse” (as we’ve all begun referring to our tent mates) ever, she had already started to pack up my stuff and our tent while I was out being lost, so it didn’t take me long to catch up and get ready to leave, though I was pretty cold and tired for the rest of the day.

After we’d all finished packing, the whole group of wanifunzi followed our Iraqi guide Kollari to his village (which incidentally enough, Laila and I recognized having already visited it three or four times a mere hour earlier) so that we could meet his family and neighbors and see his home. The Wairaqi are an agricultural people and he was very happy to point out to us his cows, sheep, chickens, goats, pigs and fields (mainly for pototaoes and corn) in addition to introducing us to his wife and children.

He even invited us into his home. It was very warm inside as one half of the house is where the livestock lives and the other half is where the humans sleep and eat, with space for storage up above both areas. As usual the children were very, very curious about us and eventually the typical rounds of “take fives” and “high fives” ensued, though the Wairaqi children don’t speak Kiswahilli at home, only in school, so we couldn’t really communicate verbally at all with the younger ones.

Next, we went to see the only home in the village which was built in the traditional Iraqi style, dug straight into the side of the hill, which provides both protection and additional warmth. We were met by an even larger crowd of children and neighbors at this home and several us had a great time trying to chat with the kids, though Heather may have traumatized one, when she spotted the cookie monster on the little girl’s t-shirt and touched it and then pantomimed scarfing down a cookie – can’t you just see the girl running to her friends and saying “And then the mzungu said she wanted to eat me!”

Then we all loaded up into the safari trucks again and headed for the Yaida Valley.

Yaida Valley is beautiful, again in an entirely different way. It is hot and dry like Tarangire, but much hillier and rockier. Our hosts, the Hadza are a beautiful people. They live in such a harsh environment, but each and everyone of them seems so full of joy. After dinner, they sang us a traditional Hadza song about baolbub trees, about how some of them have good fruit to eat and some don’t (translation provided by Daudi, of course). We in turn, sang them “This Land Is Your Land”, after much deliberation. Thankfully we all remembered the words!

It was really an incredible experience and one of the highlights of the trip for me so far. I love music, but am not a musician, because I don’t really have a good voice, or any sort of talent for it, but last night I was reminded that really a song is just a way to tell a story and even though our voices were hardly in harmony and our rendition was clearly unrehearsed, it was, I think, in its own way, really a beautiful thing.

Also, I feel like music is something that can transcend language and cultural barriers and maybe the artistic value or how “good” the performance is, isn’t what matters at all, but rather the intent and goodwill behind it. I really hope we exchange songs again this evening.

I’m having a great time and am not homesick per say, but am starting to feel that I’ve been gone for quite a while. I hope that everyone and everything has changed enough to be interesting, but not enough to be intimidating when I return.

Love you all and want to know how you are doing! Send me e-mails – I’ll get ‘em at some point.

- Hill

PS An excellent list of little things I haven’t written about and don’t want to forget:
1. When Paolo the Maasai, after climbing down Oldonyo Sambu, turned around, looked back up at the mountain and said, in English “I loves you mountain!”
2. This past Thursday night (the 24th), I went to go help check the mist nets and got to help untangle some trapped birds and cut the tangled netting off of them by using my handy dandy pocket knife scissors.
3. Seeing many bush duikers while out lost running.
4. Starling entire flocks of guinea fowl while out running and watching them take off and fly off into the sky in front of us.
5. Being affectionately referred to as “Leopard Bait”.
6. The sunset from our campsite at Yaida Valley, which may replace everything else as the most beautiful sight I have seen so far in Tanzania – it included a double rainbow that was fully visible from end to end.
7. The story that Daudi told us about going hunting with “Uncle Fred”, the redneck house father at his mission boarding school when he was growing up. As Daudi tells it “…on a rotating schedule, Uncle Fred would take five or six of us boys out in the back of his jeep to go hunt game meat to supplement our meals. One of my earliest memories of him is with a light fag in his mouth, one hand on the steering wheel, the other on his gun, petal to the metal as he yelled at us to lay down and hang on while shooting an eland bull at point blank range…” Again, can I be a Peterson please?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

We're going on a leopard hunt...

October 22, 2009

Unlike, my usual journaling, this actually isn’t happening at night. We’ve had a few hours of quiet time after an absolutely fabulous morning, so I’m using some of it to write.

I woke up around five this morning and though the leopard hunting group was supposed to be composed of nearly half of the wanifunzi, only Anton, Zach, Heather, Michael and I actually showed up. We are kind of the group of usual suspects when it comes to partaking in extra outdoor activities.

Though we saw no leopards and only two sets of glowing eyes (one belonging to a small duiker of some sort, and the other we think possibly to a smaller forest cat), it was an incredible walk. My favorite part was when it started to get just a little bit light and we were able to switch off our headlamps and try to walk as quietly as possible. I used my camera a bit, shooting by headlamp, cameralight and moonlight, so much of it probably won’t come out, but the bit that does is likely to be quiet hilarious and Blair Witch Project like in style – lots of semi-frightened whispering and shaking of the camera due to the fact that I was filming, walking and giggling all at the same time.

We all really wanted to see a leopard, but also admitted to each other that we would all be absolutely terrified if that were to happen! We’re going to go again tomorrow and have asked Daudi (with his wildlife expertise and spotlight) to come with us and help us find things – I can’t wait!

After an hour at camp for a break and breakfast, we headed out with the whole gang to hike to a waterfall. We left at around 8 and returned around 2 after spending an hour hanging out at said waterfall, so it was a pretty healthy hike, especially given that we haven’t been doing much physically lately. I enjoyed it so much. The waterfall is a place that has been seen by very, very few wazungu eyes and I felt so privileged to be there. Some of us went swimming/splashing/wading in and around the waterfall. Quite a few people tried, but Kai, Anton, Beto, Zach, Heather and I were definitely the most enthusiastic and were in the water until we were all just about blue and shaking nearly uncontrollably (except for Kai, because he really is a marine mammal). I especially loved standing under the waterfall – when I stood under the main part of the spray I could barely stay upright because it was pounding so hard – I definitely staggered backwards into Kai more than once or just grabbed onto whoever happened to be nearby. The water was so cold that towards the end it actually started to feel warm and I was in a ridiculously giddy sort of mood.

I was so cold on the hike back home, even with all of my layers and some of Rachel’s on (she being smart and not going for a dip in the waterfall) and am now just finally warm. The nap helped too – I think with the combination of 6 or 7 hours hiking and an hour in freezing cold water really knocked me out, which is great. I have been sleeping terribly here and I now know its just because I’m not tired enough at night. My favorite feeling is when at the end of the day I am so exhausted that I feel like I can’t take another step and I’m out before my head even hits the pillow (or backpack, in this case, I don’t have a pillow, so I’ve been using the clothes containing section of my pack). When I get home, the rest of my winter break is going to be like boot camp – I can’t wait for running, riding and all day hikes with the Labradog and friends.

The best way that I can describe today is to say that it was absolutely awe inspiring. Despite all of the terrible things that people have done to the natural world, it is incredible that we’ve done enough things right to still have places like the waterfall. It makes me more than ever want to what I can to make sure that I’m living in a way that is environmentally responsible, and to remember that even when I go back to the US, what a messy business living really is.

In the US, I feel like we try to make things so clean and sterile we often forget where they really come from. Meat doesn’t come from an animal, but rather from a Styrofoam package in the grocery store. Water doesn’t come from a well or a river (or a waterfall), but from a tap that can be turned from hot to cold at will. Even the problem of waste isn’t an issue, as all toilets flush and its simply carried away. I don’t think that its bad we have so many inventions to make life easier (and believe me, I do appreciate them when they are available!), but I do think its sad that they let us forget or just fail to notice at all the whole “circle of life” thing, you know?

I really encourage all of my younger barn chums and friends to talk to your parents about some way for you to travel to a developing nation, whether its for volunteer work or a study abroad in high school or college. I’m really looking at some many things from an entirely new perspective.

I don’t feel that going off to college (even when I went across the country for my freshman year) really changed me as a person in any lasting ways, but traveling to East Africa certainly has!

Well, I better get going – I its time to go set out the mist nest and catch birds again!
-Hill!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Into the woods...

October 21, 2009

So, the Nou forest might actually be my favorite place in Tanzania (in addition to Pembe Abewe and Tarangire, of course). The morning started with a run with Laila and Alex, though it was quite difficult due to the fact that we are at an elevation of greater than 7,000 feet and there were hills on the route!

After the run and breakfast, I retreated to the tent with Rachel and we worked on our bird lists and I read some of “Dandelion Wine” which Meryl lent to me and then we took naps, which was so wonderful because it was still very cold, but the sleeping bags were very, very warm.

Then Rachel and I hiked out to a small grassy field and sat and did work. She wrote in her journal and I worked on my bird and mammal lists. Then I decided it was time for a hike. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone else to go with me, but I told Rachel the general direction I was going and that if I wasn’t back in an hour and a half (in time for lunch) that a leopard had likely had me for a snack or I ‘d gotten lost and to please sound the alarm. I set off with my camera and binoculars and was able to videotape a few cool birds that I haven’t ever seen before the battery on my camera died, which was quite disappointing. I decided to persevere with my hike anyways and enjoyed it so much that I didn’t even bother to look at my watch until I ended up about 50 feet from the front door of a small hut with cows in the front yard and thought that maybe I should check.

I saw that I’d been out just over an hour and because my walk had been pleasantly downhill for the most part, I had to book it back up in order to prevent Rachel from unnecessarily sounding the alarm! I made it back with five minutes to spare and some cool video, so it was a very worthwhile excursion.

After lunch, I played a few quick rounds of capture the flag with the gang and then as a group we all helped set up mist nets to catch some of the local birds. Mist nights are very finely woven, hard to see nets that are strung across a stretch in the trail where birds might fly across to get from tree to tree. The way the net works is that they hit and then fall into a sort of pocket in the net, which keeps them snared until the mwalimu and his wanifunzi come along and pull them out.

Our mist net captured a white starred forest robin, a montaine white eye and an orange ground thrush! Mwalimu Ken took them out and even though we wanfunzi didn’t get to hold any of them (which I was quite disappointed about), we did get to stroke their heads/backs and feel how soft their feathers were.

They are such beautiful and alien creatures from a distance, but seem even more so up close. Other than chickens, I’m not around birds at a very close distance too much (and even then, I’m usually more concerned with beating Henry the Rooster with the pitchfork before he attacks me), so it was very cool to see such wildly colored and tiny little creatures. Its easy now to understand that birds really are the direct descendent of dinasours. Their beady eyes and strange scaly legs seem to speak of that heritage, even if that is an unscientific conclusion for me to draw.

I’m so enjoying the Nou Forest. It reminds me so much of home. I love that it is a bit cold and I can snuggle all the way into my sleeping bag and zip it up and feel nice and toasty warm. There’s no feeling I like better than being warm and content when it is cold outside. I also love being somewhere where it is ok for me to just go off on my own and explore. I miss that aspect of being at home so much, though I was missing the Labradog ever so much and wishing he was here with me.

It is incredible how much worse I am at spotting creatures among the trees without the dog or the horse with me. At home, I think I’m pretty good at it, but really I’m just looking wherever Spector’s ears point or where Lancelot stops and stares. I hadn’t realized how much I rely on their cues to tell me that something cool is out there.

I really enjoyed seeing how the mist nets were set up and learning about the different types of measurements taken once the birds are trapped. It got me wondering about methods of trapping and measuring other types of wild animals. Sure its easy enough to capture a song bird, weigh it and measure its wings, but what about a huge martial eagle or harrier hawk? And what about some of the larger mammals like hyenas, lions or even elephants? Do researchers actually tranquilize them and then weight, measure, etc.? Or are most of the given figures for those creatures listed in the books just approximations? Do they get their information from zoos? (This seems like it would be inaccurate because animals in the zoo might get bigger due to better nutrition or medical care).

I also learned today that birds can have different “dialects” for their calls, meaning that birds of the same species, but living in different regions might have different songs for the same things. This is so cool – to me it seem like a very definite sign that animals do have their own “cultures” even if it isn’t in the same sense of the word we think of a human culture and also made me wonder if it is just birds or if other animals develop different sounds or gestures that are passed on in certain geographic regions. Does a mustang in the US say hello to her herdmates the same way a brumby in Australia does?

Alright, I’m about ready for bed (I’m waking up at 4:45 tomorrow for an early morning walk with some of the other wanifunzi to look for leopards and other nighttime creatures), but before I go, here’s a few of the more amusing moments of the day.

1. My riding britches are a particularly useful item of clothing. I wore them for my morning run and then continued to use them underneath my baggy safari man pants. I’ve begun to refer to them as my “over the underpants pants” in reference to the part in the book “Shantaram” I borrowed from Sam I read in which an Australian man goes with his Indian friend back to his family’s village and his surprised to learn that he needs to have running shorts or “over the underpants pants” to wear for communal bucket showers. (Fortunately, his friend is able to borrow some for him from a neighbor by explaining that the journey was hard on the Austrailian’s stomach to the point that he had so many “loose motions” that the “over the underpants pants” were soiled to the point they had to be burned.
2. Kai tried for probably five or six hours today to make fire using a stick, a shoe lace and a thin section of a log. He has not yet been successful. It is almost 10 pm and I believe he is still sitting right next to our blazing cooking/camp fire not yet ready to give up.
3. During capture the flag, I had the best strategy ever. I snuck away into the underbrush (really, really dense forest) and waited until everyone forgot I was there as I slowly and quietly worked my way towards the other team’s flag. Unfortunately, I came bursting out of the thorn bushes mere moments after the game had ended and my team had lost. My strategy was so excellent though, that it was banned in all future rounds of the game!
4. I just started reading my 18th book since the program started this morning. Considering how busy we’ve been that is slightly ridiculous. I should probably replace some of my reading time with sleeping time, but I honestly feel more well rested after a couple of hours with a good book and few of sleep than many hours spent tossing and turning restlessly.
5. The bio kids’ truck has yet another problem – a flat tire! Luckily Habibu is pretty much the coolest guy ever and already has everything up and running again.

Lala salama,
Hill

Also, my East Africa reading list:
1. Dune
2. Still Life With Woodpecker
3. Jitterbug Perfume
4. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates
5. The Ivory and The Horn
6. Me Talk Pretty One Day
7. Shantaram
8. What Is The What
9. To Say Nothing Of The Dog
10. Counter Clock World
11. The Giver
12. Middlesex
13. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
14. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test
15. The Outlander
16. Desert Rose
17. Contact
18. Dandelion Wine

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A "cheena" is...

October 20, 2009

Today started with packing up the campsite in Tangire National Park and loading everything back into the trucks. As we drove through the park to one of the smaller, side gates in order to exit, the biology students had our first field identification exam. This meant that we all sat there with notebooks and writing implements in hand and waited for Simon to being the vehicle to a screeching halt so that Ken could point out something in the distance and say “That bird on the green bush to the left, what is it?” or “Tell me the species and sex of the ungulate under the baobulb tree.”. I was really nervous about it, but ended up being able to identify everything correctly, which was exciting. I think everyone felt pretty good about it, which was cool because as a group I feel like we are learning fast!

The first bird on the test was a small bird, that is usually in groups with bright blue wings, a reddish orange chest and a white band around its chest. It was a suberb starling!

The second thing we had to ID was an ungulate. I was able to tell by its large size, body shape, coloring and straightish horns that it was an eland.

The third animal was a long and graceful, rather large bird perched high in a tree. It took me a minute for this one because previously we’d only seen it in the water, but I was able to recall that it was a maribu stork.

The fourth animal was another bird, this time with a distinctive crest on its head, forked tail feathers, a black face and a very distinctive call, which sounds like it is saying “go away”, hence its name, the bald face go away bird.

The fifth question was another bird, a little, long legged black and white fellow called a blacksmith plover.

The sixth question was two parts. Name the species and sex of a specific ungulate. It was a male impala, which was identifiable because of its very distinct horn shape.

The seventh question had multiple parts. First we had to identify what creature had produced a specific pile of dung and then explain three things that the dung was important for in the ecosystem. It was elephant dung, which other species pick through in order to find and eat acacia seeds which have passed through the elephant digestive system intact, termites can encase and eat it and dung beetles can use it for material to lay their eggs in.

The eight animal was a bird with distinctive long tail feathers black wings and a white underbelly and head. It is called a long tailed fiscal shrike.

The ninth question was another ungulate, a male steinbuck, distinguished by his very large ears and his very small horns – he was at such a distance that I actually had to borrow Rachel’s slightly more powerful binoculars in order to make them out.

The last question was inspired by three beautiful twiga we say munching on acacia trees by the side of the road. The question was “Is a giraffe a browser (leaf/shrub eater) or a grazer (grass eater)?”. The second part was to name a creature that fell into whatever category the giraffe didn’t. On my quiz, I wrote “A twiga is a browser, a zebra is a grazer”, mainly just because I wanted an excuse to write the word twiga because it is still pretty much my favorite word ever.

In the midst of our test, we drove to the edge of the park to see Lake Buriunge, a soda water lake that provides a very good environment for both blue green algae and shrimp, the favorite foods of the lesser flamingo. We saw several lesser flamingo, but they were at quite a distance from us.

Oh, but I’m forgetting the very best part of the morning before we left the camp site. So, as I’ve mentioned previously, Peggy was a total lifesaver and gave me a tube of super glue so I could repair me feet. It worked incredibly well on my heels and toes and walking is a whole hell of a lot more comfortable now. However, when packing, I didn’t immediately have a Ziploc bag available for it, so I stuck it in my pocket just for a minute. Yep, I’m sure you can see where this is going already.

Needless to say, the ten minutes in which I was distracted by ants demolishing a large insect carcass and grabbed my video camera and knelt down to tape some of it was more than enough for the glue to ooze out of its bottle and soak through my pocket, effectively gluing my pants to my left thigh! It hurt like a dozen tsetse bite to literally rip the pants off of my skin and because I had packed all of my clothes away in my big backpack I was stuck wearing a kanga all day, which was pretty much falling off constantly. Needless to day, the incident was hilarious – I don’t think anyone laughed harder than I did and I’m sure jokes about me feeling the need to glue my clothing to my body will abound for the rest of the trip.

Anyways, back to the rest of the day. After leaving the park we drove through many small village areas. Tanzanians are so friendly! Everywhere we drove there were so many people waving and smiling at such a motley crew of waznugu. Eventually we reached a small town center and stopped to fill up the gas tanks and containers (many of the areas we go to are quite remote, so it is necessary to carry lots of gas). A bunch of us got out and wandered around for a few minutes, but soon headed back to the trucks to chat with the large group of children that had gathered there.

The kids were absolutely hilarious – so outgoing and charming. They were a little misinformed though. A few of them were pointing at some of the darker haired people in the group like Rachel Young and Heather and saying “China!” (pronounced cheenah). We were pretty sure that they were saying that Rachel and Heather were Chinese, but we weren’t sure, so we decided to ask what “china” meant. The oldest of the kids, a cheeky boy of about twelve who was clearly the ringleader explained to us very seriously in Kiswahili that “china” are short people with yellow faces and eyes that go like this (he used his pointer fingers to pull the corners of his eyes into squints). We all had a good laugh about this.

I had a great time with my video camera, taping a bit of the interaction between my friends and the kids, having to be really careful not to let the kids see what I was doing. They were excited enough about regular cameras (“Picka picha! Picka picha!), that I can’t imagine the craziness knowing there was a video camera in their midst would have called. As a result, I have adorable footage of Zach “taking five” (bumping fists) with every child who could crowd into reach him, Rachel R. chatting with the cheeky twelve year old who seemed quite smitten with her, Lisa Clifton talking to two of the children who had climbed up the side of the truck like little monkeys and Natalie picking pichas of the children and then showing them the result on the small screen of her digital camera.

The cutest thing of all occurred when several of the children asked Kim if she would give them money. She replied (as we have been taught) “Mimi ni wanifunzi. Sina pesa” (I am a student, I don’t have any money). A very young boy, perhaps six years old, scrambled up the side of the truck, reached into his pocket and dropped something into Kim’s hand. It was couple of hundred Tanzanian shillings. “For you,” he said in Kiswahili “because you have no money at all.” She was able to convince him to take it back because her mwalimu would make sure she was taken care of, but it was still an incredible gesture. That is what Tanzanians are like – so warm hearted and welcoming that even a small child will give his last shillings to a silly mzungu if he thinks she is in need of them.

Finally we were on our way again! We stopped for lunch at a beautiful clearing by the river. It ended up being quite a long break because the general culture students’ truck was having mechanical issue that took the very capable Habibu nearly two and a half hours to resolve. During this time, I worked on crossword puzzles with Meryl and Lisa, talked books with Zach and Devin and resovled to listen to “The Last Five Years” soundtrack in its entirety during the rest of the journey with Rachel as she’d heard Meryl and I obsessing over it in detail last night and wanted to know what the big deal was.

As luck would have it, we were able to listen to the whole album (and Rachel fell in love with it too, of course) before the drive started to get really interesting. Driving into the mountains in order to reach the Noh forest was a huge adventure! Some of the trails are only single track and we were excited that almost all of us were riding perched on the outside railing and hanging onto the top of the truck which meant we all had to dive into the middle forming a giant pile of wazungu anytime large branches or thorn bushes presented themselves, which happened quite frequently. Even so we all have thorns/prickly things of other sorts everywhere! After arriving, I even felt something weird in the back of my throat, stuck my fingers down (and almost vomited in the tent…now that would have been actually embarrassing) and removed a small barb from a plant! Excellent! Our mechanical troubles had us running late, so we were able to watch the sunset through the trees from our perches on the truck and even continued our duck n’ drive style of travel by headlamp and headlight as it became quite dark.

It was so amazing though. The climate here is so different than either the coast or the grassland. It is much, much colder. I am currently wearing wool socks, long pants, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, my fleece jacket and my 20 degree sleeping bag and am just barely warm. Keep in mind though, I am a total wimp, so its not as if the temperatures are Antarctic or anything like that. The forest is dense and so many different and vibrant shades of green. The other locations we’ve been have been quite dry – I think I’d almost forgotten what green really looks like. There are even evergreen trees and a hint of moisture in the air at all times, so it really does smell like home. We are allowed to running here tomorrow and I’m so excited – it will remind me quite a bit of going running in Forest Park, but much much wilder!

Oh, about the running here… both Ken and Daudi gave us a quick talk about how it was very safe here and fine to go off and explore but they preferred that we go in groups of two or three, especially for running. Especially if the runner was “among the smaller persons in the group” because the combination of aloneness + running + smallness is quite likely to equal “breakfast” in the eyes of any leopard that happens to be watching from the trees. As they were expanding more on this, I can’t tell you how many times my names was mentioned by other students! They seem to think I just fit the ideal description of leopard bait (and I’m somewhat inclined to agree – the fact that I come in from most of my runs limping slightly/running unevenly probably makes me look even more like easy pickings). However, I’ve made arrangements to go running with Laila and Alex in the morning, so that should move me out of prey category, I hope!

I also talked to Ken and Daudi a little bit more tonight about my very serious interest in field biology in animal behavior. I got some good advice on classes to take (Animal Behavior this spring, ecology next spring and an independent statistics study project of some sort) and the charge to become as good of a naturalist and biologist on this trip as I can with respect to African fauna. I’m still really stressed about school and classes and getting good grades and doing well enough to get into graduate school someday, but I’m also feeling more excited because I think I’ve found something that I’m interested in. I mean, I’m not sure exactly what I’d like to study, even if I could pick from all of the animals in the world – just because there are too many!

I think really that doing research is something that I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’m sure my parents remember when I was a very little girl and would go to the library, kind of systematically working my way though that non-fiction animal section, species by species as I would bring home huge stacks of reading material on one animal and only switch it for another when I’d totally exhausted all of the resources on the first. And Jane Goodall has been my absolutely number one hero since second grade. It has just always seemed like something that other people do, but that I could never do, people who are a lot smarter and more scientific and all of the jazz, you know?

But more and more, I’ve been thinking that how do you ever know you can’t do something unless you give it a try first? And sometimes, I think that having passion and enthusiasm for something can really go a long way.

But right now, it is late and I have an early morning run planned! Lala salama,
Hill