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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mafia, wake up!

October 16, 2009

Once again, another day full of so many different things that I’m not even sure what to write about. I’ll give you guys a break and start with the amusing anecdote/interesting fact list before the kind of summary of the day/what I’m thinking stuff that probably isn’t as interesting, but is helpful for me (and I’m much more inspired to journal in a somewhat more linear and understandable fashion if I think that someone might actually read it at some point.

1. We played “Mafia” this evening, a game in which some people are members of the Mafia and are secretly killing the others and the villagers must attempt to guess who is a mafia member and kill them before the whole village is wiped out. Natalie was the narrator and created some very entertaining deaths for those killed.
a. Zach met his demise because his long Jesus like hair got tangled in an acacia thorn tree.
b. Devin’s red hair was so attractive to a passing school of butterfly fish that even though they are not typically carnivorous, they could not resist nibbling her to bits.
c. Laila spilled a cup of tang on her head that was so sugary that when she tripped, an entire troop of siafu (army ants) appeared and devoured her.
d. Peggy put on makeup, which attracted all of the creatures of the grasslands who then devoured her.
e. Heather forgot her glasses and then tripped, rolling down a hill and impaling herself on spotting scope along the way.
f. Michael tried to fight off a big cat on the mountain using only his homemade sling (yes, he actually has one) but succeeded only in hitting it in the leg, which really pissed it off, so it ate him.
g. A great white shark tried to eat Rachel Young off the coast of Pemba, but Kai’s host brother was so in love with her that he jumped in and fought off the shark and saved her.
2. After observing three male orange bellied parrots sitting together in a tree, several of us asked Daudi if they were perhaps younger birds because we had previously learned that this species of parrot usually travels in bonded male/female pairs. He replied “Well, that’s possible – or they just might be gay! We can never really know, can we!”
3. Meryl decided that her nickname for me is going to be “Hillz”. She thought she was being really creative and was really sad when I informed her that the lovely Jose had already bestowed that name upon me.
4. Rachel R’s birthday was today. Although we couldn’t have a real party or anything, it still seemed like a pretty good one.
a. I gave her two type of cookies and mints this morning as a present.
b. Laila gave her a chocolate bar at lunch.
c. Devin presented her with a slice of watermelon with a candle in it at breakfast time. And a beer too, though Rachel opted to save that for dinner
d. Someone else (Elly? Lydia?) brought her a piece of peanut butter, honey and banana toast.
e. We sang her the worst rendition of Happy Birthday the East African grasslands have ever heard.
5. I forgot to mention that before we left yesterday, I managed to impale my foot on an acacia thorn. It punched through my flip flop and into the sole of my left foot. It didn’t really hurt – it felt like a paper cut, and the wound was very shallow, but it was bleeding like crazy, which meant that while I stood around and very calmly requested a band aid and something to wash my foot off, everyone else around me was freaking out and making a big deal out of nothing. Luckily, Peggy came through with a alcohol wipe and a band aid and Rachel R. took my sandal over to the water tap and ran water over it to wash off the blood.
6. Again, yesterday, Natalie totally blew my getting stuck by something prickly story out of the water. When we stopped for lunch in the dry river bed, she found a porcupine quill and thought it was really neat, so stuck it into her pocket to keep. An hour or so later, she’d entirely forgotten she’d put it there for safekeeping, jammed her hand in her pocket and drove the tip of the quill a good quarter of an inch or so into her palm. She’s totally fine and was even laughing about it shortly after the fact.

1. Elephants feet are so sensitive that they can feel vibrations in the ground over long distances and can even use this to communicate with other groups of elephants.
2. Dikdik are monogamous and very possessive of their mates. When a female dikdik poops, the male scrapes dirt over it with his hooves and then poops over that himself so that non of the neighboring males will smell/be attracted her hormones.
3. Most bird species that are monomorphic (males and females look the same – color patterns, size, etc.) are monogamous.
4. The Maasai have donkeys and use them for pulling or carrying things, but don’t eat them.
5. Elephants have five toes on their front feet and four on their back feet.
6. Bush duikers are the only species of duikers that live in the grasslands and not in the forests.

We each met with Ken individually today to discuss our progress so far in our classes here. What I learned was:
1. I got a B+ in Swahili – not as well as I was hoping to do, but for the biology students, Swahili isn’t a separate grade but rather factors into our International Studies 241 course, so I hopefully I can make it up with the Maasai and Hadza essays and my journal (which is actually this blog).
2. I’m doing well in bio so far, which is a huge relief. I’m glad to know that I’m in the headed in the right direction and feel like as long as I keep working hard I will do just fine.
3. I shouldn’t “hold my breath” about hearing my grade for David Sperling’s course (IS 240) because he is apparently notoriously slow about returning the grades. I’m feeling pretty confident about this course, unless I totally bombed the last essay, but I don’t think that I did.
4. I also clarified that its ok to ask as many questions as I do essentially all the time about essentially everything to make sure that I’m not being obnoxious. Apparently, my curiosity has not yet reached pain in the ass levels, of which I’m very glad because I really do have so many questions about everything that I see!
I’m trying to be less concerned about my grades while I’m here – not because I don’t feel that I should do well, but because I feel that it would serve me better to just worry about learning as much as I can instead of letter grades. But I’m not sure if the perfectionist in me will quite let that happen. Especially for the biology parts of the program, I genuinely want to know the things we are exploring, not just to learn it for a class and then forget it, so I’ve already got enough to be concerned about without losing sleep over whether or not I’ll get a good grade or not. And even though I wish the Swahili grade was better, I’m trying my best to cut myself a break and be happy about all that I did learn, which was quite a lot in spite of home sickness, actual sickness, culture shock and general unhappiness with Riruta.

We went for several hour walks around our camp site this morning after breakfast. I went in the group lead by Daudi and Douglas with Rachel R., Meryl, Laila, Beto, Claire, Zach, Anton, Peggy, Lydia, Mara and Lisa Clifton. Even though we are in an area that isn’t frequented by tourists, so the animals are quite wary, we still saw so much incredible wildlife.
1. Impala, steenbok and dikdik darted away through the grass upon sensing our approach.
2. We saw signs (scat or tracks) of lions, elephants, hyenas, zebras, giraffes, impalas, jackals, wildebeasts and gazelles.
3. We saw more incredible birds, including several different kinds of weaver, some hanging out around their incredible nests that are constructed by the males using an intricate method of literally weaving grasses and twigs together in order to create a house that will attract a female and thus win him a mate.
4. We saw a Wahlberg’s eagle and his mate hanging out in a tree.
5. We walked through a burned out area and were able to see firsthand how the Maasai tradition of burning helps the grassland stay a grassland because it clears out/kills some of the smaller trees which allows the grasses space and resources to flourish.
I loved going for the walk, despite battling with more acacia and tsetse flies. The other group managed to run into lots of ticks, but my group managed to avoid that, for which I am grateful.

I also admired how gracefully and silently our Maasai guide moved through the bush and tried my very best to emulate him, but fear that I failed miserably. When I’m careful, I can overcome my normally klutzy inclinations and move quite efficiently and quietly and usually get quite close to animals (a skill developed by catching pesky horses who don’t want to be caught at bring in time), but the Maasai are silent and so incredibly stealthy.

This evening we had a talk with the other group and it was really fun to hear all about what they had seen and we hadn’t. It makes me even more excited to head out for tomorrow.

We also practiced using a vegetation keying chart to help us identify some of the acacia around camp. Although they all look just like big scary bushes at first, when you look closer there are many differences like thorn shape, thorn arrangement, seed pod size and shape, trunk color, branch growth pattern, etc. that are pretty easy to distinguish, so it was really quite fun to use the guide to identify them, though I have to admit that I don’t think plants will ever be able to hold my attention the way that animals do.

I’m starting to realize that looking at the natural world around me and searching for the tiniest of details isn’t something I can do just in Africa. Sure its easier here, because everything here is so new and exciting and deliciously exotic, but the truth is, I know embarrassingly little about the ecosystems and climate within even just my home state. I’m actually pretty excited to kind of transplant the way I’m looking at the natural world here to wilderness areas at home. I can’t wait to take a trip to Central Oregon and take a wander in the woods to compare the basic patterns of natural life I’m seeing here with the ones there.

I think its bedtime. Most of the birds have quieted down and only the insect noises remain. We’ve been told that sometimes you can hear lions roaring at this camp site. I really hope we do!

Lala salama,

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