November 1, 2009
So strange to think that I’ve been in East Africa for two whole months now. I’m back in my tent now after story time with Daudi around the campfire where he told us thrilling tales of: hunting elephants in the deep bush as a way to earn extra shillings as a young man; corrupt government officials arranging for the burning of Maasai bomas (farms/homes) in order to ensure that hunting grounds for Arabian royalty remained uninhabitated; rhinos charging cars in the early days of Ngorogoro conservation and Hadza uniting in a grassroots movement to protect their ancestoral lands thanks to the instantaneous rely of information made possible by cell phones.
Today I went on another really wimpy run, though I’m excited because I think that Heather correctly diagnosed my not quite sickness. She thinks that I’m probably anemic due to my vegetarian diet and the fact that none of the veggies we are eating here are the iron rich ones. Thankfully my wonderful tent wife Rachel has a very large bottle of daily multivitamins with iron in them so she’s going to keep me supplied until we get back to Arusha and I can go to the chemist’s and purchase some of my own.
After breakfast, we all had to take the general culture students’ natural history test, which thank goodness counts only as participation for the bio students because some of the things on the test were definitely things we had never discussed before! Also today, the bio students got back our most recent quiz, on the different animals we had seen when out hunting with the Hadza. I got a 95% which made me really happy, though I was a bit bummed that the points I missed were only for my repeated failure to capitalize the class and family of each organism.
After lunch I went for a hike with Mike, Heather, our Maasai guide Olitrieki and another of the Maasai from the camp whose name I can’t remember right now (I do know that it starts with an M, but I feel absolutely terrible for not remembering as he is terribly nice). We hiked up the hill again and this time they took us to a currently unoccupied camp that is used by the young men who are in the process of becoming warriors. They explained to us that no women are allowed there (to which Heather and I said “pole sana!” to apologize for our presence and they cracked up laughing and thought we were hilarious) and that young men who go there are fifteen and older. Of course, this is what we thought they said – the Kiswahilli was as tricky as ever. With much pantomiming, we also learned that basically what they do there is sing, dance and eat lots and lots of meat. Watching Heather imitiate Maasai jump dancing is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
I also met with Mwalimu Ken to discuss my future academic plans. Its going to be a lot of work this last three semesters of school, but I’m quite excited. I’m finally getting to the fun animal related stuff in biology. He was very encouraging of the idea of me doing a senior thesis project, which sounds incredibly cool and like something that would allow me to learn a ton, so I’m going to work very hard to make sure my grades are good enough to do so! I’ll have to work out a proposal for that this upcoming spring and do a ton of reading for it this summer. Anyone have any good ideas for me?
We also had a big bio student meeting to discuss the remainder of our time in the program after we split from the general culture group. The vertebrate presentations are going to be so cool because while we are expected to have powerpoint presentations and be very professional, we will be presenting them for each other while on safari in Oldonyo Sambu by projecting them onto the side of a tent! I’ve started work on mine by putting in some of the information I’ve learned about hyenas in a very plain powerpoint and am hoping to fix it up with some pictures, videos and sounds while we have internet for two days in Arusha.
I also finally got partner and some project ideas for my independent study. I’m going to be working with Kai and we’re interested in studying some aspect of dominance behaviors. We’d like to either study how females establish hierarchies in either impala or zebra herds (whichever is most available, though of course I’d prefer zebras) or if in dik-dik pairs, one of the individuals is dominant over the other. We’re not quite sure how to translate this into a marine setting, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out. I think Kai and I will be excellent partners because we are both firmly in agreement that we will leave camp in the morning with a bunch of water and packed lunches and not return in the evening until forced to by darkness. Rachel and Lydia decided to work together and want to do a study on parental care by observing weaver birds and their nests and fish who also provide some sort of care for their young.
Life in East Africa continues to be hilarious and surreal. This afternoon, a game of capture the flag was interrupted by two Maasai herding a group of hungry mgombe (cows) across the middle of our playing area. Tonight at dinner, Rachel Y. had to eat a small piece of cow dung due to the fact that she lost a bet while playing cards with Natalie earlier today. To her credit, she chewed it up, choked it down and washed the taste away with a few mouthfuls of Kilimanjaro beer.
I was also able to talk to my family today. I missed two calls from my Dad earlier today as a result of leaving my phone behind during my run and for the capture the flag game, but luckily Laila came to my rescue and pulled out a 50 Kenyan shilling Safaricom phone card coated in congealed Kool Aid powder from her pocket. I was able to “top up” and tell my family to call me back after my evening meetings.
It was so strange and wonderful to talk to them. I am glad to hear that Lance and Spector are doing well. I even talked to Brody for a moment. I wanted to tell them absolutely everything, but how can you explain a twiga hunt, waterfalls in the Nou Forest, Halloween in the bush and all of the incredible animals in just a few minutes?
I’m really exhausted (the weak, sickly feeling, not the tired feeling), so I think I’ll go back to my latest reading material (“Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” – can you tell I’m getting desperate) for a few minutes before bedtime. Tomorrow morning we pack up camp. We’ll hop back in the trucks, spend a few hours driving and arrive in Soit where we will have an orientation meeting for our Maasai home stays and then spend the night in our tents again. The next morning we will head off for our three night home stays. I’m still really nervous about that! I’m really excited too of course, and its only three nights, then a night at a camp by Lake Natron and then back in Arusha for two days of rest and internet before taking off for the bush again, so I’m sure I’ll survive even if its difficult, but its all kind of overwhelming.