Friday, December 14, 2012

So now what?


Well, directed research is done. The paper is turned in, I presented to faculty, and biggest of all, I met with the community to discuss the results and implications of my research.

At only 10% of my grade for the directed research class (compared to the 65% our paper ended up working out to) the community presentation wasn’t really on my radar until a few days ago. However, it turned out to be a bit of a Big Deal for which I am really grateful. DR has ended up being one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done (I feel at least), and I think that I really realized that during the community presentations today.

For those who don’t know, because I’m not sure how detailed I went into it in previous posts, my research was characterizing the dynamics of crop-raiding by wildlife in Mto wa Mbu, a town directly adjacent to Lake Manyara National Park (through interviews with farmers because uh unfortunately 4 months is not enough time to undertake a long-term monitoring project of crop-raiding incidences). Agriculture is one of the main economic activities in Mto wa Mbu, and, uh, obviously elephants tromping through your fields and eating your maize isn’t exactly conducive to making a living as a farmer. Crop compensation/consolation schemes exist in Tanzania, but officials are slow to respond and more often than not, farmers never receive the money promised (or at least, none of the 167 farmers I talked to did). From that, me and my research partner analyzed differences among farms like position in relation to the park and a corridor, crops grown, and plot size and how that contributes to what species crop raid, how often crop raiding happens, what time of day it happens, etc. We also assessed current mitigation strategies employed by farmers, but also used our data and other literature to suggest what we think might be more appropriate or effective mitigation strategies compared to the highly labor intensive and relatively low effective ones currently used by most farmers.

Although I ended up not working on Charismatic Megafauna™ like I initially anticipated when I came here, I’ve really enjoyed my project. I learned so much about Tanzanian culture, practiced my Kiswahili, ate TONS of free bananas, and did something that I (maybe kind of naively) believe actually matters. As neat as it would have been to do wildebeest demography or carrying capacity or something, I thought a lot about what it means to be a wildlife manager (lame) and then re-read my Aldo Leopold land ethic paper (even lamer) and I’ve really realized the fact that wildlife doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that if I want it to persist, I can’t separate management of wildlife from the human aspect. Which, you know, is actually perfect for me in a way. I love wildlife and I love science, but I also love people and I feel like if I accomplish anything in my life, it might as well to be helping my fellow man so this overall has turned out to be a totally awesome and eye-opening experience for me. It has also done a lot to kind of focus my career direction, which is somehow really awesome and really scary at the same time.

Also: I was having a slight crisis over if I could fit genetics into crop-raiding research one night and then the next morning my advisor here handed me a paper titled “Using molecular and observational techniques to estimate the number and raiding patterns of crop-raiding elephants.” It was an awesome paper and people should read it because it was super neat. Then I had a really brilliant idea for a continuation of my project here and then before I could mention it to my faculty advisor, he told me he had talked to park rangers about starting literally almost the same thing so I’m kind of convinced he can read my mind.

Anyway, enough of me pouring out my heart, and I’ll just write a bit about community presentation day. None of us were really quite sure to expect. A lot of people had to weirdly combine their projects because they used similar methods I guess. All 11 people in the wildlife management group had to give a 40 minute presentation on 9 different projects (including translation). For whatever reason, wildlife ecology got to divide up, so me and the single other girl working on crop-raiding with me got half of that to present. Yeah. Whatever.

We weren’t sure how many people were coming, but I think it was probably over 100. Some notable audience members included local government officials, some totally awesome and really nice giraffe researchers, officials from Tanzanian National Parks Authority, and the director of African Wildlife Foundation’s Tanzanian chapter. So yeah I was a little nervous, but I have to say, Hanna and I totally ROCKED it. It was awesome. I was a bit worried how community members would respond to two American girls coming in and being like “Oh, baboons eat your bananas! Sorry about that” but our management implications were very strong and very well received. We also may or may not have been somewhat responsible for starting a rather heated discussion about the current status of crop consolation in Tanzania. I felt bad about the flack the TANAPA officials got from farmers in the discussion after all the presentations (even though I find myself more and more on the side of farmers), but my advisor said it always gets a bit political even if no one is presenting on human-wildlife conflict just because it is such a big issue in this area and locals have few other opportunities to ever be in the same place as a TANAPA guard. The TANAPA guy was very adamant that if farmers followed proper procedures, they would receive compensation but I can’t quite say I believe that, especially since elephants had been walking all throughout my study site for the entirety of fieldwork, destroying crops and saw a grand total of 0 TANAPA employees responding to crop-raiding. It’s funny in a sad way that they had a much quicker response time to when a crop-raiding elephant was killed in my study area.

Overall, it was a very worthwhile day and I feel very accomplished about what I’ve spent the last month doing even though days upon days of writing was super tedious. My advisor also told me that he was very proud of our presentation, which made me feel, uh, really awesome. Also not gonna lie, I got a little misty eyed when people were so genuinely interested in all of our projects and genuinely happy and excited about us sharing them. My time here is coming to a close way too fast, but I think my departure will be bittersweet. Most of the time, I’ve been very nervous about how I could get myself back to East Africa, which is silly because I’ve been here twice in two years now AND I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great role models while I was here who, despite not being born here, have made East Africa an integral part of their life. I know that if they can do it, I can do it to. 

The only disappointing part of the day was that my translator Ibra missed my presentation! He had to go to Arusha for his business (he has a real people job working for a tourist company when he's not pulling me out of the mud in the rice paddies) and only got to Rhotia as presentations were finishing up. He did apologize so I guess that's alright.

Super lame and cheesy post! Sorry, not sorry, I just have a lot of emotions. Tomorrow is our last community service day. I’m helping build a house. Yay!

Friday, December 7, 2012

It’s a Maasai pants and shuka kind of night

Hey, hello, howdy, how are you?

I haven’t written in a bit and that probably doesn’t bother anyone too much besides my mom who I think is the only consistent reader of my blog anyway (hi mom!) but I figured I’d sit down and write a few things about what’s been going on. Actually the reason I haven’t been writing really too much lately is because there HASN’T been a lot going on (unless you want me to document the long nights I’ve spent fiddling around on SPSS and trying to figure out how to do things on ArcGIS ver. 3.3, but I don’t really want to relive those nights so I’m not going to write about them).

Fieldwork finished awhile ago, and the real work began for DR. At first I thought it would be nice to have whole days devoted to working on it, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be for me to sit myself in front of a computer all day, especially when the weather is so nice (except for when it was thunder storming last night and I was desperately trying to finish my draft of my paper before the power went out). I try and break up the day by taking 20 minute breaks throughout it, and taking a long break from 6-8 to play volleyball and eat dinner. I’ve been going to bed at like 9:30 to avoid working any longer in the night though, haha. I’ve also managed to read just about every fiction book in our small library, painted every part of camp (as in paint pictures of, not paint pictures on), and started reading the blog of an ex-pat housewife living in Nairobi in my efforts to procrastinate. I've also made it my personal project to help every bird that flies in through the library's open windows and doors. Sometimes they really are just too dumb to figure out how to get out on their own. My draft is finished, though, and I kept feeling like it was a bit short until I was actually holding 21 pages in my hands and realized it really was an impressive amount of work for 3 days of data analysis and 3 days of writing.  Except I realized I should run another statistical test just as I was making the final edits on my abstract but oh well. That might be today’s project.

We had two non-program days since my last blog post. The first one, we made the two hour drive down to visit the Hadzabe, which are one of the last truly hunter-gatherer groups. At first I was a little iffy mostly due to my experiences at Maasai Cultural Manyattas and just the idea that we’d just be… looking at people. I was assured, though, that it was not a façade like many “cultural experiences” are here, and that they were really happy to just share their lifestyle with the world. It was pretty neat hanging out with them, shooting bows, dancing, etc. Still not quite sure how I feel about the idea of cultural tourism as a whole, but probably one of the more authentic ones I’ve been to for something that was set up for tourists. Afterwards we visited a Datoga boma and saw a Datoga blacksmith make arrow tips which was REALLY neat. There was also some lovely metal jewelry which I shamelessly bought way too much of. Oh well.

The other non-program day was a little bit closer to home. I got to visit a batik maker’s home, and it was SO beautiful. This particular batik maker actually was primarily responsible for starting the craft in Tanzania in the early 70s and had shown in galleries all over the world. Stepping into his living room, I was totally overwhelmed by absolutely gorgeous batik wall hangings and well… anyone who knows me knows I love art. I acquired some new decorations for my room.

Then I headed down to Mto wa Mbu to just hang out. I did a little bit of shopping and mostly on my high from purchasing beautiful batiks, I decided I should get some paintings too. Oops. We went to Happy Days for a bit after that where we just played cards for a bit and poached elephants (drank Tuskers).

It’s been alternating between cold and rainy and SO HOT out lately. That’s summer in Tanzania I guess. I’ve been living in the library and totally taken over one of the large tables. I sit there and wrap myself in my Maasai blanket/shuka which is SO warm. Most nights I’m also wearing these super awesome pants I got made by the tailor made out of fabric a lot of Maasai women wear. I basically look ridiculous, but I couldn’t be more comfortable.

Today is our final non-program day. I’m chilling out right now, but I’m going to head down to Mto wa Mbu to learn how to knife paint later this morning, then afterwards a last trip to Karatu and Happy Days. With only 9 days left in the program, I’m feeling a bit down, but I’m definitely excited to be done with DR. It really has been killer. I’m also very excited I decided to travel after the program. A beach holiday after my community presentation will be well wanted and needed. Besides, I’m not totally sure when I’m going to be back in East Africa (says the girl who’s been here twice in two years… uh) so I might as well live it up.

That’s it though. Sorry, my life hasn’t been to exciting lately! I’m in my end of the semester crunch just like everyone else.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tanzanian Turkeys


Happy Thanksgiving! Or day after Thanksgiving (whatever I’m close enough). While Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and I’m very sad I missed it (and one of my best friend’s 21st birthday! Argh!), I could not have IMAGINED a better Thanksgiving at my home away from home.

We had the day off, which, after 3 straight days of fieldwork, was VERY welcome. I never rest on our non-program days really, though, so I’m not quite sure why I think they’re going to be refreshing in anyway haha.

We started the morning by going to Gibb’s Farm, a super nice coffee farm and Lodge in the area. It was absolutely STUNNING. So gorgeous. We literally could sit and drink delicious coffee and look out over into the valleys of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. They had absolutely beautiful gardens. We headed down into their coffee plantations and then took a look at their vegetables. They had so many things I miss from home. I was drooling over their strawberry plants (dear mom and dad: please meet me at the airport with a packet of strawberries along with my Chicago style hotdog). They also had RHUBARB. We got to eat a piece and it was delicious. We later convinced them to sell/give us a box for our Thanksgiving dinner. Aw yeah, super convincing!

Afterward we headed to Mto wa Mbu. We hung around in the market and I bought some overpriced Maasai Fabric because I cannot help myself and my bartering skills were a bit off that day. Regardless, I got enough of a fabric that I hadn’t seen since Kenya, so I now had enough to make SUPER AWESOME Maasai fabric pants. Then we bought ice cream from a grocery store and it was just okay but it was cold and vanilla which is all I can really ask for here.

We returned from Mto wa Mbu and I found an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner on my banda door. It had specific instructions to dress nicely, which I knew from the wedding was going to be nearly impossible, so I ran quickly to the tailor and picked up a shirt I had ordered from him before Serengeti. It looks AWESOME. It is made out of Maasai fabric and fits perfectly. I also brought him some pants that were pretty much a mess from the other tailor in town (they ripped the moment I sat down in them. It honestly defeated the purpose of even wearing pants). She is much cheaper than him, but you get what you pay for. He is fixing them for me now and I also am getting another dress made from him. He is the same tailor who made my other Tanzanian dress that I absolutely LOVE so I have no doubt in my mind that he will work his magic. I may need to go (read: will definitely need) to the ATM again just to pay for him to make amazing things out of the rest of my exorbitant amount of fabric.

We had a few more hours before dinner, so I sat outside and did laundry in between shooting an Iraqw bow. It is taking some major restraint to not buy a bow. Luckily I remember that anything I buy, I get to lug around with me to Zanzibar after the program. Not so fun…

Closer to dinner, I helped a bit with the cooking (Well, I mashed potatoes. It counts as helping!). I helped decorate our dining hall, too. It ended up looking absolutely BEAUTIFUL. We rearranged the tables, and used my exorbitant amount of fabric and some curtains to make table clothes. We picked flowers and used them as centerpieces, and then set place cards for every student and staff member. We all met for dinner, making sure every person was seated before we started anything. Everyone was dressed SO nicely. I was thoroughly impressed. Dinner came about 45 minutes late in the end, but I don’t mind waiting. Our center director said some really wonderful words and cut the turkey. We all (staff and students and faculty) went around and said what we were thankful. I, of course, said I was so thankful to have had the chance to meet such an amazing group of people both this time and last time I was in Moyo Hill. I couldn’t imagine better people to share these two experiences with. I also had to make a shout-out to my parents, who not only put up with my globetrotting but also are behind me so much. I couldn’t ask for two more amazingly supportive people encouraging me every step of this journey. Thanks for being awesome, Mom and Dad!

Also, (I think) it was a lot of staff’s first Thanksgiving and I think many that had been to one before with other students were impressed with just HOW much work we put into ours. That’s our group though. We just throw ourselves fully into everything, including holidays. I spent a lot of time talking about Thanksgiving traditions with Ceci, a program assistant and Kiswahili teacher here. She asked me if we danced after Thanksgiving dinner, since there is a lot of dancing after Tanzanian and African holidays. I told her that I danced on Thanksgiving, but us competitive Irish dancers from the Midwest are probably the exception.

After dinner we took a lot of photos, and then a big group photo. Then we had an impromptu dance party. Ceci and Martha and a few other of the girls showed us a dance that seemed eerily similar to the electric slide until we realized it WAS the electric slide. Wish I was kidding. They were the exact same. We then showed them the cha-cha slide…. (it was very middle school dance). We then went and helped with dishes and then went back to our rave in the middle of the dining hall. We broke out the headlamps and used them as strobe lights. We danced late until the night (by which I mean we danced until 10:30 and then got super tired). I was a bit sad to be away from my family and friends in the states on Thanksgiving, but we came together as a family. All in all, a totally amazing day.

Everyone looking super great for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Now we’re back to fieldwork. I guess I could talk about that. It’s SO SO SO much fun. I literally spend all day alternating between smiling and just like TOTAL GRIN, even more so than I do usually here. I think that says a lot considering that my Maasai name means “Ever smiling.” Since my project is mostly focusing on human-wildlife conflicts and a lot of the wildlife part (aka crop destruction events) has already been quantified, I’m left conducting the human part. I had a small, kind of disappointing realization that I really won’t get to spend any more time in East African protected areas looking at animals (this time around. Not in general because I know I will be back), I could not have really asked for a better study area or community to do this study in. I get to tromp around in people’s banana fields and ask them questions and the most randomly ridiculous things ever happen. Three days ago a dude asked us if we wanted to see a tortoise. Next thing we know, he shows up with his a random Leopard Tortoise. We wanted to give it a cucumber but John (That was the tortoise’s name, John) wasn’t really having anything of it. He actually walked away from the cucumber slice we left out for him! Rude.

I also get asked a lot of totally random questions, which is fair considering I’m intruding in most people’s home to ask them random questions about their farm. Most of the questions I get are “Are you Chinese?” Apparently most Tanzanians think I look Asian. When I tell them I’m not, they say no. It’s not that they don’t believe me, it’s that they flat out claim that what I am saying I am speaking untruths. I’ve gotten this on MULTIPLE occasions from many different people. I really don’t understand it. I was also asked what tribe I was today. I said I didn’t have one, but the woman objected to that fact as well, so finally we settled on “Irish.” That seems like an acceptable tribe.

Since then I have been handed a large variety of live animals quite randomly. One woman, who didn’t know her age and wasn’t very interested in the questions I had about her farm and insisted that absolutely no wildlife except for rogue human beings were eating her crops disappeared into her house mid-way through the questionnaire and returned holding a guinea pig. Yeah. No clue why. She handed it to me so I just spent the rest of the interview with a guinea pig in my lap. Then she started asking my translator questions and she asked him what his work was and if he was married. He’s not, so she started giving him SO much flack. She gave him a lecture on how he needed to find a real job (she didn’t think his cushy office job doing finances for a tour company was good enough and she wanted him to start a farm) and a wife. She said that she would pay my dowry so he could marry me, but I would have to come work for her to pay her off. That didn’t seem like quite the best deal I’ve gotten so far (some dude climbing a mango tree said he would give me 10 acres of land. Now that seemed useful.)

Speaking of translators, I only need him about half the time though! I’m really impressed with my ability to comprehend more complicated Kiswahili, even if my formulation skills aren’t totally there. I try and ask all the questions in Kiswahili and almost all of the time for the simpler questions, I can pick up on the answer. More complicated ones still need a bit of work, but to be fair, I only started really learning this language about 2 months ago. Ebra is a nice guy, but he ALWAYS ALWAYS gets a post-lunch energy slump, so all of our interviews conducted from 1-3 PM I’m pretty much on my own because he is passed out under the closest tree sleeping mostly.  I don’t know if I’ve actually gotten any better at Kiswahili, but I am certainly a bit more confident in speaking even if I still do make mistakes. Today’s gem was “Unalima mbogo ekari ngapi?” when I meant to say mboga.  Mboga=vegetables, mbogo=buffalo. Bit of a difference. Ebra was such a great sport today though when we were walking through the rice paddies and I was perched pretty precariously on the raised bit of dry dirt HOPING AND PRAYING that I would not fall into the mud. I was bound and determined not to fall into the mud. I was also bound and determined not to get stuck in the mud. I think I deserve an award for the amount of times I’ve gotten stuck in mud on foot. It’s kind of impressive. But yes, I SOMEHOW despite tromping all around East Africa, had managed to make it more than two months without getting stuck. At all! Zip! Until today that is.

So during fieldwork, I basically have to hop over river after river after irrigation channel after river. I have to balance beam across the sketchiest bridges ever (aka pieces of wood just lain across river or 8 inch concrete platforms over 13 foot drops) and do all of it in a SKIRT because of societal norms in my study area. I really am a pro at hopping over rivers now in a skirt. So, today I walked into the rice paddies, totally fearless and confident that I could get my 12 interviews done today and not have to wash my socks when I got home. That’s not what was in store. I walked out of the rice paddies with my legs covered in mud and with a translator who was very insistent that I let him hold the GPS and our data sheets. He tried to make me feel less embarrassed about getting stuck in the mud. The funny bit was, that I wasn’t really embarrassed at all. I was actually cracking up the whole time I got stuck (both times I got stuck actually). He was really confused until I explained that this was fairly normal for me. I’m just usually not in a skirt. Then he helped me pull my shoe out of the mud.  Afterwards, we made the kilometer trek back to the meeting point. I was met with lot’s of “Pole”’s (“Sympathies”) and a few well-said “Nzuri sana!” (Very nice!) . Then we played a card game with my research partner and her guide while we waited for our ride.

I also forgot that I was “Student of the Day” and was supposed to give a presentation after dinner (I remembered during dinner). So, I googled facts about guinea fowl and read them out loud. Then I Irish danced for everyone in true day-after-Thanksgiving tradition. It was an incredibly cohesive presentation.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

“Serengeti Shall Never Die”


An insane amount of stuff has happened over the past few days, and it all has been quite awesome.

Nine very rigorous days of classes ended with our (final) final exams, and afterwards we packed up everything to head to my absolute favorite place in the entire world: Serengeti National Park.

Most people will never get to go to Serengeti. Those who visit once consider themselves lucky. I have been to Serengeti three times now, twice last summer and now this past camping trip, and I think I’m the most absolutely blessed person in the whole world because of that. I love love love love Serengeti and would stay there forever in my canvas tent even if it’s not completely waterproof and may have a little bit of fungus in it.

The drive in was amazing. We stopped at Oldupai Gorge, the “Craddle of Mankind,” and received a lecture on why it was an important archaeological site, but more importantly why it’s Oldupai rather than Olduvai as most people know it (the answer is that although the Maasai had called it Oldupai after the succulent plant that was growing there, the European scientist who made the first discovery there spelled it wrong in his report. Hence why people know it as Olduvai…). We lingered here for a bit, before packing up in the cars and making the final stretch through Ngorongoro Conservation Area into Serengeti National Park. At the gate, we stopped again. We climbed on some kopjes, at lunch, and then on our descent found some steps with a bit of wet cement. In the corner, a friend and I wrote “SFS” pretty small. It was tinier and less obnoxious than some of the other things we found written in the cement afterwards, so I hope it stays there and some future SFS students find it. I lurked around some of the entrance offices, looking at maps and other information about Serengeti. I wish I had gotten a picture of one of the signs on the door I saw. There was an etching of a rhino and around it, it said “Serengeti shall never die.” It was a surprisingly powerful message, and Serengeti is such an important place in my heart that I really hope that it remains true.

I ALSO saw a fact that 530 different bird species have been recorded in Serengeti National Park. I also knew that the other cohort that is now in Kenya had seen 120 birds on their expedition. There was a point in my life where I was an absolutely terrible birder. My companions from my last Tanzanian adventure can attest to that. However, I’ve now been promoted to mediocre birder, and I took these two things as a personal challenge. As soon as I stepped over the border from Ngorongoro Conservation Area to Serengeti, I was all about the birds. It was actually kind of obnoxious how about the birds I was. We entered Serengeti at about 2 PM on November 10th and left at noon November 14th. In that time period I spotted and identified 122 different species of birds. I didn’t even really bird on the last day (well, I identified one bird: the Saddle Billed Stork) because I was honestly just really tired and had already gotten to 121. I of course had a lot of help from my totally awesome Wildlife Ecology professor, who loves birdirg quite possibly more than any other person I know which is saying A LOT because I know some really enthusiastic birders, and a few of my friends who were only moderately excited about birds but also very competitive when it comes to nerdy nature stuff like identifying birds and were super helpful in my quest to crush the other group.

We had our fair share of wildlife in camp. Fat little hyraxes and banded mongooses darted around camp looking for food. On the first night we had a bit of a scare when a poisonous snake slithered into the middle of the circle where we were playing mafia. It was kind of funny as our student affairs manager was trying so hard to get us to move away and then our wonderful Askari kept saying, “Take a picture!!” At night, Askari Bura would walk us to the bathroom. He would smile, say “Fisi!” (“Hyena!”), and shine his light in a random direction. Sure enough, two eyes would be peering back at you. At first the sound of hyenas laughing and buffalo grunting at night was a bit unnerving, but ultimately was pretty darn cool.

Besides the buttload of birds, we saw SO many carnivores. So many. On our first day we saw a pride of lions just chilling out near a watering hole, and it was a great start. We also saw two cheetah brothers on that day and a super awesome lady working with the Serengeti Cheetah Project who was taking license plate numbers of people who were driving off road near the cheetahs. We had an unfortunate encounter with some tourists later in the week where we helped them get unstuck from mud, and then they proceeded to drive off the road and chase a leopard… totally disgusting. I can’t believe how people who claim to love animals have such a blatant disregard for an animal’s well being and the health of its environment.

The day we returned from Serengeti was quite eventful. Close to the boarder of Serengeti, we saw a lot of cars lined up on the road. We weren’t quite sure what they were looking at, and we pulled up behind them (really because it was getting a little congested and we had no choice but to stop and wait). We saw something in the distance that totally blew my mind: a black rhino.

So if you’ve been reading you know that I had never seen a wild rhino before this trip despite the fact that I had been to this continent twice before. The first rhinos I saw were actually in Lake Nakuru, which is a fenced rhino sanctuary, so that was fairly expected. Something also totally amazing was that I saw one of Ngorongoro Craters’s 33 rhinos when we went there as well. It was a totally unexpected and very pleasant surprise. It was so cool to see a free ranging rhino outside of a national park (since Ngorongoro is a multiple land use conservation area rather than a national park). I expected that to be my last rhino of the trip. I felt so lucky to just see that one, it was great.

But then this one in Serengeti shows up. It was SO bizarre. Our wildlife ecology professor, who was driving the car I was in, was especially confused. A Tanzanian National Park Authority vehicle had shown up and was observing the rhino that seemed pretty content just chilling out in Serengeti. Our professor said they’ll most likely end up relocating it to Ngorongoro because there is literally no rhino population in Serengeti and that it just might have wandered over for no reason… so strange (but cool that we got to see it).

After Serengeti we had our community service day, which mostly consisted of me sitting at the primary school drawing pictures of animals with kids. Some other students did manual labor and planted a garden, which our group is getting VERY good at after setting up KBC’s garden and another at a local AIDS testing clinic in Kenya. For our next community service day, I’m going to see if we can get funding to do a mural at the school. The kids really enjoyed it and the teacher said we can come by any day after school to just hang out and read or draw with the kids, but that may be a bit hard since our schedule is getting pretty hectic and our annoying 6 PM curfew rule.

We also received our finalized directed research projects assignments that we’ll be working on for the last month. I am working under the wildlife ecology umbrella, focusing on elephant habitat utilization in agricultural areas (and the resulting human-elephant conflicts) which is great considering I spent all summer collecting and reading articles on interactions between wildlife and agriculture. I’m SUPER pumped to working on a research project again and also being out in the field and also elephants. I’m actually waiting right now to meet with my faculty advisor to discuss my proposal (and I should be working on my last environmental policy assignment but I am quite obviously writing a blog post in stead). WE was my first choice, and my faculty advisor was my birding buddy in Serengeti so I’m really excited to work with him.

Our homestay was next. We stayed with an Iraqw family this time. The Iraqw are agro-pastoralists from Northern Tanzania, but don’t really have as strong “tribal identity” as the Maasai do. It was such a totally different experience from my Maasai homestay. My family was pretty well off. The house was a permanent structure with lots of furniture (I spent about an hour after lunch taking a nap on the couch…), and the father had been to Switzerland before. I had to beg my mama to let me help cook. Pretty much the only jobs I did were walking a kilometer to deliver chai to the guys who were working on my family’s fields and then planting beans for a while. My host dad laughed and said I could tell my professors that today I was a farmer. Then I wasn’t doing a very good job, so I got the beans taken away from me. I spent most of the rest of the day playing with the girls after they came home from primary school. We drew pictures and she read me her ENTIRE notebook of English homework, which was adorable. Then we played “duck, duck, simba” which is exactly the same as duck, duck, goose but for some reason it’s simba. My host dad spoke great English and helped me with my Kiswahili for a while. We got his email and PO Box, so I could send him some photos after I get back to the states (he also showed me the adorable photo of his nieces former SFS students had taken and sent over). My host dad, whose name was Floridi, had been working with SFS for a while and generally was a guide and translator for students during directed research, so he’ll definitely be around at the center and come to our community presentations.

The next day we had half of a non-program day. We spent the morning working on assignments, and in the afternoon we got dressed up (which was SUPER hard considering I haven’t done laundry in forever and I practically live in the bush now…) and went to a wedding. It was one of our staff member’s friends and they very graciously invited us. We ended up only going to the reception because the actual ceremony was very long and in the morning, but it was cool to see. There was a lot of singing and dancing up the aisles and at one point our center director, student affairs manager, and two students were pulled up the aisle and fed part of an entire roasted goat that had been danced up the aisle with earlier. We were sure to also bring gifts. As a group we ended up giving a large thermos for chai, some nice plates, and a nice set of glasses. They played this REALLY long Kiswahili song like a bajillion times that Daniel played for us in Kenya times and I think it was about the “Sweetness of God” though I’m still not entirely sure. We took lots of photos and it had a lot of western traditions like feeding cake, champagne toasts (though as far as I could tell, no one was actually drinking any of the champagne), etc. There was a photographer and someone videotaping the wedding. Overall, the bride and groom were a bit older than what we would have expected to see in Kenya (they were 27 and 28) and the dowry was only like 2 cows and more of a formality than anything. I guess that just shows the differences between rural Kenya and the more urban areas of Tanzania. It was really interesting. Some things I didn’t quite get were everyone having to dance up the aisle to shake hands with the wedding party, the best man and maid of honor feeding each other cake (in addition to the bride and groom feeding each other cake), feeding the Master of Ceremonies a lot of cake (really only those people got cake since it was small), and at one point the bride and groom I think were thanking people for coming so those people would stand up and wave and everyone would wave back at them. At the end, both the bride and groom thanked each other for coming, which seemed strange but I guess I would be thankful that my spouse showed up to our wedding too. Our group was introduced as Dr. Kissui (our center director) and “the wazungu” (plural of mzungu: white people), which I though kind of sounded like a band name.

I wish I had more time to write about everything we’ve done so far, but I’ve just been super busy trying to get all of my assignments done and starting my research. I can’t believe the program ends in a month; time is passing way too quickly. I’m lucky that I get to travel a bit after the program. I’m heading to Zanzibar for about a week and arrive back in the states in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. It’s gonna be great.

P.S. To my dad: Sorry my phone cut off last night. I’m out of minutes so I have to run into town to get more later today!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mambo, Moyo Hill!

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It’s good to be home now that I’ve settled in a bit. And I honestly do feel at home. A few of the faces may have changed, but everyone is so loving and caring that I have no fear that round two in Moyo Hill will be nothing but equally amazing as round one and KBC.

Tuesday was our first full day in Tanzania, and we went to the totally amazing Lake Manyara National Park. It was so awesome to see how green it was compared to every trip to Lake Amboseli or Kimana Wildlife Sanctuary. We also saw so many BIRDS. I was so excited to see all the new birds. And honestly, all I had to do was casually say “Ninapenda ndege” (I like birds) to our awesome driver Pascal and he legit stopped for every bird we saw after that. We saw some absolutely awesome kingfishers and SO many hornbills. It was really funny in class before we left. Our new wildlife ecology professor casually asked if any of us like birds and it took some serious restraint on my part to keep my hand from shooting into the air. The next day we did our first field exercise there. We were observing baboon behavior, which was fun except when our baboons decided to do the exact same thing for almost an hour, which then became kind of tedious. We also then encountered a problem that our troops kept disappearing/walking out of sight after one observation so we had to do some serious baboon searching.

Also it was Halloween! I was actually kind of upset that there was nothing planned. It wasn’t even on the calendar, but little to nothing can hold our group back, and we organized are own Halloween celebration and EVERYONE dressed up. I was so impressed. We did banda themes, and for having spent the last month and a half in the bush and having the clothes to go with it, we certainly pulled out some awesome costumes. We had Tusker bottles, the wizard of Oz, obnoxious tourists (very hilarious), and my favorite… the Maasai boma. One girl dressed up as a Maasai mama, one girl dressed up as a goat, and the last two dressed up literally AS the boma. It was hilarious.

Ours were also great though. It was difficult to tell they were costumes at first until you really looked at our props and mannerisms. My banda actually went as all our Kenyan professors (because we love them so much). One girl was our environmental policy professor, and she wore a red polo with the letters “KFC” taped on it  because he has somehow obtained a red KFC employee polo and would wear it to class sometimes. She also carried around a “Family reunion” photo, which was basically a bunch of stick people and then a squirrel, since he is very insistent that he is a squirrel. I was our wildlife ecology professor. I searched far and wide for a lab coat (because he ALWAYS wore one to lecture even when it was totally unnecessary), but sadly I couldn’t find one. I just wore a khaki hat like he always wore and carried around a plastic bag with fake animal dung (that looked uncomfortably like real animal dung) and said “Science!” on it. It also helped that I wore a nametag that said “ALLO! My name is _______” A lot of the staff here really got a kick out of it. The Tanzanian ecology professor kept asking me questions about what I taught, my curriculum, etc. and laughed when I would throw in some of his counterpart’s little mannerisms and quirks. Lastly, we had our very majestic wildlife management professor. She wore his EXACT running outfit (black sweat pants, SFS shirt, running shoes) and had his walk and mannerisms totally down. He LOVES watermelon, so we made some fake watermelon (that, unlike the animal poop, looked comfortably like real watermelon) that she carried around in a bowl. We sat in the chumba and “graded papers” for a while people trickled in for dinner. At first it didn’t really seem like we were in costumes (since, to be fair, we were just wearing relatively normal clothing), but people picked up on it quickly. At dinner, I gave an assignment and everyone totally lost it. Our IT guy works at both the Tanzanian and Kenyan sites and happened to be here for dinner and got the BIGGEST kick out of it. He took pictures, so I hope if those go back to our Kenyan professors they know it was all in good fun and because we love them so much (I also think they know we’re entertained by their quirks. Our wildlife ecology professor especially exaggerated his ALLO’s after a while because he knew they amused us). Our “Shem” (wildlife management professor) also led a signature “Shem clap” for everyone’s Halloween costumes. I can’t really describe the Shem clap, though. It’s just something you need to experience yourself.

It was a fun night, and I really was impressed at the costumes that got pulled together in such a short amount of time. We gathered around the fire and told scary stories afterward and all went to bed pretty late (we consider 11 PM pretty late. It’s sad actually…)

Then of course we jumped back into more school. Yesterday we had a travelling lecture to Mto wa Mbu and we talked a lot about water resources and agriculture in the area. We got to walk around the town a bit after. It’s on a main road between two very large national parks (Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro) so it is SUPER touristy, but funnily enough people would greet us with “Hey, wanafunzi!” (students). I noticed that my experience in Mto wa Mbu this time was very different than any time I went during last summer, and I attribute that to my Kiswahili skills to be quite honest. A lot of people in Mto wa Mbu speak English since so many tourists do come through, but even speaking a little bit of Kiswahili beyond the “Jambo-jambo” that tourists know really goes pretty far in changing people’s attitude towards you in the city. We saw a place selling woodcarvings, and a bunch of men making them outside. At first, I was really worried that there would be a lot of pressure to buy something if we walked over, but when we did and asked them what they were doing, how their work was going, etc. in Kiswahili it was a totally different experience. I’m really bound and determined to improve my Kiswahili before I go home, and I’m actually thinking of doing the environmental policy directed research just so I can practice my Kiswahili because it does rely really heavily on communicating with people. A lot more of the staff here relies pretty heavily on Kiwsahili to communicate with the students, though, so I really am trying to make a large effort to push myself to having real, meaningful conversations in it, which is really difficult for me. I keep making mistakes (today I asked if I should add mbogo/buffalo instead of mboga/vegetables to the eggs I was making for breakfast), but those are harmless, and I’ll never learn if I don’t make mistakes.

Also, right on time for November 1st, the rains have started. We were doing a field exercise on the other side of Lake Manyara in the afternoon, taking inventory of dung piles and their distance from the Lake to estimate density. We knew it was going to rain but it absolutely POURED. Literally it felt like people just started dumping buckets on us. I don’t really mind the rain, considering I feel like it rained during every dendrology lab I had except for the final (when it snowed), but our data sheets got completely ruined and we were worried about our GPSes, so we ended early. We came back and just used the other group’s data for our excel assignment since we didn’t finish and our data sheets were unreadable. I’m not sure how we’re going to mitigate this during directed research though, considering my wildlife ecology turned to me when it started pouring and said “This is what every field day is like during DR.” I’m still excited though. I like the rain.

After that, we had about 40 minutes before “curfew” (we have to be back in camp by 6 PM unless we’re with a staff member. That seems a little ridiculous, but I do understand their reasoning so I’m usually not SO bothered by it). A few people went to go play soccer, but I decided just go back and visit Rhotia. It’s smaller than Kimana, but I still enjoy walking around in it. It’s different being in a community compared to KBC where you had to walk an hour to get to town. I really like it though, and since Moyo Hill is SO much smaller compared to KBC I feel like I need the town in order to just get out.

Also I’m super pumped about our class today. We’re going birding! Slowly but surely I have tried to convince more and more people in my group how awesome birds are. I am actually forming a “birding committee” which is basically just a bunch of people who go birding in the morning around camp, but whatever I wanted to make it more official sounding. Maybe we’ll make t-shirts.

We got our first taste of the Tanzanian power grid too. I’m fairly sure we only had power at KBC most of the time because we had solar panels set up for when the power went out. Those things do not exist here; it’s all the grid. I jokingly said to someone that the power goes out every time we have an assignment due. Well, last night I was working on our first wildlife ecology assignment and like clockwork, it went out. It came on for a few minutes but promptly went back out before I went to bed. It was still out when I woke up this morning and wrote this blog post, so I guess we’ll see how long it’s out based on the time delay between me writing (7:20 AM on Nov 2) this and me actually posting this (who knows!).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Footprints of Kenya


My time in Kenya has officially come to a close, and I can’t help but feel a bit homesick for KBC. We had an emotional day, and while I was grinning from ear to ear making the drive from Arusha to Rhotia, up and over the hills with a gorgeous view of baobabs and Lake Manyara, with dinner came our daily reflection and with reflection came tears. We all got pretty choked up thinking about all the friends we left behind in Kenya. But being sad is okay, because it just really means you’ve formed meaningful bonds and had wonderful experiences and while being sad is rough, we’ve grown so much from our time in Kenya and will continue to grow in Tanzania.

And a good friend of mine pointed out, if you are bound and determined to come back, you will.

And after that was when I started crying at dinner. Because while I was sad to leave KBC, I was so happy to find myself back in Tanzania. I was in a place that I missed every day when I was back in the States. I had made it back to Moyo Hill (and was greeted with a huge hug from Askari Bura!!) and I was sitting in the same spot I had sat 16 months earlier wondering how I was ever going to get myself back here. It was really then that I accepted leaving Kenya. While I miss KBC, I have the memories forever and I’m still surrounded by people who are able to share them with me. And I know that I will make it back to KBC again because, honestly, if there’s one thing about me that I know, it’s that if I say I’m going to do something: I do it.

Also this is really stupid, but something that made me happy: They’re still using the compost bucket Kira and I painted (poorly) one day.  I went to throw out a banana peel and I just kind of stared at the bucket for a minute wondering why it seemed more familiar than the other buckets until it struck me that the oddly sized polka dots were my own handiwork. I grinned kind of stupidly to myself about that.

I’m so glad the painting I made for KBC is much more big and obnoxious and has our group name on it. Future cohorts are going to wonder why EVERYTHING says “Fall 2012” on it, but it’s only because we legitimately got involved in every part of camp. KBC left its mark on us, just as we left our mark on KBC.

Kwa heri, Kenya. Our paths will cross again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Being sappy when I should be studious...

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Today was my last day in Kimana Market… not ever because I don’t want to say ever. Just for a while because I’m kind of going to Tanzania in 6 days and it’s kind of unavoidable.

When I left for Kenya, I kind of just thought it’d be a stop on my way back to Moyo Hill, but KBC and Kimana have become just as special to me. There’s something really wonderful about the bustle of Tuesday markets, the beautiful reds and oranges and purples of Maasai fabrics swinging gently in the wind, and really the joy of everyone I encounter.

We’re finally at the point where we’re pros at navigating the market. A single “not today, mama” with a smile actually stops very insistent Maasai women from trying to sell you bracelets now. We ask prices and barter in Kiswahili (and people actually answer us in Kiswahili! ). Kids still point and yell “Mzunguli!” (My mzungu!) as you pass, but giggle when we look around confused and jokingly shout back “Mzungu ako wapi?!” (Mzungu? Where?!)  I met a little girl today, Kiri, who was very amused at my search for the mzungu. We chatted for a little bit (well, we pointed at different things and said English and Kiswahili words for them) before she gave me the two small rubber bands she was wearing on her wrists. She put them on my thumb to wear as rings, but later I moved them to my watchband. She gave me a red one and a green one, so, on my black wristwatch, they make the colors of the Kenyan flag.

I will truly miss how genuinely friendly everyone is here when I go back to the states. I walked into a restaurant a few weeks ago and there were no open tables for my friend and I. We awkwardly asked a man reading a paper and drinking chai if he minded us joining him (we weren’t quite sure what the etiquette on disturbing strangers was…). To our surprise, he legitimately did not mind and he was happy to chat with us as we drank our chai. I’ve done something similar in dining halls at Purdue, but I can’t say anyone’s ever been quite as happy to have a stranger join them for a meal.

We stopped at a curio shop on our way to Nakuru. It was the same curio shop we had stopped at on our way to camp from the Nairobi airport. No longer jetlegged and with some serious experience on bartering, we were much better prepared this time. One of the sellers was chatting with us, and of course trying to sell us some wares but quickly stopped when we started conversing with him in Kiswahili. Suddenly, my willingness to buy a woodcarving wasn’t nearly as interesting to him as my recount of our absolutely miserable loss in soccer against the local secondary school kids. He was genuinely interested in hearing my story and genuinely happy about our speaking to him in Kiswahili. He told me to go to the bookstore and buy a Kiswahili book for practice when I go back the States. He was very insistent that I shouldn’t forget my Kiswahili when I went back to the states. I really hope I can keep that promise.

I sat and talked with the tailor for a little while before expedition. We talked about a lot of things like my hair cut, sewing, and school (her husband had studied wildlife management). She told me about an American student that had stayed with her for two months named Amanda, and how she really missed her. She asked if I had a Maasai name. I told her “Nashipi” and she laughed and said it was fitting. She said it was her sister’s name. She introduced me to her mother and her brother-in-law who were in and out of the shop. Her brother-in-law asked my name and I told him "Colleen." He shook his head and corrected me with my Maasai name. They asked what Colleen meant and I had to admit that it just means girl in Irish. They decided they liked Nashipi better (sorry, parents). I wanted to go say good bye to her today, but her shop was closed by the time we got to Kimana. I think we’re going in once more this week, just not on market day, so I’ll try again then.

Yesterday, the student affairs manager and I took a quick trip to Kimana to buy some paint for my camp beautification project. There was a man at the gate talking to one of the Askaris and my ecology professor. He was heading home and lived between camp and the hardware store, so we gave him a ride. Of course when we dropped him off, his wife came to greet us and we were invited in. His kids were all very polite and very excited to shake our hands. We sat down in their living room and I (attempted, to they were speaking very quickly okay) follow along the conversation in Kiswahili. I caught bits and pieces. They were so warm and welcoming, and I wish we could have stayed longer but we really did have to go to town to buy paint and fencing for our garden. He was a pastor named Isaac, and his wife’s name was Veronica.

And nothing can really quite match the warmth and welcome I got from my Maasai mama, Jen. I think about my homestay a lot, and I’m really looking forward to my next one in Tanzania as well. We’ve invited the mamas over for lunch this week, and I’m really excited to extend the same friendliness and hospitality all the mamas showed us when we stayed with them. The attitude and friendliness of everyone here has really made a huge difference, and I can’t think I would have even had a fraction of the amazing experience I’ve had here without it.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

“The rain is just like a free rinse cycle. Eco-friendly!”

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Time is passing waaaay too quickly for comfort and I know I am going to miss Kenya dearly. I truly enjoy each and every day I spend at KBC. I contribute most of that to the fact that our Kenyan staff are just so ridiculously awesome and crazy and ridiculously crazy awesome. Our professors are hilariously quirky. Like, for my Purdue friends, they are Dr. Graveel levels of quirky.

My wildlife ecology professor has this totally BOSS lab coat with birds all over it and he likes to wear it at all times in the field even if what we are doing totally does not call for a lab coat. He also has this really hilarious way of saying “Hello” when he thinks we’re not paying attention and it’s just kind of like “AL-LO!” And he is so enthusiastic about science and I love it. He will take us out into the field and basically we will tromp around in dung or spiky vegetation or something and comments on how we “will see science EVERYWHERE!”

My Kiwsahili professor makes up the most ridiculous English phrases and then pretends like the actually make sense. He says that if we’re having trouble we need to brew “Sawhili soup” (and sometimes he says we need two cups of it). But he also says that Swahili is easy because “one plus two plus three equals a PB&J” (I haven’t quite deciphered by what he actually means by this other than PB&Js are somewhat simple and formulaic like Swahili?? I DON’T KNOW.) My favorite though was one night we were discussing the phrase “wee hours of the morning” and how he always thought it was “weird hours of the morning” because people that stay up that late are very weird apparently.

Environmental policy has it’s fair share of ridiculousness too.  He likes to compare himself to a squirrel. It’s not that he is like a squirrel. It’s that he IS a squirrel. He also used the term “stepped on by a vehicle” during expedition to refer to road kill, which was a little sad but a little bit hilarious. He was sad that sometimes squirrels get stepped on by vehicles…

And last but not least is our wonderful wildlife management prof. He was actually one of my professors last summer in Tanzania, and I’m really glad I got to come back and take his class in full force. He can be a bit reserved and serious but has these moments of total and complete passion for the environment where he just exclaims something really loudly and it takes everyone by surprise the first time it happens. He is totally camp dad and clearly loves teaching and wildlife management and all of us. We are his “sons and daughters” and I actually got a bit misty eyed as we had our expedition debrief and he started talking about sending us off to Tanzania. I know I love Moyo Hill and I am SO SO SO excited to go back, but the thought of leaving KBC definitely leaves me feeling a bit sad. On the drive back from expedition, I was actually grinning as I watched the terrain change back to the dusty, arid environment that I knew. When we drove back into camp, I wanted to jump out of the car and hug Kinyako, the askari (gaurd) who works the gate during the day.

Note: Kinyako is one of the happiest people I have ever met. He smiles ALL THE TIME. He lets me out of camp when I’m walking to Kimana and even though he knows where I’m going every time, we always do our little try-and-make-me-explain-in-Kiswahili, which only ever works out half as well as I anticipate because I always make silly mistakes because languages are hard. Perhaps the best conversation I’ve ever had with Kinyako was at breakfast when I noticed there were no more mugs to make chai. I turned to him and tried to say “hakuna kikombe” (There are no cups), but ended up saying “Hakuna kiboko” which means “There are no hippos.” Now while that WAS  factual statement and there were indeed no hippos in dining area, it gave Kinyako a good laugh. Now he tells me to watch out for hippos whenever I leave camp.

I am just very glad to be BACK at camp though. Yesterday we made the 8-hour drive back from Lake Nakuru National Park where we were for expedition. That whole trip can be summed up as the following:

Things that were awesome about expedition:
Everything

Things that were not awesome about expedition:
Nothing

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Kidding. You think I could go for 5 days in a Kenyan National Park and not have something ridiculously awesome to elaborate on? Clearly you haven’t been paying enough attention. Actually so much awesome stuff happened that I had to pull out the journal to remind me of what happened, which is actually kind of strange because usually I write different stuff between them but luckily I had the good sense to note what would make an interesting blog post so HERE YOU GO.

Nakuru Expedition: THE BLOG POST EDITION

So getting to Nakuru is kind of an adventure in itself. Kimana is an 8 hour drive away from Nakuru and going anywhere with 30 people + staff + all our stuff is certainly an ordeal for any amount of driving let alone a whole day’s worth of it. It was so neat to drive out of the rain shadow of Kilimanjaro for once, though. The change from the dusty, arid Kenya I live in everyday to a lush, green one. It honestly felt like I was in a different country. We made a couple of stops along the way including Tusky’s, the only grocery store I’ve ever been in that has a security checkpoint where I debated on whether or not I should buy this weird chocolate cereal that I’m pretty sure I ate in El Salvador (Mom, Dad, help me out. Tell me I’m not imagining that this cereal existed somewhere else. It was chocolate and had a cartoon bear wearing a space suit on the front of it and I’m SURE I’ve eaten it before…). We also stopped at a few curio shops along the way but that was mostly so we could use their “bathroom” (AKA pits) and I didn’t really intend on buying anything UNTIL I was just peaking around, looking at some wood carvings and I saw that one stand had bird carvings. I looked a little closer and saw something I had never seen before: GUINEA FOWL FIGURINES. I exclaimed “Kanga ndege!” which made the shop owner burst out laughing. He gave me a great deal (probably because I gave him such a great laugh), which was good because I was way too excited to barter. He’s now sitting on my dresser in my banda looking adorable and clueless, just like his real life counterparts.

After a long drive through some dicey traffic in and around two of Kenya’s biggest cities, Nairobi and Nakuru we finally got to the park and it was BEAUTIFUL. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Nakuru before. All I knew was that there was a lake, it’s fairly small, and that it’s fenced. I honestly felt transported, though. And there were so many BIRDS. Lake Nakuru is all about the birds. Its motto is actually “A birder’s paradise,” which is no understatement. It also had signs everywhere saying things about conservation and the environment that were sometimes funny because they would be in English but leave out a word so you’d have to sort of figure out what they were actually trying to say. My favorite actually DID make sense and it was “Bird watching is a wise use of a wetland” and almost every time I passed it there was usually a guinea fowl standing nearby and it always made me smile.

Besides birds, there is something else Nakuru has a lot of: African Cape buffalo. Nakuru actually has the highest biomass density of buffalo anywhere in the world. And that is why I was okay with the fact that we ditched our tents for the Kenyan Wildlife Club hostel/dorm/thing in the park. Because while camping in tents and sharing a space with wildlife is cool? Buffalo are NOT something I would want to mess with. Ever. I knew a guy who worked as a game warden Kruger National Park for like… ever and he said the only animal he was afraid of was the Cape buffalo.

We rolled into the camp, which was basically just a permanent building where we could cook and eat surrounded by a few smaller ones that were filled to the brim with beds and just outside the fence (I use the term fence lightly because it was pretty much chicken wire that couldn’t keep anything that really wanted to get in out) was the BIGGEST herd of buffalo I had ever seen. It. Was. Crazy. Then there was some big commotion and we started getting shuffled back into the cars, which made us grumpy because we had just spent all day IN the cars so our ecology professor shrugged and told us that it was optional to see the lions which, of course, was all we needed to hear. We piled back in the land cruisers and drove less than a kilometer out of camp and there were just four lions chilling near the road. Living their lives. Being lions. IT WAS AWESOME. 

"Sup."

Then we drove back to camp and I sat in my bed, oblivious for a little while, until I realized there was another commotion going on outside, and I legit witnessed something STRAIGHT OUT OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC except in real life so it was so much more boss. The huge herd of buffalo had become very angry at an Acacia tree about 50 m outside of camp. They were huffing and grunting and hitting the tree with their hooves and I asked someone why and I got quite possibly the best answer ever.

There was a lion in the tree.

Let me repeat that: THERE WAS A LION IN THE TREE.

One of the lions had stalked a buffalo, but they caught on and charged at it (Sadly, I missed this because once again I was busy being oblivious 20 m away). The lion in response jumped up into the tree and was trying to wait it out. It was still light enough that we could see it sitting in a fork. I was too busy practically peeing myself in excitement to get any photos but someone has a video (next big youtube thing??). It was about then that we also realized that this fence would never stop one buffalo, let alone over 100 of them and they would probably go after the lion who was likely to just sprint to the closest tree which happened to be the one we were all standing under. So our student affairs manager told us that if the buffalo charge we should run in the opposite direction, which is a pretty solid contingency plan I guess. Good risk management. Buffalo may be strong and angry but they are also kind of stupid and might get distracted and just try and trample the slowest person. I think I could outrun at least one person. We watched the buffalo for about an hour because this is our TV except WAY BETTER and then the buffalo started to slowly forget why they were so angry at this tree and started to move away because they just follow each other. One large one would remember though and start grunting and huffing at the tree again which always prompted a few more to come over and be angry again. Finally, they all moved away and the lion began to stir. It was getting fairly dark, and one of the askaris grabbed his spotlight and got it pointed on the tree just in time to watch the lion slink out of the tree and scoot away.

Great start to a great trip.

It rained a lot though. I guess the only two things I didn’t like about expedition were the rain and lack of mosquito nets. If I was going to get malaria, it probably would have happened in Nakuru. Very grateful for my malaria prophylaxis right now even though I have been having SUPER bizarre dreams because of it. It also rained at least once everyday and my “water proof” boots finally proved otherwise. I did manage to avoid getting stuck in mud both on foot and in the car, though I can’t say I had much to do with the not getting stuck in mud in the car part. There was some excellent driving on our drivers’ parts though. At one point we drove over 1 km in reverse up a muddy hill. I guess I did kind of help with that because I had to shout out when there was a curve and look out for other cars as we were driving backwards kind of wildly. It was awesome though.

Also I helped avoid baboons though I wouldn’t have been too crushed if we had hit them. I was sitting in the passenger seat and had to pop my head out the window to make sure all the baboons were getting out of the way. They have no sense of urgency. Neither do guinea fowl but at least I love them. No guinea fowl were stepped on by our vehicles, either. We did have one that almost did mostly because it kept flying up to avoid the car but still landing in the road just a few feet ahead of us. They really are kind of clueless…

Other ridiculous safari/field exercise moments:
1.     Our wildlife management professor’s total and utter complete failures at attempting to spell scientific names of invasive plant species
2.     Listening to a Nakuru radio station and Kenny Rodger’s “Know when to hold ‘em” coming on
3.     “Please do not make this the party vehicle”
4.     “Is it possible the baboon stole the GPS?”
5.     Getting stuck behind a group of tourists taking pictures of guinea fowl… my kind of people

Also I saw a black rhino. Actually I saw TWO black rhinos. Or it may have been the same one, I’m not really sure. I also saw some tourists who thought a white rhino was a black rhino but it was really just covered in mud and clearly grazing… But I was SO excited and so pumped to not only FINALLY see the last of the big five because I have been to this continent now three times and it really was about time. I also saw a striped hyena which was totally boss. And lion cubs! Overall we saw totally awesome animal things. One group saw a honey badger, but sadly I didn’t. Maybe one day!

Just a black rhino, nbd.

Overall expedition was really, really, really super great. I spent lots of time counting animals, doing cool assignments, assessing tourism impact, and other academic stuff but I loved it all though. I also finally reached my true potential as a Midwesterner and learned how to play euchre. There was lots of euchre playing going down. And not only did I play euchre… I actually won a couple times. Considering how awesomely terrible I am at card games, I thought this was pretty good (having a partner probably helps) Also bananagrams. We are very competitive bananagrams players.

Finally, I reached one of my goals for the semester… being able to shuffle cards. Still working on the bridge. Progress is quick though. I may need to actually come up with a productive goal soon for when we move to Tanzania.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Kiswahili word for buzz cut is “Bzzzzz”

Before the events of this post happened, I had planned on not writing ANYTHING about it, partly because I kind of wanted it to be a surprise to those outside of Kilimanjaro Bush Camp and mostly because I didn’t think it would be relevant to anyone besides myself and therefore didn’t need to be written about here. However, the sequence of events that went down when I was trying to accomplish this task were just so CLASSICALLY “Colleen’s Adventures in East Africa” and “Interesting things that happen in Kimana” that I felt they needed to be documented and shared. I feel like this story pretty much sums up EXACTLY why you expect the totally and completely and utterly unexpected bumps in the road when trying to do even the most seemingly simple things while living abroad.


I shaved my head in Cool Cutz Barber Shop in Kimana, Kenya Tuesday, October 2, 2012, exactly three weeks after I arrived in East Africa. My barber’s name was Samwell.

Let me clarify actually, I didn’t actually shave my entire head clean. I mostly got it buzz cut down to about half an inch of hair, by far the shortest it has ever been. It was mostly for practical reasons. Long hair is incredibly high maintenance. It was constantly very dusty and tangled. Showering and shampooing was generally awful. Overall, I miss my hair but I am happy with my decision. I will go through an awkward growing out phase, but that’s okay. My hair grows pretty fast anyway (or I think so. I guess we can always compare the after picture to what I actually look like when I go home)

Like anything in Kimana, though, even buzz-cutting my hair can’t be anything less than a total adventure. We found the barber; that part was simple. There are many in town. We waited for him to finish up his current client. We took before pictures. I sat in the chair. I confirmed that I was actually going to do this. He shaved off the sides with an electric shaver.

Then the power went out.

I was sitting in a barber chair in East Africa with about half my head shaved and the weirdest mullet ever. I looked like a Maasai Junior Warrior (AKA Moran. I think I’ve posted pictures of them before. They have shaved heads with long red cornrows/ponytails). Really the only thing stopping me from crying and having a heart attack was the fact that I was laughing so hard because I like to have a good sense of humor about these things. After a couple of minutes, it was clear that the power wasn’t coming back on anytime soon. I’m not sure why we thought the Kenyan power grid was that reliable anyway. My barber said he knew a place where he could finish cutting my hair. I wasn’t totally sure what to make of that, but I didn’t exactly have many options. So, I wrapped my head in the scarf I THANKFULLY had bought earlier that day (Incredibly lucky, right? I almost didn’t buy it).

We, and by we I mean my moral support posse. along with a few other looker-ons because, uh, it’s not every day a weird white girl walks into a Kimana barber shop and asks to get her head shaved, moved across town to a new barber shop. I unwrapped my head, and the barber plugged in his electric shaver into a power strip that I’m fairly sure was hooked up to a car battery. The rest of my hair came off, and we moved back to the original barber to get a quick wash (it was moving back to the original barber shop that an SFS car with some other students drove through and everyone’s “Oh my god” faces were truly hilarious and I will remember them forever. I don’t joke around when talking about doing something like this! Everyone learned that well.). We took an after picture. The barber really wanted to get a picture with me. He was a good sport about all of it, and it gave him an equally hilarious story.

I think my head got sunburned when I was walking around town afterwards. I wrap it in a scarf a lot, partly to protect it from the sun, and partly because it mimics the weight of hair. I don’t miss my hair at ALL. I’m really glad that I shaved it off actually. It’s just weird to not have the weight on my head any more (the scarf definitely helps). I will be surprised if I let my hair grow longer than my shoulders ever again.

TL;DR I got my head shaved in an East African barber shop. It cost 100 Kenyan shillings. Here's a picture: