Friday, October 19, 2012

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

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:

Things that were not awesome about expedition:

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. 


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.


  1. Is there a color difference between black and white rhinos? I thought that was a myth, since the "white" comes from Dutch word for "wide" ("weit"), referring to the mouth, not the color, and the black rhino was just named as "the opposite of the other rhino". (Maybe they should have called it "narrow", or whatever the Dutch/Afrikaans word for "narrow" is). What's the truth!!??


    1. There isn't really a color difference! It really is just mouth shape and feeding behavior, but since most tourists never see a black rhino they assume any rhino that's slightly darker than the others they've seen is a black rhino. Super deceiving common names!

  2. The chocolate cereal actually had an elephant on the box. It wasn't very good but you ate it anyway.