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.