Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Look forward to ...

- Flying to Peru
- Not being in 10 degree weather
- Meeting the other research assistants
- Monkeys
- Not being in 10 degree weather
- Taking a boat up the Madre de Dios river
- Having a legitimate excuse for carrying around my Venom Extractor
- Trapping monkeys
- Watching monkeys
- Extracting genetic data from monkeys
- Tramping around the rainforest
- Improving my Spanish
- Using my undergrad education practically
- Seeing a capybara
- Other monkeys
- Not being in 10 degree weather

Saturday, December 19, 2009

As a newly minted non-undergraduate, I've been enjoying my freedom and the real world. Napping. Napping on radiators. Napping with cats on my head. Napping with dogs on my feet. I'm looking forward to whenever the potential blizzard gets here so that I can nap while it's snowing! Excitement indeed. I'm also remembering how to read books to enjoy them. I got an armful at the library this afternoon, and I anticipate even more books tomorrow at a different library! In addition to the normal complement of books in English, I got a few books in Spanish to try to read - including "Asi es Josefina." This is particularly exciting because I had Josefina!

I leave for the Amazon two weeks from Monday! I turn 22 three weeks from today! The future is exciting.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Moving on

My last weekend as a real live undergraduate approaches! I just sent in my final graduate school application! I've had my last Wash U Swing Society event! In five weeks, I'll be in a boat heading up the Madre de Dios River! Preparing to leave St. Louis is ... odd. I really need to legitimately start saying goodbye to people, but I don't really feel like it. I had my last class with my advisor yesterday, and I admit to tearing up slightly at the prospect. I'm such a sap!

Our last few days in Turkana were huge whirlwinds. Two days before leaving, we went out to prepare TOP 1 for eroding out nicely between then and next year, and we did some minor screening in the vicinity, but headed back to camp in the afternoon. I helped Tab wrap up cataloging and preparing some of the leftover fossils, and we started taking down bits and pieces around camp. Packing up the Purple Chicken windsock, sorting through the things in the kitchen, etc. Martin left two days early - he went into Lokichar with us to get our last allotment of water and then stayed. John Mark left the next day - he went into Loperot with Tab to pay our laundry and water bill and stayed.

The morning of The Move, pretty much every Turkana within walking distance from our camp began gathering in our general vicinity. I had my camera out to document the craziness that was
packing up 8 weeks of life and the Turkana coming to take the things we didn't want, so I became everyone's favorite person as women and kids posed for pictures and then looked at them on the back of my digital camera.

After about a half hour of crazed picture taking/posing, Martin's brother (in charge at Nakwai, the man in the middle with the white wrap around his shoulders) told me "Arumor" - enough. Everyone had to leave, and we had to pile into the trucks and drive off. Our huge accumulation of THINGS:

had been stuffed in a truck. And with that ... we headed off. It's very strange thinking I'll probably never see most of these people again - but what a pivotal couple of months of my life.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Approaching Peru

Time for a bit of looking forward rather than looking behind: I will be in Peru 6 weeks from tomorrow. My preparations are, well, slowish, but going. So far:

Plane tickets. I have my plane tickets to fly from home to Lima, and from Lima to Puerto Maldonado. I also have my ticket from Lima home (through Panama City, how cool is that?!?), but no ticket yet from Puerto to Lima.

Packing. Hahah! Hah! I just ordered a sweet backpacking backpack which will hopefully take me all around the world. As far as things to put IN the backpack ... well ... I'll get on that. I realized that I should have bought for this trip over the summer. There aren't going to be a lot of things for hiking in 110 degree heat available for purchase in NH right now. I will be able to get gum boots, though!

Medical things. I am almost all vaccinated. Most of my vaccines are still updated from various trips to Kenya. I think the closest thing to "expiration" is my typhoid vaccine, which is only good for five years, but I got that in April of 2008, so I'm still good for a while. I'm one shot into the three shot rabies pre-exposure vaccine. I have yet to drop off my prescriptions for an epi-pen (in case I'm allergic to a new and exciting stinging thing), malaria meds, and cipro, but I'm going to do that as soon as I'm back after Thanksgiving. I need to assemble a first-aid kit, and I need to buy a venom extractor.

Monkey-specific things. I've got my fancy binoculars all squared away. I need to get a watch, a small LED headlamp, and a strong headlamp.

I'd also like to get a waterproof notebook thing to use as a personal journal. And silica gel. And a waterproof laptop case?? (Does that even exist?)

This isn't too overwhelming. No problem! I'm really looking forward to this. Not being in St. Louis will be a happy change, I think.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Coincidences

We spent a lot of time prospecting for fossils as the second half of the season rolled around - the areas close to camp had been picked pretty clean. So one day, we began heading north. I don't remember how it was discovered, but for some reason, about a 40 minute drive north from camp over basalt scree, there was a road! The Inexplicable Road, as it became known, was just south of Dark Mountain, which in turn was just south of Dome Mountain.

The first day we went up around Dome Mountain, we all split off to prospect basically on our own. I ended up walking with Jen for a while, not being very successful at finding fossils on my own. Suddenly, we saw a Turkana woman sitting under a tree. She watched us approach, a dog sitting next to her. I waved and, since this was the day after I started Turkana lessons, yelled out, "Ejoka!" She waved me over. Jen continued prospecting, and I went over to the woman. "Ejoka noi," she responded. Then she looked at my backpack and the nalgene full of water. "Ng'akipi?" I knew what that meant! I gave her my water bottle and she drank the rest of the water that was there.

She started speaking to me in Turkana. Of course, I didn't know any other Turkana, and I didn't really know how to say "I don't know Turkana" in Turkana, so I said it in Swahili, and asked if she spoke Swahili. "Sijui Kiturkana, pole. Unajua Kiswahili?" She only spoke it a little, but between her minimal Swahili and my super super minimal Turkana, and the power of expansive gestures, I talked to her for probably 45 minutes or an hour She asked what I was doing, and I said we were looking for rocks that were bones from a long time ago (I have no idea what the actual word for fossil is in Swahili). She warned me that a sorceror lived on Dome Mountain and, while the rocks over where we were were were OK, the rocks on the other side were bad. After a little while, she said she had to go to the goats, so we said goodbye.

About two or three weeks later, we headed back up north to check out an area further north. Tab wanted to check and see how far the Inexplicable Road went. The wazungu went in one car, the Kenyans in the other, and we drove off. We came to the end of the road, but decided to push on a little more to get to a high point so we could look out and see if there were any more exposures. The Kenyans kept going, and Tab sort of grumbled about it, but we drove past a small Turkana settlement, parked the cars, and began climbing up this hill.

We could see so far from the top of that hill - if I recall correctly, we could see all the way to the southern part of Lake Turkana - but didn't see very many potential exposures, so we turned around to head back down. We could see a row of people sitting alongside our car as we came down, and Matthew went over to talk to them. They said that one of women had just had a baby, but the baby was sick. Tab went over to look at the baby, and it turned out he had a cleft palate. The women said he was too weak because he couldn't breastfeed because of his mouth. The mama looked terrified. She was probably my age, with at least two other kids. The Turkana guys were pretty wonderful - apparently cleft palates are relatively common and there is an organization that funds surgeries for Turkana kids, and they were all telling the mother stories of children they knew who had the operation and were now fine. It was decided that we'd come back for the mother that afternoon, explain the situation to her husband, and then bring her back to camp with us and ultimately take her to the health clinic in Lokichar for them to look at the baby.

We turned back down the Inexplicable Road and arbitrarily turned off the road onto a big expanse of metamorphic rock. Our path (avoiding big rocks and especially tree trunks, which had destroyed a tire earlier that week) was circuitous, but took us past a couple of Turkana houses. We drove past a little boy who ran as fast as he could in the other direction, and past another house - and standing outside of it was the woman I'd met earlier! We parked the cars a ways beyond the house, but she and her five children came over to say hello. It was absolutely the coolest thing in the world! She gave me a hug, and called me "Lokone" which is Turkana for friend, and explained to John Mark that she'd met me earlier. I met her youngest daughter, and pet the dog, and it was ... really awesome. She also had already heard that we were taking the mama and cleft-palate baby to Lokichar.

We spent the rest of the day collecting, and decided to send the Kenyan car to get this woman and not inundate the family with a big group of wazungu. We waited up by the inexplicable road. At one point in time, an older Turkana man came by and asked us to give him tobacco (EVERYONE in Turkana chews tobacco, and we brought some for the local town council at Loperot, where we got our water. One of the geologists in the first part of the field season also chews tobacco, and caused a big stir in Lokichar by taking some from the store where we bought it and chewing) - turns out he'd heard about Neil and the tobacco. Unfortunately, we didn't have any tobacco, so he headed off to find his goats.
Boniface said that the smaller stick he was holding was to use on his wives, but I don't entirely believe that.

After a little while longer, the Kenya truck came, and we drove back off to camp. The mama and baby slept with the folks who lived right around our camp - incidentally, the brother of one of the guys on our field crew was basically in charge of the settlement we were living next to, so Martin got her situated. The next day, we drove her into town to talk to the people at the health clinic in Lokichar. A few days later, we drove her back out home, up north. They gave her medicine for the baby and told her to come back to the health clinic in three or four months and they'd do the first operation on the baby.

That was probably the end of July, so hopefully by this point in time the baby has had his first operation. I keep wondering what would have happened if the Kenyan truck hadn't kept going a little while longer after Tab was ready to stop... and why the heck we pulled off the Inexplicable Road to drive right past my friend's house!

Organizations that fund and perform cleft palate surgeries:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mid-Season Break

To preface - I apologize for tense disagreements!

We got to the field on June 22. The whole field season stretched before me ... and Tab promised I'd get two days off mid-season to go into Lodwar. Lodwar is the biggest city in West Turkana. It's got a huge Catholic diocese, and is the base for a lot of the NGOs that operate in Turkana - Worldvision and Oxfam come to mind. The other big organization that operates through Lodwar is the United Nations High Commision on Refugees. Lodwar is the closest town to Kakuma, one of the continents' largest refugee camps, and a lot of workers and supplies come through Lodwar. Getting nearly run off the road by a UN convoy was a (hopefully) once in a lifetime experience!

As well as being home base for all of these organizations, Lodwar was a land of legend: a land of electricity and internet, of soda made baridi without my wet socks, of international phone calls and newspapers only one day old. Lodwar was the only place I saw a white person I didn't know outside of Nairobi, the only place in Turkana I saw a natural body of running water, and the only place moist enough to support a cockroach population (they were doing quite well for themselves trying to make up for the rest of Kakuma).

I went into Lodwar with B. (a museum employee who was responsible for the discovery of the first fossil at our field site back in the 80s) John Mark and Boniface (the two younger Turkana guys), John Mark's 17-year-old sister and her baby, and another Turkana woman whose relationship to everyone I'm not entirely sure of. Lodwar is about a 2 and a half hour drive from camp - 1.5 to Lokichar, then another hour to Lodwar. The best part about the drive was that the roads were frequently paved! After crossing an incredibly surreal river (the Turkwell River which flows out of Lake Turkana), we made it to Lodwar Town. There is a basket weaving workshop, a roundabout, some grocery stores and general supply stores, and then past town center you get to the hotels. The Turkwell Lodge and the New Splash Hotel were the two biggest ones - I stayed at the New Splash Hotel (in the room Libya). A really nice room - a comfy chair, a big bed, a bright blue mosquito net (because of the Turkwell River, there are mosquitos), a ceiling fan, and a toilet and shower INSIDE MY ROOM!

Lodwar was full of ridiculousness, including:
My first serious proposal of the summer
Making friends with Elizabeth
Making a baby cry because of how scary and white I was
Boniface's drunken shenanigans
Spending 2 hours at the welding store with B while they fixed the boot of our truck

But the most ridiculous event of all was ABSOLUTELY the trip to Lake Turkana. So Lodwar is about an hour drive from Kalakol, a village/town right on Lake Turkana. The guys were adamant that I *had* to go see Lake Turkana while I was there, and in fact we'd all go on the second day we were in Lodwar Town. John Mark never showed up, and Boniface's sister had apparently been sick so he couldn't come - so it was me and B. We ran some errands in the morning, but left Lodwar at about 11. He pointed out some other exposures that they'd explored in previous field seasons, I took pictures of vast expanses of desert, we talked about marriage and cultural differences between different ethnic groups in Kenya and in the US, and so on.

We finally got to Kalakol, and found our way in the general direction of the lake. B wasn't sure exactly where to go, but we picked up a guy along the way who said he'd point us in the right direction. Incidentally, I was watching this news report on Youtube (partially in Swahili, sorry) about Lake Turkana, and our guy is the fisherman wearing all blue. I recognize the 60-year old that they spoke to as well - he was sitting and smoking pot on the beach when B and I drove out there. The lake itself is really quite beautiful, and it was really bizarre to know that I was in the middle of the desert, and here was this HUGE lake so wide you can't see across it, and so long (with strong winds and frequently bad weather...and crocodiles) it takes the fishermen a week or so to get to the southern tip from the halfway point of Kalakol.
Western shore of Lake Turkana by miocyon.

By this point in time, B and I had caused quite a stir on the beach, and a bunch of early teenage guys had showed up and were following us around. Meanwhile, our original guide was sharing the pot with the old guy. B chose this moment to tell me, "Oh, by the way, I forgot to fill up on diesel before we left Lodwar and I don't think we'll have enough to get back. But don't worry - this is a national park. Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya National Museums are friends - they'll lend us some diesel!"

So we get back into the truck with our now-high fishing friend who takes us to the house of the chief warden of the National Park. Not his office, mind you - his house, where there are five little girls playing in the yard who run away screaming and in tears at the site of me. The warden comes outside and B explains the situation. The warden gets in to the front seat of the pickup (where I'd been sitting), tosses my backpack in the seat behind him, and directs us to the radio room - a round tin hut with a huge old CB-type radio. It turns out that they can't just give us diesel, or even sell it, without talking to the warden in charge of the whole district, and he in turn directs us to the warden at Mt. Elgon National Park - a day and a half drive from Lokichar, minimum. They want to know our names and affiliations, so I write it down on a piece of paper. I was waiting outside of the hut for everyone to come out when I hear over the radio, "Irene Brown, an mzungu who's working with the museum, needs to borrow some diesel." Don't ask me where they got Brown from - I wrote my last name very clearly!

Well, the warden at Mt. Elgon gave the warden here the OK for us to get 10 liters of diesel, which should be more than enough to get back to Lodwar, provided that we then buy 10 liters in Lodwar and deliver it to the KWS offices there. The Turkana warden commandeers my seat once again, and we drive right back down to the beach, where we displace two very old and frail looking Turkana from a shelter which is also sheltering drums apparently full of diesel that they use to power the KWS motorboat. Our high friend siphons the diesel out of the drum and into a jerry can using a piece of tubing and his mouth - I've never been so grateful for gas pumps before! After filling up the tank, a man wearing a bright yellow tanktop, crazy Hawaiian board shorts, and wrap around sunglasses comes over to ask if we're heading back towards Kalakol and if so could we transport him and someone else to a small settlement nearby. We oblige, and he goes over behind the shelter and hoists the oldest, sickest, frailest, most emaciated man I have ever seen onto his back. He and the old man, who is wearing only a plaid blanket around his waist, sit in the back seat. B tells me to get in the front again and the Turkana warden waves us off.

After about 10 minutes of driving, we get to the settlement where the two men wanted to be left, and let them out. I'm sure that the old man died by the end of that week. And ... we drive back to Lodwar.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Turkana evenings

We made it back from a long day of collecting. At 4:30, everyone gathered around the table under the afternoon shade tree for Tea Time - one of Kenya's best holdovers from Colonial Britain. The tea leaves were Ketepa leaves, "Kenya's finest," cooked with water and powdered milk and a liberal spoonful or three of sugar. About three weeks into the season, Benson realized that I preferentially chose the green mug. That became Irene's mug! Stephen, the best cook in Turkana, had made us some exciting snack - some days, mandazi shaped like mandazi, other days, shaped like donuts. The days when we'd get samosas were wildly exciting, as were spring roll days. Sometimes we'd get sweet injera, sometimes we'd get gingersnap biscuits. Sometimes we get corn muffins, sometimes we'd get the equivalent of oreos with mango flavored cream filling. I'd always grab one or two of the snacks, and the Kenyans would ALWAYS try to get me to eat more.

Immediately after tea, I'd take care of water and beverages. Siphoning out water from our giant drums was easy when we'd just gone to the well, but by the end of the second day, I had to suck the water out of the hose - with varying degrees of success. Generally, there was someone around to come to my rescue. After dealing with the water, I'd fill the red basin (the laundry one) with some water, and pluck the beverage socks from the acacia tree. I had the drink orders down to pretty much a science. Coke for Matthew, Jonathon, and me. Stephen and Fritz, and usually Tony, would get Krest. Pilsner for Tab and Bonventure, and Tusker for Martin, John Mark, Boniface, and Benson. Those would get stuffed in the wet socks and hung from a netting where they'd cool until dinner.
Erin's most important job by miocyon.

After tea, I generally sat at the table, working on reading Kaburi Bila Msalaba, a Kenyan novel for 13- or 14-year-olds about the Mau Mau war. It's in Swahili, so it was slow going, but the Turkana guys all read it in secondary school and helped me with words or grammar. Some evenings, I'd my advisor cataloging fossils. Other evenings, I read from our mini-library of American books. I brought American Gods, The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, and Infinite Jest. Someone brought Angels and Demons - that kept me occupied the day I couldn't swallow water so I had to stay home from collecting. There was also a wildly depressing book on the Iraq War called The Forever War which I read in two days and got sad... and Tony let me read a book he had on the drug trade in Baltimore. Evenings when I didn't feel like reading, I'd write in my journal, or talk to Benson about Kenyan politics.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On clothing

I'm wearing my favorite skirt today - very comfortable, moderately swirly, goes with everything from tank-top to nice sweater and in between. I happen to be wearing it today with a t-shirt and scarf (it's cold in St. Louis! And I just bought this new scarf that matches the t-shirt, all very exciting. Plus wearing scarves with t-shirts is something white people like), but it's making me nostalgic for Turkana once again.

While we were in the field, I had two pairs of shorts I particularly liked, a green pair and a brown pair. They were longer than regular shorts, they were rugged, etc. By the time midseason rolled around, they were practically the same color! Fortunately, when paired with the always stylish tanktop/white men's dress-shirt combination, they was flashy and exciting! Well, I always looked a little ridiculous, especially with the hiking boots and socks, the occasional huge hat (once I donated my Yankees hat to the guys, Neil wrangled up a huge ridiculous hat for me to wear), and the inevitable accumulation of dust.

We would send laundry into Loperot about once a week, and John Mark's sisters washed it. I felt pretty awkward about it, so would do my own laundry in the little red basin and hang it out to dry on the acacia behind my tent.
Thinking of the laundry tree that fruits wherever there are big groups of wazungu still makes me giggle (not all of the clothes in that picture are mine - my acacia was a good tree for hang
ing clothes on because it had a lot of smaller, lower branches which were especially good for socks!). You'd have to be careful to shake out your clothes really well after they dried, though, because almost invariably a few thorns would break off of the tree and get caught in your shirt, or your shorts, or your underwear.

All this talk about clothes is to say that I wore shorts all summer. I'm not a big shorts wearer in the real world, so this was the most time I've spent concurrently in shorts probably since I was a little kid. The first thing I did when we got back to Lokichar was go into my room at the Lokichar Guest House and put on my comfy skirt - the one I'm wearing right now! I came back outside, and Jonathon and Stephen (our mechanic and cook, respectively), stopped and stared.
"Irene! You look like a girl!"
"I looked like a girl all summer!"
"No you didn't! And how did you know how to dress like an African woman?"
"You mean the skirt and a t-shirt? That's what I wear in the USA all the time."
"You look like an African woman! People will start thinking you are a Turkana, And then they will hear you speaking Swahili and Turkana, and say to themselves, 'What is this? Is she an mzungu or a Kenyan?'"

Monday, September 21, 2009

Entre les Murs

I finally got around to watching Entre les Murs this weekend. In America, it was marketed as The Class. It tells the story of a French teacher working in a rough neighborhood in a rough school in Paris - mostly immigrant students, lots of backtalk, struggling to get people interested, etc. A number of things struck me about it. Perhaps most bizarrely, the actual facility the school was in - the school building - was beautiful. It was clean, there was chalk, paper, coffee machines, a big lunch room, so on and so forth. Clearly funding isn't the issue. So that was interesting.

Teachers also seemed to be genuinely involved with their students, to some extent, but on the other hand, they were really dismissive. One of the students was a boy from Mali named Souleymane, and the French teacher says, in Souleymane's defense, that perhaps he's just limited. Discipline issues and a general disaffection with school end up getting him expelled (with some help from the teacher). It was frustrating beyond belief - it was one of those cases where, with just a little more effort, this kid could have been kept there and actually succeeded. He reminded me a lot of my City Year kids who were so smart, but so close to the edge, that they really just needed someone to keep them involved and remind them that someone's keeping an eye on what they're up to.

The teachers also had a huge amount of impunity. About halfway through the movie, the teacher calls two students skanks, and he suffers no repercussions! I was trying to picture this happening in one of the schools I went to, and it just ... didn't compute. Not that there aren't huge breaches of teacher/student relationships in US schools (I can think of several off the top of my head), but when the teacher involved tells his principal, "Yes, I called two 13-year-olds skanks in front of the entire class" and the principal doesn't do anything about it, it was pretty shocking. And it had long-lasting effects on kids' lives. Argh. Teaching looks hard.

One problem I had with the movie is that it was in French. After two hours of French, I've started incorporating little bits of French into my thought process, where it's battling it out with Spanish (I can conjugate regular -er, -ar, and -ir verbs!), Turkana, and Swahili. Maybe the reason Swahili and Turkana kept themselves separate so easily is because they're two different language families. I guess I can't learn any other Bantu languages, because I don't want to screw up Swahili. But man, speaking Franishkanahili or something is getting complicated.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Being back in St. Louis is a strange feeling.
I love being home - I appreciate NH considerably more than I did when I was in high school. I attribute that to a number of things. First - I know that I am a much more mobile individual than I was. My future is not going to be the next 60 years of my life in Manchester. I know for a fact that I will be on a different continent in four months. I know that, wherever I go to graduate school, it won't be in NH. Second - I think it's grown on me since I'm not there all the time. The Mississippi River is no match for the Atlantic Ocean. Hanging out with my family and cats and dog, friends from high school, and the proximity to Boston/good Indian food (really, there's more good Indian food in NH than in St. Louis!) make home a happy place. Also ... I think the whole "not being in high school any more" does wonders for my feelings towards Manchester.

Similarly, I suspect I will appreciate St. Louis much more in about 5 months than I do now. It really is a pretty cool city - but it's full of crazy contrasts that I feel much more aware of, and much less prepared to do anything about, than I'd really like. My career at Wash U started out with an introduction to community service opportunities here in a several-day-long pre-orientation program, but for whatever reason I just never continued with any St. Louis community service. That short introduction, though, was pretty terrifying. Literally 10 minutes from campus, a little boy was killed by a pack of feral dogs while he was playing on a playground. Multiple people die daily in shootings up in North County, and the news is published in short, choppy, paragraph-long articles with the emotion of a report about the weather. I know that there is similar, if less stark, contrast in other places I've lived, and that institutionalized racism permeates pretty much all of the United States, but I've never really watched it before. And part of what makes me so uncomfortable with St. Louis is that I can't help but feel like I'm part of the problem - just another white girl from the suburbs who comes in for four years, gains some knowledge, and then disappears.

But then there are the really wonderful parts of St. Louis. The St. Louis Zoo. Swing dancing, the Cards, the Loop, Chuck Berry, the Museum of Westward Expansion. Kim Massie (I was there!), City Museum, Thai Pizza Company, the fact that people smile when they pass eachother on the street. And school.

This semester has started off with considerably more promise than I was expecting, especially considering my course load. My classes, with only one exception, are fun so far, and should be keeping me busy yet interested. Tab is teaching my Non-Human Primate Evolution class. It's definitely an adjustment going from being in the field in the next tent over, to being back in a teacher/student environment. He no longer checks to make sure I'm peeing enough, for example (although that was only a concern at the beginning of the season when I wasn't used to drinking a liter and a half or so of water a day!) - but the Turkana experiences keep on coming up in class. I get mentioned as someone who knows what field work is like, and when we were going through modern primate diversity, he said something along the lines of "These are guenons and Irene is really interested in them!" It's kind of cool, although strange.

We were talking about naming conventions for fossils (it turns out you should never name your fossil after what you think the phylogenetic relationship is, because you're probably wrong. Palaeopropithecus, for instance, is not an ancestor of Propithecus. And, to be honest, Propithecus isn't really "before apes," either - just a prosimian), and he said that you should name it something interesting, like Mlanyama sugu - which, rather than being a boring Latin name, actually means Notorious Meat Eater in Swahili, and refers to this awesome little creodont from our localities. Sugu is Swahili for notorious.
This is also Sugu - the best dog in all of Turkana. Whenever our trucks went into town, or to a number of any places, we ended up being the matatu service. One day, we were driving out north and a group of women piled into the back of the truck to visit a settlement about a 20 minute drive away (considerably longer to walk). One woman had a dog with her, but we assumed he'd be staying behind.

This was not the case. Our truck headed out, and this dog - Sugu - started trotting along behind us. He followed us the whole drive, running intrepidly along behind us. We'd slow down to go over a particularly treacherous stretch of rocks, and he'd get a little closer ... then we'd speed up over the flats and he'd disappear, only to pop up again as we slowed down to go down the side of a wash and slide back up the other side. Poor guy, he was so intent on following his woman that he didn't even get distracted when we drove through a herd of goats!

John Mark had told me a story explaining why dogs always chase trucks. It seems that there was a dog who traveled by matatu at one point in time. He gave the tout a 50 bob coin, expecting change back. But the matatu reached his stop before he was given his change, and he got out of the matatu without collecting it! To this day, dogs chase after cars because they want their 30 bob!

Sugu made it to his destination safely, and was rewarded with water and a good scratch behind the ears. It was a heartwarming tale - the Homeward Bound of West Turkana!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Said to the man at the railroad station, 'I want a ticket just for one.'"

The great partially-across-the-continental-US train trip has officially ended, after six different trains in two days! I left NH yesterday morning, and we hopped on the Orange Line. Though we were initially warned away from South Station due to a "medical emergency," the Red Line got us there in the end.

I made the wise (for many reasons) decision to purchase some fruit and mixed nuts from Au Bon Pain, as well as Diet Pepsi. This ended up being more important than I realized, because by the time I decided I was hungry and ready for dinner on the train, there were no more vegetarian foods other than m&ms, which while wonderful, only provide so much nutritional value.

The first person to sit next to me on the train was a guy with his fiancee - they're both majoring in forensic anthropology at U-Mass Amherst. He noticed that I was reading the Primate Ecology and Social Structure chapter on callitrichidae (including S. fuscicolis, the Peru monkeys), and asked if I was a phys. anthro person. That was exciting, but he went to sit with his fiancee as soon as a seat opened up, and he was replaced by a lady with her two moderately obnoxious kids who proceeded to snore her way through Pennsylvania and most of Ohio, preventing me from sleeping very much.

We got to Chicago about 45 minutes later than anticipated, but it was still enough time to see Sandy and one of his roommates, who took me out for breakfast at this amazing place called Yolk. I was STARVING by this point in time, having only eaten French Toast, fruit/nuts, and a bag of m&ms all day, which was good because the food came in GIGANTIC quantities and was quite good. I had a Farm Breakfast, or at least part of it (declining the sausage gravy and two pieces of bacon - enjoying the scrambled eggs, biscuits, and what homefries Sandy did not steal). Then Sandy and his roommate drove me back to the train station where I promptly got on the train to St. Louis and, since I had no snoring woman next to me, took a nice four hour nap. Taking two metrolink trains to get back to campus rounded the trip off nicely.

Taking the train is different from flying for a number of reasons - coach class on trains seems infinitely more comfortable than on planes, paying for food doesn't feel quite as terrible, the bathrooms, while still small, are more abundant, and it's a different crowd on trains (my favorite was the guy in front of me with dreadlocks and a mandolin ... I wanted to make friends but he slept from Boston until he got off the train in Albany). From Chicago to Missouri there were a number of Mennonites - for some reason, they are permitted to take the train, but not airplanes. I'm not entirely sure what that rational is.

You also see a lot more dilapidation in the places you pass. Rural America is full of crumbling, rotted out buildings. For every well-kept farm with a lovely painted red barn and waving corn, there's a burnt silo next to a collapsed house and a Quonset hut (nothing against Quonset huts, of course). Racist and homophobic graffiti seem to be the main themes, especially in Indiana (although pulling into Union Station, we were greeted with graffiti wishing us safe travels. I guess Illinois is nicer than Indiana?). The amount of trash lining the tracks was really terrible, and all in all it was an eye-opening trip. It did end with a rainbow over East St. Louis - I'll let someone else search for that pot of gold.

While en route from Boston to Chicago, I finally got around to typing up my Akisuam Ng'aturkana - my Turkana lessons. The Turkana guys (and Fritz) wanted to learn how to use the GPS to enter data, find our localities, etc. so one afternoon when we didn't have enough tires for both trucks to go out collecting, after lunch I gave a quick GPS lesson. This picture, also courtesy of Tony, shows Boniface (standing, red shirt), Fritz (standing, aging hippie), Martin (sitting, striped shirt), and John Mark (sitting, green shirt), and me! After the GPS-ing, I told the guys I wanted them to teach me Turkana.

As the season had progressed to that point, I'd picked up a few things organically. "Ejok," for instance, is how you greet someone, "Ejoka noi!" is the appropriate response. Ng'akipi is water (very important), and yau is bring (table manners in Kenya are very demanding). But they started telling me things like, "When Boniface comes back, say _____ in Turkana - it means 'Why were you sleeping instead of finding fossils?' This would invariably be met with gales of laughter, so whoever I'd parroted some Turkana at would tell me something to say in return. Threatening people with "Mam eprot" (no beer) when they didn't find fossils was a big favorite. Of course, this got complicated and though I was sort of picking out bits and pieces, I wanted to know more, and particularly some grammar. So Martin and John Mark sat down with me and my notebook and we went through the things I already knew how to say (in addition to greetings and water, things like food (akimuj) and "What is your name? My name is Irene" (Ng'ai ekirikong'? Ekirigong' Irene!). The next most important thing for me to know, it was decided, was animals! I learned everything from goat (akine) to hyena (ebu) to flies (ng'ichuch). Several days later, I learned people - mama (itwo), friend (lokone), and so on. So now, my vocabulary deals with ng'itieng' (animals), awi (family), erang'i (colors), akwarna (days), and numbers (1-10). Plus personal pronouns, a number of verbs, and a rough understanding of how to conjugate them. This way, next time I go to Turkana, I can say, "Abong' nabo! Abuni ayong' alo Amerika, alosi ayong' kiremuni lokone, ka tokana, etami ayong' Ng'aturkana!" I'm back! I've come from America, I'm going to greet my friends, and now I understand Turkana!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Story from Kenya

The drive from Nairobi to Kitale would have been fairly uneventful, except I didn't know how to use the bathrooms in the Delamere rest stop. Many toilets in Kenya, while attached to plumbing and such, are holes with footprints on either side. I guess this should be pretty self-explanatory, but I was intimidated and decided that I really could just wait until we stopped somewhere for lunch. Of course, there was no lunch stop, and there were no other rest stops. So 8 hours later, with perhaps the fullest bladder I have ever had, we arrived in Kitale and I made my way (quickly) to the restrooms in the hotel, only to find another hole with footprints on the side. This time, I got over my intimidation pretty quickly...

After a relaxing Tusker, which was certainly not paid for by the NSF, and the first of many meals of miboga (bila nyama - without meat) and chapati, we adjourned to bed where I slept the night beneath a shockingly blue mosquito net. The next morning, after I called my parents and woke them up, I went with Matthew, Stephen, and Jen to purchase all of our produce from the Kitale market.

The Kitale Market is perhaps a 10 minute walk from the Al Akara Hotel where we stayed. Kitale early on a Sunday morning is quiet - the only people out are dressed in nice clothes, walking to one of the many churches in the area. They have more important concerns than the two wazungu women walking with the two Kenyan men towards the market. Jonathon drives one of the trucks out to the market so that we can dump the produce directly in the truck bed - we pass the Hilux with the ridiculous orange tarp on the back as we're walking.

The Kitale Market is slowly getting started - women in kangas are unveiling huge piles of tomatoes, onions, papayas, mangos, potatoes, and an unlikely assortment of beans and grains. The mood is genial - old mamas joke with each other, the young mamas set up their children next to one another and flirt with the few men who are setting up shop. I am completely overstimulated, even with as few people here as there are. Jen, who has the money for this trip, follows behind Stephen (the cook, with the master list), and Matthew, who seems to know everyone here. I trail along behind, catching sidelong, curious glances from women, and sort of terrified stares from little kids.

Watching Matthew and Stephen bargain is truly impressive. Jen and my presence seems to be a handicap - a number of times, I hear something to the effect of, "Unataka bei ghali sana kwa sababu tuna wazungu!" (You're charging high prices because we're with white people), but the women insist that prices in Kitale are higher this year than last year because of the drought. Stephen is not impressed with this excuse, and Matthew argues prices down to what he deems more reasonable levels.

A few women stop to talk to me, and are amused when I answer them in Swahili rather than English. At this point in time, my Swahili is considerably more halting and stilted than it should be, but apparently still impressive enough for an mzungu wandering around the market. I get the name of a few little girls, and they amuse themselves staring at the hair on my arms for a while.

In the end, we spent just about 5,700 ksh on enough produce to fill the entire truck bed - a little less than $80 on huge amounts of potatoes, onions, mangoes, papayas, eggs, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, green beans, peas, pineapple, bananas, sugar, watermelon, chickpeas, oranges, cucumbers, and cabbage. Would you believe the only thing that didn't make it from Kitale to camp was the papayas? They were in the same bag as the watermelon and got properly squished.

Also of note, based on the Uganda articles from last night:
LRA Team in Peace Talks Resigns ... because Museveni wouldn't sign a temporary cease fire so that the LRA leader felt comfortable coming to the peace talks, so HE never signed the peace agreement.
IDPS in Northern Uganda (I believe they're talking about the Acholi in refugee/IDP camps) are exploiting forests and say they won't leave until they're given other productive land to live on. It's reminiscent of the upcoming removal (supposedly sometime soon) of illegal settlers from the Mau Forest in Kenya. Of course, there are people who are more powerful than the Ogiek community who were hanging out in the forest illegally, but that's a different story. It all goes back to Moi!

* The picture of the market was taking by Tony, who was also in Kenya this summer

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away!

I've been meaning to start a blog, and perhaps even make it interesting to people who aren't me! I think that will probably be hard to do for now, but once I head to Peru, it'll be nice to have an established place where I can direct folks who want to read about me chasing monkeys. For now, I want a place where I can aggregate articles and pages that interest me ... a place where I can geek out about things I'm learning ... and whatever else occurs to me. Maybe I'll write out stories from Kenya with more details, too. Or just stories about things in general. We'll just have to see.

So here's a trail I've been following...

I watched this documentary, War Dance, earlier this year. Central and East Africa are things I'm interested in on a "I like primates" level, an "I like Swahili" level, and an "I like people" level. Plus I'm a sucker for dancing, and the trailer with the kids singing and dancing reminded me an awful lot of the girls from Wema singing Dancing Queen last summer. Uganda has a country-wide music/dance competition (this article gives a really interesting background and talks about the Ugandan constitution from 1995 and how kids acted as speakers for the government in these performances) for primary school students. This documentary follows a group of students a refugee camp in northern Uganda from the beginning of their school's practice until the actual competition.

The kids are members of an ethnic minority in Uganda, the Acholi (incidentally, the Acholi are part of the Luo ethnic group, who also live in Western Kenya. Obama's father was Luo, as is the current prime minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga. I heard all sorts of interesting anti-Luo talk in Turkana this summer, even from guys who are ODM supporters, but Kenyan politics are far too complicated for one parenthesis!). The documentary is interesting, with some strange choices (for instance, they have the little kids reenact a number of terrible things that happened to them in front of the camera, filmed in very melodramatic ways that really detracts from their incredible story. The film is predictably depressing in general context and predictably uplifting in the end, but worth seeing. The Lord's Resistance Army isn't something that gets a lot of play in the Western media's coverage of Africa, which is why my dad knew that this article, about Vertigo Comic's updated version of the Unknown Soldier, would make me so excited. Also exciting - more media coverage of northern Uganda - apparently Uma Thurman and some other people are going to be in a movie called Girl Soldier about a harrowing sequence of events, and apparently protesting the use of child soldiers.

I haven't read any of the new Unknown Soldier yet, but I hear that the trade paperback comes out soon. I plan on stopping at Star Clipper on the Loop to hear what the comic book experts have to say about how I can get these books!

OK - well, my plan was not to go on for quite so long. And I can keep going, but I need to finish packing so I can head to bed. I leave for school on Thursday!