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!

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