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!!

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