Monday, July 15, 2013

Why one should never tempt fate with misquoted movies…

I know ir’s only been a few days since my last entry, but yesterday was a crazy enough day that it was worth trekking out to the network point just to write what happened.

So today is Camille’s last day in the forest, and Noah leaves on Wednesday. Consequently, a fete was in order. Noah had also at some point in time offhandedly mentioned that he’d like to play football (soccer) while he was here, and Frederic (my field assistant, who told me he is very popular with women because he’s so good at football!) arranged a friendly match between some people from the forest and the official football team of Gouliyako II, one of the villages where our field assistants come from (And yes, there *is* a Gouliyako I) to be held on July 14.

And with that July 14 became basically the most awaited day in the forest. Our field assistants – even the laconic one – constantly talked strategy. It came out that most of our field assistants felt too old to play football, so they arranged with the Pouliyula football team to let some of our guys play with them in a match which we were still calling friendly.

Yesterday morning, we decided to drive out to the town of Tai because Noah wanted to get a pair of sneakers. Since Camille is leaving and our main driver will be gone driving Noah to Abidjan for a few days, the time had come for me to learn to drive our Toyota Hlilux out of the forest. It shouldn’t be too difficult, except it is a manual transmission (which I tried unsuccessfully to learn at age 16), and the road is very squishy, except for where it is slippery and muddy, or crosses little wooden bridges. And it is twisty, with occasional point things. But anyway, it started off really well! Camille and Noah and I piled into the practically empty Hilux, making sure to grab the machetes in case we needed to clear trees off the road. I handled giant puddles with aplomb. When we had to stop halfway up a terrible hill to avoid running over the chimp project’s car, I got us going again without sliding all the way back DOWN the hill. I even crossed the bridge. And then… I drove too far to the right and the car sunk in the mud. It was well stuck. Camille gave up on my driving and tried to get it out, but to no avail. So then we started chopping up fallen branches and built little ramps for each wheel, and then Noah and I pushed, and THEN we put the car in some sort of hyper-4-wheel-drive. And finally, after a half hour of machete-ing and pushing and mud and tsetse flies, we escaped!

The match, it turned out, was less friendly than we had anticipated, and instead turned into kind of a terrible grudge match. There was an impressive amount of actual injury (Noah got accidentally punched in the face, for example), and an impressive amount of fake injury. Ivorian footballers take Didier Drogba’s example seriously. Camille and I took pictures and hung out with the little girls, all of whom are quite taken with Noah (he can’t walk anywhere in the village without a gaggle of 10-13-yaer-olds who blush and whisper “Bonjour, Noah” whenever he passes them). After the match, we distributed palm wine and coutoucou to both teams, and ate some painfully spicy pork and sauce feuilles de patates before driving all the footballers back to Pauliyula (it took three trips, with the Hilux literally stuffed to overflowing!), and then making it back to the field station for the fete. I was in charge of the music, so I now have a lot of Ivorian dance music. Zouglou is not my favorite genre, but ca va aller! I also stuck some “Musique des blancs” in the playlist. Bob Marley and Michael Jackson went over well, and Sean Paul could make a strong comeback in Cote d’Ivoire. Sometime, maybe I’ll mention that all the white people music they like is actually played by black people.

Around 1:30, Noah and I crashed and headed back to our camp. While I was getting ready for bed, I heard something rustling in the corner. Since there’s a very bold mouse, I thought that was who was moving around, and shined my headlamp in the corner to see who it was. In fact, it was a snake. Not a big snake, but definitely a snake. So I kept my light on it and called for Noah to get me the broom and dust pan on a stick, and we shepherded the snake out my door. Unhappily, it fit in the crack between the door and the floor, so I am having Bertin make me a wedge to put in the door to keep more snakes from visiting. Anyway, he slithered off into the forest, and didn’t bother me again except for in my dreams, where all the fecal samples I collected turned into snakes L I’m not sure what kind he was – sort of dark brownish, but with a purple tinge? Very slim, with a triangular head. My guess is a forest cobra, or maybe a viper of some sort. Anyway, exciting times here, and hopefully I won’t see another snake for a while. I’m on my own here from Wednesday until about a month from now, and I’d really like this month to be snake free!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ants... why did it have to be ants?

 Hi everyone – I apologize for the delay in my entries here! I kind of over-estimated the strength of the internet in the rainforest, and additionally under-estimated the internet requirements of blogger as a platform. However, it looks like last time I tried to post I was doubly successful, and I didn’t even think it posted once! At any rate, here I am, still doing well in the middle of the rainforest.

I’ve only been here in the forest for three weeks (I got in late the evening of the 19th), but it feels like I’ve been here for much longer. I’m back to a familiar routine of waking early, eating bread and either blue band (amazing margarine spread that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and tastes kind of like butter!) or Nutella, drinking lots of tea, and wandering around the forest after monkeys. In the evenings, we’re cooking much fancier foods than I ever cooked when I was here last time. There are also two other students here, so I’m talking with people a lot instead of reading nearly as much as I did last time. Unfortunately, they both leave next week, so I’ll be on my own for a month until the next student shows up. In the interim, though, I’m taking advantages of Camille’s fancy cooking abilities. No longer am I eating only rice and eggs, rice and tuna, or rice and sardines! We’ve made carrot coconut curry! We’ve made guacamole! We’ve made zucchini chips! We’ve made sauce melon! We’ve even made cheesy flatbread! I’m afraid that canned sardines and fried onions are no longer going to satisfy me.

I’ve spent the past three weeks helping my friend Noah finish collecting data for a project we’re working on, looking at the way different monkeys here use their forelimbs while they are foraging. I’ve also been working hard at learning to recognize the female Diana monkeys. It turns out that the easiest ways to distinguish between females are comparing their calls (which I am learning), their tails (how fluffy they are, where they are broken, etc.), and their nipples (which side is bigger, what direction they face, etc.). I have notebook pages full of PG-13 Diana monkey drawings, trying to remember that it is Pensette who has inward-facing nipples and a tail like Melo does (Melo has a larger right than left nipple, and a tail like Pensette), while Eva is the one whose nipples point down and has little white spots on her face.

That may be more information than you wanted to know about my research methods – I apologize.

I’ve also been working with one of the older field assistants – Ferdinand, our Chief of Assistants who represents the assistants in all their negotiations – at learning the most important trees eaten by the Diana monkeys. My project has taken a much more ecological turn than I initially thought it would, which is great because I like the ecological stuff even more than the social stuff. We begin our 5-day weekend today (the assistants work 9 days, then have 5 off), but when Ferdinand gets back, we’re going to start going through the grid to measure the abundance and size of different tree species so that I can see what the monkeys are eating in relation to what is available for them. I’m hoping to get between 10 and 20 100m x 100m squares measured in the following two weeks, and then start my data collection with the monkeys in earnest on July 30 when my official field assistant finishes his two-week break.

When I’m not staring intently at monkeys’ chests, searching for their feces, or trying to figure out what tree the monkeys I am staring at are in, things back in camp have also been exciting. We had a green mamba eat a frog under our laundry the other day, and a giant scorpion we have decided to call Alfred has chosen the steps of the old house as its new favorite spot. A few nights back, a swarm of army ants tried to move through my house. Fortunately, Noah caught them when he was heading to bed, so we spent the next two hours fighting back by pouring fuel mixed with water in all the door jambs and liberally spraying Rambo at the edges of all the mosquito nets. While this curtailed our usage of candles in the house, it also successfully kept the ants out! They also only bit me four times, but a bunch of them embedded their heads in my sandals and got stuck. Pulling them out of my sandals was probably worse than being bit. Unfortunately, it looks like the colony has decided that UNDERNEATH MY HOUSE is an excellent place to build, and we don't have any more Rambo to dissuade them for the moment. I've been having nightmares about earthquakes depositing me in the middle of an army ant nest. We were thinking that maybe if we named them, they'd be less scary, so for the time being we're calling the army ants Gloria (the workers are all female).

Well, my computer battery is growing dim and it’s starting to get dusky out. I’ll cross my fingers that this posts (once!), and try to write again soon!