last post before the road

It’s my last taste of modern technology before we set off for the field. Unless you count land rovers as modern tech. Okay, fine. But no internet and we’ll only have cell reception for the first week. Then…nothing. And in fact since I won’t have a way to charge my phone there is really no point in using it except in emergencies or the quick call to my sweetie to say I love you.

So we have 37 students this year. Did I just say that? Yes, it’s true. That includes the Kenyan students. I had thought there were fewer and I suppose it’s possible that I have miscounted but I don’t think so. 37. That’s a lot. The entire caravan going to Koobi Fora will be 67 people and once we’re at base camp more folks will fly in ending in a grand total of 80 people…give or take one or two. Yes, the Koobi Fora Field School is a major operation. I am in awe at the fact that it runs more or less without a hitch. Okay, we’ll have vehicle breakdowns and so forth but basically things will run fairly smoothly.

Our first stop is Mugie Ranch which is located in the Laikipia Region just north of Nairobi. It’s a 6-8 hour drive. Could be shorter if we had fewer people and no luggage, but that’s just not the case. We are planning to leave in the morning but I am guessing, based on previous experience that we will leave later than planned.

Mugie is a rhino sanctuary. About 50,000 acres according to Jack. They also have other big game (elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards, hyaenas, buffalo, lots of smaller bovids, etc.). I’ve been there before but only for a day. This time we’re spending the whole ecological portion of the field school there. I’m very excited. It’s a beautiful ranch. And if you want to pay about $1000 you can stay in a very posh resort on the ranch for a night. I mean VERY posh. Super duper swanky. It’s a little out of my price range.

I think the student group is a good one this year. And I am so impressed with myself because I have managed to memorize all of their names pretty much immediately. Melanie and I were in charge of coordinating room assignments so I was writing their names down as I was meeting them. Helps a lot.

Anyway, I should probably sign off. I just got an email from someone inviting me to participate in a symposium honoring my former advisor, Elizabeth (see previous posts from Ethiopia for more on her). She passed away a couple of months ago. Naturally, I am eager to be involved in the symposium. The point is I need to respond to this person before I leave the internet cafe. So…

Wish us a productive field season and I’ll write again in 6 weeks!

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fossils…eat…sleep…fossils…eat…sleep

There is more to life than looking at bones, eating and sleeping, but those three things have taken up the bulk of my time as of late. And I’m not complaining. The bones are super cool, the food is tasty and the sleep is generally of high quality, although there was one night earlier this week when I was tormented by a mosquito. Luckily I brought my very own cheap-o mosquito net this year. Smart me. So at 2:30 in the morning I couldn’t take it anymore and put up the net…ahhh…sound sleep ensued. Sadly, once I went to the museum the next day the torment continued (different little mosquitoes of course). Silly me, I wore a skirt and sandals and did not put any repellent on. I know better, but sometimes one forgets these little details. So I was eaten alive at least until midday when the little buggers retreated.

I looked at monkeys, bovids (hoofed/horned critters), and suids (pigs and warthogs) this week and then I started looking at hominins (casts only…because I do not have a research permit…sad, but not the end of the world). It’s going quite well, although the suids were a bit of a disappointment. I am trying to focus on animals of a certain body size (think no bigger than a modern human being or a deer), and those ancient suids were friggin’ enormous! My god, they must’ve been the size of a lion. Just huge. So I looked at them for a bit and they were cool but not quite what I was after. I want to see if animals similar in size to early hominins were chomped on by the same types of carnivores as hominins and monkeys. That’s the whole point. So if I look at animals that are too big then it means they were probably eaten by different predators, which makes things more complicated than they need to be. At least at this point.

So anyway, it was a good week. And I watched TV. I know, it’s not really what you’d expect, but there’s a TV in the apartment where I’m staying and they have cable so ya know…it’s hard to resist. I did watch some National Geo shows though so it’s not total crap.

I did laundry today (hand-washing). And went to the museum to see the exhibitions (research areas are closed on the weekends). It’s a nice museum. Small, but very nicely done. They have a huge collection of birds from Kenya. Some really crazy looking things with massive beaks. There is also this exhibit called the cycle of life where they display different cultural artifacts and describe the growing-up processes in different traditional groups. There was a whole thing on female circumcision acknowledging the fact that it is no longer acceptable in most groups. They also had a wooden xylophone out in the hall for people to play and lots of kids took advantage of this. With pretty good results most of the time.

Not much else to report at this point. My buddy Wayne is arriving tomorrow so I’m psyched about that. And tonight…well, I think I’ll just stay in and maybe read a bit and watch some TV and eat my leftover lentils. Have a piece of cheese. I offered some cheese to my friend Emmanuel and he said “Kenyans don’t eat cheese.” Really? Okay. Well, they drink milk and eat ice cream so why not? They are missing out.

On that note. I need to go buy some water and other random things.

Karibu

Welcome to Nairobi! I flew in last night and arrived safely in Jomo Kenyatta airport where my friend Emmanuel then picked me up in one of the field school land rovers. So good to be back!

I am writing from the easy surf at the Sarit Center. A bit pricier than other internet cafes perhaps, but pretty reliable. So I stayed at the Impala Hotel last night and had a whole tilapia fish for dinner with a lovely “stew” on it. A sauce, in other words. I think I ate my fish, chips and greens in about 5 minutes flat I was so starving. It was about 10:15pm. I ordered at around 9:30. That’s pretty speedy in my experience with these little hotel restaurants.

Following my gourmet meal I took a boiling hot shower in my little shower/sink/toilet room. Then tried to sleep. This went okay for a few hours but then I got restless. Mind racing with details of the following day, etc. I finally woke up around 5:30 and never quite got back to sleep.

So I got up, had breakfast (scrambled eggs on toast and (gasp!) a piece of sausage…which I totally did not order but had 1/2 of anyway to be polite). Incidentally, I also ate a ham and cheese croissant in the Amsterdam airport. What can I say…I’m less strict about the whole “I don’t eat mammals” thing when I am traveling. After breakfast I walked to the museum…about a 15 minute walk. In fact I need to get back there. I was going to try and get back by 11:30 or 12 and it’s almost 11:30 now. Quick lunch and then I’ll head back. I’m going to be looking at some monkey fossils today…and maybe some other fauna, but we’ll see.

I’ll write more later in the week.
Cheers.

How to avoid the last minute pre-travel crunch

I’m not sure I can follow up to that statement. Is there a way to avoid it? Perhaps if one does not watch episodes of Buffy at night instead of working on one’s pre-travel arrangements. Or perhaps if one does not decide suddenly two days before leaving to cut one’s hair. Or maybe if one does not spend 20 minutes fiddling around with one’s blog. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t make a difference at all. Am I destined to rush at the last minute? Maybe I’m jumping the gun. I do still have 48 hours…or so. I’m not in the crunch just yet. There may be hope.

Okay, so what’s the deal, Pam? Back to Africa AGAIN? Yes, well, it is my fave place to go after all. This time it’s super duper multifaceted. Here’s the lowdown:

June 7 – Leave for Nairobi via Amsterdam (I’m really excited to visit a new airport! New to me, that is.)
June 8 – Arrive in Nairobi and get picked up by my friend Emmanuel. He’ll take me to the Impala Hotel where I will stay for at least one night, maybe more. It depends on whether or not there is space in the apartment kept by one of my professors. His name is Jack. I may mention him again. I’m crossing my fingers that there is space!
June 9 – Go to the museum and hope like hell that they will accept my little proposal to look at hominin and monkey fossils for a few days.
June 17 – The field school starts. This time I’m teaching. (I almost said “this time it’s personal”…but decided it would be too dorky.) Last time I was a student in this field school (the Koobi Fora Field School), and now I get to be a bigshot TA. Woohoo! I’m not being sarcastic. I really am excited. I love to mold young minds. Or old ones. Whichever.
June 18 – We travel to the Laikipia region for the ecology portion of the learning fun.
June 24 – We travel further north for the fossil/stone tool and semi-desert extreme hotness portion of the learning fun.
July 26 – We arrive at Lake Naivasha (I hope) and immerse ourselves the wonderful food, alcohol and warm showers.
July 27 – We get back to Nairobi and chill out at the famed restaurant Carnivore and dance the night away.
But wait…there’s more!
July 29 – My buddy Andrew and I head to Tanzania and get to hang out at Olduvai Gorge with my advisor, Rob for about 2 weeks!
August 18 – I attend a conference in Arusha, Tanzania with a bunch of other “bone and stone” heads to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of “Zinj”. Zinj is short for Zinjanthropus boisei, the first hominin fossil found in East Africa. Pretty cool. It’s not called Zinjanthropus anymore though because they changed the genus name to Australopithecus, although some of us prefer to use Paranthropus…I won’t bore you with the taxonomic details. Anyway, the site where Zinj was found is full of bones and stones (tools, I mean) and people have been arguing about the significance of it for ages so I fully expect a good old brawl at some point.
August 23 – I head home to my sweetie and my kitty cat (who is currently resting her little head on my laptop…no matter how many times I kick her off she always comes back).

So that’s the plan. It will not go off without a hitch. It never ever does. So I’m sure there will be plenty to chat about very soon.

Until then…