Saturday, June 17, 2006

more from Namibia

Here is the latest installment from my intrepid daughter over there in Namibia. I love it when she sends these wonderful emails, not just because I love hearing from her about what she's doing, but because I can post them here and I don't have to think about what to write. She has so many more interesting things going on than I do. So enjoy along with me.....

Hello again! I'm trying to get everything done here before I leave tomorrow morning for Johannesburg. I'll be in Joburg for two days, meeting with a professor from University of Witwatersrand who might be interested in working with me on my project. Then I fly out of Joburg Monday evening, & get into SF on Tuesday afternoon. So I've been trying to finish up all the culturing work here, which has been difficult as everyone keeps bringing me new samples to culture. That would be fine if they were all from here (as that helps our project data), but some of the samples are from dead animals from game farms around here, which might be interesting for us, but perhaps not right now. Then people here are very excited that I know some things, so they ask my advice regarding how to read certain slides, or how to do certain procedures, or how to read some reports, which is very flattering & all, but it takes some time away from my actually sitting down & thinking about what I might do here. I've been very helpful to them, though, as they've been very helpful to me; I just hope we won't have to draw a line so I don't get roped into doing work I shouldn't be doing here at the expense of my own time.

Anyhow, I've been mostly in the lab & office then, though we did get out on a game drive this morning, which was nice. We saw a rather large male lion who walked regally into the bush, grabbed a springbok carcass (or half of one, as it were) he had stored there, moved it 20 feet to behind a new bush, & again walked off regally. I don't know what he accomplished with that maneuver, but he seemed pleased with the outcome. We also saw a monitor lizard waddling into the bush, a ground squirrel keeping vigil over its dead mate (alas, roadkill), & a snake leaping into the grass (literally leaping) at the approach of our car.

Wendy's friend Nicole is visiting for the week, & she arrived last Sunday. Not ten minutes after she rolled into camp, Werner came by looking for me as he had a jackal writhing in the road in front of his house, seemingly in the death throes of rabies. So we all went along to watch the thing grovel in the dirt, its head thrown back & eyes twitching. We had to kill it, obviously, but all Werner had access to was an elephant rifle. Luckily, Piet was home nearby with a .22, or we would have experienced all the wonders of exploding, rabid jackal. He had to shoot the thing twice in the neck (had to preserve the head for rabies testing), which was the first time Nicole has seen something be shot. Welcome to Namibia! So far I haven't seen any other rabid jackals in the camp, though there are plenty of healthy ones that ravage our garbage nightly. The list of jackal likes & dislikes grows: Likes: potato skins, styrofoam meat containers, old chips bags, used feminine hygiene products, kleenex, soy milk (surprisingly); Dislikes: tea bags, other paper products, not much else. They also make an ungodly racket most nights, yelping & crying & singing a horribly whiny song complete with barks & yips. It's really funny to listen to, as they sound so very very earnest, but sing like an old man being castrated.

The other night, two nights ago, I think, I was sleeping, only to be woken up by an amazing clatter around 1:30 AM. It was like waking to the sound of ten people standing around your bed, hitting pots & pans with kitchen implements & shouting in your ear all the while. Two lions, one to my right, one a bit farther off to my left, were roaring & grunting & calling back & forth to each other. That's not that strange to hear in the middle of the night; the odd part was that they sounded like they were IN the freaking camp, they were so loud & close. I usually just hear their low, far away grunting, & so hearing active roaring & right in my ear was disconcerting, to say the least. I didn't know whether to be awed or terrified, so I just sat really still, my eyes open wide, listening to the raucous racket. Something else must have been going on as well, because I wasn't just listening to roaring; something else was filling in the gaps in the register that the lions left open. I don't know if they were killing something, or if the jackals had joined in the chorus, or both, but it was an amazing, guttural wall of sound that I was convinced was coming from 20 feet outside my tent walls (sound travels very far here, given the lack of topography & tall vegetation, so I'm sure they were outside the camp fence, but it sure sounded like they were eating Wendy). The strangest part was to come, however. I listened to the bush symphony for, who knows how long, 30 seconds, a minute, five minutes, & then it stopped. Completely stopped. That's it. One last note from both lions, & click, no sound at all, everything completely silent all at once with nary a peep nor a cry. It was like the end of the Beatles Day in the Life, that builds & builds into a cacophony of symphonic noise & then ends in one loud, deep note & that's that. The lions started up again around 5, but not quite to the same extent (though they were still alarmingly close).

Other than that, nothing much else to report. I will try to email from the airport on Monday, if I have time to sit there before my flight. Otherwise, I will let you know when I get home.

love, carrie

The next time we hear from her she should be back home safe and sound, no more lions close by to interrupt her sleep. What more could a father ask for.

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