Sunday, July 08, 2007

from Africa

I just received the following email from my daughter, Carrie, who has been in Africa for the past month or so. It is quite entertaining and thought you all would enjoy it as much as I did. I edited out the personal stuff and initialized the names to protect the privacy of the people she mentions, but otherwise this is what she wrote:

.....Our symposium last weekend went really well. We held it a Mokuti, a
lodge/resort right outside the eastern edge of the park (Okaukuejo,
where we usually stay, is in the middle of the park about 2.5 hours
away - Etosha is roughly the size of New Jersey). There were about 65
attendees, & 2.5 days of talks & posters. I presented a poster on the
research I hope to do, which is a bit funny (usually you only present
research results you've got), but I got some good input about
collaring zebras. Nearly all of the talks were good, a mixture of
science & social science research that people have done in the area over
the years, as well as some historical talks by a couple of the
old-timers. I really enjoyed the history talks, as I learned a lot
about the park that I hadn't known before. & I also learned from one
talk that apparently lions, when hunting, tend to have positions they
prefer for the ambush. The speaker likened it to rugby or soccer, &
called his different study lions centers or right or left wingers or
halfbacks. They have a very coordinated system for sneaking up on &
gathering up prey, which often involves their getting into position,
moving around a group of potential prey, then rushing it so the center
can leap up & grab the prey as they try to run away from the wingers.
Anyhow the talks were good, the audience was good, the location was
good. The only real dud of a talk was the last one in which one of
the Ministry members got up & stammered his way through 30 minutes of
telling us that they wanted to establish Namibia as a brand rather
than a country, complete with catch phrases & slogans (Namibia is
"soulful" & "wild" or something inane like that) & everything for the
rich foreign tourists. His most startling leap of logic was when he
said (keep in mind it took him about 10 minutes to spit this out -
afterwards W said that he wanted to leap out of his seat & wind
the man up as his battery seemed to be running quite low) well, maybe
lots of tourism in the park affects biodiversity in a bad way, but
maybe it doesn't, so let's have much more tourism! He basically
advocated building many more roads, lots more campsites & luxury
lodges & basically raping the Etosha pan of its vast wonderful
nothingness by having rich tourists (not from Namibia, of course, as
Namibians can already no longer afford to go to their own national
park) take moonlit walks on the pan & have five course dinners on the
pan's edge. At this point, I pictured the right & left wingers
circling the dinner table at pan's edge, flushing fat Germans toward
the center lioness hiding in the brush. So maybe more tourists
wouldn't hurt biodiversity...

Anyhow, the symposium was also good for meeting people, putting names
to faces & such. W & his wife J were there, of course, as
were most of my labmates from Berkeley, even a couple who have already
left the lab for postdocs. I also met a couple of my "labmates" that
I'd never met before - W is also on the faculty at the University
of Pretoria in South Africa, so he has a couple of grad students
there. C & C were very nice & fun & I wish that they were in
Berkeley as they were a natural addition to our already sprawling,
loud, ridiculous lab group. We tend to forget that they're on our lab
email list, & so they told us of receiving many emails exhorting them
to please clean up their damn dishes in the sink, or to stop stealing
the forks, or please who is buying more sugar for the tea. I told
them they must retaliate by sending emails to the entire lab telling
everyone that there is tasty cake to be had next door, or berating all
of us for forgetting to pick up the mail.

So then I came back here & did tons more lab work & tried to help
S (the first year in our lab who just arrived here) learn how to
do other lab procedures without breaking things (S is 22 & seems
to have reverted to clumsy adolescence since he arrived, as everyday
he breaks at least one important thing - he broke the truck clutch
learning to drive stick, broke the truck window, broke some kitchen
implements, put nonsterile lab things into sterile lab things, broke
the bottom end off of a beer bottle just by looking at it, dropped a
case of beer in Werner's living room, & last night broke then spilled
a bottle of Tobasco sauce all over his pants). Of course, I stepped
on my own glasses & broke the arm off, (I had to have Jeremy send me
my old ones with H), broke my flip flops, broke two kitchen bowls,
& broke the pepper grinder, so I suppose I can't talk.

I've had help with my lab work from M, whom I think I told you
about. She's a student at the Namibian Polytech University & finished
her associates degree (or the equivalent, a certificate in
Conservation Bio) last year, is taking this year to do internships in
the lab & field (as is the norm), & is starting the last two years
toward her B.Tech. in February. She's excellent & has helped me a
lot. She just takes great initiative without being told to do
anything, & catches on very quickly. Plus, she's funny & we have some
interesting conversations. W is keen on keeping her with us if we
can - she has to do an eight month field research project for her
B.Tech (sounds more like a masters to me than a bachelors), & he
really wants to get her to do it here, & to maybe even do a masters
with him later. He's very good about that, making connections,
finding students, getting people together. Oh, yes, W was here
until a couple of days ago, after the conference, supposedly to talk
with me, H, & S about our research here. Of course, when
W is in a game park, what he really wants to do is go on game
drives & take pictures of animals, so it was a bit difficult to pin
him down. But I did one afternoon & had a two hour discussion with
him, Wr, & Wl about my research, which was very good. W
is pretty fun to have in the field, as he gets very excited about
everything he sees. He also likes to socialize with everyone here, so
we ended up having three braais last week (which I think also
contributed to my getting sick, as I haven't had any down time in
weeks now). I suggested having a fourth of July braai, so we did that
as well, & we cooked hamburgers & beans for everyone & made dishes
with marshmallows in them as all good Americans should on the fourth
of July, & Sh even dug up two sparklers for me from somewhere in
his garage. At the end of the night, M shifted the fire wood a
bit, & we were treated to an amazing display of fireworks from the
wood. None of us could understand where it was coming from - sap,
maybe? But the wood sent out fountains of sparks high into the air,
like Roman candles, & would occasionally spit out bits that would fly
to the sides of the fire pit then explode into cascading lights & send
M screaming. This went on for about 10 minutes. It was amazing!
So we Americans got our fireworks display as well, & we all agreed
that they were some of the most beautiful ones we've ever seen.

Today I am just taking it easy & will walk into the office later to
send these emails. I might go by the waterhole later to see if the
elephants come in. Lately these two enormous breeding herds have been
coming to the waterhole in the late afternoon, big old cows & bulls,
subadults, juveniles, & little baby elephants that look just like
Dumbo & have little skinny trunks & big ears. I watched them one
Sunday evening in the sunset, & it must have been bath night because
several of them waded into the waterhole & submersed themselves my
rolling over sideways. Some of them even took water & sprayed it over
their backs in the stereotypical elephant fountain that you never
think elephants actually make. But apparently they do - I saw it.
The mothers had to nudge their calves into the water, to force them to
bathe (which I suppose is always the way). Then they all came out, &
grabbed trunkfuls of dust & threw it over their wet backs. To get
their bellies, they kicked dust up with their feet. The littlest ones
gave up on that method & just flopped to the ground & rolled. At one
point I couldn't even see elephants for all the dust in the air. &
then they decided that they were all clean & dusted & watered & gave
each other some subsonic signal & walked away. All the tourists here
go gaga whenever they see lions lazing about near the roads - they
stop their vehicles in big jumbles & will watch for hours as lions
just lie there, sleeping & farting, looking like the laziest, mangiest
creatures you can imagine. Lions do nothing but sleep, fart, & have
sex for 10 seconds at a time before going back to sleeping & farting.
Whereas elephants actually DO things & interact & talk to each other &
fight & play & have squabbles & discussions. But lions always get
first billing, which I will never understand. Not that elephants
don't fart as well, but they do so with much more aplomb.....

That's my elephant watching and lion bashing girl, up to her ears in interesting experiences. What a wondrous life she leads while I sit here and enjoy her replay of those times. Hope you all enjoyed her words as much as I did.

1 comment:

Kat said...

How wonderful Bob! Great stories now and what experiences she'll have to tell her future children.