Friday, July 20, 2007

About to leave for the field...we hope

Hi everyone,

I am actually typing this offline because the internet connection is a bit wonky
tonight. It's okay though...I may finish the email tomorrow. I'm actually not feeling too hot. Nothing major, just some more stomach problems. It comes with the territory. I should feel better in a day or two.

Right now it is Saturday evening and I'm alone in the house. EH and Luke (a PhD student from ASU) went to pick up one of the researchers who is coming with us to the field. He's flying in from Nairobi. They may be at the airport for some time because apparently he didn't get his visa ahead of time. We're hoping that there won't be any problems. He'll be a really valuable person to have in the field - paleoecologist.

We went out for a super fancy dinner last night at a place called Castelli. It's a real live Italian restaurant...leftover from that darn Italian occupation back in the late '30s. Actually, I don't know if the place is really that old, but the Italian influence goes back to those days. The food was very yummy...especially the dessert! Tiramisu...mmmm....

There were 8 of us at dinner: EH, her former advisor Bill, Bill's student Luke, me, and 4 others, 3 of whom were new to us. The one who was not new was this nice man named Mike who is a U.S. diplomat, and a former archaeologist (at least that's what he has a PhD in, but I don't think he ever had a job as an archaeologist. Anyway, it's a long story, but we met him last week because he is a friend of Kay's (the other researcher who was with us last week). So. Mike's sister was in town as was his sister's a young man named Casey whose connection to the whole crowd is unclear.

These are all boring details of course, but the point is that it was an interesting and fun group and we had a very good time. Nice chianti. Sadly, I woke up not feeling so hot. But I suspect that the culprit is not the fine Italian restaurant.

In any event, I spent several hours napping today. Woohoo! I felt really bad because EH needed my help with packing and I was pretty useless. I fully intend to feel better tomorrow.

And on that note I actually think that I WILL finish this tomorrow when I'm feeling more chipper.


Ah...the wonders of a good night's sleep and a phone call with the one you love. I feel much better...not 100%, but significantly improved.

Today we are packing. We're leaving a bunch of stuff here. For instance, I really don't need a skirt in the field, nor do I need my research material, or my nice strappy sandles. So all that stuff gets to stay and my big backpack is easily the lightest it's ever been.

Rene and Erella, the two researchers who joined us last night and this morning, respectively, are super nice and I'm really looking forward to hanging out with them for the next week and a half. Erella has to leave us about 2/3 of the way through and I think Rene may leave then too. They both have other obligations to fulfill, but we'll have them with us until July 8th. Erella is an archaeologist and I already mentioned that Rene is a paleoecologist. At least I think I have that right. Our geologist flaked out on us. So unfortunate. Lord knows I am not a geologist. I can tell the difference between a basalt and a chalcedony, but beyond that I'm not much help.

And so it goes.

What else. We had a lovely lunch today at the house...lots of leftovers and creative mixing of stuff such as bread and cheese, and a tomato/onion/avacado salad with this fabulous rock salt that probably came from the Danakil Depression which is one of the hottest places on earth and one that I am intensely curious about. I've seen pictures of looks like what I imagine Venus to look like. Surreal colors...oranges, blues... and smooth, almost cloud-like landscape shapes...and about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes.

Our field site, down south, won't be quite that hot. EH said that last year it was around 90+ each day. Not as hot as Koobi Fora was last year. So it will be pleasant.

I'm looking forward to the heat. Actually, today has been quite nice...and it's a good thing because we have to pack everything up.

Ah, Mesfin just arrived. He's kind of a "do it all" man. We rented his cars (one land cruiser and one Nissan something or other) and he'll drive one of them to the field. EH or Rene will likely drive the other. He'll also fix stuff, buy stuff...and just generally help out with everything. He's been with IHO in the field many times and he went with EH last year. Really sweet man. Ethiopian...has a wife and a few kids. His english is pretty good so when I'm not badgering EH for amharic translations I can badger Mesfin. He's very good about it.

I am hoping to get a chance to drive one of our 4WD vehicles while I'm here, but we'll see. It's been awhile since I drove a stick, but it's like riding a bike, right??? :-) Well, it hasn't been THAT long. And besides, how else will I learn? It's not like there are lots of off-roading opportunities in Brooklyn.

I finished up my research on Friday. Well...okay, maybe "finished" is a strong word. I finished with the monkey bones that I was playing with, but there are still more monkeys and other animals too that I'd love to look at. However, even if we get back with 5 days to spare in Addis, it will be difficult to do much more. I mean I could probably get the monkeys in, but maybe not any antilopes or other bovids. And it's probably fine, but it would be nice to do more. It's not just looking at the fossils that takes so long, it's the photography and molds. I make little orange-colored molds of certain things like really cool marks that are bewildering to me or punctures that I'm confident were caused by some big kitty or hyaena. The molding material is actually dental impression material - ya know, like if the dentist makes a mold of your teeth for dentures or braces or whatever. It's fun stuff. But it holds the greases from my skin and then that gets on the fossils, so I have to use a Wet One before using it otherwise I'm left with greasy good.

The bathroom situation in Addis hasn't been too bad (I know, major change in subject matter...I'm stream of conciousness here), some long drops, some toilets (always bring your own toilet paper), but I'll be glad to get out into the field where our toilets are whatever secluded spots we find. We'll have a shovel of course. But no long drops this year. With only 10 people in camp there's really no point in digging a latrine. Each to his/her own. Chigger yeulleum. That's "no problem" in amharic. Good phrase to know.

Our bathing will be with sunshowers. And after our Addis water runs out (we're taking several massive barrels), we'll get water from the river nearby. It's fast-moving so the water should be pretty good. I hear there are some crocs, but not as big as Lake Turkana crocs. Shouldn't be too much of a problem as long as we keep our eyes peeled for lumpy rock-looking things floating in the water. No worries.

It'll take two days to get to our camp. We leave bright and early tomorrow morning (assuming all goes well, and it usually doesn't but I'm still optimistic). We'll arrive in camp (theoretically) on Tuesday afternoon. Not too bad a trek, really. And we have some computer speakers that "should" work with the ipods in the car. EH has an adapter that we can use with the car lighter to plug the speakers in. It'll be quite the contraption I'm sure.

Well, this is pretty friggin' long, so I'll stop. I will write again in a few weeks. Maybe two weeks, maybe three. Not really sure how long we'll be out there. So I'm sure I'll have plenty to talk about then!!

Much love to you all.

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