Sunday, July 22, 2007

contente en France

Bonjour mes amis,

I am sitting in the attic of a very old house in La Charite sur Loire, a medieval village about 2 hours south of Paris. The house is newly acquired by my friends Chris and eliza Hart. Oh...I can't capitalize my "e" because the e on this keyboard doesn't work, so I am copying and pasting it each time. Crazy, I know. Anyway, I could copy a capital e I suppose, but that would just take too long. And I doubt that any of you mind.

My trip to La Charite was a long one from Addis Ababa...I think I was awake for about 41 hours...well, I slept for maybe 4 or 5 hours within that stretch. But I made it here safe and sound and it has been a lovely visit. I got to meet Garance, the (almost) one-year-old daughter of my friends, and that has been a treat to be sure. She is a charmer. We've just been hanging out here for the most part, which is fine with me. It's nice to just relax. The town and the countryside are magnifique. I am speaking a tiny bit of french, but not much, and mostly with people other than chris and eliza. This is mostly because they speak perfect english (chris is american) and I am far from conversational in french. But I try now and then and I do ask a lot of questions. I would love the opportunity to live here for a few months or a year and study the language...maybe one day.

But I should backtrack to ethiopia because there is more to say about the field.

We revisited some sites that eH (again, can't capitalize this) and her colleagues looked at last year, to see if anything had changed and we found that either the same stuff was there or that some of it was now gone, maybe trampled by cows and goats, because many of these areas are en route to the river and are appealing in and of themselves for their calcium carbonate reserves which the cows love. They dig holes and stick their big snouts in those holes and just lick to their hearts' content.

We also went to a couple of new locations that had not been visited yet. In all places, old and new, we found mostly archaeology - stone tools, mostly msa (middle stone age). We found a few fossils, but very few and some of them were also found last year (we couldn't collect anything, by the way...that takes a different permit). Most of the fossils were too fragmented to identify unfortunately, but it was still exhilarating to find them...for me anyway. :-)

We had a local guide for all of our excursions...a young school teacher named Gedinka. He's Mali, which is the local tribe in this area. It's a small group that hasn't been exposed to western culture too much...just a bit. So it was very interesting to be around these people for two weeks...they hung around our camp and were fascinated by just about everything we did. Our cook, Achamo, was very popular with them, maybe in part because he often gave them his fresh bread. After tasting the sorghum bread that the Mali eat, I can understand this. It is...well...pretty awful. But I suppose if that's all you've got, you are grateful for it.

I learned a great deal during this expedition...especially about how to run such an operation and what to look for from a geological perspective when surveying an area. So even though we didn't find much in the way of fossils, it was a fantastic learning experience for me.

And being in France now is also a learning experience, but in a different way. Learning to listen to french...and trying to not translate everything, but to just let it wash over me...this is the challenge.

I think there are probably endless stories that I could tell about being in ethiopia: like when Mesfin got heat rash because he was wearing jeans (sans underwear) during a 6 hour trek and then wandered off by himself so he could walk without his pants on and proceeded to get lost; or how this one Mali guy (nicknamed "pom-pom dude" because of his personal decor) was so annoying to eH and me because he was so clearly full of himself but how Achamo actually thought he was funny and so let him hang around in the evenings; or how the insects got confused when it was night but we had lights on under the big dining tent and so they would fly or hop onto our plates wondering what the heck was going on and what these big animals were doing swatting at them when clearly it was just a misunderstanding; or how we took a daytrip to the village of Turmi where there is a population of Hamer people and a fabulous market but it took us much longer to get there and back than expected and we (apparently) didn't have the right permit (a tourist one...who knew?) and then it rained and we just barely beat the flash flood that went over part of the road on the way back near the giant, salty, dry lake of Chew Bahir; but there are really too many stories to tell and the e on this keyboard makes it a slow process, though I am being as patient as possible, and actually it's not so fact it's pretty funny. But still...I will just have to save my stories for those days when I feel inspired to tell them to one or two of you. And you know, I may write one last entry when I get home. Only a couple more days now. It's hard to believe.

Tomorrow morning (Monday) I will hop on a train and go back to Paris where I will stay for one night with eliza's cousin. I will visit with my friend Virginia while there (she's doing a language intensive this summer), and then on Tuesday afternoon I will head out to Charles de Gaulle and go home. Home...home to my sweetheart, home to my kitties, home to my family and's a good place to go. But I'm grateful that I get to take these opportunities to be apart for a bit...I recommend it to everyone.

And on that somewhat schmaltzy note, I bid you adieu...I will probably write when I get home, but who knows...maybe not. I'll see how I feel.

Ciao...gros bisous...selam.

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