Friday, July 20, 2007

On a cold, rainy night from Addis....

Hello all,

Well, to my great surprise, I will be unable to use my blog this time
around. I do believe that the Ethiopian government has a block on it
(yes, this is a government-run server). Who'da thunk it? Thank goodness for my wonderful web host!

And so it goes...
(in memoriam of K. Vonnegut)

I am sitting in the IHO house. IHO stands for Institute for Human Origins. I'm not clear on the specifics, but it's basically part of the Biological Anthropology department at Arizona State University. Without boring you with the historical details, the IHO folks have been digging around in Ethiopia for several decades and have a great set up, land cruisers, the works. My advisor, Elizabeth (from here on out known as "EH" because it's faster to type it), went to ASU so she's basically an IHO alumnus. Therefore, she gets access to cool stuff and I do too as her student. Not a bad deal, if I may say so.

For those of you who don't know what the heck I'm doing here, let me quickly explain. I'm doing two things:

1.) Data collection for my MA thesis which is a study of some 3.4
million year old hominins (Australopithecus afarensis...same species as Lucy), and some other animals from the same time/place. I am looking at the damage on the bones, with particular interest in any tooth marks that may have come from carnivores like big kitties or hyaenas.

2.) Going to the field with EH - she has a new site in southern Ethiopia called Bala. It's exploratory research, so no digging, just poking around on the surface and seeing if anything looks promising. Last year she and her colleagues found some stone tools and some animal bones, but nothing with cut marks. Maybe this time!

So that's why I'm here. And after about 6 weeks here, I'll move on to France for a few days to visit some friends. I feel very fortunate, to be sure.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, for those of you not up on your African geography, is pretty high up (in altitude)...kinda like Nairobi. Which is a good thing because I don't have to take any malaria drugs...yet. I'll need them in the field. Oh well. Better drugs and no malaria than no drugs and sicky. Anyway, Addis Ababa means "new flower" in Amharic (national language). And it really is a beautiful city. Yes, there are lots of shacks made with mud and rusty corrugated metal roofs, but there are lovely green mountains all around and in fact the city is quite hilly. It's chilly now because we're at the beginning of the rainy season. It rains every day without fail. Usually in the afternoon. So it's nice and sunny in the morning, warm by 10 or 11am, stays warm till around 2 or 3pm and then you begin to hear the thunder. It's like clockwork...about 90% of the time (actually, on Sunday it waited till about 6pm to rain! Such a treat.). Then it's usually pretty wet until late at night. Temps are probably in the upper 40s at night. Not so bad really, but certainly not what one expects when coming to Africa. I had to buy a sweater. It's kinda cute...has a hood.

I'm eating pretty well...okay, yes I had some minor stomach problems already, but nothing tragic. Just a little new food and new bacteria. The local food is pretty good, but I'm not a huge fan of injera, the bread. I'm sure many of you have had this so I don't need to explain, but it's a bit sour and I'm not big on sour. Having said that, I've had Ethiopian food twice in the last week and I did eat some injera both times. I will continue to do so. But I'll also have "dabbo" (that's in pasty white, completely devoid of nutrition, wonder-like bread). Sometimes you have to ease into these things.

The rest of the time we eat things like pasta, salads, pizza...ya know, stuff like at home. No thai, :-( but lots of hot and spicy stuff. :-)

Collecting data at the museum is going really well and it's an amazing opportunity. Not too many master's students get to manhandle hominin fossils. Of course I'm very gentle. They're really beautiful and I have in fact found some nice chewed up bones. Now I'm looking at monkey bones and I may look at some other animals too...some hooved critters. Depends on time...I really only have one more week to collect data unless we leave the field early in which case I can squeeze in a few more days. Have to wait and see.

The only drawback to the museum is the hominin room - it's moldy and cold cold cold. Not fun. But now I'm in the faunal room and it's a bit nicer. Big, newer, not so much in the mold department. The big drawback there is the disorganization of the fauna. Many of the animal bones are not labeled well and the drawers are not labeled by species or even genus or even family sometimes! Geez! Some drawers are only labeled by the date and the field expedition...that's all fine and good for some people maybe, but not for me. Alas, it means that I'll spend a lot of time just searching for stuff. Ho hum. And then...there's the dust. Whew! Somebody give me a feather duster! These poor fossils. It can't be good for them. But I'm not complaining....I am really happier than a clam to be here.

And speaking of cool fossils...I got to see Lucy. She's such a pretty little thing. My goodness. And if you don't already know, she's coming to the US...on tour. Not sure of the various localities, but I know that Houston and Chicago are two of them. Just so you can plan.

What else...well, I should probably wrap it up in fact, but I did want to tell you one other little bit. We ate at this lovely Armenian place the other night...the Armenian Sports Association I think it's called. The food was fantastic, but the music...well, they seem to only have one song: a muzak version of that cheesie Eric Clapton song "Tears in Heaven" or whatever the heck it's called. They played it, it stopped for a few minutes, and then it was back on again. In fact I've noticed that several of the restaurants here, especially the ones that cater to "faranjis" (foreigners), are really into the western muzak. Curious.

And on that note, I need to get some sleep. I will (hopefully) write once more before we leave for the field on Monday 6/25.

And as for pictures (because I realize that I never really sent y'all a link to my Kenya pics), well I'll post'em. I promise. Actually, many of my Kenya pics ARE posted on a website, so if you are curious, go take a look. Go to my website and follow the trail of relevant links starting with "travel":

Love to you all,

No comments: