Sunday, August 23, 2009

I know it's time to go home when I start complaining

I was having lunch at the Savannah coffee shop on the grounds of the National Museums of Kenya and I was getting crabby about the slow service. So I know it's time to go home. Usually I am very patient and chill about such things when I'm over here but today...nope. And it wasn't really even a big deal. I ordered a salad and it actually came within a perfectly reasonable time but there was no dressing on it. Or I couldn't taste it anyway (they said there was dressing on it). So I asked for a bit of dressing on the side. And I waited really only for a few minutes but I just wanted to eat that salad and so I was feeling very impatient. Especially because my friends had already finished their food. So's time to go home. Oh and the dressing finally came but it turns out that it was mostly oil, very little vinegar, and that's why I couldn't taste it on the salad in the first place.

I guess it doesn't help that there was no water this morning and since I did not shower yesterday I'm a bit grimey. Ho hum. It's not a big deal in fact. That's why I always have a healthy supply of wet ones on hand. But I guess the lunch thing on top of the no shower thing left me feeling a bit crabola.

I'm happier now than I was at lunchtime though. I went for a post-lunch walk into the center of the city and am now at a cyber cafe at the Nakumatt which is kind of like a big Wal-Mart/mall kind of place. I figured I might as well use up my time in the city by exploring on foot. It's my thing. I like to study maps and then walk around whenever I'm in a foreign place.

What else. God, can I backtrack? I'm not sure. Hang on...must quickly skim previous blogs.....

Okay...skimming complete.

Looks like I never even got to the point of discussing the KF field season! Geez. Well, let's see. Once at KF base camp I was assigned to a banda with my friend Melanie. The bandas are made of large stones and cement with thatched roofs and some chicken wire in between roof/wall to help keep snakes at bay. And there were many snakes this year. More on that in a minute.

The students had a few days of lectures which I happily helped out with although I did not actually give any lectures. Instead I kind of helped explain things after the fact. Especially the bone stuff. We have a decent comparative collection of modern animal bones at base camp which is very helpful for teaching.

After a few days the camp was split up. I went to Ileret with a small group of people to set up camp there and the rest of the people coming to Ileret joined us the following day. The other half of the group (actually fewer than half...I think it was 45 people at Ileret, 35 at base camp) stayed at Koobi Fora to excavate footprints at Area 103. It's a site where Kay Behrensmeyer found footprints about 30 years ago and they were looking to see if there were any more. Kay, if I have not mentioned her previously, is a taphonomist with training in geology. She was in Ethiopia with EH and me back in 2007 for about a week. Brilliant scientist and very nice woman. Moving along...

Excavations at Ileret were supposed to last two weeks but ended up lasting three weeks. Now, I like being in the field and all, but Ileret is tough living and we were not thrilled about the extension at first, but in the end we made the most of it. The biggest issue really was that we were out of peanut butter (one of our main sources of breakfast and lunchtime protein) and running out of water quickly. The peanut butter thing sucked but was do-able. The water thing? No. So we had to arrange for some of the drivers to go to a place called Jaragoli to get more water from the well there. It's a two to three day mission. They had to drive to KF base camp, spend the night, get up early the next morning, drive to Jaragoli, get water (which takes hours), and then drive back to Ileret. I actually don't recall how many days it took but it was quite an ordeal. This is drinking water, by the way. We bathe in the lake.

We found more footprints at Ileret. Animal prints, hominin prints. Very nice stuff. Some of the bird prints are massive...must have been huge storks or pelicans or something. I probably should not talk too much about the stuff we found because it's not published yet, but the people at KF base camp also found some nice fossils...including some hominin bits. But again...can't give details. Sad.

After the first week at Ileret, the student groups switched and the people at KF came to Ileret and vice versa. But we staffies were to stay put. Which really was fine because I was with several of my favorite people such as my buddy Wayne, Jenna, DJ Green, Andrew, and others. Maybe I'll try to post some pics at some point. No promises though. :-)

Part of the reason that Ileret is so harsh is the combo of the intense heat (at least 110 F every day) and the powerful wind blowing fine dust around everywhere. At the end of each day you are hot, filthy, and thirsty. The glory of the bath in the lake is the equivalent to a really fabulous chocolate dessert after not eating chocolate for a year...or for those of you not into sweets, it's like taking a hot shower on a cold winter morning...or eating your favorite food...I keep thinking in terms of food.

Speaking of food. There is this phenomenon at KF wherein all of us feel so deprived of our favorite foods that we begin "food porn." Basically we sit around and talk about all the foods we crave. It's dangerous business. You don't want to start doing it too early in the field season because at first the camp food is really fine. I mean the cooks do an amazing job with their limited resources. But by about the 3rd or 4th week in you are really craving something different...something from home...something with more sugar or fat or salt or whatever...and the food porn chats just begin. It's so easy to slip into it without thinking. You dream of food. It's a bit crazy. In fact, when Andrew and I got to Olduvai we kept going on and on about how impressed we were with the food because at Olduvai you get fresh veggies and fruit. Something that KF lacks after the first few days. Reason is that KF is too far away from any farming towns that fruits/vegs are just not accessible unless they are flown in. But Olduvai is two hours from the nearest town (Karatu) and the soil there is relatively fertile from what I can tell probably because they are volcanic soils. So Olduvai was like a luxury hotel compared with KF, although not in every way. For instance, KF base camp has running water that gets pumped up from the lake. At Olduvai you take sun showers (for those who don't camp, that is a large plastic bag with a shower lay the bag in the sun during the day so the water gets warm) and only every other day...and the air in the evening is cool enough and it's windy enough that you are cold despite the warm water. But no complaints. Olduvai had lovely canvas tents that we got to share with other grad students. My roomie was a woman named Lis R. who is from Liverpool and studies carbonate isotopes. So I got to learn stuff which was cool. In fact I learned a lot.

New paragraph...that last one was too long. I did learn a lot. Alright, enough about KF. If you've read my previous blogs you've heard most of it before. micromammals. Yes, there is a researcher who studies these little critters (rodents, shrews, etc.) because they can give a finer resolution to paleoecological reconstructions. Little critters live in relatively small spaces...I mean they don't venture far afield. They kind of stay in their little habitat area, some of which are fossorial ( groundhogs and the like). Anyway, when you find them in the fossil record, which isn't that common, but does happen, it can provide another layer of ecological info to your reconstruction of the past environment. Kinda cool. Andrew and I were given the task of going through literally thousands of tiny little bones to pull out the specific ones that were needed for the analysis. Then we had to clean them. Then we had to clean all the macromammals, birds and stone tools. It was a long slog but in the end we actually learned quite a lot.

Speaking of learning...we also got our first real taste of excavating with dental picks. It's such a cliche but in fact archaeologists and paleoanthropologists sometimes really do require dental picks and brushes! So that was fun. I have also been told by Rob, my advisor, that I should have my very own excavation kit, dental pick included. He said to ask my dentist for old used picks. Who knew?

Well, this is quite long so I think I'd better wrap it up. flight was changed by the way. Delta cancelled all of their direct flights between Nairobi and Atlanta so they re-routed me. I was supposed to leave tonight. Now I'm leaving tomorrow night (24th) at 10:05pm. Getting into EWR at 9:13pm on the 25th. It will be a 3-flight trip instead of two. And I'll have two 5 hour layovers but one of them will be in Amsterdam, which is a very nice airport. I wish it were all 10 hours in that city because then I could go explore! Oh well. Maybe next time.

Not sure if I'll write again or not, but I will try and post some pics as soon as possible once I get home.

Safari njema to me (save journey).


Julia said...

I love the term {food porn}, that happened to me but I didnt realize it was a universal phenomenon.

It sounds like a really amazing but difficult field season. You were everywhere!

safe trip home.

Paige said...


"Food Porn"! we had that in Ghana too didn't we? what a perfect term for it! When I write a memoir I may need to use it!

Sculptures use dental picks too for working with wax casting.
Sounds amazing and good luck with your three legged flight pattern! :)

I understand that complaining phase. i remember it well in Ghana and it started too soon!

De in D.C. said...

Sorry your flight got changed, but hopefully the layovers didn't pose too much of an inconvenience.

It sounds like Olduvai is an amazing place. It's great you got to learn so much from real leaders in the field. I'd love to see your pics if you get them posted some place.

De in D.C. said...

oh, haha, this is Delora by the way :) The 'de in dc' thing is a handle I use in the blogging world since my real name is so unique.