Friday, November 28, 2008


This was our strangest thanksgiving ever! We had both planned on
taking the day off and enjoying a nice relaxing day of reading and
then Thanksgiving festivities with the other American couple here. It
started off well. I sent out my army of field assistants and
volunteers (10 total) into the forest to follow their respective
groups (5 total). We were enjoying our nice relaxing day when I got a
phone call from one of my field assistants saying that he had found a
dead monkey and he suspects that it had died of monkey pox. I have no
idea what basis he had for saying that it died of monkey pox.
However, monkey pox is in nearby Congo (and has transferred over to
people there!) and it has been found in the rodents here at Kibale.
Plus, there has been another pox virus found in the monkeys here. So
I was a bit nervous and asked Jeff to go with me. So we packed up as
many supplies as we could (facemasks, gloves, goggles) and ran around
asking other people for protective gear (we got a robe and hand wipes)
and started out there. The place with the monkey was about an hour
away and was through some serious elephant territory. Fortunately,
there weren't any elephants, but they had obviously been there having
a good time at some point because the closer we got to the location of
the monkey, the land was torn up with elephant tracks, dung, and
knocked down trees. This added to the intensity of the trip. Plus,
it was starting to get late by the time we arrived, so the sun was
getting low. This made the forest darker than usual. Have I
sufficiently described an eerie setting??? I told Jeff I wanted him
to stay far away from the monkey when we got there. We found the
monkey on the ground on its side next to a large branch that had
fallen. The field assistant and volunteer that had been following the
group were still there. The rest of the red colobus had gone high in
the trees around the body. Jeff got pooped on almost immediately, I
think just to increase the grossness factor a bit. He hung out
further back and held onto the supplies and also had brought his
camera. I was NERVOUS! The field assistant that was there had
actually collected a dead monkey with Dr. Tom Gillespie before, so he
had more experience than me. Nonetheless, he definitely didn't have
any background in disease transmission and was entirely too eager to
collect it himself. I basically had to yell at him to stop going near
it and not to touch it. I had him put on gloves and a face mask and
gave him a ziplock bag, a plastic grocery bag, and another ziplock for
our waste. I told him I wanted him to stay as far away from it as
possible and hold out the bag for me. Then I put on the robe,
facemask, goggles, and gloves. The rainforest can be hot and humid as
you might imagine, plus Jeff and I were drenched in sweat from our
very fast hour-long hike out there, so the goggles immediately started
fogging up. I took them off for a second and tried to move the
monkey. It was stiff already, but felt warm-ish (not necessarily body
heat but just the setting). Its arm was clutching the fallen branch.
Once I realized it wasn't going to move easily, I put the goggles back
over my eyes, which made everything very hazy (to add to the
creepiness). There were a lot of flies on the body, so I tried to
shoo them away, I pried the hand off of the branch. And started to
lift of the body. It was very stiff and was fully extended. The
other hand was bent up towards the face (it looked like it was sucking
its thumb – not really, though). Then I lifted it all the way up and
stuck it in the ziplock. Its tail was not stiff, but I had totally
underestimated how long it was and didn't get it in the bag at first.
Red colobus have REALLY long tails, by the way! The monkey was too
big to fit in the gallon zip lock I had brought. The field assistant
had told me it was an infant over the phone. It looked more like a
juvenile to me. Anyway, I guess I was thinking that it would be fresh
and still flexible and it would kind of sink down into the bag, but
that was not the case. The overly anxious field assistant said he
would get it in the bag and I said, no don't crunch it (or something
like that). I grabbed the other plastic bag and put it over its head.
Then I realized that there were flies in the bag. I didn't want them
to cause more damage to the body on the long walk back and prior to
getting it frozen, so we opened back up the bag to try to get the
flies out. It was actually more challenging than it sounds, but
anyway. Then I realized that we hadn't gotten any up close pictures.
So Jeff put on a mask and came closer with the camera and took
pictures, especially of wounds that we pointed out for the camera.
Apparently, he had videotaped the whole thing anyway, which will be
interesting to watch. Then we bagged it up again. After putting it
in the two ziplocks, we put it in the grocery bag. Then I held open
my robe so that Jeff could grab the extra grocery bag out of my
pocket. I carefully put all my protective gear in the plastic bag.
Jeff put his mask in. I had decided that the field assistant should
keep his mask and gloves on and walk in the back of everyone carrying
the bag with the monkey. None of the bags were sealed very well, so I
decided to have him put the bag with the monkey into the bag with the
waste for the walk back. We got back to camp, I put back on gloves
and a facemask and the other American couple came over to see it. The
girl of the couple is here studying health issues with the Kibale
Ecohealth Project, so she was interested (not so interested that she
accepted our invitation to come out with us to get the monkey… but I
don't blame her). We took the bag with the monkey out of the waste
bag and put it in a biohazard bag and tied it up. We put that bag in
Dr. Colin Chapman's freezer to await its necropsy. (Also, prior to
going out to get the monkey, I spoke with the Wildlife Authority vet
on the phone and she asked for tissue and blood samples. I told her I
wasn't a vet and could I freeze it until someone came with more
experience than me. She said that was fine. I'm relieved I didn't
have to draw blood and cut out tissue. I know I could actually do
both of those just fine, but I just had no desire to do either.) We
put all of our waste into the other grocery bag and then through it in
the pit latrine (which is where all hazardous material goes to die).

Then I went home and Jeff and I both took long showers (well not
actually long since we don't have much water and it kind of trickles
out of this sunshower bag we have hanging from a nail in the wall, but
efficient and thorough showers. Then Thanksgiving festivities
commenced! We had crepes, which were amazing and such a nice change
from the usual food here. We also had pumpkin (which is actually a
very common food here and way better than pumpkin in the US), which
seemed fitting for the occasion. Then we played lots of euchre and
listened to Christmas Music. Today, as it is the official start of
the Christmas season (in the US, the Christmas season started in
Uganda a few weeks ago), we are going to watch National Lampoon's
Christmas Vacation!

Happy Holidays,

Friday, November 14, 2008

My ride to school.

Our first photo to be uploaded.
Hopefully we can get some more up soon.

This is taken on my bike ride to a school. You can see some of the mountains in the background.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kanyawara Obama HQ

Greetings from the official Obama head quarters in Kanyawara, Uganda:

 The handful of Americans at the research station woke up at 3 am to watch the results roll in.  One of the guys at the field station opened up the room with the tv for us.  We all brought food and drinks.  We wrote each state up on the white board and kept track of how many seats each state had and whether they went to McCain or Obama.  It was pretty exciting!  As the hours went by, a lot of Ugandans came in to see how it was going.  And when people heard that Obama had won, they were ecstatic.  Even still, walking down the street, people have yelled out "Are you American?" –we say "Yes" – and they say "CONGRATULATIONS!!"

 We are hearing rumors that he is appointing some really great people, like Robert Kennedy, Jr. to head the EPA.  Can anyone confirm this?

 In other news, Jeff is continuing to get to see some pretty cool wildlife.  We saw a Potto farely close up the other night and could see its whole body, not just its eyes.  A potto is a nocturnal primate.  It has eyes that reflect the light, so usually, you can see its eyes, but it can be hard to see the actual animal in the dark.  We also saw some bushbabies.  Bushbabies are also noctural primates and you can also see their eyes bouncing around in the trees.  They are ½ or 1/3 of the size of pottos and move much faster.  They can bounce from branch to branch and tree to tree very quickly.  We had seen their eyes in the trees several times, but we finally got a good look at one the other night.  It was on a tree about eye level with us and was only about 5 feet away.  It looked at us for a bit and then we saw it bounce away. 

 Jeff started the wildlife drawing competitions at the schools.  He has done 2 of the 9 schools so far.  The drawing competitions are to see what students know about the wildlife in their country.  So they are each supposed to draw a picture of Kibale National Park (a forest) and Queen Elizabeth National Park (a savanna).  Later in the year, the teachers from these 9 schools will be going on field trips to each of these parks and will teach their students about what they saw.  Then there will be another drawing contest to see what the students have learned. 

 So far, Jeff has been a little frustrated with the process.  Culture shock has definitely been an issue and he is still trying to get used to how things work here.  Additionally, he doesn't understand the local language and even though the students doing the competition should be getting taught in English, a lot of the instructions are given in the local language.  So he has no idea what the teachers are saying to each class (if they are each getting the same instructions, if some are being coached, etc).  And the classes are HUGE, so it takes a long time to pass out paper and pencils to everyone.  Not to mention that there are no mechanical pencils or electric pencil sharpeners to speak of here, so we have been sitting out on the front porch with little tiny pencil sharpeners and sharpening hundreds of pencils at a time. 

 The plus side is that the kids are cute, he is learning a lot, he loves riding his bike around, and the drawings are interesting. 

 Krista has slowly been starting field work, including hiring field assistants.  She took out a group of 11 possible field assistants to the forest and quizzed them on various things in the forest (tree species, identifying individuals, describing their activity, etc) and had them attempt to collect urine and fecal samples.  Overall, it was a pretty successful day, but it was hard to pick between everyone. 

 We also saw a local play over the weekend.  It was performed outside of the new clinic that was built just outside the park.  The play covered many topics including: the forest is good for us and here is what we get from the forest; women – don't wear mini-skirts or you are asking to get raped; stay in school and don't become a poacher because your life will be miserable if you are a poacher; AIDS is a big problem here, but here are some ways to prevent it.  The play was in the local language, so we don't know everything that happened, but got the jist of it from people sitting next to us who were translating.  The miniskirt message was a real problem for Krista and, of course, she started arguing about it.  The Ugandan guys she is friends with tried to reassure her that it is not a mans fault if he rapes a woman who is dressed like that because he cannot help but rape her if she is dressed like that…. hmm, talk about cultural differences?  Anyway, the rest of the play was good and informative.  Krista won a sampling for answering a question right ("Why is the forest important?").  The play was about 3 hours, but a brief rainstorm resulted in a short intermission in which everyone ran and crowded onto the porch of the clinic to get out of the rain. 

 In other news, we have found a Ugandan newspaper that has the most insightful horoscopes we've ever seen.  It is the government run newspaper.  Keep in mind, the cover story to this newspaper a few weeks ago was about a construction accident that killed 8 people and could have easily been prevented if they had only sacrificed 3 bulls prior to breaking ground.

 That is about all for now.  This place is still unbelievably gorgeous and we are having a really good time!