Monday, April 5, 2010

Holidays are here...

December 23rd was the last day of work for my field assistants until after the New Year. They’ve been working for over a year with only short breaks, so I decided to give them a nice long break for the holidays. This meant that I needed to get all of their pay organized before the end of the day. In the morning, they requested that they leave early that day. I told them that I had to go to town to get all the money from the bank, but that I would do my best to be back in time. I checked my bank account, and of course, the transfer from my University had not yet arrived (despite having submitted it a month and a half before and begging for it to be ready in time for Christmas pay). Thoroughly frustrated with U of I, I worked out with Jeff to borrow money from his account until I could replace it. Jeff has a mastercard, which means there is only one bank that accepts his ATM card. So we went to town and ran some errands. Then Jeff got in line and waited. The line was out the parking lot of the bank. And this really means there were 3x as many people that were sitting in the grass waiting to cut in line. This is a part of Uganda that Jeff and I cannot stand! People just make a mental note of where they would be in line (aka, if I stood in line, I would be behind the guy in the yellow shirt), but they then go off and sleep on the grass or go shopping at the market and expect to just walk into line when they return hours later. What is worse is that no one else has a problem with this!!!! Okay, that is a very random sidenote. So Jeff stood in line for maybe about 2 hours and realized he wasn’t getting anywhere. We also realized that we wouldn’t get home in time to pay everyone. So we worked out with our friend Alex to borrow money from him. We ran to a new bank in Fort Portal (which means no one has accounts there yet and there wasn’t a line) and got the money out. We got the money out and rushed back to the field station. Once we got back to the field station, all the field assistants were waiting. We hurried and put the money in their little Christmas boxes where I had put sweets and tea and little gifts for Christmas. My happiest field assistant looked in his box, smiled widely, jumped up from his seat and skipped off towards home yelling thanks and Merry Christmas. That was what I was expecting from all 12 of them, but instead, a whole bunch of shenanigans ensued, which I won’t bore you with. It ended, though, with my most problematic field assistant pushing me too far and me telling him he was no longer on the project. Our discussion finally ended when he got down on his knees to “beg” my forgiveness and I walked into the house and shut the door. The amount of games this guys plays is unbelievable and I certainly didn’t need to watch him act like that after everything he has done. I promptly put his pay in an envelope to his mother as a Christmas gift and asked one of the cooks to take it to her. So that was a bit of a Christmas disaster.

We are including a picture of the bank line Jeff stood in. Note the people sitting along the ledge to the right. They are all keeping track of their imaginary spot in line. You can’t see in the picture, but there are also people in the grass to the left doing the same thing.

The next day, Christmas Eve, Jeff and I went for a walk in the village to deliver some presents. We had a cute handmade baby doll that my family had gotten for Alain. We found her at her Mom’s house and gave it to her (see pictures). Then we went to the tailor who makes all my fabulous dresses and gifts and gave her a reusable shopping bag from Target because we noticed she had one of these that she liked a lot, but was falling apart. This was a thank you for the many bags she has made for me. As we were walking, we saw lots of children carrying papyrus on their heads to cover the floors for Christmas day. Papyrus is a plant that grows in the swamp and it provides a nice cover for the floors on special occasions. It gives a soft place to sit and looks really pretty because of its bright green color.

Christmas Eve night, we had the remaining people at the field station over for dinner – Emily (chimp manager), Emily’s sister, Faith, Emily’s niece, Marion, Alex, and Julie (both chimpers). We had Christmas decorations thanks to my Mom and Jeff’s sisters. We had the little tree lit up and the light up snowman and electric candles, plus real candles that were red. Everyone made something to have. Jeff and I made pesto pasta. Emily and Faith made meat (the most special item). Julie brought up some curry and rice that her cook made. Alex brought chocolates for dessert. Jeff and I brought wine, Alex brought gin and tonics, and Emily brought sodas and beers. We ate and chatted and eventually settled down to watch the NEW Harry Potter, which Alex got in Kampala. Half way through, the baby got fussy, so we had to call it a night.

Here are some pictures of the night.

Christmas in Queen

For Christmas, we went to Queen Elizabeth National Park for the day and had lunch at the very fancy Mweya Lodge. It was me, Jeff, Emily, Pani (Emily’s 2 month old baby), Marion (Emily’s neice), Faith (Emily’s sister), Alex (chimp researcher), and Julie (chimp researcher). We met at Emily’s early in the morning and piled into her car. Our first stop was the Equator where we took the mandatory tourist photos. Then we drove slowly through the park looking at buffalo, elephants, warthogs, kob, birds, and other animals as we approached the gate. At the gate, Emily and I successfully talked our way through without paying. The funnier part was that just Emily and I got out of the car and talked to the rangers, but then we drove through the gate with all 7.5 of us. We got up to the lodge and relaxed for a bit before going in to eat. We had a nice table on the veranda with a beautiful view. The table was covered with Christmas party hats and Christmas “crackers”, which are tube shaped presents that you pull on the ends of and they pop open with gifts inside (apparently this is an English tradition??). We opened our crackers and found our paper crowns, lame jokes, and cheap toys. Then we headed up to get loads of food. It was a buffet and they increased the price by 3 times just for the holiday spirit. Jeff and I were determined to get our money’s worth, so we stuffed ourselves silly. We took it slow and ate for several hours – slowly but surely eating, eating, eating. Jeff ate piles and piles of meat (of which there was a lot) and I refilled my plate with heaping piles of salad. Fresh salad is hard to come by in this part of Uganda – scratch that, it is impossible to come by in this part of Uganda – so I ate TONS! It was really good! After we got done eating, we walked Alex, Julie, and Marion down to the boat launch to take a trip on the channel to see wild animals. Jeff and I have done this a few times before and are currently broke, so we opted not to go. Emily and Faith stayed up at the lodge taking care of the baby. After we saw those three off on the boat launch, we took a relaxing walk back to the lodge and hung out with those ladies. At 7 pm, we picked the boaters up from the launch and headed back to Kibale. It got dark shortly after we left Queen and we drove for most of the way in the dark. Since electric power is rare in most parts of Uganda, the way was mostly dark. Every few miles, we would come upon a trading center or village where tons of people were gathered to party for Christmas. Most people hung out around the places that had generators to power lights and music. Everyone seemed to be having a great time!

Check out our pictures below of all our Christmas fun!

Obama (the chimp) is dead

This is a text message I received in December. Thank goodness for that parenthetical statement, huh?!?! Obama was a two year old chimp (named around the time of the nomination of someone we all know) in the Kanyawara community. His mother, Rosa, never emigrated out of the group and therefore has continued to have weak young (all 3 have died) most likely due to inbreeding. There was a disease outbreak in the chimp community of some sort of cough. Little Obama got a cough and was then found dead. His mother showed up to a feeding tree that the field assistants were at carrying his dead body. She continued to carry him around. Emily (the chimp project manager) asked Jeff and I to go out and get some footage of mother and baby. Jeff was the camera man and I was the guide. We wandered out to the popular feeding tree of the week and found it empty. I hooted and the chimp field assistants hooted from just a short distance away. We went and found two field assistants with a group of 6 chimps, including Rosa and Obama. There were two adult males and two adult females with infants (one being Rosa and the dead Obama). The other infant was a similar age and was sooo cute. It was goofing off and having a good time. But every once in a while, it would wander over to Obama and poke him. It was sad to think that just a day before, Obama was a cute little furball like that infant. Rosa kept an eye on Obama, who she left laying on the trail next to her. Every once in a while, she would swat a bug off of him. The adults were grooming each other and just hanging out. After a little time, they got up and started to move. The males vocalized loudly as they were leaving and kind of turned around to vocalize. I’m not sure if this had anything to do with Rosa and the baby or not. She hung back a little and eventually picked up Obama and started to go. She followed them for a while and eventually branched off and found a little tree to feed in. She was about shoulder height in this little tree and held Obama in her lap as she fed. His limp body just hung over the sides of her body. Jeff got some good footage of all of this. Then she started moving again. She took us through some tangles of vegetation and then back out onto a trail where she struggled with Obama’s body. She looked so tired and I felt really bad for her. When the chimps split up, one FA stayed with us and Rosa and the other went with the other chimps. Jeff and the FA were eager to keep up with her and get good footage of her, but I was feeling too bad for her. I just wanted to hang back and give her space. She kept stopping to rest and sometimes was even dragging the body. Chimps travel on all 4 limbs and babies usually cling to their moms, which allow the moms to still travel with all their limbs. Obama wasn’t able to cling, obviously, so Rosa was struggling to keep hold of him and move down the trail. She eventually met back up with some other chimps in THV (thick ground vegetation that is a pain in the butt for researchers). When we got to this area, we found 2 other field assistants watching other chimps. We stayed with Rosa and Obama. At one point, she was up in a shrub and had Obama next to her on top of the vegetation. She was eating with one hand and resting her other hand on the top of his body (I think to keep track of it). Then she let go and started eating with both hands. It wasn’t long before the body started to move and the field assistants and I let out a collective “OOOH!” Rosa reached down through the vegetation and grabbed his hand just at the last second and pulled the body back up with her and held it. A little bit later, some other field assistants and the female researcher who is here right now showed up to watch Rosa. They had apparently lost their focal individual. At this point, there were something like 6 field assistants and a researcher and me and Jeff with this poor chimp. Apparently the field assistants and researcher were fine with this, but I wasn’t. So Jeff and I left. We had followed her around for several hours and Jeff had gotten lots of good footage for Emily.

The next day, vets from Kampala arrived at the field station to make arrangements for the necropsy. Rosa continued to carry Obama around, so they darted her on the third day, took some blood samples, and took the baby away from her. Most recent reports say that she is doing fine and that she is even starting to swell (aka – is getting ready to mate). And that is the story of Obama the chimp.

New posts coming..

Sorry for the long absence. Krista has been writing up blog posts for months that haven't made it up yet. I will be posting them, starting with Christmas, over the next few days.