Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Week 10 - Dear Turkanaland

Hello everybody!

I am now sitting in my living room, back in Sleepy Hollow, New York. I've had quite an eventful week, and now it's time to fill you in!

          On Monday, we woke up bright and early for the camping trip to Nariokotome. We were in the lorry and on the way by 7:00 a.m., packed like sardines in the back of the lorry. Every few moments our driver, Erasme, honked the horn to warn us that a thorny acacia tree was sticking out into the road and we needed to duck, so everybody leans forward as the barbed branches whips up against the side of the truck.
Notice the giant thorns

         After about six hours, we neared Lokalalei, the archaeological site that we were planning on surveying. There aren't any roads that lead into the area (not even dirt roads) so we had to ride on dried up river beds. But because of the recent rain, the lorry got stuck in the wet sand twice! After spending a few hours digging it out, we called it quits and headed for camp. The campsite was located in Nariokotome, less than a kilometer away from the site where the "Nariokotome Boy" fossils were found. For all you readers who aren't anthropology buffs, "Nariokotome Boy" (also called "Turkana Boy") is a nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile Homo erectus, found by Kamoya Kimeu and Richard Leakey in 1984. It's one of the most important fossil discoveries ever made! The site is looks like little more than a small eroded hillside now.
Francis and friends over the site
Hui sitting on the marker stone left by the discoverers

          We set up camp as a team, with a tent for every two people. The cooks bring along equipment when we go, so we got to enjoy a nice hot dinner under the stars. A local, Olongalei, told us battle stories from his youth, and then proposed to marry one of our group. Again, not very many takers, even after he sweetened the deal with a house and a car.
           The next morning we hopped into the lorry agian, but this time to go to Kokeselei, the site where the oldest Acheulean stone tools ever were found. Thankfully, the lorry didn't get caught this time (thanks to some truly incredible manuevering by Erasme). Our teacher, Sonia Harmand, wanted to show us how to conduct a proper archaeological dig. To do so, one must set up a grid with square meters aligned north to south. Then, one must dig down evenly across the square. Whenever something is found, it's location, depth, angle, and shape are meticulously recorded, and then it's baggied for later study. Also, all of the sediment removed it taken to a seive to be sifted through before being disposed. This allows for the recovery of the small bits. Archaeologists have lots of patience!
          After a long day digging in the hot sun (and not finding very much) we headed back to the camp to enjoy another hot dinner and relaxation. The next morning we returned to camp, but not before visiting a nearby Spanish mission. The mission compound was humungous, and surrounded by multiple fences. The church on the property was massive (and didn't look like it was being used very much), and they were raising goats, cows, chickens, and ducks, in addition to the giant garden. It was very strange to see a place of such wealth in the middle of such poverty. The fences made the separation all the more tangible, as did the absence of very many Turkana within the mission itself.

         The return journey went as smoothly as it could when driving through bumpy dirt roads and passing by aggressive acacia trees, and after five hours we made it back. On Thursday we presented our research projects, and on Friday we took our final and packed up. On Saturday morning we said some teary goodbyes, and piled into the lorry one last time.
       Stepping on the plane and looking back at the desert I that had learned to call home was a surreal experience. The sand, run town shacks, goats, and people that had once seemed so foreign to me now were so familiar. But there was no turning back, and in about two hours we landed in Nairobi. The weather was cloudy with a little bit of rain, and for the first time in two and a half months I felt cold. Also, I quickly remembered something from the developed world that I didn't miss: traffic.

        The first stop was food, and of course, we got pizza. Standing in the pizza place and looking up at the menu, I had never felt more overwhelmed by the choice of what to get. I wanted everything, and I wanted anything. It just seemed bizarre that I could actually choose what kind of pizza they would make for me. The entire time at TBI, our food was served to us, and whatever came we ate (not that it was bad, thanks so much to the cooks!). After eating, we went into a shopping mall for some last minute souvenirs. Again, being in a superstore surrounded by items upon items felt overwhelming. It just felt a little ridiculous and unnecessary to have so many things to buy.
          The rest of the journey home was uneventful. We took a plane from Nairobi to Zurück, and then from Zurück to JFK. Again, what a change to be on that plane with people serving me drinks and food, and having dozens of movies to choose from. Finally, after about 36 hours of travel, I made to JFK. And I must say, it's great to be back home.

          But here our some things I notice about home that I didn't before. Well for one, everything is enclosed here. Either by trees, buildings, or houses, everywhere is surrounded. My eyes adjusted to the massive, endless views that the desert provided and now it feels a little claustrophobic. Also, people walk around in their own little worlds. Walking by people on the street, sometimes I get a nod, but mostly people walk right by each other. Perhaps because nearly everyone in the Turkana region shares a distinct culture, or perhaps just because there aren't as many people there so running into somebody is more of a treat, but the locals in Kenya would always wave, shake your hand, and smile when you met them. "Ejoka!"

Imagine this happening to you on the way to work!
           Also, it's so darn cold here! I'm freezing! And the internet in my house has never seemed so stunningly fast (appreciate fast internet!). In fact, everything seems fast now. The roads are all well paved, and people are employed to keep them clear of wet leaves and snow. I can order take-out food and it will be ready in five minutes. In fact, I just got the lenses on my glasses replaced (I scratched them up pretty badly there). The lenses were ordered yesterday, arrived this morning, and the guy at the store replaced them in under half an hour!
          Lastly, there is never any complete quiet or complete darkness here. Always a train or an ambulance in the distance, and the light pollution from our electric lights makes the night sky abnormally bright. I'll never sleep as peacefully as I did there.
           I know, I know, I was only there for two and a half months. But I feel as if a lifetime has passed. I feel both inspired and humbled by the experience. And I hope that anyone who reads this blog will take the opportunity to travel, as a student, or just as a person. The world is a big and wonderful place.

           Now it seems that I have to leave you. Thanks to any and all of you who read this. I very much enjoyed writing it. I will leave you with a transcription of the entry I wrote in the TBI log book.

Dear Turkanaland,

    Well, this is it. I'm sorry to say but I will soon be leaving you. I must admit Turkanaland, I wasn't too impressed with you when I first arrived. I found your climate uncomfortable, your landscapes barren, and I was appalled by the goats wandering about willy nilly in Lodwar. But first impressions can be misleading, and I must admit I've fallen for you Turkanaland, and I'll miss you when I go.
    I'll miss your climate, Turkanaland. The wonderfully warm weather and the nearly constant feeling of hot sun on my skin, the refreshing breeze that blows in from the east late at night, the sunrises and sunsets which look like they were rendered by a Renaissance painter, the starry nights that I must have spent hours gazing at. 

    I'll miss your views, Turkanaland. The view from the mess hall of the Turkwel river, and the views from the lorry as we drove across the landscape. The seemingly endless flat terrain that makes you feel as if you could see until the end of the world. The view of Lake Turkana's beautiful beaches and central island majestically rising out of the water.

     I'll miss your wildlife, Turkanaland. I love that funny sound that the ring-necked doves make, and watching those doves fight with the crows over the bird feeder. I even love the bugs, and that every night one might discover a new creature. Your solifuges even grew on me, Turkanaland, but I'm not sure I would want one in my house.

Can you see the stick insect?

     I might even miss you Ken, even though you refused to let me pet you most of the time, and always snuck out of the compound and threatened to attack goats!
Me and Ken

    I'll miss long drives on the lorry, Turkanaland. With goats, camels, donkeys, and cattle running frantically to get out of the way. And I'll miss the excitement of nearly getting stuck (and getting stuck) on the sandy roads, and being constantly impressed by Erasme's driving skills. He is incredible.

The group with Erasme

    I'll miss your people, Turkanaland. Francis, Isaiah, Elijah, and all of the cooks. I'll miss Ikal, Meave, Richard, and all of the wonderful professors we've had. I'll miss my fellow students, and I'll surely miss being constantly surrounded by other people as fascinated by the natural world as I am. 

Us with the cooks

    But above all, I'll miss the feeling of discovery that every day brought. Whether it be scientific, cultural, or personal, every day brought me a new treat, and I thank you Turkanaland for everything that you've given me.

    And now it seems we must part ways. No, no, no, no, no Turkanaland, it's not you, it's me! My plane ticket is purchased and I must be leaving. But I hope that you'll remember me as fondly as I'll remember you, and that we'll meet again someday. Maybe when we're both older and more mature, we can create a lasting relationship instead of this fling we've been having. Until then, I remain always….

Sincerely yours,

Roy Lotz

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
My girlfriend kindly trimming my beard