Early days

– I love research camps, you find the most interesting people here. I have met and made friends with two women from Zimbabwe (Monica studies natural resource use and the international pressures on elephant culling. Lillian evaluates and assesses public health organizations), a couple from France (Ritta works with AIDS patients, Basil is “taking a vacation from permanently looking for a job.”), a girl from Kentucky (another AIDS worker, Angela has just gotten her bachelors and has decided to take a romp around the world, to the great distress of her parents. She misses her mom’s cooking, and her own bed, but otherwise she isn’t homesick at all. She is also most definitely some permutation on hapa Asian), a PhD student from the Tsongo tribe in Shingwedzi or in other words a local boy (Norman studies the cultural use and practices associated with native trees. His short-term dream is getting a post-doc in the states. Unlike most South Africans he doesn’t have a tribal name, just his English one, because he never participated in the traditional initiation rite into manhood. Norman likes his name a lot, as he has read about the historical exploits of the Normans (from Normandy) and finds them to be a powerful people, well worthy to be named after), and a host of other characters that I wave at periodically but haven’t gotten a chance to speak with. It’s all right though, we see each other, and to some degree we already know each other. We’re both here, after all.

– I have also met Hloniphani’s local girlfriend, Rejoice (“I don’t know, she’s my girlfriend but… I’ve been staying here for two years and it gets very lonely… and I’m going away soon… you understand?”). Rejoice is 21, and at the end of the summer she is going to Johannesburg to get her drivers license and pursue her education. She wants to work for a business. She doesn’t know which one yet, but she’s confident she’ll know it when she sees it.

– Rejoice doesn’t believe shark documentaries are real. More specifically, the scenes where human divers interact and swim with the sharks. I’m not entirely sure whether her disbelief extends to the sharks themselves, but at any rate she very strongly believes that humans would walk on the surface of the moon before they would get into the water with a shark. I did not challenge her on any of these points, because she had just made me dinner.

– To my great relief, there was hot water in my house and the oven/stove did in fact work. I wasn’t just being a moron, Hloniphani showed me the correct flip to switch on the circuit breaker to turn on the water heater, and the oven/stove just happened to be a device composed entirely of M.C. Escher logic. You see, you can’t just turn the oven on and set it to the right temperature. You also have to set the timer, to any time, before the coils will heat up. Since the timer is one of those annoying, clicking egg timer models, I had not experimented with it as thoroughly as I might have otherwise. The stove did not work for the simple reason that the knobs had been installed backwards. To get high heat you set it to the lowest setting and vice versa. The highest heat setting (so the lowest heat production) gives off the same amount of heat as a lizard on a frosty morning, completely thwarting even my keen senses of detection. Perhaps it gets warmer eventually, but I will only stand with my hand flat on an active stove top for so long. 

– My meals are simple, and alternate on a rotating schedule of eggs and rice (with chicken/turkey hotdogs), grilled cheese sandwiches, and ramen. I have also bought spaghetti and something like tomato paste to add into the mix, but forecasts have shown that the time is not yet right for such a development, as I’m having enough trouble as it is.

– I did not challenge Rejoice on the shark conspiracy because she had just fed me dinner and also because I didn’t want to be at home scrubbing burnt rice off the bottom of a pot. Obviously this heathen practice takes some getting used to. 

– On the animal front, I have very consistent, dependable neighbors. Every morning the impala herd wanders past my front porch, sometimes on my front porch, on their way to literally greener pastures. The vervet monkeys are quick to follow, with the exception that they travel across the wooden awning of my porch and occasionally jump down to look into my windows. Finding no pane unlatched and no door unlocked, they leave disappointed. Throughout the day both groups can be seen hard at work around the camp. Sometimes the monkeys wage genocide on each other, and although this is a relatively bloodless affair it is always very chaotic and noisy. So far the monkeys have always won, though they have also always lost. In the evening, the warthog couple shuffles past on their elbows, and if they’re startled they race for the bushes, their tails pointed to the sky like samurai standards. The evening is also the impalas time to play, and the females never get tired of racing around and around and around the green while the male chases hopelessly after. They enjoy taunting the poor guy by kicking their back legs high into the air, springing like rabbits, as if to show just how graceful and quick and out of his league they really are. The vervets collect their wounded and retreat to the marula trees for the night, stopping by my windows one more time, just in case.

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