Tuesday, September 30, 2008
So, by the time the hunting incident rolled around my GPS unit (my mapping and data gathering lifeline) had also given out spontaneously, so needless to say, when it was time to go home a few weeks later, I was ready! I think I slept for for 70% of the week that I was in Canada! My waking hours were packed with quality time with the fam and, of course, with the dingy bingys (that is, Babu and Cohiba). We swam around this big island together everyday, went canoeing and running, and slept in a big furry ball together every night. Exactly as my mom says, it was Camp Fernrock for Dogs. Besides B and C there were three other dogs there and every afternoon turned into a barking and nipping fest on the dock as they all got riled up in the excitement of jumping into the water for the evening swim. I should say that it was so wonderful to see my mom, dad, brother, aunt, and uncle...I always love seeing them, but this seemed like a time in which family support felt better than ever!
After Canada I was back in Kent for a whirlwind of friend time and Molly's beautiful wedding--interspersed with watching as many movies and movie parts as possible on TV (only watch an average of one movie a month in B-berg) which is why I ended up losing all of my credit in the sleep bank by the end of the two weeks! Everyone will of course be overwhelmingly excited to hear that I almost resembled a lady at the wedding--hair done up and no nut or bone jewelry. Molly was great! Hands down the most relaxed bride I have ever seen! "Molly, how fast do you want the bride's maids to walk down the isle?" "Well, not running, but the sooner the better. I want to get married!"
By early September, I was back in Parbo with Avis, a grad school buddy, and her boyfriend Mark who came to visit for a month. Of course, they were told two days before the flight that their flight between Trini and Parbo had been changed to the day before (hum, the day before...makes it a little tough to catch), so they had to buy a new ticket, and they ended up losing their bags on that flight that they paid double for, so really, they got here without much of a glitch! We hung out in Parbo for a couple of days and went to the zoo where Auke, the curator, let us go up and pat the bearded sakis again! I'm definitely still in love with the female bearded saki, no question, and I'm pretty sure it's mutual. Auke then walked us around the rest of the zoo and pointed out all of the animals that have bitten his hands--of course this wouldn't be difficult given the fact that he is one of the largest Dutchies--with some of the largest hands--that I have ever seen, and if you've ever stood next to a Dutchie, you know that's saying something. It must affect him too since almost every story he has involves his hands in some way. Super nice guy, though, despite the fact that all of the animals in the zoo have found a reason to bite him. We also went to the Javanese market with our friends Muriel and Iwan where I bought six basil plants...and you know that this was huge if you know anything about how I feel about basil.
After a few days in the city, which, I now have confirmation from about 50 Parbo-ans that I've asked, has turned into an unbearable oven and will be until November (I know I'm supposed to understand the tropical seasons but until November, really?), we escaped to the berg for a cool night's sleep! I have to admit that a wave of the low grade exasperation that I felt with my project before I left swept over me again the minute I arrived in Brownsberg. Being that I have something like 8 months to go, I realized that this was a little bit of a problem! Enter the Jungah Soljahs...Allow me to explain...for a couple of months (because that's how long it take to get through beaurocracy around here!) Andrew and I had been exploring the possibility of working with the young Saramaccan guys who work in the park as field assistants. By the time I got back, there was kind of a system in place where one guy works with us for 12-14 hours a day Monday-Thursday. Needless to say, it has been such a breath of fresh air working with them! And, what kills me is that while western scientists (like me, for example) like to walk around talking about how good they are at studying evasive monkey species in the depths of the forest, there might be an entire of village of, say, 3000 people nearby where just about everyone could study a group of monkeys more successfully. Anyway, the point is that these guys are perfectly at home in the forest! I've been buddies with them since I arrived, but never had any idea the extent to which they know the trees and animals of the forest, since all we seem to talk about is reggae and the girls they're interested in (not surprising since they're all about 20 and it probably never occurred to them that their knowledge of the forest would be so fascinating to me)! The first week I went out with Hanki (or Hanki Panki as I call him) who is pictured here. Not only does he know just about every tree in the forest, what it is used for, and which animals eat its fruit, he's a machine! One morning we left at around 5 AM to walk for an hour and a half to the place where the monkeys went to sleep the night before. By the time I got there, there wasn't a dry spot left on my T-shirt...it was fairly embarrassing. Meanwhile he had this jacket on and didn't take it off all day--even when it got to be about 95--and he did not sweat a drop! And he smoked all day and didn't really complain at all about the tennis shoes he was wearing that were too small or his lack of socks (found some boots for him later, by the way). He also chose not to mention to me the fact that he had eaten his three peanut butter sandwiches (I tried to offer him something else, but he kept saying, "Naw, Chem, Chem, pinda, only pinda") and drunk all of his water by 8 AM. When at 3 PM I realized he didn't have any food and gave him a power bar, I also discovered that he didn't have any water when the power bar made him choke because his throat was so dry! Pretty resilient dude! Nothing bothers him! On top of telling me about the trees, he has an eagle eye for the monkeys. I told him that what I most want to see is when there are two monkeys sitting together or two monkeys having sex. I think all of the guys have resigned themselves to understanding that all Americans are completely crazy, so when I said this it didn't really faze him, "OKay, Chem Chem." I should mention that we are communicating in these guys' forth language too--Saramaccans, Sranan Tongo, and Dutch being the first three--so now and then it takes a couple of minutes for us to understand each other. In my defense, I've tried to learn some Saramaccans, but at this point, I'm sticking to sayings, which don't always get me that far--a promised calf never grows. Anyway, somehow, the guys manage to understand me very well. The only thing with Hanki is that he refers to everything in the first person (actually, more like as "I'm"), making things a little confusing. For example, "Chem Chem, when I'm walking in the forest I'm see the animal is walking in the tree, I'm eat the fruit and I'm drop it on the ground and then agouti come and I'm pick it up." It took me a while to realize that only the first two "I'ms" refer to Hanki and the last one to the agouti. We also had a little difficulty with the walkie talkies at first. I asked him to call me on the walkie talkie when he sees the monkeys, "Chem, I'm see the monkeys," and then I asked him to hoot twice so that I could come find him, "Hoot, hoot"...into the walkie talkie. "Okay Hanki, you have to hoot with the walkie talkie off or I don't know where you are." "Oh yes, Chem, I'm see." He also thinks the GPS unit is relatively ridiculous, "Chem, if I'm see a tree one time, I'm can find the tree again." Yeah, good point, except that as you may have noticed we Americans are not nearly as forest savvy as you guys and could probably die lost 10 meters from the trail! Hanki came up with the term Jungah Soljah because every time we catch sight of the monkeys he says, "Oh, Chem, the animals, we go." So like two soldiers we march forward into the forest. After the second day, he asked me to bring a machete along so that he could do some carving while the monkeys rest. He ended up making a game with a long piece of wood, a piece of string, and a few slices of something like a dowel. You have to see it to understand but it's super cool. He even appreciates the pygmy-squirrel-eaten-palm-nut necklaces that I've made! There's a picture of him above carving the game...by the way, he was in the process of having a new set of braids done, but I told him I prefer the fro!
The second guy I worked with was my friend Mergi (aka Mama's Boy or the Ladies Man, as they call him). He was great too. Both of the guys tease me for being an old lady, since I have a habit of falling on my face fairly regularly, but my motto is "don't fight the fall" since it hurts more, and the fact is that these guys are hard to keep up with! Mergi and I didn't have quite as much luck with the monkeys, although we saw them on three days, but we did get into some interesting discussions about ultimate fighting (inspired by an article in the Rolling Stone I brought for him to page through), women, and yes, my favorite, Jesus. Mergi is extremely sharp and he always has tons of questions about the world, but, of course, I am completely unqualified to explain to him who Jesus was. A guy with a great personality and a lot of friends who said he was the son of God, was what I came up with, but then when he asked me if he really was the son of God, those of you who are religious would be uncomfortable to hear that I said, "I don't know, if a guy walked into your village, had a great personality, and said he was the son of God, what would you think?" He didn't really know what to think about that, so I told him not to listen to me. Anyone who would like to come down here and help me on this one, feel free. I just have to say that I am completely uncomfortable with the role of white woman being the spiritual leader of a young black guy...call it conditioning from years of exposure to hot headed western missionaries! Anyway, thanks to the guys, I've caught a number of "sex" episodes with the monkeys and seen more of the monkeys in a three week period than ever! I've also learned a number of sayings "Ya sa nya hanse" (you can't eat pretty, ie you might be pretty, but it won't necessarily get you that far) and "Be fu abi hangi" (the minute your belly's full, you're hungry again, ie you can't get enough) being my two favorites...actually "styrofoam always comes to the surface" (can't remember the translation off the top of my head) is the one I am still most curious about. How long has styrofoam been around for anyway?
By the way, hope you like the other photos--one is of a female bearded saki, maybe the best photo I've taken yet, these guys are so tough to get good pics of, and the other is a tamandua, a small, arboreal ant eater. Here he is in a frozen pose with his one foot sticking out, hoping I won't see him, in fact I thought he was a monkey at first! We've had a few fleeting jaguar sightings now too, super cool! Well, off to a Ramadan party, Suriname style, forget the fasting, let's have a party! Hope everyone is doing well! Miss you all!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
So, I guess it has been a couple of months! So much has happened, although, interestingly enough my data set is still painfully small. My academic adviser pointed out to me a few days ago that there is the danger of getting home with no data. Okay, on that note I'm going to start collecting data on just about everything I see. I was thinking that I could probably scrape together some kind of really convoluted connection between bearded sakis and jaguars if I wrote a chapter in my dissertation on jaguar predation of tortoises...I'm starting to realize that bearded sakis may be one of the most difficult monkeys in the world to study. Of course their is their sister genus, the uakaris, they live in flooded forests. I met a guy a few weeks ago who studied them for his dissertation. He spent 8 months looking for them, then another year or more following them, often having to swim to stay with the group. Talking to people like this guy is quite comforting! We ended up building a satellite camp about 7 kilometers from the main camp so that we can sleep as close to the monkeys as possible. The camp is called Wan Daka Osu (One Day House) because we (okay, not exactly we, more like Timuti, one of the guys who works at Brownsberg) built the thing literally in one day. Of course, then it took one day to put up the tarp, one day to build the tables, and one day (for Andrew) to bring down the propane tank and the stove (that took about 2 weeks to acquire). The plan was for him to take the propane tank and stove down on his bike. If this is your first time reading this blog, you may not be familiar with our bike saga, but this was a classic day in the history of the biking adventures at Brownsberg. All I needed to see was Andrew returning that evening and flinging his bike into the forest. Having flung the bike once or twice myself, I could guess that things didn't go exactly as planned. It turns out that after riding along for only about a kilometer, the rear tire blew out. So, he ended up walking the remaining 6 kilometers, dragging the bike, since the rear wheel wouldn't really turn, with the 60 pound propane tank on the back and the stove on his back. I think it took him 2 days to recover--physically and emotionally. By the way, I wasn't just idly sitting by watching. I was at the clinic in the town near by dealing with a great eye infection (some mysterious poisonous bug threw itself into my eye and turned the whole thing as red as a tomato) that turned into a two-week long ordeal with my glasses--by the way, glasses and jungle don't mix. One day I found myself trying to get back to camp at dusk, in the rain, up a huge hill, after an exhausting day of monkey watching, with completely fogged over glasses. I was about 2 kilometers from any trail, so I took a look at my GPS unit and my compass, but when I realized a couldn't see either of them, I flung them to the wind and just started trudging up hill. I made it back long after dark. Fortunately, the infection passed.
The idea with building the camp was that the monkeys would go to sleep about 15 minutes from the camp. Well, that was what happened the first time, but, being that we're studying monkeys that seem to have a range of about 6 square kilometers, the next day they were about an hour and a half walk from camp. We had to leave before 5 AM to get there before the little guys woke up. Needless to say, after following them until 630 that night, we were a little tired. Well, the bus is about to leave...so I guess I better sign off. I included some photos of the guys at the park, Wan Daka Osu, a bearded saki (!!!), and our little mouse who lives at the Wan Daka Osu, he's very friendly, likes to be scratched behind the ear! Promise to write more in August! I hope everyone is doing well!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Being that I have been at Brownsberg now for a month or so, you may be expecting endless stories about how the bearded sakis are staying in nice, cohesive, easy-to-follow groups, posing cooperatively to have their portraits taken, feeding on fruits that I can easily identify, and generally behaving as my NSF grant proposal would have you expect…But being that bearded sakis are the coquettish little monkeys that stole my heart five years ago, I have officially only spent one afternoon with the little poop heads—I mean with my long lost loves in the past month. I guess it would be misleading to make it sound like we (that is me and Andrew, whom I like to call my Number One Field Assistant, he loves this title…) have spent the past month searching desperately and fruitlessly for the sakis. In fact, we have been busy “preparing” for the time when we will be effortlessly following them for 12 hours a day, etc, a la grant proposal.
“Preparing” has involved piecing together some bikes (this may sound pretty straight forward—you have six bikes in a big pile on the floor and you want to turn them into two bikes that stop and go more or less on command). In fact, piecing together the bikes took a number of days, due to the fact that every tool the guys could get their hands on broke (“China” is all they say as something breaks), and once a tool breaks, it can be a few days before you can get everything orchestrated again for another fix session. Another exciting part about using a bike for which the word “China,” as the guys use it, might be appropriate for all the parts, is that the bike may just chose to give up all of a sudden. This happened to us (i.e. me, but Andrew by association, since he had to drag me home) on a couple of occasions. Of course, both times when the bike broke down, we were about 7 kilometers from the camp…and at least on the first occasion, it was about a quarter to pitch black when it happened. “Well,” we figured, “we’re a couple of Ph.D. candidates. We can figure this out.” Turns out that tying fishing line between two mountain bikes and pulling gets you a good twenty feet before the line snaps back in your face. Surely blindness caused my tears of laughter/fear doesn’t really help get your very far either, but it’s hard to maintain composure at times like these. We decided to try our luck with doubled-up fishing line, and this got us about twenty five feet, interestingly doubling the line does not double the distance, but what do I know about physics.
At that point, we decided to try something a little more substantial…like a large, twelve-foot branch. In fact, the candidacy exams may have been worth it afterall, because this technique turned out to work pretty well. The only obstacles then were the foot-deep puddles, logs, braches, lianas, rocks, and the occasional massive frog. These things wouldn’t be that big a deal if it weren’t for the fact that there were some hills here and there—oh, and by the way, Andrew's breaks didn’t really work, so I was sort of breaking for both of us—with one hand—and if you combine all of the things above with the fact that it was entirely dark by then, you would think that even the first grade education would kick in at that point and tell you that maybe it was time to call it a day and walk the rest of the way. Well, being that I could already taste the beer we were going to have when we got back, and more importantly, I didn’t want to seem like a wimp in front of my field assistant, I said, “Sure, I can make it down this hill.” Five seconds later, as I flew off the bike into the air and my fourth left rib made contact with the end of one of the handle bars and then my thigh slammed into a large rock, I considered the fact that there is a difference between seeming like a wimp and generally being a total idiot. Anyway, the thigh still has a healthy bruise, and the lack of a bruise on my chest was a pleasant surprise, considering that the pain literally took my breath away for a few hours, until I ran into a tree (don’t ask) over a week later and the same pain returned immediately. I ain’t no doctor, but it did occur to me that fractured ribs tend to show similar symptoms…Oh well, I’m pretty much back to normal…as long as I avoid running into trees and breathing too deeply!
Our second experience with the bike malfunction fortunately happened earlier in the day, so we were able to use the ol’ branch system again and the darkness wasn’t an issue (although all of the other things still were, so the feeling of adventure was still alive and well). So there are no pictures of this fiasco, but I hope the picture in your head is enough. Needless to say, on this trip to the city I bought up half of the stuff in the nearest bike shop…including some nice orange grips to really spruce things up.
So, on top of fixing and wrecking bikes here and there, we have been preparing all of the trails in a fairly remote part of the park for the upcoming 12 months of uninterrupted bearded saki watching. Now they just have to hold up their end of the bargain. Not sure how aware they are of the bargain, so that could be an issue. I’m considering leaving copies of the NSF proposal along the trails with a sign saying “Please read and consider cooperation. Gran tangi fi” (“Thank you” in Sranang Tongo). Hopefully, the sakis will be the first to pick it up instead if Mr. Jaguar (aka the Takumbeti or the Bobuo in Saramakkans, oh yes, I am nearly fluent in Saramakkans—I know over ten animal names and am a pro at making everything else up, not sure anyone understands, but they usually smile and nod which is good enough for me! E.g. Mi lobi taki foto di jungafutu a matu. My translation: I love to take pictures of deer in the forest. Probable Translation: I love to talk to deer in Paramaribo (Foto) then kill them.), who has made his presence abundantly clear. Of course, I am including a picture of his poop, this wouldn’t be a proper message from me without a poop photo, I am my father’s daughter after all. We also found a yellow-footed tortoise shell that had clearly predated by a jaguar (I say “clearly” not just based on my extensive knowledge of jaguar predation habits, but on the fact that all of the local pros at camp confirmed this). I have included some photos of our reenactment so that you can really get a feel for how it must have gone down. That’s me playing the role of Mr. Tacumbeti, in case you mistakenly thought we had actually trained the jaguar, that will be this upcoming month. Anyway, on one day of trail clearing trails we had the assistance of Mergi aka The Governor of Brownsberg aka the Go-to Guy at Brownsberg for anything from bike repairs to machete sharpening to fixing the Ark to removing large splinters (as Andrew says, a day without Mergi at Brownsberg is like the movie A Day without a Mexican!). I have included a photo of him at work. He always wears a scarf-like thing that is actually a traditional Saramakkans men’s skirt. To me it actually looks like a cape, which is fitting for his role as the Governor. I told him it makes him look like Superman, which I think he appreciated, but again, I never know if anyone understands me.
Well, I see that this message is getting a little long and is relatively low on content, so I’ll try to sum up the rest of the month quickly before I lose you to more important e-mail correspondence. I have included some photos of some of the other interesting wildlife we have seen—really cool frogs (always great photo subjects since their anti-predator behavior of looking really alert but not moving is very conducive for taking pics), massive caterpillars that could easily be mistaken for large gerbils until you touch them and your hand falls off from the toxins, my buddy Mr. Feir du Lance (gotta love that one of the most venomous snakes in the world also happens to be the most abundant animal at Brownsberg), and lots of monkeys, of course. One day last week in the time of about five hours I saw eleven groups of monkeys—six species...don’t know if I mentioned this in the past, but there are seven species of monkeys at Brownsberg…you can guess which species I DIDN’T see… Also included some people and places pictures. The one of me looking really tough was at a remote waterfall on Oni Pasi (Trail of Bees, i.e. honey, turns out to be the trail of ants, got bitten countless times, but I guess it’s better than bees). My mom and dad would be happy to know that a few minutes before this picture I was on that fallen tree that is crossing the canyon. Andrew has made the observation that I have an affinity for adventure, this might be related to my habit of taking the road less traveled, i.e. always doing things in the most complicated way possible, but why not? You’ll notice that I’m a little gear laden, and I ended up with more straps than even Avis on a good day, but hey, you never know if you might need the binos, camera, GPS, machete, flashlight, water, NUTS, and of course, the SPOT locator device (thank you Aunt Gwen and Uncle Dick, thankfully I haven’t had to use the “Help” button yet)!
I’ll finish with some pictures from Rocky’s, the local bar and good place for everything from cards to dancing to some heavy-duty drum music! The night before Andrew’s birthday, a drum band came up to Brownsberg to have a retreat, and they offered to play a little for everybody. They were so amazing, and of course by the time both my batteries and memory card were working in my camera, they were almost finished, but I’ll try to put in a little video of them (okay, that failed...I think it takes at least a few hours to upload a video!). At ten minutes to midnight, they started a medley of songs that lasted into Andrew’s birthday. I’ll try to include this video too, it’s a little jerky because I was dancing while filming (no go...)! In the middle, Andrew was doused with some beer for good luck! The next day we had a little party for him and, thanks to Orin and Stacey, he had a nice balloon birthday hat. The cake had everything from pineapple and mixed fruit to M & M’s and cashews on it, you have to be creative here in the jungle. There is also a picture of a lot of the park regulars: Rocky is in the denim shirt with his brother and nephew behind him, Sasquia, the receptionist and by far the most popular woman at Brownsberg is in the center and the other three guys are Mergi, Hanky, and Magnus who are the guys who work in the park.
So, finally we are heading back tomorrow. I was smart enough to “lose” my cell phone yesterday, which completely held us up since we’ve decided to start communicating over cell phones rather than radios when we’re following the monkeys! With the radio you find yourself staring at the other person who is about 50 feet away saying, “[whisper] Come in, the monkeys are above my head…come in…COME IN…HEY, IS YOUR RADIO ON?” “YEAH, BUT I DON’T HEAR ANYTHING. WHERE ARE THE MONKEYS?” “WELL, THEY WERE ABOVE MY HEAD BUT I’M PRETTY SURE THEY ARE LONG GONE MY NOW.” “MAN, THESE RADIOS!” An undergrad student will be coming up this week to work with us for the next six weeks, so it will be great to have another set of yes.I hope everyone is doing well! Thanks so much for your replies and comments! I really dislike coming to the city, but the thought of a full in box makes it all better (as long as they’re not all messages about sales at the Gap). Oh--breaking news! I saw a pair of bearded sakis at the zoo yesterday! I know the zoo is not typically the kind of place that makes me really happy, but I have to say it was one of the more exciting experiences of my life! To be so close to those little bums was so exciting! And they were much more interactive than I expected! I'm pretty sure the female was flirting with me! I have a great movie but it would take until next year to upload it, guess I'll have to come visit you all when I come back!
Until next month!
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
In Parbo my mood and my luck took a huge turn! I was escorted quickly through customs by a friend's brother who happens to work for immigration. On the two-hour-long, extraordinarily bumpy ride into the city, I giggled the whole way because I was so glad to have arrived! Everyone else in the bus was acting a little bit more appropriately for 3 AM. Excitement carried me into Sleepless Night Number 4, but I'm not complaining about that one!
Since the trip, we (my new partner in the monkey business is a student from Berkeley named Andrew Ritchie) have been through a whirlwind of preparation--boxes and boxes of groceries, meetings at the university, okay, a beer here and there. Andrew has arranged for us to work with an undergraduate student from the university who will work on her bachelor's thesis while being our field assistant. I have also spoken with some people at the university who are interested in helping us organize an environmental education series with the kids in Brownsweg. Brownsweg is a town right at the base of the Brownsberg ("berg," in case it's not clear by now, means burg or plateau). Since there will be between two and ten Surinamese and American researchers in Brownsberg throughout this upcoming year, it seems like a great time to have an environmental education series. I hope to talk to the teachers in Brownsweg as soon as I get situated in Brownsberg to see if they would be interested in working with us.
We've also found a great house to stay in when we come to the city (fits about 6 and costs 15 Euros a night total...and it's really nice!). Most importantly there is a Cohiba dog right down the street (of course, a picture was in order!). Being that this is something like the fifth dog I have seen with her phenotype, I have a feeling that it is the default! This one is so cute, she has not responded positively yet to my dingy-bingy-ing, but at least I can pretend she is the my little princess! The house is also across the street from Iwan's orchid and bat paradise...photo heaven! Oh--and here's a photo of the prehistoric fish soup we had at my friend Meriel's house...yum!
Well, it seems like we will finally be off to "the field" (aka the forest) tomorrow, so you won't have to read another one of these novels for a while. I hope you guys are all doing well! Miss you all, and remember, the door to Monkey Town is always wide open! Fa waka for now!