Friday, October 22, 2010

"If I were a Sim, I'd be bright green right now"

So again, sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. But we’ve had a busy past couple of weeks and I have much to write about. If you want more detail about what we’ve been up to, as I’m sure I will forget a few things, definitely check out my fellow classmates blogs. You should do that anyway – they are all fantastic and enjoyable to read. Also, I'm not going to be posting pictures like I have been; it is such a long process of waiting for them to upload and plus this way here the pictures I take from here on out will be that much more exciting for you all to see when I come home. So don't hate me!
So let’s see, we left for the Serengeti on the 9th. It was about a 4 hour drive and I have to say that may have been the dustiest, bounciest, and hottest car ride of my entire life. We stopped for lunch at Oldupai Gorge and received a short presentation about the history of it. Oldupai is more commonly known as Olduvai Gorge, but this name is incorrect and our guide wanted us to pass this information along so we could educate and correct the whole world about the actual name. As you may or may not know Oldupai is where the first human footsteps have been archaeologically preserved. There was a beautiful overview of the gorge and a cute little museum describing the importance of this discovery.
We finally arrived at the gates of Serengeti, but still had a good 1 ½ hour drive to our campsite. This section of the drive wasn’t that bad because we could open the tops of the land cruisers and could treat the drive as a game drive. On our way to camp we saw our first leopard! You always know there is something cool (usually a big cat) near the road because all of the safari vehicles cluster around and you can spot the traffic jam from a while away. This leopard was lying in a tree, but it was especially awesome because on a limb lower in the tree was the carcass of its half eaten prey.
We were welcomed to our campsite by a herd of elephant that was passing by, only 50 or so meters away, always a great way to start camping! With the elephants still in view we broke up into groups and set up 8 tents for us to sleep in. We set these up in a circle with a few staff tents and the land cruisers parked around the outside, so we would have some sort of layer of protection from the curious animals that visited our site while we were sleeping.  And believe me there were plenty of night-time visitors! As soon as it gets dark you can hear lions, hyenas, and zebras. One of the guards from Moyo Hill came with us, Ascari Bura, so he and a guard employed by the Serengeti stayed awake every night to make sure nothing got too close or curious. After hearing about a zebra closely followed by a lion passing through camp, a group of us stayed up late in hopes of witnessing something like that. After letting Bura know our plans, we extinguished the campfire, climbed into one of the vehicles and continued to stay up listening and looking for the wildlife. As the night passed on though, our group numbers dwindled until it was just myself and Robbie (another student), with Bura and another professor of ours in the car. Eventually we all fell asleep too, only waking up to see the largest hyena I have yet to see (even Bura said it was exceptionally big) rummaging through our trash bin, that we had placed only 10 meters away from the car! Not as spectacular as a zebra-stalking lion, but cool nonetheless.
Besides these late-night animal observations we also had plenty of opportunities to see wildlife during the daytime as every day we were in the Serengeti we went on a game drive, if not two. These ranged from early morning ones before breakfast to all day ones, where we had to pack lunch and would get back in time for dinner. Some of these were just for fun but for others we conducted animal counts and other observations to complete assignments. There were so many animals; some of the more extraordinary ones were another leopard, crocodiles, a serval, and a legit pride of lions lounging under a tree. We still haven’t seen a rhino, so I’m hoping we will still have the opportunity in Kenya. An exciting thing happened to me while in the Serengeti – I got my “A-card” or “Africa-card” because I spotted two lions before both our driver and professor, I was so pumped! It was my goal to spot one before Kioko, our professor who literally has an eagle eye (he was the one who saw the lions in Ngorongoro) but he wasn’t in my car that morning I spotted them so we’ll never know if I would be able to out-spot him.
We also attended a few lectures while in the Serengeti. We listened to three guest lectures, concerning wildlife diseases, plant and vegetation available to herbivores in the park, and how tourism is an important part of the Serengeti. They were all interesting, but sometimes it was hard to stay completely focused, especially in a hot room, when you started thinking about the animals you could actually be seeing instead of listening about. We also had the opportunity to visit the Serengeti Safari lodge and treat ourselves to the luxuries presented to us there. Though I have a new resolution to not spend any more money on food here, I broke down and bought a plate to the lunch buffet and you better believe I only did so knowing that there was a salad bar with CHEESE available. The chocolate sauce that we could put on cakes and bananas was also much appreciated. The remainder of the time was spent lounging by or swimming in the pool before we headed back to camp.
It also rained while we were there. And I don’t mean just a little sprinkle, but it POURED. Buckets, complete with thunder and lightning. We all took cover when it started but some of us couldn’t resist and went out and frolicked in it. Of course we got soaking wet, but after standing up for a game drive we dried out a bit. Thankfully the African sun dries things much quicker than back home so the next day all our bedding and wet clothes were hung out and dried. I hadn’t been camping in a while, so it was great to have the opportunity to sit around a campfire, use a mess-kit, and walk far to use the bathroom, but even greater to do all the camping stuff while in the Serengeti!
We got back from the Serengeti on the 13th and though we had some down time to rest, relax, and head into town to shop and grab a bite to eat, most of our time we’ve been back has been devoted to finishing up our final assignments. The work here isn’t necessarily been harder than it is back home but it is all due at the same time and when you are a procrastinator like me, it can get stressful when you’re down to the final days, hours, minutes before the assignments are due. We’ve had 3 papers, 2 sets of data analyses, a chart identifying all of the mammals we have seen since being in Tanzania, and a poster and presentation of the habitat/species association in Tarangire National Park all due from Monday to Wednesday. Here’s a little life lesson that I have learned: make sure that Microsoft Power Point is set to autosave, because working all day on a project and then losing right before your about to print it really makes for the worst night redoing it. Just FYI.  It was a stressful few days with everyone worrying about getting everything done, correctly but thankfully we are officially done with all classes, exams, and assignments in Tanzania and now have the next few days to relax, have fun, and pack for Kenya.
We do have a few more things scheduled for us to do, like our community service project. We have decided to mix and pour cement for the kitchen floor of the local primary school. Currently they are cooking on an open fire in a hole on the ground, so hopefully this will be the start to a more efficient kitchen system for them. We had to raise about $200 for buying the cement mix and instead of just splitting up the costs and all donating a certain amount of money, we decided to have some fun with it. So we had a charity auction! We all offered random, fairly insignificant things and services for one another to bid on. For example I offered two mornings of doing someone’s breakfast crew and a day of “owning” my hammock, meaning you could kick me out of it if you wanted to use it while I was. In return I bought a bar of dark chocolate and someone’s iTunes movie collection for $46. Not a bad deal since I’ve exhausted my Tanzanian M&M supply and have 40 more movies than I had to being with. Some of my favorite items that were for bid were an amateur pedicure, a day of silence, a dirty shirt off someone’s back (literally), compliments for a week, and a day of being someone’s slave. It was a fun way to raise money, and I think everyone was happy with their purchases. To top it off we raised what we wanted plus some, close to $550! So the cement has been purchased and is ready for us to mix and pour, which we will do tomorrow morning.
Do you all want to play a guessing game? Well it doesn’t matter if you do or not, because you’re going to. The thing to guess is how many days I had gone since last taking a shower. Here’s a hint: I’ve set the new student record. I’ll let you know next time I post a blog. You’ll probably be disgusted, but hey TIA.
Well I think that’s about it. I’ll try to post before we head to Kenya and I should give you all a heads up that our access to internet will be significantly reduced; the rumor is that there is only internet every other night. I’ll also need to buy a new SIM card for my cell phone, so there may be a few days when we first get there that my phone won’t work. I’ll post my new number too.

I just want to thank all of you that have taken the time to express your condolences about Mac. It means so much to me to know I have your support and kind words even half way around the world. I love and miss you all.
xoxo Z

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