Monkeys, Rainbows, and Lady Gaga

May 1, 2010

Chapati is my new favorite culinary fixation. It’s a simple wheat tortilla, thick and floury, but yeasty at the same time. It’s cousin is the mandazi which is like a round puff ball with the perfect combination of sweet and salty. Last night we had chapati with lentils and carrots. I was in amino acid, beta carotene heaven.

Today, we went to Clifford Rocks to survey a rock shelter. When we pulled up to the base of the rocky hill, Komande seemed tentative. He said menacingly, “Buffalo.” There were fresh prints in the red mud in between the tangles of scrubby wait-a-minute trees. Komande calls them that because they have thorns that grab you and make you wait a minute. I thought that was a stretch, but I’ve been snagged and catapulted backwards in their barbs.

The thought of getting out of the van and stepping directly where the buffalo tread possibly minutes ago was almost paralyzing. Then Chris and Paul started scaling the rocky deposit and snakes became the focus of my neurotic fear. I just pushed forward, not knowing how irrational my fear was.

We were up there 5 minutes when the wait-a-minute trees started rustling and three kids from the nearby village popped into view. These kids probably come up here every day in their recycled tire flip flops and do back hand springs on the rocks. I showed them how to operate my video cameras and they were mildly intrigued. Oddly enough, they were more fascinated by the photos of my daffodils and bleeding hearts in my iPhone than anything.

I showed them the picture of the Australopithecus skull with the sagittal ridge from the physical anthropology exhibition at the National Museum. I asked Mulu what that ridge was all about. He said these people ate very tough foliage and had to develop strong muscles that led to the deep grooves on each side of their skull to accommodate a strong jaw. Bill added that modern humans who develop their omberture for playing wind instruments also have overdeveloped temporalis muscles on either side of their skull. He said he plays the clarinet and nodded knowingly. I wasn’t about to go perform phrenology on Bill’s skull, so I will take his word for it.

Komande asked if I had any music on my iPhone, so they could “shake a leg.” The first thing that came on was Lady Gaga. It was a great contrast to see 12 year-old James, the most mischievous and outgoing of the group, in a tattered shirt dancing to Puh Puh Puh Poker Face.

Bill took measurements of the rock shelter with the total station and took the GPS reading. We all continued to dance to Madonna while the total station sporadically beeped and Bill fastidiously recorded the measurements. We continued up a rocky incline to a giant orange boulder. Every few yards, the kids would start pecking at my pants to pick off the giant ticks. I had to pull a jedi mind trick to not freak out about that.

In the distance, we saw the faint movement of large elephants drowsily poking around the trees. We also saw the yellowish necks of giraffes peaking above the trees. They reassured me we’d get some better close ups later.

On the way back to the Research Center, I must have annoyed them with my request for someone to produce a hippo. They were rambling in swahili and I suddenly made out the word “eepo” which was soon repeated as “eepo-poto-moose.” Komande turned the van into a clearing by a stream and stopped the car. I got out just going along with the next thing we had to do. I was startled to see 5 meaty hippo heads bobbing above the water. One snorted as if to warn us not to come too close. I might have involuntarily screamed “Hippos!” because they all submerged in unison. I started walking toward the shoreline when Bill told me how fast they can run. You wouldn’t expect an animal that large and fleshy to be fast. We were filming and snapping photos when we heard a hippo-like grown come from the green thicket to our left. I was half expecting to be charged and my first thought was that would get a lot of hits on youtube.

When we got back in the van, Bill asked me if I knew what the most dangerous animal is in Africa that’s caused the most deaths annually. I asked, credulously, what? “Hippos.” I was grateful he didn’t tell me that before I got out of the van.

Rainbow Over the Mpala Research Center

I’ve been grappling with the web connection since we got back to the research center. I took a moment to huff at the slow spinning rainbow circle that indicates the molasses-like churning of gears to update my blog post when I saw a real rainbow out the window arching right into the distant boulder hill. I ran to my banda to grab my camera and I left the door open. I was lost in the visual glory of the heavens when I noticed some commotion over by my banda. Five vervet monkeys were skipping in and out of the door. I turned my photographic attention to them. It’s overload here. Everywhere you look, it’s a postcard. Luckily they didn’t steel anything. I don’t think I would have been very generous about my response to primate theft despite my borderline obsession with monkeys.