What to do in Case of a Cackle

May 2, 2010

Kathleen and Jenn have arrived! They were finally able to eat dinner by the time they got here. Paul Kunoni, Kathleen’s Maasai translator, who is a medical doctor, was tending to both of them and determined that it might have been the gailardia virus on top of a food-born parasite. We still suspect the chips.

Apparently Justus, Komande’s father, who is a firm believer in holistic and herbal medicines was battling it out with Paul to give them a handful of herbs instead of the usual drugs to kill the parasite which was most likely lying in wait in their small intestines, guns at the ready. I just hope that’s the last of it.

Joyce White, co-Director of the Middle Mekong Project in Laos at the Penn Museum was telling all of us who participated in her 2010 season that she used to mark days in her calendar to recover from predictable bouts of food poisoning ahead of time. If she knew she had to go to someone’s home for an ambassadorial dinner to get permission to excavate somewhere, she knew she’d have to black out the next day in her calendar for recovery. Not everyone knows about the ins and outs of intestinal flora, and when you are conducting archaeological research, I’m getting the impression that a lot of it is delicately negotiated over hours of tea and finger foods. Sometimes the dreaded glass of unboiled local water might show up on the table and it would be rude not to accept.

I live in abject fear of bad water. I imagine flagella whipping around in the glass and I’d rather just shrivel into a desiccated husk.

I am so grateful to have a fully functioning bathroom here. It’s made just like a banda, but the shower is poured concrete. It’s a spa resort compared to what I expected. I turned on the hot water in the shower and waited and waited. I didn’t want to waste the water so I just braced for it. Later, I asked Bill if that was considered a cold shower or was I just a greenhorn. He said the hot water is solar-powered. It works best around 2pm. Dually noted.


Right now, I’m hearing some of the strangest noises outside my banda above the nighttime insect drone. It sounds like a hyena might have emphasema. He’s chortling or clearing his throat like he’s trying to furtively tell another hyena something he doesn’t want the rest of the gaggle to hear. What is a group of hyenas called? It must be something silly like a guffaw of hyenas, a shazam of hyenas, a manishevitz, an extravaganza, a cotillion, a blitzkrieg of hyenas.

I just looked it up and it’s a cackle!

After dinner, we were chatting about the wildlife and the two different kinds of zebras. We decided the regular ones with the large stripes and the smaller builds are the econo-zebras. The fancy variety are the Grevy (pronounced like gravy) zebras, with finer stripes and larger bodies. They eat more, even though they live in the dry lands, Mulu said. Mulu looked up from his book every other paragraph or so to chime in and set us straight. I don’t know why I think it’s so funny that he’s reading a book about Mormon fundamentalists that he got from the book exchange shelf. He keeps saying that he’s totally absorbed by the book and utterly “disturbed” at the same time. He reads and contributes to the dinner conversation at the same time. I am so very impressed.

The conversation inevitably turned to how to avoid getting eaten by said wildlife. Mulu confirmed Jenn’s assertion that hyenas are extremely dangerous because they call their cackling friends over to help gang up and eat you – a whole blockbuster of hyenas, the entire department store of hyenas. Mulu said that buffalo were most dangerous if you see just one male. It means he was thwarted from a breeding herd, which would consist of the one winning male and probably 25 ladies. If he’s alone, he’s angry. Same goes for that single male elephant we saw yesterday. Kathleen added some advice about elephants and Bill contributed with a fact about rhinos. I contributed nothing because I can never remember whether to bang pots and pans or hide.

So what it comes down to is this:

Elephant: Run down hill. They can’t run down hill.
Buffalo: Lay down flat. They won’t be able to see you. But make sure you’re not in their path.
Rhino: Remain still until they come close enough for you to jump out of the way at the last minute. (Yeah right.) They have a large turning radius and bad eyesight.
Hippo: Run
Lion: Scream

No one offered any advice about hyenas. I guess you could try to divide and conquer, and keep them from forming a manishevitz.