Saturday, October 20, 2007

ok, so that was boring!

I just realised how incredibly boring the last few posts were! So the daily updates will be stopping, effective immediately!

Right now I am one of two people in South Africa (the other one is the masters student sitting a few feet away) currently NOT watching us play in the world up rugby final. I get occasional updates from people at home, and fortunately I can get an internet connection through my phone so i can watch the "live" score updates, although they're a bit slow to update - obviously the people in charge are kind of caught up in the watching and don't update all to often.

Fieldwork is going fine, it's been cold and rainy for a few days, which has given me a bit of a break and time to breathe a bit! I've also got used to walking a lot, so I got a bit cranky from sitting around so I carried on with my afternoon walking all over the farms, and occasionally I go running as well. I'm pretty pathetic and don't go very fast or far, but I enjoy it. We're also watching loads of DVDs, nothing particularly inspiring, but we've watched a LOT of stuff (I've watched almost an entire season of Ally McBeal, but reached the point of NO MORE this afternoon. Weird how being in the middle of nowhere makes you enjoy stuff that you'd normally avoid (not that I avoid it usually, but I can't get through that much in one sitting).

With the bad weather (which according to the 5-day forecast isn't going to improve) my entre schedule has been pushed back a few days, which is worrying as I was scheduled to finish retrapping before I have to go back home for a day or 2. As it is I'm going to have a bit of a gap in my data from that. I can only hope the wether is lousy while I'm away!

Otherwise I'm drinking a lot of tea waiting for 10pm so I can measure my lizards again and then I'm going to bed! AAARGH! this rubgy is killing me!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

fieldwork days 2-7

sorry, I've been super-hectically busy and this is the first evening I've fiished before about midnight. It's ridiculous! thejurnal stopped at day 10 (which was about 10 days ago...) out of sheer pressure for priority from a million other tasks. Here's some of the rest of what I wrote (mildly edited I'm afraid - don't want to offend too many people!)

Day 2
I woke up to realise that the room I’m staying in is east-facing. And it has no curtains. So I woke up at about 5:30 because it was so bright it was unbearable! I watched the very pretty golden beams of light on the wall before I realised that that was the sunrise and I was missing it. So I jumped up and looked – it was really pretty. So I got up and tried to keep quiet until about 6:30 when I felt like I was justified in getting up. So I went through to shower, waking up my supervisor on the way (he kind of groaned so I felt really bad). We made coffee (in the plunger Jenny gave me) and sat at our desks typing away. Occasionally one of us would get up and have breakfast or go to brush their teeth or something. After about an hour when I’d finally got the testosterone and DMSO to thaw (it freezes really easily!) we made the implants. It’s pretty tricky as it involves squirting really tiny amounts of liquid into really tiny tubes ad then sealing the end with glue. There were a few false starts of reading the numbers on the syringe wrong, but eventually we got it going pretty well.

By then it was really overcast so we went into Nelspruit to get a bunch of house stuff. As we left the farm the sun came out and it was hot! We bought a bunch of stuff, like a new kettle, cutlery, plates and stuff and cleaning supplies. As we got back to the farm it suddenly clouded over. Coincidence?We unpacked and I washed all the new dishes while the others had lunch. After that we loaded skink-trapping equipment into the bakkie and went exploring. It was loads and loads of fun! We drove all over and pretty much followed any road that looked interesting. M supervisor decided he needed to use the four-wheel drive but didn’t know how to, so between my instructions and his reading the manual we managed to get over some pretty impressive roads! I even got to see the spots where they had got stuck the day before; there were some incredible tyre tracks and rocks flung all over the place. It was pretty chilly and although we saw one or two lizards, we didn’t try any trapping. As it was, I wasn’t too stressed as I had to wait a few days for my implants to dry out. I was more worried about remembering where all the spots were – the farm is bigger than most people realise!

After all that we got back and had chicken pitas for dinner. We sat around talking (I got quite a headache from it all!) and then, after the dishes were washed, sat at our respective laptops seemingly working hard while the masters student occasionally broke the silence to discuss things like her ex-boyfriend (again).

Day 3

We finally had a day that wasn’t entirely overcast, so we headed out (with me driving) to find some skinks. It got pretty hot, so a lot were out, so we managed to catch 15 skinks, a really tiny baby lizard and a baby plated lizard which managed to detach the gluetrap from its presstick and flip it over. He was really calm and I fell in love with him right away. The baby lizard was adorable, and really interesting as it had a blue venter, unlike the white that I'm more used to.

When we got back here we saw my first tree agama, which didn’t have the super-blue head, but it was pretty cool. I also learned there’s a bird that looks like a lark that’s called a longclaw.

After lunch – peanut-butter curry and rice sandwiches (and feeling slightly ill…) we started processing lizards. It took hours. Firstly she has no experience of handing them, besides what we’d taught her that morning of how to get one off a gluetrap, oil it (which she overdid and we had these dripping lizards…) and bag it. So between us we showed her all the morphometric techniquesand I scribed while the two of them took measurements

The funniest part was when she grabbed a juvenile in the bag and he dropped his tail. She was traumatised and felt so bad! And we just laughed and told her it was ok and to try feed it to the lizard… she felt terrible and it was so funny! Another incident was when one of them dropped a lizard and I leapt up to close the door and succeeded in knocking my chair over which promptly dislodged the seat and by the time I’d disentangled myself he had caught the lizard already. And he found it very funny to tell her all about poor number 7 being ‘loose in the lab’ last year.

After all that I started measuring the colours. I’m not sure why I was the one doing it, but I was super-excited to be doing colours again. Her lizards have really interesting colours too, and i got pretty involved. I'll leave out the descriptions here because it's not my project and I dont want to bore people.

We discussed my changing my roject to work on her lizards, and I said I'd think about it, but to be honest, it was a pretty obvious 'no' - my lizards are just so much cooler! and really charismatic and adorable! After all that he made us pizza while the masters student did pretty much nothing and I processed her colour data (involving a long and drawn-out fight with the geekish formulae my brother and I made last year) and then when I offered to do a demo right after we’d done the dishes she insisted on doing the dishes while I showed him. I’m a bit confused – he doesn’t do colour, he has no data that really needs looking at I don’t think. She’s the one who really needs the help. But she seems totally not interested. So if she doesn’t care, I’d be happy to do all the colour stuff, it’s so exciting I never understand why people don’t seem too interested. Maybe I’m just turning into an academic after all!

Day 4

So I barely slept at all, partly from excitement and trying to plan studies on her lizards, partly from considering whether or not I should work on them. After a pretty horrible night I got up at around 6 and watched two common duikers that were just outside my window. One of them was scent-marking everything and the other was staying nearby, but running off anytime the other one even almost looked at him. Eventually they were pretty much dancing around this banana-palm! I snuck through the house (for once he didn’t jump out of his skin as I walked past!) and showered, and when I got back they were still sleeping so I gathered cleaning supplies and started cleaning the ablution blocks. The men’s area was ok, a few spider-webs but otherwise fine. The ‘ladies’ was a disaster, full of dirt and leaves and rat-droppings and all kinds of stuff! So I swept windowsills and poured Domestos in toilets and started sweeping. After all that it looked a lot better and we went back for breakfast before doing the first performance trials. The treadmill didn’t work, but sort of lost traction and stopped. I changed the tension and it helped, but the others (with some unhelpful comments about the treadmill design) decided that we should make a circular runway for her lizards to run around. As it was raining again we went into Nelspruit and got some supplies. They got wire and cloth and sandpaper, and I got rubber bands to improve the traction of the shaft driving the treadmill. I was in a terrible mood with a bad headache, so I was really super-unfriendly and very out-of it. When we got back we had a lunch break, but I felt too sick to eat, so I dozed on one of the free beds until they were ready to start building the racetrack. They saw I was sleeping and were really polite, whispering until he realised I’d woken up and was right behind him. I was also feeling a bit better so was in a much friendlier mood.

Building the racetrack was fun. We dismantled an old swimming pool (we asked permission and gone ahead anyway) so we will have to buy a replacement as permission WASN’T granted - and made a big circular track. I had a lot of fun cutting wires and using the pliers and figuring out the best way of fitting sandpaper into small places between the wires. I also figured out the way to make the width of the track even and fit the sandpaper properly and all these other things that were just common sense but all worked for some reason! The other student was a complete dead-weight, often just sitting around while he and I worked like maniacs. All in all it took us around 6 ½ hours to finish it. Let’s hope it works properly when we put a lizard in it!

After all that he read the paper while I sanded white standards and she lay across two chairs complaining about how tired she was. Eventually I moved to where he was sitting and he told me all about travelling and what some countries are like and the best way for going around them. It was very cool. Then he made us dinner – fish and potato-bake (forgot the vegetables). While he was cooking I was chatting to Jo and Lara on MXIT so I kept asking for Afrikaans words, which was pretty funny! I ended up on MXIT the whole was through dinner, which I know is rude but I miss Lara so much I couldn’t not speak to her!

It poured with rain all day, so it was really really sucky, but at least it rained or else we’d have lost prime lizard-catching time to building the racetrack without any help from the person who will actually be using it. It was so annoying! She kept sending him these looks (basically saying she wanted to kill me – I should know, I send them about her all the time!) as if I was the annoying one. I’m sorry for helping her! Although it was fun building it! I don’t usually get to wield pliers and wire-cutters and all kinds of stuff! After all that and dinner and everything she went off to bed and I sat typing this when he called me to look at frogs outside. After all the rain there were tons of them! There was either a sharp-nosed frog or a grass frog on the stoep, and a red toad on the steps outside the front door.

Day 5
I woke up to find that I couldn’t even see outside my window because the mist was too thick. It poured with rain all morning. We ran some lizards on the racetrack, which worked pretty well. After about lunchtime (I skipped lunch again for some reason, not sure why) I measured the colours on the baby lizard and we went rock-hunting to find a nice rock to photograph the big lizard. We didn’t find any but I found a very cute frog and we had great fun helping take pictures of it! I was worried about the spec – it showed UV where it shouldn't which makes no sense- so I came back and used the other white standard and measured it again. Still had UV – if not more than before!

It looked like it was clearing up, so we went off to the field and caught 11 more lizards. We photographed the big lizard and let him go, and he promptly ran onto another glue trap! So I picked him up and we took more pictures, on the roots of a fig tree and when I let go he didn’t run off. So we decided I could keep him as a pet. I picked him up again and bagged him, but then the other student went off on this tirade about how cruel that would be, so I changed my mind. The others went off to the outcrop Dee surfed down back in third year and we found a fig tree LOADED with figs! I stayed to monitor the traps and found that she had left all the stuff on top of a rock that had traps around it. So I figured any self-respecting lizard would have run off, and I looked under the rock to see a skink staring at me! So I jammed about 5 or 6 traps under the rock, as far as my arm would reach (this left me smelling like lizard pee).
I was summoned to see the great fig tree (it’s loaded, it’s quite scary!) and when we walked back to pack up she hadn’t found all the traps under the last rock. So I stretched underneath and retrieved them to find that I’d caught the skink! So unorthodox glue-trapping can work! Then I let the big lizard go, after posing for a photo with him. He’d make such a perfect pet! We also decided that if he gets himself caught again we’re keeping him! It was only afterwards that she said she found him creepy – probably a big reason why she argued against keeping him!

We got back to the house and ran the lizards again. After that I got an sms from the chairman of Biosoc saying he’s bringing 20 other students here for the weekend! So I ran off to try and figure out where they’re going to sleep. After that my supervisor went off running again (crazy person) and I went for a walk so I could phone Luke and talk about some of the stuff going on without feeling like the world could overhear me. I nearly got lot again, and only just made it back before it got completely dark - the moon is rising really late and the clouds block the stars, so I would have been in a bit of trouble. So he and I (he did all the tricky stuff, I chopped and stuff) made dinner: tuna, red kidney bean, tomato, yellow pepper and chakalaka pasta (he actually chucked the pasta at the ceiling and it stuck!) with gem-squash and baby marrows. It was good.

Then I cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes while we had a weird conversation about porn and weddings and making people cry. After that she went off to her laptop and probably sat on the internet again. She does that a lot. He watched some Richard Dawkins book reading and sat with is headphones giggling like a little girl! Eventually he showed us some of it, it was boring as well as annoying. Richard Dawkins irritates me so much! And I think he missed the point in discussing the origins of morality, but later I talked about it with him and maybe I didn’t understand what he was saying. So I went to bed and sat up reading the world’s most terrible book. It’s supposed to be about kids in Kenya growing up and struggling with the changing politics, which could be really awesome. Instead it’s effectively Mills & Boon set in Africa.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fieldwork - Day 1

So I finally got an internet connection in the middle of the gammadoelas! Yay! Besides the fact that I was going mildly crazy fter 2 weeks without my email, I had a few situations back home to sort out. The university is great at creating admin.

So for the first 10 days or so I kept a kind of diary of what was going on, so I figured I might as well post it. No photos just yet I'm afraid, basically this place is just wet and cold and rainy and miserable, and occasionally so hot and humid you want to keel over and pass out.

Here is day 1:

So I stayed behind to finish getting everything ready and drove up one the Thursday in the gigantic 4 x 4. It was a horrible day, pouring with rain and freezing cold. I also got the news from the zoo that they weren’t happy giving me sheep blood, which is a problem. The drive was relatively uneventful. Besides the handbrake refusing to go down at one stage and the steering going ballistic every time I passed a truck, the car was pretty good. Not as powerful as my little Jetta, but few are!

On the way I stopped at the Zasm tunnel, right outside Watervalboven. It’s a tunnel for trains, built in the 1800s, by Paul Kruger or something. My history isn’t great. Anyway they had something like 2000 people – 1000 on either side of the mountain, tunnelling towards each other. The tunnel isn’t exactly straight, which makes me wonder if they nearly missed, making 2 parallel tunnels! Out of the 2000 they lost about 200 people either to rock-falls or malaria. It’s pretty amazing. The other thing is that steam trains used to go through there, and people would be walking through because it was the quickest way of getting from Watervalboven to Nelspruit. So they made a tiny little ‘room’ on the side of the tunnel, and if people heard a train they’d run and hide there. It must have been so scary!

Anyway, the reason I went there was because I recognised it as somewhere my parents had taken us when we were small. I have a vague memory of walking through it with my family and then walking back and having a picnic while Douglas and I tried to climb the rocks around the tunnel mouth. So driving past with Ingrid a couple of weeks before I got really excited, but we didn’t stop. So this time I took the opportunity to have a look around. The biggest change is that they have tour guides now. I went through with a guy called Ben who was really nice. Apparently the crime in the area was really bad, where you’d park on one side, be mugged in the tunnel and come back to find your car had been broken into. So eight of the unemployed people in Watervalboven made an arrangement with the police to run tours and look after the cars and stuff. It’s for a donation, which they don’t get to keep, they’re actually using it to raise funds for building a coffee shop and education centre or something. Once that happens they should be earning enough to get salaries. It was amazing to talk to Ben all about it. He said he has a little son just starting school now, and he often isn’t even able to give him school shoes. But there’s no work and he doesn’t want to go live in the towns again because he just gets sucked into crime – he’d rather rely on tips to look after his family. At the end he gave me a phone number and said if I come through again he’ll take me on a better tour, up to the top of the waterfall.

So after all that I arrived at the Farmhouse, swearing because I only had half a tank of petrol (forgot to fill up at Nelspruit, no filling station at the next tiny town) and because the road really is bad. I was amazed that we ever managed to get Ingrid’s car over it! So I finally got down the hill to find The American and my supervisor – sans Condor. They asked if I noticed anything missing and I asked about the car – turns out they’d driving into a ditch and were unable to get it out. When we checked the 4 x 4 and found that there was no towrope my supervisor ran off with a spade to try and clear the road and I swept the house and started wiping down tables and things. It was pretty disgusting. Anyway he arrived triumphantly driving the Condor and proceeded to go for a run, while we cleaned some more. I’m really not a neat-freak, but the idea of living in dirt for 6 weeks was more than I could handle! After that my supervisor and I glued up one side of our implant tubes and then we all made dinner – my leftover peanut-butter curry and then we made a stirfry with peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, beans and baby sweetcorn with perinaise sauce. It was good!

Finally after much chattering about random stuff and all sitting at our laptops I decided that I had to go to bed before I collapsed. My supervisor was reading his book and decided to discuss chunks of my project with me. So I stood on the stairs, swaying slightly, trying to decide on the best measures of immunocompetence and frequency of measuring it. Finally I just went to bed.