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.