Friday, May 13, 2016

The Best $5 I've Ever Spent

The nature vs. nurture debate rages on, but neither are particularly friendly forces.  In the wild, baby elephants that can't keep up with the herd are left behind.  If they don't bond with their mother, there usually isn't another elephant that will feed them.  Nurture isn't that great either: baby elephants are left nosing at their poached mothers or fall down abandoned, but uncapped wells as settlements expand and contract.

In Kenya, some of the babies that are rescued end up at the David Sheldrick Center inside the Nairobi National Park, raised there by humans until they turn 4 and are slowly integrated into wild herds in one of the Tsavos.  For one hour each day, the orphans romp around in public.  The entrance fee is 500Ksh, and it's the best $5 that I have ever spent.

First is feeding time

Some decide they can feed themselves

When the milk runs out, they attack the trees
They play with each other

their caretakers

and finally their adoring fans

And then they say good bye :(


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Bueller? Bueller?


What (re-)introduction can I provide that tops Dr. Frankenstein's?  None that I can think of.

I truly feel alive, again, after a school year that really did a number on me.  I survived, even thrived by some measures, but the last thing I wanted to do at any point was rehash it in writing.  But spring semester has ended, and I find myself jovial enough to reconnect with you all, on this the 7-month anniversary of my most recent post.

I scrolled backwards in my calendar and thought "wow, that stuff happened...yesterday, it seems like".  It has been an eventful ~210 days.  In very rough order:

* I became the official bunny volunteer at the animal shelter.

* I joined a community handbell choir.  The average musicianship is quite high because it contains so many ringers somehow associated with IU's Jacobs School of Music.

* I have become a dedicated fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They play hockey well, and seem like nice enough people off the ice.  I am decidedly not a dedicated fan of the Chicago Blackhawks.  They play hockey well, but do not seem like nice enough people off the ice.  A Pens-Stars Stanley Cup Finals series would suit me just fine.

* A follow-on from that: I am learning to play hockey.  The next oldest student in my hockey class isn't in double digits for age yet.  At the beginning, I was twice as tall, but had half the skills.  However I have the advantage that I have already learned how to do complex skills with my body, and thus am just layering these new skills on top of a strong kinesthetic sense.  It's a disadvantage to be learning to stand both on the ice and off the ice at the same time.

* I joined a biomechanics study that requires me to wear a FitBit for an entire year :/

* I fostered another rabbit, this one a beautiful whiskey red colored Belgian Hare, named Rosalee.

* I broke my foot (stress fracture that felt unlike any other stress fracture I have ever had) on New Years Day.  Thanks to extraordinarily generic medical care, I was in and out of boot three times with multiple re-injuries until the second week of April.  I had originally been offered a recovery time of 4-6 weeks.  A full 18 weeks later, I am finally running 1.5 miles at a time.

* This spring semester I taught a 3 credit-hour lecture class to 221 undergraduates, while the regular professor was on sabbatical.  My sole assistant/co-conspirator was my grader, an undergraduate who took the class last semester.   Many many times I would look around and think "they're just going to like....let me do this.  Isn't anyone going to check up on me?  Hmmm, guess not."  I will never fear speaking to groups of people ever again.

* This spring semester I completed a 10-hours-per-week clinical practicum at a local high school.  Next year my clinical internship at the same site counts 20-hours-per-week.

* This spring semester I took 9 credit hours of classes that I didn't teach.

* This spring semester I taught triathlon swim lessons at the University's recreational swimming facility.

* To facilitate learning hockey, this spring semester I got a job at a skate guard (you skate during open skate to make sure the Rink Rats don't bother the nicer and less-skating-abled patrons) at the local rink.  My first minimum wage job since the summer of 2000!

* I'm sure there is more...oh yeah, I taught weight lifting at 8 am every morning.  I may have spent nearly the entire spring semester in a boot, but I was not out of shape by any definition.

A good portion of that ended last week.  Tomorrow I start summer classes.  Because of the devolving situation in Turkey, July will most likely be spent in Israel.  Mom and I intend to revive the "Best of the West" tag in August before fall classes start.  

WARNING: For the next couple of weeks I am going to be posting about last summer's trip to Africa.  I need to get those posts and pictures secured somewhere that isn't my head.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

To The Barely-Beaten Go The Property Destruction Charges

Last weekend, IU played Ohio State, the reigning NCAA football national champions, at home.  And even more improbably, although ultimately losing, held them to within a touchdown.  The student sections were....shall we say, energized.

That's a section of bleacher.

Trust me when I say that if IU had won, campus would have burned.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

This Is Our Get-Along Bridge

This is the wooden bridge you cross over on the Tanzania-Kenyan border between Arusha and Nairobi.

If you aren't familiar with this meme.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Death To Birth

The Maasai (pronounced "Muh-Sigh", emphasis on the Sigh, rather than "Mah -Sigh" as in "Mask" with the emphasis on the Mah) are likely the most well-known African tribe.  Pop culture paints them as red-cloth clothed, skinny men, jumping in time with bass-and-beat-heavy music, carrying machete-like knives and spears to protect their cattle herds from lions.  For further quasi-education, see Kevin Bacon's The Air Up There.  That tableau does exist, but I was afraid I could only see it in a "people zoo".  So on my way between Arusha and Nairobi, I stopped in Longido and found exactly what I wanted: people minus the zoo.

I think I was supposed to get a more "packaged tour," but I got a lazy tour guide (Seraya), thank goodness, and I basically followed her around as she went about her day.

I had requested to stay overnight in a boma, the traditional Maasai mud-and-dung-walled house, which was, you know, someone's home.  We walked through Londigo Town to Longigo Village, essentially the Maasai suburb, looking for Raheli, the owner, but she was already at the market.  So I sat in her entry way, drinking chai maziwa (tea with milk) with her sister-in-law, that woman's 5-month-old, Seraya, some of Raheli's kids, and two neighbors who spent the entire time bitching about other members of the local women's beading group.  It was in Swahili, but I mean, I might as well have been back in a farm kitchen in Indiana.

From there we slowly wandered over to the well and market, very small for a mid-week day, where groups of Maasai men were barbequing freshly slaughtered goats.  As in, this is the hole where we drain the blood and these three tied to this tree are next.  Because the four important foods of the Maasai are milk, blood, meat, and fat, even the head, liver, and intestines are cooked and eaten.  I watched as a Maasai man squatted, nestling the abdominal cavity fascia in a bed of dried leaves, and stripped the intestines out.  The hair on the head of his goat, with a sharp stick up a nostril to effect a handle, charred not 10 feet away.  Another man held the next victim by its ear as it bleated in obvious fear for the 30 min it takes to cook the animal whose intestines were currently being sorted through.

Notice the earrings dangling


After lunch and a nap under a tree and a visit by one of Seraya's twin daughter, my guide takes me on the medicine hike that I think was supposed to be our first activity of the day.  We head into the foothills of the nearby 2600+m mountain, where Orpul sits, the rock to which all pre-circumsion Maasai boys go for 3 months to learn medicines, how to kill animals, and eat as much meat as possible.  On the way back we come upon one of the many young goatherds whose songs and calls can be heard echoing around the foothills.  He had two mother goats who had very recently given birth to three kids, and the newborns, working with overly cooked noodles for legs, couldn't exactly walk home.  Which is how I came to carry an hours-old goat down the side of a mountain, kind of ruining a perfectly crappy travel shirt in the process with birthing fluid and blood (although it was resurrected enough to be nearly ruined again a month later in Zanzibar when I was splattered with fish who-knows-what when a guy slaughtering a fish ripped out its intensives right in my face), as the mothers followed the impassioned bleating - until the kids fell asleep from the exhaustion of just having been born.   At least I complete the Circle of Life for numbers of goats I saw killed and saw born, for the day.  Someone alert Disney!


Because of convoluted logistics, a hour or two later I ended up at a Tanzanian election, waiting for Raheli to vote.  I sat in the back as all of the local Maasai women, a sea of colors, patterns, and jewelry hanging from cut and stretched ear lobes, verbally indicated their choice of female representation.  Eventually I was led home by the hand, in the dark, through the warren of paths by Raheli's oldest daughter and I think one of her younger sons and a neighbor boy who never went back to his part of the neighborhood.

Boma's are mud-and-dung-walled buildings with thatched roofs.  They have no facilities (except a few lightbulbs run by solar panels if you can afford it) but are free because you can make them by hand.  Living in town provides facilities, but is expensive.  They aren't big; 2 room with an entryway/living room/dining room/everything room in between them.

Shortly, Raheli (who is the second of 10 wives); her 9 kids (6 biological); Raheli's mother; Rehali's eldest daughter Maria's 2 children; an adult friend of Raheli's and her kid; me; two Maasai herders visiting from another villege to take care of the herd, who are making ugali; a few children from around; and a cat gathered in a space about the size of my parents living room, and partitioned into 3 sections.  It was my job to entertain the kids.  True to Western form, I did it by putting them in front of a screen.

Maria and her daughter

Raheli in her living room
We ate wali mahagrwe sakuma wiki (beans, rice, kale), made on this single stove, family style.

Modern Africa: talking on your cell, while cooking beans on a single open flame in your mud hut

Maria left abruptly for the local clinical with her youngest, because her stomach has been hurting all night.  The next morning they are back and the diagnosis is tapeworm....I think, from the hand gestures.  Something like 95% of East African children suffer from parasitic diseases, likely because only 15% of Tanzania homes have running water.

As the guest, I was given Raheli's bed, one of only two on the property (Grandmother gets the other), which I share with her two youngest kids.  Everyone else is on the floor, as usual, in clumps of twos and threes.

Bedmates: Lump #1 and Lump #2
The next morning, the house stirred early and the solar-powered lightbulbs got flipped on at 5:15 am so we could all get ready for our respective activities: kids to school, cows and goats to the Maasai herders, and Raheli and I to the bus stop.

Raheli's jewelry

Typical to any household anywhere in the world, the morning rush went by way too fast and before I even really got a chance to think, I was on a bus speeding toward Nairobi.

So ended Tanzania.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Things They Don't Tell You About Grad School, Part 9: Know Your Coping Skills

I had a midterm both Monday morning and Tuesday late afternoon.  After maintaining such an intense and narrow focus of attention (I got a 102% on one of them, so at least it was worth), the letdown was palpable.  What was also palpable: the desire to pet rabbits and the craving for fiery onion rings.  To the shelter and Aldi I went.

One of a pair of litter mates named Cookie and Creme...obviously
Cookie...or Creme...not sure which, but definitely the other one

At Aldi, I found not only fiery onion rings, but also chipotle Cheez-Its.

I drove home eating both of them out of my passenger seat.  Knowing that if I brought them into my apartment, I would eat them all, I sagely left both containers in my backseat.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon.  I'm working on an assignment in the office and starving like WHOA because I ran for an hour before breakfast, when I remember BLAMO! I have fiery onion rings and chipotle Cheez-Its in my car a block away.

How would I describe the jealousy of the undergrads who I passed while eating both fiery onion rings and chipotle Cheez-Its by the handful, on my way back to my office?


Saturday, September 19, 2015

An Aerial Viking Funeral Off The Roof Of Africa

I did not expect the best part about climbing Kilimanjaro to be the people.  Summiting high things is always pretty cool (although I am not a mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination and have only done Everest Base Camp as a high point of high points before this).  But honestly, Kilimanjaro was occasionally boring, occasionally death defying, and altogether not that much fun.  For one thing, although it's pretty good, the scenery never changes!

Uhuru Peak (5,895m) is somewhere at the top of that cliff that is about a quarter of the way from the right edge of the top.

Again, the peak is in the top left corner of this picture...several days and about 1800m walking away.
The summit day route snakes in and out of the right side of this picture.
We were above the clouds the entire 8 days
Stalking us in the clouds like a shark was Mt. Meru, 70km west
And, outside of walking, the only thing to do is sit around and eat while talking to your climbing partners.

And then there were 13: 5 Brits, 4 Norwegians, 2 Danes, 1 Aussie, and 1 person from Obamaland

What made it enjoyable was the people, my diverse climbing group and the 55(!)-strong army of guides and porters that supported us.

Notice Mt. Meru
Sorry this is sideways, but our porters passed us like this every day: flying, as if they aren't carrying 100-150 lbs in addition to their own body weight at 10,000+ feet of altitude.  In comparison we were constantly told "pole, pole" ("slowly, slowly") so we wouldn't over-exert ourselves and experience any of the acute mountain illnesses.


An assistant guide, Angel
Our head guide, Abraham

A porter, Veronika

When we took off from base camp, it looked like we staging a military assault upon Stella Point and Uhuru Peak, which is not an altogether inaccurate comparison.

We ascended to ~3500m and then stayed between that altitude and 4600m for 6 days until the final, middle-of-the-night 1200m ascent to 5895m.  Then we took a nose dive: over 7.5 hours of walking we descended 4000m.  That's 2.5 MILES of elevation difference between Uhuru peak on Friday at 7:15 AM and Mweka Gate on Saturday at 12:15 PM.

End of summit day: "I was all the way up there just this morning?!?"
Considering that descent was through rainforest on packed mud and slippery as hell, I might as well have side-stepped down a 2.5 mile-tall waterslide while the water was running.

Put another way, I would have preferred an aerial Viking funeral: to be lit on fire and thrown off the peak.

My camera actually had the privilege of such an honor.  I dropped it to its death on Day 5 in spectacular fashion and hiked the 6.5 hour summit morning with an iPad in my pants (to keep it warm) so I could get a picture at the top.

The sun rising over the clouds over Eastern Tanzania

This video is one of my prize possessions from this trip.  In advance of summit day, my group discussed that none of us actually knew what the top looked like because most people took a picture with the sign (see above) and neglected pictures that set the scene.  This video sets the scene pretty damn well.


I carried an iPad to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in my pants to take this.  Never say that I never did anything for the sake of this blog.
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