Monday, August 24, 2015

¡Adiós Kenia!

I am back in the States! My stay in Kenya was short-lived, but fun-filled nonetheless. I was sad to leave the beautiful mara, its people, and of course, the hyenas, but I am comforted by the fact that I will return. No question about it. And next time I come back, I will have a project, an idea, something in mind to inquire about. Next time I come back, I will:  know more Swahili and Maa, teach the staff Mexican food recipes, successfully drive in the mud and rain, and identify hyenas/transcribe data. It’s going to be great (and more stressful, but that’s part of growth).

A month at Talek camp seems like a short time, but I learned a lot in that month! I was everywhere and nowhere; like a fly on the wall. Observing, engaging, and enjoying. For one, I went on observations; I still don’t know how I woke up so early everyday (I am not a morning person, regardless of the amount of sleep I get)—I guess I was motivated by the hyenas and the possibility of a darting. While I did not transcribe data or was the driver or darter, I was that helpful assistant who would shine hyenas when it was dark, occasionally identify hyenas, passed along the milk/popcorn/maglight/backpack to whoever needed it, sometimes reminded the transcriber about tracking, and counted herbivores and carnivores during our prey census. I learned about the equipment that was loaded to the vans every day, the responsibilities of transcriber, the specific behaviors that counted and not counted as critical incidents, and the art of hyena identification (you really do see things like smiley faces, letters, and unique lines/dots). Furthermore, I saw how hyenas were located via tracking, and how to count prey in a census.

Typical OBS  :) [Serena den]
I am quite terrible with directions and navigation, but I did learn some landmarks! Hello, mushroom tree, photogenic tree, Paul’s tree, Julie’s tree, drunk tree, horseshoe lugga, pond lugga, a third lugga I swear I knew the name of but cannot think of it for the life of me right now, Kilong’s crossing, and suicide crossing. I never did know if hyenas were arriving from the North, South, East, or West, sadly. My first darting did not happen immediately, and at some point I was scared that I was going to leave without seeing one, but then it happened and it was awesome. Matt took a perfect shot (and Benson was so proud!), and I got to touch a hyena’s ear. I really wanted to see if was soft (it was, at least in the back; it’s also very muscular. The hyena’s hair is very coarse fyi). Dartings are busy because so many morphological measurements are taken, plus all the swabbing, and blood collection. Once back at camp, the blood is centrifuged and processed, blood smears are done, and there is a whole DNA/RNA protocol that happens but I can’t describe because I was paying attention to the other things happening.

Other things that happened:

I saw how poop was collected and processed! So smelly, but I love it. Poop is going to make me happy when I carry out my lab analyses.
I learned how to differentiate the dens, male from female hyenas, sub-adults from adults (kind of), and how to sex cubs.
I assisted with market day, get water from keekorok lodge day, and car checks (I did not know there were so many car parts!). I practiced my driving!
I had githeri-chapati burritos (best thing evaaaa), that delicious cabbage, lots of lentils, curried chickpeas (chickpeas for lyfe amiright), cheesy omelettes, and pizza (<3 <3 <3)
I developed a bread and chai addiction
I got 1 tick, oh wondrous tick. Hardly any mosquito bites, and no stomach problems!
I experienced DNA day and the Nairobi trips. I took a matatu from Narok to Talek—it was a cultural experience.
I went to a couple of sundowners (?)—basically had wine/beer and ‘saw’ the sunset
I read. A LOT. I had more free time than everyone at camp, and more free time than I will ever have at camp. Those days are over.
I saw a leopard (at Serena), but no rhino :/
I may or may not have fed Sasha, the camp dog. I definitely fed Kelsey, the genet. I tried to hate the vervets and baboons but I couldn’t (I like primates, even if they ravage our food).
And I got to bond with the staff, RA’s, and other grad students. Miss them already. Thank you for being so welcoming :D

Notes on Serena: I visited Serena the last week of my stay in Kenya, and I’m glad I did. It is useful to see how different the two camps are. Serena’s grasses complicate observations, but the landscape is much more beautiful! And I saw more lions, elephants, buffalo, hippos, waterbuck, and eland there; less hyenas though. Serena got me hooked on early dinners (sorry late dinner peeps)—I just felt more energized during observations and did not go to bed feeling bloated. And I like that we give presentations at Serena Lodge every week—people need to know just how cool hyenas are!

Pretty sunset 
Right now I am trying to pack my life away in suitcases, avoiding the stifling California heat, and stuffing my face with as much Mexican food as I can. It is bittersweet to be leaving to Michigan; I am terribly excited to start classes and move in to my new apartment and be part of the lab (!!!), but I hate saying goodbye. After so many trips and travels, I still get teary when saying goodbye to my mama and mi hermano, and my cat! I will be strong because I know Michigan will be great.

Anyhow, I leave you with that. I cannot wait to return to the mara and write on this blog (I have so many ideas).

Thanks for reading, hasta pronto!

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