With less than three weeks remaining of my time with the project, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect a bit on my year out here. In doing so, I decided to post this month about Talek Camp’s bush life by creating an (non-exhaustive) A to Z representation of some of the aspects that have made living in the bush so unparalleled, so here’s the first half, A – M:
Ants: Our six-legged insect-relatives live closer to us than we often realize. Hidden within rolled-up tent windows, beneath thatched floor mats, or within our boots, our ant friends (read: enemies) claimed this home before we did. It’s often a constant battle to keep them out of our tents, cars, and off our dinner table – but who really are the intruders, them or us?
Askari: Our beloved night guards (askari in Swahili), Lesingo & Steven, perilously patrol camp whilst we sleep. Searching for bothersome animals (including trespassing humans and other dangerous critters) is just one of their responsibilities. They also monitor the level of Talek River that our camp is situated along just in case a flood scare was to occur. Check out these posts (1, 2, 3, 4) to read and see what happened when The Great Flood of 2015 hit Talek Camp. Most importantly (not really, but really) they prepare hot water and chai for us to enjoy when we wake up before morning observation sessions.
|Here are Talek's night guards! Steven is on the left and Lesingo is on the right.|
Baboons: These intelligent, free-roaming savages spend their time in camp treating our tent tarps as trampolines and glorified runways and our vegetation as a buffet. While it is adorable to see a juvenile latched ever so tightly to his or her mother’s back, it’s not as pleasant to be mindlessly walking down a camp path to then unknowingly become a moving-depository for their leftover fig fruit munchings…
Bats: The familiar “ping-ping-ping” resembling a common alarm clock is a vocalization of the local fruit bats. While they keep us awake throughout the night, they also glide effortlessly among the tent ceilings to devour moths, termites, and other flying insects, which we thoroughly appreciate. Come morning we know the bats were around, evidenced by their pellet-like feces scattered upon our lab tent table and water jug, which is not as appreciated…
Birds: Most of our (visible) bush-mates (instead of roommates, get it?) are of the avian variety. For our birder friends out there, this includes visitors like: Robin Chats, Rüppell’s Long-Tailed Starlings, Common Bulbuls, Ring-Necked Doves, Little Bee-Eaters, Speckled Mousebirds, Paradise Flycatchers, Cardinal Woodpeckers, Brown Parrots, Bush Shrieks, Pygmy Kingfishers, Grey-Headed Kingfishers, Purple Grenadiers, Fire Finches, Grey Hornbills, Spectacled Weavers, Little Warblers, Siffling Cisticolas, Scaly Francolins, White-Headed Barbets, Variable Sunbirds, and Lesser Striped Swallows. The constant, whimsical chatterings of our beaked-friends and their intriguing interactions with each other make living in the bush that much more magical.
|Here we have a male baboon who was walking the perimeter of his troop. Gosh, can they get feisty!|
|We found this mama bat perched right outside our lab tent. She was encapsulating her young beneath her wing.|
|On the left is a Robin Chat, and geez are they chatty! To the right is a Grey-Headed Kingfisher - striking, right?|
Chai: I personally, although I think I can speak for most of us, can’t imagine my mornings without Kenyan chai. Made with fresh milk from local cows, water, tea masala, and sugar, chai is a camp staple, a necessity if you will. We have a camp saying, “Chai or Die!”, for obvious reasons… Returning to the states soon, obtaining the right balance of these ingredients for the perfect chai has become a personal mission of mine.
Choo: Nestled within camp is our glorified outhouse, our choo. Now I am speaking for myself when I say that I’ve absolutely, whole-heartedly, enjoyed performing my natural bodily functions in an outside bathroom. I’ve always heard people joking that a person’s bathroom is their sanctum, their cherished and necessary domain, and I couldn’t agree more! Also, you can’t really knock on a tarp like you would a door to see if the choo is occupied, so here we resort to chanting a Kenyan word, hodi, meaning, “May I come in?” Walled by tarps and open to the canopy and sky, it’s safe to say I’ll miss our wooden-toilet-over-a-giant-hole-in the-ground-bathroom quite a lot.
|Ah, our wooden throne.|
Chores: Oh, the chores. From car checks to camp meetings, to inventories, to accounting, to computer backups, to cleaning the solar panels, there are always camp chores to be done.
Cravings: Not a day goes by that we don’t talk about some kind of craving we’re having. I’m constantly craving something cold, like some soft-serve ice cream as a prime example, while collectively we frequently discuss our yearnings for authentic Mexican dishes, favorite candy, and cereal.
DOOM: Let me make this very clear… We wouldn’t survive in the bush without our handy, trustworthy “all-insect-killer” product, Mortein DOOM. If you walk around camp you can find a bottle just about anywhere and in any tent. Our savior from surprise ant invasions, all too common wasp intrusions, and of course the frequent visit from a resident arachnid (and her dozens of family members), you can never be too aggressive when applying some DOOM, especially if it’s the lemon-scented variety. We are eternally grateful to the inventor(s) of this product.
|The one and only reliable all-insect-killer... DOOM!|
Early Mornings: For morning observations we leave camp at 0530, which means we each need to wake up with enough time to realize we are awake and to get our brains in proper working order. For me, this used to mean waking up at 0430 and doing some morning exercises and stretching. From last June to present day however, that’s changed a bit… Now I wake up at a reasonable 0500 with enough time to chug some chai and prepare myself for the spotted hyena gloriousness that I’m about to behold. Long days start with early mornings, and to those we are certainly no strangers to.
|Each morning graces us with a different sunrise, making those 0500 sluggish awakenings more than worth it.|
Elephants: Our significantly larger mammalian relatives grace us with their presence many of evenings. Their movement is unmistakable and the fear they provoke unmatchable. We’re told immediately that elephants waltzing through camp at night are one of the top dangers to be aware of. Sporting a towering size and bone crushing weight, our tents don’t stand a chance against them.
Fresh Produce: This past year I’ve eaten better than I ever have, ever. Weekly we get fresh veggies and fruit from Talek Town and I have been thoroughly #spoiledwithfood. I’ve gorged upon too many mangoes, passion fruit, and tree tomatoes to count.
Full Disclosure: Here in camp we get extremely close to each other. I mean, we live, work and spend literally all day everyday together, how could we not? This closeness becomes apparent rather quickly, by which divulgence of our lives comes naturally. We truly do become a family.
|A female giraffe who was wandering and grazing within camp.|
Hyena Skulls: Unfortunately we occasionally find deceased hyenas that we then perform necropsies on, which include collecting tissue and organ samples and full body measurements. We also collect and flense their skull with as much precision as possible. We bring the skulls back to camp and place them in pots we have hanging from trees. We leave the fleshy skulls in the pots for several weeks letting the flies and beetles take care of all of the flesh we couldn’t get to. We return to the skulls once they’ve been completely cleaned by our insect friends and take any remaining measurements as needed.
Insect Repellant: 100% DEET? No problem. Avoiding using any insect repellant at all? No problem. I’ve found that there are two types of Fisi campers: those who apply ample amounts of repellant at all times and those who don’t use any at all. I’m one of the latter, electing to not use any sprays most of the time. For whatever reason the mosquitoes and other insects just don’t gravitate towards me – leaving my body virtually insect-bite-free! I’m certainly not complaining.
Jik: The local brand of bleach and our best friend when it comes to cleaning products. A bucket of bleach water for the dining table, our tent floors, our dishes, you name it, we’re using Jik for it!
Kierere: In Talek Town and other local Maasai communities, there are feral dogs running wild and living off the land. It just so happens that one of those dogs has taken a liking to Talek Camp and her name is Kierere (“Crazy” in English). To be perfectly clear though, she is NOT our pet, rather a dog that likes to visit us and who we like to brush and treat with tick & flea medicine and don’t shoo away… She comes and goes as she pleases and has certainly warmed our hearts with her charm.
|Kierere spends many a'days resting by our lab tent.|
|I have my very own personal kisou!|
|Here's Talek Camp's kitchen. You may even spy Joseph, hard at work as always.|
Liquid Nitrogen: Whenever we collect biological samples from our hyenas (fecal, saliva, and blood most commonly) we place them in liquid nitrogen to freeze and store them. Without our liquid nitrogen tanks our samples wouldn’t be useable to our graduate students back in Michigan.
Maglites: Have you ever used a Maglite? No? They’re incredible, but also incredibly expensive. We each have our own Maglite here in camp, our eyes in the dark. They’re our responsibility and we treat them as if they were our children. When on observation sessions our Maglites are utilized as spotlights to identify and observe hyenas.
Mamas: We’ve come to learn that mamas refer to the women of a family. We have laundry mamas and milk mamas here in Talek Camp. The women of our night guards’ families alternate in coming to camp to do our laundry for us in the Talek River. They even hang our clothes on the line to dry! Also, we have mamas from the neighboring communities who bring us fresh milk from their cows everyday. We boil the milk and the guys use it to make chai and all of the delicious dishes they concoct for us.
With that, it’s back to balancing work and leisure as I try to wrap my head around the impending reality that my time in the Maasai Mara is soon to be at an end.
Happy Monday to all! Stay tuned for part 2: N - Z!