Kila siku ni kitu.
Every day it is something.
I feel like we all say that a lot here. A lot.
Don’t get me wrong – I love fieldwork. I really do. But sometimes… sometimes I just wish that things would…well…go as planned. For example, let me tell you how it came to be that I am sitting here writing this blog post instead of checking cameras. It is only 9:30 in the morning, but the day already feels long. If you ever wonder how a field-based PhD can take SO long, read on.
Up at 6, I’ve checked Arnold’s oil, water, brake and clutch fluid, shocks, coil springs, tires, and given the fan casing a good solid knock to scare away any pimbis (hyrax) that think it is a good hiding place. Tightened my mud-ladders. Replaced the aerial antennae (which I had removed to get to cameras in really dense bush) – I’d like to remark that tightening the aerial is no easy feat, but it gives us wicked biceps. Packed 4 days of camping supplies, and enough batteries, SD cards, locks, lagbolts, etc, to take care of 90 cameras. Found someone to send me more cell phone credit because there’s an excellent chance where I’m going that I will get stuck. Had a 20-minute phone call with a project manager about how the last 6 months of lion data seems to need re-entering. Finally, out the door. With one more knock on the hood to flush out any last, reluctant pimbis (there is, after all, a leopard around), dripping coffee mug hooked to the dashboard, I am off. I make it about 15 minutes down the road before I receive a phone call from a number I don’t recognize. “Hello?” “Yes, hello, how are you?” “Fine. Can I help you?” “Yes. I am a tour driver — one of your researchers is stuck on the road from Naabi since yesterday.” Stan. Right. That explains a lot.
Some back-story. Yesterday I set out for a 2 night camping trip to tackle a whole swathe of hard-to-reach cameras. Season 6 is off to a slow start and I’m anxious to get these cameras checked and refreshed so that they can keep on taking these freakin’ awesome pictures. Around noon I get a call from Stan. His engine and gear-box mountings have come undone (!), and his engine is about to fall out. Right. So I go home (about 2 hours away) and send Norbert, our fundi wa gari (car mechanic) out in Arnold, armed with his arsenal of tools, to rescue Stan. It’s not the end of the world – I can better prepare for a longer camping trip. Charge more batteries, prep more SD cards, make a pot of beans, freeze some water bottles. Okay.
Norbert returns around 7pm with Arnold. No Stan. Strange, but we figure he has gone to the village to watch soccer with friends. His phone is dead, so our texts and calls go unanswered. I am often asleep before he gets home, so it’s not that unusual. In the morning when I wake up, there is still no Stan. Perhaps he just continued on with his original plan to camp that night?
Or not, as it turns out. I am now sitting in Arnold, 2 minutes away from my first camera trap, nodding on the phone with the tour driver. Stan’s car must have broken down again on the drive home, on one of the many long stretches of road where there is no reception. So. Back to the house, sending Arnold and Norbert off once again on a rescue mission. Now I’m anxious to get online. I need to have a blog posted for Monday, and who knows when I’ll be back from camping at this rate?
So. To the internet. The modem has not worked from Lion House in some time now, and with my car on its way south, I walk the 1 km to the research library, not remembering until I reach the closed doors and the deserted center that…yeah…it’s Saturday. The office is closed. But that’s okay, the guard, Jimmy, let’s me in. He has the biggest smile of anyone I’ve ever seen and asks me if I’ve been wrestling lions because I’m *so* dusty. (Normally I’d wear my ‘office clothes’ for a trip to the library, but right now I’m still in ‘field clothes’ because I am blindly optimistic that I can maybe, just maybe, make it out to the field this afternoon.) And so we have a good laugh. But then the power is off so the internet is off and he doesn’t have the right key to get into some storage room to turn on the inverter. Or something. I know enough Swahili to ask for what I need, but rarely understand what anyone tells me in return. So we sit, and talk about baboons. And whether or not it will be hot today. And how nice it is to have a new petrol station in the park. And a few phone calls later, another guard with another set of keys ambles in, and I hear the faint electrical whirring begin. “You’re ok now?” they ask. The little wi-fi symbol darkens on my computer.
Yes. I am okay. More than okay. The internet is working, I have a mug of coffee in hand, and I can hear the birds chirping and pimbis plopping onto the roof from the trees above. Not a bad morning, in the end. And I figure, if you’re going to spend 6 years doing a PhD, this really isn’t a bad place to do it…