11 June 2019

The needle marks on the inside of my arms are finally disappearing as I have finally finished my training on human blood. Ideally I would have been able to use other worker/volunteer blood at the project site but to my surprise a lot of people are either squeamish of needles or have thin veins. I didn’t mind getting mine drawn, even though the guy who draws the meerkat blood was a little shaky when it came to drawing from a human arm. I’ve now verified maybe a dozen times that my white blood cell count is normal, so that’s good.

Cell team is back down to one as of 6 AM this morning when we bid farewell to Mari after her 11 months on the project. I’ve inherited her blocky Motorola radio and carry it on me at all times in case of a meerkat capture. Currently the x-ray machine is down, so captures are less frequent. We ideally want an x-ray with the blood collection to confirm if the animal has tuberculosis. It felt a little strange to take off her nametag and replace it with mine. Apparently before I got here, a volunteer in the mole-rat lab, who was close with Mari and bitter that I was replacing her (in an endearing way), joked that if I wasn’t as cool as she was, he would fill the lab with African killer bees… luckily I passed his test but now I have a bee drawn on the nametag on my radio. Perhaps as a lingering threat? (Joking, obviously). But we do have African killer bees here – a hive was relocated from the farmhouse to another building because they swarmed a few years ago.

With little cell work to do lately, I’ve been helping with the mole-rat team. I helped dye some of the new pups in the colonies, feed and weigh the adults, and move sand. We bring in sand from the dunes for the mole-rat colonies. Basically, the colonies are a network of tubes for groups of mole-rats. They are incredibly territorial so we have two people check before putting a mole-rat back into a colony system (whether taken out for weights, observing behavior, or escape). Each animal has a transponder with a number corresponding to the colony they belong to. The tubes are filled with sand and the mole-rats dig and sort through waste and food (and sometimes other dead mole-rats) within the tubing system. To go and get the sand we use a trailer, shovel sand from one of the surrounding dunes, and bring it back to the lab. There’s a terrifying high lift jack to lift the trailer onto the hitch of the truck. The project manager lost his pinky finger to it… as I’m learning here, when things are a little broken – “that’s just how things are at the KMP.”

I’ve started a workout routine, it’s taken a lot of motivation to get into it but I’m reluctantly doing it. I’ve never been good at structured exercise but I need to do it here with the lack of anything vertical. I do already miss the mountains and ocean, but I expected that. Instead of thinking about how much I miss them, I’m focusing on how much I love the desert. It’s been breezy lately and the dry air feels, well like a desert and it’s pretty wonderful. It gets dark around 6 PM (winter) so I’m usually out walking around the dunes until dinner. The main constellation seen from here is the Southern Cross, and in some seasons the Big Dipper can be seen as well. I’ve never really paid attention to my astrology sign, but the constellation of scorpio is pretty cool and giant in the sky. I’ve also found Leo and Orion (I guess it can be seen everywhere). There is a telescope here for us to use. When there’s even a crescent of a moon it’s light enough to walk around without a headlamp. During the last sunset, I saw a couple kori bustards. They’re funny ostrich-like birds, but smaller. So far my favorite bird, which I’ve only seen once from my patio, is the lilac-breasted roller. It’s stunning. A close second is the tawny eagle, but I only got a glimpse of it flying across the road.

I’ve learned I’m sort of awkwardly in the middle of two age groups. Most of the volunteers are in their early 20s and the lab managers are in their early 30s. I’m also split between both projects and I’ve noticed each project stays somewhat separated. I’m spending time with both project/age groups and also keeping chunks of time for myself, so I know everyone a little bit but not anyone in particular very well. I did survive my first Kalahari party, though the next morning it felt like barely. Brewing is popular among the younger group and some of the brews we were sharing tasted a bit questionable. I am looking forward to helping with the brew process once winter is over. This week I also joined the mole-rat managers for a braai (pronounced “bry” – Afrikaan for bbq) around a fire at one of the houses on the outskirts of the reserve. We cooked sausages – which may actually have been pork – most meat has been wildebeest or eland, and roasted sandwiches consisting of bread, butter, onion, tomato, and cheese. It was nice to be in a smaller, quiet group after the chaos from the party the night before.

I was excited to see we have a volleyball and a string across two posts. Squirrel holes riddle the sand court and acacia thorns surround the perimeter so that adds excitement. We aren’t very good but with a standard as low as just getting a volley going, it’s easy to have fun.

Today is the first towntrip since the towntrip I came in on two weeks ago. This means I will no longer be the newest member here! It also means I’ll get the personal groceries I ordered last week, which I’ve unfortunately forgotten. I’m pretty sure I ordered avocados, passion fruit, yoghurt, granola, tea and hopefully cheese. We have plenty of communal food that is provided by the project, personal groceries are just extra for lunch or snacks. The truck and trailer will probably be arriving around 8 PM tonight and I’ll help unload and introduce myself to the two new volunteers, who will probably be as confused and overwhelmed as I was when I first arrived in the dark.

With few distractions I’ve had more time to think about some ideas that have been rattling around in my brain for a bit. They aren’t quite fleshed out yet so I’ll wait to share them. But – here’s a hint to one of them 😉

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/189159v1

I also finally saw meerkats on the reserve! In my excitement I forgot to take photos but they are every bit as adorable little rascal animals as I had imagined.

2 thoughts on “11 June 2019

  1. I am learning SO much about Africa and loving it! I’m not sure how I would do with the food you mentioned – probably not well! I’ve seen mole rats and they aren’t the cutest little ones, but meerkats are adorable. Haven’t seen either of them in real life tho’. And I have to tell you, I have the same response as your Mom – “mmmmm rainforest?”

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