29 August 2019

My birks (sandals) sit curled on the floor next to my door looking like they could walk away themselves without feet. I don’t think they were ever intended to be real desert footwear but I basically live in them all day here (if I’m not barefoot). The leather is cracked and faded and there is no tread left on the bottom – I’ve almost wiped out on the kitchen floor countless times in them. Photos and drawings are peeling off my wall with the heat that makes the building sweat. But the water tank for the showers that sits above my room has sprung a leak – I fall asleep to the water dripping and drift back to rainy nights in the Pacific Northwest.

Lately I’ve been spending late nights brainstorming ideas on the unused pages of old lab notebooks I’ve found in the lab. I sort of feel like a crazy person but I’m trying to figure out a way to stay in Patagonia for a bit at the end of next year and into 2021. Pages 182 – 184 are outlines of the process of my proposed experiment to sample water for invasive species. Page 180 is a math problem from the daily problem posted from Harvard because I thought my math was slipping – it is slipping, I didn’t get it. Page 185 is a flow chart for the necessary steps for DNA metabarcoding more just to convince myself I know how to do it. Bugs swarm around the lamp fixed to the fold out table in my room that I work on. This morning’s coffee stammered out some ideas, ink exploding them into my moleskin notebook. This evening, I’m hoping a glass of wine will smooth them out. I really want to make this happen and I think I have the time and focus here to maybe have a shot. I’m really fortunate that my position allows me to work at my own pace. As long as I get everything done each day, I can work my own hours – perks of being the manager of a lab that only I work in. The obstacle I’m working on right now for my application is figuring out a way to prove/bluff that I have intermediate level proficiency in Spanish. Ideally I would be evaluated by a college level Spanish professor who would then submit a form online to my application file. Since that’s not an option here, I’m hoping I can find someone who will do the evaluation via skype… any ideas would be appreciated.

For the genetics lab extension – I finally have a final list of the equipment I’ll need, the cost, and whether we can supply it from somewhere in South Africa. There are a few pieces I’ll need to order in the states or Europe and ship down. I’m really excited to see this happen in the next month or so and get the lab up and running. Between that, a heavy sampling period throughout September for our cross sectional study of how dominance changes affect the meerkats long term, and a plan to export over a thousand samples to the US – it will be a busy month. Many of the primary investigators, PhD students, and post-docs on the projects will be visiting this coming month as well. This has required me to postpone my holiday plans – it’s a bummer, but it is what it is. I may have an idea for a trip to Capetown in November/December.

We went to the Van Z hotel (all of the volunteers and managers at the project) for a lunch out and drinks by the pool. After a thorough shower scrubbing off the sand that feels embedded into my skin, I put on my red sundress and blinked on some mascara. This group towntrip happens every 6 months or so and people go all out dressing up– for some it took me a second look to recognize them. I rode in the back of a cruiser and donated my speaker to blast someone’s playlist of early 2000s club bangers (i.e. Usher, Ying yang twins, Rihanna, 50 cent, Nelly, Kanye). The cruiser buzzed down the sandy washboard road and on some of the bumps my head hit the ceiling. Dust funneled in through the windows dismissing my clean feeling quickly, and I wondered how the girl driving was able to see where we were going. Our caravan of 5 or 6 vehicles arrived at the hotel in a dust storm. We squished in to fit at the few tables on the hotel porch, ate hot meals we didn’t have to cook or clean up, then milkshakes, and finally desert. The drink of choice was pink gin and tonics. We perched on the edge of the in-ground pool with feet dangling in the water and enjoyed a gentle breeze among green (actually green!) trees. I found living in the place I work makes it hard to turn off at the end of the day or on days off – sometimes it feels like I’m always on call or should be around the lab just in case I’m needed. It was nice to get a little distance from the project and enjoy a change in scenery.

I’ve volunteered to take over pool duty. The “pool” is actually just a massive tank that we call dams here- it’s maybe 4 body lengths in diameter and comes up to my chest. I just need to try to keep it as clear as possible with the chemicals we have and not let it turn to a scummy pond in the summer when the heat really hits. Since my schedule is so flexible and I’d like any excuse to spend more time in the pool, it made sense to offer to do it.

I found these bugs outside my room one morning before yoga – I thought they were dead. But as we were doing downward dog or upside down camel or whatever it is, I looked between my legs and saw them crawling away on long spindly legs. They are drilling beetles and are only active with the heat of the day.

I partnered up with another manager to cook dinner for everyone last weekend – we made lasagna. I’ve been wanting to learn how to make bread from scratch so I thought if I signed up to make bread for 30 people it would force me to do it. When the day came to do it, I was pretty annoyed I committed myself to it under pressure of feeding everyone. Forcing myself to learn things on the fly is a habit. And it worked – I learned how to do bake bread, made a bunch of loaves, and everyone was happy.

We’ve explored a radius from the farmhouse that is feasible to cover after work hours and before dinner – this includes the riverbed, ostrich nest, big dune, dune to nowhere, fire tower, dead eland (now we’re planning on reconstructing the skeleton), porcupine burrow, and a farm next to us that supposedly has ostrich and camels. Now to get further out, we’ll start jogging as far as we can then walking or taking out the bikes. “We” is myself and whoever is free to come along – usually I’ll bring the one Frisbee we have here to play catch along the way. I’ll start camping out as well now that we don’t have as many group activities planned on the weekends (parties/Van Z). The sunsets have been stunning, as usual, but with some clouds in the sky now as well.

With the warmer nights, groups of us mill around the porches around our rooms after dinner. Gazing at the stars, we speak into the darkness about the lives we are building and the plans we have. Whether it’s the cloak of the darkness, the fact that we will likely never see each other again, or simply not caring about judgment – these conversations feel raw and honest. We’re all from different places and lifestyles, but we have at least one thing in common – we were all drawn here – for our own reasons, but I think that speaks to the adventurous and curious nature in all of us. We’re drifters, all trying to make sense out of our world.

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