Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Today will be one of my last blogs, as my program in Kenya is coming to an end. We have returned from lake Nakuru, and are essentially finishing up analyzing data from the transect counts done there, finishing assignments due, and preparing for our final exams. The weather the past few days has been sunny and beautiful, so it has been hard to concentrate. Today was somewhat spectacular because a staff member went into Nairobi and brought back pizza (which seems more precious than gold when you are deprived of it for a month).
Our data analysis done over the past two days was from Lake Nakuru was based on the transect counts performed there. We counted the population numbers of mammals found, and the habitats in which they were counted. Upon arrival back at camp we analyzed the data using SPSS and a chi squared contingency test to analyze animal distribution. What we found was that most of the mammals counted were almost always found in their preferred habitat type. Although this sounds far from groundbreaking as far as results go, it actually has positive implications for the management of the park because there have been significant worries in recent years that habitat changes are forcing animals to feed in areas that are not prime for them. What our study appears to show is that mammal numbers in the park are healthy, and that they are able to distribute themselves throughout the habitats in the park according to their natural preferences, without interspecies competition coming about as a result of human caused habitat changes.
Our last non-program day event will be this Saturday, and we will be visiting an ostrich farm in the town of Kitengela. We are told that we will have an opportunity to both ride an ostrich and eat an ostrich burger. This sounds pretty exciting, but we still need to discuss as a group whether we feel the trip is morally justified. From what we have heard, the owners of the farm interbreed their ostriches and at times they experience some unpleasant genetic defects. This raises some red flags for me and some others, so we are going to try and get some more information before making a decision.
Until next time, here are a few more photos from Nakuru.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Today was our last seminar, during which we discussed Fixing Men: Sex, Birth Control and AIDS in Mexico. I found this to be the most interesting book and seminar because it finally cleared up my questions about what sex education is like in Mexico and why I have not seen any encouragement of use of birth control. The author Matthew Gutmann examines what seems to be lacking in the anthropological world- an understanding of heterosexual males’ sexuality, the cultural attitude of sex (specifically in Mexico), and the risks of it. As he explains, there seems to be an immediate assumption that males are sex-driven and females are more reserved, which in itself changes the way males and females act. In Mexico, males are culturally permitted to express (and act upon) their sexuality and sexual desires, while women are expected to be tamer in their actions as well as be responsible for providing some form of birth control, especially since the 1960’s with the emergence of the birth control pill. Mexico is an example of a country in which the problem is not limited access to condoms/birth control, but rather is the culture of sex, lack of encouragement by society, and public knowledge of how to use them. There are a lot of good programs in the healthcare system here, but I certainly think it’s time to create one that encourages use of condoms as well as provides sex education for both men and women. This simple step could dramatically affect the spread of STDs/HIV as well as decrease accidental pregnancies in Mexico. The seminar sparked some good discussions and comparisons, which made it really enjoyable and interesting.
Afterwards, we had our "closing comida" at a charming Oaxacan restaurant. Here we shared a meal together for the last time, and reflected on our experiences. We came up with a list of highs and lows of the trip, and discussed what we were surprised by throughout the trip. We reminisced and almost brought ourselves to tears. It feels like we've turned into a family, living together in Mexico. None of us want to leave yet! We're all extremely sad to go. Fortunately, I'm staying here for two more weeks with my parents and will get a chance to relax and explore. I just wish everyone else could stay, too. Tonight will be our last night together, so we're going out on the town and having some last minute bonding. I'm going to miss everyone so much, but I know these will be lasting friendships and surely we'll keep in touch in New Brunswick.
I think this whole experience was wonderful and I can't imagine being back in the United States. I've grown so used to being here that I forgot what it felt like to be in the U.S. As I've said before, I love everything about Oaxaca and want to spend more time here. I have learned so much, made so many friends, grown as person, and will never forget this experience.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
I completed data collection about a week ago. Since then, I have been analyzing data and deciding where to go with my paper. Last Thursday, we gave presentations on our preliminary results to a group of Kruger National Park staff. These people were some of the world’s leading experts on elephant impacts on savanna ecology (nerve-wracking). I feel as if I started out strong, but kind of fell flat towards the end of my talk. I did get some compliments. Now that the stressful part is over, I just have to write my paper.
Essentially, what I think I have observed is this: bats are not the most ideal indicator species. They have the ability to fly great distances, and will be able to find suitable foraging habitat even if there is a relatively small amount of that particular habitat in the surrounding area. I have plotted countless regressions, but not one single vegetation characteristic (average canopy height, average canopy cover, canopy layer diversity) has shown to be a viable predictor of bat species richness or call abundance. Interestingly, but obviously, there is a very strong correlation between insect abundance and call abundance (i.e. more food=more eating). So, it seems as if assessing bat community assemblages along a disturbance gradient will not give one the clearest picture of what that disturbance is precipitating within the system. This is not to say that bats are completely impractical indicators; community shifts do occur as riparian disturbance increases, but its on a broader scale than simply a species level. Rather, the guild composition shifts from clutter specialists towards open-air specialists. Intuitively, this makes sense: we should see the species that like dense vegetation (highly maneuverable, high frequency echolocation) disappearing and the species that like open air (fast, gliding flight and low frequency echolocation) appearinging as the amount of canopy decreases. And that is exactly what I am observing. That being said, this doesn’t really make for a tidy paper just yet, I have a few more things to tease out of the longitudinal data set before I can chisel a Statue of David out of this block of marble I have in front of me.
Well, now for some really good news…THE NIKON LIVES! All in all, it took 5 days of drying out for the ol’ girl to begin working properly. Snapping photographs has never felt so satisfying. Attached are some of the first photos I snapped after the resurrection of the Nikon. Ryan and I have a friendly photo competition in the works to determine who is the better photographer, and now, I can say, it’s on. He had best bring his “A” game…err photos.
Last Sunday, I attended the World Cup match between Italy and New Zealand (my seat was 16 rows off of the pitch!). I have been watching matches daily, and excitement is always high, but nothing compares to being in a rumbling stadium with tens of thousands of other spectators armed with vuvuzelas (by the way, piping into a vuvuzela for an extended period of time results in sore facial muscles and swollen lips). The New Zealand fans were very excited to draw with Italy. But, because the penalty kick awarded to the Italians was very much a dive, I would have been disappointed not walking away with the win. On Friday, I attended the Ivory Coast and Korea DPR match, which Ivory Coast won three-nil. Both teams were essentially eliminated from advancing to the Round of 16 before the match began, but it was still exciting to see some of the world’s best footballers in action: Didier Drogba, in particular, is an electrifying player. Also, this time I was sitting with my fellow REUers and our mentors, which made the experience much more enjoyable. From our side of the stadium, we could watch the sunset in the distance. It was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful things that these eyes have ever seen.
Watched the USA-Ghana game last night. Regardless of the outcome, I knew I would be disappointed. I wanted USA to advance, but this is Africa's World Cup, and I would love nothing more than an African side to win the tournament. So, from now on, I am pulling for Ghana.
Our accommodations are in the Skukuza veterinary camp, which comes along with some perks. This past Monday, we were able to watch a leopard autopsy. I documented the entire transformation: from roaring beast to incinerator fodder. Let’s just say that, even with a solid, iron cage separating the two of you, the growl of an old and dying leopard will make your blood run cold. Once sedated, she was carried out of the cage and the vets began taking measurements and blood samples. Meanwhile, from five feet away, I gaze into her wide-open eyes. It’s not often that one can exchange stares with an unrestrained leopard and live to tell about it, but I suppose a tranquilizer dart makes that feat much easier to accomplish. Even though I knew, for certain, there was no way she could get back up on her feet and lunge for me, my entire being was screaming “run away, far away!” After euthanization, the veterinarians began skinning her and later conducted a formal autopsy. I would attach some photos, but they are very graphic and I’m not sure that would be in best taste.
Since my time in South Africa, I have become a much better footballer. I believe it has something to be with losing the shoes and going barefoot, where one has much more control. Like Kai wrote in his post “Maasai Traditions”, the little kids put the lot of us to shame every time we play a friendly game, but now I can really hold my own. I might have to wait a few days before my next match - my toes have begun to scale like a reptile and paper thorns have torn up my feet. Taking a break will be easier said than done: being the World Cup host nation, it seems everyone in ZA is down to play football. But, it’s all in good fun.
The REU program ends in three days, after that I will be traveling with very intermittent internet access. So, this may be one of the last occasions I am able to post. The itinerary, as of now, is to cross into Swaziland, spend a few nights, and then travel to St. Lucia and camp. From there, we will most likely loop through the Drakensberg and make our way back up to Joburg. Of course, everything is still up in the air, but one thing is certain, it will be a blast.
Until Next Time…
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Last day at Clinica SSA! It was a very emotional day because Lisa and I have recently really connected with the nurses and have felt totally comfortable in the clinic. I actually gave my first vaccine today because I figured I won't be able to do such a thing in America at this age. Lisa gave a woman an injection of birth control hormones, and was really terrified of handling a needle. She did well, and luckily the woman didn't protest to having an amateur give her the injection. I did my usual help with paperwork, and then helped some of the nurses wrap tongue depressors for sterilization. It was a pretty mellow day and gave us time to say our goodbyes to our newly made friends.
I have to say I'm happy with my placement at Clinica San Antonio de la Cal. Although I wasn't able to do that much hands-on work, I got to do more than I would ever get a chance to in America at this age. I learned a lot from simply observing and made a lot of comparisons with the American healthcare system, which I've now realized works very differently. There are both pros and cons to the system here, as well as the system we have in America. I do think it's wonderful that everyone can receive healthcare here and that there are so many programs that provide incentives for people to get educated about health. The main problem I have with the clinic is that it doesn't seem to be as sanitary as it should be. I want to buy the clinic latex gloves because I think part of the reason they don't use them is because they see it as an unnecessary expense that they can't afford to waste money on. It could also be a cultural belief that gloves are impersonal and create distance between doctor/nurse and patient. Nevertheless, I think it should be introduced and encouraged. Moreover, I'd like to know what is being done to educate people about sex and protection, because I have not seen anything that has.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Due to limited internet access, Kai has asked me to post this entry.
I have spent the past few days at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya. It is the most visited park in Kenya, mainly due to the fact that it has the most biodiverse mammal population and is a famous birdwatching site. The park is about 200km2 and is home to both black and white rhino, lions, leopards, hyenas and most other large African mammal species. It is famous for its enormous flamingo population, which ranges from 50,000 to one million individuals depending upon the season. Our goal in entering the park was to perform a transect count of the mammals and input that data into the statistical program SPSS. We performed the count today, and will be analyzing the data upon return to base camp. Our primary focus is to see where the mammals make their habitat preferences, and how the makeup of the park has changed since it was completely fenced in due to population encroachment about thirty years ago.
The park was facing similar problems to those that the Nairobi National Park is facing now, and due to intense human-wildlife conflicts, no other option was seen but to fence it in. This has, however, not occurred without consequence. Because the populations were isolated, they have often been forced to interbreed, and we have heard stories of buffalo with fifth arms growing from their chins that have had to be shot, and other such genetic mutations. Our overarching goal between the Nairobi National Park and the Lake Nakuru Park is to see why Nakuru was unable to survive as an open ecosystem, and if those mistakes can be avoided when it comes to Nairobi.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Today was our second to last day at Clinica San Antonio de la Cal. How did is all pass by so quickly? It was really enjoyable today because we made the extra effort to assert ourselves. Lisa and I got to help with more newborns that needed blood tests, who are so surprisingly small every time. I really am fascinated with newborns because they have no sense of what's going on and are purely instinctively reacting to stimuli as their body naturally responds to them. I also finally got to learn how to take blood pressure manually with the arm strap, pump, and stethoscope. The young nurses who are still in nursing school taught us how to properly do it. It took us a while to really get the hang of it because it's difficult to hear the heartbeat in the stethoscope. Having the nurses our age teach us offered good bonding time. It was actually a lot of fun because they could relate, they too were recently in the same position as us. The girls are really nice and are easy to get along with, even if we struggle with speaking each other's languages at times. It makes me so sad to think that we'll be leaving the clinic and our fellow coworkers so soon.
Medical spanish class was useful and fun as always. We've continued practicing different tenses and have expanded our vocabulary, focusing on medical terminology. I think this method of relaxed, stress-free conversational class has helped me improve more than any other classes I've taken. It allows us to learn the language the same way we would if we were children learning how to speak.
I think I have become attached to Oaxaca. I love where I work, I love where I live, I love my classes, I love my classmates, I love the people I've met here, I love the political activism of the people, I love the culture, I love the sights, I really do just love everything here. I certainly want to come back in the winter and spend some more time here. I would have liked to have more free time to relax and meet people, but there will be time for that in the future.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
After figuring out the local Mass Transit bus system, I spent the day walking the old city. I wandered around until I came across Saint-Pierre, something I had earlier decided I definitely wanted to see. Boy, was I right. If you thought Cluny was amazing and breathtakingly old and beautiful and inspiring, then you should see Saint-Pierre! It totally blows Cluny out of the water! I saw that they had some archeological museum under the church, so I decided to go in and check it out. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. Under the cathedral is the remains of the previous churches that were built on that spot beginning with the burial mound constructed there by the barbarians that inhabited Geneva before the Romans occupied the town. My jaw dropped many times during this visit as I saw the different layers that had been built on top of each other over the years. Because people have been continually rebuilding cathedrals on this site throughout the middle ages, the site is unique in that the history of Geneva is revealed by the layers of stone. Other than just sheer, utter, amazement, I was also thinking about how jealous my sister would be when I told her about this. I'm pretty sure she'd do anything to visit this site. Any Medieval history major would. Thus my day began with finding out that Geneva has been around since the time of the Romans.
After this I had lunch at a little cafe after wandering about a bit, and then decided to head down to the Jet d'eau. Of course, on Sunday, nothing is open, and sure enough, after spending about an hour finding it, I realized it wasn't turned on. I got a great picture of where it would be though. I guess i'll have to come back once more to see it in action. I then again wandered around some more and taking pictures of anything that looked pretty. Some of the places I visited included Calvin's lecture room, two other old churches whose names I can't remember right now, the hotel de centre ville, and the flower clock. By flower clock, I mean that the clock was made of flowers. I'll put up a picture of it when bandwith limits permit me to. I then ended my journey in Switzerland with a delicious cheese fondue and glasses of local red and white wines. Now, its time pack for tomorrow.
I'd like to thank you for following me on my journey through the history and culture of Cluny and the Burgundy region, as well as the microbiology of wine and cheese. I hope you've enjoyed reading my blog. I will post some afterthoughts when i'm back home in the states, and do a final post with all those pictures i've been promising.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Today I spent the morning and early afternoon living with a Maasai family. I was dropped off and was immediately immersed in their morning ritual. I herded cows, sheep, and goats, helped chase away baboons that were going to raid their crops, and chopped firewood for cooking tea and traditional Maasai dishes. The food was delicious. The cultural differences were striking. The boy taking me around his farm was named Samuel, and when I told him that in America men also cook, he looked like he was going to have a heart attack. He also was speechless when I told him that in America most of our cows are raised on giant farms where there are often thousands owned by the same farm. In Kenya a man is rich if he has ten cows, so thousands to Samuel was unthinkable. After I send this blog out I will be heading to a local preschool to distribute children’s books that we brought from the USA, and we will be giving them a lesson on brushing teeth…and giving them candy afterwards. Ironic yes, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy it!
Friday, June 18, 2010
So Thursday pretty much concluded our tour of Cluny and the Burgundy region. We left at 7 AM to head up to the Juro mountains, just north of the Burgundy region. The day began with a cheese tasting at 10 AM that included several cheeses produced in the area. We then headed to Salin-Les-Bains for a tour of the salt mine. Up until refrigeration, salting was a major way of preserving food, thus making salt a valuable commodity. Salt is also widely used in cheese production, and we all know cheese production in France has always been at high levels. Thus, from about the 9th century until the mid-20th century, Salin-Les-Bains was producing salt. What was cool about this one is that it was used for over 1000 years! Of course, over time, the methods of producing the salt improved. Now, to emphasize how important a commodity salt was, the mine was surrounded by a wall that only had a single gate. Thus anyone exiting or entering could be monitored closely. The town of Salin-Les-Bains was built over time based on the salt trade the mine produced. After the salt mine was a trip to Pasteur's house. I like to say that he's the patron saint of Microbiology because of what he did for this branch of science. Among his accomplishments are a vaccine for rabies, disproving the theory of spontaneous combustion, and discovering why wine spoils. I could go on, but my fingers would be tired from typing out every accomplishment of his. We then ended our day at Baume-Les-Meesieurs which is one of the absolutely beautiful places I have ever seen! If you thought Cluny was beautiful, Baume-Les-Messieurs is a far prettier place. I can only wonder as to the reason its abbot set out to establish the Cluny Abbey where he did. I think it would have been pretty nice at Baume-Les-Messieurs. Friday we then had our presentations and a small final evaluation. We then headed to Cathy's house for a final farewell dinner, which was out of this world!
On Wednesday we had another set of field trips. We started off at the Chateua de Monthelie-domaine Eric de Suremain, to learn about his process of wine making. It was interesting to see how Eric made his wine in comparison to Jacque Perault, a winemaker we visited early last week. Whereas Perault has all new machinery, de Suremain uses the same barrels that have been used for many generations in his family. I found the man very interesting: an owner of a chateuax, he looked like a commoner and acted like one too. If you saw him on the street, you could never have been bale to tell that he owned a 17th century chateaux that produced very good wine. After a suprise wine tasting in his supply room, we headed into Beaune for lunch. Afterwards we visited the hospice de Beaune. This hospice was established to look after the elderly and very sick in Beaune during the middle ages. The hospice was very much tied into the church as every room containing beds had an altar. Here we got to see the back side of the altar, featuring the beautiful polyptych by Roger Van der Weyden that was a scene representing the Last Judgment. The polyptych was only allowed to be seen by the sick on Sundays and on Feast days. The painting is quite moving, and one can only imagine what feelings of intimidation it brought upon those who saw it as they reached their final days of life. There is much mroe history behind the place that I could tell you about, but it would be too much info to put here, so if you want to know more, e-mail me. We ended Wednesday with a cheese tasing in Beaune. This tasting was by far the best! A favorite cheese among the class was the one prepared by the fromagiere on site. It was like a cream cheese coated with mustard seeds. They also gave us a nice, stinky, "flavorful", runny epoisse.
As for Monday and Tuesday they were devoted to lecture and paper writing, as well as working on presentations. We covered the microbiology and biochemistry of wine production, salt preservation, and waste treatment of whey among other things.
And before I go, I must fix my last post. It seems I had enjoyed too much wine as I wrote it. It seems the section about north vs south cheeses, the l'abbaye de citeaux, and the Clos de Vougeot. Here's what it should have read:
Anyway, yesterday was a lot of touring cheese farms/factories and learning about the different ways in which cheese is produced in then northern part of Burgundy. The main difference between norhtern and southern burgundy cheeses is that the South uses goat milk while the North side usually uses cow milk. Nevertheless, at the Abbeyie Citeaux, we learned how the monks made their famous cheese, using mostly stainless steel, automatic equipment to help make the process go faster. Because they are a young factory, they add starter cultures to their milk to help get the fermentation process going. In a few years however, they will no longer need to do so as there will be enough free floating bacteria in the factory's air to provide sufficient inoculum to get the fermentation going. After a delicious lunch at a nearby town we headed to the vineyards that these monks once possessed. These vineyards are located on top of some of the best grape-growing soils in the world, known as the Clos de Vougeot. Therefore, its not surprising to see these wines being sold for at least 1000- 4000 euros a bottle! The trip to the chateuax by the vineyards was followed by a visit to a cheese factory. Here we learned about a more industrial kind of cheese production facility. After a tour of the factory we had a wine and cheese tasting there. Many of the cheese we tasted were smelly and full of flavor, exactly the way I like it!
With that, I shall leave you until tomorrow, when I will update about my last day in Europe.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
More posts to come soon!
It feels like forever since my last post. Well, after I finished packing (finally), I caught a quick couple hours of sleep and left for JFK airport before the sun even rose. There were a ton of futbol crazed fans as the World Cup was to start in 3 days. Most notably, a crazed Mexican fan was wearing a huge sombrero with a brim that threatened to whack anyone who walked within a meter of him. The flight from JFK to Johannesburg was fine except for the fact that it was freezing (which seems to be a theme so far). After a quick connection to Gaborone, I finally arrived in Botswana...and quickly realized I was the only guy in the group (two thumbs up).
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Medicines, vitamins, and minerals for children
I'm surprised by the fact that it only two weeks for me to begin feeling home here. I do still get homesick but I feel like my culture shock phase is over and I have embraced Oaxaca as my new home 100%. It's very cool that life here has become normal already, and that we're completely part of the regular daily Oaxacan life (commuting on public buses, working in clinics, going to school, interacting with people all the time).
Due to Kai's limited internet access in Africa, he has asked me to post the below blog.
As I sit down to write about the last few days here in Kenya I am nothing short of satisfied. I am continuing to form bonds with the people around me, and the academic experience here is excellent. Yesterday consisted of a ten hour trip into the Nairobi National Park, during which we were blessed with an incredible lion sighting. It began with us spotting a female lion up ahead of us. As we slowly got closer we noticed she had two tiny cubs walking in between her legs. They were approximately a foot tall, and the unbelievably adorable. Once she noticed us, the female walked a ways away and looked to her right, where a male lion came shortly out of a bush. We snapped some photos and then the family moved on.
Later in the day, while we were driving past a small herd of gazelles, we noticed that they were all looking very attentively in one direction. We decided to look the same way, to see if we could spot anything. After some intense viewing through our binoculars we spotted what we believed to be a cheetah on the hunt, based on its head and small amount of the back that we could see. It was hiding in the cover of a small bush, and was incredibly well hidden considering the size of the bush. It did not attempt to attack the gazelle herd. We assumed that this was because it was aware of the fact that they had spotted it.
During our trip we completed a transect count of the large mammals within the park. We were split into three land cruisers, using spotters/counters, note takers, and mammal identifiers. With the data collected we are assessing the habitat preferences of various mammals within the park, and numerical proportions of the various populations.
Also while at the park, we had the pleasure of a guest lecture from the park warden from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), who spoke to us about the opportunities and challenges facing the Nairobi National Park. He spoke a great deal about the people of Kenya wanting to settle around Nairobi, specifically in the dispersal area that is essential to the continued migration of wildlife in the NNP. He pointed a finger of blame at people settling and fencing off all their land, making wildlife migration even harder. I asked him about initiatives by KWS to compensate people for lost wildlife, and he claimed that they are making an effort to compensate people at the full market value of their lost livestock. This is not what I have heard from local community members, and I believe that if people trusted KWS more, and were given an interest in protecting wildlife, that the fate of NNP would be in far less danger than it is now.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Just came back from the Benito Juarez ecovillage, utterly exhausted from hiking and ziplining at 10,000 feet above sea level. And what an experience it was! Hiking up a mountain so high in altitude (or any mountain whatsoever) is something I rarely ever get to experience, being a resident New York/New Jersey, so I jump at the opportunity when it’s offered and savor the moment. Hiking is a test for both your body and mind; gravity and low oxygen levels are working against you as you attempt to scramble up the slippery dirt slopes, and your mind is racing faster than your heart as you maneuver your way up, trying to find the next best step to take to bring you closer to your final destination. Then, there are the moments of reward, the moments when you take a look around and absorb your surroundings, these breathtaking lush landscapes before you. It was incredible to be surrounded by endless mountains, seeing no end to the landscape of these green giants. Adrenaline and endorphins flowing through your body create this feeling of utter happiness and accomplishment as you reach the top, your final destination before descending. Once we arrived to the top, we took time to take pictures and appreciate our environment. Some of us walked across the shaky hanging bridge that connected two cliffs, pushing ourselves to overcome the initial fear and instinct that holds you back. I actually have a fear of heights but have recently decided to do whatever I can to fight that fear and enjoy the feeling of adventure. While doing these typically frightening tasks, I teach myself to meditate and convince myself that fear is only as strong as I allow it to be. Once in the right mentality, I can overcome fear and enjoy myself. This is precisely why I crossed the hanging bridge and also took part in ziplining. I have gone ziplining twice before, once at camp and once in Costa Rica for a two hour canopy tour. Benito Juarez only had three ziplines, but they were still incredibly fun and exhilarating. It always takes some mustering up of course before I can push myself to do it, but when I do, I enjoy myself and leave the fear behind.
Later, after we made it back down the mountain, we ate at a "comedor de truchas"- a restaurant that served fresh trout and other great side dishes, overlooking Oaxaca from a cliff. It was the perfect way to regain energy and relax after a long exhausting day.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that ecovillages like Benito Juarez exist. I'm glad to see that there is demand for ecotourism in Mexico and that villages can make a profit from being environmentally responsible and keeping the natural environment pristine. Costa Rica was full of ecotourism, as it is one of the main attractions of country, but it seems Mexico does not have as much of a preservationist attitude. Mexico is seen by Americans as a warm vacationing spot for lounging in resorts and other luxurious developments, so ecotourism hasn't had the chance to take off. Moreover, Mexico has many economic problems and other conflicts that are higher on the agenda. I hope to see that Mexico adopts the same sort of appeal as Costa Rica and becomes more environmentally pristine and conscious. The ecovillage is the only place I've seen recycling, which also needs to be introduced as an important program in Mexico.
Anyway, yesterday was a lot of touring cheese farms/factories and learning about the different ways in which cheese is produced in then northern part of Burgundy. The main difference between norhtern and southern burgundy cheeses is that the South uses mainly free floating bacteria in the factories air to provide sufficient inoculum to get the fermentation going. After a delicious lunch at a nearby town we headed to the vineyards that these monks once possessed. These vineyards are located on top of goat milk while the North side usually uses cow milk. Nevertheless, at the Abbeyie Citeaux, we learned how the monks made their famous cheese, using mostly stainless steel, automatic equipment to help make the process go faster. Because they are a young factory, they add starter cultures to their milk to help get the fermentation process going. In a few years however, they will no logner need to do so as there will be enough some of the best grape-growing soils in the world. Therefore, its not surprising to see their wines being sold for at least 1000- 4000 euros a bottle! The trip to the chateuax by the vineyards was followed by a visit to a cheese factory. Here we learned about a more industrial kind of cheese production. After a tour of the factory we had a wine and cheese tasting there. Many of the cheese we tasted were smelly and full of flavor, exactly the way I like it!
Tomorrow should be a fairly quiet day. Most of it will be spent on writing my papers for the course and preparing for the oral presentations. There won't be anythign to do in town anyway, as everything is closed on Sundays. That, and its suppoed to rain again.
Today's lesson of the day will be on cheese variety. I mean to put it one way, if all cheese comes from milk, than how come there are so many varities? Well let me start off by letting you know, not all cheeses are made from the same type of milk. Some cheeses are made from goat's milk, others from cows, and to a small extent, some are produced from buffalo or horse milk. The source of the milk will affect its variety. Next, differentiation between cheeses can occur at the level of pasteurization. Some producers pasteurize their collected milk at temperatures around 50 celcius while others pasteurize soemwhere in the 60 celcius range. Others dont pasteurize their milk at all and make cheese from raw milk. These differences will allow for different bacteria popultions to exist from cheese to cheese. Weve tasted some of those cheeses, and let me tell you, the flavor comes out a lot better in them. Additionally, variations in cheese can arise from differences in the bacteria present in the cheese. In my last entry, Dr Young brigns up a good question. What type of fermentation is used to produce Swiss Cheese? Indeed, the Swiss cheese is still produced by using homolactic fermentation. However, what gives Swiss cheeses its distinct "holey" appearance is the presence of propionic bacteria late in the aging process. These bacterias convert the lactic acid to propionate and in the process produce CO2 which causes the holes to form in the cheese.
Moving right along, other variations in cheese can arise from differing againg times, conditions, bacteria present, etc.
Interestingly, in France, to protect the traditional methods of producing cheese, a so-called "committee" called the "Appelations d'origine controlee" was created. Basically, this board decides who can make what cheese. For example, the cheese made by the abbey monks at Abbayie de Citeuax is regulated by the AOC. As long as the monks follow the guidelines for making their cheeses as set by the AOC, they can put the AOC seal of approval on their cheese to mark its originiality. In this way, it prevents a cheese producer from Paris from saying their cheese is called "Fromage de Abbayie Citeaux." Thus the AOC helps maintain tradition and keep bad competition out.
Anyway, enough of my blabbing on and on. I shall now leave you with some more pictures from the past two days when the internet decides to work again. Enoy!
"Jamais en Vain, Toujours en Vain"
"Never in Vain, Always in Wine!"
Today has been without a doubt the most intense day that I’ve had in Kenya both experientially and emotionally. This morning began with a lecture in the Chumba, which ended early when we heard the ear piercing screeches of monkeys followed by similar screeches by local Maasai warrior herders. A young male lion had attempted to raid some local livestock, and the Maasai were chasing it away with their spears and voices. Our group of 20 piled into our 3 vehicles, popped the tops, and headed out of the compound to experience the action. The Maasai at the end of the road about 20 yards from our compound pointed us in the direction in which they had chased the lion, and we followed that way. Eventually we came to a small farm with a group of men surrounding the cornfield. They informed us that the lion had run inside of it and was hiding there. They were standing right outside of it throwing rocks into it to scare it out. We were shocked to see them so unaffected by what we considered great danger only feet away…there were even a couple children standing there! After a few minutes the lion darted out of the corn field and back towards the national park border, where it would be safe.
Thus we had our first good sighting of a lion today, and while it was short, the whole experience really highlighted the conflict between humans and wildlife that we are here to study. It is the lion’s natural behavior to seek out prey which provides the most energy to it for the least energy expended, and that type of animal is that which isn’t adapted to escape it, that type being livestock. The local Maasai people, who have moved from a pastoralist lifestyle to a sedentary one depending largely on livestock, are visibly sick of the lion and other wildlife threatening their livelihood. It is sad to see this, after the two lived in harmony for centuries before the effects of human development changed the dynamics of the interactions between the two.
The rest of our day was spent in the Nairobi National Park on a game drive. We conducted observations on the behaviors and social patterns of every large mammal encountered (an African large mammal is classified as anything larger than the Dik-Dik, which is about the size of a house cat) in the park for about four hours. We saw many species that we had already encountered in the dispersal area, but did get our first sighting of a black rhino, which for me was breathtaking to see in the wild. The game drive also made apparent the reality how much human settlement has encroached right onto the edge of the park. Even driving around the park, which is home to thousands of mammals, one could easily see the outskirts of the city of Nairobi, and it is making me seriously question how realistic the park’s survival really is. Hopefully that can be changed through successful policy changes and research.
While most of the day was what I would deem incredible experientially, our return to the camp quickly became chaotic and honestly quite disconcerting. As soon as I entered my “Banda” I noticed something was amiss. I couldn’t find my IPod. For any American college the IPod is almost as important as air. I, being a generally careless person, figured I left it out somewhere, but was confused because my headphones were where I thought they had been, but not the IPod itself. In short time, my “Bandamate” came back and immediately remarked that his things had been rummaged through when he entered his room. I then looked in my wallet that I had left out, and found that the majority of my money was missing. I ran to find the other students and our student affairs manager to sound the alarm. After everyone looked through their things, we found that four students had been robbed while we had been in the national park. In total, I lost about one hundred American dollars, five thousand Kenyan shillings (about $70) and my ITouch. Others had similar things stolen. Now, had they just stolen my money I would have brushed it off, but they took my music for the next three weeks, and I live for my music. It is also disconcerting to think that someone was able to pass through the security of the guards (who have worked at the camp for over 10 years and even after a week I can say I trust with my life) and the electric fence and get to the place where I sleep. The faculty and staff have vowed to do everything they can to find out what happened, and they have put Maasai Askari (guards) outside our Bandas, but the fact that this break-in was able to happen reminds me that in an African country with only relative stability, I need to constantly be conscious of my safety. I hope that the issue is resolved in the best possible way, but even if the culprit isn’t caught, I believe that the faculty and staff will do everything in their power to keep us safe. And after all it’s only some money and a material possession. Tomorrow we will be visiting an elephant orphanage, and I hope that along the way I’ll get a chance to find some internet access so I can finally post what has been going on here in Kenya!