The Wild Things and the Little Things

As may have seen from the previously posted picture of Captain Cori, I had a very amusing Saturday. Our group of 10, staying at Acacia Wildlife Resort, visited the group of 8 staying at Shiluvari Lodge for the day to have a braai (cookout). We had a day of cooking, grilling, eating, and relaxing, and the boat ride took us out onto the lake creaked by the Albisini Dam. We threw some chicken pieces at the crocodiles, but they didn’t have any interest. Soon after I learned how to drive and park the boat, we packed up and headed “home.”

On Sunday, five of us squeezed into our rental car and drove to the northern end of Kruger National Park. As soon as we drove in, there were elephants on the road in front of us. And off to our right, warthogs! [They have such big heads and shoulders, but they’re really cute.] We drove a self-guided tour through the area and found zebras, babboons, bushbucks, impalas, giraffes, a jackal, vervets (little grey monkeys), ostriches, nyalas, and a wildebeest. Ostriches walk so oddly, and zebra are really just striped horses, similar down to the noises and mannerisms. As we were heading out of the park, we came across a rather large elephant that was in the road and slowly walking towards the two cars ahead of us. For a few minutes, we were watching attentively and backing up to allow the elephant’s, the other cars’, or our own escape. The elephant eventually de-escalated the situation and allowed us to pass. And right before we left the park, I captured a video clip of an elephant flattening a thirty foot tree, complete with the noises of the trunk bending and snapping.

The plan for Monday was to drive to Tshibvumo, the village where part of our team is distributing ceramic water filters and surveying and recording results. Unfortunately, the locals were not ready to be enrolled in the study, so after another chill meeting with the chief, we collected samples from the canal where people draw water and headed back to Thoyandou (where we are staying). The chief was also heading to town, so we ended up giving him a lift! We spent an hour car ride asking him questions about his kids, his village, his view on politics, and his preferences. Occasionally we’d have to give him comparisons from the US like how we don’t normally live with our grandparents or have more than ten kids or buy our children homes when they’re in school.

In the afternoon, my project got started in the lab by running control tests on the untreated canal water. It was a very slow start because the lab we’re using is brand new and not fully stocked. We ran around the lab and sometimes the campus looking for deionized water, an ice chest, tongs, beakers, a graduated cylinder, and soap. We only found three of these, so our lab test quickly became a test run rather than a data collecting opportunity. We also found that our fridge for storing samples was cooling them to -10 degrees Celsius, which froze them very quickly and ruined almost any chance at accurate sampling. Later, we were surprised to find that the tap water can’t even be trusted for rinsing or washing because it occasionally changes from clear water to brown much.

After all these frustrations, being thirsty and tired, and feeling like this was going to be one long, frustrating summer, the UNIVEN student working with us made one comment. “Isn’t this fascinating?” He was so academically interested and invested in this small lab test to see what coliform bacteria was in this village’s drinking water. His excitement inspired me, and this was my real first moment in South Africa where I recognized exactly how pampered I am as an American student. Lab tests are easy and boring for me because I’ve had access, training, and practice in and out of classes. But to someone else, this was a learning opportunity and a new chance to apply intellectual skills.

On Sunday night, I did an intense hour of yoga with Kate in an 8 x 8 ft. room with a couch crowding us. I hadn’t realized that yoga could be exercise, rather than just stretching. It was a fun challenge, and afterwards I fell asleep like a rock. Just last night, we were invited to play volleyball with 2 UNIVEN students and 3 other UVA students. They tied up a long roll of trash bags as makeshift net, and we played five very haphazard games. We only ripped the perforated net substitute twice, fixing it with small pieces of string we found. Tonight, we plan on Vivien teaching us swing dancing after dinner. We’re still cooking all the time, playing Frisbee, playing the question game, and preparing for the fourth of July, which is going to be a huge party. It’s really great to see all the awesome little things we entertain ourselves when the internet isn’t such a viable distraction.

P.S. Speaking of internet connection: I finally got to Skype with Eric today! I hadn’t heard his voice since I left two weeks ago, and it definitely was the perfect little thing to make my day.

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