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10 August 2012

in Rwanda: 7 July 2012, beers at the lodge

Journal 7 July 2012

Last night we shared our campsite with a family with members from Spain, England, and Denmark. We’re calling them “the Norwegians.” No explanation for that one. It was Bernd’s idea.

We woke up early for a game drive today, and ironically saw less game than we have been seeing on our daily primate searches. We did see some topi, baboons, hornbills, zebra, and black & white turacos (which might have another name, Prof Netzin couldn’t remember, and none of the rest of us knew). What really stood out, though, was how obviously unqualified our driver is for game drives. He’s a city driver, and hauls some serious ass literally everywhere. It’s great if you’re in a hurry. Not so great if you actually want to see what it is you’re driving by. Even less convenient when you don't have a common language between you and the driver. Word of the day: "STOP!"

And, I’ve decided that the second-to-last row of seats in the bus is the worst. It’s right over the rear axle, so the bumps are most dramatic there, and the seat itself isn’t actually big enough for two butts. I was sitting on the outside, so I was higher on one side than the other, because of the bar on the outside of the seat cushion.

We were back in camp for breakfast by 0745, and I took three Aleve.

At 0850, we left camp again and drove to Percherie (the fishing village). In route, we saw some baboons traveling. I wondered what lives in the two huge holes in that road between our camp and the reception building.

At 0915 we stopped to watch some Vervets. I counted four adults, of which at least two were males and at least one was a female. I didn’t catch the fourth one’s sex. There were three juveniles with them. They were pretty far back in the trees, and I discovered that the easiest way to find them was to look for twitching tree branches. They’re very well camouflaged, despite their striking face-ruffs.

We watched them for a bit, and reached Pecherie at 0948. There we found a lone baboon male, sitting on a rock on the east side of the village. About 30 meters from the same rock, two vervets were walking on the far side of the village. We decided to call the lone male baboon “Somatic Man” because he seems to be investing energy in somatic growth (as opposed to reproductive growth). He was just hanging out eating fish, and completely relaxed there. In the future, this time spent alone with the protein-rich diet might mean he is stronger than some other males he might need to compete with. Could be a good investment. We watched him for a bit and talked more about his ‘choice’ of energy investment. He was just resting though, so it wasn’t a great opportunity for a behavioral profile ("Resting... resting... still resting...").

[This is actually a picture of him on a different day.]

Wandering around and through Pecherie, we did find a baboon troop and a few vervets to observe. We did behavioral profiles on them, and it was interesting to me to see how each student came to an understanding of profiling differently. For some it was difficult to refrain from anthropomorphizing the animals, and I’m pretty sure some still do. It’s certainly an easy trap to fall into.


While we wandered, we saw a couple of hippos in the boggy area on the shoreline of the lake. Prof Dieter walked closer to see if those were, indeed, hippos. He made a hasty retreat to the bus (where we were all waiting) when the hippos jumped up and maneuvered farther into the lake.

On our way back to the campsite, we saw more wildlife than we had seen when we were intentionally looking for them earlier in the morning. Between 1130 and 1200, we saw three more hippos, two bushbucks, two small herds of impala, two "cliff springers," and three zebras. After lunch, we went to the lodge and swam in the pool there. Well, some of us swam and played pool frisbee. Some of us sunbathed. Either way, it was fun, and a good break from primate demographics and behavioral profiles. We stayed at the pool until 1600, and had some great conversations. Our driver was late coming back for us, so we walked over to HQ, where our electronics were charging, and met the camp’s tame-ish duiker on the way. We were all afraid of scaring it off when we saw it, so we just stood still and watched it, but it came right up to us, completely nonchalant, and checked each of us for treats. When it discovered that we didn’t have treats for it, it just calmly walked away. We realized then that “it” was a female. Nobody knew the duiker’s story, but it must have one, to be so tame. They’re normally extremely shy. [We later learned that it had been orphaned by poachers and raised at the camp... or something like that. My memory's spotty on that one. When it grew up, it just hung around.]

We killed some more time, waiting for our driver, by wandering around the grounds looking for baboons. But, we didn’t get far before we were warned not to stray far – there were buffalo in the area, which can be very aggressive, so it’s dangerous to be wandering around out there, especially in the evening and at night, when the buffalo are more active. So we hung out in the soccer field for a bit and did a GPS/GIS lesson and talked about geocaching. After a while our conversation strayed from the relevant and into our personal interests. You can only talk shop for so long, in a soccer field.

I have to say, that when somebody asked the professors’ ages – which was pertinent to whatever conversation we were having – I was surprised by the rudeness of the question, but the answers made me happy. Here’s why: the difference in their ages is very close to the difference between my age and Archer’s age. Sometimes I wonder about the trouble which might be caused by that difference (24 years), and I think he does too. So it was heartening to see two people who have a similar age difference in their relationship, and who are obviously still very much in love after 20+ years of being together.

It started getting dark around 1800, so we decided standing around in an empty soccer field might not be the best idea (buffalo, remember?). We had a race to the lodge, which Bernd won with Sara close behind. There, we had some drinks and frites and talked about our theme team ideas. For cognitive ecology (Chelsea’s and my topic), we discussed how the socio-ecology of a species determines individualism versus collectivism. It’s particularly interesting to me, because I’d like to figure out how all that interacts with an individual’s sense of Self – Theory of Mind stuff.

When we got our drinks, I was hit with the realization that I never hang out with civilians. It was a weird moment, brought on by a toast. In our group of eleven people, I was the only one who touched the glass to the table before taking a drink. In the military culture (yep, I’m calling it that), as I have experienced it, you never do a toast or any ‘cheers’ and immediately take a drink. You always touch the glass back to the table or bar before drinking. When not in mixed company, you might even hear a service member say, as they touch the glass down, “and one for the fallen.” That touch is an acknowledgement of all those who have fallen, and can’t be there for that drink. Those who will never have another drink. I’ve been surrounded by military for so long, even before I joined, that I had forgotten there are people who don’t do that. It was a sad, weird moment for me. I was glad it was the end of the day, and I could be alone, at least in my sleeping bag, soon after.

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