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09 August 2012

in Rwanda: 3 July 2012, schoolwork and shopping

[As part of course, we were assigned journal days - two of the eight students would write a journal entry each day, in a rotation, which meant that I wrote one roughly every fourth day, starting on July 3rd. They're not in my usual tone, being written for an intentionally casual, but still graded, assignment.]

Journal: Tuesday 3 July 2012

Today was the day of Primate Presentations. We each had prepared a powerpoint presentation on a selected primate species. This morning was blocked off for those.

Professor (Netzin) Steklis started by giving us a brief overview of both the course and of primatology. The aims of the course are to develop an understanding of primate socio-ecology, to learn basic field methods, and to have a “global adventure” – or, to learn how to travel globally. There are four themes of primate socio-ecology which we will focus on, and which describe the whole of the topic in a broad sense. These themes are social systems, parenting, cognitive ecology, and commensalism. Later, we will break into pairs, and each pair will focus on one theme. At the end of the course, we will give a presentation on our theme, as a pair.

The primate presentations were presented in the approximate order we could expect to see the species, when we venture out of Kigali and into the parks. There were eight presentations, though one covered 5 species of the same genus, the galagos, which was presented by Grace. In her presentation, there was one slide which I found particularly interesting because it showed a chart of the species’ relative life cycles and sizes. It was a great illustration of the relationship between an animal’s size, and rapidly the animal matures (e.g., smaller animals mature more quickly and often have shorter lives). Though we didn’t get into k-selection versus r-selection, that slide certainly demonstrated the principle.

Another trend we saw in the species was that sexual dimorphism favored the males, in the sense that males were larger (to varying degrees), which is pretty typical in the animal kingdom. It seems that there’s a prosimian (or maybe tarsier) species in which the females are larger, but I can’t recall for sure. Maybe I’m thinking of ring-tailed lemurs, in which the females are dominant (but not larger).

After the presentations, we had a buffet lunch and chose our ‘theme teams.’ Chelsea and I ended up on a team together, focusing on cognitive ecology. Then, we all prepared to meet up to go to the craft and cloth markets. Our favorite guide-extrordinaire, Willy, joined us for our foray into the markets. It was our last chance to hang out with him before his trip to London. He’s on his way to collect an award for a video he did of a famous break dancer (Pervez), who came to the orphanage here and taught the kids how to break dance. Willy’s the kind of person who instantly imbues a feeling of confidence in his associates; he’s very bright but utterly lacks pretension. Basically, he’s the kind of person everybody wants to hang out with. We’ll see him again before we leave Rwanda at the end of this month, if we’re lucky.

Willy’s help in the markets certainly saved us some serious francs. In my case, he bartered a Congolese malachite chess set and a piece of Rwandan amethyst down from 47,000 francs, to 38,000, and convinced the guy to take payment partially in Euros, and partially in Rwandan francs. He really was great. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the cloth market, it was getting late and it was already dark. We didn’t stay there long, just long enough to see a few shops so everyone could get a piece of cloth (or a picture of a one) for our primate socio-ecology presentations. (We were to chose cloth that was symbolic of our theme. Chelsea and I were lucky to find a good one in the first shop. The cloth we chose is orange and blue, and its pattern looks like bridges – perfect for a theme that examines how primates solve problems they encounter in their environments.)

 Interestingly, the more time I spend here, the more my Arabic comes back to me. It’s strange because that language is spoken by only a small fraction of the population here – and I haven’t heard any of it. I’m working on my French, with some difficulty despite having been once quite fluent, but the Arabic is coming back unbidden, despite never having more than a rudimentary understanding of it. Ma’arf.

[Pictures from our hotel's garden. We stayed at Chez Lando Hotel.]

Just some additional notes for ye olde blogge today...

1. If you mix Pink Lemonade flavored Emergen-C with Tangerine flavored Emergen-C, you get something that closely resembles the unembalmed ghost of tangerine lemonade. I don't recommend drinking it if you're still among the living.

2. Maya, one of the other students on this trip, reminds me of Ducky, from the original Land Before Time movie. It's a good thing. She's exuberant, and can't say "scrotum" without getting ridiculously embarrassed (even as a primatology student giving a presentation on a species of monkeys - Vervets - in which the males have blue scrotums). Earmuffs, Maya!

3. If you chart the life stages of 5 galago species, as Grace (another student) did, you get a great illustration of how smaller body size correlates with quicker growth. Cool. I love fractal patterns in biology.

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