Back to Africa–Nigeria! How I hate goodbyes…

“I don’t know where my passport is!”

Frantically panicking, one hour until my flight, I’ve misplaced my passport. Two of my friends are trying to calm me down.

“You didn’t leave it at the lab. Just think for a sec.”

Pause. Breathe. Ok. It’s in the bag of silica–phew!

Catching an early morning flight, I’ve arranged for a taxi to come get me around 345AM. Up with some friends and flatmates, the living room is taken over with bags, clothing, rubbish and an assortment of medication.

Why didn’t I sort this out sooner?

The past week has been a blur of 3 hour nights of sleep, errands, getting a visa (the Nigerian embassy does NOT make it easy…), vaccines and last-minute shopping sprees inter-spaced with tequila, beers, jazz, sushi and goodbyes. And everyone knows how I hate goodbyes.

Sharing a last beer and cigarette, the taxi driver waits as they all calm me down.

“You’ll be fine.”

“Checklist? Passport? Yellow card? Plane tickets?”

Ok. Four big bags, a day pack and my purse. So much stuff! Going to Nigeria’s Gashaka-Gumti National Park to follow baboons and take poop samples.

Goodbye hugs…don’t cry.

I wave from the taxi and start crying immediately for the third or fourth time that evening.

“Are you sad?”

“Yes…”

“Are you coming back?”

“Yes…….”

I just can’t handle moments leading up to going away.

At Heathrow, it takes almost 2 hours to get all the bags checked. Near tears, the staff patiently helps me wrap bags together to bring my bag count down to 3 and check them into different places to minimize the amount of extra fees I need to pay. Thank goodness.

London-Frankfurt-Abuja.

Going through customs–I am the last person.

“Can I please get an extension here?”

“No, I can only give you one month.”

“Oh, I’ve heard it may be possible to do it here…it’s just so difficult for me to get to an immigration office once I get to the park.”

He hesitates but holds firm. Feeling some pity for me, he helps me though customs and goes to hire me a cab.

A couple marriage proposals later while getting bags checked, someone is waiting for me out front. Too bad I’ve lost my fake wedding ring. Next stop to my couch surfing host’s house–a German working for the ministry in Abuja. We pass through several police checkpoints and everyone is curious about the massive amount of bags I have.

One police officer though is very kind and gives us directions as we are lost. Patiently drawing out streets in the dust and giving me his phone number if there are any issues.

“I want to go to America. I love America, you should take me with you.”

We finally arrive and there are two American girls on their way out, and they’re from Arizona! My home state. What are the odds?

Chatting a bit with everyone, I finally shower (I forget how hot and dusty it is here!) and pass out after not having slept in almost 2 days.

It’s great to be out of London despite all the drama of leaving.

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Busy as a bee…

One year ago, I was enjoying my last month at Lajuma before going to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This year, I’m also preparing for a new journey.

In a month, I’ll begin collecting data for my dissertation. Location? Gashaka-Gumti National Park in Nigeria as part of the Gashaka Primate Project. Study animal? The olive baboon (Papio anubis). I’ll be looking at gastrointestinal parasites–so lots and lots of poop. Again…

Return to the Dark Continent!

I’ll be leaving with another student–also an American! We will be flying into Abuja and taking several taxis until we reach Serti. From there, someone from the field site will pick us up by motorbike–getting to re-live my flight from Iyema in DRC and chapas in Mozambique. We will spend roughly 9ish weeks in the field with no internet access but plenty of baboons and bugs.

So. Excited.

I’ve spent the majority of my time in London sitting in front of a computer and could use some fresh air, adventure and stars. Maybe there will be some good rocks for me to hop on as well? The next month will now be spent creating my behavioural ethogram, finalizing methods, applying to grants and getting vaccines.

As well as panicking. But the good kind.

The class is now splitting up with some girls going to Madagascar, Morocco, Spain, etc etc etc. Surprisingly, the only three boys in the course (out of 24) are all staying in London. Very bittersweet as we are all fairly close–with several girls being the only reason I’m still sane.

Although somewhat dissapointed I’m not collecting data back at Lajuma, very excited to try somewhere new–fingers crossed that Nigeria stays stable enough to conduct my research. But, London is freezing and having had 3 summers in a row, I’m not used to winter. Migration onto warmer climates!

Someone said to me Nigeria will be “a playground” compared to DRC, so hopefully there’s plenty of lianes for me to swing on and trees to climb. 2011 was pretty darn great so here’s to a fantastic (if not frantic) 2012!  

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Let’s get a move on shall we?

That feeling where you can’t sit still, your insides are vibrating and you don’t know whether to run or take a shot of whisky to calm yourself down?

Zugunruhe.

My first encounter with this word was while watching Heroes and decompressing after a long day: “When a change comes, some species feel the urge to migrate, they call it zugunruhe. ‘A pull of the soul to a far off place,’ following a scent in the wind, a star in the sky. The ancient message comes calling the kindred to take flight and gather together. Only then they can hope to survive the cruel season to come.”

Sounds a bit romanticized.

A German compound word–like Torschlusspanik (which means “gate-closing panic” and refers to the fear of diminishing opportunities with age)–Zugunruhe perfectly describes this wanderlust that can’t be shaken. Zug means migration; Unruhe is anxiety or restlessness. After spending days and nights sitting in front of a computer (once for almost 25 hours straight), I’m ready to get a move on!

With further googling, a study by Barbara Helm and Eberhard Gwinner from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany (2006) popped up. They tested the presence of Zugunruhe in stonechats (Saxicola torquata) and described it as “the urge of captive birds to migrate, [manifesting] itself in seasonally occurring restlessness.” This restlessness exhibits itself in increased nocturnal activity with photoperiodic responses that change seasonally.

Check, check and check.

This term has apparently caught on (awhile ago…)—capturing artist Rachel Berwick in her beautiful 2009-2010 display, Zugunruhe. Writer James Gorman also expresses this universal urge in his 2006 New York Time’s piece It’s Time to Discuss Migration, but I’ve Got to Be Moving On.

Finally! Something to describes this pent-up energy with the only current outlet: cartwheels down empty halls at 3AM during bathroom breaks or vending machine raids for chocolate. Or when procrastinating during a paper–frantic searches for flights to far, far away places.

Strange to think a year ago, I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas down in Lajuma, South Africa. Now I’m stuck in “Hell” most hours of the day (typically nighttime–I’ve turned nocturnal). Hell is the nickname we’ve bestowed upon the Roehampton Whiteland’s 24hr computer room.

Initially–due to being ridiculously hot with tapdancing elephants above and noisy undergraduates within–the name was brought on by a hilarious, delirium driven conversations that only occurs during the wee hours after long hours in front of a computer. With winter, Hell has now frozen over as–for some reason–there’s no way to regulate the temperatures in this room to a comfortable median. Oh well.

Now it’s all primates, primates, primates; reading, dreaming, talking, writing all on primates. It’s been great and insightful being surrounded by people with similar backgrounds but can I get out of London please???

Sometimes, I’m just bursting and frazzled with too much something–zugunruhe. Or even Toska— the Russian word that describes a sense of aching without any specific causes or a vague restlessness.

Despite the beautiful architecture, everything is just too darn expensive to fully enjoy sometimes. City life can be stifling and there’s been no chance of hiking or rock climbing. My home range has been reduced down to 2km² with passage through the “landscape of fear” between home and university.

This landscape of fear refers to the dodgy bit I traverse daily frequented by British youth with nothing better to do than bluff and harass people. Sometimes this escalates, as seen during a stabbing earlier last week when Roehampton security drove me home.

However, coming this spring, I plan on migrating back down to Africa. The plan is currently Nigeria, but who knows?

In the meantime, I’ll need to find an outlet to dispel or distract this feeling. Luckily, a friend from home will be visiting next week after Christmas!

Here’s to cheery holiday spirits to everyone!

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London Doris is falling down… (or God Save the Queen?)

This title comes from a short-shorts wearing friend as a suggestion for a new blog name while studying in London. I’ve just had a Mac & Jacks while waiting for boarding to calm the nerves after a tearful goodbye to my mother. They’re currently boarding first class so this will be short.

A little over a year ago, I left for South Africa and now I am off again! Moving slowly towards my goal of studying something on every continent. Exciting, exciting 🙂

After a lovely farewell night at The Rez with whisky and a martini (who knew they even had those kinds of glasses? The Rez is classier than I remember!) and an amazing brunch made by Mama Ferris (Maggie Ferris is a saint!), I spent the rest of the weekend with my parents and finally finished packing last night at 1 AM.

And so begins Ch. 2 of this blog: Europe.

Cheers!

 

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Home, Sweet Home

A little over two months and 20 lbs later (yes, out of Africa with too much food and alcohol around…I’ve started rock climbing and doing hot yoga to ahem, slim down), I’m preparing to move to London for a Master’s program on September 19th. Just only settled and all caught up with friends and family, I’ve started going through boxes and piles of accumulated goods and would prefer just to give it all away (or burn it…). Africa and being so far away from home has taught me to let go of material things.

Other ways I’ve changed:

  • Gotten over my fear of the dark (no joke–an ex-boyfriend bought me a nightlight once but how else can you see the stars?);
  • Gotten over my fear of death (it’s actually comforting to someday return to the earth);
  • Being alone is quite nice;
  • Strangers in general are and can be amazing;
  • And being lost is nothing to panic about.

I’ve started to feel a little antsy being situated and inside so long. Between packing and the numerous doctor appointments and check-ups (found out from blood results I had survived another tropical disease, dengue fever, in addition to malaria!), I’ve been trying to go on weekly hikes. What I miss most are the stars at Lajuma. The galaxies and smearing of lights, sleeping outside in crisp, clean air and waking up to the chattering of Samangos overhead.

“Life is tough. It’s full of things that you may not like, but you’ve got to accept them like everybody else…Whenever something’s bothering you, look at the stars; it will remind you how small you really are, and I promise you, you’ll feel much better.” —Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami.

This describes perfectly how I feel after a long day and sadly, the stars here are quite unsatisfyingly dim. However, Seattle is beautiful in the summer with the lakes and surrounding mountains–especially Mt. Rainier. And being home and not living out of a bag and unwinding is comforting. But now I’m almost ready to leave again and excited to move to the UK where I’ll finally get to experience a winter! Having had three summers in a row, I never thought I would be excited to wear sweaters and bundle under blankets.

But feeling the l’appel du vide, soon to be off onto a new adventure in 18 days and hopefully back into the field by 2012! Working on that list, ticking off continents and species, meeting strangers and getting into trouble.

But Oh, Seattle, how I will miss you and kickball with the LEGENDS, backpacking at Mt. Rainier, skinny dipping in bioluminescent algae and other random adventures.

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Sleeping In Stairwells, Couchsurfing and Lajumies Out of Africa

Early morning sun, birds chirping and that beginning of summer chill–would have been another lovely start to the day if I hadn’t spent the whole night out for the umpteenth day in a row. Realizing I had left my keys at the hostel, I was locked out and had tried to stay out until 8AM when the owner would open the doors. I even considered pulling the Sexless Inkeeper (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sexless_Innkeeper) on some sweet, drunken boy I had been chatting to but thought better of it. Eventually tired and deflated, I caught a cab around 5AM back to the hostel to try and find a way in.

Lights out, no one around, I didn’t want to be that one person knocking on windows so took a brisk stroll around the block to try and stay warm. Eventually, I noticed someone going into a building next to mine and followed them in and fell asleep curled up in the stairwell–the low point of my trip but at least it was warm! Awoken by steps, I quickly tried to stand up–realizing too late my legs had fallen asleep. Falling over onto the rails, I smiled sheepishly as someone awkwardly maneuvered around me.

How embarrassing.

8AM. FINALLY. Back inside and warm, I snuggled under my blankets and fell asleep until noon. Traveling alone has its perks and downfalls. Used to wandering around late at night by myself in the cities, I really should be more careful…but I just love being out in empty dark streets illuminated by neon signs and street lights. It’s so serene but rather careless of me.

It was June 19th and having arrived in Germany a little over a week ago, I was getting ready to leave Berlin after spending a few days in Cologne with some Germans I had met at Lajuma. When I had arrived, ze Germans had retaught me how to ride a bike. Something I hadn’t done in probably a decade. Sitting behind me and using his legs like training wheels, we somehow managed our way through the streets. When I had to ride solo, I lost my balance twice and fell over and probably freaked a lot of Germans out with my squealing, giggling and swerving.

But we survived.

Now, I was navigating my way around Berlin effortlessly by bike. Overwhelmed by the city, I made my way to the Tiergarten to try and get away from all the bustle and noise–not used to crowds and traffic, all I wanted was some peace and quiet. To lay down with a book beneath some trees. Instead, I came upon a large group of sunbathing naked men playing Frisbee.

Where the hell am I?

Finally tired of the city, I caught a rideshare (http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/ which I can almost pronounce now!) to Munich after spending a night with a friend I hadn’t seen in almost a year–we had molested statues and she showed me the city. Using couchsurfing, I was able to find a place last minute since my sudden departure had been unplanned. The following morning, I caught a train out to Fussen to enjoy “nature” but ended up being surrounded by hordes of slow-walking tourists that I just wanted to punch.

Eventually I found my way back to Cologne for the Lajuma reunion! My rideshare was with a middle-aged professor and designer who was visiting his girlfriend in Munich. We ended up talking the whole 5 hours until he dropped me off at 1AM for my couchsurfing host to pick me up and take me to Bonn (also a last minute request! People are pretty amazing sometimes!). We enjoyed beers and cigarettes until dawn before he had to go to work. I caught a train to Haribo to buy a nice baggy of gummies before finding my way back to Cologne for the reunion.

At last reunited with Lajumies! The weather was soggy and we spent our day wandering around from The Chocolate Museum to the Dom and restaurants and bars. Playing pool, stacking coasters, drinking Kolsch, smoking cigarettes. How weird to see everyone in street clothes and off a mountain. The next day, everyone returned back to their respective cities.

My last night in Germany, I spent wandering the streets alone one last time and happened upon a concert. Watching with beer in hand (hooray for public drinking!), a group of girls caught me by surprise as they linked arms with me and started explaining the German songs to me.

Every time I started to feel homesick or sad in Germany, a random stranger or group of strangers has always approached me and immediately cheered me up. To the stranger in the Tiergarten to the people in their 40s-70s in a random bar I wandered into once (and ended up spending 6 hours until 3AM chatting with!) who bought me beers and shared their stories and cigarettes, and now this! They helped me steal a Cologne glass as a souvenir and wished me a happy trip home.

A great way to end my close to ten month journey away from home.

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“Excuse me while I pee…”

“Hey! Where are you from?”

Three AM, some random Berlin club and I’m standing in the bathroom stall about to close the door when a hand snaps in and prevents me from shutting it.

“Um…America.”

“You here with friends?”

“Yeah, loads of them…”

“Want to have some fun?”

“Um…no…I’m good…I’m trying to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh, I’ve got some real good stuff. Just try a line. You don’t like, it’s free.”

“No, I’m fine…I really just want to pee. I think we’re leaving soon.”

“Oh come on, it’s real good Berlin stuff.”

“Well you see…I’d really like to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh yeah, no problem, no problem…but it’s real good stu–”

“Excuse me while I pee,” shutting the door squarely on his smiling face. This isn’t exactly the time–or place–for conversation.

Earlier, the French guy I was here with and I joked about how this was the place people sell you cocaine in the bathrooms. Well, there you go. After spending several days in Cologne, I had left using mitfahr to go to Berlin since everyone says you must go to Berlin. Staying at the Pfefferbett, I had met the French guy and now we were here in some large old industrial building with smoke, flashing lights and “German dancing” which I noticed was very different than “American dancing.” Having waited in line where women were turned away, I was concerned we weren’t going to be let in. Trying to act nonchalant and casual, the doorman looked at his boss (who was covered in tattoos, rings and leather) who then nodded us in. After taking away my camera, we climbed the stairs and followed the music…to a nearly empty dance floor. It was just after 1AM–where was everyone? In Seattle, bars close at 2AM.

An hour later, the place filled up as I realized once again, the Germans make party very late. Not in the mood, not at the right place, and extremely tired from having stayed up until nearly 7AM the night before with some Berliners, we left close to 4AM. The French guy left to meet up with his host for couchsurfing and I caught a cab back to my hostel–grumpy and tired.

“Where to?”

“My hostel please.”

“But it’s only 4 AM…”

“I know, but I’m tired.”

“Where are your friends? It’s too early.”

“Gone. Plus I’m in Berlin by myself. And the sun is coming up.”

“You’re in Berlin by yourself…”

“Yes…”

“Why did you come to Berlin by yourself?”

Ok Mr. Cab driver, cut the chitchat and let’s just take me back to my hostel …

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