On Uncategorized

The Things They Ate

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Everyone assumes we eat beans and rice every day.  When they picture a field scientist, they picture tents and pit toilets and beans and rice.  Well, here at Gombe we don’t live in tents, our toilets, though still holes in the ground, feature fashionable wooden seats, and we would give our left arm to have […]

Fifty Shades of Olive

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Yes.  I read it.  The book.  That book.  Am I proud?  “Holy &^%$**$#@*%^$ NO!” does not even begin to describe the depths of my embarrassment.  But, after reading a terribly written, shallow, butt-plug-ridden fantasy about a sadist and his lady-love, I have begun to notice some interesting parallels to the baboon world (and, regrettably, Twilight).  […]

“Just the back, please, Ma.”

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Whitlow (WTW) is a crappy girlfriend.  Perhaps she’s just a little too no-nonsense, a little too take-charge, but she’s also a bit of a cold fish.  As I followed various baboons yesterday, I happened upon WTW and her current beaux, Sima.  They seemed content enough, Sima grunting after her if ever she seemed to be […]

Baboon Repose

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Some aspects of field life are endearing and awesome.  Baby chimps swinging in a tree.  Little Shamila who waves hello at me and yells, “Ahn-DRAY-uh!”  A calm lake and a cool swim after a long day.  French fry night.  But other aspects are not so endearing, not so awesome.  Sticks in my eyes.  Ants.  Four-hour […]

Fun With Animals

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Today we had a lot of fun with animals.  And by animals I, of course, don’t mean baboons.  I mean other animals.  To start off the morning, Hamimu (my intrepid young assistant) and I play the fun game where I ask him what he would rather be attacked by.  We start with siafu vs. sungusungu […]

Family Resemblances

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Baboon daughters look a lot like their mothers.  For some the resemblance is so uncanny, on first glance I sometimes mix them up.  Yanani looks a lot like her mother, Yei.  Uvila and Ubergiji look a lot like their mother, Ubena.  Ubergiji’s daughters, Unarasika and USA look a lot like her.  And it’s not rocket […]

Searching for AC Troop yesterday was one of those epic 3.5 hour slogs up and down mountains where we find every baboon group imaginable except the one for which we are searching.  Makes one a titch grumpy.  We even saw a chimp or two in our quest, which is supposed to be all kinds of […]

Home Sweet Gombe

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

I bet you’ve been wondering about our digs here in the jungle.  I know you picture safari tents, perhaps lanterns lighting our nightly cocktail as we look out over the lake (or perhaps you actually picture the Serengeti, lions roaring in the distance).  Or perhaps you see a thatched hut surrounded by jungle, monkeys swinging […]

Back in the Field!

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

I’ve been wondering if there’s a Swahili word for “plumber’s crack”.  Fortuitously, I know the words for “caterpillar”, “so-and-so”, and the equivalent of our “number 1” and “number 2”.  But I don’t know “plumber’s crack”.  Which is too bad because my pants have been getting soaked with rain, clinging to my legs, and then, with […]

After various planes, trains, and automobiles (if trains are boats, that is), I’ve made it to Gombe and western Tanzania has chosen to greet me a thunderclap and a general sogginess.  I came in May partially because the rainy season tends to pack its bags at the end of April, but instead it is lazily […]

A New Field Season Coming Soon!

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Teenage Boys

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There are some great teenage boys out there: respectful, fun, frightfully entertaining.  I should know because I taught many.  But in the baboon world, teenage boys seem to mostly suck.  They’re all bravado and chest-popping, unable to challenge the big boys so the pick on their moms.  And me. In […]

The Boys are Back (in Camp)

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Our camp has garnered two permanent residents in the last month.  It’s uncommon for any  baboon to live outside a group for any amount of time, but Shirati and Shamba both have found a home here (perhaps for slightly different reasons) and they have certainly made camp life more interesting. We’ve discussed Shirati before: old, […]

The Home Stretch

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

I just finished my last follow on my first baboon.  Meaning: one baboon down, ten more to go.  For this momentous occasion, I chose to wash my hands of WTW (the acronym for Whitlow), the power-walking, slightly attitudinal high-ranker of BA troop.  If WTW were a person, she’d be one of those skinny 60-year olds […]

The Queen is Dead (and other updates)

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

1) Little Andrea, my fuzzy black namesake, went missing a few days ago.  Alas, it was not meant to be. 2) Yamba, one of my intrepid-yet-dowdy females, disappeared last week.  The guys think she died in child birth.  I’ve decided she was eaten by a leopard.  We smelled something horrid a few days later but […]

Family Matters

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Baboons are all about family.  For them it’s mostly mathematics in the great gene race, banding together with those who share the same genes in an effort to perpetuate them ad infinitum, which also means you’re nicer to your sister than you are to your cousin, nicer to your niece than that weird kid down […]

The Saga of the Banana, Part Two

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Partly I write this under the vague delusion that people actually expected a follow up to the termed “Banana Saga” (knowing full well that you few readers probably don’t even recall said incident).  Regardless, I will press on as if you do. A few nights ago I was invited up to the luxury tented camp […]

All A’twitter About Glitter

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Everyone is very excited and rubber-necking the way people do around a semi-tragedy.  Glitter, a female chimpanzee famous for being the other half of a pair of twins (the other is Golden…can we all agree these are horrible names?), just gave birth.  Unlike baboons who flaunt their reproductive status like the first middle school girl […]

Why Men Are Useful

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Shikoku has turned into a total teddy bear.  I mean, he still takes what he wants from tourists, opens doors, and makes lower-ranking males quake in their booties.  But since Ubergiji gave birth to little Ufaransa (Swahili for “France”), he’s been whiling away the hours by sitting uncomfortably close to her and grunting softly.  To […]

Picking up a package in Tanzania is very simple. First, you must go to the post office with your little package claim slip that reads “Final Notice” across the top because the Powers-That-Be have forgotten to give it (and many others like it) to you over the past few months.  There you will go up […]


Monday, June 13th, 2011

‘Tis birthin’ season in Gombe.  At least for the baboons.  White Thorn, top female of BA, started out things early in May, adding Wangati to the ranks of cheeky little monkeys.* Then about a week and a half ago, Ugly Umea showed up one day with a spazzy little black thing cupped to her chest.  […]

Swahili Misfires

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Learning another language is hard.  But when you’re not in a classroom and the only way to communicate is to stumble along while making illustrative hand gestures, you just say the words that come into your head and hope they are right.  Often times they are not.  Here are some Swahili mistakes I’ve made so […]

Top Ten Reasons To Be A Baboon

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

There is something enviable about being a baboon.  Or perhaps even many somethings.  I won’t deny certain aspects of daily baboon life are dull, capricious, and frankly upsetting, but there is a certain freedom that comes from a laissez-faire government (though perhaps its really more of a hierarchical oligarchy with an understaffed police force and […]

The BA Invasion

Monday, May 30th, 2011

BA troop staged a raid on camp today, an effort that I can only describe as one giant kisheshe (Swahili for (loosely translated) “clusterf***”).  I have never seen BA troop come into camp.  Clearly their visits are rare and opportunistic; one definitely gets the sense of watching a loose, simian adaptation of Lord of the […]

Starting a Business

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

I went to town about a week ago, where I met Isaac.  It is a chronic problem that if you want to eat alone and you are an mzungu woman, young Tanzanian men will heft up their pants and sidle over to sit with you.  Sometimes they can be deterred.  Isaac barely asked my permission. […]

A Couple Character Sketches

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Shirati Shirati is the old male baboon of BA troop who is all kinds of decrepit, tail thin and kinked, hair falling out.  He still likes to think of himself as part of the group (when he’s not napping), but everyone pretty much ignores him.  Whenever I see him, he’s sort of sitting by himself, […]


Saturday, May 7th, 2011

I suppose I should take a moment to talk about chimpanzees, seeing as they are the real reason anyone comes to Gombe in the first place.  Starting with my first sighting mere hours after I arrived, I have seen a fair number of chimps out in the field and, occasionally, in camp.  They’re somehow bigger […]

Yola licked me for the third time today.  I spent an hour and forty minutes watching Yamba lick stones yesterday.  This afternoon, I watched Ubergiji and a whole slew of compadres lick a dirty wall for almost an hour.  Something is wrong with these baboons. Okay, the stones make sense.  With a diet that consists […]

Serengeti, Tally-ho!

Friday, April 29th, 2011

The Serengeti is the Africa I think of when I close my eyes.  It’s grasses and acacia trees scraping the sky, fields of puffy white clouds and smears of black as the rains come in.  It’s the ring-necked dove incessantly screaming, “Work hard-er!  Work hard-er!” (or, as some people say, “Drink lag-er!  Drink lag-er!”), and […]


Friday, April 8th, 2011

The dogs howl in chorus whenever a plane flies overhead.  Jack always starts, his thick, frankly smelly exterior giving voice to a surprisingly high-pitched moan.  Soon Sheba, his mother, joins in.  And then, just wanting to belong, the ultimate me-too, Pumba, Jack’s sister (and possibly daughter?) adds her tinny howl.  They carry on until they […]


Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

It took me forever to load these (and Flickr wasn’t working), but now, finally, you can see some of my baboons!  (I tried to add more but the connection got too slow). This is Anisanta, a juvenile male, doing a little two-handed stone-licking. Next, we have Walidi and her daughter, Walita, also licking stones.  I’m […]

Blast from the Past

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

I went to the TGT club (Tanzania Game Trackers) last night to meet up with the Peterson clan.  Daudi, Thad, and Mike Peterson organized and executed my first visit to Tanzania, planning out the first three months of Lewis & Clark College’s time in the country.  We got to know them well as we bumped […]

Make Every Day a Mama Afrika Day!

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Before I went to the circus I was told by a tired-yet-charming British man, “Oh, it’s quite fun. Lot’s of bendy people.”  My thoughts exactly. The Mama Afrika Circus has been in Arusha for about a month and features acrobats and dancers from all over sub-Saharan Africa (especially eastern and southern countries). They all perform […]

The Blessings of Babu

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Let’s talk about Babu.  Undoubtedly, most of this will be hearsay because my internet is currently too slow to do any hard, fast research.  However, I’m sure if you’re intrigued, there are a plethora of articles for you to admire on the great wide interweb. My understanding is Babu (which means “grandpa” in Swahili, a […]


Monday, March 28th, 2011

I’m sitting in the courtyard of a rather nice safari lodge in Arusha.  Arusha is the bustling staging point for all things Serengeti and Kilimanjaro and is usually crawling with wazungu.  Luckily it’s low season now.  I’m sipping a Tangawizi, the local ginger ale that makes my tongue go vaguely numb in a sort of […]

Disco is Back!

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

We discoed last night.  I’m heading to Arusha in northern Tanzania to take a break, do some work, and then travel a bit before coming back to gawk at more baboons.  But my flight isn’t for two days, so, in the interim, we must party, Tanzania-style. There are several discos in town.  We chose the […]

Baboon Hide and Seek

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Yesterday we played a big ol’ game of Manhunt.  See, Amara and Augosti 2 (the alpha) were in a consortship, which basically means Augosti 2 was following Amara around and having his way with her when the mood struck.  Amara seemed wholly uninterested in being someone’s better half and did a lot of walking away […]

The Place Where Middle School Never Dies

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Being a baboon is like a lifetime of middle school.  I would hate being a baboon.  We all had varied middle school careers – some of us were popular, some of us were dorks – but I can think of no one who looks back at that time and thinks, “Those were the good old […]

Rules of the Forest

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

I can’t ever recall having scratches and bruises on my stomach before.  Here, I get them frequently.  Mostly from falling of the trail.  I average one trail-fall-off every two weeks.  And, no, I don’t mean fall down.  I fall down, or almost fall down, several times a day.  I mean, fall off, like into the […]

The Saga of the Banana (Part I?)

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Sundays can be leisurely.  I start out a bit later and then spend my days on the beach, first waiting for then following baboons.  After a failed follow attempt with BA troop, the group ascending into the park where I’m not allowed to go on my own, I decide to go try my luck with […]


Friday, March 4th, 2011

On the third day (of March) God created rain.  And then he ducked inside.  I was told that the rainy season extended from December through April.  I was told February would be drier and March would be much wetter.  Well, it looks like the powers that be glanced at the calendar and realized they were […]

Baboon Romances

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

I would very much like to narrate a nature documentary on baboon love triangles.  I would do so with a British accent and everything would sound vaguely like a poorly-written Monty Python skit. BA troop, sporting a whopping 19 females, always seems to have one or two special ladies at their swelling peak each week.  […]

Massive Headwound Maat

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Maat is having a rough week.  He’s an older fellow, not the quickest of the bunch, and now he looks as though he took a shotgun blast to the back of the head.  The wound seemed small at first, but once nimble baboon fingers groomed away all the hair (they always seem to do this […]

Oh, Bank of America

Friday, February 25th, 2011

I had a little online chat with Bank of America yesterday (this is one of several I’ve had).   Being old hat at the whole thing I tell the guy, “I want to speak to a fraud specialist.”  If I don’t say this, my chat gets transferred to at least two other people who are not […]

Things That Bug Me

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Let’s talk about bugs.  I made the claim awhile ago that the jungle here isn’t too heinously buggy.  That is true.  But it also doesn’t mean that I remain un-feasted-upon.  Before arriving, my least favorite were tsetse flies.  Hands down.  The bite hurts, yes, but mine also tend to swell to the size of small […]

Love Quadrangles

Friday, February 18th, 2011

My heart went out to Acapulco today.  A small-faced, sensible female (whose name, inexplicably, is pronounced by everyone as “Acapuliko”), she happens to be the only female with a swelling (the “I’m ready to mate sign”) the size of Alaska, making her a hot commodity among the masturbating brutes of her tribe (BA troop has […]

Cheeky Monkeys

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Kids are funny.  Especially kids entirely covered in hair with superb motor skills.  Some of my favorites: Akamera:  Yesterday Akamera found a weird type of food called misoke.  Misoke kind of looks like what you would have if you scalped a dirty-blonde rastafarian.  In fact, that’s exactly what it looks like: dreads that hang in […]

Being a Celebrity

Friday, February 11th, 2011

I used to teach at a boarding school.  Walking around campus, I used to feel like a minor celebrity.  Kids would say hi to me left and right.  Some I didn’t have the foggiest idea who they were.  But I was just so awesome, I guess, that they knew my name and it made me […]

Little Things

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

1) Every day at 6 PM a man in a green uniform, complete with beret walks out to the little flag pole in front of the guest lodge.  Whether or not anyone is there, he stands at attention and toots a little whistle.  He then lowers the Tanzanian flag, folds it up, and toots his […]

The Naming of Things

Monday, February 7th, 2011

I now know a lot of baboons.  Not perfectly, but.  Some are easier to remember than others.  White Rose is missing an eye and Akarura has a bum leg with only one toe and is continually followed by her pixie-looking daughter, Akemila (whose name is, inexplicably, pronounced by all the field assistants as “Akamera”).  Maat’s […]

A Day on the Beach

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

This is how it went down.  Everyone was calming licking stones.  Faridu and I stood listening to the gentle clicking of stones dropping on top of other stones, baboons spread out on either side of us, the smallest children climbing and jumping off their mothers, playing some monkey version of King of the Hill.  And […]


Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Upon arriving in Gombe, I was introduced to Ashura.  “She will be helping you,” is all I was told.  No one even implied I should pay her, though I’d heard through the grapevine that I should.   In an awkward Swahili conversation I am 94% sure we agreed on a price of 100,000 shillings per month […]

Week One: Done

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Let me sketch out my day for you: I wake up around 6:30 and do lots of staring at the wall and trying to get out of bed.  I reconsitute some powdered milk and drink it (so I won’t become lactose intolerant) and then pull on a pair of bright red soccer shoes (5 dollars […]


Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Trudging after  AC troop for the last few days, I have learned that primate children, regardless of species, are wired to throw fits.  For the last three days, sweating and tired I have had to listen to Ukita, a tiny little punk of a baboon, scream and whine and carry on while his mom stares […]


Monday, January 24th, 2011

I feel a bit as if a very good friend of mine just gave birth to 27-uplets, all identical, and is expecting me to remember their names.  That is how it feels following Faridu around, him pointing at a baboon and me thinking, “She looks EXACTLY THE SAME as the last 20.”  I got more […]


Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

There are a lot of monkeys here.  Yesterday, not-so-bright and early, I found myself shaking hands with the entire baboon field assistant staff and then slogging after one, a jocular, friendly man named Faridhu (I’ll check on that spelling) through the jungles of Gombe.  Faridhu walked steadily and surely up steep, muddy paths while I […]

It’ll Do

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

I’m sure the other shoe will drop.  In fact, I’m quite positive.  But currently, things seem pretty nifty. After a 1.5 hour boat ride from the shores of Kigoma and, more specifically, the Jane Goodall Institute, a group of Tanzanian researchers and I were dropped unceremoniously on a non-descript beach on Lake Tanganyika’s edge (incidentally, […]

Me ‘n Jane

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Met Jane Goodall yesterday. Her only words to me: “You’re the new baboon researcher who got robbed!”. I nodded and smiled stupidly and she moved on. Despite all diligent efforts, I have still to make it to Gombe. Free of Dar I skipped my way down to the Kigoma TAWIRI office to proudly present my […]


Saturday, January 15th, 2011

This first entry comes courtesy of Mark and his very nifty iPad (more on him later). So, where to begin? The start has certainly been a bit bumpy, what with being a little bit robbed in Dar es Salaam and then simultaneously contracting bacterial and amoebic infections despite diligent efforts to brush my teeth only […]

Profound Publication #10

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Having recently misunderstood the meaning of life, I set out on a walk around the neighborhood, shoes scuffed, nose running. Mr. Cheever threw a brick at me and I cowered in the hollow of tree until I passed out from sheer loneliness.

Profound Publication #9

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Hiram grew fat on the Lord’s table scraps. He combed the nits out of his hair every morning, smoothed his pants with hands rubbed raw by worried scrubbing, and calmly refused to speak loud enough for anyone to hear him. As his belly began to sag over his belt, he wondered whether salvation truly was […]

Profound Publication #8

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Quintessential quagmires of elephantine proportions. It would be difficult to explain it more clearly. I reckon my nails will fall off before I am old enough not to care.

Profound Publication #7

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Lamely, I flicked lint from my pocket at the back of his head. Beside me, Eleanor flinched. Her acne made her ugly, but I think it also made her funny. Meanwhile, clouds roiled and twisted in the sky.  I wanted to sleep.

Profound Publication #6

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Shadrach McEnery became famous for killing his identical twin brother with a length of floss and a shovel. In an interview he said, “It felt a bit like committing suicide. I felt better afterwards.”

Profound Publication #5

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

I tell my brother that I would give him my kidney if he needed it. I mean this in the academic sense of course. I mean this to say, “I love you THIS much.” If he, in reality, needed a kidney, I would have to think long and hard.

Profound Publication #4

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The old lady who lives under the bridge shakes her aging head. Geoffrey stands back and smiles. “Let’s not play games,” she says, and he throws a handful of coins into the sky and yells, “They’re only pennies!” A few suspend in the air, momentarily, until birds pluck them from their perches with razor-sharp beaks.

Profound Publication #3

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Niggling under my skin it is. I refuse to take it to heart, but my shoes are wet and the diner-man with the lazy eye is making slow sweeps with his head and sliding to a nearby stool. For these reasons, I know it is probably Tuesday.

Profound Publication #2

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

“Mystic munitions of calestoga caravans,” spaketh Jake. Joanie rolled her eyes while rubbing his back encouragingly. The rumble of thunder some five miles off only troubled the dog.  And only a little.

Profound Publication #1

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Charlie fought Veronica most of the evening. She split his lip and tore up his tax refund. And all around them fell the ash of nuclear fallout.

Stretching Young Minds

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Question #9 of my last Honors Biology quiz read: Tell me a funny, funny joke. Here are some of the responses: – Your mom. – Q. How do you get a rabbit over a fence? A. You throw it over. (Apparently this is a bonafide Laffy Taffy joke) – I tried to walk into Target, […]

A Visit to Princeton

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

I went to Princeton today for a visit of sorts. I just may have back-doored my way into the place without even applying (…and for my next trick, I will stumble upon cold fusion while looking for the Tylenol…), and I thought I should see if I’d actually like to go there. First, I meet […]