Daan Viljoen Game Reserve

Jodie and I took a little break to drive 20km out of Windhoek to the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve. We saw an incredible amount of wild life in only an hour in the park. Here's the entrance gate.

We parked at the lodge in the park and decided to do a 3-km trail because that's all we had time for. We immediately walked into a troop of Chacma baboons. They look quite a bit different than the ones at Cape Point, larger and darker and... not tame. They did not hear us coming and the troup had quite a few young ones, spread around all over the hill picking something to eat off the ground - maybe grubs of some kind? A female gave the alarm when she saw us and a big male immediately moved between our path and the females. He gave us some warning barks and swaggered toward us on his knuckles like a gorilla. We just slowly kept on the path and once our intention was clear, the troup ignored us.

Only literally two minutes after we passed the baboon, we almost walked into this beautiful kudu doe. She was standing dead still behind a tree and we almost didn't see her. You can see she is quite a substantial animal, bigger than a deer and smaller than a caribou. Whatever that means.

No sooner did Jodie say "One rarely sees only one kudu" than we saw the males catching up behind her. They are much bigger and the curve of their horns tells you how old they are. They make 360° at about 2 years of age and 720° by about 6 years.

Across the valley we spotted some oryx (gemsbok) on a hill and on the way out I was able to get a photo:

The best treat on the way out of the park was this wildebeest right on the road. Look at his mane blowing in the wind. No really, click the picture. Experience the beest.


Friendly Windhoek, Namibia

Windhoek is a beautiful and friendly place! It's up at high altitude but with rolling hills and canyons around it, rather like being up on the Colorado Plateau. Jodie and I flew up on Monday morning with a very full "to do" list to accomplish before our return on Tuesday night. The airport is really cute:
Taxidermy services are available to and from the airport. This advertisement board reminds me of a certain children's book we used to have.

Coming into town, it feels a bit like a very small Salt Lake City, surrounded by... something more like Borrego Springs. Salty desert backwater with a life of its own! (Note that the blue at the top of this photo is from the windshield of the car).
Lunch, yum. Actually I had some grilled calamari and veg. Of course, the veg was grilled cucumber.
The Gibeon Meteorite Shower scattered these great hunks of Fe-Ni in the desert, actually pretty near the area where we will be working. It was probably one big meteorite that entered the atmosphere and broke up before impact - pieces are still being discovered. Indigenous people without a source of mineable metals learned to fashion spear points from the meteorite chunks and there is a rich archaeology of metalworking in the area. Some of the pieces are on display in this square in downtown Windhoek:
The University of Namibia is on a beautiful campus on the outskirts of Windhoek. It feels a bit like Sonoma State, only a lot smaller - relatively new buildings, growing feeling, like a community college back home only all the students are young and going somewhere! They are also perhaps the most beautiful people I have ever seen. Why are Namibians so beautiful? Healthy, slender, smiling. Anyway, I digress.
The young geology department has only (I think) 4 on the teaching staff - Ben, head of department and Jack of all Geological Trades is our co-Principal Investigator on the project. Another lecturer, Pride, was a hydrogeologist in Zim before coming to work at UNam and will be enrolling for PhD at Stellenbosch under Jodie's supervision - although I don't think he'll need too much! Their department space is in a corner wrested from the art department, and their teaching lab feels like it might have been a dance studio. Here's a blurry Ben and a semi-focussed stromatolitic chalk:
Here's Ben and the department "person who does/knows everything" (is there an official term for this indispensable person?), Joanna, and the amazing lab space:

Windhoek is a navigable and friendly city. Everyone smiling. It is relaxed but not slow. We visited the Geological Survey, the Department of Lands, and the Department of Water Affairs and in each case, got what we came for and went on our way. Having done such milk runs through various levels of government offices all over the San Francisco area, I can readily say that Namibian governmental services puts America to shame. And don't even get me started comparing to South Africa!

Next post.... animals.


Good book and new adventure

When scrounging the bowels of the library the other day in search of the Proceedings of the Geological Society of Poland, 1966 (no, we don't have it), I impulse-checked out an autobiography of a lady physicist, Fay Ajzenberg-Selove. Usually I would think that an autobiography of any physicist, lady or otherwise, would be like watching for mesons with a magnifying glass (ha ha) but perhaps my latent obsession with Dick Feynman drove me to check it out.

A Matter of Choices: Memoirs of a Female Physicist grabbed my attention right away because Fay is direct, candid, and funny. The title seemed to imply that she made choices, I thought sacrifices, and I expected there to be some regrets. It turns out Fay is not a regretful person! Which may be the best lesson to take from the book, for female physicists and everybody else. The story of how her family escaped the Holocaust is alone enough to make this a worthwhile read. Her underdog success, aided by a few gender-blind mentors and colleagues, was enough to warm my cynic's heart. She also takes a few institutions to task, by name (Harvard, Princeton) and points out the second glass ceiling at the tenure review. It was gratifying to google her and see that her website at UPenn is still active, as she is no doubt still active, even after surviving cancer and her husband's health problems as well. Fay's voice is objective, awkwardly literal (as physicist types can be!) and she tells the story of her life without sugar coating, pointing out when her recollections might have been bitter and assessing whether she still holds that bitterness. I think anyone reading this book would come away with a deep respect for the perseverance of a woman who quietly found a way to do what she wanted to do, without tooting her own horn, and truly picked her battles. While on some level an inspirational story, it was also a reminder for me of how much patience is required to break through barriers on ones own. Cheers Fay, and thanks.

Amazon link for A Matter of Choices

I'm off to Windhoek in the morning for a meeting with our new research group - no idea what to expect there, but excited! Sila asked for a souvenir - he wants a snow globe.


First day of school

Yesterday, this was my coffee cart. Mine alone.


Salsa Fresca will Find a Way

Look, I know you might get bored with the garden posts (mom) but for some reason I am SO INTO my little potted garden these days. It just blows me away that I can put water on something and food comes out. Way better (although slower) than Top Ramen. My mother-in-law told me this and it took too long to sink in. Her garden mastery passed away with her on 10 February 2007. If there's an afterlife, I hope she's enjoying the irony of watching me google "rosemary yellow leave edge lower water". Miss you Sue.

I have a total of 110 green tomatoes on 12 plants. I know this because I thoroughly tabulate tomato and flower counts by plant at 6 day intervals.

#111: I have the first evidence of Salsa Fresca to come...

It will be a HOT salsa fresca:

Paul brought us a lemon tree - although I hesitate to use the word "tree" because at 2m tall, it had exactly 3.5 leaves and enough catapillar eggs to insure that it would soon bottom out at 2 leaves! It was potted in a brick of sticky clay and no water or fertilizer seemed to affect it. We finally dumped out the pot, rinsed out the (tiny) rootball and put it in sandy potting soil, watered heavily, crossed fingers. A week later, leaflets all over:

and this morning, tiny pink buds. A valentines present


Weird to be White?

I have avoided discussing race too much on this blog, for PC purposes. It is a factor of life here but having gotten used to the particular tensions in the particular places and faces that I see every day, I think less about it now. It becomes very acute when I leave the city, because the areas that I go in the city are almost entirely historically "white" districts. I can expect to see people that look like me and have similar income levels. They will, however, immediately know I am a foreigner before I open my mouth. I think I am too unfashionable to be mistaken for Capetonian.

I got an email from a very good, very short friend who shall not be named at this point, from a hotel in Nairobi. This friend has just spent several weeks in rural eastern Kenya for scientific purposes. This friend wrote of a white hotel guest being a rude bastard for not being served dinner after kitchen closing, in spite of the fact that the city is in a state of chaos. My friend writes,

"does it ever get less weird to be white in an african country? these types of bougey establishments make me so uncomfortable. "

I have wondered the same thing. I am often embarrassed when I see white people being rude. Likewise, I am embarrassed when non-whites expect me to act like the rude white people. Race is a huge factor here, much because whiteness is still highly correlated with richness. Right now rich black people have arguably the same effect on the poor black majority as rich white people do, but their existence means something very different to that majority. And it's only the left-leaning people trying to point this out, especially the white academic ones who insist that ultimately it's class warfare behind all these problems. Although I think I agree with that in a broad sense, alarms go off every time white people try to move the focus off racism. Is that the legacy of the PC police? or is it because everyone knows that everybody else is at least a little bit racist, whether consciously or not?

There are way too many issues to address in one post, but the one I want to address is the one my friend wrote about, that is, the discomfort. Now, I am not talking about discomfort in direct interactions between people of different race, rather about the discomfort in witnessing or being obliquely involved in some types of interactions. This type of discomfort derives from monolithic treatment of racial groups, by people either within or without the racial group in question. Some of the things that are going on among people of all races, that when combined with a gradient of power or control, are the source of institutional racism.

Whites in this country are being called to task for their racist views, which have caused so much damage which will take generations to heal. Non-whites in this country have not had a systematic exhumation of their racial views and there are a lot of issues there. But through the process of "transformation" - which refers to institutional as well as personal change - there is a dialog developing about morality, humanity, and social organization that is helping people examine themselves openly and not from a place of shame.

If I sound weirdly happy about this it's because I had a great experience this morning in Employment Equity Representative training. Not because the training was so good (though it was), but because the group of people around me is so passionate about moving South Africa into a better future, and doing it RIGHT, urgently but not so urgently that it is done wrong. I am often reminded that in spite of everything wrong with this country (and there is A LOT WRONG with this country), the engine of civil expression and civil participation is alive and well.


Stapelia blooms and it smells like crap.

It is pretty but my office smells like.... um.... poopy. So I opened both windows and this set the door to rattling which caused JR to bust in this morning, thinking I had left the windows open over the weekend. He hates the rattle of my door. But why does he have a key to my office? That's what I'd like to know.