Warning: click only if you want to rock out to the musical stylings of Taylor Swift.

What does Taylor Swift have to do with my research here at the Mpala Research Centre, you ask?  Well, the answer is clearly the unifying power of her ‘tunes when a large group of people are thrown together in small quarters.  In yesterday’s case, said small quarters was Mtoto (“small child”), our lab’s two-door Rav4, which we’re currently using as our primary means of transportation until the equally-ancient truck gets out of the shop.  We drove it to town to do our weekly errand/shopping run, and picked up our lab manager on the way; this addition brought us to a grand total of five people in Mtoto (its absolute max), all getting into the car via the passenger door because that side is the only one that opens wide enough to fit a human through to the back seat.  It was almost, totally, exactly like the clown car from the Big Apple Circus, only the people extricating themselves when we got back from shopping were wearing cargo pants and hiking boots, not red noses and face paint.

Thankfully, the CD that is permanently stuck in Mtoto’s stereo is a copy of Taylor Swift’s most recent album, “1989”.  Sadly, the CD drive is apparently on the fritz and the album is unplayable.  What a tease.  New graduate student Molly to the rescue: she had the album on her phone.  We managed to find an auxiliary cable and blasted “Shake it off” and “Style” for the entire drive to the Centre.  Herds of zebra looking up, confused by lyrics like, “heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break” as we drove by?  Check.  Lab bonding?  Check.  Askance looks from the guy working the Centre’s front gate?  Also check.

This weekend has been eventful: Georgia hosted everyone who remains at the Centre (many folks have headed back to the States at this point) for an evening of dessert, drinks, and games at her house on-site.  We managed to whip together a black forest cake with chocolate frosting, which turned out pretty deliciously despite a lack of recipe (or really, the proper ingredients).  (I think baking up here is a little like that time I ate a bowl of chili at the summit of Mt. Washington: it’ll be the best chili you’ve ever eaten, but you’ll never know if that’s only because you just pulled yourself up Tuckerman’s ravine to reach it.)  A bunch of researchers showed up around 8:30, and we had a lot of fun hanging out and playing a game Georgia suggested, called ‘fishbowl’.  Considering that we had no bowl on-hand, Georgia re-named it ‘fish basket’.  We split into two teams, everyone wrote three nouns onto slips of paper, the nouns were mixed into the basket, and we cycled through several rounds of the game: by turns, a member of each team tried to get their teammates to guess as many of the nouns as possible in one minute.  At the end of each round (when we ran out of words in the basket), the words successfully guessed by each team are tallied, and put back in the basket for the next round.  The first round was Taboo; the second round was charades; the third round, you had to describe the word at hand with one other word; and the last round, with one sound.  Eventually the game completely broke down into shouting matches and lots of bizarrely enthusiastic charades-ing, which I sort of think is the point anyway…

Long story short, we had a party and it was fun.

This week, I’ll be working my butt off to get my litter decomposition experiment in the field.  I’m also planning to take more soil samples and litter samples, so I can work towards describing potential differences in invertebrate communities and soil respiration rates in the treatment plots.  I’m planning to update you all with more of that ASAP as the week goes on.  Until then: a list of swahili words I’ve learned and almost 90% of the time forget to use when the occasion calls for it.  For bonus points, I’m including photos (Google’s, considering how fast my trigger finger has been on my camera) of new animal sightings, as well.

Habari = what’s up?  (Response: mzuri = I’m good.)

sawa = okay

parachichi = avocado

sisasa = not now (sileo = not today)

goodnight = usiku mwema  (sweet dreams = lalasalama)

sasa = now

asante = thank you  (Response: karibu = welcome, also used to say “welcome to”, like “Karibu Kenya”)

pole = sorry

ndovu = elephant

twiga = giraffe

Weird birds of the day: first, a kori bustard, the largest flying bird in Africa, with a wingspan of up to about 7ft and up to almost 4ft tall.

A kori bustard, thinking hard about whether or not he wants to take flight.  Honestly: we saw one take off and it looked like a serious energetic commitment.  You'd have to really want to fly to make it worth it.
A kori bustard, thinking hard about whether or not he wants to take flight. Honestly: we saw one take off and it looked like a serious energetic commitment. You’d have to really want to fly to make it worth it. (Google image; sadly, it was too dark to get a good photo myself when we saw them.)

Next, a secretarybird, which looks an eagle whom someone surgically grafted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s legs to.  Seriously.  It uses those legs to STOMP on snakes, small mammals, and other prey.  They’re sort of famous for the snake thing, so I found one of Google’s best options for a visual.

not my photo: obtained through Google.
a secretarybird. I saw one of these guys one of my first mornings, driving in with my labmates, and IMMEDIATELY had to know what it was. So weird/cool/bizarre/obviously spends a lot of time at the gym on leg day. (Google image)
...eating a snake.  As you do.  (Google image)
…eating a snake. As you do. (Google image)

Til next time!  Baadaye (later)!