After the excitement of finding the fossil mandible last week, things have calmed down. Once the find is announced in Ethiopia, we can give you more information about it—it is one very interesting mandible! I thought I’d give you a small selection of stories from life in camp this week.
Languages—There are many languages being spoken in camp this year. The Afar speak Afar and many of them also speak Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Bill, Erella, and the kitchen staff are also Amharic speakers. Mohamed Amadine serves as the official translator because he’s fluent in Afar, Amharic, and English. Erella and her graduate student Yoni seem to seamlessly switch between Hebrew and English. The Afar are teaching Alex and me as many Afar words and phrases as we can remember, so it’s been fun listening in when they talk to each other and picking up small bits of conversation. So far, I’ve at least learned to ask someone to pass a bucket (goma) and point out a camel (gala) without mixing the two words up!
Food—We eat very well at Hadar—the kitchen staff works magic with just two gas burners and a charcoal fire! We’ve had, on various occasions, donuts, flan, pumpkin soup, pancakes, french fries, and pizza (with sardines). I’m not sure how many jars of Nutella we’ve already gone through, but it’s in the double digits. The Afar are goat herders, so we’ve had goat on several occasions, and there’s homemade bread baked daily. The staff estimated that every week they go through 500 eggs to feed everyone in camp.
Games—Every night, several of the Afar join Alex (and sometimes Jenn or me if we’re not too tired!) for a long and very loud game of Spoons, with rocks standing in for spoons. Cheating is expected and encouraged! Uno has also been popular. During breaks when we’re out at survey, we’ve all learned to play Gaba Da, a game played with small rocks that resembles jacks. Noho, our youngest Afar worker, is the undisputed champion and doesn’t quite understand why we can’t toss, catch, and pick up rocks as adroitly as he can!
Animals—While the most common animal sightings are the Afar’s goats, camels, cattle, and donkeys, there are plenty of other charismatic megafauna living in and around camp. We’ve heard hippos and lions and seen large felid prints in the sand but haven’t spotted either species. There are vervet monkeys and baboons, warthogs and jackals, ostrich and hyena, along with dozens of bird species and more large insects than I care to think about!
Technology—We rely on a large solar panel and a generator to provide lights at night and charge for our computers. The Afar almost all have cell phones, so they need charging, too. During breaks, it’s common to see the men head for the highest hill in the area to search for reception! But the end of the evening, when the lights all get turned off, is my favorite time of day. Staring at the brightest stars I’ve ever seen makes me think about all of the people and our ancestors who’ve looked at these same stars from this same place over the past three million years—I feel privileged to join their ranks.
Editor’s note: Thank you to Benjamin Reed for these amazing images from the Hadar field season 2009.