This post is written from the busy city of Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. This is my second trip to Addis and familiar scents hit me the moment I step off the plane: charcoal, spice, and sweat. My trip has been made easier by accompanying Dr. Bill Kimbel during his visit to complete some curation work at the Natural History Museum and prep for the upcoming field season in October.
I am able to stay at the IHO house (new water heater = hot showers with water pressure people!!) and am lucky enough to be back in the company of the invaluable Mesfin Mekonen, the local liaison in Addis. Bill also comes in handy when one tries to get digitizers through customs. The digitizer is an electronic piece of equipment that really looks more impressive than it is, with a mechanical arm that unfolds and can record points on a fossil or bone, which then saves the point to a computer as XYZ coordinates. This equipment is great for measuring angles between bony features. My amateurish attempts with the customs agents were going nowhere fast, and it looked as if I was going to have to pay a tax on the digitizer’s value to get the equipment out of the airport. Fortunately Bill had enough finesse and documentation (which I don’t have for Ethiopia since I am on Bill’s research permit, but do for South Africa and Kenya—so keep your fingers crossed for my solo journeys there) to get me and my equipment through. Phew.
The day of arrival was spent getting the IHO house in order for Bill’s three-week stay, but also getting over the seven-hour time difference and accompanying jetlag (i.e., lots of coffee and well-timed naps).
My short stay in Ethiopia was only for three full days, so the second and third were spent entirely at the museum. This was more than enough time to complete my data collection because there are currently only three specimens I can actually access for my dissertation. Hopefully, that will change in the coming years as discovered, by not yet fully described, specimens from other sites are published (and thus available for other researchers). The hominin vault was still under construction when I was last here in 2009. The building is now complete and is very impressive. The workspace is first class, and the atmosphere was jovial since there seemed to be a steady stream of people coming into chat and catch up with Bill and Mesfin.
Working with hominin fossils is very exciting, and I am not alone in this feeling. A group of American and Italian paleobotanists came by to say “Hello” and asked if they could peek at some of the Hadar material. Many “oohs” and “ahhs” were had as well as a brief discussion about hominin diets and what plants might be considered relevant. Classic botanists.
I was happy to be back in Addis and am comfortable with the differences in everyday life. I do wish though that I had a better grasp (or more accurately, any grasp) of the Amharic language. I know a handful of phrases to keep from being rude and most people in the city speak enough English that we can get by, but the language barrier keeps me keenly aware of my ferenji (white foreigner) status. If I were lucky enough to eventually work at my own site in Ethiopia, becoming proficient in Amharic would be at the top of my to-do list. One thing I do not look forward to, however, is driving in Addis. Anarchy reigns and I would rather drive the roadless Afar wilderness during a severe thunderstorm than navigate the treachously-populated streets of Addis Ababa.
On that note, I am off to Johannesburg, South Africa. I will be meeting up with ASU alums Drs. Laura Bidner and Amy Rector-Verrelli to tour Kruger National Park before heading to the Transvaal Museum. Cross your fingers for a pangolin sighting!