30 July 2009

In the interim…

I’m kicking around my home town of Tuscaloosa without a care in the world or a single thing to do. The waiting is agonizing, and I’ve been trying to rustle up some things to do to keep me occupied. The most successful outlet that I’ve found for my energy is going on a bunch of trips with the Alabama Museum of Natural History. As some of you know, I was on the staff of their archaeological expedition, so I had an in with the programs director. As it turns out, his naturalist just quit, so he was looking for help running some trips. So far, I’ve been on a fossil hunt, a tubing trip, and two canoeing trips. This Saturday, I get to go on a SPELUNKING trip. How wild is that? Anyway, here are some pictures from some of the trips I’ve been on.


Me in a cypress swamp on the Sipsey River, Greene Co., AL. You can see the high water line on the cypresses right above my head, where the moss ends. The water is at this level for a few months during the winter. The Sipsey is the second largest undammed river in Alabama, and it is home to over sixty species of freshwater mussel, of which we found many. We also found many otter tracks around the mussel beds.


A forest of cypress knees. Cypress trees form these projections from their roots for gas exchange, as the swamps that they live in have very low dissolved oxygen. An alternate theory that I just heard is that they also might exist to protect the main trunk of the cypress during periods of inundation, when much debris is moving through the wetlands. I think I’m partial to the former explanation, though.



University of Alabama regent Steve Johnson looks for fossils in Shark’s Tooth Creek, Hale Co., AL. From 65 to 35MYA, the area of Alabama around my home was in the ocean, and vast chalk deposits that are quite rich in fossils formed around this time. The fossils that we found were mainly sharks’ teeth. I also found a few choice sherds of Mississippian pottery.


So anyway, that’s what I’ve been getting into. In other exciting news, I got a little netbook computer that I’m planning to bring with me to Africa. It has an extended battery, so I should be able to charge it while I have access to electricity, and then run it off the battery while I am at my site. This will let me, I hope, stay in much better contact with people back stateside, as I will be able to compose emails and blog posts offline, and then come to an internet cafe and post them all at once.

I would also love to collect snail-mail addresses, though. Send me yours! 

08 July 2009

New assignment.

About two weeks ago, the Peace Corps informed all of the volunteers slated to leave for Mauritania in June that the program was going to be canceled, not merely delayed. Additionally, all of the volunteers currently in Mauritania were being given the option to leave. I don't know if this was a result of the Mauritanian government's intransigence, or because Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb recently killed an American for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, or perhaps a combination of the two, but whatever the reason, it's no longer happening. I was inconsolable for about a week. Even though Mauritania seemed like a truly inhospitable place (climate-wise, that is), I had steeled myself up for going there and I was actually genuinely excited to live in the Sahara for two years. It was not meant to be.

The Peace Corps worked overtime to reassign us, however, and last Wednesday I received my new assignment in Cameroon! Training for this assignment begins September 19th in Cameroon. After much hand-wringing and concern for my future, I have decided to accept the assignment. The work that I will be doing in Cameroon is fairly similiar to what I was going to be doing in Mauritania - agroforestry extension - although the different climate will necessitate different practices and species of plants. If you want to know everything that I know about my position, click here to read my invitation in its entirety.

The more I think about it, I realize that I should be way more excited to go to Cameroon than Mauritania. Cameroon has rainforests, gorillas, amazing birdwatching, much better sounding food, beer, much better music, a bearable climate (like Alabama in the summer, only year round, as opposed to 120 degree summer highs in Mauritania), good communication networks etc... but for some reason I'm finding it harder to get as excited about going. I guess it's probably just because I had over five months to get very excited about going to Mauritania. I definitely remember thinking when I got my Mauritania assignment, "I signed up to do agriculture, and they're sending me to the desert?!?" Anyway, I'll keep you guys posted as I know more.