Thursday, August 30, 2012

r is for reality: a statement of being

My spirituality is my reality.

This is not a phase, or an act of rebellion.

This is not a game or something I chose to profess belief in for the sake of politics.

This is not a hobby I practice in my spare time.

This is integral to my thoughts, behaviors, and choices, every moment, every day.

My worldview is what it is, not because I liked this view best, but because this is the reality I perceive, whether I like it or not.

~

I'm tired of hearing people tell others that their reality isn't real. It's not just pagans, though I addressed the above statement to the disparagement many pagans hear when their spiritual path becomes known. I doubt there's a box we put each other in that isn't questioned. Any identifier is fair game; I've heard everything from the spiritual to the mundane, from the sexual to the political, and even medical.

These are all actual examples:
(Except the italicized parts. Those happened in my head. 
Well, some of them were out loud, but not all of them.)

"You're not really depressed. You look fine to me."
(Oh really? Who died and made you my psychiatrist?)

[To a transman friend of mine] "What's your real name?"
(*Masculine name* IS his real name; why does his  birth name matter to you? When women in the US get married and take their husband's last name, is their new name fake? It's not their birth name, after all... oh, but you don't like that analogy.)

"Oh you're an artist? That's cool. Are you thinking about getting a real job someday?"
(...No, I prefer my soul intact, thanks.)

"Are you still in that gay phase?"
(Are you still in that ignorant phase?)

"You don't look like a real lesbian."
(Sorry, I guess I forgot to wear my label today, asshole.)

"He's not a real black man."
(Um, what's a fake black man look like? 
I promise you, he does NOT look like a Ken doll under those jeans.)




All of the above piss me off. Perhaps that was obvious?
But to keep things on topic, I'll stick to this one for today:

"Did you become a witch to piss of your parents like the rest of those goth kids? Haven't you outgrown that rebellion phase yet?"

Yeah, someone actually said that to me. It was a long time ago, but I still hear those familiar strains spoken around me, though not usually to me anymore (I find myself less inclined to hang around assholes long enough for them to speak). Haven't we had enough yet? So what if my reality doesn't match yours? Are you so miserable in your world that you require my company?

Well fuck you, I'm not drinking your kool-aid.

~

It seems appropriate to repost this:

Project Pagan Enough

I'm a huge fan/supporter of this cause; it's a reality I'm willing to try to share.

(Link on my side bar, and in the original post.)

~

And just for fun:

That made me laugh.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

o is for ... observing the divine


I see what you did there.

Or, namaste.

~

The first time I ever tried explaining to someone that I felt all people had divinity within them, he broke up with me. It was the summer between high school and college, and I thought I might love him.

~

These days, I recognize myself as something of an animist, not quite a pantheist - I believe we all have the divine within us, which people commonly refer to as souls or spirits, but there are also other divine energies, which are both separate and connected. We are of the same stuff, and entwined, but our directions, our personalities, our essences, vary. And by 'we' I mean all things.

~

I like to sit on my front porch and watch the world go by. It's a good spot for it. There's a regular troop of people with dogs walking by, a car or three crawling up the hill every five to fifteen minutes, occasional visits from the neighbors' cats or stray dogs, and the weather's almost perpetually pleasant. It feels connected, but not rushed. It's soothing. It's my namaste to the world.





Monday, August 27, 2012

n is for... needs

"N" is for ... Necessity. Nincompoops. Normalcy. Need.

 This is what happens when I just start writing. Nincompoop is fun to say. Ninnnnnn Commmmmm Poo-Pah.

But I get bored with it easily. And now I'm done.

I don't feel much like writing today. I don't feel much like being home today. I feel like taking a walk. A hike, even. I want to go somewhere. I want to break free from life, from the daily shit. I want to do something interesting. I don't want to be here, fighting with my child to try to finish their schoolwork. I want to leave.

(I did leave. I went for a walk. It cleared my head. I needed that, clearly.)

~

I've been doing a lot of thinking about my home, and what that means to me. I hate to use this as a literary crutch, but I'm tellin ya, if you know how Virgos stereotypically feel about their homes, then you know how I feel. I fall directly into that category. In case you don't: I'm a very earth-bound critter, and my home is my cave. I'm in the process of figuring out what I need to be happiest with my cave. Right now it's a bit messy, and it's driving me absolutely-up-a-fucking-wall. Tomorrow, I hope I'll be able to spend some more time on making it right.

Since I got back from Rwanda, I've had a lot of trouble feeling 'at home' in my home. It's not just the house guests, it's also the rearranging my mother did while she was house-and-child-sitting for me, and the general chaos of a house insufficiently tended for the past three weeks. My house wasn't even quite the way I wanted it when I left. There were things to be done that I hadn't been able to get to, either due to time or money. Now I'm back, trying to settle in, and I'm seeking normalcy in my home, without knowing what that will look like when I find it.

What do I need?

"Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep." -Le Corbusier (1887-1965)

I'm finding that to be true.
It's not enough that my house shelters me and has a functional refrigerator - though I'm grateful that I have such amenities. Like a good believer in Maslow, I'm now seeking something more. And like any other zoo animal, I need an enriched environment. It makes me happier and more active, each of which feed an upward spiral.

A big part of what I'm focusing on right now is how to set up my alter space. I need some sort of space for rituals. Right now, I don't have that. My alter 'stuff' is all hanging out, neatly arranged, on top of my dresser - not a good spot for it. I don't use it there. It's more of a safe storage space until I find a better solution.

I also need a painting space, and an art-stuff-storage space. And a place to sit down and read. (Maybe I just need a bigger house.)

~

So, what are the necessary components for my worship space?

I need:
- to be able to sit comfortably in front of my alter
- an alter space that won't be disturbed, or a portable alter
- quiet, but with music available when I need it
- a calm feeling


... That's a start. Time to get to work.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

favorite monument

I have to do a presentation about my favorite monument, for my history class, which is due tomorrow afternoon.

I don't have a favorite monument.

So, that's a challenge.

I'm thinking of maybe doing the Roselyn Chapel. I'm not into the Dan Brown books or anything, but the mystery of that place - whatever your theory - has drawn people to learn more about their world. And isn't that the ultimate purpose of a monument?

Or, if I don't feel like doing a ton of research, I could talk about Dian Fossey's grave. I even have pictures of that one.

Or maybe I'll talk about Stonewall, just to stir some minds a bit.

I think I'll sleep on it, then throw something together in the morning.

co-habitation

Written Friday, 24 August 2012:

Lately, my home hasn't felt like my home. I have loved ones staying here because... well, I guess it's just more convenient. I don't mind the company, either. In fact, I need the company. Except that my house is starting to feel like it's not my own. And I don't know what to do about that. I need to establish boundaries, but I'm not sure where to draw those lines.

And just to be clear, my loved ones have not over stayed their welcome. I'm just having trouble sorting out my own needs in my head. I know my needs will be respected, once I've voiced them. 

I wonder if I will always feel like I need a roommate. I wonder if I'm substituting that kind of intimate/non-intimate interaction for something else... something less conflicted. There aren't many people I'm actively interested in living with. In fact, I can't think of anybody, besides Archer. And for now, I actually want  to live alone. (Incidently, so does he, which works out nicely for us.) I do want my house to not change when I'm not looking. I want to not be required to inform other people of how I want things done. I want to just do them myself.

But I also want company. It's so fucking lonely living alone. Having other people around keeps me level. Not because it makes me feel level - it doesn't - but because it forces me to act like I'm ok, like nothing bothers me, which keeps me closer to feeling ok, at least for a little while.

I wrote this  in something I'm not going to post in entirety: 15 Aug 2012: Sometimes I wonder if I can handle living the rest of my life alone, or with only a roommate. I think I will need a roommate, always. I wonder if I'll always be able to find one. Will I be happy never living with Archer? Is cohabitation necessary? It was always expected, in the standard-issue model of relationships, but obviously we're not the standard relationship. So now I'm left wondering, do I need it? I think I do. I'm afraid that I do, becuase I know I'll never get it. But maybe I can substitute a roommate, so I don't feel so alone. Maybe I'll be sixty years old, still sleeping with my stuffed animals. Maybe I'll have to let my dogs sleep next to me, again. Maybe I'll always be a little bit lonely. (Maybe this is the sacrifice our relationship requires of me. He has certainly made plenty, for me.)

I suppose that makes it sound like co-habitation is something I want, like right now. It isn't. This is prophetic speculation. Right now, I want my space to be my own. I want to own my space.

But someday...

I don't know how long I can be alone. I also don't know how to live happily with roommates.

I know that I will always have pets. Or at least a pet. My life is better with one, and there are too many homeless pets for me to not help at least one. They ward off the loneliness, and maybe, in this house, that will be enough. It wasn't enough, in my old house, but that's at least because of my history in that house - that's where I moved when I got laid off and couldn't feed my child, where husband #2 left me, and it was secluded from the world, on a desolate stretch of desert grassland. Nothing in the world could have made that place ok. [That place had an energy that damaged me, in addition I think, to the lingering energy of the events there. My own events, and historical events. That house was located in a place called Miracle Valley. If you're curious, google the shootout at Miracle Valley, in Cochise county, Arizona. I didn't find out about that until after I moved there.]

So now, with this uncertainty, I'm trying to decide how much company I need, and whose company. What is sufficient? What is necessary? And for how long? Do I need human company in my home, or is the company of my pets enough?

For a while there when I needed my dogs' company, I would just sleep on my couch. They could curl up around me, there. Now someone else is sleeping on my couch, and has been since I got back from Rwanda. I don't remember when that change happened. I think it was while I was gone. I don't think anybody ever asked me. It would be ok, really... I think. Or maybe that's just the conciliatory Bones, trying to make everyone happy. Maybe it's not what I really feel. Maybe if they did ask, I would have said it's fine, just to avoid conflict. Maybe I depend too much on other people to recognize the boundaries of a conscientious society.

Where should  my boundaries be?
I really don't know.

And another thing... I find myself leaving my house less, because I have people here. Which makes sense, right? You don't leave your house when you have guests. But when the guests don't leave, when they transition into de facto roommates, it's externally-enforced hermitage. Maybe if I didn't have guests, I would get out more. Maybe that would supplement the company of my pets, negating the need for roommates.

Does this all sound as confused as I feel?



"S'ok Mama, I luvs you." -Bellissima



~

Written today, 26 August 2012: I'll figure this out. I got some input from Archer, who's better at identifying boundaries and foreseeing potential problem areas than I am. My house guests and I are going to establish boundaries together, and our situation is changing. Their stays here are becoming shorter and more clearly articulated, because of some other (more complicated) things going on in their lives. They left tonight. They'll be back in five weeks, to stay with me for one week, before they go again. Which is cool. And I'm working out what boundaries I require... I'm feeling optimistic. Tomorrow, I'm going to spend some time organizing my house. I'll probably be spending a lot of time on that this week. I need to get it back to being 'me.' I need to nest. Then I can have house guests here again.


Monday, August 20, 2012

save tonight

There was a time when this song brought tears to my eyes.

It seemed to epitomize everyone's struggle to find love, knowing it wouldn't last if we did find it. I felt we were all trapped in this tragic cycle of searching and loss, or settling for less than we sought, and it just seemed so hopeless, so painful, and so unnecessary - a product of human fears and mistrust which never allowed for purity in love. Yet, there is a levity in the song, and it speaks to the happiness found in seizing those moments we can, when we do have love, and live fully in those moments despite knowing they are fleeting. Or maybe because  we know they are fleeting.

I don't know what Eagle Eye Cherry intended for that song to say, but that's what I felt, when I heard it.

I do know that I've finally broken the cycle. 


The song means something different to me, now. I still hear the first story I heard, but there's an added thread. Save tonight, because even once we've found that love we sought, life is still unpredictable, and we never know when tragedy might strike. Somehow, that seems less inevitable than the severance of love by human foibles. 





in Rwanda: 29 July 2012, Bones sees bones


Journal 29 July 2012

Today was a whole lot of awesome, followed by a whole lot of work.

This morning we got to see the gorilla skeleton project in action. Shannon McFarland, a primary researcher on that project, gave us a presentation on what and how they’re doing, then we got to see the lab and the bones, and meet some of the other researchers. Pictures were taken. It was awesome. Then Chelsea and I (and the other teams) spent the rest of the day trying to perfect our own presentations. In fact, this journal is going to be quite short, because Chelsea and I still have presentation work to do. Tomorrow is the big day!





Shannon McFarland, showing us an unusually shaped gorilla skull:






Puck, may she rest in peace:


Saturday, August 18, 2012

In Rwanda: 24 July 2012, the gorilla slap

Journal 24 July 2012


Early mornings and fast hikes are worth it, when you’re rewarded with a two-hour gorilla play session on the side of an inactive volcano. That pretty much sums up my day yesterday.
~


What, you mean there’s more to this journal?

Ok, so here’s the details:

Chelsea, Amanda, Aya, and I were ready to go by 0600 this morning. Chelsea and I lucked out (in my opinion) and got picked to go to Titus’ group. Pretty exciting – even though Titus has passed on, he was something of a hero of mine, and getting to observe the group that is still named for him was pretty awesome. Theodette, one of the Karisoke research assistants, took us and Prof Dieter up to Titus’ group. It was a pretty fast hike up to the buffalo wall, which wore both Chelsea and I out, but seeing the gorillas breathed the life back into us. Theodette had to concentrate on doing her observations, but another tracker (whose name I can’t even begin to spell, unfortunately) spent the time with us and helped us to identify individuals. Most notably, we were able to watch two juveniles, named Fat (8 year old female) and Segasera (6 year old male; not sure I spelled that right, and he was called “Seg” for short). They spent around two hours playing, with a brief – maybe 20 minute – nap in the middle.

Their play vocalizations were practically constant. In other species, Chelsea and I have been noting vocalizations during play, and we really haven’t heard a whole lot. For gorillas, we had to scrap trying to count vocalizations because it never actually stopped. We would have had to count the entire session as one long vocalization, which doesn’t make sense. So instead, we noted the vocalizations as constant, and counted chest beats – another communicative noise – instead. And actually, “chest beats” is something of a misnomer because when it’s a play invitation, they beat the tops of their bellies, not their chests. We noticed Fat doing that, and asked the tracker if she did it that way because she was female (remembering that only males have the anatomy to really make that chest beat ‘pop’ sound). He said they all did it that way when it was a play chest beat. Sure enough, we later noticed Seg doing that, too. Thinking about how much they vocalize, and why that’s not the case with other species, went hand-in-hand with the realization that their play is almost entirely focused on social dominance. Along those two lines, I wondered if they were able to focus on their social relationships because they didn’t have to worry about learning to fight or evade predators; and if their prominent noise-making was also due to a lack of predators. Hmm.

Oh, and I got slapped by a gorilla. Seg. So did Chelsea. He was testing to see if we would play, too, I think.

Best Day Ever. (Yet.)




in Rwanda: 21 July 2012, to Dian Fossey's Grave

21 July 2012

If one picture is worth a thousand words...


























Friday, August 17, 2012

L is for learning, and Lorelei

[This is me catching up on my Pagan Blog Project posts.]


Recently, I posted about my visit to the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. At the memorial site, there was a museum which housed a brutally honest evaluation of the causes of the genocide - that was enlightening. It also housed a large section exploring several (though not all) genocide events throughout history, including the Holocaust.

While we were leaving, I heard this from one of the other students:

"I didn't go in the Holocaust section. My mom is Jewish, so she doesn't want me to read that stuff. It's too upsetting for her. Like, I'm not allowed to read Anne Frank's Diary, or anything like that."

I couldn't even process it at the time. That statement just had so many things wrong with it, and I was already so discouraged and numb from my tour of the grounds. The statement struck me, but I put it on a back burner, knowing there was nothing I could say to enlighten the other student, and so hoping I would forget it. I didn't forget it. It's lodged there, begging to be dissected. So here we are.

Willful ignorance. Surely that must be the most egregious of sins. Except maybe, passing that ignorance down to your children, that might be worse. Or as a young adult, choosing to acquiesce to your parent's demands that you remain ignorant.

And then I thought... what is it that makes ignorance attractive?
Why not  learn when given the opportunity?

It's not something I can grasp. Intentional ignorance is, essentially, intentional weakness. Who does  that?!

That student's mother, apparently. And, it seems to be heritable, like any other cultural disease. I have hope that someday, that student will be curious about the lessons history has to teach about humanity, and about her own family.

I don't know how useful this analogy will turn out to be, but I'm go with it anyway.

 I've read quite a bit about Lorelei since first hearing of her [from another blogger, cited below], but I keep going back to that first blog, and something she said: "So great is her beauty, and so sweet is her song, that sailors are distracted from their vigilance in the dangerous waters and are drowned." 

Ignorance, I think, is like Lorelei's song. It's sweet and beautiful to those who hear it, but it is embraced only at great risk, because it masks the dangers around us. It would be so easy to just shut out the things we don't want to hear, in favor of those that sound sweet to us. But reality isn't sweet, it's dangerous. When we close our eyes to those dangers, we risk our lives both literally and metaphorically. Beauty is only skin deep. At times, it hides greater beauty. But at times, it also hides a path to destruction. The key to knowing the difference, is learning.

Perhaps that's the attraction. Perhaps some people just choose ignorance because it's easier than facing reality. I will admit to having done that, at certain low points in my life.

I pray I don't pass that behavior to my child. I pray that I can hold myself to a higher standard.


~

Credit where due: I began my readings about Lorelei here, the blog of Laurelei Black, back in June. The quote is from that same blog post. She also linked to this site, which hosts a collection of Lorelei poems and lyrics.

~


In Rwanda: 19 July 2012, the drive to Ruhengeri


Journal 19 July 2012

Today was essentially one long car ride, from the west side of Nyungwe, back to Kitabi on the east side of Nyungwe, to Kigali, and finally to Ruhengeri, which is a city just south of Volcanoes National Park. On the bright side, we’re now a mere 45 paved minutes from the trailhead which we hope will lead us to the gorillas.

We’re staying at Centre Pastoral de Notre Dame de Fatima – a hotel that seems to be run by a church. Or perhaps it used to be part of the church, and is just capitalizing on the connection. I don’t know. The room Sara and I are in is pretty comfortable. Good hard beds, little balcony with a sling-back chair, and a glow-in-the-dark crucifix on the wall. It’s a little creepy, to be honest. That shade of green is very zombiesque.

We got a real treat for dinner: Volcana, a restaurant/bar that serves pizza. And not just any pizza. It was some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Admittedly, not having had much in the past three weeks that wasn’t rice, frites, plantains, soup, omelets, or mystery meat, might have created a bias. It didn’t matter. The pizza was awesome, and it had pineapple on it, which is even awesomer. Don’t order the red wine though, that tasted remarkably like rubbing alcohol. Not awesome.

It was a long day of not much, and I’m totally exhausted. Time to get some serious sleep.




Gratuitous pictures of Nyungwe? Sure!







Thursday, August 16, 2012

In Rwanda: 15 July 2012, the Mangabey hike

Journal 15 July 2012

Woke up with a hangover today, and still no electricity in the house. My phone, which I’ve been using as my camera here, had no charge whatsoever. So no camera for me today. A few minutes later, a little alka-seltzer, some breakfast, and a hard-boiled egg, and I was almost functional. We tried to have breakfast a little early so we could be gone by 8am, but the kitchen didn’t have the eggs done until just about 8:00. So we wrapped them up with some sandwiches, and took them with us for lunch.

On the way to Uwinka, where we were going to try to see the Mangabes, we had a close encounter with a L’Hoesti Monkey. We had slowed down to pass a road construction crew, then stopped because the monkey was in the road, right next to the crew’s truck. When we stopped, the monkey jumped right up on the hood of our car, and leaned over to peer into the passenger side window. It’s probably lucky that the window wasn’t all the way only, just cracked a few inches. It jumped off after determining that we weren’t so interesting, after all. Prof Netzin got some pretty good pictures of it.

When we got to Uwinka, we learned that the trackers weren’t sure where the Mangabes were, so we would have to wait. Sara had come prepared though, with a Frisbee in her backpack. Several of us and a couple of the park rangers played Frisbee while we waited. The activity helped settle my stomach, which was pretty unhappy again after the hour-long car ride. Finally, the guides determined that the best course of action was to start hiking in the general direction of the mangabes, and take more specific direction from the trackers once they found them. So we started walking out of the entrance to the ranger station – and stopped there while our guide consulted with the trackers via radio. A few minutes later, we were back in the car, driving to a trail that would take us to the mangabes. Half hour ride, one hour hike, he said.

The car ride really was about half an hour. Two and half hours of hiking later, we found Grey-cheeked Mangabes. It was actually one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on, so I’m not complaining. We met up with one of the trackers (the other was staying with the mangabes), and followed him off the trail and through the rainforest. We were climbing at some points, sliding down at others, and even crossed a stream with a small waterfall right behind us. At one point, Sara and Prof Netzin made themselves crowns of ferns. Around the same time, Prof Netzin said she thought the mulch we were walking on at that point smelled like mushroom soup. We decided that it was the earthy, fungal smell she was noticing. Thus, she and Sara were dubbed the queens of the fungal in the jungle. It’s probably true that being ‘in the field’ does strange things to your mind.

We stopped to eat a very quick lunch on the side of one of the mountains we were traversing, then continued on. We were rewarded on a steep slope, where we could see across the canopy where the mangabes love to stay. They were resting, which was lucky because following them would have been a real bitch. They’re arboreal, and could have leaped through those canopy trees and right out of sight in a few moments, if they had wanted. We stayed and watched them for about an hour. I got a rough demographic – there weren’t that many individuals in sight, so it was pretty easy to get a count and an idea of age, but they were far enough away that it was very difficult to tell sex, even with the binoculars. We saw some grooming behavior, and some territorial communications, and thought we may have heard some agonism going on, but we couldn’t see that so it’s hard to say. It was time to head back too soon. We had only three hours to find our way back to the road, where our driver was waiting, before the park closed. The trackers took us back a different, shorter way, and left us with our guide once we got to an actual trail. The guide got us safely back to the car. On the way back, our guide pointed out a grandfather mahogany tree – that was the oldest mahogany tree in the park, and all the roots that were visible for 40 meters around us (and there, but out of sight beyond that) were from that tree. The tree’s offspring were growing around it and from its roots. Prof Netzin took my picture with the grandfather tree in the background. It was so awesome seeing all the mahogany trees in that forest. My father liked using mahogany for the furniture he built, and I had always wondered what one would look like in person. I had a feeling that pictures wouldn’t do it justice. I was right. They were majestic, and they all had an energy about them that was completely patient, especially the grandfather tree.

At one point on our hike, we noted that the vegetation here had very little thorns or other sharp pointies, while in Akagera it had seemed like everything had spikes. It made me wonder if there’s a similar sort of selection in plants as there is in animals. Meaning, perhaps the plants in Akagera – which is primarily woodland savanna – have to expend more energy protecting their somatic investment because there’s fewer of them (due to the ecology of that place) and it’s more difficult to survive to reproductive age there. While in the rainforest, even a mountain rainforest like Nyungwe, it’s very easy to reach reproductive age as a plant because the habitat is overflowing with specimens of each species. There’s less likelihood that one species will be targeted to extinction by another species (be that plant, animal, or whatever) because there’s just so much of everything. Or, because the climate makes it easy to grow and reproduce quickly. It seems plausible, but I feel like there’s some part of this equation that I’m missing, and that could change the entire hypothesis.

So I also used the time hiking to think about this baboon problem. It seems to me that any solution must approach this from two angles; it’s not enough to just change the current culture of the baboons, we must also figure out why they began coming into villages and raiding crops/trash in the first place. Did they venture out simply because the crops are easy to get to? Easier than what they were already eating? Was it simply part of their exploratory nature? Or, is the problem what one man suggested: there’s not enough food in the habitat for a too-large baboon population? Another man mentioned that they didn’t even know how many baboons there are in any of the Rwandan parks. Perhaps, the problem is that their ranges are too crowded, and they have expanded outward as a result. If that’s the case, perhaps some sort of population control would be beneficial? With that thought, the hunting seasons and licenses we have in the States for various game came to mind, but I suspect something like that might be more detrimental than beneficial. It could, potentially (in my mind), confer some sort of legitimacy to the already problematic poachers. So maybe chemical castration? I don’t know what other forms of population control might be viable. Honestly I really don’t know what other forms even exist.

So there I am. The problem as a whole has to be solved on two levels. Also, each park will require different solutions to their specific, immediate problem, which is changing the culture of their baboons. I think that in each of the parks, the culture change can be accomplished by a multifaceted approach. They will need to tailor a plan for each, because each plan must account for and address multiple aspects.

For example, in Akagera, there is no trouble with baboons leaving the park. So a buffer zone surrounding the park might not be immediately important. More important would be containing trash and securing buildings so that neither is accessible to baboons (perhaps they could get guidance on this from zoos?), and some sort of taste aversion that makes the food/trash unappealing to the baboons. Though taste aversion should probably be chronologically placed before containment. Later, a buffer zone should be considered because being denied the food they’re accustomed to around the lodge may encourage the baboons there to start going out of the park in search of food. It does seem possible that a lack of resources or space in the forest is what drove them into human areas in the first place – and there we are back at the source of the problem. One thing I’ve noticed here in Nyungwe, though, is that the baboons eat the grass around the tea plants, but not the tea plants themselves – could they be useful in that sense as “weeders” for crops? Obviously it would have to be crops the baboons won’t eat, like the tea plants. Other crops would have to be grown elsewhere, perhaps beyond the buffer zone. Perhaps that’s also a way to encourage a more positive perception of baboons by locals.

As some point in this reflection, I got distracted by the more immediate problem of getting a fellow student up the hill and back to the car, so my musings stopped there.
~
We got back to our car, and then back to our houses, just in time to get ready for dinner. We were all pretty excited when our electricity came back on just a few minutes after we got home. We turned the water heater on and started the shower roster for after dinner. A couple of us followed up the after-dinner showers with a movie (Old School). I even got a call to Archer in. All in all, it was a great day.


L'hoesti monkey





gray-cheeked mangabey



I can't take credit for these awesome photographs.
Grace took them with her awesome camera.

mental health awareness


This showed up in my facebook newsfeed this morning:




Maybe I'm just grumpy because I didn't sleep well. But I don't think so.

I dislike these posters. 
I get that the intention is good,
which is why I don't consider these to be complete abominations. 
The intentions aren't redemptive, though. 


Here's why: the passing depressive episodes that 1 out of 3 people experience in their lifetimes are not mental illness. The mental illness that is depression has no external cause; it is not sparked by, for example, the death of a loved one. It needs no reason. It just is, and it kills.

Conflation of the two is harmful, because it shapes how other people identify - or try to identify - with people who actually have a depressive mental illness. The misconception caused by this conflation gives neutotypical people the idea that they understand Depression, which they consider to be a passing, natural thing, brought about by some sort of sad life event.

It isn't. It can't be understood from a normal, "I'm sad because..." standpoint. There is no fucking "because."


Wrap your little fucking brain around that, then you might just come to some glimmering of understanding. 
(And that would be the grumpiness.)



[Disclaimer: of course, some "normal" people do understand what I'm saying here. Not all of them are ignorant. I get that. Consider this my daily dose of ranting. If it doesn't apply to you, then it doesn't apply to you.]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Rwanda: 14 July 2012, Oh Sparky, and the Singer

blog entry - 14 July 2012

Saturday. Woke up this morning and went to watch baboons before breakfast. There’s a troop that hangs out here in the park ranger housing area. So it wasn’t a far walk, just up the hill near the park HQ.

Last night I went to bed early – sometime before 10pm – and this morning I slept until at least 5am, I think. The Guinness I had with dinner helped. I haven’t eaten much for the past week – lack of appetite and all – and dinner wasn’t much better. Somewhat better, but not much. I was digging the cream of chicken soup all over my rice, though. I hope we have that again tonight.

Anyway, I didn’t check the time the first time I woke up, but it wasn’t totally dark so it must have been close to dawn. I did go back to sleep, and got up again at 6ish. I tried calling Archer almost immediately, because I missed him and hadn’t been able to reach him the night before. I needed my Archer fix. Something about just talking with him, about anything, always makes me feel better. Like my world is ok, after all. He gives me faith, and I was a little short on that last night and this morning.

I got his voicemail, and just hung up. I had nothing useful to say, and I knew he would see the missed call and call back if he could. Sure enough, he called back just as I was getting ready to walk out the door for our baboon observation. I walked slowly, behind the group, trying to prolong the time I had to talk with him, but I got to the baboons too soon, and I had to hang up. I hated doing it. We had been having one of those talks where we just go on every tangent that came up; it was a meandering, unworried conversation, and it made me happy. It ended too soon, but I held on to the good parts and had a pretty good day overall. I just feel like I don’t get enough. We always have to hang up too soon. Maybe that’s just going to happen whether we get “enough” time or not. (How much is enough? I don’t think anything will be enough until he’s holding me again.)
~

So, baboons. We saw the baboons. There were coming out of their sleeping trees as we walked up. We followed them up the hill to the HQ area. There’s also a power transformer near the HQ. It’s right across the road. There’s a fence around it, but there’s nothing over it, and the fence is nothing the baboons can’t climb. The adults and older juveniles were foraging, the younger juveniles were playing. I started focusing on three that were playing near the transformer. They were climbing the fence, and we were all concerned that they might get hurt. Sure enough, at exactly 0705, one of them touched the hot part of the transformer. There was a huge spark. It flew several feet over, and several more feet down, screaming all the way. Or maybe its playmates were screaming as they ran away. We documented the reaction of the troop, which was interesting, but I was also interested in the other peoples’ reactions. Sara and Prof Dieter both said it was dead immediately, without a lot of demonstrated emotion. A touch of sadness, an acknowledgement of the loss, but no grief. Almost everyone else expressed some degree of grief, as though they had lost a close friend or family member. And I wonder if those were the ones who haven’t experienced a lot of death. I wonder if experiencing death desensitizes us to it, as seems to be the case. Maybe I’m way off. Maybe some of us are just innately less sensitive. Maybe it’s some other reason entirely. Maybe they're just lucky.
We dubbed the dead infant "Sparky."
Oh, Sparky.

~

That afternoon, we visited the Kitabi Cultural Village. It's a replica of a traditional village and King's House ("Palace"). It's run as a cooperative (as most things in Rwanda are), and is set up as a way to show tourists some Rwandan culture and history, and generate income for the local village. It's brand new. In fact, we were the first visitors ever, and they weren't quite  set up yet. Still, it was a great experience. My personal favorite was the singer, who sung for us the way a singer might have entertained the King, traditionally. Maybe I'm just too irreverent for such things, but I found him hilarious.






Tuesday, August 14, 2012

in Rwanda: 13 July 2012, 450 Colobus

blog entry - Friday 13 July 2012

Today is usually my lucky day. Not so sure this time around, but we’ll see. I’m still feeling a little nauseous this morning. It’s been ongoing for several days. Food hasn’t been very appealing to me. I’ve lost the huge appetite I had in the first week of this trip. Maybe that’s ok. I don’t know.

I had a weird dream last night. We all – the primatology students – went to Big Flats, which is the town I grew up in for the first ten years of my life. I pointed out where I used to live from a long ways away, then we were there. I couldn’t find my old house; it seemed that everything had been replaced by new development. Then, I saw our tree with the swing in the front yard, and our barn. The house was there in my peripheral vision, but I didn’t notice it. We went into the barn and all my dad’s things were there. It was much more than he ever had in reality. I spent the rest of the dream trying to haggle with the current residents over the cost of me buying some things from them. Of course that meant trying to pick just a few things that I wanted, when I really wanted all of it.

I wonder if I could go without my medication today. Maybe it would help my stomach. I think I at least have to take the malaria medication; maybe I should just skip the Aleve again, like yesterday. It could be just that I’ve been taking too much of that. I’ll see how I feel after breakfast.

~

Just took my shower. Realized that I’ve been feeling pretty uncomfortable in my clothes lately. I’ve been trying to just repress the feeling and ‘soldier on,’ but I think it’s catching up to me. Maybe I just need to adjust that. And take the anti-depressants.

~

Took two welbutrin and the malaria pill. Dressed in a way that made me comfortable emotionally. Well, as comfortable as I could be, with the limited wardrobe. Felt a little better today, just very low-energy and sad. I should do laundry before it becomes really important, but I just don’t want to. I might do a couple pairs of underwear before I go to bed tonight, but that’s probably my limit.

~

This morning did turn out lucky: we didn’t have to hike to see the Black & White Colobus Monkeys. There was a group close by that has ~450 individuals. That’s beyond huge. It’s the largest Colobus group in the world. The other group in the park has 15 or 16 individuals, by the way. We drove right up (on the road) into the middle of the Colobus group. Then we got out and wandered through, underneath the monkeys. They stay almost entirely in the trees, and usually pretty high up, so we didn’t disturb them. I think this group is relatively well habituated, too. I’m not sure, because I don’t know whether their familiarity is the result of intentional habituation by humans, or if they’re just not too worried naturally. Anyway, it was awesome. We stood there, completely surrounded by rainforest and monkeys, and just did behavior observations for about two hours. I got some good video and pictures. Happy morning.

[These are Black and White Colobus Monkeys.
Grace (fellow student) took this picture.]



[My camera obviously lacks the necessary zoom.
There's a couple Colobus up there grooming each other.]



[This doesn't get interesting until :29, and it's only :33 long, I think.
Still, it's a totally awesome leap made by a Colobus.
No biggie for him. He does it all the time.]





~

I like this blog. It keeps me honest. With myself.


Monday, August 13, 2012

in Rwanda: 12 July 2012, we're just fucking dancing!

blog entry – Thursday 12 July 2012

I haven’t had time to write here. I mean, I’ve written a lot actually, but nothing for myself. I have written “journal” entries for the school portion of this adventure, but I haven’t been able to do any real reflection. I think that lack is contributing to my stress. And it makes me realize how fragile my mental stability is – if you can even call it that. There’s so much that I have to do, just to be myself. I have to write, I have to talk to Archer on a regular basis, and I have to take my medicine. Sometimes I have to take more medicine, for bad days. Surely it’s not normal to have to actively manage your activities, just to feel normal. I’m not even trying to feel happy. I just want to not be depressed and angry. I want to feel ok.

… Even just this paragraph helped. I’m starting to feel more myself. I only took two pills this morning… Two, which is my prescribed dose from the first doctor, but the psychiatrist said I need a higher dosage. It’s good that she said that, because I was already taking more. Today will be at least a three-pill day.

~

Three was enough. Actually, I don’t remember whether I took the third or not. Maybe two was enough. Either way, it was a better day for me. I’m feeling very down, but not angry. I think that the anger is symptomatic of depression, when I’m not paying attention and noticing that I’m down. Instead, I’m just reacting, and that comes out as anger and frustration. Now that I realize what’s going on with me – that I’m depressed – I’m just sad. I’m not angry. It’s easier to be compassionate, when I know that my problem is my own. I’m working on changing my perspective, too. Like Maya’s “kid” thing – where she calls everyone kid – which completely annoys me, and made me angry because it’s so disrespectful, from my perspective. But, I’m seeing it now (right or wrong) as her way of including everybody around her, a way of internally categorizing everyone as being the same as her in a way that makes her feel like she’s surrounded by like-minded people. I think it’s a comfort thing, for her. When I look at it that way, I can forgive the disrespect as unintended. It still annoys me, but I can get over it without becoming angry with her. She really doesn't deserve my anger.

I spent a lot of time in introspective thought today, despite the group activity this afternoon. We went for the canopy walk, which took us above the canopy of the rainforest. It was a hike down and back up, with a foot-wide suspension bridge across part of the rainforest. The bridge was 70 meters from the forest floor, at its highest point. Rationally, I was fine with that. I knew the bridge was safe. Physically, I had a major stress reaction. My limbic system didn’t believe all that “safe” hype. Even though my thoughts were calm, I was terrified. I kept a tightly disciplined focus on the backpack of the person in front of me. I couldn’t look down, couldn’t even look to the side for the picture Prof Netzin wanted to take. She did take it eventually, with me still looking forward, at the backpack. But I made it. One unseen foot in front of the other.

I never used to be afraid of heights. Maybe it’s because my balance isn’t so great these days. Maybe it’s just a physiological understanding of my decreasing bounciness as I age. Maybe I’ve heard too many horror stories of people falling or getting injured other ways, from heights. Maybe it's connected to the intermittent ringing in my ears and the dizziness spells (inner ear issues, I assume). I don’t know. Nothing traumatic happened. I’m just afraid of heights now.

[The Canopy Walk Bridge]


That’s all a tangent. The important part is figuring out the best way to manage my depression for the next two weeks. I think when I get home, I’m going to spend a very long time just curled up in Archer’s arms.

~

I want to go dancing with Archer. I want to feel him move against me and with me; I want that perfect body close, so close I can feel his heartbeat on my skin.

He’s going to ask me what brought that on, of course.

Tonight we met (as a group, with the Professors) with students from a wildlife management college here at Nyungwe. We had a pretty good discussion about the baboon problem being faced by the three national parks in Rwanda. After that, the Rwandans suggested some music and dancing. They put on some “Rwandan hip hop” (which included your standard American club music fare), and just about everybody got up and danced. There were a few wall flowers – in a group of nerds, that’s expected, and I was impressed that there weren’t more… maybe it’s because we’re primatology nerds. Anyway, it was fun. I danced a little, and the Rwandans – which were mostly guys – danced a lot. The quote of the night, “we’re not gay; we’re just fucking dancing!” Now imagine that as a yell, with a Rwandan accent. Hilarious, and awesome. One of the guys wanted to dance with me, and I did a little, but it mostly just made me miss Archer more. And we don’t really dance together. In fact, I barely dance at all anymore. I miss it. And I want to dance with him. So that’s where that came from.  


~

[Nyungwe National Park]







Sunday, August 12, 2012

something boi-ish

My birthday is coming up. And Doc's boyfriend is throwing/hosting a slumber party for me. Because he's awesome. The theme? Gender-bending. It's my  party, after all.

Doc's my girlfriend, btw. I'll call her boyfriend FM - the Fireman.

And together, they're Bendy! (You have to say that in a superhero-announcer voice. Out loud.)
[Nope, not explaining the joint nickname.]

So FM's throwing me a party because he's awesome, and dressing up as the House Mom for the event. Doc's going to be a soccer-girl. Honestly, I'm not sure what that means, yet, but it's cool. I'll see at the party. There's a high likelihood I'm over-thinking things.

I was just discussing the party with FM, and mentioned I wasn't sure yet what I would wear. "Probably something boi-ish," I said.

Oh yes, I'm opening that  can of worms.
(Ready for some gender introspection on my part?)

Last month, I spent all my time hiking around a savanna and some rainforests with seven other girls, all of whom seemed pretty comfortable in their girl-ness. Most of them weren't aware there were other possibilities. Something about that environment, or that situation, made me feel pretty comfortable with myself, too. Maybe it was the competence I felt; camping and hiking are things I'm used to, comfortable with, and certain of; I won't claim to be great at them (whatever that means), but they're familiar activities. Either way, my more masculine side was evident. Archer could see it in the pictures of me. I could feel it in my movements, my mannerisms, and my short temper.

It didn't dissipate as soon as I got back. It lingered, faded and receded but there, even in Archer's presence. And it felt ok. I didn't feel out of balance. I felt more  balanced. It's likely that feeling more balanced in general, is due to several things, not just this one. But I feel like this is a factor in that balance.

The key concept is that I felt ok with feeling masculine around Archer.
Usually, his presence makes me feel uber-feminine. In fact, I think I've posted about this before - the balancing effect. I tend to 'balance' with the people surrounding me, or with the situation I'm in. Archer is uber-masculine; he makes me feel uber-feminine. He still does. But for a couple days there, I felt both. I felt very feminine, but also felt that masculine side of me, still there, still present.

I want to explore that.
So, something boi-ish.

in Rwanda: 11 July 2012, to Nyungwe


Journal, Day 11 [written on the 12th]

Yesterday, the 11th, was a rough day for me. There was a lot of up-and-down in my mood, which is only partially regulated by my anti-depressant medication. The morning started out well. It was our first night of not camping in a week, so I thoroughly enjoyed being in a bed, and having a pillow (I forgot to bring one with me on this trip). Sara and I had breakfast at the hotel – which was awesomely not camp food – and then walked around Kigali a bit to do some shopping. We got some more minutes for our phones, and stopped by a clothing shop that we had visited the night before. The two girls who work there, Fiona and Zya, remembered us from the night before (we had stopped there, looking for pants for Sara) and invited us to go to a club with them on Friday. Of course, we won’t be there on Friday – we’ll still be in Nyungway – so we had a good excuse to decline the offer.

I had some time in the morning, while we were waiting to find out the schedule for the day, to write a substantial email to Archer. That was a good feeling; it had been a while. I even had to write a note to my girlfriend, and some of my other friends. – And then the computer’s power went out. So I went and waited with everyone else.

We got a new driver and a new truck right around lunch time. That was great because the old driver was actually frightening (in his driving ‘technique’), we couldn’t communicate with him because he only spoke ikinyarwandan (which I probably just spelled wrong), and the vehicle was crap. The new driver speaks French and English, is a very good driver, and has a really nice – if a bit small – truck. We’re pretty cramped in there, but at least it’s safer and we can communicate with the driver. Unfortunately, I think the seating arrangement made me nauseous. There’s one row of regular seating behind the front seat, then the back of the truck has two rows which face the center of the truck. Sitting on one of the back seats means you’re moving sideways when the truck drives forward. I sat on the inner edge of one of those seats, and had a little less than half a cheek actually on the seat for the entire trip. The other girls helped out by putting bags and jackets next to the seat, so I had something to sit on, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to handle that without all the Aleve I took. My back is still paying for it today. It’s all good though. Next time, I’ll ask to sit facing forward. The nausea was worse than the pain, anyway.

The highlight of the day, and really of the trip if you exclude the research from consideration, was the dancers we saw at the museum yesterday. They wove dramatic dancing in with the traditional Rwandan dances, and drummed as they danced. There’s something very primal about drumming that moves me every single time. And their drumming was powerful. It really was an unexpectedly spiritual experience. On one hand, I wished I had my drum with me, because I was inspired by their drumming. On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t, because not having my drum forced the experience to remain separate from anything I would do on my own. I’m not sure if that makes as much sense ‘out loud’ as it does in my head, but there you go.

After the museum we stopped for dinner at a nearby restaurant. The social aspect of that was fun, but it seemed to take forever to be served our food. Maybe it just seemed that way because I was so tired and nauseous. Then we were back in the truck, headed to Nyungway. Luckily, that was a shorter trip, and the car sickness wasn’t quite as rough. Somehow I ended up sitting entirely on the bags, though, with just a small portion of my thigh touching the seat. …I can’t do that again. By the time we got to the guest house, I was hurting, sick, and feeling very anti-social. Not a great combination when I’m surrounded by exuberant girls who were just excited to be here, and also probably tired. In particular, Lana and I really got on each other’s nerves last night, and it’s embarrassing to acknowledge that I snapped at her. We both had valid arguments, but neither of us recognized that until later. I was in pretty bad shape by then, and failed to control my temper. After things quieted down (mostly thanks to Bernd’s intervention), I took some time and just sat outside by myself. Sara sat with me for a little while, and graciously let me vent, but it got too cold for her after a bit, and she went inside. I needed the alone time more than I needed warmth, so I stayed out there and tried to calm down. Eventually, I went in and apologized to Lana. I wasn’t really calm yet, but I felt it was important to apologize before everyone else went to sleep. I’m glad that I did, but even this morning – the day after all this happened – I still don’t feel ready to be social. There are not a lot of options here, though, so I’m glad that at least today isn’t a heavily scheduled day, and I can relax, write, and reflect. It’s good medicine.

I probably spelled Nyungway wrong too. But you know what I mean, eh?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

in Rwanda: 9 July 2012, breakfast oracle

Taken 3 Aleve per day since the second day in Akagera. It’s 0612 right now. I’ve been awake for about an hour. I’m a little grumpy. No Aleve yet this morning. Have to wait until I eat. And I gotta try to eat more protein today. Wasn’t much in the last two meals. I want some more of that goat meat. Yum. Stays with ya. Like, in your teeth. Tasty though.


Ah, the silverback has emerged. (Good morning Professor Steklis, adult male.) Oh the coffee’s being poured through the strainer. Also yum.

There was a period of time this morning, say 0510-0520ish, during which everything was silent. There was no noise. No birds, no insects, no nothing. It might have been the end of the world. Sara’s pretty sure it was. I think if it were, that would have meant that I slept through Armageddon. Very plausible.

No really.

Definitely going to be time for some Aleve soon. Com’ooooooooooooooooon breakfast! Any time now, really. I wonder if I use that word too much. Maybe. Or maybe it’s a coincidence that it just happened twice in two sentences. Well, two fragments, anyway. Whatever. Man if only I could just type all day while we were doing stuff, I could actually capture everything that’s happening. That would be cool. My fingers would get a workout. I’d probably drop the laptop a few times. Maybe that’s not a good idea. Still, it would be cool if it were possible. Just because it would be cool to be able to capture everything. I know there are things I forget, even when I take notes all day.

Ok, still waiting for breakfast. Time for the cards. Or I’ll get caught up in daily activities and never get around to the cards.

Fire Dragon
Cow
Raven

A lot of raw energy, maybe aggression, is brewing and needs to be controlled. It could also be the vital energy of youth, which is destructive when misguided. It needs to be harnessed, not allowed to become destructive. That’s the causal dynamic. The social manifestation is feminine energy that should be used for nurturing, but maybe is being squandered. The resulting manifestation, which will be positive if the fire dragon is harnessed and the cow is allowed to nurture, is a great lesson in learning, in social accountability and the language of the group. If this is a negative lesson, the Raven is a prophet of the destruction which comes before new life. (Based on the preceding cards, I’d say that this isn’t a good time for destructive cycles – take that as a warning.)

Hmm. And with that, I’m getting dressed. All the tent-mates are awake now, so I won’t disturb anyone by doing so. And breakfast still isn’t ready. Perfect timing.



Today is my mother's birthday. She's 59. Shhhhh! Don't tell her I told!
I borrowed phone minutes from Sara so I could call Mom.
Gratutious Vervet Play!