It’s 6:05 pm Eastern time. I’m somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on a 16-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. Blogging. Yup. That’s how I roll. Let me guess…you’re probably thinking, “Jungle Queen, how are you blogging in real time?” Don’t be ridiculous. That would be quite difficult 30,000 feet in the air, not to mention the fact that it would make me a blogging genius, which I surely am not. But here’s the deal. I’m en route to one of my favorite places in the world, and if you’re keeping up with my posts, you’ll know that that place would be the one and only non-paradise “paradise”: Madagascar. I intend to fill your computer screens with all sorts of fantastic adventures from the field including, but not limited to, digging up hibernating lemurs, falling into rice paddies, and maybe a near-death experience or two involving broken bamboo “bridges” and the rushing river that lurks below…or maybe that particular experience will not be repeated this field season. Let’s hope. And did I mention rice and beans?
So my plan: I will record my experiences as they make themselves known, convert it into blog format, and post for your reading pleasure at the opportune moment. Mostly, as like now, these will not be in real time. Most places in Madagascar are quite Internet-limited, as you can imagine. For example, at our field site, we need to climb up to “phone hill”, as it is colloquially known, in order to gain a smidgen of inter-webs access. From here, I will post my collections and thoughts, all the while thinking of your smiling faces back home in the States. But more on that later.
For now, the adventure begins. Well, to be fair, the adventure began yesterday. But yesterday was boring. It included flying from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to JFK Airport and spending the night in a Days Inn in Jamaica, New York. Boring, right? Well, there was pizza and half of a luke-warm Corona shaking up the monotony, but mostly I’ll spare you the details.
My travel buddies include Peter, the most wonderful Duke emeritus faculty and his equally wonderful wife, Martha; Marina, field researcher extraordinaire and Duke Lemur Center post-doc, who has literally saved my research from falling into the pit of doom on countless occasions; Bobby, one of the fantastic vets employed by the Lemur Center and the mastermind behind teaching me all the nitty gritty details of stealing fat from lemur tails, his sweet wife Elley and youngest son, Eric; Susan, an outgoing Duke undergrad whom I met just yesterday and has already impressed my with her optimism and infectious laugh; and David, our back-up vet hailing all the way from Washington state who comes replete with stories of eagle death matches and whose Facebook profile picture is a marmot wearing a party hat. Need I say more? We are an interesting bunch, for sure, but you should’ve seen our luggage collection! I’ve never seen so much luggage from one group of people in my life! Our collection is complete with a few Tupperware containers fitted with modified webcams that serve as “metabolic chambers”, more laptops than we know what to do with, copious amounts of warm clothing, and about 800 AA batteries. Do you think I’m kidding? Who would lie about such a thing?!? Also, there are more of us interesting characters joining in Madagascar, but introductions will follow later. Got it all straight? Good. There will be a test.
So why am I blogging right at this very moment? Remember that 16-hour flight I’m on? Well, let’s just say that due to certain technical difficulties that appear only to affect me, I am enjoying this flight without any in-flight entertainment that I assumed was included in my $2,800 plane ticket. Guess not. Not only that, but I’m only about 6 hours in and I’ve already finished the only book I brought with me in my carry-on. Sigh. Nice move, Sheena. Am I complaining? On the contrary! This gives me the perfect opportunity to record my experiences thus far, before they get swept out of my brain due to jet-lag and dehydration.
This flight has been relatively mundane thus far. I boarded and sought out my “cozy” window seat in row 41. Yes, “cozy” is a code word for “I don’t know how anyone who is over 5’6″ fits in these seats”. I’m seated next to a, now passed out, 50-ish year old man with kind eyes who is headed to South Africa to visit friends. He was seated in his seat before I got there. I placed my bag on the floor, pulling out all the necessary items for a long flight, all the while apologizing profusely for my tortoise-like speed. His response? “It’s okay. I have daughters.” Now, I’m not sure how I should take said response. Does that mean he automatically assumes all women are high maintenance and/or slow, or maybe that I’m 16 years old, and maybe he truly believes that all 16 years-olds are this way? Insights are appreciated. Regardless of that strange response, he’s very nice, even though I thought it was remarkably evil to chow down on that delicious smelling Snickers bar before we took off. I don’t hold that against him. I would’ve done the same thing if I had a Snickers bar. I did offer him a piece of my gum, though, but I suppose gum is a whole different ball-game than peanut-ty, nougat-ty, chocolate-ty goodness.
Now, if you don’t mind one more hilarious anecdote before I resign myself to letting my mind wander into exhausted oblivion in the pitch black cabin, willing myself not to go insane from boredom or the wailing baby a few rows over…or the man in the seat behind me who keeps pushing my seat forward. This story involves two men sitting in the two seats in front of me, whom I only know from their distinct balding patterns and some seemingly uncontrollable voice volumes. I think they know each other, but this fact is unclear. Both gentlemen have headphones on and are enjoying their in-flight entertainment. Gentleman A all of the sudden blurts out in a voice that is clearly too loud to be allowed on an airplane, “It’s rugby? He’s the only black guy on the team?” Now from what I gather, Gentleman B, who is quite soft-spoken, by the way, is watching the movie “Invictus”. Both my kind-eyed seat buddy and myself are startled and do our best to stifle our laughter, while meanwhile the girl in the next row over and I make eye contact and chuckle over this. It doesn’t end here, though. Nope. About 20 minutes later, Gentleman A loudly proclaims, “He should listen to Lady Gaga!” How their conversation jumped there I will never know, but surely the 20 or so people seated around us, enjoyed the outburst. Thank you, Gentleman A. Hilarity ensues!
I’ve just now realized I’ve gotten quite long-winded, but can you blame a girl? I have 9 hours of flight left! So, I will proofread this for your benefit and post when I arrive in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. I hope you enjoy reading my stories and I’ll do my best to entertain with humor, a tiny slice of science sure to impress, and insights into life in the field.
It’s a jungle out there!