This is my attempt at a blog. At the moment I am still in the US, trying to raise money, and get stuff organized before I head out to Tanzania on Jan 27th. So no cool fun stories about cheetahs just yet, just the challenges of begging friends, family, and complete stranger for money, and organizing equipment and permits. But stick with me, I'll get there soon and flood this page with spotted cats.
Jan 10 The filming
Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, I have raised about $1500. However I still need a sizeable chunk of dosh. After careful scrutiny of the cut throat world of environmental fundraising, it seemed to me that all the cool kids have a video. My friend and labmate Lindsey Rich who works on predators in Botswana was way ahead of me on this. She filmed footage when she was doing a field season this past summer, and put together a video to fund a project that would give local kids the chance to spend time watching wildlife in the Botswanan bush. I could only watch her video and wish that I had been more forward thinking about getting footage, any footage at all, when I was in Tanzania. But unlike my friend Alex, I lack a plentiful supply of ‘wankerish selfies’. Instead I all I have are some still pictures. They are pretty good and all, but I would have to go all Ken Burns in ‘The Civil War’ series in order to make them engaging. A pretty tall order for someone as useless with media and technology as I am. However I had reconnected with a high school friend named Jules who is a film producer. We had drinks and I asked her much it would cost to make a 3 minute video. Her answer made my eyes water a bit, but with incredible kindness she said that she could borrow a camera and donate her time, and all I had to do was write a script and dig up pictures.
After the excruciating experience of watching myself in a high school musical, I have avoided being on film whenever possible. Once a film crew came out with me for a day in Serengeti, but it was such an unpleasant experience for everyone involved that I was very grateful the program only aired in South Africa and to my knowledge only one person I knew ever saw it. Since Jules suggested that if would be good to have any footage there was of me, I tried to see if some of the it was on Youtube, but since I had conveniently forgotten the name of the filmers or their program, my attempts at searching were pretty futile.
In a few days I knocked together a script that I could read outloud without feeling completely ridiculous. Having grown up on nature documentaries I had pretty good idea of how the usual narration went. I read it to myself several times in a deep slow dramatic voice, full of meaningful pauses. I was quite pleased except I couldn’t figure out how to transition from the voice I used to talk about cheetahs, to my normal voice when I talked about myself. Since my normal voice is about an octave higher, and much faster and American sounding, it was a very harsh transition. When I tried it out for a friend, he looked a bit puzzled and then suggested I just talk like a normal person the whole time. Hmmm.
Somewhat nervously I went over to Jules’s house for the shoot. While she and her boyfriend figured out distances, lights, and background, I sat on a bar stool with their small dog Lily in my lap. While it was quite soothing to be able to pet her, I was dubious that me petting a small dog while talking about my love for cheetahs would be taken seriously.
Filming highlights all the weird ticks that I didn’t really know I had. One was my tendency to bug out my eyes with excitement. Jules suggested that was acceptable once or twice a sentence, but not every other word. The other is that I start seemingly every sentence with the word ‘So’. Consciously not doing so took an inordinate amount of effort. It also can be quite tricky to give concise eloquent answers to questions, even if you have spent most of the past two years thinking about these issues.
There was only about an hour of battery life on the camera so we couldn’t mess around too long. After getting all the basics on film, Jules asked me about my favorite memory of fieldwork. This is a little awkward because it has to do with collecting the scat of my favorite cheetah. I have tried to tell this story multiple times, but I always find it hard to convey the immense triumph of a successful scat collection to someone who has never done it. And most non biologists just find it weird how excited I get about scat. So after telling the story to confused looks and quick changes of subject, I have pretty much stopped relating it. But I gave it another crack, but it will probably not make the final cut, hopefully joining the footage of me staring into the camera and saying ‘cheetahs are cute’ in digital oblivion.
Jules has other projects, ones that actually pay, so it may take a while before she has time to assemble the footage into a video. But once she does, I hope to shift my fundraising drive into World Domination Mode.
Back in Virginia, only two weeks to go before departure.
Some people have had trouble donating on my crowd funding site. I contact their tech support and am told their system finds it suspicious if people are not at their billing address they use their credit card to donate. And that if a donor gets an error message they should call the web site support hotline. I ponder the many ways this is problematic , and then send back a strained but hopefully polite email pointing out that most people move around a lot, are not always at home, and having to call a support line before donating will probably mean they won’t donate. Quite a worrying development. We shall see if there is any resolution.
In better news I just got a UPS delivery of two boxes. Methinks they contain fieldwork goodies. I am carrying out a camera and GPS for the Serengeti Cheetah Project, and spent quite a lot of time drooling over bodies and lenses online. After careful opening of the boxes and excavation of their tightly wrapped contents, I come up with a GPS, a Canon body, a 400 mm lens, batteries, chargers, innumerable straps and cables, and a sim card. I gingerly fit the lens and camera body together, praying I hadn’t made a very expensive mistake with the ordering, and much to my relief they fit together. The lens is scarily heavy, and after some gloating over the pile of loot I start to wonder how on earth I am going to fit two computers, binoculars, the camera, the GPS and all the assorted bits and bobs into a carry on. Ah well, I have two weeks to figure that out.
The packing pile 13 days to go
Two entrancing packages delivered by a stranger in the dark...actually the UPS man.
One of the challenges of fieldwork is lack of supplies. I would go to the town of Arusha once a month for a supply run. It was about 6-8 hours away by car depending on the state of the roads and the vehicle. We had a small fridge and freezer at the house when I was there so I could have dairy products and keep some of the vegetables freshish. But it was always a race to eat the fresh food before it molded or shriveled. Because I always went a bit nuts at the market and came back with a lot of fruits and veg. Which would usually decay at predictable rates, except carrots were a dark horse. Most of the time they would hold up well for several weeks, but then sometimes they were flaccid wrinkled skins only 7 days in.
Prioritizing which food to eat first meant I was always eating the oldest gnarliest things first, to the point where it became hard to eat a glossy attractive vegetable. Once when I was back to Seattle for a visit, I found a beautiful eggplant in the fridge. I looked at it, then put it back because it was 'too good looking to eat.'
"I'll just wait a couple more days until it is a bit wrinkly" I thought to myself.
I have mostly shaken this habit, but it has come to the fore again recently. As I am leaving my house for 7 months very soon, I have to get serious about eating the contents of my fridge and the perishables in my pantry. As food waste makes me antsy, this is a serious project that will require clever strategizing and a major uptick in my condiment consumption level .
The first order of business is the block of moldy cheddar. Rule #16 in the Serengeti…Never throw out cheese. This rule applies to the fridge challenge as well
A few slices of the knife and a nice chunk of cheese is ready to join the cheese sauce.
Voila! The sauce was quite um….sharp tasting, but since the other cheese I used was a blue, it could have been either of the molds.
You can follow the saga of the fridge on Twitter (yes really) #EatingDownTheFridge
Donation update: I am asssured by the tech help at Razoo.com that rejection of credit cards is quite rare. So don't be put off donating. Please don't. Donate away (click on link at top right of page). And if you get a error message, contact me at email@example.com and I will harangue them and we will try to work something out. Thanks!
Eating Down The Fridge. 6 days to go. Am out of jam, used up the cranberry sauce in a peanut butter sandwich. The wrinkled parsnip has been vanquished. Worried about running out of cheese too soon. Down to one pickle. The jar of horseradish sauce and full tub of sour cream mocks me. Sick of potatoes and cabbage. Also have the delightful dilemma of how to eat over a pound of Amish butter before I go.
I cheated on my fridge tonight and went out and had a salad. But then I came home and ate up oatmeal, almonds, and maple syrup.