Thursday, October 22, 2015

Benjo in Kenya at last!

Watamu is a pretty insignificant place in the grand scheme of things. I mean anywhere is if you think about it. Why should one particular place mean anything in the grand scheme of the planet and all its people and places? However, because of whatever forces of fate I ended up here for 3 years of my early 20s. It was where I learnt many of the secrets of coral reefs, its where my perspective of the world and my place in it was drastically altered, and it’s a place full of friends and memories. After 18 months of being back in the UK, I’ve come back to Watamu for a brief few weeks to finish up some aspects of my research and PhD work. While here the past, present and future have all sort of blended together and given me a birds eye view of my life at the moment, which I needed to get down on paper.
            Arriving in Watamu initially was a little underwhelming, because obviously I recognised everything and I guess I just slipped back into looking around like I had never left. It was absolutely great getting to Mwamba and receiving this joyous reception of familiar faces of my old work colleagues and friends, but again this funny feeling of never having really left. After my first swim at the beach I stopped by the little fire shelter in the dunes and then it sort of hit me; all of the past experiences, memories and significant life steps I had taken within this area. It was like reconnecting with a side of myself I had almost forgotten in the UK. Over the coming days I met so many people, on the road, on the beach, that took me back to those times and that feeling of never really having left allowed me to almost touch my younger self and remember vividly where I have come from.
My PhD supervisor David on the left, colleague and fellow fish nerd Melita, and fellow PhD student Juliet on the right, out on fieldwork with me.
            A couple of days later I did my first workshop with local Kenya Wildlife Services personnel and other people in Watamu doing marine conservation work. In the build up to it I was really struggling to force myself to prepare the presentation and remember why I was out here in Kenya, when I should definitely be at home working on my PhD. However, during the presentation and the response I got from people afterwards it hit me that things had come full circle. All those plans and all the legwork we had put in from 2011 and onwards were now bearing fruit. People at the presentation congratulated Peter and I on the ‘amazing findings’ we had made through our research, which I guess in the long labourious process of finding, had escaped me a bit. Presenting the work back to people reminded me why I had started this whole crazy process in the first place and I think has probably given me a great little burst of enthusiasm to get through the final stages.
Presenting in Watamu
            So being back has crystallised a bit of my recent past, and through that has also helped me see where I am now. For one, I realise how completely burnt out I am with the PhD now. I am so so so so so ready to finish! But no major news there; I think this feeling is pretty standard at this stage in the process. I also realise actually how happy I am in Oxford. Quite a lot of people I’ve bumped into have asked me would I be coming back. On the one hand I am reminded by some of things I do not miss since leaving Kenya. Since being back getting a tummy bug, struggling to arrange meetings, organising transport etc. reminded me how tired I was with Watamu by the time I left and no amount of tropical sunshine and crystal clear water could cure. However being able to pop out for a quick lunchtime snorkel, while you are at work is not to be snubbed at! 

                But where does that lead me now? On my last day in Kenya, Peter and I were presenting to the heads of departments at Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters in Nairobi. A row of very important men in sharp suits surveyed us as we began our presentation, and I was struck by the fact that somehow I had ended up presenting my work to the highest level of governmental wildlife conservation in the country and also how young and under-dressed I felt! The presentations went down well, and these top guys congratulated us on our good work.  When I hand in my thesis in a couple of month’s time, I will be a qualified marine scientist, ready to start my career. This trip has helped me see that I can actually do this thing and that all the leg-work has been worth it. Exactly what that means for the future though I have no idea yet! For now I am just looking forward to seeing people back home and getting my teeth stuck into my last chapter.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Benjo not in Kenya

Mysteriously last weekend the UK government's foreign and commonwealth office (FCO) included most of the Kenyan coast as an area to be avoided by British citizens. The strip included Watamu, my previous home and where I was planning to travel just after Easter. Initially I, and friends in Watamu, were confused. Surely this was something political, nothing ever happens in Watamu, right? Indeed since 2012, when the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab began operating in Kenya, we never saw a single attack or even threat any closer than Mombasa, 100km to the south. Feeling frustrated at the sloppy nature of international relations and the extra admin this change had created, I nevertheless continued planning my trip.
In the early hours of Thursday morning as students were waking up for the new day, Al-Shabaab gun-men attacked their university in Garissa, killing 148 people and marking that day as the worst terrorist attack Kenya has seen since the Al-Qaeda attack on the US embassy in 1998. Turns out Al-Shabaab had leaked a fairly horrifying letter to the Kenyan public some days before and the FCO had responded accordingly. I am angry. I am so angry I could barely sit through Easter service this morning, where we are supposed to sing joyfully and celebrate the resurrected Christ. Like me you may be infuriated by the loss of life and the barbaric attitude of the organisation that caused it. However, in this blog I want to focus on what this might mean for Watamu, and think about what instability really is. 
In news coverage of such events, the focus is on the immediate victims, the perpetrators, and the wider context for the world and the west. Then it is forgotten. Our lives are unaffected, and why should they be? The only reason I see beyond the headlines in this case is because I lived there and the lives of my friends will be affected. Living in the UK it can be difficult to understand the true consequences of instability or uncertainty because so much of our lives is controlled and sheltered.
The first victim of instability is always business. Economies are fundamentally fragile and can have the rug pulled from under them even in highly regulated countries. Watamu, like much of the coast, relies heavily on tourism. With hotels empty, bars and restaurants will close, souvenir shops will cease to exist and the entire local cash flow will dry up. Some people will move on and find new work, others will have lost a life-time's achievement in an uncontrollable act of fate. 
Next will come the frustration. Lack of money, lack of alternative opportunities and everyone fighting over an ever dwindling pie. In such situations of acute stress and misery, people don't necessarily club together as we would like to believe, but rather become bitter. In Kenya, like most places, this is often expressed through racism; think of post-depression Germany, or even post-recession UK (i.e. right now!). 'That person is stealing my meagre ration in this world and I will not stand for it!' And we have gone full circle. Al-Shabaab and other militant groups around the world prey on disaffected, frustrated young men who have all the energy and potential in the world, but no way to express it. 
Instability is relative. Kenya is doing better than many countries in Africa, but the corruption, food insecurity and crime certainly makes most Brits reflect differently on our own experience back home. I am feeling particularly worried for the marine park in Watamu and for my old charity A Rocha. A Rocha relied heavily on eco-tourism, both for its own income and in its practical conservation programmes. We worked with communities to protect their forests and reefs and help them to recognise the alternative livelihood tourism provides. With no tourism to the area, I fear for our projects and even for the continued existence of the beautiful habitats I was lucky enough to work in for all those years. 
Somalia is the most extreme example of instability and anarchy on the planet, without a functional government or national unity in over 2 decades. What little I understand about the situation, perhaps it is no surprise a group such as Al-Shabaab should form. Nevertheless I cannot help feeling each of us has a choice of how to act when we are hurt. In Jesus' first address, his famous sermon on the mount, he said

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"

I recognise that religion is one of the easiest battle lines to draw and don't put this up as a religious stand point. Personally I read this and feel it may be the only genuine solution to violence, anger and instability in our world. Choosing day by day to live for peace.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Getting back from Mozambique

I’ve been back in Nairobi for a few days now, staying in the very nice neighbourhood of Lavington, and catching up on emails with coffee in Java House. It feels worlds apart from what I saw in Mozambique and its hard to remember you’re in Africa when you see people buying hand exfoliating crème in the mall or driving flash cars into multi-storey car parks. Mozambique on the other hand was “Africa” in the extreme.
Its funny to say this considering I spent most of the time on an ultra-exclusive private island where guests pay $1000 a night for the ultimate beach and tropical paradise experience. Vamizi was just that. An unbelievably beautiful white beach sloped into perfect turquoise waters, at all states of tides and time of day. The island is mostly uninhabited and covered in jungle and surrounded by some of the best coral reefs I have ever seen. However, this is not the true Mozambique, which is much uglier and more worrying, but rarely encountered on the island.
The poverty in the areas on the mainland I saw was more extreme than most parts of Kenya. When our bus pulled into towns en route (oh yes I took the bus again), people would run and jostle to get there first. Small children would fight to hold up a handful of mangy green tomatoes or plastic bags at the window, while the women would argue as they tried to make sales. I saw more than one person slump in complete despair when the bus revved to move off and they hadn’t made a sale.
In Pemba, the town where I stayed for 2 days to get a flight back to Nairobi, women scrapped mosquito nets in the shallow water to catch unappetising little shrimps and sprat, while children hacked at rocky outcrops with spoons and butter knives to get any crabs, snails or small bivalves they could. The town centre there hung a lull of inertia that poverty creates, when one has nothing to do, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with.
Now consider that this is in a country, which has recently been discovered to be sitting on potentially one of the largest untapped oil reserves in the world. Exploration is happening in a massive way, and tons of investment, construction and foreigners are flooding into this area, where only 5 years ago there was no electricity or mobile phone signal.
Official propaganda, if of course, that this is a great thing, and Anadarko is making a good show of how good this all is for Mozambique. Before I lambast the oil company too much, I would like to add that they are doing some good projects and I even met a couple of people working for them involved in trying to make their operations more locally appropriate and inclusive. However, I simply fail to see how a population with the level of poverty that I saw and all the ills that go with it, poor health, nutrition and education, can possibly ride this tidal wave of change and come out better in the end.
In Kenya the poorest, remain poor and the all benefits and wealth are snapped up by the few and the foreign. Incomers from other areas and other countries create tensions as precious jobs, land and resources are ‘stolen’, wealth disparity leads to crime and a deep crippling sense of despair; all of which I could see among some of the people in this area already. I am very doubtful that the government is any more responsible or less greedy than other countries and the higher levels of poverty and lack of education probably makes it easier for them to be unjust.
Maybe I’m too cynical by what I have seen in other places, but everywhere I looked I was struck by the extremes and worried for the future of the place. Even being on the island I didn’t feel particularly at ease, knowing that the place is the creation of vanishingly few rich and powerful, that can absolve themselves from the reality on the mainland.
What little I saw of the country was stunningly beautiful. Untouched coastline, forested mountains, picturesque thatched villages with lush vegetable gardens, all poised on the edge of the worst ravages 21st century capitalism has to offer. I would really love to go back and take more time to drive around this area, take in the sights, and understand more about places such as this and what their ultimate fate will be. For the moment, there are some rocky years ahead.
I am poignantly aware this might actually be now the last post on this blog. In many ways Mozambique was an extreme microcosm of my whole experience in Kenya. Amazed by the beauty, shocked by the extremes, and more than once frustrated and insanity of it all. I think the main thing I have learnt over the past few years is that it is a big bad world out there, where you really can’t take anything for granted. Enjoy where you are in the moment, value the things that matter to you, and try not to give up hope of a better tomorrow. Africans do this better than any other people. Despite the frustration I saw in the people of Mozambique, I also saw the unchanging African optimism and warmth. As I drove to the airport in Pemba someone had written on a shop, “Onde ha vida, ha esperanca”- ‘Where there is life, there is hope’. Nothing could better encapsulate the African outlook. Let’s hope its true.

p.s. here's a few photos from Vamizi and also check out the reef on youtube with the video I made. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Getting to Mozambique

Ok this East African adventure is not over yet folks. I have more stories.
Getting to Vamizi Island, Northern Mozmabique was the most topsy turvy journey ever. There is no photo evidence (bloody GoPro ran out of battery), so you must believe my words, although myself I'm not sure I believe it.
Getting to Nairobi everything was fine, finally escaped the unrelenting heat of March on the coast. Get to the airport on Sunday after staying one night with friends, get a the usual funny look at my passport with back to back tourist visas for the past 3 years (still no research visa from immigration), and go through to the departure lounge. The screen is still predicting our 3:45 departure to Pemba and Nampula, everything looks great. At around 3:15 all of us in the waiting lounge are told to go back out and wait for further instructions. The plane never left Maputo. No explanation why, just no plane. No plane until Tuesday in fact. Ok so a hotel, and planning what on earth I'm going to do in the mean time and also because of careful timing with a boat from the mainland to Vamizi Island, how am I going to make the onward journey. Luckily I meet another guy called Herb, also trying to get to Vamizi because he works at the dive centre there (what are the chances), who is actually from Watamu (no way!). Great, I can figure this one out and I don't need to do it alone.
The hotel we are taken to is the Nairobi Safari Club, in the centre of Nairobi. 5* luxury for two nights at the expense of the airline. I crashed onto my super-king sized bed and thought about how jammy life is sometimes, and decided to call Isobel, the partner in Mozambique to explain I would be a couple of days late. News from Mozambique was that a cyclone or something had flooded massive areas on the route from Pemba, the airport town, to Mocimboa, the harbour town where I was supposed to get the boat. The water had receded somewhat, but a bridge on the route had been taken out! Not only would that make the journey difficult, but the island was now struggling to get petrol and the conservation team were on the bottom of the waiting list for it after the lodge and its expensive paying guests. Even if I could manage to get there I would have no petrol to do any fieldwork.
OK. Two more days left on my transit visa I had been issued because of the cancelled flight. Either take a futile flight to Mozambique or have to rearrange everything and come back to the UK early. Obviously come home, but when I started called Kenya Airways and planning with Mum and Dad about getting my room ready and stuff, I couldn't bear the thought of coming back to England so soon. I had mentally prepared for in a month's time. Its too early! Also I had been trying to get to Vamizi for over a year, I had to see the place. 
I spoke to Rob the South African lodge manager on the island, who said in a classic African manner, "look man, just get here and we'll make a plan". "Making a plan" a great African euphemism for whinging it, has honestly worked for me so far in life, why should now be any different. I can get there, there's always a way, so off to Mozambique again.
Arriving in Pemba I was surprised how nice it all looked. The town was clean and not terribly ugly or impoverished. The people were super friendly and didn't make a big deal about me being a whitey, like I've experienced everywhere in Kenya. In many ways it was a cross between Brazil and Kenya. A latin Africa or and African latino place. I was enjoying myself and glad about the decision to go for it.
In the morning I was to get a bus at 5am, which would get me to Mocimboa by 1pm, with a river crossing at the broken bridge, but it was all organised and I would be able to travel with one ticket. What an awesome country! The bus filled pretty quickly as well, which is always a relief, because in Africa a bus never leaves until every seat is filled. However we were still driving in circles around town, and more people getting on, and then the conductor starts climbing over the chairs and pushing people to the back, so that more people can get on. Eventually at 7am when the bus is packed like a sardines can we leave. The amount of people and luggage on that bus gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Gari imejah!" (Swahili: the car is full). Thank goodness I got a seat.
As we drove north I tried to get a feel for this nation. We passed small villages of mud walls and thatch roofs, just like in Kenya, women pounding maize in the morning, kids going to school etc. However it was really noticeable the lack of any other kinds of buildings in the villages, or even the fact that almost every house was the same size and arranged in neat rows. A legacy of Mozambique's communist past I suppose or maybe just the fact that there is not as much inequality here as in Kenya. Everyone lives somehow the same. Interesting as well was the amount of uninhabited space. We would drive for long distances and see only bush. It is quite wet and lush as well, so not uninhabitable land, it just appears there are not enough people to fill the space. I began wondering what had happened here during the civil war, when this area was hit the worst in the whole country. 
Finally at 11am we reached the fabled river. We had passed through a large stretch of lowland which was very boggy, but the river itself was quite a narrow one, like many which we had passed. That particular bridge had just been unlucky it seemed. Having a seat near the back of the bus I was one of the last to get off. When I got down, complete pandaemonium ensued. Instantly 50 or so guys from the bush surrounded me demanding to carry my bag. I was trying to be cool and hold off until Herb managed to get his stuff off the bus and we could make a plan of action. He had this ridiculously huge box of PADI course books all nicely wrapped and bound for the clients on the island, which definitely needed carrying, but how to now negotiate who would carry the bags without causing a riot. To carry the stuff ourselves would have brought fury at our selfishness, especially as I was the only Mzungu on the bus. However, deciding who would win our business would also be tricky. I tried to whisper to an old man nearest to me who had approached me early on, and silence ensued throughout my crowd and seemed to pull even more people in. Somehow we escaped this insane situation with my little old man helping me and another guy helping Herb, for the pre-arranged price of around £1 each. Turns out the water was low enough that we actually were supposed to walk across the river. I rolled up my trousers and put my best foot forward into the black mud trying not to think about bilharzia in the water or the fact that my laptop with my PhD thesis on it, my passport and all my money, were perched on this little old man's head. Instead I looked at the dramatic beauty of this lowland area, punctuated by symmetrical oasis palms. It was actually quite a high moment, and I felt quite empowered by the crazy life I lead. 
By this point, because taking forever to extract ourselves from the first bus, we definitely did not get a seat on the second bus. In fact we were perched on the stairs near the door. However, at least we won't have to wait forever for them to sort everyone out right? Wrong. For some inexplicable reason we sat there in our sardine bus in the baking midday heat for nearly an hour. The driver was no where to be seen. Because of the heat and stress a woman on the bus started to have an epileptic fit. Herb and I, with our rescue diver, emergency first response training (oh yeah PADI), tried to do what we could, which was very little other than get her off the bus and hold her in the recovery position until the fitting stopped. It was a helpless situation, in the middle of flooded valley in one of the poorest countries on earth. No one else on the bus seemed to even notice. During this time the driver arrived and once the woman was stable, we tried to get back on the bus, but had to argue with the driver for 15 minutes, because "Gari imejah" he said. Ok not enjoying this anymore.
2 hours later (with a police stop who searched several passengers on board trying to extort bribes and checking my passport and travel documents with fine tooth comb for the same reason) we arrive in Mocimboa. There is a friendly local guy Herb knows who will help us organise a dhow to get to the island. I just crashed out on the sofa on his porch. 
I was half carried to the beach where the traditional East African sail boat is waiting to take us to the island. "Just two hours, you'll be there by dinner", I'm told. We get on the boat at 7pm, and then sit and sit, until after an hour I ask one of the guys what's the hold-up. Captain's not here. Where is he? At home. Why is he at home? He's at home until he's ready to go. Ayayayiiiiiii. Time in Mozambique is more non-existent than Kenya. In the end I just crashed asleep on the floor of the boat on the hard concrete blocks they were using for ballast. 
I came around some time later to the sound of one guy singing a haunting local folk tune. I opened my eyes to see the sail in full billow in the moonlight and the dramatic southern stars. As I propped myself up land was far in the distance and phosphorescence streaming in the wake of the boat. It was a quintessential moment that cannot be conveyed, only experienced, and one which I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life. Here I was in the middle of Indian Ocean in a traditional sailing boat, which has ferried people up and down this coast like this for hundreds of years. Absolutely magical. I went back to sleep dreaming of the nice dinner and bed awaiting for me. 
What must have been some hours later I woke up to find the moon had set and the boat was in darkness. Herb had been sleeping next to me but now wasn't there. I stumbled to the back of the boat to see what was going on. One guy shouted sharply, "Where are you going!? Lie down! We're working back here." Indeed they were tacking and changing the sail required some moving about, but why was he so rude and where was Herb. Were these guys just going to take me to a desert island somewhere and rob me? Oh man, why didn't I just go home!?
Turns out Herb was throwing up over the back of the boat and in reality the journey was going to take all night, which everyone except us had known all along. Just as the first glimmer of dawn appeared, the shape of the island came into focus. The captain pointed and smiled. We rounded the corner of the island heading along the northern coastline to get to the lodge. And then we stopped. Sail was furled, anchor dropped. Guys lay down on the decks. When I asked what was happening, the irritated captain explained in his most condescending tone, "This channel is shallow and there might be biiiiig rocks, that we don't want to hit and right now we can't seem them, so we have to wait until sunrise (stupid Mzungu)" One last sleep on the cement for me then. 
We arrived at about 7am in the morning, after however long travelling that had been. Since stepping foot onto the pristine white sands of this beach, I have been enjoying this lost paradise immensely, which made all the journey worth it.  I don't know if this is the same for other people, but a significant portion of travelling in my life seems to go like this. Immense good luck and terrible luck intertwined and balancing each other out, however in the end I always seem to land on my feet. I swear it is of none of my own doing, nor planning or anything else. I always end up with some crazy story and yet again there is a happy ending. But that's for another story.
Speak soon!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Leaving Kenya

This is (probably) going to be the last blog I write from Kenya. I had planned on leaving at this time for a few months now. My fieldwork is complete, I am half way through the PhD and it is time to sit down and write out all that I have studied; or at least as much as I can! 
I have learnt so so much over the past 3 years. Kenya has shaped me for life and given me the first and possibly second rung on my career ladder. Looking ahead I also think it is impossible that I won't visit or even possibly live here again, but this chapter, working with A Rocha down in Watamu, is at an end. 
I hope that I am more patient. I know I am more rounded when it comes to understanding the human condition. I am also leaving knowing much much more about myself, although I tend to believe this happens to people in their early 20s no matter what they are doing. 
As I was waiting at the bus stop in Gede yesterday with a few friends who were sending me on my way, we were discussing friends, work, the news etc. like I had always lived in that place. In the end the place had really become like home. You know where everything is, you know the people to get you what you need, and if I ever went away I was glad to get back to my little house in Down Valley. However I am not sad to be leaving, I had some amazing amazing times and am leaving with no regrets. 
I am really interested to see how it will be living in the UK now. Although I've visited for small periods of time I haven't lived there properly and haven't seen an entire winter in a long time! Will I slip back into my old lifestyle? Will I find a new niche, as the person I am now? Will I enjoy it or will it always be missing something that Kenya brought into my life? I don't need to find out immediately however. First I am headed to Mozambique for a research trip and my first time to another African country (I never left Kenya in all this time!). I think that place will provide a really interesting comparison to here as well, although I am nervous about being a foreigner again, with not very much language. 
I think whatever happens next I am glad that it has never been boring and I have always been learning and moving forward. The tough times nearly broke me, and the good times have given me more amazing experiences than some people get in a life time. As I move ahead I am excited for the new possibilities and new places I will see. I think I will always be aware of Kenya and what is going on here. Najivunia kuwa mkenya

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Amazing Puppy

Corniest blog title I could ever ever ever imagine, but I just wrote it. HELP! I'm in love with a super intelligent puppy! Although actually the first story I have to tell just goes to show that all geniuses do crazy things.
Tonight was the third time we sat by the funeral pyre. She snuggled my knees, letting me know that I, mattered to her more than the object of beauty she had just lost. The first time it was a bloody sanitory towel, I found her caressing under a tree. As I approached she gave a deep snarling growl, which I couldn't accept and took 2 full minutes before she displayed her submission with a roll over with her belly exposed. That one had to be burnt with her grabbed by the collar.
The second time it was a nappy. She was more willing to let that one go and she was enjoying learning about the fire.
All afternoon I had smelt something near the house that stunk of death. I immediately suspected Maxine, but I couldn't spot her anywhere near by. It lingered, flowing in on the breeze occasionally, until boom Maxine arrives on the porch, with the smell. She had found it, goodness knows how long ago, but at least 6 hours and since then had being plucking up the courage to show me this item of glory. A flattened hedgehog carcass, very very rotten. Time for fire time again Maxine! Peter and I built a big wood fire this time. She let Peter hold the hedgehog, never jumping for it, but never letting her gaze slip either as she prepared for the inevitable. The fire was stoked. She and I retreated to a small mound near the fire that was comfortable to sit on. Peter placed the item on the fire, while I comforted her as she said goodbye to her super awesome life changing discovery.
The pack order amongst dogs is super interesting (incidently I just tried to do some research on this on Wikipedia and it really freaked me out. Amongst the list of "services" humans get from dogs included dog meat. WTF China?). A dog has a very clear view of who is above them and who is below, and in human society they must always remain at the bottom. Ideally below everyone else, but the lowest in their particular family is also fine. This position has to be continually reinforced during their teenagerdom as they are trying to rise up the ranks. Like our few fire incidents. But the point is as time goes on, she becomes better and better with this agreement and I get to see new insights into this crazy relationship Homo sapiens and Canis lupis familiaris.
After the bonfire was over and we came back over the porch I managed to get her to drink something and clean her of the death smell (like dealing with someones hangover man!) <- oh hilarious I just got disturbed by her for something else she just brought to the door. Turns out it was bread she was chewing on. Good girl! ANYWAY. After she came back to the porch she wanted some attention, so she sat on the door mat and gazed at me for a while and then, just when she was most intensely focused she put her paw on my knee.
Wolves do not use their legs in much social behaviour. A lot is done with mouth, licking, biting, pulling things. However primates most definitely do. We use our hands in one the most incredible diversity of patterns that has ever flowered in evolution. The dog feels this every day when she is petted and scratched in that bang on position, or when we lay our hands on them to show affection and assert dominance. The dog is very aware of the power of hands. So piecing together how we use our hands to love them, rather than our mouths, it might be more beneficial to stay in this relationship by learning a mimicry behaviour which has advantageous consequences. Loving you back with an arm.
Evolution has a whole myriad of stories to tell and insights to grasp. Its a desperately simple principal that when applied, has the most fantastic and magical consequences imaginable, such as the colour patterns in the fish of the reef.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A dog, a boat and 100 dives

Its been a BUSY weekend with two big achievements. The first is that I finally got the sailing boat into the water! The hull of this old 505 was sat rotting under a tree, where it had sat for over a decade when I got to Mwamba. I couldn't bear to see it like this, so started the task of fixing it. Only I've never fixed sail boats before. NO MATTER. Lots of online reading, plenty of helping hands and expertise and 18 months later we got the boat out! If you're reading this and you helped at some point, a big thank you! We tied it to the mooring using the mast yesterday, only the mast itself wasn't securely securely fastened to the boat, so the boat semi-sank leaving the mast on the sea bed next to the mooring today (but still firmly attached with my amazing knot-tying abilities). Teething problems. No problem really. More sailing adventures to follow!!
That was yesterday (except for the sinking bit). Today I was assisting with a training dive with AquaVentures, the local dive school. I am training for my DiveMaster, the PADI dive qualification which is recognised by most people as being the "get-in-the-club" qualification for being a professional diver. The bulk of the course is directed towards supervising diving for others and especially students. I was supervising a Russian couple on their 2nd ever dive, on what happened to be my 100th. The lady was a nightmare to keep track of, because she was so excited by everything. The way she looked at the fish and was exploring the reef, reminded me of my early dives. I wanted to see everything and didn't ever want to get out the water again. It was great fun to remember that feeling on a milestone dive.
So after all that excitement, I've been kicking back with my new best friend, Maxine. She's 5 months old, with black and ginger hair and she loves to french kiss (if only I would let her). She's a Doberman with other random bits in there (labrador?) and is completely adorable. I've never owned a dog before, but I am now hooked. Getting home to an excited puppy then going for a long run and swim on the beach with her is the best part of my day.