Blogs from the Ethiopia Research Project

Kathryn Larson

Kathryn Larson is a recent SMU graduate in Phi Beta Kappa with Bachelor degrees in both biology and dance. She graduated from the SMU Honors Program, and was Magna cum Laude in Dedman College and the Meadows School of the Arts. She plans to study paleobotany in graduate school beginning in the fall, 2007.

Dec. 20, 2006

So our trip is about to come to an end. Everyone else but Bonnie and I left for the States on Monday, while we will be returning on Friday evening. This past weekend we took a break from working to explore Addis and the surrounding area and to do a bit of holiday shopping. We did quite a bit of damage in the cloth shopping district, buying up scarves, blankets, and everything else made of fabric that one could imagine. I successfully convinced myself that buying so much cloth was a good idea because it is just such good padding for our suitcases on the journey home. There is a genuine threat that Addis Ababa may turn me into a shopping addict, but the prices in Dallas will most certainly jolt me into reality when I return home.

Saturday night Mesfin and his family took us out to a restaurant that served traditional food that was accompanied by traditional music and dancing from the various regions of the country. Both the dancing and the music differ vastly from region to region and the performers were excellent, so we were thoroughly entertained the entire evening. None of the dances performed included highly choreographed footwork, the majority of the movements were focused on the isolation of the head, shoulders, and ribcage with some stylized gesticulation of the arms and hands. It was especially interesting to see the dance from the Gondar region again, which consists of putting your hands on your hips and moving your shoulders in every direction that is physically possible from shrugging the shoulders individually to shimmying at a very high rate of speed. I was honestly surprised that no one’s arms or head flew off while dancing. It was also nerve-racking because at this point in the evening the dancers came up to you and invited you to dance with no intention of letting you do anything but accept their invitation.

Dec. 16, 2006

The field work is officially done now; we flew from Gondar back into Addis Ababa yesterday and will remain here until Friday at which time Bonnie and I will return to the States.

I really enjoyed Chilga and the work there. It is such a beautiful area and everyone there was extremely friendly. The last full day there we had a celebratory goodbye banquet during which we had fantastic Ethiopian food and were entertained by children doing traditional dances for us to Ethiopian music.

The only bad part about the food was that I had the privilege to go to the closest town (Aykel) to witness the picking out of the goat for dinner. I had never seen an animal alive before I ate it before. Even worse was the fact that after we picked it out they hog tied it and strapped it to the roof of the SUV while we shopped some more and then drove back to camp, which took at least over an hour. It was making the most horrible noises. I hold this experience directly responsible for the dream I had the following night. I dreamt I was Christmas shopping in NorthPark when I spotted the goat we had bought in Aykel loose in the mall. After running amok for a while he tried to ride the escalator, but got caught in the treads where his limbs were cut off one by one. No one in the mall seemed to mind it except me. I have thus decided to take a break from eating goat for a while, or at least until that one goat stops haunting my dreams.

Dec. 11, 2006

So far we have spent two and a half days in the field here in Chilga and have found many interesting and beautiful fossils. The first day we got here we set up camp in the village and then drove out to one of the localities where we will not be spending much time. We were only here for a few hours, but found many legume pods and other plant remains. On the second and third days we went out to the locality where we will be spending the majority of the trip. The hike down to the site is covered in beautiful rolling hills; I can only imagine how it would have looked pre-deforestation. The site itself is situated by a river where Chilgan children bring down their livestock (especially cows and goats) to drink. It is also especially entertaining to watch the children sitting on their watch towers by their fields flinging rocks with a very large, woven slingshot at the incoming birds with impressive aim and distance

Dec. 8, 2006

Yesterday a group of us took a boat down the Blue Nile and saw many a fantastic thing. Besides the beautiful view of the shore from the water, we saw men fishing in papyrus boats, a group of monkeys, many birds, and a group of hippos. Seeing the three adult and two juvenile hippos lounging in the Blue Nile was particularly exciting. After our boat trip, we drove from Bahir-Dar to Gondar where the rest of our supplies were purchased. The vegetable market had a myriad of colors and the samples were very delicious. Today we finished the drive to Chilga and set up camp, where we seemed quite the spectacle; at least 30 children from the village came to watch us.

Dec. 5, 2006

Yesterday some of us did quite a bit of tourist shopping. We found great baskets, cloth, jewelry, amongst other things. I am still not used to one dollar being equivalent to almost 9 birr, so I passed up some deals that I probably should have taken. After this expedition, we went to the National Museum of Ethiopia, where we will be bringing all the fossils back. It was very interesting to see some of the ceremonial weapons and clothing. The swords were very curvilinear and the clothing was extravagantly adorned with lion skins and manes. Here we also saw the cast of Lucy; she was a lot smaller than I had been picturing.

Today we are leaving for Bahar-dar which should take about twelve hours drive. Tomorrow we go the rest of the way to Gonder and then can make it out to the field. I am very excited about getting to go to work. I think we might be going on a boat ride down the Blue Nile once we get there which should be pretty amazing. I have thoroughly enjoyed Addis Ababa, but am anxious to be going to a new area to explore.