Help Ali bring Titi the Wonder Dog to America! Donate below! for more information, see

Help Ali bring Titi to America!

Friday, October 28, 2011

How to Conduct an Interview with Folks who Don't Speak English

sorry for the radio silence! it's been a very busy last few weeks and the time has just gotten away from me! hopefully all is well with everyone back home and you all are enjoying the fall.

first big news: we hired a third ethiopian research assistant! his name is setey, and he's from the same village in the park as our two other assistants. we had to conduct interviews to choose him, and man, the interviews were SOOOO awkward!! first of all, there were eight candidates when we had been told there were only going to be four or five. actually, there were supposed to be nine people interviewing, but our liaison from the parks department nixed one guy before he even interviewed, on account of nepotism concerns (he is the son of one of our head scouts here in the village). the candidates were a wide range of guys who appeared to be between the ages of 12 and 40, but were actually all 17-20. weird. they pretty much spoke NO english, which made things awkward and challenging. ali and i were in charge of the first stage of interviews with the guy from the parks department. we had a sheet of paper for each person where they had to write their name, their age, where they were from, and their three favorite things about the simiens. some of them could read the questions (written in english), but others could not at all..... so that was an interesting and very revealing way to start! then ali and i asked them why they wanted to work for us. some of them said "because i am interested in your research" or "because i want to learn more about the park/about geladas", but about half of them said "because i need a job". one of them said "to survive." how are you supposed to respond to that? they didn't seem ashamed or anything, just stating the obvious. then i described our standard day to each interviewee - about how we walk all the time and how they will have to be somewhat independent, etc etc. finally, we asked them if they had any questions - none of them did. then we sent them inside to eshete, ambaye and julie (and one of the scouts who was there to "supervise" - the scout who's son had been nixed, so also awkward). inside they got asked questions about themselves - how many brothers and sisters they have, what they like to do for fun, what they want to do for work when they are older, things like that. eshete and ambaye (our two current assistants) apparently asked them really hard technical questions, like how long is the gelada gestation period and how far do geladas range each day. pretty hilarious! for the "what do you do for fun question", setey (the guy we ended up hiring) said LAMMERGEIER (a big scavenger bird up here, like a vulture) - i guess he did not understand the question, as it was a very random and also hilarious answer! after that part of the interviews, all but one of them literally RAN away up the driveway. very awkward.

after they had all finished interviewing and left, julie, ali and i discussed who we thought were the best candidates. it was really overwhelming because they all clearly really wanted and needed the job, but very few actually seemed qualified. in the end, we narrowed down the list to two people we thought would be a good match with the project, spoke enough english to get by, and were enthusiastic about what they would be doing. we then talked to eshete and ambaye, and asked them who they thought would be the best. their list overlapped with one name on our list, setey, and so we decided to hire him! we were a little unsure because he seemed very cocky and self-assured in his interview, but as we have been working with him this week, he's actually turned out to be fabulous. curious, smart, friendly and has a great sense of humor! one of the funniest things he does is say "SHIT!" (in english) when he makes a small mistake - like misidentifying a gelada or walking too close to them. he then apologizes profusely for swearing. very cute. we have been working this week to train him, which is a challenge given the language barrier. with lots of hand gestures and drawings and occasional translational help from ambaye, it's working out well. he has already learned how to recognize about 30 adult geladas and 8 or so juveniles, and we're really looking forward to him being a part of the project! he will be working with the juveniles (helping me and a postdoc who will be arriving in december with our data collection) so i will get a chance to really get to know him and also an extra pair of eyes and hands working alongside me! it's wonderful.

in our non-work life, the main highlight has been sharing meals regularly with eshete and ambaye. they have cooked for us once (shiro - very delicious), we have cooked for them once (pizza - not such a big hit with them), and together we made doro wot (chicken stew). it's been really cool to get to know them better - to see their house and how they cook, to watch movies together, and to teach one another words in english and amharic. they are really coming out of their shells and we're starting to feel like their friends in addition to their employers! their english is getting good enough that they can tell jokes and can understand when we joke around with them. it's so much fun! it is so great to feel like a real part of this community, instead of just the white researchers that live down by the lookout.

work has been going really well. we have been collecting data six days a week for the last month, and have been getting a TON of great data. i've found all my research subjects at least once this month, and three of my units (the Cs, Vs and Ds) almost every day. once setey is trained, i'm thinking about adding in an additional unit, the Ms, which have about 10 kids. it's great to feel like i'm making such good progress!

this weekend, we are headed to bahir dar, a town by lake tana about 10 hours driving from here. we are going to buy food at a real grocery store and to mail hormone samples back to the states. we are also going to go to the market there, to a restaurant that has the best pizza in the country, to a floating bar on the lake, and to generally just relax. it will be our first time out of the mountains since we got here in early september - it will be fun to go to a real town and not work for a day or two! yay for mini-vacations! :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Further Great Times at the Lodge

Baby Cranberry
More babies!
Hanging with Isaac
Last night, we got invited to the Simien Lodge to spend the evening with the BBC film crew! It was such a fun evening. It started out with an invitation to come to their tech room and watch some of the footage they have been taking for their 3D movie. It took a while to get all the equipment up and running properly (the electricity kept cutting in and out), but once it did, AMAZING! They have some truly astonishing footage, and the 3D filming and glasses really make it feel like you are standing right there on the hillside with the monkeys. The movie is going to be SO cool! They are filming in 18 other locations in Africa, so I’m sure the footage they take elsewhere will be equally incredible. It was so special to get to see the raw film before it had been edited or compiled or anything. I really felt like I was behind the scenes and part of the production! The film crew was all so nice too. They invited us to dinner afterwards, and we got a chance to chat with them about the filming progress and the other shoots they have been on. It was quite a star-studded cast – the various people working up here at the moment have worked on Lord of the Rings, The Last Samurai, movies with Martin Scorsese, Human Planet, Life, Planet Earth, and all sorts of other things (including the California farmer commercials!). Some of the world’s most famous wildlife filmmakers were sitting there eating soup and bread with us! It was seriously a dream come true. They were very generous with their time and their stories, and it was very neat to hear about how they had all gotten into the field. The producer of the movie even told me that I was a really good public speaker – so gratifying coming from someone who has done so much! It’s been such an amazing experience working next to them in the field. They are so respectful of our data collection needs, and are always asking our advice about where to set up their equipment so that they can get the best shots. It will be amazing to see the film when it is all finished, and to be able to say “I was there! Right there out of the shot while they were filming it!” It will also be very cool to see my monkeys in 3D on the big screen. The movie isn’t due out until December 2013, so there will be quite a while waiting in gleeful anticipation…..

What else? Data collection has been coming along fairly smoothly. The first half of this week was awesome – I got at least one (and in many cases two) focal observations on all the individuals in four of my six units! I also collected quite a few fecal samples – always good! The other two units in my study have been MIA for the last week. Very frustrating – we do a lot of driving around trying to find them, but they seem to be hiding! Hopefully they will be back tomorrow or early next week. Today was particularly irritating, as we couldn’t find ANY of my monkeys! I’ve got six units, each with an average of seven kids and about the same number of adults. You would think that we could find SOME of those geladas, but no – not a single group was at any of the usual places (or even the unusual places!) today! Fingers crossed that tomorrow is more successful. It’s very frustrating to not be able to get any work done at all.

Since there were no monkeys to be found, I spent a few hours reading my book down at the lookout behind our house. It was amazingly clear today, and the view was exceptional! The combination of yellow flowers, green grass, and agricultural fields made for a very beautiful patchwork of colors down below our lookout. I could hear geladas fighting but didn’t see any from where I was sitting. It was nice to get to be outside relaxing while the weather was nice! Usually we spend that time working and arriving home just in time for the cold and cloudy afternoons. I might go out on Sunday to make up for not getting any data today – it will depend on how tomorrow goes, I guess! Hopefully some of my units come back to their normal haunts.

Aside from data collection and our fun times at the lodge, not too much is going on. We are all chugging along with work and play. We are headed down to Gondar and Bahir Dar in a couple of weeks to mail our hormone samples back to America, to celebrate Halloween with ourselves, and to generally relax for a few days. It should be really nice – a chance to use the internet and call home, in addition to just getting out of the mountains for a little while! Also good to have a bit of vacation.
Ali and me in our UC Davis WFCB (Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Bio) shirts

Two funny stories from our assistants. This morning, we asked Esheti and Ambaye when their birthdays were. Ambaye said "January 21st". Esheti just looked confused. So we tried to be very explicit and said "on what day of the year were you born?" He thinks about it for a moment and goes "Wednesday!" then a pause... then "1982" (which is 1990 our time). Eventually he decided he was born on a Wednesday in June, possibly the 12th, but he wasn't sure. very funny! Also when we were at the lodge last night, the two of them and our scout stayed with us. They were in the dorm room next to us, which had two bunk beds. The three of them went in there and then it was verrrry quiet. We went in to see if they were okay, and Esheti said "There is a problem! Only two beds." Apparently they had never seen a bunk bed before and didn't realize that you could sleep on the top bunk too! :) very funny. In the end, Ambaye slept on the top bunk and did very well - he didn't fall off during the night, which was a serious concern!

Hope all is well back in America and wherever else you are! If you feel like sending me a letter, I'd love to hear from any of you (and send pictures of what you're up to nowadays!)! Getting mail is one of the most exciting parts about our weekly town trip. I think airmail stamps are only 78 or 98 cents - and it would make me so happy! :) My address is:
Caitlin Barale c/o Shifarew Asrat
P.O. Box 18
Simien Mountains National Park
Debark, North Gondar

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Bethlehem and Tidesse and some tiny animals
So today, Tidesse (11) and Bethlehem (3) were over at our house to say hello and hang out for a bit. It's great fun having them over because they always like to do whatever we're doing. Today, for example, Ali had some coconut oil/paste out and was moisturizing her hands. Tidesse and Bethlehem were curious about it, so she let them use some. Tidesse understood what was going on, and rubbed it into her hands, legs and elbows. Bethlehem, on the other hand, just rubbed and rubbed and rubbed until her tiny hands were SUPER oily. Then she started rubbing the oil onto our arms like a little masseuse! Very cute. A little while later, Ali brought out a monkey puppet that she had brought with her from America. The reaction was unexpected - Tidesse RAN out the door and up the driveway screaming because she thought the monkey was real, and Bethlehem just stood there and laughed and laughed! Eventually we got Tidesse to come back to the house and showed her that the puppet wasn't real. Once she figured that out and learned how to control its arms and legs and mouth, the game was on. She wanted to take it up to show her mother, so off on an adventure we went! Her mother, Simay, had quite a few other ladies from the village over for coffee, and they all screamed when they saw the puppet! One even threw a can at it! Tidesse of course thought this was hilarious, and the noise brought the other kids over to Simay's. Every single one of them - boys and girls - saw the monkey, stopped in their tracks, and turned around and ran as fast as they could in the opposite direction!  Tidesse, being the kind older sister she is, started chasing them with the puppet and making monkey noises. Eventually one of the boys got brave enough to come a little closer and then quickly reach out and try to touch it. When he felt the plush fur, he snatched his hand back and ran away again! Eventually all but one of the boys figured out that it wasn't real and then they all wanted a turn to play with it. It was quite a sight seeing everyone from tiny children up to adults and grandparents freak out about a puppet! I can understand though - if you've never seen a puppet before and don't know how it works, it would be pretty scary! It was very funny though.

After the puppet incident, we were invited to stay for coffee at Simay's, then went for tea at another lady's house.  From there, we moved to a nearby field where the grownups, Julie and Ali played soccer and I did gymnastics with the littler kids. They know cartwheels, handstands and somersaults pretty well, and everyone was VERY impressed with my one-handed cartwheel and my ability to walk on my hands. It was really fun to watch them try to imitate me! They were all really excited to see what I could do, and to show me their tricks. We all had a great time. It's so much fun being a part of this community - they really take care of us and treat us like family. We are always included in their games and social activities, and receive more invitations for tea, coffee, beer and supper than we know what to do with! They don't like our food all that much (except the kids when it's sweets like banana bread or cookies) so it's hard to reciprocate, but everyone seems to have a good time. So nice to be part of the group instead of isolated because we are foreigners! They appreciate our feeble attempts at Amharic, are always curious about what we're doing, and seem to honestly enjoy spending time with us. It's wonderful!

That's it for today. We've got a lot of house work to do - inventorying hormone supplies, entering data, updating the demography, etc etc - and have spent the majority of the day relaxing instead of working. oh well!