For the other half of the weekdays we weren't exploring, we worked at the Malapa Fossil Site. This was the site which originally brought Lee Berger to fame, when his son Matthew found a hominid clavicle back in September of 2008.
When we first arrived at the site, we were given a brief tour of the building's architecture. I could try and explain it all here, but I am sure I would not do the building justice. Just know that it includes features ranging from movable legs, to BMW experimentally produced sheet metal which was donated to create the thatched appearance of the roof (BMW wanted to see how the material would hold up under no-maintenance, high environmental stress conditions). For a detailed description of the building, I would recommend the one found on the South African magazine, Visi's write up.
The main tasks at the site were split into three main parts: excavation, sorting, and documenting. A typical work day would last about 5 hours.
1. Excavation consisted of using a small brush and trowel to clear the dirt in the square meter grid sections. This was at times a painstaking process, but also one of the most fun in my opinion. If any of you have done those kits for children with the toys hidden inside, where one has to brush away the sand until something is revealed, you will have a sense for what this was like.
Perhaps the most exciting story from my time in South Africa comes from the Safari Game Drive we took on the weekend.
Our Safari was a self-guided tour through Pilanesberg National Park, one of the largest and most well respected nature reserves in South Africa. Although Kruger National Park is larger, our guide from the University of the Witwatersrand, Mathabella, argued that since Pilanesberg has a larger ratio of animals to land area, it is actually the best nature reserve in the country.
In any case, we were in for a long day of driving around. We saw all the essentials: hippos, giraffe, rhinos, lions, kudu, impala, guinea fowl, warthogs, wildebeest, meerkats and baboons. But right as we decided to make our way to the park’s central visitors center for some lunch, we encountered some elephants. The road was in a U shape, with the bottom of the U being a bridge over a small stream. Immediately after crossing the stream we had to wait in line for the elephants to cross the road. When we joined the line, there were about four or five cars in front of us, but soon, there were fifteen or twenty in total. Out of the blue, a few teenage elephants turned and started sauntering towards the car at the front of the line. Elephants often only fake charge at cars, but you have to back up irregardless, as you wouldn’t know for sure if it was a fake charge until it was too late. So there we were, backing up away from the elephant, at least until our guide backed us into a bush!
Three or four cars passed us as we sat there trying to maneuver our Ford Ranger Truck out of the shrubs and onto the road. Finally, we were on our way again; this time, with only one car in between us and the elephant. Over the course of the whole ordeal most of the elephants were peaceful, with only a few coming at us at different stages.
A week or so ago I got back from South Africa after successfully completing the NESA World Explorers Paleoanthropology Expedition. It was a great experience and I learned more about South African culture and the Rising Star Cave System and Malapa Excavation Site than I ever could have imagined.
Perhaps the most common question I received regarding the expedition was "What was a typical day like?" This post, and a second one to come, will address that by describing a day at each of the excavation sites we visited.
The first part of the expedition involved what the researchers referred to as caving and exploration. This essentially involved driving the buggy into the South African bush, hiking off trail, looking for undiscovered caves or revisiting older caves with outdated GPS information. The day outlined in this post was a bit more exciting than the other two days since an extremely large number of hominid (a primate of a family ( Hominidae ) that includes humans and their fossil ancestors and also (in recent systems) at least some of the great apes) fossils were discovered, and continue to be discovered, in the Rising Star Cave System, but all of the days were jam packed with intellectual stimulation.
So, on to the day:
One week ago the G20 Summit took place in Hamburg. This was quite a coincidence for me, as it happened to overlap with my visit, which means that I was now present for two G20 conferences, as the same conference took place in Pittsburgh back in 2009. However, both the reactions to and the direct impact on my own life differed between the two summits.
First, some facts about the 2009 Summit in Pittsburgh. There were about 4,000 police in the area, and according to police accounts, about 4,500 people participated in protests, with 190 people being arrested. There was about $50,000 worth of damage to local businesses. (The Wikipedia article explains the conference in more detail than I will go into here, but there were a handful of protests from various groups throughout the city)
Personally, the conference in Pittsburgh didn't affect me at all. The only thing I remember about it was my dad saying we needed to leave a few minutes earlier for school in case there was more traffic due to the conference. As a point of reference, I live about a 35 minute drive outside of the city center in Pittsburgh, and a 20 minute drive outside of the city center in Hamburg.
Now, some facts about the 2017 Summit. There were more than 15,000 police deployed in Hamburg from across the entire country, with 45 water cannons available. The estimated amount of protestors was 100,000 people from all over the world, with 186 arrested, and an additional 225 more taken into temporary custody. One peaceful protest even included an estimated 76,000 people! Even if some of these estimates are drastically off the mark, the difference in scale between the protests in Hamburg and in Pittsburgh remains significant.
This past winter, my school in Germany asked me to write an article about Trump for their school paper. The article was originally in German, but I just finished translating it and wanted to share it at the same time as the G20 Summit begins in Hamburg, and as the second edition of the school newspaper is about to be released:
Donald John Trump is a US American businessman, politician, and the designated 45th president of the United States. At least, thats how his Wikipedia article starts. As of now (I wrote this article in November, before he took office) people have yet to clearly define who Trump really is. 16 years ago, Trump was actually a Democrat based on his political views. He was for the right to choose to have an abortion, wanted more gun laws, and even said that he was for global health care. But the man who donated money to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation is now long gone. Who, or perhaps better, what now represents the perhaps most important leader in the democratic world is still an enigma. In the next four years, the world willl see what type of person Donald J. Trump really is, or really wants to be.
First, a short introduction about Donald Trump. Wikipedia says, "Donald Trump is the fourth of five kids from the New York Real Estate Agent Frederick Trump Jr. (1905-1999) and the Scottish fisherman's daughter Mary Anne MacLeod (1912-2000) from the village of Tong on the Hebridean Island Lewis and Harris. His father's parents Friedrich Trump and Elisabeth Christ came from Kallstadt in Rheinland-Pfalz (at the time a piece of the Kingdom of Bayern) and later immigrated to the US. Friedrich Trump was a second cousin of the Ketchup Company founder Henry John Heinz (who started his brand in my city, Pittsburgh), and whose grandmother Charlotta Louisa was born as a Trump. In an interview, Trump said he was proud of 'this German blood'. In 1987 he wrote in his autobiographical book, The Art of the Deal that he actually suspected his grandfather came from Karlstad in Sweden, with which he carried on a fictional tale of his father's from the time of the Second World War. There lies an example of the one truth about Trump. He always changes his mind. Another interesting tidbit of history about Trump is that his grandfather, Friedrich Trump originally was called Friedrich Drumpf. The name Drumpf sounds very strange in English, and it is suspected that was the reason for the name change. Perhaps if the family name had stayed Drumpf, he would not have had as much success as he has had.
Now onto Trump and his campaign. This theme was already discussed so many times that some things are no longer worth mentioning, since everyone knows about them. For example, some of the dumb phrases he has said, insults he has made towards women, and his jokes about disabled reporters. However, it's important to think about all points of view. Therefore, I will try to explain the point of view of many people at my old high school, before I share my opinion. A note: for these people, Trump's mistakes are simply something to be ignored. There are, of course, a small percentage of people who vote for Trump who really are white supremacists or Klu Klux Klan members, or sexists, but these are by far the minority (at least in my experience). The majority, simply ignore these parts of his campaign. And therein lies the genius of his campaign. Trump somehow managed to unite very different groups of people, and get them to ignore the parts of his campaign that don't apply to them, i.e. get the extremists to ignore the more moderate parts of his campaign, and the moderates to ignore the more extreme things that he says. For example, the moderates might say ''oh that's just nonsense that he's saying. I'm sure he is only saying those things to get attention and won't really do them''. Additionally, many people never thought that he would win, and voted for him because of that. Even if he had not have won, it's still a vote for different politics. For many people it is also that they simply can't vote for the Democrats because they find a woman's right to choose abortion so terrible or don't accept the facts about climate change or evolution. Thankfully, science doesn't depend on belief to remain true. Sadly, politics is not so lucky.
As many of my friends go off to college, the military, or wherever else their life may take them, I wanted to take a moment to share with them a bit of advice, or rather my feelings on the bittersweet moment that is saying goodbye to someone. Of course, no post would be complete without referencing something German, and I'd like to point out that the German word for goodbye is aufwiedersehen, which roughly translates to "until we see each other again". I think this is a better way of looking at goodbyes. In today's digital age, it is becoming increasingly easy to reconnect with old friends, be it through facebook, skype, or just sending an email or text asking how they have been doing.
Although goodbyes are often difficult, they also signal the beginning of something new, a chance to reinvent oneself and take advantage of a plethora of exciting opportunities. One blogger I follow captures the essence of this quite nicely in an email he recently sent out, and I'd like to share it all with you.
Here are some of Colin Wright's thoughts on goodbyes:
"Something I've learned about myself over the years is that I'm not great at goodbyes.
This week, I have a challenge regarding discomfort. But first, a bit on the subject.
Discomfort is prevalent in all aspects of life, in varying amounts. Whether the intense pain of breaking a bone or the mild annoyance of a mosquito bite, we all face unpleasant things over the course of life. But what if we could somehow learn to deal with the unpleasantness, and learn to embrace it instead of running away from it? If you improved your ability to handle mild distress, wouldn't life be more enjoyable?
This skill is crucial for creating new habits such as writing or exercising on a daily basis. While these activities are definitely rewarding, oftentimes they require going through some discomfort to complete the work. In today's day and age, we can run from this unpleasantness to easier tasks like checking social media, checking email, or watching tv. But, the things that truly matter in our life, and have the power to positively impact our lives, or the lives of those around us are rarely comfortable. Therefore, it is important to learn how to work through discomfort.
So, back to the challenge. In order to learn how to deal with discomfort, you don't need to run an ultramarathon or write a best selling novel. Instead, we can use simple tasks to train the skill, and then apply it to things that matter. The task I created is to brush your teeth every day with your non-dominant hand (left hand if you're right-handed, right hand if you're left handed). Starting next Thursday, June 1 I will be brushing my teeth every day for a month with my left hand, and I challenge you to do the same. Although brushing your teeth with a different hand may seem trivial, it is a small task that most people already do twice a day. Therefore, you don't need to carve out any extra time in your daily routine, just switch hands and you're ready to go.