21 December 2008

Scams in Science

My adviser forwarded me an interesting email the other day. It seems someone was interested in my dissertation research. All NSF grants are posted online with their abstracts as part of the US Freedom of Information Act. Since grantees receive taxpayer funding, we are required by law to post information about our research. No biggie. (my award) At any rate, someone at a European publishing company found my grant application and contacted my adviser. They contacted him because he is listed as the lead principal investigator – that’s how it works for doctoral dissertation improvement grants.

Here are some of the sections from that email (real names have been removed and all that):

We are producing a special report at the end of February with a focus Social, behavioural and economic science from a small number of National Science Foundation funded projects; promoting these projects to a European audience, we would like you to work with us to create a professional dissemination article.

Ultimately we are aiming to work with a small number of NSF projects to enable:

  • Commercialisation/exploitation exposure to a highly targeted audience in Europe
  • Wide spread dissemination of the results of the NSF project to European peers
  • Establishment of research partnerships and knowledge exchange
  • Contact building for participation in FP7 (European Commission’s €50 Billion Euro R&D funding program launched last year)
Our goal of widespread exposure and dissemination for selected NSF projects, academic institutions, nationally funded projects and commercial research units is achieved via a high profile communications drive, targeting approximately 39,000 key decision makers across both the private & public sectors throughout Europe. Each of the projects and institutions involved will be working closely with us to produce high quality professional dissemination material.

Once we allocate your position within the report I will assign to you a dedicated Editorial Manager and Editorial team from ZZZ Publishers. But a general guideline of material to be developed would be based around the following;
  • Case Study
  • Project Profile
  • White Paper
  • Interview with leading Project member
  • Pre-Defined article which you may have produced previously
All material developed will be agreed upon and approved by you, before publication. We would also request it is approved by your project officer. ZZZ Publishers are an independent company; this means the content of the report is completely unbiased and independent.

Sounds pretty good, right? The email goes on with some testimonials, lists distribution across Europe (numbers), and describes a work plan to get out the slick, color publications that will wind up collecting dust on some politician’s coffee table or be used to fill in space in an overfull landfill. Here’s the fine print at the very end of the email:

The cost for each of the projects involved in this report is fixed at only $ 3,800 USD

Someone forgot to tell this publishing company, that anthropologists and definitely PhD candidates in anthropology, have zero funding to publish their own work and that unless it is some sort of report for the government or funding agency peer-review is expected (well, unless it is National Geographic or something, but I think they must have some sort of review system). This is why we publish in academic journals (large readership) and write book proposals that go through an approval process based in part on previous work validity. I mean, my research could be absolute shit (I believe it isn’t) and this chap is offering to publish it without peer review. Huh? If I wanted that, I’d set up a website or a blog and…

Finally, the last thing that sort of niggles at the back of my brain is why? Why was my project picked? I took a thorough look at the publisher and their in-house magazine. They publish a lot of engineering and profit-producing scientific research. The magazine target audience is not only politicians but corporations. Hmmm…. wild plant harvest, conservation, Africa… I know that the business of companies is to make money and that the communities where I work are extremely poor, but I would really hate to see poor folk be made poorer. And I don’t think I’m paranoid as there have been cases where companies went in, bought up rights to wild plant materials, and then the community could no longer access the plants they have depended on for centuries. It is called biopiracy, and I have no desire to be involved with it.

For my own research I needed to know what species are useful in order to determine if community habitats are more biodiverse than similar reserve habitats because people are manipulating the landscape in order to have useful plants nearby. I was interested in whether a species was useful for construction, food, firewood, medicine, etc., but not how to prepare them for consumption. My recording of any extra information people volunteered was solely for the community. That was the research agreement that I made with the chief and induna (council of tribal elders). If the community wants to take the information I have recorded for them and do something more with it, that is their business. But seriously, none of the species people told me about were new to the literature. Botanists in southern Africa, particularly SANBI, have done a very good job of collecting data on plants used in magic, medicine, food, fuel, construction, alcohol, etc.

Am I being cynical? Is there some sort of results publishing that I don't know about? I hope that the intent was more innocent. I emailed the guy back to let him know I had no money, and he backed off quickly. Then I emailed my adviser. He replied that it looked like a 419 scam to him, but he left the decision up to me what to do with the guy. I guess I’m still the padawan.

If you're interested in the name of the company and magazine, I'm more than happy to send it along if you drop me a line.

18 December 2008


Every year my mom frantically cleans the house before 1 January so that she can start fresh in the new year. Today I cleaned up my lab space - reordered my books, sorted through files, and made a big to do list for the coming year. It looks like I will be in graduate school one more year to complete the writing process. And like my mom, I want to start fresh in 2009.

It isn't like I haven't been working, but getting back into the swing of things after leaving the field has been difficult. I still have days when life in the U.S. is surreal - shopping at the grocery store with all that choice is mind-boggling knowing how my friends back in Madjadjane and Gala fare. There is the personal stuff like my divorce and adjusting to social life as a single person. And lastly, there is the writing. Sitting in front of a computer screen day after day after day after spending 16 months in the field. I did sit in front of a computer screen sometimes in Mozambique, but the experience was interspersed with interviews, plant data collection, exploring and having fun with new friends.

Nothing in graduate school prepares one for dissertating. Procrastination is my biggest enemy. It is very easy to look for just one more article to support an argument, check my email, read the online news, or go here and find a more interesting real time argument in cyberspace.

A good friend of mine suggested that I keep up with the blogging and add to the dissertating discussion. It would also let him know that the zombies haven't eaten my brains for breakfast. And I could at least say I was sort of working on my dissertation, right?

08 July 2008

Nuke it from orbit

Yesterday was not fun. All weekend my computer had been running slow, freezing up, and generally acting sick. I backed up all my files and sent up the bat signal to ask for some help from the Geek Squad. Nothing is stranger than seeing your cursor move around and open up files when you aren't touching the keyboard.

Over the course of 4 hours, 3 different agents discovered a virus, a strange file in my registry, some weird files labeled in Chinese, and the fact that I was missing important updates for Vista. The final agent suggested that I reboot the whole system from factory specs. Ouch! Then he told me that he does this every six months to prevent the kind of stuff that was affecting my computer. I mean even Firefox 3.0 wasn't working properly. I guess that should teach me not to visit skeevy websites.

I then spent the next 3 hours wiping my laptop back to the stone age, I mean factory specs, and downloading all the freeware that I had lost. I must have restarted my laptop more than 20 times over the course of the day. The Geek Squad did a good job wiping out the weird stuff, I just wish I hadn't had to wipe the slate clean.

06 July 2008

Running on the 4th

As a kid, I loved the 4th of July. For me, it was about waving our nation's flag as a soldiers (both veterans and currently enlisted) and marching bands paraded by, getting together with neighbors and family for picnics with watermelon seed-spitting contests and grilled hot dogs, and finally getting to stay up late to watch the fireworks. Later, I got to march in the parades as part of a high school band and play taps at the Military cemetery. But somewhere along the way I lost my joy in Independence Day. It didn't seem so simple once I was old enough to figure out that the government didn't always work the way we were taught in school - the way Constitution said it should.

Last year I didn't celebrate Independence Day at all. The US Embassy of Mozambique did have a celebration and invited all Americans, but I was in the field working.

This year I got an opportunity, completely out of the blue, to run in the 39th annual Peachtree 10K road race in Atlanta, GA. Thanks for the number Stephanie! It doesn't sound quite patriotic, but there is a certain amount of red, white, and blue fever attached. Some run in red, white, and blue, some spectate in those colors. The national anthem was sung at the start. A group of soldiers ran the Peachtree in Iraq as we ran the streets of Atlanta. A couple of thousand people volunteered to help the race run smoothly, 55,000 people ran 6.2 miles/10K, and thousands more watched and cheered us on. A mega-parade if you will.

Waiting for the MARTA at 5am to take us to the start

55,000 people is a whole lot of runners. I thought I'd post a mini-photo essay on what it was like to run the Peachtree. I apologize in advance for some blurriness in the photos. I took them on the run.
Last minute pee break.

Lining up to start

At the start

The first mile - check out the billboard

A water station

Getting blessed and cooling off

Cardiac Hill - a slow, long uphill from mile 3 to almost mile 4

Just married

Some of the many spectators. Not all dress so silly. Lots of live bands too!

A final cool-off near mile 5.5

Taking the MARTA home all hot, sweaty and stinky

There's no finish line pictures. At that point I was exhausted after waking up at 3am to drive to Atlanta and run at 8:15am. I was also starving. With the picture taking and having fun my 6 miles took 50 minutes, but I did not walk any of it.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution, one of the sponsors has more pictures online - including some really cool bird's eye view shots of thousands of runners at the start.

02 July 2008


June has passed all too quickly and now I wonder where the time went. I certainly wasn't moping around, although I did feel tired of just being on occasion.

I got back into the swing of running every day. This Friday I am running the Peachtree 10K. A footrace in Atlanta that attracts over 65,000 runners and just as many if not more spectators. I'm thinking of running with a camera. I've never done that, but it could be fun to take snaps of the crowds and the runners along the route.

I also started a kickboxing class. It is something I have always wanted to try. This morning, I'm in a little pain. I pulled/strained my right tricep doing hooks and upper cuts. My teacher, Ms. Carter, says it was probably because I was trying to punch too hard. Punching a bag is excellent therapy for all sorts of emotional upset. It felt worse last night.

I now have about a week to get my paper on fire ethnoecology under control so that I can present it at the Conservation Biology meetings. Ugh. Text analysis is painful.

29 May 2008

More good people

I spoke to my father in-law on Sunday. I was the one who had to inform him that he would soon be my ex-father in-law (pretty shitty situation). He told me that he felt bad about the situation and would always consider me part of his family. That was a good thing to hear. Mike is a terrific person, a little gruff and rough around the edges, but I find that some of the best people are. Enough of that though. It's not what I wanted to blog about today.

Mike and I got talking about my blog and he mentioned that I should consider creating a website for the people of Madjadjane and Gala. To show where they are, what their life is like, that sort of thing. I think it's a great idea. It would also be a great opportunity to advertise the two ecotourism lodges that they run in those communities.

First graders receive perfect attendance certificates at Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Primary School in Colonia San Antonio.

The reason this came up is that Mike mentioned he is webmaster for a group called Niños de la Calle. It is a charitable group that helps children living in Colonia San Antonio in Nuevo Progresso, Mexico. The website he created for the group also shows what life is like for children in this community.

Mike works at San Antonio Academy in San Antonio, Texas. Children at the school gather together school supplies, clothes, toys, money, etc. to send to their counterparts across the border. Niños de la Calle also accepts funds and supplies from outsiders to help support children in the colonia community. One of their big projects is sending children in this impoverished community to school. It costs $75 to send one child to school for a year - uniform and school fees. I know from my own experience in Mozambique that families in places like Madjadjane, Gala, and Colonia San Antonio will make huge sacrifices to send their children to school. And the children want to go - unlike many kids in the US where school is free.

28 May 2008

Adventures in divorce

My husband and I are divorcing after almost 10 years of marriage and 14 years together.

This my excuse for not posting in the last week. I hope that things get better.

15 May 2008

Photo Essay on Madjadjane and Gala

I opened my email this morning and saw that my photo essay about landscape and livelihood was published online late yesterday afternoon. This is a link to the pdf.

Some of the photos will look familiar to blog readers, but the essay provides an outline to how Mazingiri Ronga live in the Maputaland landscape.

14 May 2008

Mozambican Music

I'm in a bit of a mood today and thought I would post some music/video from Mozambique. Enjoy!

Wazimbo - Nwahulwana (Night Bird)

Wazimbo plays Marrabenta, and this is a classic example of that type of music. During colonial times the music was often played on homemade instruments, sung in Ronga or Changaan, and spoke of social issues or love. Needless to say, the Portuguese government didn't always appreciate the sentiments expressed. Nwahulwana, or night bird, is a metaphor for a woman who flits from bar to bar after dark.

Azagaia - A Marcha

Azagaia is the Portuguese spelling for assegai - a type of light spear tipped with iron and used by traditional warriors in southern Africa. Much of Azagaia's music deals with political issues, unlike a lot of the rap/hip hop heard on US radio stations (Or maybe it's just that I live in Georgia and they only play Dirty Souf on the airwaves). This song is about political corruption, revolution, and how it affects the lives of the people.

Azagaia - Povo no Poder (People in Power)

Azagaia was called before Maputo's prosecutors to explain the lyrics in "Povo no Poder," which was written in response to the violence of the 5 February riots (lyrics on the click through). People in Maputo struck to protest a 50% rise in public transport fares. Police fired into the crowd killing at least 3 and injuring 30. Amnesty International cited this incident in a report on Mozambique this April denouncing police abuse.

Massukos - Niassa

Massukos sings of the hardships of living in their home province of Niassa and in Mozambique. They also use their music to spread messages like "more condoms, less partners." The lead singer, Feliciano dos Santos won the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize on behalf of his NGO which seeks to improve water quality, sanitation, and waste management and raise awareness of HIV in rural villages. I think it is really cool that one of this year's prizes went to a Mozambican musician.

I didn't set out to post such political music. It must be the anthropologist in me that seeks out social/cultural commentary in art. It just helps that it is good music.

13 May 2008

The Monster

I'm back stateside. Today is day 10. My friends and acquaintances keep asking about culture shock - or The Monster, as my friend Jessica calls it. I can't say that I've really felt The Monster's presence. I've had a couple of glimpses - homes don't have fences with razor wire on top, cops don't carry AK-47s, I can eat tofu - but nothing that has made me feel odd or uncomfortable.

I miss Mozambique and my friends back in Madjadjane, Gala, Maputo, and Limpopo NP. I miss my friends in South Africa too. I miss the warm temperatures, the friendliness of people, the smells, the noise, the non-plastic feel of life... I have trouble sleeping through the night. Maybe The Monster's name is Saudade. Por que tenho saudade para Moçambique.

In the coming months, I'll be working on my dissertation and finishing up graduate school. I still have plenty of photos and stories from Mozambique that I will post from time to time, however, for practical purposes this blog will become more of an anthropologist's adventures in her own culture and environment wherever that may be. I hope that you will continue reading.

26 April 2008

Regular folk can make a difference


Anthroplogist Margaret Mead once said "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." And in the past couple of weeks, southern Africa is experiencing the phenomena.

A bunch of my friends and family have been asking about Zimbabwe. What is going on? Why doesn't South Africa do anything? That sort of thing. I can't give good answers. I'm not South African and I don't live in Zimbabwe, but the papers here and the BBC give better coverage than the US media.

It is four weeks since the election and still no "official" word on who is president. I doubt that there will ever be official word, since Mugabe is in charge and doesn't want to give up his power. In the meantime, vote recounts continue for the parliamentary elections. Here, Zanu-PF's opposition, MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), is gaining ground and keeping it. Zimbabweans have resoundingly had enough. One can only hope that the current government takes heed before there is even more of a bloodbath.

BBC Africa

China has also seen fit to involve itself by selling arms to the Zanu-PF government. That's a terrific sign. So the Chinese tanker ship landed in Durban. The South African government gave permission for a legal unloading of arms and ammunition. Then, the South African people had their say. Union dock workers refused to handle the cargo, a judge ruled that it would be illegal to transit the arms through the country and thousands of regular citizens showed up to protest and block roads to prevent transit. That's what regular people can do. Good on them. Maybe their action can embarrass their government into doing something.

Now Angola has let the Chinese ship dock. However, it will not be allowed to unload its cargo of weapons. The Zambian president has called on other African countries to not allow this ship to dock and unload its deadly cargo.

Yesterday, 400 people were arrested in Harare by riot police as they were taking refuge from violence in MDC offices. The name Operation Mavhoterapapi (Who did you vote for?) says it all.

For further reading:

Civil Society's Triumph on Zimbabwe

Angola Allows Arms Ship to Dock
(note: they will not be allowed to unload arms)

Police Swoop on Injured MDC Supporters

Zimbabwe Opposition Retains Gains

All Africa News - Zimbabwe Page

07 April 2008

Good People

Where’d all the good people go?
I’ve been changing channels and I don’t see them on the tv shows.
Where’d all the good people go?
We’ve got heaps and heaps of what we sow.

- Jack Johnson, Good People
The United States doesn't exactly have the best of reputations in the world right now. I frequently find myself cringing when people bring up the war in Iraq, and sometimes even apologizing for the stupidity of my government (for various reasons). But I am always quick to point out that the people of the United States, it's citizens, are not the government. At least not anymore. I am really proud to say that good people do still exist in the United States and I wanted to devote a little space here to point out a couple.

A number of people read my blog and have sent enquiries about helping out the communities where I work. This blog is devoted to them.

First there is Kesshi. I don't know his real name, but I met him online at a news conglomeration site. We may not always see eye to eye, but he has a good heart. At Christmas, he dropped me an email to see if I needed a laptop. He was buying one of the "One Child, One Laptop" computers and the company was offering a deal. Buy one, get a second for reduced price sent anywhere in the world. It hasn't yet arrived, but when it does the computer will go to the primary school in Madjadjane. I wish I had a second one to give to the primary school in Gala, but maybe by the time I return for more research I will have another to donate.
Children of Escola Primaria de Madjadjane with Professor Adriano

The next group I would like to give a shout out to is the Stone Street Presbyterian Church of Watertown, NY. This is my parents' church. I gave a presentation to the church about my research and the communities where I work this past January. Many of the people in the church are farmers or retired farmers, and they were very interested in the farming done in southern Mozambique. The congregation regularly raises and donates money for famine and disaster relief, but this time they decided to donate some money to learning. They sent me money enough to buy notebooks, pencils, pens, maps, and other school supplies to give to both the primary schools in Gala and Madjadjane. I have already given the school directors the maps and some books which they were really happy to get. At Gala, the world map was at least 25 years old - the USSR was still shown as a country. Tomorrow I am off to buy some books and general classroom equipment.

As a side historical note, the Presbyterian Church (and other church groups) has always taken an interest in Mozambican education. Some of the revolutionary leaders that fought for Independence were educated in Presbyterian schools. The state education system prior to Independence offered education to black Mozambicans up to grade 3 and no classes were taught in local languages - unlike the church supported schools.
Class in Escola Primaria de Gala

Finally, I want to thank my parents. Both taught school for a combined (minimum) 70+ years and are now retired. However, they still are very concerned with education and learning and children. Education and learning has always been a priority in my family. It was always "When you go to university..." not "If you go to university...". Learning opens the doors to many opportunities and cannot be taken away from you. When they heard about the conditions of teachers and schools in the communities where I work AND that my field assistant was working so that he could pay to finish high school, they decided to send me some money to help out. Their donation will help with buying classroom books and equipment, repairing the teacher's house and school roof, and send my assistant on to finish his final year of high school. I already put money in the community bank for my assistant, Salema, to continue school for the next 3 years, but this last bit will help him attend the final year of school in Maputo. As for the teacher's house and school roof, both roofs leak and there are no windows, so hopefully they will be able to make some repairs. As a former teacher myself, I know how difficult it can be to teach if you aren't sleeping well or are living in poor conditions.

Good people do still exist, but many times they don't know where or how to help others. Many times their donations don't end up with those who need it most. The chief of Madjadjane spent over an hour explaining to me how monies donated to charity often end up lining the pockets of people in Maputo or the money is just used to help the poor in Maputo and never makes it out to the provinces. He told me that it is better when people donate directly and the brancos come and deliver the materials themselves - so no one is taking a cut. Despite all the running around I have done in the past couple of days, I am happy that I could facilitate the donations.

I want to end with one of my favorite quotes about learning and education. School is not free in Mozambique and many parents save up to send their children to school - all the while earning less than $1 USD per day. They want their children to have choices in the future.

You have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else, but you can't make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.
- Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes

06 April 2008

Confronting a Prejudice

I have finally finished all my interview work (for now). I return to Madjadjane on Wednesday to give a presentation on my research - purpose, preliminary results, and photos of the community.

Catharanthus roseus

This last week of interviews was really difficult. I am burnt out on interviews, much of the interview was devoted to saying good-bye (for now), and I was physically exhausted. Many people that I didn't interview, but passed on the road or passed by their homes, stopped me for a chat and said that they will really miss me. I will really miss them too.

Madjadjane, and Gala, are the type of communities that just don't seem to exist in the United States anymore. People make jokes about "it takes a village to raise a child" but this really happens. So does Ubunto, and knowing all your neighbors, and sharing what you have even if it isn't much, and pooling resources to get a bigger project accomplished.

One of my good friends, Sr. Mateus (who loves to talk) told me this week that he was glad I came and stayed, and hopes that I can return soon. But besides that, he told me that my questions about how people and culture and landscape are tied together opened many people's minds. He felt pride in where he came from and his community. That made me feel good - like I had accomplished something tangible and useful.

So what does this have to do with prejudice? During the interviews this past week I spent a significant amount of time asking about plant identification and use. Over the past 9 months I took photos of plants people mentioned during interviews and plants that caught my eye or were common in the community. A couple of the plants were very pretty flowers (photos in this blog). During the interview, people mentioned how beautiful these flowers were. They might not know the names, but they all said that people planted these flowers in their yards to make their homes beautiful.

I was surprised that people would plant flowers to make their homes beautiful. These flowers have no other utility for most people (specialists did mention that one species could be used as a medicine). I had assumed that residents didn't have the time or the space to plant anything around their home that had no utility as a food or a medicine. Or that they would even care about making their homes beautiful. They do talk about different trees being beautiful, but most trees around homes were already growing when the homes were built. Also, these trees usually provide fruits, medicines, or construction materials.

When I realized the depth of the assumption I had made, I felt horrible. Why wouldn't poor people/African farmers care about making their homes beautiful? Why wouldn't they see beauty in their surroundings? Why should brancos corner the market on landscaping?

I think that my prejudice stems from the fact that the landscaping in cities like Maputo, Pretoria, and other African cities I've visited is modeled on a Western ideal. The people I see landscaping are low level workers, usually black. I never thought that they might take an interest in the work other than that it was a job that paid the bills. I also think that some of my horror in the discovery comes from my own research and reactions to Westerners who describe agriculture in southern Mozambique as messy, wasteful, and inefficient. I always answer that multi-cropping milho (maize), squash, bean, and peanut helps keep soil fertility and conserves biodiversity. And all those "weeds" are medicines or wild foods.

The African landscape is different in many respects from an American or European landscape. I find the African landscape very beautiful, but at the African household scale I still carried some baggage. I'm glad that my mind was opened, and I was forced to rethink my point of view.

I would identify the plants in this blog, unfortunately I have already mailed home all my plant identification guides. I'll post the species if anyone is interested when I return to the States.

30 March 2008

Pretend your audience is nekkid

I have three presentations coming up in April and a fourth is scheduled for July. Two concern my Fulbright/NSF research in Mozambique for the past year - a preliminary summary of my results - and will be given at the US Public Affairs Office and Reserva Especial de Maputo (for reserve staff and the community). These will be the most stressful as I really feel uncomfortable giving preliminary results. Data analysis will be really rough. You would think that having taught high school, college, and given several presentations to colleagues, peers, and the Induna I would stop being nervous about this sort of thing. Ha!

Public speaking has gotten easier, but it will always be a struggle for me. I am at my most whacked-out nervous when I am presenting my own research. I think it is because I know where the flaws are, where I could have done better, where the gaping holes exist... I get nervous anticipating the aggressive questioning that could ensue. Most people will not be cruel or mean, but occasionally an audience has one person who just likes to make other people look bad. Being told that one's research is worthless and ideas stupid is probably every speaker's worst nightmare. And every time I step to the front of the room I confront it head on.

At least, I don't feel the need to puke before presentations anymore. Now I just get sweaty palms and a build up of nervous energy. After the first couple of minutes I'm usually fine and if the presentation is short enough, I can even get through the Q & A without problems.

toothpaste for dinner

At least one of my presentations next month will be a tag-team effort with my friend Jessica. She is an interdisciplinary doctoral student working in Mozambique's Limpopo National Park on a project looking at the effects of community relocation. From the program schedule, it looks like we will be the only social scientists at the Kruger Science Meetings. It will be interesting.

A New Look at the Landscape Consequences of Population Resettlement from Protected Areas

Many conservationists promote relocation of residents of protected areas to foster the conservation of biodiversity. Historical and archaeological evidence shows that what we consider to be savanna wilderness has been shaped in part by human activities over time. Using a landscape approach, we question the principles behind relocation of people to improve conservation efforts, using examples from Kruger NP, Reserva Especial de Maputo (REM), and Limpopo NP. Following the Yellowstone Park model, South Africa relocated permanent settlements when creating protected areas, whereas people continue to inhabit all of Mozambique’s protected areas. In the absence of historical human disturbance, the Kruger experience demonstrates that the maintenance of a savanna landscape requires careful conservation management planning. In contrast, residents around REM maintain certain landscape functions and features in pursuit of livelihood activities using tools such as fire. These examples suggest that what protected area managers see as conservation problems could in fact contain opportunities for landscape management. Today, there is increasing pressure to relocate Mozambicans living in parks and reserves, including current resettlement efforts in the Limpopo NP. Without romanticizing an ecologically noble savage, we examine the difficulties of people living in protected areas, the role of human activity on the savanna, and potential landscape management consequences of relocation in the Limpopo NP.

Lastly, I will be presenting at the Society for Conservation Biology meetings again in Chattanooga, TN in July. I'll have a bit more time to get a full analysis of my data and hopefully a strong paper draft before the meetings.

Burning the savanna: fire ethnoecology on coastal savanna in Southern Mozambique

Landscape managers in southern Africa use fire as a tool to maintain and conserve savanna. Many of these prescribed burn regimes are based on modeling using historic information and onsite experimentation. The long history of anthropogenic fire disturbance in southern Africa suggests that indigenous ecological knowledge could provide further insight into location-specific fire ecology and disturbance cycles. This study investigates the ethnoecology of fire and burn practices in two Ronga communities in southeastern Mozambique. Local knowledge of fire ecology and disturbance cycles, techniques for controlled burns, reasons for burning, and community fire policies were explored through oral histories, conversations with livelihood activity specialists, and targeted interviews about fire. Small, regular controlled burns, used to clear agricultural fields and improve animal forage, produce a patchy mosaic of grass and wooded habitat across the coastal savanna landscape. Oral histories indicate that fire was also used in the past for hunting. Prescribed burn regimes under development in South Africa for the southern end of this region parallel traditional burn practices used just over the border in Mozambique.

If anyone has any comments or questions or suggestions about either abstract I'd love to hear from you.

29 March 2008


I learned this Friday that I have a reputation. My empregada, Dona Fatima, told me that her daughter was visiting Ponto do Ouro in the last month and mentioned that her mom in Maputo worked for a woman anthropologist that worked in Matutuine District. Immediately, people asked "Doctora Jenny?" These were people from both sides of the Mozambican-South African (KwaZulu-Natal) border.

It weirds me out a bit that people I've never met or spoken to, living many kilometers away from Madjadjane and Gala know who I am. I suppose I stand out a bit. There aren't too many white people living out in rural Mozambique, walking everywhere, asking about culture and tradition and history and plants, making terrible attempts at learning Mazingiri Ronga, measuring trees and counting plants, asking men and women and children about their opinions about agricultura to xilate... And everyone is related, so there is a lot of news exchange between villages in the Maputaland region... Imagining the situations where I might come up in conversation is a fun exercise in and of itself.

At the same time, I know that while people probably tell stories about the silly and crazy things I've done out of ignorance, I haven't done terrible things to warrant warnings about me. So I am happy that people know who I am. It makes my work easier. People are more open about their activities. For example, in the past month a number of local hunters have spoken with me about their hunting, what they've caught, and where. This is not something that I would have been able to do a year ago.

I still am curious what my reputation is though. I'll probably never find out. Salema, my assistant, tells me that people like me. That will have to be enough.

Food Fight: A creative take on history

I love watching videos and really like history, so this was a pleasant surprise. Some people are very creative and seem to have a lot of time on their hands, but it is quite cleverly done.

Food Fight An abridged history of American-centric warfare, from WWII to present day, told through the foods of the countries.

The Vietnam War

28 March 2008

Teleporting & Viruses

This Wednesday I took a trip to Nelspruit to mail off 2 boxes of books. As I stood in line at Ressano Garcia border crossing on the return it really hit me. I have only one month left here in Mozambique. People have been asking me about leaving now for the past couple of months, but until I got that stamp it really didn't register that this was the last time I would be crossing into Mozambique at this border. I will be going to Kruger for a conference later in April, but I will cross the border in the park.

I will miss Mozambique. To tell you the truth, the only parts about the US that I have missed are my family and friends, and my washing machine. I will miss my friends here in Mozambique. No, I should say extended family. The communities of Madjadjane and Gala accepted me, taught me about their history, culture, and life with patience and generosity, helped me when I needed it, warned me to be extra careful in South Africa, were concerned when I was sick, shared what little they had, offered to build me a house, and asked me not to leave. I sometimes wish I had a teleporting machine or a portable hole that would allow me to travel easily from one country to another.

They (whoever they are) say that you can never really leave Africa once you have lived here. That it is a virus that infects your blood with longing. There is more than a grain of truth to this I think.

22 March 2008

Out of my city office

Field assistant, Salema Manheçe, works with farmer-fisher Teresa as she gives an estimate of how much time she spends on livelihood activities.

As of yesterday at 10am, I literally have one more week of interviews in the field. All my work in Gala is finished for the present; the remaining specialist interviews, botanical quadrat work, and verification interviews for Gala are done. I just have verification interviews in Madjadjane left - checking the ethnoecological information I learned from everyone over the past 9 months. As Marcia, my mom in-law wrote me, your work will never finish. You just reach a stopping point for the time being. How true!

After my last post, I had several friends respond to my out of office email responder. They wrote to tell me that they really liked it. To admit to how much of a nerd I am, I actually did a little research before writing my responder. I read that a person should either make it short and sweet or very funny, but that you should politely let people know you will respond but it will take some time. Time is key, since after two weeks in the field I usually return to at least 200 messages - and that doesn't include the spam and garbage emails urging me to increase my penis size or visit websites with hot teens (yuck!).

So here is the body text of my "out of my city office" responder for posterity:

Hi. I am currently at my savanna office. As such, contact with the
industrialized world involves planes zipping overhead, land rovers
bumping along rutted dirt roads at breakneck speed or the occasional
call I can receive on my cell if I stand next to the Masala tree at
the store in the village.

Right at this very minute I am probably asking farmers nosy questions
about how many times they visit the local market and what types of
wild fruits they harvest. Hopefully, I am not dodging rogue elephants
in musth, hungry crocodiles, confused hippos, or small children
attempting to discover if I am truly a crazy, child-eating mulungo.

I hope that you are having a safe and happy day. Be assured that I
appreciate your inquiry and will respond as soon as is humanly
possible. Unless, of course, you have a jungle telegraph connection.

I am serious about that JT&T (Jungle Telegraph & Telephone) part at the end. You would not believe some of the news I get in the field and the manner in which it arrives. Nothing is worse than walking 7 clicks in 95F heat at 6AM, a pack full of computer equipment and dirty laundry, and finding out that there won't be a bus to take you to the capital at kilometer 10 because of a city transport worker strike, after 2 weeks in the bush. (Ok, it could be worse. The distance could be longer, the heat and humidity worse, bullets could be flying, elephants could charge out of the bush,...) This from a teacher walking the opposite direction to go to work in a thatch and cane building with a dirt floor and 50 students. Thank goodness apanhar uma boleia (hitch-hiking) is still possible in Mozambique.

**This last photo I took at Lagoa Ntiti in a fallow agricultural field on the lake floodplain. The little frog's body is only 2cm long. And people think only the Amazon and Central America have cute little colorful frogs!

12 February 2008

A Dia de Canhu

It has been quite some time since my last post. My fellow blogger Damian wrote to ask if I was okay and to keep posting, since he hadn't heard from me in a while. Also, he wanted to let me know he was using my "out of office" reply in his blog (9Feb08).

A LOT has happened, but I really wanted to post about last Friday's festival in Madjadjane. Very few traditional practices survived Portuguese colonialism, missionization, and independence. FRELIMO made a real effort to get rid of traditional practices in their effort to modernize. Both the canhu and rain ceremonies survived however.

Nkanhi (Sclerocarya birrea) is a sacred tree in Mozambique. I have seen many trees at homes with a small offering to the ancestors at the base of the trunk. It much of the greater world it is known as amarula. The fruit, canhu, is known as the "king of fruits" in this part of the world and contains 4x as much vitamin C as an orange.

Once a year, communities in southern Mozambique hold celebrations for this fruit and it's harvest. This year the induna of Madjadjane decided to hold their festival on 8 February 2008. When I asked if I could attend, everyone said "Of course, we were expecting you there!" They couldn't believe I asked.

Taste testing all the canhu juice to see which has fermented

The day begins early. People harvest fruits the few days before the festival. That morning women and children (sometimes) remove the thick peel from the fruit and make juice. My first photo shows the process at Lidia Rosa's house. She invited me over as I waited at the school to try out a glass of juice. Many people describe canhu having a flavor akin to pineapple, litchi, etc. But really, the flavor is unique and absolutely wonderful.

Sorting out what goes to the chief for tribute

Then each family separates out 15-20 liters of juice to bring to the community gathering. A lot of people use old fishing bouys as containers. But there are buckets, cooking oil containers, and even old car transmision fluid containers that get used (yeah, that last one was more than a bit sketchy).

Once everyone has arrived, some of the non-fermented juice (about 40%) will be separated out to be sent to the chief as tribute. This is a leftover from the old days when the chief would receive part of every harvest and hunt. The chief will take some to the sacred forest and give it to the ancestors as an offering of thanks. He and his family might drink some, and the rest is distributed out into the community. Knowing the current chief, the remainder will go to those who cannot harvest and make canhu on their own (elderly, orphaned kids, etc.). A group of women transport the canhu juice to the chief.

For those able bodied people who don't make canhu juice, the induna (community groups of elders) charges MTn20-30. This money goes into a community savings account to pay for stuff like the new school that is being built, electrification, etc. I asked about contributing since I did not bring juice, but was told I didn't have to pay because I was a special guest. I fortunately asked the right person, because even Sr. Mathe was a little offended that I asked.

Once it is sorted what goes to the chief, the party starts. Basically, people take a break from working in their fields to enjoy a harvest festival. Some, like small children and super-religious folk, drink canhu juice. Most consume the fermented canhu. No sugar or yeast is added to make this 6-8% alcoholic beverage. It tastes kind of like fruity soda pop with a kick. But it gives everyone a chance to relax and talk and take a break from the day to day grind.

People dance and sing. There is a special elephant dance in Madjadjane. I only got to see a little as the rain put a damper on the party. The rains came about 2/3s of the way through the party and everyone made a mad dash for the school.

We continued on under the zinc roof to the heavy patter of a downpour, but it wasn't the same. Once all the beer was gone people started to duck out and drift home. The rain was appreciated though since the region has been under a severe drought for a few years. Perhaps it was the ancestors way of saying thanks for the canhu beer.