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 Manhe├že, 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!