July 18, 2004

I'm sure you've gathered by now that we live in tents in the African bush - grassland, bushes, and woods as far as the eye can see. It's a long way from city noises and lights. And we don't have regular electricity and running water near our camp. In fact, you might wonder how we're able to write these dispatches to you if we don't have electricity. We have to be a little creative and resourceful, and often very patient, in order to live here.

We do have one advantage as far as electricity is concerned. We are very close to the equator, so the sun is stronger throughout the year than in the higher latitudes of either the northern or southern hemispheres. It's an ideal place for using solar power! That is, we use the sun's energy to make electricity. Solar panels like the ones we use, seen in the photograph, capture the sun's energy and send it to a converter, which charges a couple of car batteries. We draw power from the batteries to run our laptop computers, a printer, and to recharge the batteries used in our cameras and surveying transit. Sometimes we even set up a small stereo system and play music. Not too bad here out in the rough! (I do have to remember, though, to upgrade our solar system next year. With all of us wanting to use our computers, on a cloudy day we can drain our car batteries in a couple hours.)

The solar cells.       The power system converter

As for water and plumbing - it takes a bit of effort to make sure our basic needs are fulfilled. One of our drivers, Muthengi Kioko, goes twice a day to the village of Oltepesi, about a ten-minute drive from our camp. Near the village there's a deep bore hole drilled below the ground, and a pump in the bore hole brings up fresh water. (The local people refer to the village as "Tinga", a Swahili word for "vibrate" - in fact, it's a word that sounds a lot like the noisy pump: tinga-tinga-tinga!) Muthengi fills six large water drums for our camp and two for our other camp (with the geology students) over at the Site Museum. He also fills as many jerry cans of water for the local Maasai, as we try to help our neighbors with their water needs. We use a lot of water every day for drinking, cooking, and washing - but hauling water drums in a Landrover does the job quite well.

OK, so water is available, but plumbing, well, that's another matter. We don't have any. At the very beginning of the field season, the crew digs several deep holes in the ground here at the top of camp cliff (in an area where there aren't any archeological remains, thank goodness!). They cover the holes with wood, leaving a small opening, and then surround the whole area with burlap cloth, to give privacy. This hole becomes our toilet, or "choo" in Swahili. One thing's for sure, the choo's got the best view of the sky of any toilet I know!

Our vehicles - two very old Landrovers, a Toyota Landcruiser, an old Datsun pickup truck, and two small rented vehicles - are some of the most important resources we have in the bush. They taxi our excavation crew and research team back and forth from the sites. The vehicles are also the way we get water and supplies. It takes a lot of work and know-how to keep them running, since the old ones break down every so often from the wear and tear and dust. One evening recently, both Landrovers, including our water vehicle, were broken down - one here in camp (the starter motor needed repair) and the other in the bush near the water pump (an oil pipe had broken, so our mechanic explained). We have a mechanic, Sina Muteti, and he does a marvelous and creative job of finding ways to mend our vehicles. He keeps us going as long as the vehicles are running. Due to his skill, our vehicles were doing their usual work by the next morning. And all's well here at Kampi Safi.