Sunday, September 27, 2009

Evening call to prayer

This is the view from our roof during the evening call to prayer.
The whole thing lasts about 3 minutes, but it seems that I can only post about 19 seconds of video. Sorry for the abrupt ending.

Off Days

We're taking the whole weekend off for the first time since we arrived. After a pretty long series of weeks, having the time to sit around the apartment and get some domestic chores done (yesterday we cleaned the entire apartment) is a welcome change of pace.

The weather didn't exactly hold up like we hoped it would. Friday was the wettest day so far in the forest. A veritable deluge. This weekend's weather hasn't been fantastic either, but there was this wonderful rainbow outside my window yesterday afternoon during a break in between storms.

By the way, the address of this window is:
No. 57

A quick word on posting things to Morocco: If sending anything of value, it's probably best to do it through DHL with a confirmation number. It's also hard to tell what will make it through customs and what won't, so it's best to consider the whole affair as a bit of a gamble.

The week coming up will be spent, like last week was, practicing data entry on the palm pilots. The research we're doing involves taking 40 minute focal samples with a scan sample done every 10 minutes. This means that we watch one individual for 40 minutes, recording behaviors that are relevant to the study, and every ten minutes scan the surrounding area and record roughly what's going on. The rules for data entry are very strict, and there's a lot to memorize, not to mention the monkeys really don't slow down for you to have time to really think about what to put down. Every action (there are around 60 or 70 I think) has a corresponding 2 or 3 letter code, and there are 16 individuals (plus 5 infants and 2 juveniles) that you have to be able to recognize on the spot. By the time we start actual data entry, the whole process needs to be automatic.

I'm going to keep attempting to post that video of the evening call to prayer, but eBlogger and I aren't getting along that well at the moment.

Miss and love you all.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Hundreds of chiggers. All over my legs.
Who knew?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Quick Update

It's been a beautiful week in the forest so far. Cloudless skies and a temperature just under 70 most of the time, though dawn and dusk are a bit chillier. Many of the cedar trees are pollinating, and so everything we take into the forest gets dusted with a thin layer of yellow powder. Sometimes the monkeys bounce around in the trees and send up great yellow clouds of the stuff. It's fun to watch. I'm glad none of us have cedar allergies.

If everything goes according to plan, we're going to take the whole weekend off. It will be the first two days in a row we've taken off since we started. Not that forest work isn't fantastic, but I think we've earned some good r&r (another 12 hour day today.)

Sleep. Mmmm...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chris, Dave, and Nick

Sorry for the delay in-between postings. Been pretty busy in the forest, and coming home after 10/11 hours out I've only had enough energy to eat dinner, clean up, and go to bed. Hopefully I get used to the schedule and can update more frequently.

This is Chris. Yes it's a Mr. T T-shirt.

This is Dave. He had hair when we got here, but then it left.

I believe this is Nick with an infant. Cute, eh? He's one of my favorite monkeys.

The weather looks like it's going to be much better this week. Sunny and warm instead of cold and rainy. Honestly I wasn't ready for that sort of weather, but I guess it's best that I got a taste of it before the real winter begins.

Ramadan ended today. At least we think it did. The crazy reed-ist made an appearance twelve hours before he was supposed to, so that must mean something. It will still be 2 or 3 days before we can acquire some spirits, and we'll probably wait until next weekend to celebrate properly, but celebrate we will.

I'm working on uploading a video of the evening call to prayer (one of the coolest things I've ever seen/heard), but I haven't quite worked out how to shorten it to a blog-acceptable size. Soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

At long last...

...I give you: the 2 a.m. wake up call. This man marches down our street every night. Starting on the corner outside my window, he slowly makes his way towards the center of town, spreading gaity and joy wherever he goes. Children run into the street and dance in his glorious wake. People launch fireworks from their windows in celebration of his passing.
Actually, it seems as though no one even notices him.
We asked our neighbors about him and they started grumbling.
In the beginning of Ramadan he actually played a little ditty. But I think the novelty of being the guy who wakes everyone up has worn off and now he just plays random notes.

You can hear me actually wake up at some point and suddenly be very confused.
Hope this is as hilarious to you guys as it is to me.

We're still not sure what is wrong with the monkeys. The authorities on the subject sent it up to higher authorities, and we're waiting to hear back. The group seems to be doing alright though, so hopefully it's nothing.

Today I had my first angry monkey encounter. We had been following them for around 8 hours and I think one of the females (Neo) just got annoyed. You might think that being scolded by an animal 1/10th your size would not be scary. It's not, really. But what is mildly terrifying is when the whole group joins in and surrounds you, gnashing their teeth and screaming bloody murder. Thankfully this did not happen today, and she was mostly on her own. Chris assures me, however, that the group screaming event is bound to happen every once in a while. Can't wait. Believe it or not it's a good sign when the monkeys show aggression towards us. It means they are comfortable with our presence and don't really see us as a viable threat. Sweet!

Monday, September 14, 2009


Found the group after 6 hours of searching today. It was a lucky break, as they were resting at the time and we were only able to locate them when an infant freaked out about something and started making alarm calls (sounds like any other baby mammal freaking out).

We noticed some bright red spots around the eyes of some individuals. This most likely means that some sort of disease is spreading through the group. We're a bit worried, and have sent e-mails and pictures to people who know about this sort of thing. Just waiting on responses now...

Not much else to report for now. Slept right through last night's performance, but hopefully tonight I wake up for it (?). If you haven't gathered, I really want you guys to hear this.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Just wanted to post a couple of pictures of my new home. The first two are my of room. They're really crazy about their couches here; there are a couple in every room. The third is the living/dining room. Pretty swanky, eh?

My mission in the next few nights is to capture a video or sound recording of the man who marches by our building every night at 2 playing some sort of incredibly loud reed instrument. A written description of this nightly event could simply never do it justice.

Also, I went onto the roof of our building for the first time today. It's got some amazing views of the city, so expect a few pictures from up there to appear soon.

Had the day off today, but tomorrow it's back to the forest. We think we have a pretty good idea of their home range now, so finding them should hopefully be easier than in the past couple weeks. Hopefully.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Maggie!

It's my lovely/talented/all around wonderful sister's birthday today.
If the picture above doesn't convince you that she's a true badass, her blog, surely will.
Happy birthday, Mags!
Love you!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hot water

If you turn on the hot water without 'warming up the pipes', the entire apartment produces a perfect sinusoidal 'E' note. It's deafening.

However, on the subject of sounds...
There are five infants in the green group, who spend most of their days either playing in the trees or screaming in terror when they realize we're anywhere near them. While they perform the most amazing acrobatics in the trees, and can climb up anything with the greatest of ease, they are not yet adept at returning to the earth's surface. Their current method is simply to drop from the lowest branch, which is often at least 10 feet off the ground.
It's my new favorite thing.

It's been a frustrating past couple of days with the group. Yesterday we searched for eight hours and then after we had given up, drove past them on our way home.

Today we woke up extra early to catch them before they had moved, but it turns out they didn't really feel like traveling more than 100 meters from where they had slept the previous night, as it was cold and rainy all day.

We also locked the keys in the car, but were able to break back in using a piece of wire scavenged from an abandoned Berber house near the road. So that was fun.

Also, with all this rain I've realized that neither my rain jacket nor my hiking boots are quite as water resistant as I had hoped. Spending another 8 - 10 hours soaked to the bone tomorrow is not something I'm looking forward to, but hopefully I can shop around this weekend for replacements.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

just this for today...

Right outside our apartment this evening, before a storm hit.
Also, we found the monkeys.

It was a good day.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Just Dave and I in the field today, as Chris had some stuff to take care of in Fez. It rained (actually hailed for a bit) and got pretty cold. We searched all day (7:30 - 5:30) and didn't find the group.

We found A group but not just THE group.

blurgh. hell of a way to start a week.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Slept until 1 pm. today. It was wonderful.

Around 5 we walked to the local hammam. A hammam is a public bath, which costs about a buck fifty (10 dirham) to enter, and then another dirham for some special hammam oil. For many people, it is the only place they can get a bath, and has a lot of dos and don'ts, but mostly all you need to remember is DON'T GET NAKED. While it's expected that you assist your friend with scrubbing those hard-to-reach places, nudity is very frowned upon. It was a very relaxing experience, and I expect will be a godsend come the cold winter months.
Obviously, I have no pictures of this particular adventure, but expect more monkey photos in the near future.

Tomorrow we find the group again and continue our re-habituation efforts.

Soundtrack: Drive-By Truckers - Bulldozers and Dirt

Saturday, September 5, 2009

At long last, Chris stumbled upon the group we were searching for at around 10 o'clock yesterday morning. There's about 20 individuals, including some really adorable infants. We spent the rest of the day following the group through the same area we had been searching for the previous two days. However, after following them for two days straight (we found them relatively easily this morning) we have a a pretty good idea of where to find them come Monday. We've only been in the field since Wednesday, but we're all pretty exhausted, so tomorrow will be a welcome day off.

Right now we're not collecting any data, as the group needs to be re-habituated. A group of masters students habituated this group last year, but the group (called the green group) hasn't been observed since March. This means we spend the day following them and pretending not to be interested. It's more challenging than I thought it would be, but tons of fun.

This is a Google Earth image of our field site (it's shaped like an oven mitt). It's much more hilly than it appears to be, and so far we've been able to stick to the northern half, but you never know...

In other news, we were invited to have dinner with the landlord (Ab-Jaheem) and his family. It was absolutely delicious, but it made me vow to learn more French. Of the four of us, I am the least competent with the language, and so just ended up smiling and saying "oui" and "oui, bien" whenever they asked me a question. Chris assures me that he started out the same way, and I'll soon pick it up. I think I'll spend a good part of tomorrow with Rosetta Stone.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

There are no traffic lights in Azrou, a town of 50,000 people

Actually, that's a lie. There is one set of traffic lights. They do not work.

We spent eight hours today hiking through the forest, and still no luck. The monkeys remain evasive. However, Dave and I did spot a sweet snake:

And get this great view:

We ate at a cafe on the main street of Azrou for dinner because we were too exhausted to cook. The downtown streets are lined with cafes and shops, and at night it becomes a very chaotic scene, as hundreds of people stream down the sidewalks to purchase things from shops which were closed during the day for Ramadan, and also simply to take a stroll and run into friends.

Chris got some tips on where to find the monkeys from a researcher who worked with this group before, and we're going to try some new spots tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A few preview photos

The forest

A view of Azrou

No Monkeys, No Beer

We had our first day out in the field today. Chris and Dave and I went looking for the group that we plan on studying while Paolo took the car further up the road to see the group he has been working on.
The area that we are looking in is about 5 square kilometers of dense forest, which alternates between flat and ultra-hilly ground. From about 8 until 1 we ran search patterns, and found nothing. This is sort of to be expected, as the last time Chris saw the group was about a year ago, and it's likely that their home range has changed since then. So it looks like the next few days will be spent searching the area, only we're going to do full days (8-5) now that we're somewhat familiar with the area.
We spent the rest of the day driving to and back from the Marjane in Fez. The Marjane is the Moroccan equivalent of Wal-Mart. It's absolutely huge, and was our best hope for finding everything we needed (toiletries, food, electrical stuff, and beer) without scouring the market in Azrou for hours on end. Plus, it's open during Ramadan, when almost every other shop is closed during the day. While it's not exactly an 'authentic' Moroccan experience,
We succeeded in buying supplies, but one of the store managers told us there was "no chance" that we could buy beer there, or for that matter anywhere, unless of course we were willing to drive to Spain.
(A not-so-brief aside: Yesterday after Dave and Chris arrived we decided we could not celebrate without a proper beverage, we asked around town and the only place which anyone could think of that would cater to our needs was the most expensive hotel in town "Hotel Panorama". When we arrived the only woman working told us, after some confusion, that we were welcome to drink, but we would have to retrieve the beers -- which were in the bar through the kitchen, ourselves, as she didn't want to touch them. What followed was one of the most awkward drinking experiences of my life, as we all sat in the lobby with our tiny beers, trying our hardest not to be disrespectful by suppressing our natural inclination (Italian, Scot, Londoner, and Texan) to be a bit more boisterous.)
Other than being slightly inconvenient to non-Moroccans, Ramadan is a fascinating time to be here. The roads absolutely flood with cars approximately 15 minutes before sundown (when they can eat after fasting all day) and then promptly disappear. Even the relatively ubiquitous speed-checking police return home promptly around 6:30.
Now we sit down for a well-deserved dinner. Which I'm sure will end with me offending Paolo for not eating all of the huge portions that he insists on giving me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lost Baggage

I neglected to mention yesterday that the airline lost my baggage. Correction: the airline lost ALL the baggage. This gives me more hope than if they had just lost mine, so I remain optimistic. They have Paolo's phone number and should call him when it turns up, but in the meantime I'm stuck in the same clothing and don't have my electrical adaptor or any of my medicine, hygene products, etc...

Paolo picked me up from the airport yesterday, but only after the authorities had a word with him about where exactly I would be living. We drove to Azrou to see the apartment, and then after 2 bottles of Moroccan wine, pasta with tuna (who knew it could be so good?), and a good nap, drove through Azrou to the forest to see the monkeys. We didn't go all the way to the field site, but instead saw the group which the locals show to tourists. It's a pretty sad sight to behold, as the area in which they live is strewn with food wrappers, bottles, and all other manner of detritus that is given to the monkeys. Locals from the area (Azrousians? Azroulites?) just drive up, throw some food out, and drive away. I've been assured that the site where we will be working is much more removed and very rarely visited by anyone.

We then parked in Azrou and walked into the marketplace to buy rations for dinner and play a game of pool in the local arcade (pictures to follow, as words don't do this part justice).

Paolo is a self proclaimed "man of the night". He loves to drink, smoke, go to clubs, and go figure, spend 8 hours a day in the forest watching monkeys. He's been here one year and is absurdly comfortable with everything that I'm amazed by. We make a funny pair.

Paolo just informed me that Royal Air Morocco has my bag, and he will pick it up when he picks up Chris and Dave today.

That's all for now, more adventures to follow.