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January 26, 2008

We Got Wings

6:54 AM, 67 deg F / 19.5 deg C in my tent.
The day on which the helicopter is supposed to arrive.

My hair still feels nice from my shower yesterday. It’s glowing red in the light of the sunrise. I love the idea of seeing myself for the first time in a month, and seeing a different person in the mirror. Surely my hair will have grown and my face will look more tanned and rugged.


And the helicopter DID arrive! After we set up the official landing pad and called in the coordinates and.... Oh, wait. I think what actually happened was Tim said to the pilot, 'here are the coordinated for the GPS site on a nearby hill, and you'll see our camp, so just land somewhere in-between.' And that's what he did. In a grand cloud of dust.

[A take-off later in the day, but you get the idea.]

Actually, the reason I don't have pictures of the helicopter's first landing is that I was distracted by these little guys. You can't tell how small they are, but they're bitty little baby goats! So cute! So soft! So clueless! And so many of them!

But back to it--the arrival of the helicopter was, of course, quite a bit of a to-do in town. Everyone, more or less, or at least all the men and children, came out to check it out.

[A small group off men discuss a ways away from the helicopter. The structure to the right is a goat enclosure.]

We put the helicopter to work almost immediately, getting a highly attended safety briefing from the pilot which was translated from English (the pilot is British Kenyan) to Amharic (the national language of Ethiopia) by Shimeles, to Afari by the tall police guard Mohammed. Needless to say, not a short safety briefing. And, as Tim mentioned in his e-mail update, one of the major items was insisting that the magazines be out of the AK-47s at all times in the ship. That, I must admit, is a new item for me.

After the safety briefing, we put in the structural group at their field camp somewhere in the rift.

[Ellen and JR get ready.]

Despite all the excitement, Tim said by the fifth take-off no one was even out watching.

I was on a flight later in the day, to put in the first of the GPS campaign sites. I'll let me journal entry sum it up:


Tim asked if I was excited to head up in the helicopter, and I shrugged. It seemed like a complication to me, although I figured it’d probably be pretty cool.

Then, later in the day, I got into the helicopter. And as soon as we started taking off, I was mesmerized. I was elated. I was fascinated and full of thoughts and observations, only of what was changing before me. I was sucked in. I saw the landscape change from flat dusty plain to lava rock, and cracks—first small, and then wider, and then offset, and then hugely offset into a valley.

[Clearing the dust.]

[Our camp and the town of Digdida, in all their glory...]

[Heading out over the dust plain.]

[Skirting a volcano. Note the small, circular features--these are rock livestock enclosures.]


[As the crust pulls apart, the center drops down.]

When we landed, Shimeles—who had been on the first flight in—said Just walk a little bit, and you will see everything. So I walked a little bit. And I felt like I saw everything. The world dropped away below me into the rift and I felt like I was standing on the brink. I was standing on a lava cliff, columnar basalt dropping vertically into a land of broken bits and long lines of cliffs. Browns, blacks, tans. I could dive into creation. I imagined on my way to the GPS site—carrying my two heavy cases alone, amazingly enough [usually there’s enough help around that I’m not allowed to do anything myself]—that I was walking across ocean floor. This is where it starts. (This may someday be ocean floor….)

[In years past, the group accessed this area via camel trek. But this is as far as they got. Any guesses as to why....? Note that I'm standing at a 100+ ft drop.]

[View straight out across the rift.]

One of the guards came over to see if I needed anything and spoke to me friendlily in Afari, gave up and went back to his spot with the other guards in the shade. So, I got to set up the site all on my own. It was nice.

[The last GPS site in the transect, 3 km from the center of the rift. The mode of work once the helicopter arrived was as follows: Install a GPS instrument and an MT instrument co-located (in essentially the same place) and leave the instruments with 2 guards for two days. Pick up the instruments and move them to a new site. We did this every day, so two sets of instruments and two sets of guards were in the field at all times (when things went well) (there was an issue or two with GPS co-location....]

[The MT group working to install their sensor.]

[Conflicting interests: MT needs sand, GPS needs bedrock.]



[Waiting for our helicopter pick-up.]


[Our guards.]

[On the flight out. Check out those cracks!]

[Back to our neighborhood volcano.]

There was a new addition to our camp by the evening: A biiiiiiiiiig tent with a veranda for the pilot and engineer. “…..our tent,” said Chris, the pilot, and Tim said, “Your palace, you mean?”

In other news, the camel trekkers called to say they made it back to Barantu but the camel drivers hadn't shown up—with the group’s rocks and probably group gear. The cars we'd sent to retrieve them returned with Abdu and the group stayed on in Barantu to spend the night. The thought was that the drivers were probably staying out to argue for another day’s pay. Word came sometime after 9 that they’d arrived demanding dinner, and I think word was this morning that most the gear had gotten back to the group with some exceptions like a long length of rope. Cheeky, cheeky, cheeky.

There are too many people in camp!

Posted by beth at January 26, 2008 6:00 PM

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