Monday, August 3, 2009

Tedious, Dirty, Buggy, Muggy, More

Field work is tiring stuff. Sweat pours down your body and face--I actually took the design off one of my shirts by sheer force of body fluid. The bugs are maniacal--after a rain, the swarms of mosquitoes whir in your ear. If you dare to take down your pants and relieve yourself, they sense your vulnerability and you emerge with dozens of horribly inappropriate bites. A roommate had a bottom full of bites that got so infected, they had to be lanced and drained and soaked with boiling hot towels. Luckily, a jungle outhouse was built for us so we don't have to be so vulnerable in the future. There is a system: you pull your pants down half way, and quickly spray your backside with Deet before it's too late. A demonstration:

The work itself is also strenuous. In excavation, you sit down in a plot of mud and scrape up buckets of muck. The muck has to be sifted through screens and scanned for tiny artifacts. There is enough tedium to satisfy any datahead--you plot grids, and check grids, plot grids, and check them three more times. You draw map after map of your unit and its features. You grab clumps of dirt, spit on them, and roll them in the palm of your hand to determine the soil type. Then you hold the dirt under a chart to determine its exact, scientific color. Then there's the Ground Penetrating Radar. You drag a large apparatus in straight lines back and forth through the uncooperative jungle brush. All of this, excavation and survey, you record, record, record. There are matrixes and proveniences and datum points and scans per minute and more, more, more that must be described in perfect detail.

Now, I realize all that sounds terrible. But here's the catch: When you scrape your trowel over the soil and see something made by human hands so many years ago, unseen for so long, there is no greater feeling. Or when you realize that the large object you've been dragging across the ground has discovered a temple before so much as a trowel has been moved, or when the howler monkeys bellow overhead, or when you realize that the pile of rocks you've been staring at is a centuries old staircase leading to a room where kings were crowned and gods were made, you know you are exactly where you want to be, doing exactly what you want to do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Big Goodbye Unbirthday Bash

This Saturday is my Going Away/Unbirthday Party. I leave in just 11 days.

I wasn't looking forward to spending my birthday alone in a foreign country--a birthday is your own personal holiday. People give you gifts and call you just because you're alive. How could anyone be happy to miss that?

Being the tyrant that I am, I've moved my damn holiday. So, if you're a friend in the area:

My Big Fake Birthday Bash
10:00, July 18.
Sportsman's Pub
Singing, Dancing, Drinking

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Paging Annie Kintop

A couple weekends ago, some friends and took a road trip to the remains of Darling, Minnesota.

Lately, I've been pretty jazzed about ghost towns. They're more current than the ruins I typically fixate on, but all lost history is sexy.

Two hours northwest of Minneapolis is the populated town of Little Falls. Just four miles beyond is the last of Darling. What remains are two cemeteries and an abandoned church, built in 1893.

Being someone who, on my best and kindest days, might be called a disgraceful harlot, you may wonder what could compel me to drive two hours to a church in the middle of nowhere, abandoned or not.

The answer, my friends, is Annie Kintop.

On April 15, 1905, Annie Kintop was 25 years old. She went to Little Falls to pick up supplies, because on April 16, she was moving to a new homestead, a new life, further north. She stopped in Darling, where she was going to walk two miles to her home. Annie never made it. Her body was found the next day, naked, bruised and strangled in a nearby swamp. Blood and clothing told the story; She was murdered in the Darling Church, where she probably fled to escape her pursuer.

The next day, newspapers as far away as New York City wrote about the tragedy at Darling Church. Here is the article from the Times.

The two African American suspects mentioned in the article were apprehended and later released when it became clear they had nothing to do with the murder. 1905 was, apparently, not a good year to be black. The person who did murder Annie Kintop must have used that extra time well, because he was never found. Today, the death of Annie Kintop is a regional legend, and books are still being written to investigate a murder that happened so long ago. Locals are scared of the church, as Annie's ghost is said to roam the grounds at night.

So, we went to pay our own visit Annie Kintop. Our adventure was one part local history, one part barbecue, and another part amateur paranormal investigation.

The little church is still in good condition, though the pews have been removed and someone has punched holes in the walls to remove the copper wiring. What stands is a small building with two room and a pulpit. It is unlocked, though I suspect that may have more to do with vandals than local permissiveness. It is surrounded by a kept cemetery that is still in use today.

We set up our barbecue in the church lawn and played hackey sack until nightfall. Then, the real fun started.

A few courageous members of our crew asked to be locked inside with a couple flashlights. I was, of course, a member of that crew.

We stood there, serious as AIDS, scouring the netherworld with three cheap tape recorders and a glow-in-the-dark Parker Brothers Ouija board. We all wanted something to happen--anything to happen--and we were ready to believe in a world bigger than us, bigger than Darling and Minneapolis, bigger than our friends and family and everything we knew. We were looking for some hint of the infinite in that profaned church, to chill us and comfort us.

The Ouija session was appropriately intense. One person posed the question, "If you are in torment, go to No. If you are at peace, go to Yes." Annie said No. This was not the message from the afterlife I was looking for. I don't know what I expected from a young woman, raped and killed and discarded in the woods, but it terrified me nonetheless. I wanted to find a peaceful infinity, a sign that there was nothing to fear in all this fretful business of life and death. With my voice trembling, I asked if there was anything we could do to help. Annie spelled L-I-V-E. I asked what she meant by that, if we were in danger, or if we were meant to enjoy what we have. Annie decided that would be a good place to leave us wondering.

We also, wisely, did a fact-checker question early on, which nobody knew the answer to. It was, "What is the initial of your middle name?" Annie went to C.

When we got home, I was obsessed. I had to know what Annie's middle name was. How much of this was real; how much hell was waiting for me? We all swore that we hadn't moved the board--all of us but one. This person explained how he felt the Ouija board worked: "You ask a question and your hand moves where it may."

I took that to mean asshole.

After scouring databases and library records, I learned that Annie Kintop was born and given the name Mary Anna Kintop.

If her middle name had been Carolyn or Cindy or Carla, I'm not sure what I would have done. Sometimes, it's just better not to know.

My camera wasn't working, so I am waiting to get some pictures emailed. As soon as they're sent, I'll show you Darling Church.

Strong Woman and Bar Kisses; Harsh and the Chinese Yuan

I want to let you know right away that this is not a travel story. It does, however, involve an Irish accent and one Chinese Yuan, so I think it counts for something.

Tonight I went to the VFW to sing karaoke with a couple of my friends. The place is packed on a Saturday night, so there is only time to get in one song, two if you're lucky. Mine was "Like a Prayer".

After the song, a wild eyed woman grabbed my hand and shouted, "I can tell you know how to party! You're coming with me!"

Who was I to disagree?

I was standing at the bar with this woman and two other ladies who, I assumed, were friends of hers. She introduced herself as "Strong Woman". The rest of us, however, had to settle with our plain old given names.

Strong Woman had just broken up with her boyfriend of four years and was celebrating freedom with female companionship. She shouted many things at us as we waited for the shots she insisted we drink. Strong Woman moved to Minneapolis from Ireland when she was 20 years old. She looked to be about 40. I also learned that Strong Woman's mother died in October and that, here's where things get a little weird, her dead mother had chosen us from all the people at the bar to spend the evening with her. I looked at the other two ladies, realizing that they were as tugged from a table as I was, but they didn't seem to care. I suspect they were there to milk as many shots as they could. Although I don't really drink, I didn't have the heart to tell Strong Woman that her mother's ghost was wrong about me. So, I took the shots like a team player.

Strong Woman started to gesture at our breasts and talk about female friendship. She gave us a couple awkward group hugs, and then a couple individual hugs as she told us the details on how she came to be a jilted woman snuggling with strangers in the bar. Then it happened. She gave me another hug, and came at my lips with a kiss. I didn't know what to do, so I puckered and let it happen. As strange as it was, when she swooped in again, after giving the other ladies kisses, I let crazy Strong Woman do it again. I think I was being interviewed.

I always imagined I would get smoochy with someone who had a foreign accent, but not like that. And not with this Strong Woman.

When she and the other women started comparing cleavage, I was fully creeped out and looking for an exit that wouldn't disappoint Strong Woman's mother. I managed to sneak away for a cigarette. She didn't approach me again, however, and the next time I saw her, she had two new ladies on her arm.

As we were leaving, my friends and I stood outside for one last cigarette. I was recounting the tale of Strong Woman when a guy walked up and asked to bum a smoke. I told him that I could roll it with a filter or without, and explained that the tobacco was pretty harsh. He informed me that his friends actually call him Harsh, so he took it as a sign to go without.

As I told my story, he kept saying, "That's one for the Spank Bank." I had no idea what a Spank Bank was, but I found out that it's a place where you store all your hot memories to recall later, when you're all alone and needing hot memories. Harsh noticed that we were all a little weirded out by all the "Spank Bank" exclamations, so he did what anyone else would do: He insisted that he was the creepiest guy we could meet in a bar. It didn't take him long to convince us.

For my trouble, Harsh pulled out a Chinese Yuan and demanded that I take it. Then he went back inside.

It was a weird night...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fun Funnels, GoGirls, and Tall Buildings

I spent the 4th of July on the rooftop of a friend's apartment building. It was an amazing view--we could see the fireworks of 6 cities. But that is far from the amazing part.

Being six floors away from a toilet makes things a pain in the ass for us ladies. Who wants to leave the party to trudge up and down so many flights of stairs, just so you can pee for 30 seconds? Luckily, my friend Crystal makes these amazing devices called Fun Funnels. She gave me one to try.

It's essentially a disposable cardboard penis. You fold it up, push the tabs in, and shazam! You've gained entry to a world formally available only to men. So there I was, on top of the city, looking down at the cars on the street, wind blowing through my hair, pissing on the treetops. It was an amazing feeling. She sells them at the link above, and I highly recommend giving it a try. It will change your life.

This got me thinking about fieldwork in Belize. If I'm working and hydrating 8 hours a day in the deep jungle, where exactly do they expect me to pee? Will it be a dingy portapotti? Will it be squatting with the leafcutter ants and the tarantulas? A bucket? A shovel and a pat on the back?

As much as I love Crystal's device, it's a single-use kind of thing. I needed something more durable to get me past all of the questionable commodes I may be facing. Another friend told me to check out the GoGirl.

I was excited by its portability and its price. So I bought one. It came in the mail today, and it's next to me on the table, right now, just begging to be used. It's time to find another tall building.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


This is going to be my first experience working in the jungle. Naturally, I wanted to feel prepared for all those inevitable creature encounters that the tropical rain forest has to offer its guests. It was like opening a Pandora's Box--nightmarish organisms leaped from my internet browser and now make their homes in the most paranoid parts of my mind. I have dreams, terrible dreams, about these monstrosities of evolution.

But none of these creatures are so foul as the human botfly. Behold.

This creature, this disturbing triumph of evolution, fixated me for weeks. I read dozens of botfly extraction stories and have seen youtube upon youtube of their removal from both humans and dogs...

It's distressing stuff. I was so taken with them that I started a facebook fanclub. If you're on facebook, you should join. One day it may even host my own botfly extraction video. It also includes all the information you can stomach about the botfly, from their life cycle to home remedies like taping a steak to your body. It's worth looking into, I promise.