Idul Fitri Break

It is officially Idul Fitri break (Eid Mubarak!) and I’m thankful for that. I spent a good but exhausting day traveling around to some of the staff’s homes yesterday, unfortunately and although I really wanted to I didn’t make it to all of them. By the end I was stuffed full of ketupat (a kind of sticky rice), rendang (beef curry, for lack of a better way to describe it), and assorted little cookies and snacks. We even got a take-home bag of cookies and chocolates from the last home we visited. I’m pretty sure they will all be gone by the end of the week!

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Idul Fitri treats and hanging out with new friends (future English teachers!) in Ketapang

As usual, the week before the holiday was a busy one at work. We unveiled the brand new website for the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project, which is the umbrella organization for both the conservation and research programs. I’ve been working on this since the beginning of June so it was awesome to finally be able to publicize it! Now I’m using the days “off” this week (I’m not off but all of the Indonesian staff are) to catch up on grants and plan for August because I will be in Hanoi, Vietnam for the International Primatological Society’s Congress for a good chunk of the month. I’m excited to see old friends from OuTrop and Columbia, hang out with the GPOCP staff outside of Ketapang, and meet new contacts. Plus, Cheryl will be there with her family and this is probably the last time I will see them this year, so I’ll be busy going over stuff with her as well! I’ve never been to Vietnam and I don’t know if I would go if this conference weren’t happening, so it will be a good opportunity to explore a new country. I’m sure August will fly by! After IPS I’m hoping to have a chance to get out into the community more and spend some time up near Gunung Palung because I’ve been in Ketapang for far too long and it would be nice to see some forest.

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Meet Codet, one of the flanged male orangutans who lives in Gunung Palung National Park and the new face of the GPOP website. Photo by Tim Laman (www.timlaman.com)

Oh yeah, and if you haven’t already seen it, I’m officially Wake Forest famous! I did a little interview for the WFU Magazine’s website and it just came out the other day: Saving the Orangutans. If anyone hopped over to this blog from that page, thanks so much for reading, and feel free to leave me a comment on here. I’d love to hear from you… WAAAKE! FOREST! WAAAKE! FOREST!

 

 

 

Ramadhan and More

Getting ready to break the fast after a community meeting

Getting ready to break the fast after a community meeting (not a great picture, I only had my phone with me!)

I wasn’t quite sure what to write about today, but as I opened my computer to check my blog the sounds of the mosque started and so that’s my inspiration for today. Ramadhan, the Muslim holy month, is about halfway over. In America and other non-Muslim countries, we often hear about Ramadhan, but do you really know what it is? The main focus of Ramadhan is fasting. Muslims who choose to fast cannot eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. They wake up at about 3:30 in the morning to eat (called sahur), then around 5:30 or 6:00 when the sun sets they can eat again (iftar). Indonesian Muslims vary in how diligently they follow the rules of Ramadhan (much like Christians during Lent), but generally they aim to fast every day for a month. Many restaurants are closed during the day and those of us that don’t fast try to be careful about eating in public- or for me, in the office!- although as Ramadhan stretches on these rules get more and more relaxed and some people stop fasting. Our conservation program activities have to change a bit as well, instead of having meetings during the day we do most of our community activities in the evening so that after we’re done we can break the fast together with the attendees. Breaking the fast is usually done with little cakes, fried snacks and fruity drinks, then after that everyone does their evening prayer before they have the full dinner meal. The fasting month lasts until July 28th, and then there’s a huge holiday called Idul Fitri where all you do is go from house to house and eat. I’ve already been invited to a couple of homes so that should be fun, and I’m sure I’ll get invited to more as the day approaches!

In other news, our project’s truck is pretty much done for so now I am actively searching for some funding to replace it. I’m not really sure where to come up with $25-30K but we need the truck for our activities so it’s going to happen somehow! If anyone out there who happens to be reading this has some extra money laying around and wants a truck named after them (seriously, I will paint your name on the sides of it) then you know who to give it to 😛 Cheryl and her family are coming back into town this weekend, then after that I’m going to hit the road and head back up toward Gunung Palung for some community activities, so things will be busy as usual around here for the next several days. I’m leaving for IPS in Vietnam on August 8th and won’t be back for ~10 days and I’m trying to get all kinds of things in order before then. The GPOCP staff all have at least a week holiday to celebrate Ramadhan, and my goal is to take advantage of the quiet time to finish some grant applications, make plans for my time away, and check out the beach around here at least once. Big plans, as always!

Gunung Palung sits behind rice fields in Sedahan village- when city life in Ketapang gets boring, I can always come here!

Gunung Palung sits behind rice fields in Sedahan village- when city life in Ketapang gets boring, I can always come here!

Where do the days go?

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View of Gunung Palung from one of the surrounding villages

It’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post, wow! I’m not really sure where all the time went, except that I’ve been extremely busy with work. Here are some highlights:

  • Cheryl and the kids arrived! It was great to see them, her husband Tim Laman is a wildlife photojournalist for National Geographic and so he has already been here at the research station for a few weeks working on an orangutan assignment. Tim came down last Friday with his assistant Wahyu, and then the whole family was reunited on Saturday. It was a really crazy few days with them here in the house getting ready to head up to the camp in Gunung Palung National Park, but we had a good time. Gunung Palung is going to be featured on National Geographic’s blog this month, because the whole family is writing posts about their time in Borneo. The first entry is up, check it out! And if you’re interested in seeing more of Tim’s photos, follow @TimLaman on Instagram. He’s got some great shots of orangutans and field work posted.
  • I’ve been seeing more of the activities that GPOCP currently does, meeting with my staff, writing grants and reports, and starting to plan for the next few months. Last weekend I went up to one of the villages near the National Park called Harapan Mulia to attend a meeting of our Non-Timber Forest Product craftswomen. These women use leaves and other non-timber (aka no illegal logging necessary) materials that they find in the forest to make traditional crafts, which we then help them sell on the market to make money. This encourages them and the others in their village not to cut down the rainforest around them, which is valuable orangutan habitat. The main driver of this small-scale logging is the lack of an alternative livelihood, so this program is one of the methods we use to provide the village communities with a sustainable option. That’s the short version- I’ll write more about this at a later date, I’m sure. Exciting things are happening with that particular project. ANYWAY I went to the meeting, met these women, discussed their business plan, and watched them as they made their crafts. The task that day was mats made of Pandan leaves called tikar. I even learned how to weave! It It takes a lot of patience, and one mat can take anywhere from 6 hours to 6 days, depending on the size and design. Needless to say I got through about one row before my eyes were tired and I turned the weaving back over to the true artisans.
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Craftswomen making tikar mats, made entirely of leaves and other readily-available forest material

Motorbike = freedom!

  • I got a motorbike! Technically it’s borrowed, because the bike that is supposed to be mine is too hard for me to ride right now. It’s a semi-automatic meaning that it required lots of hand and foot coordination- I’m not quite up to that level yet. So in the meantime I’m borrowing a staff member’s bike because it’s automatic and easy to drive. I can finally GO places on my own! Sure beats the little pink bicycle I was riding around on (no joke).
  • Finally, I’ve decided to go to the bi-annual International Primatological Society Congress. This year it’s in Hanoi, Vietnam, the theme is conservation, and tons of orangutan people are going to be there. It’ll be a nice way to catch up with old friends, network with new ones and learn about the latest orangutan and conservation research. I’m looking forward to it, but currently a bit stressed trying to get my flights/registration/visa figured out. That will have to be Tuesday’s project, because tonight I’m going back up to the National Park area with the National Geographic journalist that is helping Tim with the orangutan story. He’s headed to the research station tomorrow and we wanted to show him a bit about the conservation program first. Busy busy as always!
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Beach on the West coast of Kalimantan- a nice place to relax and enjoy some es kelapa (iced coconut)

Back from Boston

Well, I’m officially all trained in! Just joking, I know I have a lot more to learn to prepare for my new position, but it was a great week in Boston. Being able to work one-on-one with Cheryl Knott, Executive Director of GPOCP/my new boss/orangutan researcher extraordinaire, was a great experience and I feel much more solid in my responsibilities. I have my work cut out for me, as there are a lot of things that I can do to help advance GPOCP’s mission and impact, but I know it’s going to be a great job. In just 12 days I will be there in Ketapang, meeting all of the staff and getting things rolling!

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Cheryl and I at her house

If you’re reading this and you haven’t already, check out our website, like Gunung Palung Orangutan Project on Facebook, and follow @GPOrangutans on Twitter. I’ll be posting news and updates about orangutan conservation on all of those media as well my own personal experiences here on this blog, so thanks in advance for those of you that support me and the organization.

ANYWAY in other news, yesterday when I got back to Minneapolis I went to REI because I wanted to buy a new backpack- my old one has a hole that a mouse chewed in it last year at camp. About an hour later I emerged with no backpack (couldn’t find one I liked) but a new zip-up, pair of pants (trousers, for my British friends), and hiking shoes. Luckily I needed most of what I bought, and it was all on sale, but let me say that it was still not a cheap visit. Check out my cool new shoes, though! I’m pretty excited about those and hopefully I’ll get a chance to put them to good use.

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They’re purple! Not super heavy-duty but sturdy enough for long hikes.

Time is going to go quickly now, I’m leaving on June 17th and have a lot of things to do this week. My flights are all booked now and I’m pretty prepared, but there are always last-minute things that come up so I’m anticipating a crazy week. Stay tuned for the excitement!

 

New Job- Bringing Back the Blog

Well I haven’t posted on here in well over a year, but there hasn’t been much megatransect-ing happening for the past year either. I’ve been in the U.S. working, saving $$ and paying student loans, and job searching. Well that has all come to a close because….About_YPlogo-300x256I have a new job! Most of you reading this most likely saw it on my Facebook page already, but I am the new Program and Development Director for the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program. This position is much more conservation-focused than others that I’ve had, as I won’t be doing any field work or data collection. Instead I will be managing GPOCP’s various conservation projects- working directly with the Indonesian staff, planning and strategizing, writing grants and communicating with stakeholders. I’m really excited; I’ve only met a couple of people that I’ll be working with on Skype but they seemed very knowledgeable and excited about working together, and I can’t wait to meet them in person! If you’re interested in the conservation projects, check out the “Conservation” links on the GPOCP website. There is a lot of great work happening, ranging from environmental education to assisting with investigations of illegal orangutan trade in the area. I’m sure I’ll write about each of the projects and programs more in depth at some point, but that’s a good overview.

I’ll be moving to Borneo (the western province, Kalimantan Barat) next month- leaving June 17th, to be exact! Needless to say, since I got the job I’ve been very busy trying to get everything in order- finishing up students at my current job, making sure I get new visa pages in my passport, scheduling doctor and dentist appointments before my insurance runs out in August, trying to find new international medical insurance… the list goes on. In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading out to Boston to meet Dr. Cheryl Knott, the Executive Director of the program, for training and to get a jump start on reports and grants that need to be written.

Long story short: Moving to Borneo. New (awesome and perfect) job. Bringing the blog back at the request of my family. Stay tuned for adventures in orangutan conservation and Indonesian wanderings!

Life Update: February

Well, not much to report here, to be honest.  It’s been a quiet, albeit rainy, month.  We had a massive storm last week and the forest has completely changed; there are huge tree falls everywhere!  It’s pretty amazing to see the impact of just one event on forest structure. We can still hear trees falling every now and then from camp a week later.

Big rain at camp (photo by Prof. Fan Pengfei)

Big rain at camp (photo by Prof. Fan Pengfei)

Forest work overall has also been a bit slow, we haven’t been able to start on the new microtopography project yet because the guys were busy with back-to-back nest and phenology surveys.  The first week of March is set for some big data collection though, which is exciting and it will be nice to finally get the field work started for that.  Hmm, what else? I’ve been keeping my eye out for jobs post-May as usual, which as anyone who’s recently tried to find a job in conservation knows, is a rather depressing exercise.  Most jobs are either volunteer (or even worse, they want YOU to pay) or they pay virtually nothing for mind-numbing work in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota or some equally bleak place.  Oh yeah, and add to this the fact that jobs where the education requirement is just a B.S. may eventually be filled by a Ph.D. because NO ONE can find work, and you can understand why looking for a job in conservation/ecology can be a bit frustrating. I was lucky enough to find an ad for a job at CIFOR the other day, which I found at 9:30 pm the day it was due and sent in the application 1 hour later.  Better late than never, right? Fingers crossed, it would be a really awesome job!  By the way, if anyone with connections is reading this: Early career scientist looking for paying research and field work. M.A. in Conservation Biology. I speak Indonesian. Contact me! 🙂

Anyway, sorry it’s been so long since I’ve updated this, and that this post is rather boring, but hopefully I’ll have something more exciting to write about soon.  In the meantime, I hope all of you in the U.S. are staying nice and warm amidst the big snow!  Oh, and check out my “Hello Monday” profile on the OuTrop blog, thanks!

http://outrop.blogspot.com/2013/02/ms-cassie-freund-says-hello-monday-9.html

Miscellaneous Ramblings

Wowowowow it’s been busy lately, but luckily not all work- we’ve been doing a bit of playing as well.  Here are a couple of photos as proof of that!

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OuTrop foreign staff (and a lone tree) on our waterpark day out

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Mark and Luke on the big slide! A much more graceful landing than some…

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OuTrop staff post-badminton

I’ll be bouncing back and forth between the forest and town for the next 4 days, working on office stuff (and hopefully catching up with a few of you on Skype?) and then hopefully getting a solid 5-6 days of forest work in after that.  Exciting things are happening, as I’m working on updating our hydrology research and hopefully initiating a new project relating tree species distribution and small-scale elevation changes in the forest… which is also related to water. So, in short I’ve got a lot of water research to do, which is convenient because the forest is also essentially one giant puddle right now and it rains at least once a day.  YEAH WATERRRRRRRR!!!!!!  Haha okay I think I’m going a little bit crazy from 3+ days in town, so it’s off to the forest for now.  More updates next time!