Ethiopia

A team of researchers lead by Paleobotanist Bonnie Jacobs and Sedimentologist Neil Tabor, both of SMU, returned to northwestern Ethiopia in late December 2007 to collect additional plant fossils and gain a more thorough understanding of their geological context. The team also included Dan Danehy, an SMU Master’s Degree student in the Department of Earth Sciences; Harvey Herr, an undergraduate in the Department of Earth Sciences; John Kappelman with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas; Ellen Currano, a Ph.D. student from Penn State University; and Alemu Yenehun, a graduate of Mekelle University, Ethiopia.

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Dan Danehy: Surrounded by an amazing culture

I awoke this morning, my third night in Chilga, located in Northwestern Ethiopia, with a sore throat reminiscent of strep throat, conjunktiveitus (pink eye) in both eyes, greeted by an infestation of large army ants, this following an infestation of fleas the prior morning, and wearing the same clothes for the past week; and I had the same thought to myself as I had the previous two mornings, “This is AWESOME!” Despite my minor medical problems and run ins with local insects, I feel as if I am in a surreal state, surrounded by such an amazing and mind blowing culture where I have met some of the kindest and most earnest people. And on top of this rich learning experience, I get to spend my sun filled days doing what I love, that is hiking around beautiful countryside, admiring and trying to figure out complex geology problems, but best of all, I get to search for and collect fossils!

Fossils, particularly fossil leaves, are very important because they allow us a glimpse of what the ecosystem of the particular area was at a certain time period in the past. I am interested in studying large scale paleoecosytems and analyzing how they have changed throughout time, and how that change had subsequently affected life. Until we have the technology to develop a Flux Capacitor and connect it with a Delorian, fossil leaves provide us with the only evidence of what vegetation, and biomes, were present in the past.

My trip around the world (I am nearly on the other side of the planet, the time difference between here and Dallas is 9 hours!) was not an easy one and is a story within itself. Beginning with my departure from the Philadelphia airport, I was greeted with either a delayed departure of over two hours or a cancellation of my original flight. The only flight that I did not have a delay, cancellation, or malfunction with the plane was the departure from London, a city of which I was not supposed to go to on my original itinerary. My travels to Ethiopia consisted of departing Philadelphia, to Chicago, to Amsterdam, to London, to Rome, to Addis Ababa, and then to Gondar. My bags, which took an extended vacation in France, did not arrive until this morning, nearly 6 days after I checked them in. The travel was very tiresome, but at least now I can say that I have visited most of Western Europe (albeit just the airports).

Today I went to a doctor’s clinic in town to treat my pink eye(s) and sore throat. I was very apprehensive because my experiences with hospital visits in the past have not been very comforting, but I figured that antibiotics will be the only thing that can help my fragile and damaged immune system. I was treated immediately without waiting in a long line, I had no forms to fill out or discussion of insurance, and the total costs of my 4 perscriptions totaled ~$7 dollars after the currency exchange rate. Which makes me ponder why I get quick, efficient, equivalent, and affordable medical treatment in a developing country but not back home in the United States.

Well, it is getting late here, although it is not even noon back home, and I want to lay out and gaze at the millions of stars glistening in the nights sky, many of which I have never seen at home because of the light pollution. But if someone was to ask me, “Dan, would you every travel so far and to such a remote place again, with equivalent or worse travel and medical problems?”

My immediate response would be “YES!! IN A HEARTBEAT!”

I can not think of any better way to spend my time than hunting for fossils, and being able to travel, meet new people, and experiencing new and different cultures. I feel that I am one of the most lucky and fortunate people to be able to declare that this is my profession and then go off for hours explaining all of my stories and experiences.

To everyone here in Africa goodnight, to everyone back in Dallas enjoy your lunch!

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