Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mermaids Do Exist

Ever since I saw Mermaid Lagoon in Peter Pan I've been in love with mermaids.  Pretty, long-haired sirens enjoying their lives in the sun beside the tranquil ocean seemed like the most idyllic existence imaginable. And ooooooh, the colors!  Long red hair, or maybe blue, violet, or green.  No rules!  Iridescent tails like liquid rainbows.  And seashells.  I absolutely love sea shells and have been collecting them since childhood.  (Thank Neptune my recent home has a garage.  Yes, my collection has gotten that big.)

Five years ago I sat in front of my laptop and saw a post about a mermaid convention in Florida.  My reaction was this:

A MERMAID CONVENTION!?  (Picture shouting, dancing, and jumping for joy.)

I booked a flight immediately.  I didn't know a single real live mermaid but I was bound and and determined to meet one.

That first venture was solo but I made friends and now attend another convention in Greensboro, North Carolina -  NCMermania - on a regular basis.  Held annually at the Greensboro Aquatic Center (GAC), NCMermania is a gathering of professional mermaids, mermaid wannabes, and mermaid enthusiasts from all over the world.  The variety of the people who attend this even can only be exceeded by the variety of the creative costumes and tails displayed.

And that's one thing I especially love about the real mermaids.   If you were there you would have seen mermaids and mermen of all shapes, sizes, colors, lifestyles, and genders, all swimming side by side, splashing and playing as happily as any Disney movie mermaid.

Would that the real, real world would take a dive into getting along this well.

On "Acting Your Age"

It is 5:45 in the morning in the Cayo district of Belize.  I am awakened by the sound of birds and what might be an automatic rifle - or it could be bad plumbing.  I went to bed 4am home time. God knows what time I fell asleep what with the very loud, very bad karaoke blaring though my window from the bar.  I'm too tired to get up and investigate. 

After fifteen minutes, I get up.  Much too excited to sleep.  Field school starts today and there will be a tour of Cahal Pech and a lecture by Dr. Awe, a noted expert on ancient Mayan culture.  (What I do not know at this moment is - heat exhaustion.  But I will get to that later.)

I've made it to the Belize Valley Reconnaissance project, a decision to spend two weeks in itense heat digging for artifacts with a bunch of college students.  A decision which has caused some of my friends to doubt my sanity.

Well, I love archaeology.  It's fascinating. And I love college kids. They're fun and, for the most part, their minds are refreshingly open. What's wrong with doing something you love with people you enjoy?  Where is the rule book that sets the age limits for certain activities?  If there is one, I do NOT want to see it.  I wouldn't pay a bit of attention to it anyway.

If you like Comicon, LARPing, or World of Warcraft, why should chronology stop you?  I like all of those things.  I do all those things.  I cosplay.  I play video games (okay, on easy mode).  If youth is wasted on the young, well, I'm recouping my losses. And, hopefully, I might be setting an example for another older someone who has given up one or more joys in life because of something as insignificant as an acculturation that tells them "You're too old for that."

"But there are physical limitations as you age," you might say. And you'd be right.  Some are very real reasons to refrain from an activity you enjoy.  (Maybe not a good idea to ski with osteoporosis).  But some "limitations" are just excuses offered out of fear.  Fear of looking silly or of being accused of "immaturity".  Take a look at my credit score, the fact that I am bondable and have passed every mandatory background check that my former employers in the fields of education and real estate have required.  Please use those things as a determinate of my maturity, not the fact that I occasionally dress up like a mermaid.

Which brings me to the heat exhaustion.  When I left for Belize the general admonition was "Drink lots of water".  No one mentioned that I could wash out every mineral in my body.   After two liters of water and a great morning learning how to set up units in the field, I found myself experiencing chills (in 98-100 degrees), and palpitations. Heat exhaustion.  Rats!

Instead of pushing myself, I chose to miss the lecture tour, something that I considered to be the highlight of my trip.

I'd say that was adult behavior.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bugged by the Past....

I am so excited about my upcoming trip to the Mayan archaeological sites of Belize that I'm telling everyone.  Seriously.  Everyone.

The correlations I have forced between what is going on in the real world and my self-absorbed focus on my upcoming trip have been embarrassing.  The woman on line in front of me at the supermarket: "I see you're digging in your purse for change.  That reminds me, I'm going on an archaeological dig soon."  My dental hygienist:  "Y'know, the way you're gently picking at the plaque on my teeth reminds me of the delicate process of uncovering archaeological artifacts, and I just happen to be going on a dig soon..."

This is big for me.  I have dreamed of doing field work for decades, even before Indiana Jones romanticized a process that often includes dirty, back-breaking work in all kinds of climate conditions and, in tropical environments such as Belize, the possibility of venomous snakes, flies that leave their eggs to hatch in your arm, and tarantulas.

Bugs of all kinds are one of the "occupational hazards" of working in Belize.  Cockroaches that fly and are the size of (I'm quoting a friend's description here) "small bats".  Mosquitoes and bed bugs and ticks.  Oh my!

Then there is the deadly bite of the chinch bug.  Yes, Indy never mentioned these little guys.  Chinch bug is the local name for an insect called triatominae.  An online search for information through the World Health Organization informs me that they are called "kissing bugs" because they like to crawl on a sleeping person's mouth.  Awful as the idea of a bug crawling on your mouth during the night may be, the idea of this same bug POOPING near your mouth when it bites you (which is what the chinch bug does) is worse.  Okay, sorry, not done yet.  When you instinctively rub the bite, you can rub the feces INTO the bite, your mouth, eyes, nose, or a skin break.  Still not grossed out?  Okay.  How about if that feces contains parasites that can live in your body undetected for up to twenty years? Parasites that can KILL YOU?

Oh goody.  Always wanted to be on television.  Just didn't think it would be an episode of "Monsters Inside Me".

Indiana Jones never mentioned this.
But even though the image of archaeologists as romantic adventurers has proliferated popular culture, I've always known what I'd really be up against.

And I always wanted to go anyway.

Having seen sites like La Venta, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque, Tikal, Teotihuacan, Altun Ha, Lamanai, and more, I am itching more than ever to be one of those people who uncovers and documents these amazing sites.

Uxmal, Mexico, 2007
Do bugs bug me?  To some extent, of course. And so they should as some are known disease vectors, venomous, and so on.  But facing new, foreign critters does not deter me, much as the idea of roaches with wings makes the flying monkeys of Oz seem like cute pets to me.

When I travel I'm not looking for a "just like home but no dishes" experience. I try to embrace the local way of life, the bad with the good. I realize that I am mainly an observer but I try to to learn about local food, religion, recreation, and so on.  Archaeology is a way to travel to the PAST to find out these very things.  I view participation in uncovering that past as a privilege, an honor.  It's also very exciting.  A treasure hunt? Yes, sometimes.  But if the treasure is knowledge and history, then  always.

I'll bring a lot of bug spray.