22 Dec Thrivikramji in Wichita State University & in Belize
Thrivikramji in Belize (Former British Honduras)
An award of a Fulbright PD fellowship in Aug. 1989, took me to the Geology Department in the Wichita State University (WSU). My immediate host was Bill Full – a Bob Erlich Student from South Carolina State University, who was perhaps the brightest among the third line of mathematical geologists. In fact it was my request to Bob Erlich to permit me to enjoy the PD award in CSU with him, made the door open for me to WSU and with Bill Full. Wichita is in the southern edge or border of Kansas state known for tornados and blizzards. To my own surprise when I landed in Wichita and in the department I realized that my own MS thesis advisor Prof Dan Merriam also was in the faculty at WSU. Interestingly I never saw Dan and Bill even exchanging salutations to each other. Some behavior I thought was only India specific. Yet, the bottom line is that Dan was very much instrumental in university’s hiring Bill as Assistant Professor. Duane Eppler, a contemporary at Syracuse with me, was also a good friend of Bill. Both were groomed into two dimensional shape analyses by Enrlich in the SCSU.
AT WSU, I had a golden opportunity to learn and practice the art of edge digitizing of the grain images under a microscope, so that the data set could be used as input in a unmixing algorithm based software to discriminate the environment and sources (?) of sand samples based on the particle shape. I had a very nurturing stay in WSU and in the town of Wichita. Wichita sits over a landscape reflecting the basement folds or plains type folding special to Kansan Geology. The Friday evening sessions in the Petroleum Club across the street from the main gate of the university –rather the gate closer to the Geology & Geography building, truly gave an occasion to unwind, rewind and relax over a pitcher of Beer or two. Surprisingly, my friend Bill was a teetotaler, yet he gave a good company for me over his favorite club soda.
My hostel, arranged by Bill, was in another edge of the campus and closer to the Boeing Lab., and had a roofed swimming pool attached to it. I had routinely my lunch at the cafeteria while the other two meals I had in my apartment. Oatbran cereal with skim milk and handful of raisins, juice and milk was sumptuous and indeed mouth watering even these days. When I came back home to Trivandrum, India and checked my cholesterol it was surprisingly only 163 m/dl. See the way the bran cereal enabled that low number.
One Friday, Dan drove me to Univ. of Kansas and especially to Kansas Geological Survey to see face to face John Clement Davis the director of the survey then. We started driving at about 6 am in the morning and before hitting the highway had a breakfast at a truck stop. The breakfasts in the truck stops are only one of the coziest things you may enjoy. But for the fellow truckers, the menu is quite long and attractive. We got to the U of K campus around 9 am. And Dan and me walked straight into John’s office. After the preliminaries, I wanted to go about the multi storey complex that housed the KGS. The office once used by Dr Raymond Moore (remember the Moore of Moore, Lalicker and Fisher-Paleontology text), even that day and now should be standing out there as a living memorial for that great paleontologist. I saw the museum, library and a series of laboratories housed in the complex. In fact the Dept of Geology & Petroleum Geology of the U of K shares the expertise from the Kansas Geol Survey too – A nicest arrangement beneficial to newer generations of Geoscience students.
During fall break, on invitation I joined the team led by Bill to Belize for geological foot work, in central America. Belize formerly known as British Honduras, is a wonderful patch of tropical land (a British colony and a destination for deported convicts from India), with quite a bit of Indian community mainly from north India. The waves of both Pacific and Atlantic Ocean lashed the beaches- more so by the Atlantic. The warm and calm sea on either side attracted hordes of Canadian and American Tourists every summer. The tourist dollar was the primary revenue for the state and provided several thousand mandays of work for the natives- generally colored people.
The warm, clear and calm waters also offered an idyllic setting for the luxurious growth of coral reefs as barrier reefs and patch reefs protecting the back shore from the occasional fury of the rogue seawaves. Our cruises in the tidal creeks crisscrossing the vast stretches of mangroves bordering the wetlands and provided a closer view of the exotic plants and animals and fish life in the waters of the wetland. The giant Food companies of US has their Banana plantations (may be others too) here in Belize. For the first time in my life I saw the high degree of care given to the banana gardens and banana bunches by the profit oriented farming company. All operations A-Z are scientific and hence they could repeatedly get bumper harvests and perhaps bumper profits.
The villages along the backshore had houses (most of the time entirely built of timber) standing on the stilts to allow a storm surge to pass by and under without damaging the property and possessions of the home dwellers. A technology to emulate but we in Kerala never do so. We, Indians, are rather technology unsavy.
The weeklong stay in Belize took us from the south to north. The landscape was dotted with very large sinkholes, as the bed rock here happened to be limestone. The solution activity by the carbonated rain water spanning over millions of years have created very large sinkholes. But this did not deter the tropical forest trees to re-establish in and along the edges of such spectacular sinkholes.
In fact, we had hired two Samurai jeeps to cover the area we wanted to cover. The food was exceptionally fantastic- loaded with sea food and Hotels reasonably priced and neat and clean. Shops and shopping malls were not that impressive. The locally sourced “dead” coral stone from the depths of the ocean is carved and shaped into beads to make ornaments of dark green colour. I did buy a garland and ear drops for my wife any way. The price was so cheap that it tempted any American visitor to fall over it.
We on returning from Belize, landed in Huston International Airport. I had a hell of a time in the immigration as the officer denied my entry to USA, as my visa had originally stamped for a one time entry. However, I had a visa stamped later in Belize for a second entry. This did not correctly register with the man. Other members of the team walked away, after Bill giving me his credit card to use just in case I had to sleep in the airport hotel, to the gate to catch a flight to Wichita. Luckily for me yet another immigration official went over to a telephone contacted the desk in Department of state (it was a sunday though), Washington DC for a brief talk, and then he walked toward me with a broad smile to shake my hand. He led me through the door to USA and I ran to the gate 10 (roughly one hundred meters) to catch the flight with the rest of the crew from WSU.
My stay in Wichita lasted till the 3rd week of Dec. 1989 so that I will have a taste of nearly less snowy but high blizzard prone winter in Wichita. However, you should know that on a bad blizzard day, you better stay indoors and not try going out unless you had at least four layers of warm clothing to beat the cold and spiked by the windchill factor. The day I left Wichita was so cold that the jet engines of the twin engine Boeing aircraft refused to turn over. The engine was dead frozen in the cold. But the air port has truck mounted hotair blowers to warm the cowling and the engine. This little giant helped to start the plane and we a team of just nine passengers took off to Kansas city – the hub.
I landed in JFK domestic terminal enroute to Connecticut to spend time with them during Christmas of 1989. It is the Dr Jose family and Dr. Roy Chacko’s brother in law- a MRI specialist working for the local VA Hospital system – perhaps the only system totally federally funded and run. I had a comfortable stay with the Joes. Joes mom was staying with them and she made puttu for me. I joined the celebrations in the local church and home. They lived in a million dollar home set in a two acre wooded lot. On the 29th of Dec 1989, they saw me off at the JFK. I came back home fully realizing that the infrastructure was not available in the University of Kerala to continue to practice or preach what received a specialized training in. But the exposure to new technology was a great newer input into the armory of my knowledge. I rejoined the Dept. of Geology on the Jan 1, 1990.