Day 304 - Olivia (1st person I approached)
October 31, 2014 - I had walked past Olivia twice as I was getting some errands done. She was sitting alone, working on her laptop. When I approached her and told her what I’m doing, she agreed to chat with me. She said that I had just caught her and that she was about to pack up her stuff and head out. Timing is everything!
As soon as Olivia told me she was born in Kokomo, Indiana, I had the tune from a Beach Boys song in my mind. A song I didn’t even realize that I knew any of the lyrics to. Turns out I was wrong, sort of.
“That song is about a place called Kokomo in the Florida Keys,” Olivia told me with a big grin. It was clear she’s had to have this conversation before. (I later found out the place referred to as ‘Kokomo’ in the Beach Boys song is fictional.) Kokomo, Indiana is officially known as the ‘City of Firsts’, having dozens of significant technological innovations and achievements attributed to it, within the first half of the twentieth century.
“I have one older sister. We were close when we were very young, but she’s six years older than I am, so when she was a teenager, I was seven. Not so cool to hang around with your little sister at that age,” she said.
“We’re getting closer as we move into the adult stage of our lives.” Olivia took up dance at the age of seven.
“My mother, like many parents tried to find things that would be of interest to us. I loved dancing right from the start. I liked going and learning. It was like I had found my niche. I did all types of dance; ballet, tap, modern, you name it. I danced throughout my school years,” she said.
Right after graduating from high-school, Olivia moved to Athens, Georgia, to go to university.
“My mother was always supportive, but I think we both knew we’d miss me being at home. She asked if I was sure I wanted to move so far away. Maybe she hoped I’d change mind? I loved growing up in Kokomo, but there isn’t that much there. I wanted to get out and explore. Plus, my older sister was staying in Kokomo, so I didn’t feel quite as bad. My mother still my sister there,” she said, shrugging her shoulders hesitantly.
When Olivia started at the University of Georgia (UGA), she went into the school of forestry.
“I was interested in the environment and I thought that would be a good way to go. Truthfully at that age, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I was also interested in science and people. After my first semester, I was still undeclared and I switched to the Biology program. That’s what I got my degree in,” she said.
When Olivia finished school, she remained in Athens, still unsure what she was going to do with her degree.
“I got a job completely unrelated, like so many graduates do. I was working for a property management company. I did that for about a year. Then I got an internship with GVI (Global Vision International),” said Olivia. GVI are a volunteer-based organization that provide travel and international educational opportunities. They are an authority on international volunteering and global education. (*Fact Check - see links below.)
“I spent seven months in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, conducting research in Tortuguero National Park. We were looking into the unique behaviours of jaguars in that area. Jaguar’s are traditionally individualistic animals. They fight to mark their territory and primarily hunt and live alone or in pairs. The jaguars in this part of the world have behaviours unique only to Costa Rica. There is a small strip of land about perhaps three miles long, and the cats have actually formed a community. There are at least ten of them that are living together. Part of the reason may well be that the food sources are abundant, and they don't have to fight to find food. The jaguars here have even been seen to share their kill with other jaguars. That doesn't happen in any other place in the wild. Our work involved using cameras attached to trees that would be tripped and take photographs of the elusive cats. But we also had first-hand sightings, and got some incredible photographs ourselves. There are researchers that have dedicated the last fifteen years to the study of these cats and yet have never seen one in person,” Olivia said with astonishment and pride.
“Our work even caught the attention of Panthera,” she told me. Panthera is a scientific leadership and global conservation group, working specifically in wild cat conservation. (**Fact Check - see links below.)
During her time in Costa Rica, Olivia became good friends with a woman originally from Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), in Canada.
“Her and I did research on a different project that was on much higher ground, on an isolated acreage. There was only her and I there, so needless to say, we spent much of our time talking. She had told me all about Vancouver. I liked living in Athens, Georgia because of it’s proximity and easy access to nearby mountains for hiking. It was near the ocean which I love. It sounded like Vancouver was like Athens on steroids. My research ended and I went back to work for the property management company. I loved the research work I did in Cost Rica, and it was an incredible experience. I also enjoyed meeting other volunteers from everywhere around the world,” she said.
“I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do though. I liked the biology of research. I also wanted to do something related to environmental work, and I wanted whatever I did, to include people. Other humans! I was doing some research and came across holistic nutrition. It seemed to speak to all the things that interest me. In the USA, there aren’t many schools about holistic nutrition,” she said, with a slightly humorous and sarcastic irony.
“It turns out there’s an excellent school here in Vancouver. So I moved here to go to school. I’ve been here for about two months. The course is a year long, and once I’ve finished I’ll probably head back to the States,” said Olivia.
In typical form, our ‘five minute’ conversation lasted about twenty minutes. Olivia didn’t seem to mind. I mentioned that I liked jaguars and that turtles were also one of my favourite animals.
"We were conducting research involving the Sea Turtles in Costa Rica as well,” she told me. I had read something just last week about rising coastal tides. This is creating difficulty for turtles that traditionally return to the same egg-laying spot year after year. Olivia and I then chatted about turtles for another five minutes or so.
I took her photograph, and thanked Olivia for the chat. I wished her well during her stay in Vancouver.
“It was my pleasure,” she said, cheerily.
“You’re a good listener.”
(Note: When I went to the Panthera website, they just happened to have stencils for carving Halloween pumpkins using Jaguar silhouettes! Next year?)