Sunday, October 08, 2006


Today was definitely the most interesting African History class we've had all year. Right now we're learning about medieval Africa, with the class divided up into 3 little groups: one for the Ghana Empire, one for the Mali Empire, and one for the Songhai Empire. I'm on Mali. Each group is in charge of teaching the rest of the class about the group's empire, through countless little projects and educational ploys.

SO. There we were hunched around tables, slaving away over our Ibn Battuta and Mansa Musa, when I looked up (and it WAS me that looked up first) and saw a bull tortoise in the doorway.

Our school has kind of a history with tortoises. I am told that the year before last, tortoises ran wild on campus. Some of them charged hapless students and teachers, and knocked them down, or bruised them. Our tortoises are pretty big. Last year, however, elementary school raised a ton of money and built them a sanctuary (with brick walls that go down for something like a meter underground, so they can't dig out). The idea is that they are safely contained.

So much for that. The tortoise entering our classroom was a new arrival to the school, and the biggest one yet. I don't actually know how big it is. Somebody said 3/4 of a meter squared. It must weigh at least as much as me, if not twice that. It was kind of getting stuck on the doormat, so it waved its flippers around a lot and tried to drag itself through. I said something like, "Oh my GOSH!"

All the other people in my group looked up, too, and must have reacted in an entertaining manner (I almost wish I'd been watching them). We rushed up to the entrance to get a better look, as did most of the rest of the class. One boy claims he thought it was a bird at first. Our teacher, deep in her own thoughts in a dark corner of the classroom, suddenly came to attention, and said in a peeved voice, "What are you all DOING?" (She had spent much of the class exhorting us to focus on our work.) Then she saw the tortoise, too.

Tortoises can't turn around, or at least refuse to do so. This meant that to get it back outside and into the sanctuary, it had to be carried. A couple of students grabbed the shell from either end (the tortoise, not so brave now, hastily pulled in its head) and hoisted it in the air. We all trailed after them as they lugged it across campus, attracting a little parade of maintenance workers, along with the chemistry teacher.

Our history teacher made indignant comments to the maintneance workers ("It was in my ROOM!"), but we could tell she was just as happy to be out of class as we were. Thank goodness for bull tortoises.


CuracaoChick said...

Oh, wow. I wish you had a picture, too. And I wish stuff like this happened at MY school!!


Nathan said...

It strikes me as odd that tortoises can "run wild." Actually, it seems strange that they can even run. I guess I have the idea that they are quite slow creatures, so being knocked down or bruised by a tortoise is like a skit you'd see on Saturday Night Live. How fast do they go?

Ruth said...

hmm. not that fast. it is strange. but someone explained to me that it wasn't exactly like the tortoise ran at the person who got knocked down last year, it was more like it got up close and then leaped. or threw itself at him/her. which is even stranger.

Uncle Jim said...

Yucca Mountain (potential site of the US high level nuclear waste diposal site) is home to a threatened population of desert tortises. So, every year when I work there I need to go through tortise training (part of which is how to move a tortise without alarming or disorienting it). Most people who have worked there for years have never seen a tortise, but we work in remote areas where we see them every few days. When we are in prime tortise habitat we will have a team of biologists with us scouting for tortise nests. That is cool because we learn lots about the desert fauna and flora with the biologists on the team. They like working with us because we often have a Korean named Min Jae Jung working with us. Min Jae is legenday at Yucca Mountain for finding tortises. It is a slow day for Min Jae if he doesn't find at least two. Last year, Min Jae found a nest with hatching tortise eggs. That was very cool and something the biologists had never seen before.