A pediatrician, a scuba diver, and a geophysicist walk into a bar . . .
Sounds like the start of a great joke, but actually, it will be the story of my first blog entry. The last time I had to describe my career to someone, it was in a completely different context. The week Matt moved to Nova Scotia, my wife and I were scrambling to get our scuba diving certification so we could dive the reefs of Mozambique. One of my best friends was getting married in South Africa and diving was one of the must-do activities on our trip.
Getting to the dive camp in the gentle beach settlement of Ponta Malongane was a mission. Crossing the border from the familiar and relatively cosmopolitan townships of South Africa into Mozambique was like shaking off the anaesthetic of an already waning familiarity. We watched entourage after entourage of vacationing South Africans in beach shorts creep their vehicles 25 metres beyond the mobile trailers and chain link fence that comprised an otherwise unrecognizable border post. Methodically, they would turn up the radio, as to celebrate their clearance into the country, take out the gauge and drop the tire pressure down to 0.8 bar.
A common conversation about driving to Mozambique starts like this. . .
“Evan, do you have a 4-by-4?”
“Yes.” We were lucky enough to borrow the groom's.
“How many spare tyres do you have?”
“Er, one, . . . just one”
“Oh, well, . . . you might be alright.”
The road was drawn as a bold black national highway on our map, but it wasn’t exactly bold, black or straight for that matter. The 20 km trip took us about an hour with deep tire tracks braiding back and forth across a vegetated sand dune. When we arrived, we were greeted immediately by our intrepid dive master and host. He was a rustic and articulate South African man in his mid thirties, and Tara said he looked like Keith Urban crossed with Owen Wilson; only slightly more handsome! Pardon me? Don’t underestimate the fashionability of a wetsuit. We learned that Fanie (pronounced “Far-ney”), was somewhat of a scuba diving celebrity in his circles, a naturalist, an explorer, and marine biology researcher. He carried a true tan that convinced me his wetsuit wasn’t entirely UV protective. He led us to a picnic table in the shade at the beach bar, pushed his hair behind his ears, crossed his legs and asked, “so dudes, what do you two do? Are you studying?”
Studying? I thought. He must have been mislead by the pale, youthful luminescence of our faces.
Tara told him that she was a doctor who works with kids and we moved to Atlantic Canada a little over two years ago for her residency training.
I joked, “I’m living proof that you’re never too old to outgrow a Pediatrician.”
I continued, “I’m a geoscientist. I solve subsurface problems, primarily for oil and gas companies”. I didn’t bother to use the title geophysicist, I don’t think he would have cared about the distinction, and I figure you can’t really do one without the other anyways.
“You don’t work for BP do you?” he asked, playfully disapproving. “Because if so, we are going to have words my man.”
I laughed, because even a place so remote and so seemingly untouched by the rest of the world, there was obviously strong awareness and connectedness.
“Ah, no, I don’t, and not those kind of problems.”
I felt compelled to give him a better idea of what I do so I tried another analogy.
“If I were a doctor, I guess I would be a radiologist. Say, a radiologist who occasionally performs and analyzes biopsies. As good as medical imaging and technologies are, and even in such a controlled environment, often times you need to stick a needle in and suck back on the plunger to see what you get. Same deal with the earth. But just as with people, it is not always without risks”.
I continued, “Seismology involves imaging structures that have physical contrasts. For us, this means interpreting images to infer geologic processes, and infer rock and fluid properties. Part of the goal is to find reservoirs: any rock with holes in it.”
“Like reefs?” he asked.
“That’s one example, for sure. Buried ancient reefs. But reservoirs don’t even need to have holes in them that large.”
I pointed to a map of the reef distribution tacked to one of the walls in the dive centre. “Can I get a copy of that map?”
“You don’t want that map; it’s not even very accurate. But we’ll go there just now, and you can explore till your heart’s content. Or until you run out of air. Which ever comes first. Welcome to Africa, my friend.”