Around The Yard: Mathilde Ribordy

Returning to for a fifth season, "Around The Yard: Life As A Harvard Student-Athlete" explores life away from the playing fields for select Harvard student-athletes through their own first-person narrativeFor a full list of blog entries, click here.

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Mathilde Ribordy
Women's Water Polo
October 17, 2018

After spending nearly 20 hours a week in a swimming pool last spring, I spent the first month of my summer in a place where there is barely any water. I attended an archeological field school at Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania, in the universe of Maasai warriors and the Lion King. The site of Olduvai Gorge is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, on the southeastern edge of the Serengeti. Studied for the past century and famous notably for the discovery of the cranium of Zinjanthropus by Mary Leaky in the 50s, this site spanning the past 2 million years of human history is now one of the most important archaeological sites for the study of human evolution.

I absolutely loved every minute that I spent at Olduvai, and so many elements contributed to making it a truly transformative experience. I had never been in such an isolated area, away from any big cities. I was amazed by the fact that at nights when the moon was almost full, it was so bright outside that I could see my own shadow. And then, the first night there was no moon, I stood between our tents with the other students and we looked at the sky, speechless in front of the beauty of this sky full of stars. I saw Maasai children herding their goats right outside my tent, as curious about me as I was about them. I had never been in contact with people from such a different cultural background before. I heard daily at least four different languages. I saw more wildlife that I had ever seen before—giraffes, wildebeests, gazelles, hippos, rhinos, lions, hyenas, and the dung beetles that flew into our soup bowls at night.

Olduvai was my first experience digging at an archaeological site, and it has set the bar very high for the next sites I will work at. It is such a rich site; the preservation is amazing. We found thousands of remains in only a couple square meters. I liked digging a lot—a mix of peacefulness and excitement comes with spending hours crouched in the sand, slowly removing dirt from your meter square, hoping that today will be the day you find the hominin remains everyone is looking for. Every once in a while, some Olduvai-unique events come punctuate the monotony of archaeological excavations—a group of baboons running up and down the gorge screaming; a herd of Maasai goats walking through our trench; Maasai young boys stopping to watch us work, probably thinking that we were crazy to spend all day sitting in the dirt under the hot African sun. 

It is funny sometimes how some decisions have unexpected consequences. When I started playing water polo at the age of 9, who would have thought that it would eventually bring me to Harvard where I would discover archaeology and end up in such an incredible place as Olduvai? This summer showed me that being a student-athlete at Harvard can allow you to do many more things than simply go to practice and sit in a classroom; it opens doors to an incredible array of opportunities. In this moment I am extremely thankful to be part of a program that is so flexible and allows me to study what I want and pursue my dreams in the summer. I cannot wait to see which adventures will come next!