Thursday, October 23, 2008

Visiting the Sanctuary

It was one of the best days in memory, though it ended with hiding from children.

I finally, finally, finally got to go to the sanctuary to see the other three chimps. And what an amazing trip it was!

We were all moderately healthy - at last! Cleve’s malaria seemed quelled by a night of Maladox. My cough seemed just residual. We all felt good. And Adam had a chimp-pee-free shirt to wear.

Cleve was still a little woozy so he took the motorbike with Seba and Adam and I walked the distance to the sanctuary. Cleve had warned us, but I don’t think we understood fully that children in the village, marveling at our novelty, would follow us down the street much like the Pied Piper. Most of the children were actually quite sweet and funny, making whooping noises and laughing. We heard very few cries of “Mondele” on the way there - (the Lingala word for “whitey”). NO requests for money, which, considering our time on the road and in Buta, is just amazing.

By the time we finally got to the sanctuary, we probably had 100 children following us. It was sort of funny but at the same time I’ll be far more content when the children grow more accustomed to our presence.

Cleve took photos of us, coming in with our bevy of children, which I think might be impractical to post within entries considering our bandwidth limitations, but if I don’t remember that all of the photos I’ve posted thus far are over there on the righthand top of the blog.

I’ve got a couple photos that will be emailed as entries to the blog, too.

Anyway, we cross over the security border of the sanctuary and start to pant-hoot in anticipation of meeting the chimps. And right on schedule there they are!

There are three chimps living in our little makeshift forest sanctuary right now - Kathe, a female I estimate to be around 4 or 5, Bolungwa - a female who is probably under 2, and Django Mayanga, who I’d guess is probably a year to a year and a half.

Kathe is the really rambunctious one - very friendly, very playful, often naughty and definitely very strong. She’s also toothless on top - her previous “owners” - the village who kept her as a pet - decided that she didn’t really “need” those top teeth and popped them out with a hot poker.

Bolungwa is pensive, quiet and sweet. She’s second in the hierarchy and very attached to the caregivers and slow to welcome new people. She always looks like she’s mulling over some very important question, but her temperament is still lovely.

Django, the youngest and the lowest on the totem pole, always seems to be where you’re not expecting him. He’s very selective about being held but when he comes to you, he’ll want affection immediately. He’s a lot like Gari, the last orphan we took in in Goma while I was still there -- he’s a bit nervous and sucks on his bottom lip, or sometimes puts his mouth around your arm and sort of sucks/bites.

Cleve calls him a little vampire, because he kept sucking on Cleve’s neck!

Of course he had to explain fully to the Congolese staff what exactly a “vampire” was, because they had absolutely NO idea.

I will say too that spending time with the chimps made me wonder how my own kids were doing - Gari - Kanabiro - Shege - Yongesa. And I missed them terribly.

Playing with these new kids was great, though. Kathe had an obsession with looking down my shirt and trying to grab my breasts; she doesn’t have a lot of interaction with women and I guess she was curious! But it was definitely something to keep guard of - not only did she try to make me inadvertently flash everyone at the sanctuary, but then she’d proceed to nuzzle my butt or put her face in my crotch or try to take off my pants!

At least buy me dinner first!

It was wonderful time. The caregivers out there are doing a supremely good job - the chimps look happy and well-fed. They get the chance to spend the days in the trees - and actually eat fruit from the trees too!

Boyoma, their intended sanctuary near Kisangani, only barely has a road right now, so I hope that we can stay until it’s at a state that chimpanzees can live there!
With regard to logistics like that, Cleve being sick is actually giving me a chance to manage the day-to-day expenses and issues. It feels good to have a grasp on the goings on, though I’m sure it’ll wear on me the longer I have to do it ;)

The next step, once Cleve is healed, is to sit down and figure out exactly where I plan to take my samples from. Until then, chimpanzees!

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