Sunday, November 30, 2008

Remember, Remember the Month of November

This month has been pretty adventurous to say the least. Starting
with our trip to the Yoko forest. We had a good time there, finding
chimp nests, Laura getting her first chimp dung sample and seeing all
of the untouched wildlife that was there. Even thought we were
drenched and I got an infection, it was still great.

Laura got her first case of malaria and came out okay. Thank goodness
for the medicine. Cleve left to go home and we had a nice
Thanksgiving diner.

Also confiscating Aketi the chimp from the illegal hunter and becoming
his surrogate mom made me feel really good about the work that Laura
and I are doing here. Taking care of him makes taking care of a human
baby seem like a cake walk. At least human babies wear diapers and
don't poop and pee all over the place.

The month did end on a sour note with Fat Shady's shenanigans. You
can read more about it in Laura's entry but essentially he is an idiot
I would like for Laura and myself to distance ourselves from.

We also made a new friend in a new official who came to Aketi. Its
good to have friends in high places. I think Papa Bosco likes us so
much because we were born the same year as his first daughter, He
sees us like his kids. He is going to help us find a new house
tomorrow so we can get away from Fat Shady.

It will also be nice to have Internet again tomorrow, This is after
my automatic Windows updates ate up half of the last month's data
transfer. This means you probably read this on Dec. 1st at the
earliest.

The good news is that we are doing well and are healthy once again.
It is also the dry season, which makes traveling easier. It also
means very hot days and cold nights for us too.

A Wind, No Storm

A awoke this morning to the sound of loud singing and drum playing. Groggy, I dragged myself to the window of the bedroom, looking out on the street and saw a parade of children and ladies, and a preacher. They’d just gone down to the beach to do baptisms.

I think it was the first time I’d woken up smiling in several days.

Things feel a little bit better, though the affair is not exactly over. Our meeting with the official, much-delayed until today, finally happened, and even though we had to pay another $40 for “Inscription” and fill out more forms and promise to make MORE photocopies of our passports and visas, the official was actually really nice to us.

We were both born in the year of his first child (1980) so he said he considered us to be his children. And at this point, we could really use friends!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Don't Ever Say "Yet"

I don’t have the energy to go over the terrible events that passed, so I will just copy an email I sent out with the names removed and other confidential information excised.

Now that I have my computer charged, I feel like I should write everything down before I forget it all.  Though, at this point, I don't know how I could forget it.

Yesterday, after the horrible day before, FS called Polycarpe, his tail between his legs, to apologize for creating such a scene and to beg us to stay in the house.  Polycarpe had told him we were going to find another house to live in, and he didn't want that.  He said his only problem was Olivier and Seba living there.  They were workers, he reasoned.  Why didn't they live somewhere else and come to work like other people?

We compromised and agreed to have Olivier and Seba live somewhere else, and Fat Shady said he would end the whole affair with the stolen tin.  He knows, I am convinced, that Seba and Olivier didn't steal it or have anything to do with its theft.

Fat Shady told us to send Olivier and Seba over to the police station to finish their statements, and he would call the commandant and end the whole investigation.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that FS did the exact OPPOSITE of what he promised.  The commandant had found absolutely no evidence of Olivier and Seba's guilt, but FS refused to drop the charges until the tin was repaid (by Olivier and Seba). He communicated this, I'm told, directly with the commandant when he called to "end the fiasco."

So he TRICKED us into sending the guys over, promising that he had ended it when really, he was just continuing it.

The real nasty clincher?  He demanded 9000 FC per piece of tin - 90,000FC total.  Dido went and inquired with the guy FS BOUGHT the tin from and he told Dido that Fat Shadypaid 3000FC for each piece.

It wasn't even new tin.  It was sort of old and rusted.

FS, of course, knows that Olivier and Seba can't pay 90,000 FC and that I'll have to pay it, so he's, in effect, stealing money from the project here.

What was even worse was that, even after we paid the money to the police, AND the additional "$50 release fee" for the two, they had to STAY in prison FOR HOURS.  They were actually IN the prison with leg cuffs on, given NO food OR water.  For EIGHT HOURS.

The riseau over Aketi must have been down, because I was unable to make ANY phonecalls yesterday despite repeated attempts to call ANYONE.

So Olivier and Seba finally came home around 7 pm, 9 hours after they'd gone to the police originally, and went to sleep somewhere else since Mawai now has the only keys to the depot and they're not allowed to sleep here.

At THREE this MORNING, I awake in a start to horrible noises -- clattering and clanging, etc.  And then I hear Polycarpe start to scream and I run out of bed with no pants on and there are THIEVES here again.

FS’s claim was that the tin was stolen because Olivier and Seba propped it up against the wall, putting them at "fault", but here is a thief, his arm stuck through the bars of the depot, the tin halfway out the window.  He's stealing tin that was lying on the FLOOR.  NOT propped up.

It suddenly explains how 10 pieces of tin are missing and we only caught thieves once stealing two pieces.  Probably long before Olivier OR Seba stayed in the depot, these thieves were stealing tin from the pile of tin on the floor in the depot.

Either way, it should never have been our responsibility to pay for the tin.  FS sent me constant text messages yesterday (which I could receive but not send out) telling me what idiots (betises) and delinquents Seba and Olivier were and that if I wanted to keep them on, they couldn't stay in HIS house.

But here we were last night, an old man and two half-asleep mondeles, and there were thieves AT the house and I have NEVER FELT MORE UNSAFE IN MY LIFE.

We are going to search out another house today but FS is a BAD GUY.  Seriously, this isn't even funny anymore or about ivory or mattresses or anything else.

Friday, November 28, 2008

On a Brighter Note

The best excuse ever for not having finished preparing Thanksgiving dinner is officially:

“I didn’t have time to cook that; I was in prison.”

But cook Olivier did once he and Seba were FINALLY released, and, even in my dark mood, coming out into the back yard to find a table laden with a feast (and flowers!!) moved me to tears.

Tradition wasn’t lost, even if there wasn’t time to make squash or corn on the cob. We took hands, and sang the doxology (a tradition I enjoy even in the absence of religion) and filled our bellies with delicious food.

The heaviness of the day was not, however, lost on us and the magic was somewhat diminished as heated discussions followed dinner regarding the events of the day.

I do feel like it’s the result of stress and hormones, but I fear that the staff questions my ability to protect them, and the project.

And I can’t blame them. I feel responsible in my inability to somehow expedite or eradicate the drama from yesterday, and I can’t help but wonder what Cleve would have done in this situation, and whether he would have been able to protect them more than I did.

I guess I should be glad that I didn’t get myself arrested, but the fact that the drama isn’t over, and Seba and Olivier have to go back to the police today is disquieting.

I told Polycarpe last night that I may not be able to circumvent the process of law here, or keep Seba and Olivier out of the necessary rigamarole to get this whole thing done with.

But I can keep it from happening again by removing us from under the thumb of FS. Today, I hope that Polycarpe and I can go out in search of a different house, and that, within the next week or two, we’ll be able to move there.

A Hug, A Touch, An Improvement?

Baby Aketi slept through the night last night after our Thanksgiving dinner, blithely ignorant to the drama and heavily-charged emotion of the day and even the evening.

This morning, around 5 am, as the sky was lightening and the birds started to call, starting with the green pigeon and it’s melodic, rhythmic cooing, Aketi called softly and wandered over from his bed to our bed.

I lifted the mosquito net, and he lifted his arms. I picked him up, and cradled him in my nook as I lay on my side. Adam turned and cradled me in turn, and we, as a family, went back to sleep.

I could smell Aketi’s musk lingering outside my nostrils, and feel the pressure of the air he emitted as he yawned widely in the room, still pitch dark.

He nestled in and wrapped his hand around Adam’s finger. He pressed his face into my arm, and went back to sleep.

Then, so did I, and so did Adam. And everything felt just a little bit better.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

People Suck

The last entry in my day-long tirade of hate, but really, I’m so sick of the non-reciprocal back-scratching solicitation bullshit here.

A guy comes by, who Adam has been more than nice to and given free karate lessons to, and stops to talk to us. He works, I guess, with, or for the police, being an ex-military guy.

I said to him, as he passed by, “Do you know when our friends will be released?”

And he said to me, in broken English, which he prides himself on being able to speak (though it is usually only his first sentence that is at all discernible) “If you help me I’ll help you.”

Basically, like everyone else, asking for money.

I’m so glad he’s learned enough English to solicit bribes and extortion.

Bah, I say, Bah.

Now it is 7 hours since we first arrived at the police station, and Olivier and Seba have yet to be returned. It’s 3 hours since we paid the $8 for their declaration/release.

The Worst Day Yet

It goes without saying that Thanksgiving is sort of ruined - as our happy home is in the midst of a perilous ploy of sabotage.

That’s at least what Polycarpe thinks, and I tend to agree with him.

Per the entry of yesterday, regarding the thief, catastrophe has befallen us and all we can do now is endeavor to fix all of the damage that has been done.

I’ve never felt so helpless, or powerless, or less in love with a country than I feel now in Congo.

Ever prone to pointing the finger inward, our “friend” insisted today that we go to the police to report the theft today. Polycarpe had left to meet with the official we spoke of to see what it was that he needed. While Polycarpe was gone, a cadre of policemen came to house, claiming that we should go to the police station.

I refused, saying that we needed to wait for Polycarpe to return. Our “friend,” with the police, told Olivier that it was Polycarpe that had sent them, and that he was already at the police station, waiting for us.

We processed in a line, as though to the guillotine, and arrived at the police station, another husk of a building with only echoes of former glory; lovely carved stone planters out front and fancy columns, smashed and decimated nearly beyond recognition.

Polycarpe was not, in fact, there, and the policemen took Seba and Olivier into the office to question them. I asked for them to please wait for Polycarpe, but they commenced regardless and I quickly sent Damien to go and bring Polycarpe right away.

While Damien was away, the commandant of the police station called over a man who was gardening in the front “yard” of the police station. The man looked ragged, defeated, and tired. His clothing had more holes than cloth, and his hands seemed clenched in pain. The commandant, in uniform, and several other men proceeded to yell at this man, heckling and laughing at him in Lingala.

The man seemed to be protesting something. Suddenly, a horde of men from the patio of the police station pounced upon the man, pushing him to the ground and smacking him. The man was screaming and everyone watched. The men hitting him loudly started pushing him around the side of the building, pulling at his threadbare clothes and pushing him repeatedly into the dirt.

The man screamed and was crying, futilely, as the 6 men on him shoved him into a back room, laughing and heckling him as they slammed the door shut. The man banged on the door from the inside, crying and screaming more, and everyone on the patio laughed.

The man’s cries became muted, dulled by the sound of the echoing laughter on the patio. As the man became quiet, and the pounding ceased, everyone just kept laughing.

It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.


Damien came back without Polycarpe, and gave me some weak excuse that he was gone. Not content to just sit and wait for execution, I set out to find Polycarpe immediately.

Finding Polycarpe meeting with another official, a friend of ours and to the environment, I entreatied him to please hurry, and come to the police and help me defend our beleaguered colleagues.

He came quickly, and we walked back over to the police station, only to discover that the police had taken Olivier and Seba, on our “friend’s” orders, to the house to initiate their investigation.

We arrived and there were five or six men, not including the three we already knew, all discussing the means of getting the tin out of the tiny upper windows.

I didn’t understand a lot of it, because it was in Lingala, but it was clear that our “friend” was blatantly accusing Olivier and Seba of conspiring to steal the tin.

Now, it’s one thing to do this in the house, when you’re angry. But to do it in front of the police? The police tried to replicate the thieves’ actions, and had difficulty.

This “evidence” somehow convinced them that if it was difficult, it was possible that it was, in effect, an “inside job”... so they carted Olivier and Seba off to the station.

Our “friend” looked like he was glowing as they were taken away. Of course, one doesn’t realize that a) I’m sure a thief is far more motivated than a policeman and b) How does one prove that they DIDN’T take something?

I mean, Olivier and Seba both live at the house, so if they’d stolen the tin, where would they put it? Not only that, but why would they chase a thief down the street and scream at him if they were in cahoots?

But of course anger is never directed in the proper direction here, and Olivier and Seba had to go to the police station to give “declarations.”

And what could I do?

I can see no other solution than us going out into the town and finding another house. These are the kinds of scenarios that no amount of scientific preparation can actually prepare you for. As you sit in your room, helpless, wondering how you are meant to protect five chimpanzees when you cannot even protect your own employees?

But I feel resolved that I did what I could, and when Dido came back and told me that the police commandant was demanding 2000 Francs for each man (approximately $8 total), an outrageous sum, for their “official declarations”, I begrudgingly paid it.

Regardless, we will not be having a fancy Thanksgiving dinner tonight, but I left the receipt with Polycarpe and, with luck, Seba and Olivier will be back home within the hour.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Never Blame the Thief

After today, I’ll never wonder why Congo becomes such an angry, volatile country so fast again.

During the night, a thief cleverly stole some tin that was propped up against the windows in the depot of the house. Though there are bars on the windows properly, there are tiny mini-windows at the top where the thief stuck his hands in, and pulled the tin out.

Olivier heard the thief in the night and screamed, prompting the thief to flee, followed in close pursuit and picked up one piece of tin that the thief had dropped. The thief was gone, and the next day, we laughed about it.

What a lot of work for one measly piece of tin! I said, and everyone laughed. We resolved to call the police, and report the incident, and everything seemed copacetic again.

However, the owner of our house’s associate, who I’ll just call our “friend” because he feigns friendship with one face and plots our destruction with the other, came by, enraged after being yelled at by the owner of our house, a man I’ve previously referred to as Fat Shady.

He came in, temper flying, and not only promptly accused Seba and Olivier of stealing the tin but of us all being complicit in the theft. We were all thieves, and WHO was responsible?!

Of course, the thing that boggles MY mind is that, in all of this finger pointing, the finger never pointed out of the house. What ever happened to blaming the man responsible... the THIEF!?

Matters were only made worse when Olivier, hurt and upset by our “friend’s” outrageous accusations, threatened to fight the man, tearing off his shirt as he cried and stuttered, racing to defend his honor and pride. I’ve never quiet understood this mentality, but I think it’s most likely exclusively male. I can’t imagine feeling less dignified than being so upset that I’m driven to fight, struggling to take off my pants on the front patio so as not to rip them during the fight.

It was a bit of a scandal too, as Adam and I tried to separate the two men, Aketi screaming and upset at all of the hullabaloo. We also congregated an audience at the front gate, eager to know why people were yelling and fighting, and soon there were at least 30 people gawking at the near-fight.

We convinced Olivier to stay at the front patio and our “friend” to go to the back patio, where he continued to accuse us all of being complicit to the thievery. Apparently, there was more than 1 piece of tin missing, and he kept repeating the numbers, as though the disparity between them would escape us otherwise.

There were 16, and now there are 9! There were 16, and now there are 9!

They had been propped up against the windows to give Seba and Olivier, sleeping within, a bit of privacy in the exposed depot. They were sleeping in the depot because FS had forbade them from sleeping in the house. But all of this is neither here nor there.

We had a near fight, and I’m left wondering whether it is not poverty or corruption that is the real problem of Congo, but displaced anger. If every man who is yelled at or treated badly here visits that same anger and abuse on 3 more men, how quickly will it all spread through the whole country?

Maebe Mingi!

Maebe means “smart” in Lingala, and “mingi” means many or very! And man, is it true when it comes to our little quarantined chimp -- he is SO clever, and I am never more amazed than when I see him quickly picking things up...

Watching, learning. I only wish that he could watch his mother and learn some chimp things, instead of learning how to play Lost Cities and needlepoint and highlight scientific papers.

When Cleve was here, we tried a little sign language with Aketi, and I wonder if Adam and I continued that tutelage what it would inspire!

Congo OFFICIALly Sucks

Despite the title, things in Congo are good for the most part.

However, we have to meet with another official, again, who probably
just wants more money.

The thing about Congo is that, no matter where you go, there's always
officials who want to meet with you. In most cases, that would be
NICE, because they would care! But these officials don't care what
you do, they just care about the money you carry, and how much of it
they can have.

Since we haven't given this official in Aketi any money yet, he has
called another meeting for tomorrow, probably in the hopes that now we
will give him money. I leave the choice of giving money to him to
Happle; I don't want to give him money, but maybe if we give him
something, he will leave us alone.

I don't know ... Happle's a better judge of Africa than I am.

The other thing that worries me is that I cannot go with Happle
tomorrow. She will have Polycarpe there with her, but I have to stay
here and watch Detective Munch.

Granted, the worst thing that could happen is him asking us for
money. But, I always want to be able to watch out for Happle and I
won't be able to.

Other than that, I am looking forward to Thanksgiving Dinner and
calling my parents!!

The Malady Of Congo

I swear, if I get ONE more invitation to visit ONE more office, I’m going to rip it up and use it as toilet paper.

Today, Polycarpe got an invitation from an official we have already seen, requesting a meeting. Polycarpe decided to go to avoid any trouble, and the official asked that we come to his office tomorrow at 10 am.

When Polycarpe asked why, the official refused to tell him.

So now, we have yet another meeting with the SAME official -- all within 2 months of being here! Polycarpe claims that it is “the maladie du Congo” -- the sickness of Congo. These constant, endless, repetitive, ridiculous meetings with the the official presiding over the right foot while the official in charge of the left foot demands a meeting simultaneously.

We have been here nearly two months, and this is now the... <counts> 8th official we’ve had to meet with, with another two officials deflected while we were in Yoko.

I told my mother on the phone this week that this does indeed feel like the most inhospitable place I’ve yet lived.

I’m not talking about the sweltering, sticky heat, or the day-long mosquito infestation, or the complete lack of cheese or other foods. But this harassment -- which is really what it should be considered -- of constantly being summoned to meetings. It’s not only annoying, but also a bit scary.

I do feel protected by Polycarpe, and, of course, Adam, and I know there is really nothing serious any official here can DO to me, but the anticipation of hassle and stress always sucks.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Diamond, A Diamond

It’s a big speculative thing out here: the idea, the scent, the prospect ... of a diamond.

Yet for all my time in various parts of Congo, it has remained just that for me: speculation.

Today, however, Commerçant Eyebrows came by, and I wondered what it was he wanted. We’d repaid the debt to his wife, and I had neglected to had her sign something to acknowledge the receipt. Polycarpe and Olivier had witnessed the transaction, though, but still, seeing Mr. Eyebrows pull up, his motorbike roaring, I worried.

Yet he seemed to be here simply to show off. Within his pocket, he pulled out a wad of folded paper.

Then, ever so carefully, he unfolded the paper and revealed, inside, the tiniest little clear stone.

I’d never seen a diamond “in the rough” - and it seemed so diminutive. To imagine the importance of so small a thing... really, was boggling.

He allowed me to take a photo, and we assured him that we had no interest in buying diamonds, but that my research involved mines. This stone, apparently, was a carat.

I’ll have to upload the photo of it in December when I next have internet.

Upon showing off his tiny prize, Mr. Eyebrows chatted with Adam about karate and we talked to him about finding mats to protect the kids when they start doing falls.

Adam demonstrated on Mr. Eyebrows the ways in which one goes from standing to being forced to the ground, which was really quite amusing since Mr. Eyebrows, a career military man, wasn’t expecting to be taken so easily!

On Friday or Saturday, Adam will resume karate lessons, which will certainly be interesting to see!

Detective Munch!

Disclaimer: Chimpanzees shown here are not pets, nor should they be
considered as such. Chimpanzees are wild animals that belong in the
forest, and the pet trade fuels a vicious cycle of wild chimpanzee
slaughter and abuse. Chimps shown here are orphans and must be taken
care of in a sanctuary environment that mimics as best it can the
natural environment of chimpanzees and attempts to minimize the trauma
already inflicted on the infants.

Chimpanzees do NOT make good pets. They are wild animals, unmanageable
in a domestic setting, strong and willful and dangerous. For more
information, please visit:

http://www.hsus.org/wildlife/issues_facing_wildlife/should_wild_animals_be_kept_as_pets/fact_and_fiction_monkeys_and_apes_as_pets.html

Better than Nothing!

Well, Adam’s computer’s cute little Windows Software Upgrade shennaniganry, we have a lot less bandwidth this month, so I’ll have to wait until December to upload 90% of the photos.

But I’m uploading some of the choice ones and still have the rest of them ready to go too!

At least you’ll get some photos of Detective Munch!

Adam Swoops In To Save the Day

Aketi immediately bonded with Adam and Adam loved him right away.
Fiercely protective, I don't think Adam would have allowed us to leave
without taking Aketi with us.

We walked all the way back to the house like this, Aketi clutching
Adam and Adam clutching him right back. Swarmed with children who had
no idea what we were doing or why, it was difficult to hold it
together in the raucous noise and sweltering heat.

I suspect too that little Aketi knew that he had found himself an
excellent protector!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Little Peace of Mind, Electric!

While Seba was in Kisangani taking Cleve to his flight, we decided it was time to stop mucking about with old, crappy equipment.

One of the few luxuries we keep here is electricity -- usually not nightly but it is certainly our biggest expense. A litre of gas is 1400 FC - approximately $3. We buy 2-3 litres per each use, costing us anywhere between $6 and $10. Considering that all of our food each day, together, is less than $10, it’s fair to say that gas is exorbitantly expensive.

Mais, l’essence est essential.

Our generator makes a buzzing sound that drowns out most other noises in the night, including, unfortunately, most music and television shows we attempt to watch.

But to be able to watch anything is excellent, and certainly it gives us a bit of respite.

What is not relaxing is being excited to use the computer, and have some inscrutable problem pop up that Seba, our resident mechanic, is unable to fix on the fly.

One shouldn’t wonder that things aren’t working; instead, one should be amazed that things work at ALL! I’ve mentioned before our precarious setup, stringing ancient frazzled wires to and fro and tying them together with little ripped pieces of plastic bags.

Now, however, we have a NEW electricity stabilizer, a NEW generator, and (thanks to Hans and Victor!) two new chargers for my computer to replace the ones the old stabilizer fried to bits.

I did a little “Nous avons de courant” dance earlier this evening, before unforeseen errors caused a maddening delay though, obviously, it was resolved.

Coming back to my computer and having it boot up felt like visiting an old friend... I finally got to offload the many photos from my memory sticks as well, and just getting to revisit the last week in photos was a reward in and of itself!

Electricity is great! Yay!

Thanksgiving!

I always find that one of the best ways to pass extended periods of time is to punctuate it with special events. Sometimes internet day can suffice alone, but it’s nice to have accents from home, highlighting otherwise daily activities.

Take, for example, our Halloween Maboke. It was nice to celebrate Halloween, even in our funny way!

This Thursday, to celebrate Thanksgiving, we’re going to have a Family Dinner - Adam and myself, Polycarpe, Seba and his girlfriend Beya, Jojo and his girlfriend Beya, Dido, his third wife, and Olivier.

It’s most of our staff, with the exception of a few sanctuary personnel who, for obvious reasons, need to stay at the sanctuary with the other chimps!

We plan to cook THREE chickens, a real luxury for us! Already one of them is sitting in a basket in the yard, unaware of his fate. (As the only vegetarian in the house, I think I’m the only one uncomfortable with looking at a doomed man).

We’ll have rice, and fumbwa (shredded manioc leaves), and maboke (our equivalent of yams), maize, which will not be as sweet as delicious corn on the cob, and we are fervently searching the ville for a bunch of Fantas for everyone.

We are even trying to make GARLIC bread! There is garlic here, and bread, and oil, but no butter and no basil. So, Olivier is going to try his best.

And we’ll finish off with pineapple for everyone!

It’ll probably cost us $30, which is a big expense for our regular budget, but as a one-off, I think it’s worth it. It’s important to give thanks, and currently we have a lot of great friends and staff here to be thankful for.

Adam laughed at me when I threatened to try and use leaves and sticks to turn a pineapple into a mock-Tofurkey.

“I love you, and you could probably do anything you put your mind to, but there is no way you’re turning a pineapple into a turkey!”

Harumph!

It should be an excellent night, and we’ll buy batteries for Olivier’s radio and play music and have general revelry, minus booze, which we are trying to discourage in the house. Amazingly, we had the option of buying Primus, and we turned it down!

Pictures will be taken. I’m really looking forward to it!

Un Peu Deranged

Mangé behaves like no chimpanzee I have seen thus far, which is saying a lot considering (when I add it up in my head) the number of sanctuary chimpanzees I have had exposure to.

While he might be cute with his flat face and huge wide floppy ears, the fact that he behaves SO little like a regular chimpanzee becomes especially troubling when taken into account the facts that he must eventually be integrated with the others and that, if he lives, he will somehow have to normalize over the course of time as he comes into adulthood.

Which of course begs the question, what will he be like as adult? And will the trauma of his first 3-6 months of life impact him in a markedly noticeable way?

Most chimpanzees of Mangé’s age are running about, getting into trouble and climbing and exploring and knocking things over.

But not Mangé. Instead, he cowers out of the way of most people and tends to scream and flee upon approach.

Unlike a normal flee though, he has adapted what Cleve and Adam and I call “The Inchworm” where he clutches his cheap plastic bag for reassurance and shuffles across the floor, pulling himself forward with only a single arm.

As a result of inchworming, he seems to have lost a lot of the hair on his shins and he seems not to use his legs often enough to have full use of them when running or walking

Even worse, he seems to be unaware of his species’ predilection for using hands for everything - grasping, eating, playing. Instead, he sits at the foot of whomever is feeding him and suckles his food just with his mouth and lips, keeping his hands dormant.

Not only is it very unchimpanzeelike, but man, it looks dirty.

Is eating with one’s hands even something you can teach?

I had hoped that when Aketi came to the house for their shared quarantine period that perhaps they could form a friendship, a bond, or even a male alliance. But any proximity to Aketi sends Mangé into paroxysms of fear and screaming, leaving Aketi confused and lonely without another same-species playmate.

It does leave me concerned over Mangé’s future at the sanctuary. He already is such a high-stress chimpanzee, what will the constant exposure to three other chimpanzees do to him?

And most importantly, will he be able to survive it?

The Dooks of Hazard

They might be hiding anywhere... lurking in the shadows, under the bed, near the door in that place you step without looking. By the bottom of the couch, and on the way to the toilet.

And then, before you know it, there is POO on your FOOT!

There are tons of movies about baby chimps. They’re always cute. Small, intelligent, mischievous, grinning (a terrified submission gesture in chimpspeak).

The one thing Hollywood purposefully leaves out? The poo!

Adam and I are rounding out our second weeks and while we’ve instituted some great scheduling to keep us both sane, Detective Munch has vetoed other scheduling entirely!

For example, sleeping when it is dark out. I love to sleep when it’s dark out, and so does Adam. But sometimes Munch thinks it’s a great time for playing, or licking me (his new favorite and disgustingest habit). When we try to comfort him by bringing him into the bed, he waits until we’ve fallen asleep again and have loosened our holds, and runs down to the end of the bed to play on the bedframe, eat the mosquito net, and poop.

I’ll tell you... there is nothing better than stretching out your legs towards the end of the bed, grazing a moist dook, and then being enthusiastically licked.

Our love for the good Detective is no less diminished, but I will say that the lines between days start to blur when you are awake as the sun is coming up.

Let there be light.. sort of

With our illnesses gone and Seba back with money from Cleve and
chargers for Laura's computer, via Hans (Thanks Hans!!!!!) we are a
little happier once again. Laura and I celebrated this with having
some cokes that Seba got for us when he was in Buta. We still are
having problems with the light bulb, but otherwise we are eating
spaghetti tonight and are happy.

I would write more stuff but really not a whole lot of stuff has
happened since I last wrote. My infection is almost gone and little
Aketi (a.k.a. Det. Munch, because he is always on the hunt for more
food) has been a little brat. Part of me can't wait to send him to
the sanctuary. Not so much to get him out of our hair, but to see him
play with other chimps, which he needs to do. Well that is all I have
for now. Right now we are happy and are preparing for Thanksgiving
dinner here in Aketi.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Visit from the Chief

Part of being in a Whiteys House in a remote town with a prominent local man as your Head of House is getting constant (and unannounced) visitors, who come oftentimes to harass and intimidate, but usually just to loll in our white plastic chairs and shoot the breeze.

It does give us an endless parade, and while you think you may be safely ensconced in the isolation of your house, you never really are. So PS - wear pants! At all times!

It is quite a wonderful parade of characters, though!

This week, we had a visit from a local from the forest we visited earlier in the month -- he’d heard we’d visited, and thought he might come by to talk to us about it.

Chiefs here must feel somewhat impermeable because of their elevated social status - because often they seem to operate outside of social conventions and sometimes politeness.

Adam and I introduce one another as husband and wife, as it condones our cohabitation and makes life easier, and upon being introduced to Adam, Chief Rude turned to me and said, approximately

“Oh, you are fat AND have a husband! How nice for you!”

I won’t grace you with the variety of comebacks that ran through my head (especially considering this guy was fat, and everyone knows how much I hate fat fattists). But I kept my diplomatic grace and flashed him an “I Hate You” smile and thanked him.

He was not only fat, but had the most peculiar face I’ve yet seen! He looked almost like an anime character, with his eyebrows not arched high above his eyes, but instead slanted like a shift-6 carat -- ^.

He had this thin, perfect carat over each eye, and he raised his eyebrows up and down often during conversation, only exaggerating the effect! I wondered if he had molded them as such, and simultaneously wondered why anyone would mold them like that!

The exciting news that he told us, though, was that there were, in fact, still elephants in Yoko Forest. He had seen them, and reports from Polycarpe about seeing elephant dung near the outlying regions of the Aketi region toward the south of the Yoko River (about 60km south of where we visited) was still an active elephant region.

I talked with the chief extensively about conservation, stating as diplomatically as possible that many of the orphans documented and chimp meat in the market has been said to come from Yoko Forest - his territory - and his responsibility.

He took on a very stern face, declaring that he had mandated at Yoko that chimp hunting was INTERDIT! (wiggle eyebrows) -- Forbidden!

It’s times like these that are difficult, because you want to believe that this man is as passionate and seemingly un-corrupt about chimpanzee conservation as he seems to be. With people like this, how can chimpanzees here be in so much trouble?

But whether it is, in fact, a façade or not, this man suffers from the same difficulties as Kabila himself - whether or not he forbids the hunting of chimpanzees in Yoko, Yoko is a HUGE forest -- how is he to patrol or even enforce his own edicts?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Back from the Brink

I don't know if you noticed, but we changed the blog title today.  It's no reflection of a change of content or purpose -- simply put, after malaria, this trip feels less like a whimsical reverie and more like a serious undertaking.

But now, five days after my first symptoms of malaria, I feel like a real person again. I ate my first food today, and sat upright for more than five minutes without feeling dizzy or nauseated, and managed NOT to be bedridden!  What a success!

We got great news this morning too, that new computer chargers would be coming back with Seba on Sunday or Monday, along with some new pieces of equipment to unbootleggify our current electrical setup here.  If you've been keeping up with the photos, you'll notice our own little endearing fire hazard -- all of our equipment plugged into a single power strip that is battered and broken, which is in turn plugged into a current stabilizer from 1975, which (not pictured) is connected to electricity through wires and bands of plastic bag, the wire that then frays, reconnects, frays again and zizzles across the ceiling and outside to the generator.
It's a wonder, I guess, that our chargers lasted this long at all.

There is so much to write about, and so little battery power and energy to write it. I suppose I'll wait until I have my own computer back, and I can organize my thoughts properly on a PROPER OS.  Adam's Windows abomination secretly downloaded some update or another without telling me or asking me and used up HALF of our bandwidth for this month!! Infuriating! I only hope that we'll still be able to upload our photos from the Yoko Forest trip.

Adam got a leg infection like Cleve's, so between the two of us we're a sickie and a cripple, but both improving steadily and our spirits are bright and cheery. The rainy season is finally ending and the sun feels bright and shiny. (and super hot). Aketi (aka Little Mister Mess Mess) has been a fun addition to the family, although his additions of poops we could live without, and sleeping on the floor so that he'll fall asleep gets tired fast.

But I'll save specifics for another post - with luck, Seba will be back from Kisangani on Sunday and we'll be back in business on Monday, full of stories and photos!

See you then!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mrs. Eyebrows and the Repaid Debt

After finally having money again, it was time to repay our debts, both for our motorbike and for the money Commerçant Eyebrows had been kind enough to lend us.

We’d of course tried to delay repayment for a while, waiting for the rest of our money to arrive from Buta, but when Mrs. Eyebrows showed up, we knew it was time!

Mrs. Eyebrows was purported by Commerçant Eyebrows to be Belgian, but looking at her, one would never know! Additionally, I propose that her husband’s enormous, legendary eyebrows are merely a compensation for her utter lack of eyebrows!!

Dressed in a long, flowing and semi-transparent animal print gown, laced with sequins and gold thread, she disdainfully pawed through the money we’d given her.

She seemed to speak no French, despite being “Belgian” though she commented, in Lingala, that her children loved Adam’s karate class.

And then she was gone, mounting her smart little mini-moped, astride in her dress, the sequins flying behind her.

One sick person + One sick person = One cranky chimp

Over the past few days, Laura and I have been sick. Laura got malaria
for the first time. In her three years prior living in Africa, she
never got malaria. She lived in Entebbe, Kampala, Kenya and Goma, and
never got malaria. I felt sorry and worried for her. It wasn't that
long ago that I got over my first bout with malaria. Poor Laura had
muscle aches, a fever and vomiting. I was very sad at the time.

At the same time, I had an infection in my feet and my left leg. What
happened was during our forest trip, I had a mosquito bite on my right
foot. I scratchd it until it bled. The rain boots I was wearing kept
digging into the wound. With my wound being wet and dirty, it got
infected. The infection went to a small mosquito bite on my left
foot . The wound on my right foot got big and disgusting. My left
foot and leg got swollen. It was painful to walk on. I started to
take antibiotics and now the pain is almost gone and the swelling is
going down. The wound on my right foot is almost healed and my left
leg looks like a disgusting puss sieve/ volcano.

The good news is that Laura and I are felling a lot better and are on
the road to recovery. Laura is over her malaria and my infection is
going away.

While both Laura and I were sick though, we had a hard time taking
care of our adopted baby chimp. We didn't take him outside as much
and therefore he got bored and he used the bathroom everywhere.
Cleaning up chimp mess is not fun at all, especially when you are not
feeling well. This time was testing our patience, as we tried to take
care of each other and Aketi, the chimp.

Right now though, everything is getting back to normal, and that is
just great for us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Kisangani "Dungeon": A Report from Cleve on the Kisangani Zoo

   Kisangani, The Democratic Republic of the Congo
                                                                     
THE CHIMPANZEE DUNGEON AT THE KISANGANI 'ZOO'

                                          By Cleve Hicks

 November 19, 2008
Daniel takes Michel and me to Les Chalets, and treats me to a beer with some fries. Such a nice fellow.  And then I Ieave with Seba (my trusty and resourceful motorbike driver, with whom I have just traveled 500 bumpy kilometers out of the bush) for my final investigative mission of the season – to see the Kisangani ‘Zoo.’ Daniel strongly advises me not to go, as he has heard that it is pretty depressing. My flight is leaving tomorrow, and I am mentally and physically exhausted from 13 months in the field. But I am curious. Jeroen Swinkels visited the ‘zoo’ in 2007, and told me that it was pretty grim: a male chimpanzee sitting alone in a squalid cage smoking cigarettes to the amusement of the visitors (this was when we ruled it out as a possible refuge for our orphans Kathé and Kisanola). Time to see for myself. My butt and the backs of my thighs are still aching from the 3 day slog over the muddy roads, but it is a short distance to the ‘Zoo’. We arrive a little after noon, after having crossed the bridge above the massive falls (which I assume are the famous Stanley Falls – they power the entire city). The ‘zoo’ is advertised from the main road. We ride down a sandy path along the north bank of the Congo River, and arrive at a small collection of huts and paillotes splashed with banners advertising the different brews of Congolese beer. Maybe a half-dozen young Congolese are relaxing on the beach or in the paillotes, along with a pair of foraging donkeys. There is a lovely view of the falls to our east. We pass a barricade, and tell the sentinel or manager that we have come to see the zoo. My camera is in full view strapped across my chest – I am not hiding it! No one says anything about my not being allowed to take photos, and there are no signs to that effect. I pay the 1500 francs and Seba and I each receive a ticket. Seba and I tromp up the long, steep flight of stairs leading to the ‘Zoo.’ I am winded when we arrive. There are several what seem to be students engaged in some communal activity just outside of the entrance. We walk peacefully into the ‘zoo’, which looks as if it has been hit by more than one bomb in the recent past (it is a pretty good bet that it has). It is even more crumbled and ruined-looking than most of the caved-in compounds in the Congo. Nevertheless, for the moment the pretty trees and green foliage mask the depravity that we will soon find inside. Seba wistfully remembers that before the war he visited the place and it was a proper zoo, featuring elephants and other big mammals. The elephants were later of course eaten by rampaging soldiers during one of the wars.
            We are looking for the chimp enclosure when all of a sudden we are approached by the ‘caregivers’ --- actually, that is an inappropriate word, let us just call them the ‘zoo guards.’ One of them asks us who we are in a scowling, unfriendly tone. Then they declare belligerently that I am not allowed to take photos here. In a zoo?? What zoo in the world does not allow its visitors to take photos? They say that it will cost me 500 francs (roughly $1) for each photo.  I am so sick of being constantly harassed in this country, that I get on up on a high horse and tell them that I am here to make a report to the ICCN (the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature), the head official of which I will be meeting with in Kinshasa tomorrow (which is true, I will be meeting him). I film them protesting this and ask them if they really want me to give a bad report of their ‘zoo’ to the ICCN. We have a heated argument, which I film but really do not want to watch again, ever. There is a young man in the middle distance carrying a notebook and watching us in between observing the animals and taking notes at the enclosures. Both Seba and I think that he is a student, although Seba will soon tell me he thinks that he is a ‘spy.’ He does seem to be shadowing us.

Monday, November 17, 2008

We're Alright!

Hope we didn't worry anyone -- we've had a run of bad luck these past few days! Our power stabilizer broke, frying my 2nd power charger for my laptop.  I'm told that I can have a new one by next week, but it's frustrating to not be able to use my computer at all!

Thank goodness my mom got us that second mini-laptop before we left!

Even worse, my luck finally ran out.  In ALL my time living in various parts of Africa, I'd managed to avoid getting malaria.  But now, on my third day of treatment, not only do I feel nauseated and can barely sit upright, but the medicine feels akin to poison!

I don't imagine we'll be online much until next weekend -- once we get a new power charger and once I'm back in the land of the living.

But we are okay!

Also, a big Happy Birthday to Adam's dad

Now, I go back to sleep.  Blargh.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cleve's Departure

It feels as though there is a ghost here, and his name is Cleve. Yes, the house feels empty without him here -- no morning sound of his old Windows Toughbook booting up first thing in the morning... no sound of him laughing! Adam and I both miss him.

It doesn’t help that all the staff are wandering around in his clothing, given as gifts upon his departure! Clothes that I distinguish particularly as “Cleve’s” wander by, causing me to look twice, but no, it’s Olivier in Cleve’s orange button-down and Jojo in his forest-camo shirt.

Funnily, Cleve gave Olivier his pajamas and Olivier has been wandering around in them during the day, like a two-piece suit! And he does look dapper indeed!

We will miss Cleve, though know that he is laughing somewhere, eating falafel and watching The Dark Knight.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Little Mister Mess Mess

It feels like sort of a new family unit, and I wonder if it might be like this one day if Adam and I have children --

Lying in the bed, being as quiet as possible, so to not wake the baby. Little Aketi woke up around 2, like he always does, and Adam got up to lie next to him on his little bed until he fell back asleep.

Previous nights, at 2 am when the sky is already lightening, Adam thinks it’s later than it is and brings the baby into the bed.

And if you can believe it, Adam, me, AND a little chimp all sleep together in our teeny, tiny twin bed.

But last night, he stayed in HIS bed, much to our relief of space.

At 5:45 am, he woke again because most of the people outside were waking up and it was getting light outside. We heard him calling, and Adam got up to go and get him.

To our surprise, he was already sitting on the chair next to our bed, trying to raise the mosquito net himself to get in and snuggle!

Of course, it’s not all snuggles and cuteness.

Adam has taken to calling Aketi “Little Mister Mess Mess” because he seems to make mess wherever he goes! Leaving trails of banana mash and pineapple skuzz and sticky, icky miscellaneously gross stuff on the floor and couches and walls and tables and just yuck.

He also always seems to be on the hunt for food! We sometimes also call him Detective Munch!

And of course, there’s also the clinging and crying and neediness. I shouldn’t paint it as such a cakewalk of cute!

I figure Adam is tired already, being a mom for 3 days, but he’s doing a great job and I think it helps him, having something to focus on.

EDIT (2 minutes later) -- Even just as I wrote this entry, I heard wild screaming from the bathroom and Adam hollering for me. I went in to check on him and he was wet, soapy and naked with little mess clinging to him, shrieking.

When faced with the choice of being wet or letting go of Adam, he opted for freak out. Hee hee!

Cross Your Fingers For Lwiro

Things in the east near Goma are sounding worse, and according to Polycarpe, who faithfully listens to the radio daily, the war has finally come to Goma.

According to Debby, rebels are coming up from the south and Burundi, sandwiching Goma from two sides.

Lwiro, the sanctuary near Bukavu where my kids from Goma ended up, has had its volunteers evacuated. The manager, Carmen, has bought supplies for a long time and is hoping to ride it out within the sanctuary, but will run to Bukavu if it becomes necessary.

It’s a bit of a scary time, because hungry soldiers and chimpanzee sanctuaries don’t go well together!

We hear here too that the rebels are claiming that they will walk from Goma to Kinshasa. Take a look at the map, and then have a laugh with me. Apparently it happened 10 years ago, but man, what a hike!

Movie Night in Aketi

If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be Congo.

Last night, we attempted to watch Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees in French. We’d originally planned to do it the night before, but our generator had died and Seba, our resident mechanic, was away in Buta collecting our money.

So, no film.

Last night, we set everything up, pulled out the projector we lugged all the way from America, and revved it up.

And then all listened, together, as we heard the generator sputter and then die.

Because the consistency of power of generators here is so bad, it’s necessary to have an electricity stabilizer also plugged in to regulate the current. I’ve already learned the hard way that without this, electronic devices tend to go boom. Or in my case brrrkfffjjjsssssssssss. Thank goodness I brought an extra computer power adapter!

It seems that, timed perfectly with our movie night, our stabilizer had died. I had about 40 minutes of power left in my computer, so watched as much of the movie as we could, everyone huddled in the dark around my laptop screen.

It was not the regal movie night we had expected.

As people left and we were giving up (and Adam and I were cursing having lugged the generator all the way here), Polycarpe arrived from the mechanic’s house with a different stabilizer.

We plugged it in, and suddenly, everything worked again. Even the projector!

So we started again, and a completely new group of children and families piled into our living room, sometimes three people to a chair, and watched with wonder as Jane’s french proxy spoke to them from the screen.

The sound was still a bit of a problem, because the generator is so loud it tends to drown everything else out.

But to watch the wonder of this one kid, sitting on the couch across from me, mouth agape and eyes twinkling in the reflection of the screen -- it really was just enchanting to watch.

“Where does the picture come from?” he asked, and someone pointed to the projector and he looked just incredulous!

We got through the whole film, and afterwards lots of kids stayed to watch slideshows of our trip to Yoko Forest projected onto our makeshift movie screen - a piece of white fabric hung from our front curtain rod.

What a great night, and I’m glad we got to do it before Cleve left!

Which Mine to Mine?

I had an extensive meeting with Cleve and Polycarpe to discuss the mining situation in the periphery of Aketi.

In my original research proposal, I guess I imagined sampling near the new mining camps in Bili, but considering the area is too volatile, and there is no dearth of mining in the area here, the next step is to review the available mines and select!

There are four major mines in the area -- all in various stages of usage and with reflective population.

The amazing part is that there are still chimpanzees near all four of these mines, though how remnant the populations are remains to be seen. There are populations of chimpanzees

The mine at Dulia was once an enormous site -- with the requisite poor toilet facilities of course so, as a sample site, it might be a good place to see what residual parasites from long-term exposure are still present. But I don’t know much about the miners who still mine there today - transients hoping for a bit of luck. Nor do I know about their chimp killing/eating habits.

There are two mines about 30 km away, each with a huge population of miners, but we’re not entirely sure about how close the chimps are to each of their camps.

And an even more enormous mine 90km away --

To facilitate the choosing process, and find a site that best meets my study criteria, I’m sending Olivier and Richard out as a scouting team to investigate each mine first, interview the miners there and do a transect line outside the mine to look for evidence of chimpanzees nearby.

In the interim, I can finish modifying my IRB proposal, to reflect the additional surveys and interviews. I have such a small number of sample tubes, that I really need to make sure each one counts!!

You Be the Boss

One of my responsibilities here is to manage the sanctuary and staff.

During this past week, I’ve been mulling over ways to better protect our little interim sanctuary here. One of the plusses of Cleve having hired competent people is that they have developed many of their own systems, which is great, but my real goal overall is to make sure the chimps are safe.

For example, we currently only have two caregivers, who live full-time out at the sanctuary, which is ensconced in a tiny bit of forest at the far end of Aketi. We have the cooperation of the nearby villagers, and a security guard (and a makeshift barricade) but as anyone who has worked with chimpanzees knows, it’s incredibly important to limit their levels of exposures to new people -- for both health and safety reasons.

If one of our caregivers were to get sick, it would leave us with only one caregiver out at the sanctuary -- a real problem! While we’ve just got 3 kids there now, it will be an even bigger problem when Mangé and Aketi head out there.

So the first job on my plate was to remedy this situation, and start trolling for a third caregiver, who, if necessary, could also fill in for Papi, our gate guard.

Problems like this are somewhat easy to solve; I’ve participated in and witnessed enough competent sanctuary management that all I really have to do is duplicate procedure that’s been successful in the past. Sure, the primary caregiver here bristles a bit at the change, but once he’s assured that it is, in no way, a reflection on the quality of his work, nor will his salary be garnished with a third person, everything slides onto the road towards copacetic.

Some decisions are not so easy. We have two staff here, and for anonymity’s sake, we’ll call them Sam and Annie.

Sam has been with the project a long time, and is essential to the work at the sanctuary. Not only is he extremely responsible, but his love for the chimpanzees is evident, and oftentimes in this culture, hard to find.

Annie was his girlfriend, and when we came to Aketi it was suggested that she be hired as our femme des menages -- to do generally laundry and tidying-around-the-house-type-stuff.

Annie’s work has been okay. We often have trouble communicating with her, and she doesn’t tell us when she doesn’t understand what we want her to do.

But when Sam came to us and told us that Annie had stopped sleeping in his house, and that he wanted her to be fired. He said that since she had started working for us, she had been a disobedient girlfriend, and, I guess, uppity.

The feminist in me roared. I am the only woman in this house, aside from Annie, and I felt like by firing her I’d participate in the subjugation of ALL Congolese women!

We talked to Annie, and she said that Sam was jealous, and treating her badly. Even worse, he had yet to go to her family and legitimize their relationship (usually with money) and she was furious.

We left for Yoko Forest after talking to Polycarpe, who assured us that he would take Sam to visit Annie’s family and smooth everything over.

And when we returned from the forest, everything seemed fine. Sam was still working here, so was Annie, and the daggers they had been shooting at one another in the yard.

Then we find out yesterday, that Annie has left Sam, and is sleeping with another man, and Sam’s heart is broken.

...or so he says.

He assures us that he is not ALSO sleeping with someone else (as is often the case here) but it is “too difficult” to continue coming to the house with Annie here.

I’m torn. Yes, it is shitty that she got a job through Sam and then left him. But shouldn’t she be allowed to exercise her right to choose?

Maybe Sam was a bad boyfriend. Maybe he beat her. I don’t know, and probably never will.

But if I’m honest, Sam’s work is a lot better and more valuable to the project. I don’t want to lose him.

What’s a feminist to do?

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Money Plane

How Exciting!!

After tons of waiting, and worrying, and wondering, our money has finally arrived in Buta from Kinshasa.

Now we can pay back Commerçant Eyebrows, and finally pay salaries, and maybe have a carpenter make us a bigger bed! (especially if we’re going to continue to share it with a tiny chimpanzee ALSO).

The funny part, though, was that the delay in Buta was caused by a complete lack of money in Buta. The bank, literally, had no money.

And what changed? When we asked, we were told,

“Oh, the plane came today.”

“The money plane?”

“Yes!”


The idea of a money plane still makes me chuckle. They should call Samuel L Jackson and get moving on that movie!

The Money Plane

How Exciting!!

After tons of waiting, and worrying, and wondering, our money has finally arrived in Buta from Kinshasa.

Now we can pay back Commerçant Eyebrows, and finally pay salaries, and maybe have a carpenter make us a bigger bed! (especially if we’re going to continue to share it with a tiny chimpanzee ALSO).

The funny part, though, was that the delay in Buta was caused by a complete lack of money in Buta. The bank, literally, had no money.

And what changed? When we asked, we were told,

“Oh, the plane came today.”

“The money plane?”

“Yes!”


The idea of a money plane still makes me chuckle. They should call Samuel L Jackson and get moving on that movie!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No Primus, No Pineapple

We had a big laugh during our long road trip between Buta and Aketi, stopping in Dulia to eat only to discover that the WHOLE town had nothing but bananas, peanuts, and goat meat.

Of course, we had no idea about the limitations in Aketi!

I’ve mentioned before that Aketi isn’t able to import a lot of items -- everything that comes from outside must come by road -- that windy, nearly impenetrable route that comes in here and brings us lovely things (like Primus!)

That does mean though, that if no one in the town has harvested something one week, or no one has made it here via bike, that sometimes, there is just NOT anyone in the town selling what we want!!

Tonight, we had made plans to have a little party, celebrating our return from the forest with a BIG splurge - 2 Primuses for each of us to go with our evening Poondoo.

But despite searching everywhere in Aketi, Olivier cannot find a single Primus. In THE WHOLE TOWN of Aketi!! The madness! The rain! The Congo!!!

I thought people might be interested in our standard fare here, so these are the options we typically have to choose from, most of them with rice.

Maboke - a squash sort of like a pumpkin that’s tasty!

Poondoo - a mashed spinach-like leaf, ground up in a sauce that’s sort creamed spinach or saag paneer.

Beans - goes without saying

Fumbwa - hard to find usually -- the market doesn’t always have it - it’s a coarser leaf like poondoo but it’s a lot more fibrous and Cleve is convinced it’s full of protein.

Tomato & Mabenge Soup - this is sort of an American dish Cleve taught Dido how to make - using Tomato Paste from a can and oil. Mabenge is like plantains - big semi-sweet bananas.

Spaghetti - it took forever for Dido to get the sauce and the noodles right -- spaghetti is a pricey dish for us because each pack of the dry noodles costs $2! Originally Dido would mix it all together in sort of a vomitous mash, but now he makes the noodles white and lovely and the sauce is tasty too!

Mbika - A seed that is ground up and cooked a bit like soy-- tastes delicious but makes you feel AWFUL afterwards. We think it tears up your stomach!

Eggplant - chopped and mashed and generally tasteless.

The funniness is that standard things, like potatoes, are just absent here!

Other things like pineapples and mushrooms are sometimes available, but require a good deal of fineagling to procure.

After my time in Eastern Congo, where the veggies were as BIG as babies’ heads, it does seem funny to see the teeny baby onions and tomatoes here, or notice the reliance on tomato paste! Even the things like eggplants are tiny, and things I took for granted in Eastern Congo like avocados and mangoes are just not here at all!

Perhaps we can find some new exciting recipes while we’re here! Adam is eating meat about once a week when we can afford it, but for vegetarians (me) or vegans (Cleve), getting protein is quite difficult. We end up garnishing most of our dishes with roasted and fresh peanuts.

And hopefully, we’ll get more pineapples as they come into season! It’s really quite a treat!

Chimp vs. Chimp

It’s so funny, having another orphan in the house, mostly because it brings out the real personality differences between the two babies!

Aketi is already doing SO much better than he was yesterday -- we figure he’d had little to no food while in “captivity” with his hunter/mother-killer. He’s literally been eating ALL day, from bananas to spring onions to the same tomato soup we had for lunch!

It’s pretty normal for chimp babies to eat what their mothers were eating, so while we relaxed this afternoon, eating tomato-plantain soup, we put some in his little cup and he ate it eagerly, getting it ALL over his face. It was incredibly cute, and nearly made us forget all about how awful he’d looked just the day before.

Since they’re both in quarantine before heading to our little sanctuary, we decided to introduce him to Mangé today.

Mangé had much less time with his mother -- though he and Aketi are about the same age, Mangé’s mother was killed when he was probably only 3 or 4 months old. Aketi’s mother was only just killed, and the difference in their confidence levels is HUGE.

Aketi acts a lot more like a standard chimpanzee infant... he seems remarkably well-adjusted after his 6 days in the hunter’s grip. He seems to be warming up not only to Adam, but to me and Cleve as well. He does certainly alarm call, but he isn’t quite as dependent as Mangé is on defending and protecting himself. He doesn’t like new people, but he doesn’t scream as much.

He seems mostly focussed on sleeping and eating and hugging. And regularly pooping, which we’ve all been very responsible and diligent about picking up. The lingering odor of baby chimp shit is one I’m very accustomed to already! Ha!

Mangé, on the other hand, is hopelessly and neurotically dependent on Polycarpe. When very afraid, he adopts this behavior we’ve come to call “The Inchworm” where he huddles on the ground and pulls himself along the concrete with one arm. While it’s quite funny to watch, it’s also quite sad that he had to develop such a behavior at all.

Whenever Polycarpe exits his sight, Mangé shrieks quickly, and he’s yet to really accept any of us - Adam, me, or Cleve - for more than a few seconds.

Watching them interact is amazing too. Aketi is eager to play, and lounge, and very comforted by Mangé’s presence. Mangé, on the other hand, screams and tries to flee. He hid today in a pile of plastic bags, trying to stay as still as possible while Aketi lay next to him, lounging leisurely and trying to be friendly.

Poor Mangé tried to flee out of the room eventually, but he used the InchWorm, barely making any headway in his escape as Aketi followed him, walking normally, probably wondering what in the hell Mangé was doing.

It was, indeed, funny and pitiful all at once, because Mangé was still covered in plastic bags and we could hear the shh-shh-shh of the bags rubbing against the floor as he InchWormed his way into the living room.

We hope that the influence of Aketi will be good for Mangé -- perhaps growing less attached to poor Polycarpe. Additionally, if the two boys form a brotherhood, it’ll be an easier integration for them in the sanctuary.

We shall see what happens!

Photos from the Yoko Trip

We’ve got some GREAT photos from our trip to Yoko Forest, and super photos of new baby Aketi, but we’ll wait until next weekend to post them! Keep an eye out then!

Returning From the Forest - The Chimp Daddy

Our time in the forest was wonderful, for the most part. We spent two
days traveling to the Yoko River by way of paddleboat, or pierogi. We
camped out at a fishing village named Andé. The people there were -
generally- nice. They also helped us through the forest as we trekked
in, looking for evidence of chimpanzees.

We found tree nests, chimp dung, smashed bembe shells and chewed wild
spring onions. Laura even got to see a wild chimpanzee up in a tree
for a brief moment! (before it fled)

As for the chimp dung, Laura was able to collect her very first DNA
sample and I was so proud of her! I filmed it and I was beaming with
pride. I was so happy!

After 3 days in the forest we were ready to go home (and take a bath)
and it took us two long days to get home since we were going against
the current. On the way back home, Cleve got to see hippo dung and he
was excited! I never thought I'd see a group of people so happy about
finding poop.

We got rained on a lot, but we got home and were happy to finally put
on dry clothes and wash ourselves with hot water! Yesterday, the day
after we got home, we went to a house in Aketi and confiscated an
orphaned chimp. I picked up the chimp and knew I wanted to be his
daddy. It was so nice to save that chimp because we knew he was dying.

Last night was the first night he spent with us. Even though he
pooped a lot in the room during the night, I didn't mind and I
snuggled him to sleep. Laura said she was very proud of me and it
made me very happy. I think Baby Aketi, Laura and I will make a
wonderful family.

I've had a great past 8 days and I wanted to make sure everyone knew.

Taking Back Aketi

Life continued on in its path while we were away, soaking in the forest and enjoying the untouched wilderness.

Unfortunately, the wilderness in Aketi wasn’t so lucky.

We discovered while we were gone that a hunter in Aketi had killed a chimp mother (along with an agile mangabey mother) and had brought both the baby monkey and the baby chimp back to Aketi to sell.

Seba and Dido had taken video of this baby, who seemed barely out of his mother’s grasp, and his inadvertent new mother - a young hunter, gaping stupidly at the camera with his fancy necklace, and we watched with horror as the young hunter manhandled the chimp like it was a ragdoll.

It was awful to watch, but it did strengthen our resolve to confiscate the baby. He seemed healthy enough, which was encouraging.

We walked to the town, taking a circuitous side route to the hunter’s house to try and stymie the attempts of the children to follow us, screaming and laughing.

We still had a posse by the time we arrived to find the previously healthy chimp from the video, languishing on the floor of a hot hut, tied to a stick and looking sickly and close to death.

What a horror, and a shock to see such a deterioration. The situation had suddenly gone from bad to worse, and we really needed to find a way to convince the owners that he wasn’t chattel, to be sold or traded, but that he was a sick baby who was going to die.

They had wanted to sell the chimp for $70US, but perhaps fortuitously, the hunter wasn’t home. We talked to his wife, who agreed that the chimp had gotten sicker in the last two days, and we told her we would give him medicine and food and that her husband could come and talk to us at the house when he got home.

But in the interim, we would take this chimp, named Aketi Kigoma, back to the house with us. At this point, Adam had picked up little Aketi and they were clutching one another tightly, so I can’t imagine Adam would have allowed us to leave Aketi there to tend to later either!

We walked back, trying to soothe little Aketi’s worried cries as the children screamed all around us, mocking our soothing chimp noises too. It’s really difficult when you’re disgusted by the ugliness of people, and you have to realize, in perspective, that the people don’t know that their behavior is ugly.

To many people here, a chimpanzee is nyama -- “meat” or bête -- “beast” (with the implication in French that they are also stupid) so to change the course of public opinion is often difficult.

When your heart is grieving for the suffering of another -- suffering that those around you seem purposefully blind to -- the pain is so exaggerated that it shakes your very core.

Five chimps now in Aketi. Photos are on the Flickr Page. (NOT YET)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rolling On The River

There are several things in life that are difficult. Living here especially, one can think of many!

But I can attest, now from personal experience, that there is nearly nothing worse than needing to pee more than you can ever recall and being in a wet, sloshing-water wooden boat, miles from anywhere, surrounded by water while being bombarded constantly with the sounds of lapping water chafing against the four paddles.

Things often take longer than they ought to in some parts of Africa, and many fondly refer to it as Africa Time, as it is perpetrated here even by those rare few who wear watches. So when we were told that it would take twice as long to get home as it had taken to get to Andé, going UPstream, it was surprising so we resolved to be patient and just take our time and get there.

It had rained the entire night before our departure, so we figured (hoped immensely) that perhaps it was done raining for a little while.

How wrong we were! Though the first day on the boat was enjoyable, filled with singing and merriment and Olivier at the helm, dancing, the second day after another torrential night rain, the rain just didn’t seem to want to recede in the sky.

An hour in a wet, soggy boat, when all of your clothes are wet and it is continually raining on you is difficult. Twelve hours in a wet, soggy boat is another story.

We stopped only a few times on the second day, our brave paddlers trying to get us home that day. We’d hired two extra paddlers, Myumbe and JP, to help us combat the current but it was still a slow trek. It was often a race against the rain, and we took shelter under the big tent, propped up with paddles and sticks.

The merriment and singing from the day before were mostly absent, as we all huddled, trying to stay dry and stay warm. I pressed myself against Adam’s back, mooching his heat, but there were times when a cold rainy wind blew across the river that it was impossible not to be chilled to the core.

Tempers flared when JP, a man we’d already had trouble with, insisted that we all stop to eat and rallied, trying to unionize and subvert our efforts to get home. All the other paddlers were equally eager to get home, arguing with JP, but JP accused us of treating “them” like prisoners.

We stopped at a corn bagging station and JP sat in the rain shelter there, refusing to leave until Emmanuel had cooked him some food. Emmanuel and Olivier planned to walk the last 9km to arrive at the house early and make preparations for all of us, so we just asked that JP go with him. It was quite dramatic, though also quite funny, as Cleve shooed him away, telling him to take his bad attitude somewhere else and that he was no longer welcome on our boat.

In all the commotion, I decided not to use the bathroom, which was definitely my fault, but certainly for women on the river, it’s a bit more difficult than men. Not only can I not pee off the side of the boat, but most of the places we stopped just had one place to use the bathroom, relatively exposed, and not really at all private or ensconced in leaves.

And thus began my pain, struggling to hold it in, as we continued along the river.

Finally, my eyes bleeding yellow, Cleve spotted a huge root of an overturned tree by the side of the river, and I had to continue waiting while we maneuvered the boat to the enclave.

What a laughable comedy -- after all, a comedy of errors is still a comedy -- as Adam stood on the root, keeping me from slipping, and I squatted and all the boatmen turned the other way to keep from looking. Meanwhile, Cleve was right in front of us, holding onto Adam’s hand to ensure that the boat wouldn’t float away from the root.

After, though, I felt so much better, and as we continued on the rest of our journey without stopping, the sun finally came out and we reveled in its last rays before it set, beautifully, over the still river water.

As night came on, it was amazing to realize that all of the Belgian husks of technology that we’d seen on the way down, rusty and disused and laced with vines, were invisible against the night enveloped forest silhouette. You’d never know that there was a town behind that forest canopy, let alone a former Belgian colony.

We didn’t get home until 9 pm, too late to do anything but eat and crash. We knew the following day we could take hot baths, but it felt nice just to change out of our soaking wet clothes.

What an adventure it was -- it not only makes you appreciate the forest, but gives you such a sense of happiness to be back in Aketi too!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunset on the Itimbiri

The Worst Part

The worst part about being wet and having it rain all day is that the
bottom of the boat gets wet, and then you sit there, and then your ass
is wet and then your ass is pretty much wet and clammy for the whole
rest of the day.

And there is really nearly nothing worse than having a clammy ass and
having to sit on it all day!

USA! USA!

Some of the clothes out in Congo are great -- a lot of them come from
remainder lots and used clothing stores in the USA -- but it's sort of
wild and funny to see them here, completely out of context.

This guy was clearly very patriotic (and very serious) -- you can also
notice the guy in the back wearing a woman's dress while he grabs his
package! Quite a combo!

Rain Delay

During a rain break in a small fishing camp where many other fisherman
came and stopped too, I write in my journal and warm myself by the
fire. Everyone is very curious as to what I am doing!

Notes From My Forest Journal (Entry 10)

We’re on our way home -- the last day and the last leg of the journey. You could feel the excitement in the air as we travelled upstream through the warm languid air yesterday, despite the drama of the morning.

We’d needed two extra paddlers to conquer the current, and, seeing us in our hour of need, one of them tried to extort ghastly sums of money from us. Ironically, he was the guy who had constantly proclaimed how Christian he was!

But once on the river again, everything was calm. Emmanuel and Olivier sang in beautiful harmonies, and their voices echoed across the water.

We sang too, Adam, Cleve and I, and tried to find songs we all knew -- that elusive Metallica, Police, Janis Joplin hybrid (Ha!). We settled on a collection of poorly-remembered Beatles songs, and The Rainbow Connection. I managed to quell my thirst for Christmas songs ... I’ll only have to wait 2+ weeks to sing them anyway!

We barely escaped a surprise thunderstorm that crept up on us, hiding in an abandoned fishing camp. The guys had to cut our way through the underbrush with machetes in a race against time as the dark rolled in and the thunder became ever closer .... we scrambled to retrieve everything that could be damaged, carefully trying to avoid slipping as we passed bags along the floor of our increasingly wet and slippery boat!

Fleeing from the storm, single file out of our narrow pierogi, trying to keep it even keeled and progressively slipping and tripping our way up the steep, muddy slope to the camp, it was a bit scary!

No shelters still stood at the abandoned site so we pulled out the big tent and propped it up with sticks and oars. It wasn’t perfect, but it was funny as we all huddled together under it, trying to avoid the plentiful leaks and holes and ensuing cascades of water, each holding our stick aloft!

Despite our good spirits from early in the morning and the day before, it was clear that the rain and journey was wearing on everyone and people were eager to get home. Adventures are always more exciting at the beginning and last night, crawling into our still-wet-and-muddy-from-the-nights-before-tent that smelled like old dirty butts (for good reason) -- I think both Adam and I were really ready to get back to Aketi.

Poor Cleve has to leave Aketi by the 15th to make his flight in Kisangani, so he especially seems anxious at our seemingly constant rain delay.

Of course we’ll get home eventually, and, with luck, today, but it doesn’t make my pants any less wet or clammy or my odor any less rank!!

Substitute Paddlers

After we expelled JP from the group for being a rabble rouser and a
bad worker, Adam and Cleve decided that they would take over the
fourth paddle and carry us down the river!

I had to pee too badly to do anything but sit and suffer, but
according to the guys, it was tough work!

Here Come the Rains

Our first day had been so dry and pleasant, so what a rude shock when
it rained almost the entirety of the second day.

Most of the rain we spent in the boat, trying valiantly to get back
home, but when the lightning started flashing, it was time to get off
the river... fast!! We made a makeshift shelter from the big tent and
some sticks and oars.

But as you can see, it didn't do a WHOLE lot to keep us dry!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Notes From My Forest Journal (Entry 9)

THE STAKEOUT!

We’ve spent the last few hours camped in the supernatural quiet of the forest, within sight of a huge fruiting Likoya tree. It’s really quite magical to stop and listen to the forest... to see what happens when it doesn’t know you’re there!

Without you breathing louder than a mouse, the forest becomes alive with the flapping and cawing of hornbills, and the trill of the beautifully colorful turacao.

No chimps have come to our stakeout tree yet, but we’ve seen and heard some red-tailed guenons.

Far off to our left, we hear crashing in the brush. Is it chimps!?

Your heart leaps up under your chin and you’re caught out of breath, holding everything in you still... and quiet.

Several motionless minutes pass before you finally exhale again, though your exhaled breath is laced with disappointment. The anticipation of the stakeout must continue.

All around you, your ears are full with the din of bees and other insects -- sometimes it annoys and obfuscates your ability to hear other noises. But it is comfortable, and the air is moist and rich with the scent of fresh earth.

We hear chimpanzee screams far, far to our right and hurry over to investigate!

The chimps have silenced, but we can’t seem to stop making noise. The brush is enveloping us and to even wade through it we are clattering and clacking terribly.

I am convinced that the chimps have already fled, hearing us and believing us to be clumsy, loud hunters.

We are rounding a tree, after examining what Cleve speculates might be a ground nest, when I see a very familiar shape, descending rapidly down a vine a ways ahead of us.

Forgetting my forest training, I exclaim in a squealed whisper,

“Cleve! Cleve! Cleve! Cleve!.... CHIMP!!”

He only has time to see the branches move, but there we had it -- his 99th chimpanzee contact... and my FIRST!!

I rode the high as we continued on, finding more nests, likoya trees, and wadges.

I still can’t believe that i saw a wild chimp! However brief it may have been, it just opens a window in my mind to the possibilities of what the chimps in this forest might be like -- (other than scared of people!)

We looked for shit too, but found none and eventually went home.

But what a good note to end the trip on!