Thursday, April 16, 2009

More Press

Bravo to Cleve!

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3700963,00.html

The Final Distance

It’s now been two weeks since I crossed the border from Goma, DRC to Gisenyi, Rwanda.

It feels like a hundred years ago, and it’s no wonder that, sitting in comfort at the JGI house in Entebbe, that I’m loathe to recount our hurried journey out of Congo.

But here we go.

***************************************************************

Touching down at Kavumu airport outside of Bukavu was like a dream. We’d made it, and though Aketi Kigoma had screamed through the last hour of the flight, refusing to be comforted, the rest of the chimps seemed calm.

We’d given Kathé our water bottles to play with, mostly to distract her from untying the various ropes and vines we’d used to repair her cage, and she was in a zen place, unscrewing and rescrewing the cap to her heart’s content.

Bolungwa and Django were sleeping, though one of them had felt the need to relieve themselves during the flight. Small plane with five chimps and four people, sharing the ventilation system with a dook? Always a good time.

ICCN was at the airport to meet us, along with about 40 other people who all proceeded to introduce themselves to me as I tried to keep my wits about me and make sure that all of our belongings were offloaded and that the chimps were okay.

I got to meet Ainare, the interim manager of Lwiro, who supervised loading the chimps into the pick-ups. Both she and I were unhappy by the number of people insisting on clustering around the chimps, so we tried to move as quickly as possible. To keep Kathé from attempting any escape maneuvers in the bed of the pick-up, Ainare, a vet, tranqed her and Adam and I were hustled to the airport DGM’s office.

I felt extremely bad that there was chimp poop in the MAF plane, but had absolutely nothing to clean it up with. I only hoped Joey and Jon could forgive us!

Adam went first to the DGM’s while I handled the last few logistical things on the tarmac before joining him, only to discover that he was already encountering problems. It was here too on the tarmac that I learned by phone of our staff’s arrest, and of the warrant that had been issued for Adam.

What should have felt like a purely exuberant day of success was already feeling more like a bad film.

Inside the airport DGM’s office, the immigration chief was questioning the visas we had obtained in Buta in January. We’d been issued ATLP’s, which, according to him, weren’t valid unless our passports were sent to Kinshasa to be issued actual visas. None of this, of course, had been told to us when we got the “visas,” which were listed in Bukavu as a $45 document (but for which we had paid $150 per person). We had a receipt, and technically the ATLPs were due to expire on the 2nd of April, but he angrily insisted that we were in the country illegally and was very firm on his plan of taking us to the bigwig DGM in Bukavu this very minute, with police escorts.

As you can imagine, this was the last thing we needed, but, additionally, Kathé’s knockout was only going to last so long and we were now under a time constraint to get back to the Sanctuary before she woke up.

Ainare convinced the DGM that we would return after depositing the chimps, and that, in return, he could hold onto our passports.

I am, in general, extremely reluctant to let go of my passport but I’d rather go without my passport for 1.5 hours than have Kathé wake up in the back of the pickup truck and freak out.

So off we went. I remember being in sort of a trauma-haze, worrying about our guys in jail, and trying to figure out my next move, all while sitting in the flatbed of the second pickup with the other four chimps - Aketi, Mangé, Django and Bo - trying to reassure them as we bounced and jostled through the rough volcanic-rock roads of South Kivu Province, barely managing not to fall out of the truck, my bra, and all the while fielding frantic phonecalls from Cleve, in Holland, who probably felt equally responsible for the predicament of our staff and equally helpless to save them as quickly as we both wanted to.

We did finally arrive at Lwiro, and Adam and I jumped out of the pickup to deposit our bags at the house and arrange ourselves for the trip back out to the airport to deal with our visa issues while the driver brought the chimps to the new dormitory, where they would be quarantined until their introduction with the remaining population of Lwiro.

Time was once again against us -- it was a 45 minute drive between the sanctuary and the airport, and South Kivu is simply not safe to drive in during the night -- we had to therefore hurry back to the DGM’s to retrieve our passports before darkness set in a little more than 2 hours.

I couldn’t reach my mom, but I managed to reach Rachel and let her know that we’d made it alright. She wasn’t happy to hear that Adam was a fugitive and that we’d relinquished our passports, but she promised to just let my mother know that I was “alright”.

When we finally arrived at the airport again, the sun was aglow in the warm yellow haze just before setting, and it illuminated the ridiculous reflector shades of the policeman who stopped our car at the airport gate. Though Ainare had paid for a 24 hour pass into the airport, the policeman was intent on us paying to enter the airport again -- $120!!

Though my patience was at its end and my stress levels near enough to popping my eyeballs from my head, I explained to him that we were only going to see the DGM and retrieve our passports, and then leave.

I must have looked a sight, as I saw my frazzled hair and wide-eyes in the reflection of his sunglasses, but he waved his hand non-chalantly to allow us to pass, as though he disdained us for not wanting to pay again to enter the airport.

We didn’t have as much luck at the second checkpoint. The officer there, luminescent in his safety-cone-orange trenchcoat, refused to let our car pass. When we offered to walk to the immigration office by foot, he pointed at me brusquely, saying in broken English, “You, okay” and, swinging his accusatory finger at Adam, “Him, no!”

Telling Adam it would be alright and leaving him at the hands of the various street urchins begging at the airport gate, I walked to the DGM’s office, imagining that I’d just be able to retrieve our passports and go.

Ha!

The DGM was busy issuing some sort of fine to a UN woman who had (gasp!) taken photographs at the airport. He seemed to relish making her wait, which of course also translated into making me wait, as the sun crept farther and farther toward the horizon.

I’ll never understand how exactly being tricked and bamboozled by immigration put us at fault, but as I struggled to gain sympathy from these airport DGMs, I realized that there was no way that I was going to get our passports back. As a woman, you can get away with more in these sorts of situations, but even crying didn’t cause these two guys to yield.

One of them, who finally broke and did seem to feel bad, offered to accompany us to Bukavu the following day to visit the DGM. He’d rest with our passports that night, but assured me that he’d arrive at our house at 7:30am with a taxi to take us the 2.5 hour ride to Bukavu.

We’d originally hoped to spend lots of time at Lwiro -- but it seemed this visa problem was going to stymie any hopes we’d had of just relaxing and celebrating our success. With each new roadblock we encountered, it was feeling less and less like success anyway.

Additionally, though I played it close so as not to worry him, I didn’t know what Adam’s arrest warrant would mean for our departure plans. I mean, I couldn’t imagine that it could make its way east in less than 2 years, but it’s not the kind of thing you want to bet on and then lose. As I say often, there are lots of things in Congo that can be thought of as funny, but Congolese prison is just not one of them.

Our new plan was therefore to head to Bukavu the following day, see the DGM, and then board the boat to Goma and cross into Rwanda before the expiration of our fake visas on April 2nd.

It was probably fortuitous that I ran into a man in the DGM’s office whose name was literally “Of the Forest” -- and who was indeed a jungle savior, not only for his detailed knowledge of the boat schedules, but for his friendliness and offer to book us two places on the Wednesday boat at 11am.

Heading back towards the car, I ran into Adam, who I suppose had finally been deemed Not a Threat by the technicolor policeman (Adam was, after all, wearing the Peter the Penguin shirt I made him. Not very threatening) and allowed into the airport grounds.

He too was not happy about our passport situation, but there are some things you can fight constantly and lose or just accept that you’re not going to win and move on from.

We sped back to the sanctuary, and managed to arrive just as the darkness had finally descended. We sat for a long time with the Coopera girls and vented our day’s frustrations. It’s also always a bit jarring when fellow Congo-workers turn to you and tell you you’re brave, and that they’d never have gone through what you did. It, at least, puts things into perspective.

I’d been up since 3 am, but couldn’t sleep quite yet, so we went down to our beautiful room, where Adam took a much-needed hot shower and I flopped on our tiny, ever-so-comfortable bunkbed. My mother called me, and as I recounted the day’s events I felt myself getting more and more upset. Cleve and I spoke too, never a moment to pause and reflect, always more to do, never finished.

Our workers were still in jail, so I didn’t feel right even celebrating the triumph that was getting the chimps to Lwiro, and instead I just lay in the bed, crying not out of sadness but out of the overflow of emotion from the whole day.

Dinner was delicious - spaghetti with sauce and CHEESE and we had great company with the Coopera staff of Lwiro. We didn’t head back down the hill to our room until around 9:30 or 10, and I realized that if we left at 7:30am the following morning, it would be extremely difficult not only to say goodbye to our babies, but I wouldn’t even get to see my kids from Goma.

We texted the airport DGM, and asked him if he could come with the taxi later in the day -- maybe 10:30? Thankfully, he agreed, and not only did we have a schedule the following day that was more lax, but we could sleep in a little, too!

The next morning we had CORNFLAKES (!!) and milk! and I got to catch up with one of my original caregivers from Goma - Balume - who is now one of the HEAD caregivers at Lwiro and doing spectacularly.

We headed over through the mud to see our kids first, who seemed to be adjusting quite well! Kathé was a bit miffed at being indoors, and Aketi was more shell-shocked than anything else, immediately clinging to Adam and falling asleep, but Django and Bolungwa were delighted by all the new foods they were being offered!! And Mangé was, well, still Mangé.

It certainly made ME realize, in any case, how much we’d accomplished, and our goodbyes -- our last goodbyes for a long time -- were extremely hard. Bolungwa didn’t want to let me go, and though we had to rush to be ready for the taxi at 10:30, the feeling was mutual.

Before heading back to the house, we also stopped at the enclosure of the other chimps, and to my great delight, coming over to the enclosure’s periphery, were my kids from Goma. They recognized me, reaching out, curious, wanting me to come over ... ignoring the food that was being proffered at the other end of the enclosure. They were SO BIG I could NOT believe it! I could barely recognize Yongesa, she’d gotten so big! But Kanabiro and Gari and Shege had the SAME faces -- and once again, I found my face streaming with tears, wanting to hold them, seeing them happy, healthy... such a rush of emotions.

Because I’d been around chimps who were in quarantine, it was a bad idea for me to interact with my Goma kids. I had to watch from a distance, encouraging me all the more to come back sooner.

As we hurried back to the house to bring up our bags for the taxi, forgetting that time is forgotten in Congo, I realized too how sad I was to leave Ainare, whom I’d only just met but was already extremely fond of.

Our taxi did indeed come, though, and it took us nearly 3 hours of struggling through the mud, rain, and rocky terrain to finally arrive in Bukavu.

Compounding all of our other worries was our shrinking cash - we’d paid salaries and helped out people before leaving Aketi, including our “fee” to leave via plane to our “friend” the extortive official. And, though my mother had agreed to Western Union us some money to Bukavu, we decided it was best to receive the money after our meeting with the DGM.

The airport DGM, however, was sort of nice and friendly during our 3 hour taxi ride, and we talked with him *somewhat* liberally, though still leaving out pertinent parts of our harrowing journey. Out of all the DGMs we’d yet encountered, I’d probably trust him most with our lives, though all of them are technically mandated in the job description to protect us.

The DGM’s compound in Bukavu was not-so-surprisingly nicer than any we’d yet encountered in our tour of Central Congo. It had four walls, a lack of goats or miscellaneous poultry in the lobby, and instead, was furnished with ornately posh white leather sofas. (Why people in a hot country always go for leather, I’ll never know)

Upon entering the office, however, it seemed routine and familiar. Papers were stacked everywhere with tiny hand-written labels saying things like “Protestant Missionaries” (a big pile) and “Catholic Missionaries” (an even bigger pile), this office held FOUR desks, each with a man dressed in a fine suit.

We weren’t exactly sure which one was the DGM, so as I explained our situation I tried to look each of the four men in the eye. Somewhat less powerful, but hopefully more useful.

Predictably, while two of the men stayed silent, the other two broke off into the “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine.

Bad Cop was intent on us printing more of our documents, sure that we had somehow conspired to be against the law.

Good Cop conversed extensively with the other 2 mutes, in Lingala, and I picked up maybe 60% of it, unbeknownst to them, mostly a conversation about not wanting Congo to look bad.

Bad Cop suggested that we get 2 1-month visas at $90 each, despite the fact that we were leaving the country the next day and our existing paperwork didn’t expire until the 2nd.

Even though I cried on cue, the fact of the matter was that we had paid FAR more for some documents that were illegitimate, but not yet expired. Not only was it not fair to penalize us for being tricked, but we’d already paid $100 more per ATLP, and they wanted us to pay $180 on top of that?!

I explained too that we had no money, which was true, despite our having money waiting for us at the Western Union. Bad Cop, infuriated by the fact that we were not cushioning our pith helmets with Benjamins like perhaps other whites he’d encountered, stormed from the office, claiming he was off to find a solution.

For me, at any rate, I felt that inner tension rise as Good Cop insisted that he call the DGM in Kisangani, the boss of the DGM who issued us the fake visa, to inform him of his lackey’s treachery! I wasn’t sure how far Adam’s arrest warrant had made it, so imagine my relief when they seemed to talk of nothing but trickery and less of our Wanted status.

Bad Cop eventually came back in, a proud smile on his face, claiming that he’d found a solution... for us to get 2 1-month visas at $90/each. Hadn’t I heard this one before?

I explained to him again that we didn’t have the money and that we would leave the country tomorrow, but no one ever said conversation in Congo was efficient. Oh, and he also said that we would recoup our money from the Buta DGM once their investigation was finished, somehow trying to encourage us to cough up the $180. Um, recoup our money that was trickily thieved from us? Try not to laugh out loud at THAT one!

They asked us why we weren’t leaving via Bukavu, and continually peppered us with questions about why we’d gotten fake visas, as though we’d had a choice, and why chimpanzees were important at all.

Trying to keep calm and under-the-radar, even after Bad Cop came back into the room with a “new solution” (2 1-month visas at $90 each), it was slightly disturbing to have a new gentleman come into the room and start talking to me about how there was a different sanctuary in Congo that was going to seize all of Lwiro’s chimps. What?!

Not a time to start a fight, I just pretended that I didn’t really understand him.

We waited and waited and waited. At the mark of the third hour, my crocodile tears only partially dried, and with one additional visit from Bad Cop once again suggesting his $180 bailout plan (that was once again rejected), Good Cop finally said that he couldn’t give us new visas for free, but that he would enable our departure from the country the following day, calling all of the relevant people to make sure we wouldn’t have problems.

We even got his phone number, and piled into our taxi to head away, our passports in hand. (HURRAY!) The first hotel, run by a conservationist in Bukavu, was sadly full, so imagine our relief when a nearby hotel, THE HORIZON, had room for us - a big, luxurious room with a bathtub and a TV and a huge squishy bed.

I left Adam to load our stuff into the room, and rushed with our cab driver to the Western Union to pick up the money from my mother. It was, however, closed, and as we raced through the traffic of Bukavu looking for one that was open, I realized that the poverty I claimed in the DGM’s office was perhaps realer and DID necessitate real tears... all the while wondering whether THE HORIZON took IOU’s.

Finally, we found an open Western Union, and our problems were, for the moment, solved. It still didn’t leave us much money to get out of the country, we had to pay the $50/each for the boat ride, and we had to buy our Ugandan visas.

Eating food at THE HORIZON that night was a dream -- bedraggled in our locally-made Congolese outfits, the few bits of clothing we hadn’t given away -- mushrooms on toast for me, BEEF for Adam, cold beers! Things that shouldn’t be tear-inducing sometimes are, despite your tough veneer.

We had only one day left to go -- one day left in Congo -- one more day susceptible to the arrest warrant -- and though there was only one day left it dragged on and on and on.

We did get to the boat docks by 10 am the next day to make our 11 am boat to Goma, and, thanks to De La Forêt, our two reservations were indeed already booked. No one had mentioned to us, however, that we only got 10kg of luggage a piece, but thankfully I had just barely had the extra $43 to pay in excess baggage charges.

There was, of course, a DGM at the docks, to whom we had to explain the whole story ... again. More alarming, however, was the HORDES of military and policemen at the docks. Maybe under regular circumstances it would just make me uncomfortable, but considering our urgent departure needs, it was all the more disquieting. Not helpful was the fact that they all hung around us, asking for money. At least regular beggars don’t have guns! (but do they have *bullets*?)

My heart did stop, however, when a man ran over to us, wearing a bright pink and red shirt that had lots of prints of different kinds of ladies’ shoes on it.

“Are you Lola?” he panted at me.

How much I wanted to say No and run, (RUN, LOLA, RUN!!) but considering I was between a fence and a lake, I had to concede that yes, I was “Lola” and waited for whatever bad news or obstacle he had in store for me.

Imagine my surprise when he was not a harbinger of doom, but an envoy of the Good Cop from the day before, making sure that we were okay. He’d apparently been sent down to the docks at 6 am to wait for us, but had missed us (who knows how), and wanted to make sure we hadn’t had trouble with our Fake Visas.

How nice, as a sendoff from Congo, to have Good Cop been true to his word. Of course, ShoeShirt man still asked for money, which we didn’t have to give him, but hey, it is Congo.

When we finally boarded the boat, it was SUCH a relief, despite one particularly large military man claiming that “Mama Lola” was “abandoning” him (I’d refused to give him money). Despite the boat being full though, it didn’t leave, and as I sat with a front-row view of the countless military and police officers on the dock, my stomach dropped and I was reminded of that moment on the plane in Aketi, just willing the driver/pilot to GO GO GO before it was too late!

It turns out the military & police were there to wish a farewell to some big official, who showed up predictably late, holding up the boat, and as the military guys goosestepped to greet him on the docks, we couldn’t help but snigger. Funnier too was the camera man who accompanied him onto the boat as he took his seat, filming him with great interest. It’ll be a box office hit for sure!

And, as the boat took off across Lake Kivu, the volcanoes at its periphery silhouetted in the grey morning, we were finally on our way.

I would imagine that airlines have a “no” list of movies they shouldn’t show on airplanes, like Con Air or United 93 or maybe even Soul Plane.

Why this $50 luxury boat travel company chose to show Speed 2 then is beyond me (it’s about a cruise ship being overtaken and all the passengers being evacuated, etc). Why not Poseidon or even better, Titanic? At least Titanic is more watchable than Speed 2, and as we watched with the bizarre French dubbing, we couldn’t help but laugh at inappropriately dramatic places.

Worse, however, was the local standup comedy DVD afterwards, performed by a Congolese guy who’d traveled to Belgium. As you can probably guess, most of the jokes were about how CRAZZZZZYYY white people were. I’d equate it with being at the Apollo. Every time this stand-up guy would make some comment about white people in Congo, everyone in the boat turned and looked at us.

Always fun!

But we did finally arrive in Goma, and, our savior, Don, who works at the US Embassy was there to greet us. He stood by as we visited our second-to-last DGM at the port (can you believe how many we had to see just to get out of the country!?), making sure we were alright. This DGM was a bit more enterprising/weasly than the previous 2, and tried to tell me that there was a mandatory fee for every white coming to Goma, a lie I didn’t buy for a minute (and I had a burly Embassy guy to back me up).

With the proper names thrown around, however, he released us without paying a nickel, and Don’s driver drove us away from the port and towards Rwanda at last.

Goma has changed SO much since I was last there -- they’ve built it up considerably and even the elephant graveyard is covered in huge buildings now! The Lebanese restaurant is gone, and Don was eager regardless to get us OUT of the country instead of having lunch there anyway.

It was wonderfully familiar, though, and I was almost sad I couldn’t stay longer.

...Almost.

Arriving at the border, I saw that it too had changed. Last visit, it had been a drab, grey building riddled with bullet holes. They had since painted it bright blue and yellow and red (the flag colors) and they even had a COMPUTER inside the office, though it didn’t seem like anyone knew how to use it.

We, once again, had to explain our situation, and Good Cop in Bukavu hadn’t quite gotten around to calling anyone at THIS post, so a few tense minutes were spent as the border guard eyed our paperwork suspiciously.

He insisted that we leave the receipt and the ATLPs there so that they could “investigate the fraud” -- however much of a joke this may or may not have been, we had gotten out of Congo without having to pay a dime, and if it cost 3 pieces of paper, so be it.

We got back into the car, Don and I both encouraging Adam not to dance until after we GOT to Rwanda, and zoomed through the barrier.

Rwanda was, of course, easy. I know my passport number by heart after filling out so many of these little cards, but for Americans, Rwanda is FREE ENTRY because it’s just that cool.

Don dropped us off at the hotel in Rwanda, and we excitedly made plans for lunch there the following day together. The hotel brought us hot towels to wash our faces, and cold champagne.

It was then that we knew we were free. Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.



****************************************************************

We’ll be posting more entries eventually, organizing posts and fixing old tags and uploading more photos once we get back to America. I’m also hoping to post a “hilarious search terms that found my blog” entry.

Thank you for tuning in. Once all the research stuff is squared away, I’ll also post an entry thanking the people who helped me immensely with that. But for a while, this will be the last entry.

Questions? Comments?

Email me at laura@primatologist.me


Interested in helping chimpanzees? Please consider making a donation to Lwiro!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Some More Thank Yous



The response to our struggle and success has been overwhelming, but we need to reiterate that we could not have done it alone!

Thank you again to:

Cleve Hicks
Debby Cox
Radar Nishuli
Carmen Vidal
Ainare Idoiaga
Petrus Viengele
Leopold Kalala
Claudine André
Shirley McGreal/IPPL
Joey Lincoln/MAF
Jon Cadd/MAF
Polycarpe Kisangola
Terese Hart
Andy Plumptre
Don Webb
Elizabeth Cook, DVM
Timothy Mann, DVM
Janice Gleason Skow
Hans Wasmoeth
Sunny Kortz
Carol Gould


While our guys in Aketi are out of jail, they're still being harassed on a daily basis. We work every day, fielding phonecalls in at least 3 different languages and using SkypeOut credit faster than we can wait for the page to load to recharge it!

The struggle isn't yet over, and I still have a LOT of blog entries to write! But today we voyage to Entebbe via car! More adventure is still ahead!

Photos From the Pilot

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Whole Story

This hotel in Rwanda is even nicer than I remembered. I sit on the balcony, listening to the sound of the waves hitting the shore and Bach and it’s so serene that I feel like I could cry.

I’ve been doing a lot of that recently. As I told Don and Stu yesterday, I feel like a teenage girl again.

And I’ve been loathe to write this entry -- to try and make our adventures as compelling as possible, as I write I transplant myself back to the scene, remembering vividly what it felt like so that I can best convey the life of the scene.

But I don’t want to go back to the airfield in Aketi again. Imagining the scene fills me with the same fear of the day itself -- and as I feel my heart sink into the pit of my stomach, all I can remember is how close we nearly were to losing everything we had worked so hard to achieve -- and how near to us failure became for that hour on Monday morning.

I will try anyway, however, to recount it as best I can


***************************************************************************

Monday, by 9 am, had felt like a long day already. The sun was particularly hot, and both my temper and those of the workers were short as we’d all had little sleep, and they were on the cusp of losing work while I was on the knife’s edge between wild success and disastrous failure.

Though we had given the chimps valium earlier in the morning, it had worn off too by 9 am and they were restless, hungry, and wondering what in the world was going on. Thanks to the Valium, we’d been able to take the chimps across the airfield to the river before the sun came up without being caged, and they continued to be uncaged, romping through the underbrush at the sides of an extremely narrow path cutting through the dense undergrowth where we sat hidden. It was off of the main path, so the countless ladies with their empty wood collection baskets who passed by didn’t even notice us.

It was impossible to find shade, and everyone looked pensive. In addition to sweating, I felt an unusual tightness in my chest, my eyes focussed on the narrow path towards us.

At about 9:30am, my eyes caught sight of an official, but quickly realized it was just Papa B, our extortive “friend.” It was his job to authorize the plane to land, and he’d been the only person told the specifics of our plan. He rarely wore his uniform, so it was rather funny to see as he made his way through the underbrush, trying not to get dirty or rumpled even as the leaves and branches pulled at his neatly pressed shirt.

He was, of course, visiting to discuss the subject of payment -- he was willing to offer us a “discount” but he wanted to ensure that I would pay him before everyone came. Nothing says “I’m going to take this money under the table” than a persistent demand to have the money in secret, right?

He assured us, however, counting the last stack of our meager remaining money, that he would protect us in the hours ahead.

So we waited.

The wait was indeed painful -- I could barely believe there was a plane coming even as I’d booked and confirmed it, and a deep-seated fear nagged at me that the plane would never come. In the interim, we tested out the cages, and discovered problems immediately. The bigger cylindrical cage had its door sticks too far apart, and Bolungwa escaped after only 10 minutes of trying.

As it was already 9:30, we set to fixing that cage immediately.

Aketi didn’t take to being caged, and, frustrated, took it out on Mangé, who isn’t much of a fighter, or a lover. More of a rocker/floor-cleaner. We separated them and left Mangé in the cage and let Aketi roam free, keeping an eye on him as he was still showing signs of valium haze.

Kathé was another story -- she was the only chimp for whom we’d made a wooden planks cage, as she’s far bigger and stronger than the rest of the kids. We’d made many modifications already with the carpenter, and now all that remained was to put Kathé inside and nail the top shut.

Kathé, tranquilized but not tranquil, had other ideas. It took six of us to get her inside, and it took her six seconds to escape.

The side bars were too far apart, despite all of our modifications. We had to think FAST.

I sent guys out to cut small branches, and we worked feverishly to make additional lattices on the sides and prevent further escape.

Laughing at us, Kathé rolled in the grass next to the cage, calm and flopped.

Our second attempts to get her into the cage were easier, but she immediately set out to untie all of the vine-knots that were holding the lattices in place. It was now 10:15am, so I figured it was a good time to get out to the airfield.

Carrying the three cages and Aketi separately, who was sleepy and heavy with Valium, we made our way out to the airfield.

Local people cutting wood and what-not were immediately intrigued and followed us closely, with no mind to our personal space OR the chimpanzees’. It was all I could do to run at them screaming to get them to move back and away from the chimps, but with the help of all of our staff out at the airfield, we managed to get a bit of breathing room.

Out of the protective shelter of the trees, however, it was hot, and as the sun razed our flesh and our patience, I wondered if the plane was ever coming. We put Aketi back in with Mangé, and the heat lulled them into a temporary truce.

As I contemplated despair, Polycarpe looked at me, an excited gleam in his eyes -- “I hear a plane!” he said.

And sure enough, five minutes later, the small black speck was visible from the ground. The plane circled around, becoming louder and louder until finally, it touched down.

Adam ran to me, tears of joy streaming down his face, “It’s here, it’s here!”

I couldn’t believe it! But our work was not done yet.

We introduced ourselves to Joey and Jon, who were two very cool and laid back pilots indeed! They started refueling immediately, as we loaded our luggage into the plane and prepared to the load the chimps as well, still a hundred feet from the plane in their cages.

The bags loaded, I headed over toward the cages, and my heart dropped as I saw the very thing I’d been dreading -- Mr Moibi -- decked again in his blueberry shirt.

At first I fooled myself into thinking that perhaps he was just there to wish us a fare-thee-well, but as he pushed documents in front of my face, menacing me and commencing a loud angry tirade about the $8,000 tax bill, my stomach dropped and it was all I could do to keep myself from falling or puking.

He pulled from his pants pocket a crinkled, torn note -- an invitation, to the ATE’s office -- to discuss the matter of documents and insisted that I accompany him immediately.

My heart raced, and as I returned to the plane to pull the additional documents we photocopied and prepared ahead of time -- a just in case for exactly this scenario -- I felt the rush of fear, that desperate urge to just get on the plane and flee. But the pilots had ten minutes left to continue refueling. It wasn’t an option.

I returned to Mister Moibi and tried to explain clearly, quickly, politely, succinctly, that we were within the Congolese Law, had permission from Kinshasa (the big boys), and that the pilots had a very tight schedule to keep that couldn’t be delayed. All of this was true, but it did not stop him from coming very close to my face, his breath even hot after the morning of equatorial sunshine, and whispering, his eyes narrowed menacingly, “I will take these chimpanzees from you,” he hissed.

He announced to the increasingly large crowd of spectators that we were all going back across the river to the office, and he beckoned to one of his goons (not in a uniform or anything) to grab the chimps.

The goon took Aketi Kigoma by the leg from between the bars of the cage -- and inside the cage there was no way he could defend himself and he screamed, terrified, struggling to release this stranger’s grip.

Everyone was screaming -- the din in an outdoor space was incredible -- and as Aketi shrieked in fear, the other chimpanzees followed suit, shaking their cages, afraid.

We screamed at this man to let Aketi go -- not only was he scaring Aketi, but he was in danger of being bitten or worse!

He did not listen, however, and in a moment of father’s protectiveness, Adam rushed over to push the man away from the cage. The man, startled, stepped back, as Adam placed himself between the two.

We rushed to phone our emergency contacts in Kinshasa. They confirmed that we were within the law, and we relayed this to Mister Moibi, who insisted, louder and louder, that we were not IN Kinshasa.

Mister Moibi, undeterred, clutched the documents and left the field, and we continued loading the chimps and our things onto the plane.

Five minutes later, he returned with a man we knew quite well who worked for the ANR -- an agency I’ve mentioned before is much like the CIA of Congo. Trying to remain calm, though it felt impossible in the heat and suffocation of the crowd, we explained to this ANR man what our plans were, and showed him our documents from ICCN as well as our detention permit.

As I tried to explain rationally our situation, Mister Moibi screamed over me, trying to contradict everything I said. Finally, the ANR man asked him to please be quiet. I could not help but grin.

“Are you contesting the legitimacy of these documents?” he asked Mister Moibi.

“No,” he said, confused. “Yes,” he said. He proceeded to try and relay the history of our alleged tax responsibility.

“Hold on,” the ANR man said to him. “This document [the detention permit] has a stamp on it, and its signed. Even if it’s false, it’s not their fault. They’re within the law” He then turned to us, smiling and friendly, and thanked us for our time in Aketi. He shook our hands, and helped me get into the plane.

Mister Moibi looked crest-fallen. His ally had basically said, even if he was right, he was still wrong!

I knew, however, that it most likely wasn’t over. We hurried ourselves to finish readying the plane, and said tearful goodbyes to our staff. Random people came over and stood in front of us by the plane, as another man with a camera took photographs for money. It was certainly surreal.

We kept looking towards the entrance of the airfield, waiting, but we had so much preparation to do. We had a little extra time, since it took about 10 minutes to cross the river by pirogue, but we would still be happier and more likely to succeed the quicker we could move.

People stood by our windows, asking us for money with obscure hand gestures as we secured the final straps around the chimps’ cages. We closed all of the doors of the plane, as everyone outside continued to make a remarkably loud goodbye. But when the noise seemed to increase significantly, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to turn around and see Kathé, our big female, OUT of her cage and pressing her face against the plane window.

She’d escaped again, and really now, time was a serious issue. I barely remembered to take photographs -- we vaulted the seats, taking Kathé in our arms.

She’d slipped through two of the planks, despite our lattice of sticks and vine, and she seemed completely unable to go back in the way she’d come out. Jon, the pilot, cleverly grabbed some tools and we worked on un-nailing one of the planks to give us enough space to put Kathé back in. We’d had to open up the back of the plane again to let Djodjo and Antoine (two caregivers) in to help. As Kathé cried out in stress, the crowd mocked her, yelling back. It was awful to see.

My eyes were restless, bouncing back from Kathé to the entrance of the airfield and back again to Kathé.

We managed to get Kathé back inside, trying to fortify the lattice with extra straps, ropes and what-not from the plane, ever-conscious as the minutes ticked by.

We finally decided to put the cargo net over the cages to prevent any sort of escape, and once it was secured to the floor, we were ready to go.

The pilots were nearly ready to go, with only the two side doors open still for ventilation from the heat.

About to leave, an official we’d had mixed dealings with previously came over with a policeman.

“The Administrator is coming,” he said. “You must wait.”

At this point, however, the pilots were already behind schedule and we really needed to go.

“We’re with the law here,” I explained from my seat. “And we really can’t wait. The pilots need to be in Bukavu by 14:00.”

“I understand,” said the man, “but he’ll be here really soon!”

“Get out of the plane!!” the accompanying policeman said.

The pilot, Joey, intervened. “We really can’t,” he said, “we’ve got to go.” With that, he turned on the front propellers, momentarily distracting the two men standing below the driver’s side door, allowing us time to close it and lock it.

It was only as the propellers whirred faster and faster that people cleared off of the airfield and away from the plane. We moved slowly to the end of the runway, preparing to turn around to take off. My eyes were peeled, unblinking, at the entrance of the airfield. We wouldn’t be safe... the chimps wouldn’t be safe... until we were off the ground.

The runway was so much bumpier than it had looked as we accelerated towards the other end. But as we felt the wheels leave the ground, Adam and I embraced one another in tears of relief, stress, and fatigue.

The chimps were free. Nothing could have felt better.

The flight felt quick in comparison to the morning, though Aketi Kigoma probably would have disagreed. Most of the other chimps slept (and pooped in poor Jon’s plane), but he spent much of the last hour screaming. Though we tried to comfort him, it was little help. I knew how he felt!

Landing in Kavumu airport, ICCN was there to meet us and guard the chimpanzees from any additional problems.

It still seemed packed, as countless strangers introduced themselves to me, when all I really cared about was the chimps.

Ainare, the interim sanctuary manager of Lwiro, was also there to meet us and it was wonderful to finally meet her in person!

We needed to meet with the DGM (of course) to register our immigration so I sent Adam along with our passports while I handled things by the plane, and talked to Cleve, only to discover that Polycarpe and the rest of our workers in Aketi had been taken to prison.

Even less rational was an arrest warrant that had been issued for Adam, as the story inflated itself with lies and exaggerations regarding his protection of Aketi Kigoma AND the man who was grabbing him on the airfield.

It was a terrible development in a story we’d been hoping could be a finished success, but it was only one of a hundred things going on at the time.

I walked over to accompany Adam at the DGM’s office and was encountered with a new problem -- the visas we’d been issued in Buta in January were INVALID. Not only that, but we’d been sold $45 documents for $300. Thankfully, we had receipts, but the airport DGM was intent on making us pay for our “illegal residence” in Congo and wanted us to come with him ... with the police ... to Bukavu immediately.

Of course, Lwiro is only 45 minutes from the airport, but 2.5 hours from Bukavu, so our going there at 3pm in the afternoon was pretty impossible.

Ainare convinced him to hold onto our passports, and told him we’d be back later that night to discuss options. Because we’d had to untie the plane’s ropes and straps from Kathé’s cage, I’d had fear she would escape from her cage while in the back of the pickup truck. Ainare, a veterinarian, had therefore sedated her but it meant that we were under a quickly-evaporating window of time in which to drive the 45 minutes back to the sanctuary.

The DGM agreed, so off we were, on the never-ending quest to give me grey hairs. I sat in the bed of the pickup truck with the chimps, trying to keep from being knocked unconscious by my own breasts or jettisoned right out of the truck as we rocked and bounced over the muddy, rocky, Congolese roads.

The chimps seemed calmer, probably too tired and hungry to care further.

And then we ARRIVED. I will post photos of the arrival, and I’m sure the staff there has additional photos and video as we released the chimps into a holding cage in the new dormitory as it is being completed.

They met their new caregiver, Claude, and ate and ate and ate. East Congo has such a wonderful variety of food and Aketi Kigoma literally crawled INTO the bucket of food and hoarded the bounty for three hours before he’d leave!

We’ll write later about our further struggles with the DGM, and getting the guys out of prison in Aketi, and our trip out of Congo and everything else, but all that matters now is that the chimps are safe.

We continue to be tired and feel defeated, but this fact -- that, despite its high price in many ways -- the overall success of the Aketi Five will always buoy our spirits.

Thanks again for all of your support, and thank you to Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation and MAF for flying us out, and IPPL for helping us fund the evacuation.

More entries to come, stay tuned.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

On a Lighter Note

While I write about some of the serious drama and trauma of the past 3 days, I thought it’d be fun to share a link that Inf sent me:

I Don’t Want to Leave The Congo

Wow, what a week

First off, I would like to say that we won!!!!!!! We first got the chimps to the Lwiro Sanctuary in Bukavu and we are out of Congo!!!!! We are staying in a fancy hotel in Rwanda right now. For those who don't know, Rwanda is great. There is no corruption, it is free for American Visas, it's clean, they have an excellent President and it's great. It's sad that when people in the U.S. think of Rwanda and they only know the genocide of 15 years ago. This country has made leaps and bounds since then and it's beautiful and filled with tourists. Gisenyi is great, you can drink the water out of the tap!

Okay enough about Rwanda, here is what happened. On Monday, we took the chimps out of Aketi. We woke up at 3AM, woke up the chimps at 4:30 to give them sedatives and took them across the river at 5AM to the airfield and hid in the bushes. We struggle to get the chimps in the cage and wait for the plane. The plane comes around 11 and there are a million people there. What we didn't want. As we wait for the plane to refuel and load the baggage and the chimps, the local 'adjutant' supposedly in charge of the environment is coming trying to stop us. He tried to hold the chimps and prevent us from leaving. The workers and I start loading the plane anyways. A man not wearing any uniform grabs one of the orphan chimps by the leg and tries to open the cage. The man does not know it but he is in serious danger of getting bitten. The orphan was Aketi Kigoma, the chimp I fostered. After the goon didn't listen and continued to grapple with the baby chimpanzee, I separated him from the orphan and blocked him from opening the cage, telling him NO! He stumbled back and looked scared. The 'adjutant' then left to get the police and more officials. After the plane was loaded, the big chimp Kathe, got out of her cage. The pilot was able to open the cage, the workers got her back in the cage and then the pilot strapped up her cage further and then cargo netted the cages so they couldn't escape. We are nervously waiting. Right before that, the 'adjutant' comes back with the ANR. He is like the CIA of Aketi. We showed him our documents and says that we are legit and we should go. The 'adjutant' goes back to get another official. The police try to stop us but the pilot was like no, we have to go, we have a schedule. The two pilots start up the plane and we take off. Laura and I leave and we ecstatic to know that we have rescued the chimps. During the flight the chimps slept most of the way. At the end they started to get rowdy in their cages, so I go back to settled them down.

We land in Bukavu and sanctuary people and the ICCN come to get the chimps. We then go to the immigration officials at the airport to show them our visas. They said they were invalid. We told them that we were told they were okay and we paid $300. The DGM said we were tricked by the DGM in Buta. He would hold our passports and take us to Bukavu to the immigration office the next day and find a solution. We also found out that our workers were thrown in jail and that there was a warrant for my arrest in Aketi. The warrant was for assaulting an official. I only physically intervened to separate a man (who was not wearing a uniform) from the baby chimpanzee that he was attacking. They twisted it around and said I beat up several police officers. It didn't matter to me because I was 1,200 miles away now and they couldn't touch me. In order to tell the other authorities, they would have to spend more money then they had. I am also out of the country now and I can't be touched.

The next day we go to the DGM's office in Bukavu with the airport official. We explained our story to them and most of them felt sorry for us. One of them wanted us to pay $160 for one month visas, even though we were going to be gone for one day. Laura is great actress and began to cry to gain sympathy. The head DGM said that if we were to pay, that would make Congo look bad. He said we could go and we didn't have to pay any money. He couldn't give us new visas but, he gave us his phone number and said if we need any help, to call him and a he would straighten out the situation. We then go to a good hotel in Bukavu and spent the night.

The next day today, we took a boat from Bukavu to Goma. We met up with Don, our friend from the UN and the US embassy and he helped us get out of the country from Goma and now we are relaxing in a nice hotel in Rwanda. We are safe, healthy and very happy. We now look forward to having a vacation in Rwanda and Uganda and going home.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thank Yous

I have yet to write an entry, but I promise it’s coming! We’re just reveling too much in being in Rwanda, safe and sound and across the border without problems --

And this hotel is SO nice! We just got room service.

But we wanted to say some thank yous to people who helped us liberate the chimps from Aketi:

Cleve Hicks
Debby Cox
Radar Nishuli
Carmen Vidal
Ainare Idoiaga
Petrus Viengele
Leopold Kalala
Claudine André
Joey Lincoln
Polycarpe Kisangola
Terese Hart
Andy Plumptre
Elizabeth Cook, DVM
Timothy Mann, DVM
Janice Gleason Skow
Hans Wasmoeth
Sunny Kortz
Carol Gould

Crossing the Border (and our fingers)

After talking to Lauren, I feel like I should give additional information for the worry-ers.

Even though we got our passports back after being sold FAKE visas in Buta, we might still have problems in the country.

We’re on a speedboat across Lake Kivu this morning to Goma. Don will meet us at the boat docks -- he works with the US Embassy in addition to being a friend, so it’s the best of both worlds.

We’re crossing the border in Rwanda this afternoon, and hopefully our problems will be over. There will still be problems in Aketi even after we cross over, but we’ll be in a better position to help remedy them once we’re free of the country.

My phone should still work, and I think we’ll have internet at the Kivu Sun hotel in Gisenyi, Rwanda.

On Thursday or Friday, we’ll start the long trek through southwestern Uganda to Entebbe. And from there it’s cake!

More focussing on the positive

We made the news!

April Fool's Day

My calendar tells me today is April Fool’s Day. My mother and I typically like to make some sort of joke, usually silly or lame, but it’s still in good fun.

This year, however, in thinking of what might be funny, I can’t for the life of me imagine a situation that might happen to us here that I would want to tell my mother -- even as a joke!

“Hey mom, Adam’s in prison!” ... not funny.

“The chimps have been seized by the Congolese government!” ... not funny.

“There was a riot at the prison in Aketi!” ... SO not funny.


We’ll be in Rwanda by later today. Maybe things will feel funnier there!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not Dead

There have been terrible developments, and amazing successes -- it hardly feels like it could be possible in less than 48 hours.

I also never thought it was possible to cry over the taste of mushrooms on toast, but that too is within the realm of reality here!

We’re in Bukavu, and just way too tired and stressed to write up the whole incident, especially considering that we should really be devoting our online time to getting our workers in Aketi out of prison.

But updates will indeed come -- promise! For now, we’re safe and at least have gotten our passports back.

And, the chimpanzees are safely installed at Lwiro. We’re trying especially hard to focus on the positives right now.        

Thanks for keeping track of us!

Monday, March 30, 2009

6:54am

It feels almost anti-climactic, sitting here on the stoop at nearly 7 am. We’ve been active since 4:30 -- I’ve been up since 3.

I sit here waiting for one of the workers to bring back the bike that I am pretty sure he was trying to surreptitiously hijack during the commotion of preparation.

Ain’t happening. I’m ON the ball.

I made the dosed milk this morning, careful to pay attention even by flashlight to which cup was destined for which chimp.

As we entered the depot, the chimps were groggy, but happy to see us. Curled up together, it felt mean to disturb them!

But at nearly 5 am, it was really time to get the day started.

Our boatman hadn’t arrived yet, but we dosed the chimps one by one and played with them a little before they got sleepy. We checked too to make sure they didn’t respond poorly to the Valium.

Everything seeped copacetic, but the boatman was still not here, nor was one of the caregivers or our two other employees.

Finally, at nearly a quarter of 6, they showed up but we’d already sent the chimps along to make sure that they’d cross the river under cover of night. Or at least very very early morning.

Still small, it wasn’t necessary to cage them for the river crossing -- and it was much easier to carry them down to the beach not in cages.

We also sent along all of our luggage -- nothing is more suspicious than a bunch of whiteys heading down to the beach with luggage!

Now it’s finally light out -- Adam is at the airfield with the chimps, who are hopefully sedate(d)!!

I’ve just got my computer and purse left to take down to the airfield. Plus, we’ve got 3.5 hours left to wait for the plane! But, with luck, it’ll come early!

We’re nearly there! Nearly nearly nearly!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Larry, Curly, and Moe

Thank god we’ve had luck on our side thus far, because I’m led to wonder where in the world the professionals we hired went.

Our driver, coming back to bring the chimpanzees with caregivers to the house one by one (or potentially two by two) on the motorcycle, showed up drunk. So, we made other arrangements, not eager to have a motorcycle crash with chimpanzees onboard.

The caregivers came instead by bicycle -- and by lucky coincidence, Kathé, our biggest chimpanzee, LOVES riding the bicycle and it tends to lull her into a supernatural calm.

How STUPID I was to have imagined that we could bring 5 chimpanzees to the house and have no one be the wiser.

Calling out, it was not our chimpanzees making the noise but our damned caregivers as they bumbled into the house, without flashlights, though thankfully with all five chimpanzees.

Kathé started pant-hooting, her voice echoing through our big empty, already-packed cement house.

Instead of going around the side of the house, they came through the center -- no problems, but lots of noise!

We put the chimpanzees then into the depot, but as we struggled with the ancient key on the ever ancient padlock, the calls of chimpanzees had alerted some neighbours, who came into the yard curiously to see what in the world was going on!

Argh!

I managed to gain order, expel everyone from the yard and get the chimpanzees quietly to sleep in the depot only by being a short-tempered bitch, but at least now the night is calm and quiet and we can plan for tomorrow morning.

We’d asked the guys to bring their mattresses and flashlights -- neither of which they brought, and proceeded to ask us for “spares” -- like we have four spare mattresses lying around!

“Give us cigarettes,” one of the caregivers demanded, rather rudely.

“We don’t have any,” I snapped at him.

“Give us money to go and get cigarettes,” he continued. When I snapped at him again to be quiet and go to bed, he looked terrified!

So we have five chimpanzees now sleeping in the depot, with one caregiver, and three employees sleeping on various couches in the living room, since they didn’t want to sleep without mattresses on the floor of our nice house.

Oh, and despite it being about 90º even IN the house, they asked us for BLANKETS for the night! Come ON! I might have to throw someone in the river tomorrow.

I can only hope that they brought the cups and plates for the chimps, so that we can prepare them some Sleepy Milk in the morning. At least then they wouldn’t have forgotten EVERYTHING! (save the chimps, of course)

Last Hurrah (Yay Corruption!)

I suppose the moral of this story should be that, even if you “make friends” with certain local officials, and ply them with money and favors, that it really does nothing for you. Ha!

Though, thankfully, our “extortive” friend the official, Papa B, has stopped coming by the house every day, he’s found no end to tricksy maneuvers to pry money from our tight, non-profit fingers.

During our problems with Mr. Moibi, he claimed to be participating as our advocate, trying to protect us. But really, it seemed more like he was trying to get a cut of whatever taxes Mr. Moibi could garner.

It didn’t help either that Papa B moved his office right next to the café. Every time since when we’ve gone for a cold soda (a real treat we only give ourselves once in a while) -- he’s come out and insisted that he be included in our revelry. I did manage to convince him, however, that if we’re drinking soda, he is NOT drinking beer.

Unfortunately, it is he too who is responsible for our plane trip out. At a cost that he claims is EIGHTY DOLLARS. That’s for the PERMISSION to land a plane here. How exactly that figures, I have no idea.

He’s agreed to reduce it by half (still an exorbitant fee in my opinion), which just cuts down on the money we have left to live on all the more.

To add insult to injury, he sent two guys -- maybe 16 or 17 years old -- to the house today with a little handwritten note to Polycarpe. It basically said, “Hey, friend! I’m hungry! Send me 300FC! I’m here waiting for it.”

Polycarpe was as disgusted as we were -- and wrote him back on the note “I don’t have any money to give you, Thanks.”

I’m hoping our refusal to cow to his ridiculous (and continual) demands for cash won’t influence our ability to leave tomorrow. He’s said he was going to protect us from problems tomorrow, but I honestly don’t believe it for a MINUTE.

Ugh! Please let this be the last hurdle!

The Last Day (and the Last Supper)

Preparing to bring the chimps over tonight is mind-boggling -- not because it’s especially complicated but because really, it’s the last step.

We had a little dinner party last night ... not the huge party we’d once planned. Instead, we just had the neighbour kids, our workers, and a few stragglers.

That Guy who hangs out in our yard, playing cards and smoking (we don’t even know his name) who is presumably friends with someone here plopped himself right down at the table to help himself to a serving. Many happy returns, That Guy!

It reminded us of Thanksgiving, minus the arrests and extortion, and it was clear to us just how much time had passed!

Instead of chimps at our feet, we had Happy the puppy -- who looked from the back like a pregnant goat as he scurried around, looking for food that had been dropped to squeeze into his already bulging stomach.

Adam and I both said a few words, and the air was one of happiness. After dinner, we put on a slideshow of photos from the last six months, and everyone laughed and commented. Of particular amusement for the crowd were the videos of Adam and I crossing the river through the water and mud up to our waists.

Earlier in the day, certain workers had tried to insist on getting money during the “vacation” -- the time between our departure and the next researcher’s arrival -- but even if I thought it was a good idea, we really don’t have the money to give them anyway!

I honestly feel more anxious than anything else right now. If there is one thing that this venture in Congo has taught me, it’s to expect anything and I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Adam says that even if we were shoe-wearing spiders, there simply aren’t any more shoes that can drop, but I’m still not sure.

All I know is that tomorrow at 9 am, I will be prepping the chimps for the voyage and heading over to the airfield! And that’s all that’s certain to me!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

2 Days to Go

Adam and I are going to walk through town today, taking photos of everything that we’ve noticed and appreciated throughout these past months. We want to make sure we get it all!

We also plan to go to the market and buy LOTS of pilipili for him! With luck, some green-thumbed friend can help us plant the seeds. Adam eats so much pilipili here, I can’t imagine how he’ll survive without it!

Our bags are basically packed, too -- Happy, our dog, has been trying to nest in one of them. He’ll be staying here, in the extremely capable hands of Polycarpe in the new house. We still have to bring furniture and things over there today... the chimps will be brought over *here* tomorrow night and spend the night in the depot in preparation for our early morning on Monday.

I almost can’t believe it’s happening -- I probably *won’t* believe it until I see the plane land! As hard as we’ve worked, some part of me still expected to be having to leave here on the back of a motorcycle, braced for three days of pain.

But here we are -- we’re making sure to write down all the relevant numbers of prominent officials we know, and to charge up our video camera and two regular cameras -- I can’t imagine it’ll be an experience I’ll get to repeat so I want to make sure it’s well-documented!

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Waiting Game

It’s Friday at 4 pm, which means that we have only 2 full days left here in Aketi. We’ve worked hard to finish up the things that are important - some last few gifts for friends and photos in and around the town. I also finished up with some in-town interviews to add to my thesis. Overall, a good few days.

We also gave the leftovers from all my research (gloves, masks, etc) to the local hospital. They were extremely pleased!

In typical Congolese style, everything is breaking down. The generator just needed a $20 part, and though it killed me to pay $20 for something I’m only going to use for 2 more days, the idea of having no electricity for 2 days was worse!

I still feel this inner tension, because while things feel calm, on Monday, they may not be. No one yet knows our departure date, thankfully, but if we’re sitting out at the airfield for a few hours, I just know that there’ll be some sort of drama!

I just want the chimps to be okay, and once again, the wait for the exhale is leaving me a bit blue in the face.

There is also the perpetual problem of the countdown -- things always seem to take longer when you’re paying such close attention!

I’m thrilled by the idea of being in Entebbe again, and seeing my kids from Goma at Lwiro, and of taking the road trip from Goma to Beni with Stu. So much to look forward to!

Why does it all seem so far away!?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Four Days Left in Aketi!!!!!!

As you can tell by the title, we are about to leave Aketi really soon. We will be flying out with the chimps with MAF. They are a missionary plane service that offered to fly Laura, the chimps and me to Bukavu. From there the chimps will be at the Lwiro Sanctuary. By the time you read this entry, we will have already have flown out of Aketi. I can't post this entry now for certain reasons.

This also might be the last entry I make for the blog in Aketi. I hope that this blog let people know about our experience here and the importance of chimps. Please let people know how endangered these magnificent beings are and how that buying chimps, even if it is meant to save the chimp, just keeps the cycle of poaching and hunting going.

I also want people to know the horrible conditions that many diamond miners in Africa are working in. How disease can spread not just through Congo and Africa, but the world. Also the lack of rights that many of these workers have. Many just work for food and have barely anything to their name. If you want to buy a diamond, please ask where it came from. Even though DR Congo and many nations in Africa are not “conflict” nations and do not have “conflict diamonds”, they still have working conditions that are inhumane. These workers need guaranteed salaries, labor unions and enforced labor laws to protect them.

Many of these miners go into the forest to hunt for food, which means bush meat and chimpanzees. This is how Ebola and a strand of HIV were started. I want people to be aware of what is going on here. If we have enough people to raise awareness, we just might be able to change things.

Airfield

It feels so quiet here since the drama -- almost too quiet, but Adam and I slowly but surely finish our preparations for the “evacuation” of the chimps.

Life has been somewhat peaceful ... avocados are in season again and we made some guacamole yesterday. A welcome change from poondoo or beans!

It continues to be Africa™, though -- our cat, Chaussette, who was allowed to run around during the night (even outside, since she’d go out the window),was (we guess) bitten by a snake.

I looked for her all morning and finally found her, cold and rigid, under our windowsill. We buried her in the yard, one more thing on the “to do” list. She was a good cat, and sweet.

Death is just a part of life here. I guess I’m not even allowed to complain.

We visited the airfield this morning, finally finished being cut yesterday. It’s about 1km long and 16m wide, and surprisingly flat! It was encouraging to see, since the pilots coming out to get us were quite worried that a Jungle Airfield would be completely unsuitable.

Imagine that nightmare -- standing in the airfield with all of our luggage and the Aketi Five, only to have the plane be unable to land and turn around and leave!!

Cleve is anticipating Major Drama with the local officials, and we’ve continued to withhold the actual date of our departure from everyone here to prevent just that -- I think really, though, that after this last drama, we are both just tapped out.

I know certainly that I don’t have much energy left to worry about anything that might happen. Especially after having to collect the dead much-loved rigor mortis cat, I don’t have much energy to devote to Doom-Anticipation in general.

In the realm of excitement, however, is the reception of the eBooks and Cleve’s work out here -- Science magazine might put in a piece about our rescue of the chimps -- and I can’t say that I haven’t always dreamed of being in Science! (or Nature!)

And really, that’s it. This is another entry I’ll wait to post -- it’s now only four days until the grand success of our hopes for the Aketi Five!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

E-Books!

As of the press release of this week, the Foundation has posted Cleve's eBooks, including the history of our own Aketi Five right here!

Enjoy the link!


http://www.wasmoethwildlife.org/ebooks/

The Element of Surprise

After having received another boon of support from Kinshasa, we are ready to go. On literal countdown mode, all that remains now is boarding the plane and getting the chimps far away from here.

For reasons of security, we aren’t listing our air carrier or our departure date -- it’s a sad reflection of the situation here that even with government support, and all of the legal documents, that our best weapon is still the element of surprise.

We’re feeling extremely excited by the expected success of the project, though. No one could have anticipated the delay of these chimpanzees’ original sanctuary, but it feels good to know that they will have a safe place to go after all.

After we arrive in Bukavu, we’ll post the entries about the real struggle we had here!

Right now, however, the safety of the chimps is paramount.

And please, if you are able, Lwiro, the destination of our Aketi Five, can always use donations --

http://lwiro.blogspot.com

Thank you again to everyone following our journey!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back in Aketi

So, the internet is quite as free and liberal, but getting to sleep in my old bed again, next to Adam, under our white mosquito net, with the kitty curled between my knees and the puppy on the floor next to the bed -- was heavenly.

Things continue to do well on the Crisis Front, which means that really, it’s time to pack and get ready to go.

I got an email too from a friend of mine back in the Goma days, who offered us a ride from Goma to Entebbe -- rockstar!

Now I only wish the cinema in Kampala was showing The Watchmen!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rally the Troops!

Who knows whether my French has improved, or whether my persuasive abilities over email are just that compelling, but the emails I wrote last night, begging for assistance from environmental officials high up in Kinshasa were already responded to when I finally got to the Catholic Mission Cybercafé this morning at 11am.

What’s more, they were positive, with further confirmation that our documents were legitimate and that we should not be required to pay any money in order to bring the chimpanzees to another location IN Congo.

I’ve sent along relevant phone numbers, and I hope by the beginning of next week, all of this hullabaloo will have been put to an end.

I also spoke this morning with our contact at MONUC, who verified that tales about the offer to fly the chimpanzees from Buta to Kisangani were completely false, and would never be permitted anyway.

I will not allow myself to breathe any sighs of relief yet, as the matter is not concluded, but I think that the right people are aware of the situation and know that vitesse (speed) is in order!

Boo-ta

Being in Buta feels so isolating, though Mamas Gaudin and Cecile have done their best to make me feel like a daughter. Today, they brought me a pillow -- a real pillow in a pillowcase -- which is rarer than gold OR diamonds out here!

At first shiny and new, today on the internet had a bit of a sadness attached to it. And not because it was expensive, but because I realized how long it had been since I had really gotten to keep in touch with friends at home.

I had no idea what was going on in their lives, and even sadder, it was going to be several more weeks still until I had the bandwidth and/or the time to further reconnect. Sometimes it’s easy, when you’re disconnected, not to focus on the things you’ve left behind. You can imagine with little trouble that life at home is just on Tivo-pause, and that it will only unpause once you get home.

Regardless, it gave me a good tug towards feelings of homesickness.

I also heard a lot of people marveling to me at how “difficult” life was here; opinions formulated based on regular following of my blog.

Yes, it probably is difficult, but the funny part is that things I suppose would cause most people to balk have become sort of commonplace for me and Adam both. Horrorshows are just another item on the “To Do” list and if I don’t think about how hard it is to do, it just gets done.

Perhaps it’s a question of never looking forward, but looking down. No one ever got scared by looking at just the shadow of the dragon.

Realization that these things are difficult, though, and that not only will it continue to be an uphill climb for the next several weeks but that the bulk of what’s at stake - the lives of these chimpanzees and their future happiness and safety - lies with me alone here on the front line... it’s really isolating.

And not something I’d allowed myself to think about previously.

... Probably for good reason.

The printer at the Catholic Mission Cybercafé was broken, so I’ll need to return to the other cybercafé again tonight and print more things. Tomorrow I meet with more officials and then it’s back to Aketi. Thank goodness. If I have to spend another day in this cybercafé listening to the same two Hallelujah songs, I might just go insane.

Funny how the 5 hour motorcycle ride through the jungle isn’t the toughest thing I have to look forward to!

Updates

I have to meet with some more officials who are on our side tomorrow morning, but it means I have to stay in Buta one more day. Buta is NOT my favorite city by any means, and I’d rather be at home in Aketi with Adam.

Plus, internet is EXPENSIVE! I paid nearly $15 yesterday for 2 hours of net goodness. Bleh.

Adam’s malaria, for the interested parties, seems to have faded into black, thankfully.

I still would rather be there than here, but I know I just have to plod forward and resolute!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Didn't Know It Could Be This Good

Okay, so I left Aketi this morning intent on changing our lots. It’s easy to be bullied when you can only say I have authorization from the government to move these chimps!

But the transfer papers were FIFTEEN MEGABYTES. For those not in the know, that’s a little less than a sixth of the total bandwidth I have... for the MONTH.

Plus, there isn’t a single printer in Aketi. Not a single one.

Not particularly fond of long motorcycle rides, I was originally intending on sending Adam to Buta, about 150km away, to download and print out our documents and bring them back to Aketi.

But, he’s too sick. So here I went, traveling 5 hours on the back of a motorcycle through the mud to use the internet.

Arriving at Mama Gaudin’s house was heavenly - I couldn’t believe how long it had been since our arrival there in OCTOBER - until I saw her son, Jojo, who has grown LEAPS and BOUNDS!

She’d made up my room, and put fresh sheets on the bed and a festive green tablecloth on the table.

Had I only known yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day!

I’m now in the Catholic Mission’s Cybercafé, where I can actually look at photos, chat online. It closes at 4 though! Damn!

I’ll head over to the OTHER internet café afterwards -- and try to continue downloading this huge file.

I’m so overwhelmed by all this internet, I don’t even know what to say!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Under the SIFORCO Moon

In typical fashion, the dramatic incidents of the past week finally involved other parties. I’m telling you, a little cable TV would go SUCH a long way here!

Well, what do you know, we received an invitation for a rendez-vous at the administrator’s office, with the presumption of finding a solution to our problems with Mr. Moibi.

What exactly could one call a compromise when one is being asked for $8,000?

We showed up early, me in my finest (only) dress, and were forced to stand outside of the office for twenty tense minutes as the officials assembled.

I wasn’t originally aware that Mr. Moibi himself was going to be present at the meeting, so imagine my surprise when he showed up, clutching his precious folio of tax justification, wearing an enormous, baby-blue shirt with pink detailing all over it.

It was, inappropriately, very difficult not to laugh, because really, he looked like a huge blueberry.

We entered the Assistant ATE’s office, where my eyes were first met with a huge SIFORCO calendar poster. SIFORCO, a powerful logging company, is infamous among conservationists in the area for its immoral behavior, backed by copious gifts to local officials.

It does, however, give one a good idea of what to expect of the official residing in that office!

(someone could probably buy every person here just by having a CaféPress account)

The officials were, however, known to us and very friendly as we all said our various cultural hellos.

But things seemed to be taking a downward turn as the Assistant ATE began reading from a sheet of paper, talking about how we capture chimps.

I had to interrupt. Not only do we not “capture” chimps, but it sort of goes against our very mission! Oh dear already.

It turned out that the choices of words this man was using were specific, as he was hoping for our agreement in their usage for the later application of taxes. For, in front of him, was a huge bound book with passages inside, highlighted in orange.

Eager to commence with the <s>extortion</s> meeting, this man lifted the book and read the cover slowly to Polycarpe and myself, who can both read French perfectly well.

What he failed to read, under the title Administration of Congolese Law, was the subtitle: Commercial Regulations.

Were we not an NGO, a non-profit, and ergo not subject to regulations governing commercial trade? When I pointed this out, however, the AATE ignored me. He certainly wasn’t going to waste all that orange highlighter!!

In official meetings, I often tend to let Polycarpe do the talking, as he is better versed in Congolese culture and is incredibly passionate and well-spoken in French. As the discussions became heated, however, it seemed an opportune time to intervene when one of the four officials present told Polycarpe that his reluctance to “adhere” to the Congolese laws being explained to him was akin to treason.

Treason... a word in French OR English, is still clearly audible and cuts through any room with a tense vibration. In Congo, the ensuing silence is deathly still.

Using my best Diplomatic Voice, I took the floor, taking advantage of the fact that, as a woman and a white, that no one would dare interrupt me. I explained that we were doing the work on Congo, protecting a species that was extremely endangered, and that the Kisangani Zoo was no place for chimpanzees, and most importantly that we had acted in, in our estimation, the fullest accordance with Congolese law.

I was prepared, with my folder of documents (minus the ones we’ve yet to print in Buta), and as I looked each of the men in the eye, describing the horrors of the chimpanzee pet trade and the massacre of a species, I felt a connection. The men in the room (minus Mr. Moibi, who I would never deign to look in the eye) agreed that our plans for Bukavu were the best for the chimpanzees and that Kisangani Zoo would not be a good place for them to go.

Score: 1 Conservationists!

However, like pigs sniffing for truffles, the whole idea of “exportation taxes” had riled them into a rough unity, and we were subjected to yet more readings from the Big Book Of Taxes That Shouldn’t Apply To Us.

Mister Moibi hadn’t had much of a say, either, and, once given the chance, began a tirade so forceful that his dark skin was nearly as blue as his blueberry chemise! Accusing me AND Cleve of hunting chimps, using our magical cameras to search for diamonds, and trafficking in wildlife, it was probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard since I’ve gotten here. Which is really saying something.

If I’d been allowed to use the word “imbecile,” I would have, but as it was, he claimed to be “past injured” by my use of the word voleur -- “thief” -- when he came to our house three days in a row demanding the payment of taxes. By the law, insulting a member of the “state” is like insulting the country itself. I can only imagine the infractions against the news media in the US should such a law be passed!

ASSIMILATE!

He pulled out the infamous Tax List again, shaking it and apparently sure that the louder he was and the closer he furrowed his brows together, the more convincing he would be. If I’d been given a dollar for each time he said the word “documents” I could probably pay his damn taxes by now.

I truly think that Mr. Moibi believed the officials, in their Congolese Corrupt Collaboration, would not only believe his ridiculous claims but that they would then back all of his itemizations from his phony “List of Taxes.”

But upon looking at them, the AATE said, “Well, these are a bit exaggerated!”

Score: 2 Conservationists!

Of course, a bill for $8,000 would, in my mind, call for something stronger than “a bit exaggerated,” but we take whatever little we can get.

With truffles still in the air, the issue of our Detention Certificate was also brought up, because of its price difference with Mr. Moibi’s total -- $17 versus $5000.

Funnily, the AATE had been WITH the previous Minister of the Environment when we discussed and arranged the certificate, and had been WITH the Minister of the Environment when I allowed them within proximity of the sanctuary (not allowed to interact with the chimps, of course) -- the only two non-staff people in all of Congo allowed such a privilege. Yet his participation in the creation of our original document didn’t seem to add to its legitimacy in his mind (I think this fact should say something very strong indeed).

They even went so far, though, to phone the superior of Mr. Moibi to also discuss the document’s validity. The matter of what kind of country issues official documents only to later say, “Oh, this price may have been wrong, give it back to us so we can charge you 300x more” was not mentioned, though I wish it had been!

The issue of the detention permit is a big one because, if we ARE subject to “exportation taxes” -- they total a third of whatever we paid for detention. And I’ll tell you, the difference between $17 and $5000 is just as big to us out here as the difference between $5.66 and $1,666.00!!

Mr. Moibi was not done yet, however, and pulled out two LEGAL INFRACTION documents that he’d drawn up and prepared with carbon paper affixed, demanding that I sign them.

I might be young, but I certainly wasn’t born yesterday, and I don’t sign random things just because someone tells me to. As I asked for time to read them through, Mr. Moibi loudly proclaimed that this was evidence of my refusal to adhere to Congolese laws.

Polycarpe, in a rare moment of weakness, whispered to me, Sign them!

I refused, though, despite the absolute ruckus of noise in the office as all five men present all spoke at the same time, each at an equally high decibel.

Upon reading these documents, I discovered that they were for judicial/police proceedings against me for the illegal detention of chimpanzees.

Had I signed them, I would have agreed that my detention certificate was bogus and that I’d broken the law.

Tempted to rip them in half, I instead explained why I was refusing to sign them, and brought them to the AATE’s desk, bringing too once more the Certificate of Legitimate Detention, and I pointed to the line in the infraction, directly contradicting the very legally issued document he’d witnessed.

The AATE was suddenly “confused” and summoned over Mr. Moibi, who, never deterred, used white-out on the top page only and passed the documents back to me to sign.

Who knows how stupid they think I am, because I don’t speak the most beautiful French or because I’m a woman, but I’m smart enough to know that White-Out is NOT a magical item, and does not possess the adequate sorcery to remove something from all copies of a document that has carbon copies.

Score: 3 Conservationists!

Again refusing to sign, and reaching the fourth hour of this extremely noisy and non-productive meeting, I conferred with the two higher-level officials in the room, mentioning that I would go to Buta, print out our transfer papers from the ICCN (a national Congolese agency and ostensibly the governing body of all protected species) and discuss the matter with those more in power to make decisions such as these.

The fact that it shouldn’t be an issue at ALL, since I’m completely within the law and not subject to commercial taxes was ALSO not discussed.

But I am certain that Mr. Moibi will not let up until I have contacted Joseph Kabila himself. And, when I go to Buta tomorrow, I might just try that!

Adam's Malaria

This morning was the first time that Adam’s fever was under 100º in three days -- but his continued suffering is certainly proof that Not All Malaria Medicines Are Created Equal.


For completely silly reasons, when Adam got this second bout of malaria, we only had 2/3rds of a packet of Artemod-A, our chosen brand of hot quinine injection.

Unfortunately, for Part III (Revenge of the Malaria), the pharmacy was completely OUT of Artemod-A! So, we bought SUNAT-A. It had the same ingredients, and if taken in double-dosage, had the same amount of milligrams of everything as Artemod.

After the third day with a persistent fever, however, we realized perhaps that Sunat-A, for all its identical ingredients, did not have the efficacy of Artemod. (Clearly, the secret ingredient of Artemod is sorcery)

We SCOURED the town’s pharmacies for Artemod, but sadly only discovered Artemod-E -- the children’s version. When taken in double dosage, however, it too had the same ingredients as Artemod-A.

We bought it, and Adam took his first dose (in reality, the 5th administering of quinine in 4 days), and, unfortunately for Adam, it started to work its magic right away.

During the day yesterday, still with a fever of 102º, Adam was actually feeling “good.”

After the Artemod, however, he began to be sluggish, and woozy, and I barely got him to the bed before he rolled off the couch onto the floor in a quinine haze.

The night was again a bad one. I could barely sleep, having nightmares about the whole drama, and Adam was in the midst of crazy malaria dreams, telling me that he was going to “knock Minogoth on his chin with a purple star or a red gem” (he’s been playing a lot of Puzzlequest recently).

When he woke me to help him to the bathroom, he could barely stand. We rested at the chair - the halfway point, and as I felt the weight he rested on me increase dramatically as we reached the door to the house, I asked him if he felt like he was going to fall.

“No, no, I’m fine,” he said and we descended the stair toward the bathroom. One step later, however, and I could feel him falling away from me, and try as I might to keep him upright, he collapsed into the corner of the outside of the house - literally three feet from the toilet.

It was all the more upsetting as I tried to talk to him, and he kept blacking out (he says he was just going back to sleep). His body slick with sweat ...it was terribly scary.

He ended up crawling back to the room, his legs too weak to stand.

But when he woke up two hours later to use the restroom again, already he was markedly better and his fever had diminished considerably.

Now, his fever is under 100º, but we’ll continue the next 2 doses of Artemod just to be safe. He even ate some pineapple today, which is a good sign!

They say bad things always come in clusters, followed by good things in clusters.

I think we’re due for a cluster of good!!

Mr Moibi (The Drama Of It All)

This entry will be another that will have to wait to be posted, but my heart is heavy (and stomach very upset) after another night of fitful sleep, and another meeting with Mr Moibi - the corrupt “environment” official who has made our efforts to save these chimps truly a fight against the devil.

When he first came to us, I had no idea who this guy really was, because he gave me his first name, and not his last. Had he given me his last name, I would have known right away that he was the very same villain who had tormented Cleve all last year.

If you didn’t speak French, you’d imagine this guy was friendly and jolly. With a big, wide smile and pudgy, Santa-esque features, you’d imagine the words coming out of his mouth had to do with lollipops and sunshine, maybe.

What a gross contradiction, then, to hear and understand the bile and lies that emit from that mouth.

His first quandary was PAPERWORK, the crutch of Congo, that he insisted we must fill out to be sent to Kisangani.

I let him know of our plans, for, being with the law and having permission already, I didn’t believe it would be a problem to disclose our intent to move the chimpanzees to Bukavu. How wrong I was!

I figured he’d come up with some sort of money scam, but imagine my surprise when he presented us with a request for over $3000!!


Conformément à l’Arrête Interministérial No066/CAB/MIN/FIN-BUD et No 067/CAB/AFF-ET/2003 du 27 Mars 2003 fixant les taux des Taxes et redevances en matière forêstiere et de Faume, j’ai l’honneur de transmettre ci-dessous le montant à payer au Service de l’Environnement pour la détention de vos Chimpanzes (espèces totalement protenger) et l’evacuation vers la Province du Sud-Kivu (Bukavu).


  1. 1.Certificat de legitime detention d’animaux: 1000$ par espèce

  2. 2.Autorisation d’élèage d’animaux $200

  3. 3.Certificat d’origine: 30 $ espèce

C’est à dire: $150



  1. 4.Certificat d’indentication d’ongd: $200

  2. 5.Frais de constitution du dossier l’identifcation des Specimen, de contrôle volière au d’animalène( = $500

  3. 6.La taxe sur la convention de réalisation d’un film, d’une étude ou d’une prospection dans un domaine de chasse ou Site determine est fixé $1000

  4. 7.Permis d’exportation des espèces Menacées est fixe 60$ x 5 = $300

  5. 8.Permis de Séjour dans domaine de chasse: $85 x 14 jours = $1.190


Agréez Madame la représentante, l’expression de mes considerations distinguées.




Even if you don’t speak French, I’m sure you can see these escalating numbers. How remarkable too that the Certificate of Legitimate Detention that we had obtained at the end of last year for $17 had gone up in price so considerably! Serious inflation indeed!

Thus began our war, against his corruption and to protect the rights of the chimpanzees that we had fought so valiantly to protect.

This letter, however, was really only an the crux of a plot to intimidate us into paying false taxes -- with the meat of the plot being to send the chimpanzees to the KISANGANI ZOO ... a dungeon that was ravaged during the war. Once a beautiful home to countless indigenous species, most of the animals there had been eaten. Animals residing there now are rarely fed, and look like war victims.

There are two chimpanzees there -- one adult male, alone, who is thin and smokes, and a female, kept in a sunless box, alone.

The “plan” according to this official (Mister Moibi) was to bring the chimps to Buta, to then be flown with MONUC to Kisagani for residence at the Zoo.

And if he could scare me into believing that this was true, perhaps I would pay him the $3000!

The theoretical versus the actual is always sticky here, because how exactly was he planning to even get the chimps to Buta, 125km away? With whose motorcycles? With what gas? It’s one thing to say, but quite another thing to do!

The very thought of the chimps here going to the Kisangani Zoo, though, was indeed terrifying! As I told Rachel the history on the phone today, she equated it with Red Lobster, a metaphor I found to be pretty funnily accurate! Pick what animal you wish to eat when you enter the establishment!

Because whatever animals they don’t feel like feeding they can always just feed to people, right? Nothing beats a zoo with slogan like “Come and See the Animals We Haven’t Eaten Yet.”

Anyway, I digress.

It’s been sort of a crisis center here - trying to relay what’s happening to relevant colleagues and to find local support that doesn’t need to be bought. It doesn’t help either that Mr Moibi seems to come by the house every day with renewed insistence that we pay the taxes he’s ascribed us, with further “assistance” from our “friend” Papa B, who insists on being the intermediary between us and Mr Moibi (though we’re not sure whose side he’s on or to what end).

We did finally find legitimate confirmation today that the taxes are false, provided to us by the former Minister of the Environment, who had previously helped us arrest the men responsible for Akuma’s mother’s murder. He wrote up a complete dossier for us on the actuality of the situation, which we will use to defend our position, though why it is necessary when we are technically within the Congolese law with the documents we already have is beyond me.

And according to him, all of the taxes issued to us are only applicable to commercial enterprises -- people who are SELLING chimps. Amazing that they have taxes for something that is technically illegal in the country!

We wait too for our contacts in the ICCN to come to our aid, and for a quick resolution to this blatant intimidation ploy for money.

I don’t believe that my nightmares about the chimps being seized from us will go away until we’re out of here in 13 days, but with luck, they might diminish once ICCN has phoned up this tyrant and gotten his surrender flag.

I wish that day would come already!!

To Tell Not

Many blog entries have been written that I am sad to say will have to wait to be posted until after the chimpanzees are safely installed at Lwiro.

Needless to say, we are in the middle of a “war,” but the only casualties will be the chimpanzees if we cannot get it resolved.

Why we should have this problem at all when Congo is a single country (and as far as I know, no provinces have seceded), I’ll never know, but blog-readers should know that we are fighting the good fight -- as my friend Janice says, “occasionally fighting the world, the flesh and the devil to save [the chimps]!”

All we can do is continue forward, towards our goal. But I promise to post the resolution when it comes.