Saturday, January 31, 2009

Just Like a Real Girl

I got to feel like a real American girl last night, if only for a little while. Rachel used Skype to call me on my cell from Portland, where they’re I think 10 or 11 hours behind us, and we chatted about her upcoming wedding and gossip and silly things for over an hour. And it was absolutely magnificent!

Oh, and Adam got to know which two teams were playing in the Superbowl. I think it made his week, though it did inaugurate the first time Rachel had ever typed the word “Superbowl”.

It’s so easy to cycle here -- and the cycling can make you obsessive and can also make you go a bit crazy (banana peel), so getting your head out of the cyclone is always such a breath of fresh air.

I used to whine in Uganda that, whenever we had new people over for dinner, it was just more of the same old thing - Conservation Conversations - I called them. We’d explain the project and the situation to the new visitor and how dire things were but it nearly never changed from the cycle.

And really, the genocide of a species is not Yum Yum Hungry kind of table conversation.

Here it’s a lot of the same, but we don’t have anyone new over for dinner, so it’s just Adam and Polycarpe and myself, discussing the same old chimp shit (ba dum *ch*)

But seriously, there are only so many times you can go over some of this stuff before it feels realer than you are.

We wondered as we lay in bed, contented and laughing about completely non-Congo-related things (for once) whether people know that they can call us at any time.

SkypeOut charges .31/minute to call our cellphone, which is a lot less than standard carriers, and we’re 7 hours ahead of EST.

+243992288216

So, call us and tell us your news! We promise to have the sounds of birdies and roosters crowing in the background, too!

The Research Giveth and It Taketh Away

We’ve been doing some preliminary research here, sending teams of guys to various locations to take interviews and videotape and look for evidence of chimpanzees in the forests surrounding some nearby mines.

All of this is in preparation for our eventual trip to the forest and the mines, to take fecal samples from chimpanzees and miners both.

Cleve also had a final research trip he asked us to arrange, so during January we were really alone in the house as two guys were in Monga, 350km north of here near the Central African Republic border, and another two guys were at Likati -- a mine 75km from here to the North and East.

The two guys in Monga need a lot of hand-holding and detailed explanation, so I guess we weren’t too surprised when they took the money we gave them for five days in the forest and managed to spend it all on “3 days in the forest,” which I put in quotation marks because they only have data from two days because on the third day, they claim they “saw nothing.”

But, they did have wild chimp contact and documented a 38th orphan to be seen in the area.

Our two most reliable guys came back two days later, full of stories of evidence of elephants (!!) in the forests near Likati, which is SUCH a boon since, as I’ve mentioned before, elephants are a real unknown factor out here and everyone wants to know where they are, and no one can really answer with surety.

They had seen a LOT on their trip, lots of wonderful evidence, and I was so excited for their return in general that this turn of events did surprise me.

It was, for both of them, the first time using the video camera without someone else supervising. I turned on the video camera to examine the footage they’d gotten, only to see a blank screen. There was not even a timecode in the upper lefthand corner.

I panicked that the camera was broken. But I tried an old cassette Cleve had left, and it worked fine.

One of their tapes was previously recorded upon, so I checked to see if the old footage was still there, and it was.

So, I summoned into the house Responsible Researcher, and asked him to show me how he had used the camera.

He turned it on... and then held it out and put the eyepiece to his eye.

“When do you press record?” I asked (pretty sure of what had happened already now).

He looked at me blankly.

For 10 days in the forest, he had been holding the camera out, on Standby mode, “documenting” all of these amazing things that they had seen.

“D’oh” does not even suffice for situations like this, really.

I didn’t yell at him, or even either of them because, well, shit happens and my yelling isn’t going to change the past.

We did decide most likely to use this mine for my research once my final IRB approval comes in because it seems like a great hotspot, though it is a bit farther away and the motorcycle gas will be expensive.

And then, we can get new footage of elephant samples and what-not.

They took GPS points of everything, and recorded all of the interview responses in a notebook, and took histories on all of the chimpanzee orphans they encountered, so really, the only thing lost is the visual evidence.

It’s not frustration, really.


It’s just Congo.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Oomph

It is Friday, and after our long, long week and frustration, we decided to shell out $6 and buy 2 liters of gas and have a little movie night.

We’ve become quite fond of some of our neighbour kids -- they are in Adam’s advanced karate class and run lots of little errands for us and are generally a hoot.

We tried last night to watch several films, but it doesn’t seem like Congolese kids have much patience for American comedies, even when it involves the hilarity of Gene Hackman playing a tobacco magnate, coughing and sputtering.

And some action movies we’ve got are just too complicated for them (ie Blade Runner) so we tried to watch V for Vendetta.

I thought maybe the political message would inspire them! After all, Congo Prevails!

Imagine my surprise when, halfway through the film, one of the kids asked me if V was a woman.

I’d turned on the French audio track, and certainly, the voiceover actor had a VERY low voice and was very manly indeed!

“Listen to the voice!” I said, “Do you know any women who talk like that?”

“Yes!” the boy exclaimed. “But look at the long hair!”

So during the whole film, they had not been looking speculative because they were intrigued by the political message of the film.

They had been trying to figure out the gender of V’s character.

*sigh*

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Hanky For Your Tush

I’m going to leave out many names and specifics to protect the favors that have been done for us, but I will reiterate that officials in this country need something else to keep them occupied in really the worst way!

This week, a note came from officials in Kisangani, 500km to the south of us, questioning whether or not “the whites had buried a chimpanzee.”

Because, of course, this is against the law, as I mentioned before.

I’m of the firm belief that where we inter our poor dead orphan is really only our business -- not only for our sanctity of mind and closure but for the health of locals too -- since we’re still not really sure what killed Akuma Cleveland (if it was indeed a disease), would they prefer us to leave him in the road so he can communicate it to passers-by?

Anyway... a friend of ours came to let us know of this note and to let us know that he had already sent a reply swearing that we had thrown Akuma’s body into the river by the house, and had not buried him.

We of course didn’t ask him to do this, but if it ends this whole messy situation, we’ll be pleased.

The other end of this horribleness too is that, after showing us the message he’d sent on to Kisangani, our friend went into a long discussion about how he was so glad that we were “such close friends” and how, considering what VERY close friends we were, that he knew we’d “never show him a closed hand.”

It’s a lovely lesson on the modes of government here -- and in case we’d forgotten, he came to us this morning and let us know that his motorcycle’s gas tank was empty.

There are so many reasons to become cynical and angry and bitter (and crazy) here -- we try every day to find things that are funny and make us smile.

So instead of thinking of him extorting us on behalf of his prior good will, I will think of him pulling a hopelessly wrinkled, filthy hanky out of his pocket, shaking it out and laying it out on the step of our back patio before sitting on it to chat with us.

A dirty step! Oh noes! The horror!

5-0 Jujitsu

When we talked to my dad yesterday on the phone, he mentioned that he hadn’t seen anything on the blog in a while about Adam’s karate lessons!

So, I figured we should share a little story about our recent community adventures.

Adam has continued to give regular karate lessons here in Aketi -- with two separate groups every week: the adult class and the children’s class. It’s made it a lot easier to divide the two groups since the adults tend to pick things up a lot quicker than the kids.

Of course, it’s not saying that much since during every class we seem to have a whole host of people coming for their first time. I think it’s a bit frustrating for Adam because he’d love to move on from very basic basics, so lots of classes are split additionally into people who’ve come before and people who are new.

We use our assistants a lot -- they’re really wonderful -- and they review techniques with old students while Adam teaches the new students the basics.

The assistants also have 2 private lessons a week, where Adam goes over more advanced things with them, which is always fun to watch!

The week before last, we were approached by the Lieutenant of the police to see if Adam was willing to come and teach the local policemen some “karate entrennement”.

Adam decided (and rightly so) that teaching the police and making some well-placed friends was certainly a good idea, and that policemen armed with bullet-less guns could probably stand to know some defensive techniques.

We wandered over to the police station at 8 am on Monday morning, ready for pretty much anything. And my goodness; the hodgepodge assortment of policemen, young and old, uniformed and laced tightly in their severe black boots -- it was easy to see why they were so intimidating in other situations. Perhaps it’s the life in the military that makes these guys a bit crazy, or perhaps it’s the profession itself that attracts people who are a bit imbalanced, but bullets weren’t the only things missing from this picture.

They were still enthusiastic about the extensive Jujitsu that Adam taught them, albeit sloppy and a bit over-violent.

We did a demonstration to show them the efficacy of the techniques by having one of the larger, more scarily muscled policemen do a front-choke on me while I used Jujitsu to escape.

I had not, of course, counted on him really trying to choke me, but they were duly impressed when, regardless of the obvious disparity between his strength and mine (not to mention the nearly 2 feet of height he had on me), I escaped from his clutches.

We stayed about 1.5 hours, enjoying the softness of the freshly-cut grass (cutting the lawn grass outside the station is one of the mandated activities of the prisoners).

The commandant seemed especially to enjoy the training, and volunteered for every demonstration.

Next lesson is tomorrow, again at 8 am. Who knows what hijinks will ensue!?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Away From Here

We figured since it was almost completely finalized that we would discuss the plans for the future of Bonganzulu on the blog at long last.

As many of you already know, the five chimpanzees being kept here in the forest sanctuary enclave were originally confiscated with the intention of bringing them to Boyoma Sanctuary, currently in the midst of bursts of construction in Kisangani, DRC, about 500km south of where we are now.

Though original hopes had the opening date of Boyoma somewhere around late 2008, obviously it is not finished, and we were left wondering firstly how long the chimpanzees would need to stay here and secondly (though relatedly) how long we would have to stay here!

More pressing issues arose too, though. Chimpanzee infants are far more manageable that chimpanzee adolescents, or especially, chimpanzee adults. Chimpanzees get very strong very fast, and because it’s their nature to do so in the wild, they often use their teeth and sharp nails to play and often, to throw tantrums.

So you can see why and how they get dangerous quickly!

As chimpanzees get older, they typically need more secure housing -- for their safety as well as for the safety of their caregivers. Further veterinary checkups and enrichment are also important for the sustainability of chimpanzees in long-term sanctuary surroundings -- and these are things we simply cannot provide here in Aketi.

We love the freedom the chimps enjoy at the sanctuary here - they can spend most of the day unfettered, playing and feeding in the trees, but as they get older, it is simply irresponsible of us to keep them so fancy-free.

I spent LOTS of bandwidth and email time during the month of January arranging transportation and logistics of moving these chimpanzees to another Congolese sanctuary --

Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center, located in eastern Congo -- in the city of Bukavu.

I’m extremely familiar with Lwiro, because I was around when it was first being repaired and prepared in 2006. The chimpanzees I took care of in Goma, DRC would eventually make their way to Lwiro and they live there happily now.

Thank goodness I know people, and those people know even more people, because otherwise I’m not sure how I would have made it all happen. And for those who were wondering, it was indeed what I accomplished via email alone!

Moving chimpanzees to another city ~2500km away is no easy feat... not just for the arrangement of airplane transport, but for everything else involved!

We contacted a friend at ICCN (the agency that protects Congolese Conservation goals) and he is helping us arrange the proper transport paperwork. The last thing we need is some sort of document-error bureaucracy nightmare when we are trying to get the chimps out!

Since we need to clear the airfield before planes can land here, that costs money and we had to arrange with local grass-cutters as to their availability and price.

There is no way to make proper “cages” for transported chimps out here in the boonies, so we talked to the guy who makes wicker and bamboo basket-type cages to see if he could make something that would suffice.

And, because the airfield is across the river, we had to arrange with our friend Richard who has a large pierogi to make sure we could get across the river with the chimps when the time came.

Overall, it’s been a lot of work but the reward will be great -- I have extreme confidence in the facilities at Lwiro, and the staff. Especially since some of the staff were with me in Goma as well!

Most importantly, our five orphans here will be safe, long-term, and happily integrated with some 40 other chimpanzees.

We are also currently trying to help Lwiro fundraise for an additional chimpanzee enclosure and dormitory to accommodate the orphans that they graciously take in, who quite frankly have little other place to go.

As you may have noticed on the blog thus far, chimp orphans away from their families and the normalcy of the forest have precarious lives -- of the 37 orphans that Cleve, Adam and I have seen in under 2 years in this region alone, we’ve only managed to confiscate seven and have not even been able to save all of those chimpanzees.

Of the non-confiscated chimps, nearly all have already died.

So indeed, the situation is dire.

We will eventually put a direct button on the sidebar of the blog, but for the time being, if you ARE interested in donating -- even $20 or $50 would make a huge difference towards our goals -- please visit:

http://lwiro.blogspot.com

and click on the PayPal link on the top left.

I guess for once we are just happy to be able to share a happy story -- and perhaps you are too!

Roman Hands

I realized too that I should mention the hilarity of the other morning with our friend, the official --

Usually when he comes over, if it’s been an especially hot day, Adam will have had his shirt off and will quickly put one on so as not to greet our visitors shirtless.

This past week, there was one occasion where our friend came by while Adam was in the bathroom, so Adam emerged, shirtless, and didn’t want to be rude and not greet the man.

Greet him shirtless he did, but our official had a strange reaction! He smiled, and laughed, and immediately reached over and began stroking Adam’s chest hair. Not just idly -- he was really into it!

“He is so hairy! So good!” he said in French.

And then, much to my astonishment, he pulled his button-down shirt, carefully tucked into his dandily pressed trousers, and showed me his naked belly!

“We in Congo have no hair like this,” he said, grabbing Adam’s hand and putting it on his own stomach. “See?”

Adam explained to our friend that having so much hair made him very hot in this heat, though!

Our friend rubbed and caressed Adam’s chest again before he continued on his way out of the front door.

What a hoot!



Monday, January 26, 2009

Knowing the System

Adam and I still are recoiling from Akuma’s death -- thankfully, we’ve had one another to talk to about it, and while we still feel somehow guilty and responsible, we also know that there really isn’t anything else we could have done.

Still, the house feels funny without him, and just walking by random things -- chairs, towels -- reminds us that he’s missing.

What does one even talk about in times of grief anyway? Too shocked and upset to play games, or read, or go for a walk, and unable to bring ourselves to talk about our loss, or grief, or guilt, we spent several hours in oppressive silence... not knowing what to say, or what to do, the only resonating sounds those of the situation’s finality.

Papa B, our government friend, came by in the morning and was shocked to see our faces - streaming with tears, red-eyed, clutching one another for comfort on the back stoop -- and we showed him Akuma’s grave site.

He expressed his condolences, but, in typical Congolese fashion, asked us first if we would be equally sad were he to die, and secondly informed us that it was “against Congolese law to bury animals.”

“Good thing, ” said I, “that no one knows we buried him.”

Papa B looked at me somewhat strangely...

“Yes, ” I said, “how fortunate for us that you don’t know anything about animals here being buried.”

“Yes,” he repeated, almost mechanically, “I know nothing.”

And with that, the situation was over.

I did the same at the market today, when a man with a whistle came up to us while we waited for a friend and said “I am the police of the market, and don’t you remember that you promised me a gift!!”

“I promised you nothing,” I replied, “but I am friends with the real police, and I bet they can give you some GREAT gifts!”

Sometimes, it’s just about knowing the right people, I guess.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24th - A Bad Day

RIP Akuma Cleveland

I want to dedicate this blog entry to the memory of Akuma Cleveland.
For the past week, Laura and I have been doing everything we could to
keep him alive. Our hearts were so broken when we first saw his small
frame laying in the basket, covered in dirt and feces. Now today, Our
hearts are broken once again with his death.

To lose someone that you have spent so much time, effort and love on,
is a great pain. This is another time in my life, not the first, and
unfortunately not the last, where the painful hand of grief grips my
heart. I remember when he first came to the house, I walked around
with him in my arms and gave him a tour. I told him all things that I
did with Aketi and he could do the same when he got better. Now,
there is nothing but a void.

Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye

...And just like that, he was gone.


It's been a rough couple of days for Adam and I --- the longer we stayed with Akuma Cleveland, the more we realized how bad off he was -- turning him over revealed bruises all over his sternum... opening his hands showed us deep cuts and gashes. His left toe was extremely red and swollen (we figure it might have been broken), so, ever so ginger when we picked him up, we tried to make sure he didn't suffer pressure on it.

We tended to each of his ailments, putting neosporin on his cuts until they finally stopped pussing and started scabbing over.

The difficulty was, however, that for every improvement he seemed to make his overall condition did not seem to improve. He lay on the beds we made him in semi-catatonia, barely moving, sometimes awake, occasionally moving an arm or a leg.

Would he live or would he die? He lay in a limbo between the two, and the tension of not knowing -- it was killing us.


Feedings were becoming increasingly difficult -- about two days ago, Akuma had lost his urge to eat so we'd have to pry his mouth open and squirt milk into it using the nipple and the bottle. He would swallow, surely, but his appetite never increased. And his diarrhea was only getting worse.

Last night, I was continually awoken by the sounds of him wheezing and gagging. When I shone the light on his bed next to ours, though, he seemed to be sleeping.

Afterward his morning feeding today, he again started to wheeze and gag, but the gagging was accompanied by a gurgling noise as well. I tried to get him to spit up the milk, using what infant-CPR I could, but his tiny, fragile lungs finally gave out.

Hanging limply in my arms, he was dead.

We tried to resuscitate him, but I think his body had been through too much.

He was buried this morning at 8 am next to Kisanola, the first and only other orphan to die here a year ago.

No one here understands why Adam and I are crying. It feels like the air has suddenly gotten thicker. The walls of the house feel starker, and nothing feels real.

We tell ourselves that we tried everything we could to keep him alive (and we did) -- but it doesn't make the stark, cruel reality of his death any better. Watching him at the bottom of the grave, his ribs so protuberant and his tiny limbs so gaunt, there is nothing I wouldn't have given to have brought him back and to try again.

Adam and I sit here like ghosts in our house, immobilized by the quiet, wondering if anything will ever be the same.

My guess is, right now...

no

RIP AKUMA CLEVELAND
July(?) 2008- January 2009.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Man With the Key (Continued Story)

Finally, after our demand, the reply to our demand, and extensive waiting, and some more waiting on top of that, we were approached by the CFU (the housing agency) to come and see the one house that they had available for rent.

Adam was with the baby so I left him behind and Polycarpe and I accompanied this man down a route I hadn’t yet travelled in Aketi -- a side route that, according to this man, used to be the main Belgian street.

And boy was it evident! Gorgeous houses lined this formerly landscaped road -- remnants of large flowering bushes and signposts and huge palm trees demarcated corners and intersections.

I even passed the BANK OF AFRICA -- which, sadly, is no longer full of workers and cash/commerce, but is instead now full of trees, vines, and I’d guess an assortment of lizards and rodents.


We finally came to a large compound interlaced with vines, but once obviously beautiful. Walking around the periphery, we came to another cluster of houses, nestled along the river amidst dense green tangles. And lo and behold, there was the abandoned Aketi Hotel -- and a gorgeous old abandoned swimming pool.

What a sight to see!

The house itself, however, was less than beautiful, and despite having been lived in recently, it looked far more dilapidated than its years. Windows cracked and filthy, some of them obscured by dirty bricks, some interior walls clearly riddled with bullet holes, the house had definitely seen better days.

When approaching the door, the man from CFU proclaimed that he had forgotten the key to the house in the office, and asked if we would wait for him to go and retrieve it.

So Polycarpe and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After some 45 minutes, the man returned, his face grim!

“The key is with another man,” he explained. “And he... is gone.”

Foiled again by “the man with the key”!!

He promised to come and fetch us some other time when the man with the key had returned, but I am not counting on it being any time soon!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Orphan Confiscation


After living in a tiny basket for five days, without food or water or comfort, our seventh orphan can barely open his eyes. They're unfocussed, and his body is limp like a rag doll. He can't even cry out - just squeak. His body is covered in cuts and abrasions and his mouth and teeth are singed from the hot knife the hunters put inside his mouth to dull his teeth.



This basket was our orphan's home for five days. He couldn't stretch his legs or sit up, and he sat inside it in his own filth without respite of air or clean.



Here the two hunters are taken away by the police, who were summoned by the Minister of the Environment in Aketi. They're still in prison now, unable to pay the tax for killing the chimpanzee's mother -- chimpanzees are legally a protected species in DRCongo.

There are no repercussions, however, for their treatment of the infant. When he was clearly suffering and close to death, their first impulse was to try and sell him.

He is barely hanging onto life now. If he lives, he will be in quarantine for the next 4 weeks and then join the other chimpanzees at the sanctuary.

Little By Little

Adam is the star of this story. Building up trust with a chimpanzee who has been so abused is always difficult. And when the baby came here, even getting him to eat or drink water was a struggle. Slowly... slowly... yesterday the new baby ate maybe 10 grams of banana. And one bottle of powdered milk.

His eyes focus a bit more, though we each have a several moments of panic each day, checking to see if he’s still breathing.

There are honestly some times during his sleep where we’re really not sure.

We’ve been putting cream on all of his cuts to make sure they don’t get infected... I wish that there was something that we could do for his mouth, or his teeth, but I can’t think of anything other than just continuing to feed him soft food and room temperature drinks.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Not Real

What a daze, after a night of little to no sleep, constantly waking and checking on the condition of our confiscated orphan chimp. He’s still so small, and his stomach is so concave, that you must literally hold your hand against his body to confirm that he’s really breathing.

And he’s so weak, and covered in cuts and abrasions and bruises that it would be easy to imagine him just falling asleep and not waking up.

It was probably the latest that Adam and I have stayed up since Cleve was here -- lying in bed and discussing the day’s events in the dark with hushed tones. We’re trying incredibly hard to be positive, but the horror of the things we’ve seen here does not dull with the frequency of the exposure.

Sure, killing chimps in Congo is illegal, by law, but in New York, jay walking is illegal (walking against the light). And the baffling thing to us is one of our employees who seems genuinely miffed that the two hunters went to jail.

Trying to put things into perspective, we thought about how annoyed we might be if a friend got a ticket for jay walking.

But even in our forced change of perspective, I find my sympathy for these two men lacking.

And, though the killing of this chimp’s mother was horrible, there are fervent humanitarians who, I’m sure, believe in people’s rights to do what they must to eat/survive (I am not one of them).

But to keep this infant in a tiny basket, and not give him food or water for five days -- and WORSE -- to have dulled his teeth by sticking a hot knife into his mouth --

There is no ability in my body that I could ever use to see a perspective where this is not horrible, cruel, inhumane, and inexcusable. The parts of me that still cling valiantly to a faith in humanity -- to the goodness in everyone that is just sometimes a bit hidden -- wants to believe that yesterday was a dream.

That, if I wake up, there will not be a being in pain, lying close to death on my floor.

Because honestly, knowing that there are people in the world -- people who have friends, live lives, have children and continue on “normally” -- who could do that to another creature, human or not -- is horrifying.

Adam has been taking point on a lot of the surrogating this go-round. The orphan can’t move independently at all, but we’re hoping through today that he might become more alert.

Me -- I can’t be alert today. Even having slept a little, I feel the weight of a fog around me. Adam feels it too. It’s fear - tangible, palpable fear - and I don’t know when it’s going to go away.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Suffer Me Not

It’s been a trying, tense day, and as the rain rages on, I can only hope that it brings with it the promise of cleansing and a new day to come.

Yesterday, a man came by our house, offering to sell us a baby chimpanzee for 5000FC (~$10). Our regular policy, first and foremost, is that we never, ever buy chimpanzees. Sure, you think you’re doing the right thing but it just encourages the hunters to go out and “make more money” -- kill more mothers, sell more infants. It’s a brutal cycle.

We do, however, conduct research on the provenance of the infants, and their conditions, and we take photos as evidence. Yesterday when I sent Richard out to take a photo, however, we discovered that the infant was being kept near the forest where its mother was killed, some 30km from here and across the river to boot.

So, we resigned ourselves to only having the history of the infant -- sometimes it’s just the best you can do.

It is, however, always easier when you send someone else to collect the evidence. With the suffering at arm’s length, it can’t ever hurt your core.

Today, at 7 am, the chimp-seller guy was back, ringing his bicycle’s bell (I thought rather rudely, considering the hour) at our front gate. Apparently, he’d come back across the river and had run into some problems... with the chimp.

Confused as to what was going on, Polycarpe called our friend, the Minister of the Environment, whose new crackdown on illegal chimp hunting & killing has led to a marked decrease in the amount of chimp meat we’ve seen at the market.

He came rather promptly, but was soon followed by Polycarpe and another man, carrying a chicken basket.

The basket looked empty. It was probably smaller than your two sneakers put together. But as I looked inside it, there was, curled up, a baby chimpanzee.

He was on his side, in a fetal position, and clearly much larger than the basket would allow. Even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t have stretched his legs or sat up or brought his arm over his head.

My immediate thought was that he was dead already. As the thought took me, seeing his tongue lolling out of his mouth, half-opened, and his eyes glazed over, I felt my insides seizing up. We’re too late. If only we’d gotten to him yesterday.

It’s at moments like these, where you really can’t cry in front of officials and chimp-hunters, where it literally hurts to hold your empathy inside. The smell radiating from the tiny basket was foul -- fish and shit and god knows what. The chimp was also filthy, covered in his own piss and feces.

“Il est dejà mort. [He is already dead]” I said, trying my hardest not to let any of my emotions out.

“Non,” replied the hunter, cocky and, in my mind, brazen in his bright red shirt, “il est bien.” As he finished, he jostled the basket roughly with his foot.

Nearly involuntarily, the tiny chimp flopped his head to the other side, his eyes very slowly... so slowly... opening and closing. He didn’t even have the energy to cry.

I shooed the hunter away, saying, in French, “You’ve done enough already, leave him!” and Polycarpe and I approached the basket slowly. It was tied at the top, though it was clear the contents of the basket posed no flight risk.

We cut the ties open, unable to untie them, and Polycarpe reached into the basket to try and free its captive.

Upon opening the basket -- the smell, before already nauseating, became rancid and seeing Polycarpe’s hand approach caused the chimpanzee to open his eyes wide, unfocussed, and scream meekly in fear.

His teeth were blackened and charred. The hunter, apparently, had “punished” the chimpanzee for biting someone and they had held him down, sticking a fire-hot knife into his mouth to dull his teeth.

While I rushed to get water, Polycarpe finally succeeded in removing the chimp from the basket. He barely fit through its opening. He couldn’t lift his arms or grasp anything in his hands. He was a rag doll, even as Polycarpe cradled in his arms and brought the cup of water to his lips.

As he drank the water like a man who’d been stranded at sea for a week, the Minister of the Environment grilled the hunter about how the chimpanzee had become so weak and feeble.

The hunter had killed the mother seven days ago, had come out of the forest with the baby five days ago, and on the first day it had bitten someone, they had “punished it” and then put it into the basket, where it had stayed, for the last five days. When asked if he had given it food or water, the hunter replied that they had put a banana into the basket two days ago, but that the “beast” had refused to eat.

We sat, shooting evil looks at this man who had apparently no awareness for the suffering of anyone but himself, wishing him evil.

Which was when the police arrived. Summoned by the Minister of the Environment to “question” the hunter and his brother about their illegal chimp killing activities, the police greeted us enthusiastically and grabbed both of the hunters -- red shirt and his brother - roughly. His brother tried to run, but was overpowered by the police and dragged to the station.

The Minister of the Environment thanked us for our help in protecting wildlife, and left.

And there we were, gazing down at this tiny chimp who could not even hold his own head up, giving him water and removing the shit-covered string that was tied crassly around his waist.

We had not planned on confiscating any further orphans for the sanctuary here, since it was intended to be only temporary until the larger sanctuary can be completed in Kisangani, but after recent developments, we feel that perhaps we can accommodate him.

And, quite frankly, seeing him in Polycarpe’s arms, so close to death...


...I couldn’t say no.


Several hours later, he continues to sleep in the bed Adam and I made for him. We gave him a bath and swathed him in our Spiderman towel from Ocean City, MD. We’ve gotten him to drink 2 full cups of water and a whole bottle of milk. I would want him to take in more, but he’s so thin and so traumatized that we simply cannot bear to wake him while he sleeps.

At this point, I don’t know if he’ll live or not. And if he does, I will probably indeed face the repercussions of taking in yet another orphan.

But it does feel good to know that, one way or another, his suffering will end.

We will continue to monitor him and hope for the best -- the knowledge, though, that others allowed him to suffer SO MUCH up to this point is the worst part.

Not only are his teeth charred, but his hands and arms are covered in cuts and scrapes and scabs.

The next couple of days will be crucial -- and all we can do now is wait.

To Save A Life

I entitled today's entry “To Save A Life” because of the events of today. Earlier today, a hunter came to our house and brought an orphan chimpanzee to the door. The orphan was kept in a small basket to hold a chicken. When Laura looked in the basket at first, she thought the chimp was dead. Thankfully, he was alive but, barely. We took him out of the basket and started to take care of him. We gave him water, milk, a bath and some TLC. Also, one of our caregivers from the sanctuary was here to help us. Laura and I were furious at the hunters. One of our employees is friends with the administer of the environment here in Aketi.

He came with one of his agents and accessed the situation. He then brought two police officers with him and had the hunters arrested for illegally hunting chimpanzees. The orphan was living in a small basket for five days with no food or water. I hope it teaches them a lesson that hunting chimpanzees is wrong, dangerous and illegal in Congo.

Through out the day, Laura and I took care of him and watched his condition. The scariest moment I had was when I was holding him to feed him. I saw his right pupil constantly dilate and contract in rapid succession. I was afraid that he wasn't going to make it.

The two hunters thought they could kill a chimpanzee mother, eat it and sell its orphan baby to some white people for some money, boy were they wrong. By the way, we did not pay for this chimpanzee, we confiscated him.

Now we have another chimpanzee that we need to take care of. This means I am going to be a surrogate father again. Right now though, we hope that he will live. He has made some progress today with moving his limbs and drinking powdered milk, which is the only available milk here. However, he is not out of the woods yet. We are keeping him in the house, not as a pet but, as caregivers until we know he is healthy enough for the sanctuary and can join the other chimpanzees.

Now I hope we can pull this chimpanzee through. By the way, we want to name him Cleveland, after our friend and colleague.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Big Thanks!

I wanted to send out a big Thank You to my advisor Jill Shapiro at Columbia University and to my mom, who, together, managed to help me get in ALL my modified documents onto the very java-heavy Institutional Review Board site.

I had tried to fill in the forms myself from here, and it had taken me 45 minutes just to load a single page -- not to mention having SUCKED my bandwidth like a Hoover!

So, I emailed all of my abstracts, study descriptions, citations, etc to Jill and my mom and now I have an official email of completed submission! Yay!!

Though I had originally filed most of my IRB paperwork in September, when I got here and had to modify my study description, it necessitated re-filing.

Yes, science is full of bureaucracy too!

Re-filing from Congo became sort of impossible, so again, big thank yous to my mom and Jill.

Perhaps I’ll have my mom post the abstracts online for people to read. If anyone is interested, let me know!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Pineapple Bigger than his Head

Vanna White-style! Dry season is pineapple season and we get HUGE
ones. In Lingala -- "Anana monene!!"

Filthy, Filthy Feet

Walking all over town in flip flops is great, but it doesn't LOOK too
great when you don't bathe daily.

Adam commented yesterday that I might not be a Mondele by the time I
got home if I didn't bathe, PRONTO! And I think he might have been
right!

Laura and the Potato

What's excellent and cool is that the longer we live in Aketi, the
more people know us and appreciate the work we do here!

On Adam and my daily walk yesterday, we encountered Richard, an
occasional tracker we employ, whose wife thanked us for the work by
giving us this HUGE potato to take home, as a gift! Free!

The day before, we'd gotten a free pineapple from one of Adam's
advanced karate students!

The thing I *most* appreciate, though, is that when I walk down the
street, instead of yelling out "Mondele! Mondele!" (Lingala for
"whitey"), people yell out "Lola! Lola!"

It does have a much nicer ring to it!

Beautiful Django Mayanga

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

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

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

Thank You for Your Support

I would like to say thank you to all the people that have been supportive of our efforts here in the DRC. I know the last time I was here I wrote an entry that had hostility directed towards the ignorance of some of our readers. The comments that vexed me were not made on the blog however, sent to us by email. Also, I was bother by some more ignorant emails between my last entry and now. What made me most upset was the lack of respect for our work, lack of respect for Laura as a professional and the lack of respect for our blog. With that said, I am going to let all the negativity go and just concentrate on helping the chimps and Laura with her research.

I would like to say thank you to the anonymous contributer to the blog from the past week for their words of encouragement. We also like to thank our friends and families for their comments, emails and support. Finally, I would like to thank everyone in general who has keeping up with our blog and cared about us and the chimps.

The thing that has made me the most happy is that a lot of people who don't know much about chimps are getting the message of our blog. That chimps are not pets, hunting is putting them in danger from extinction, they are genetically the closest species to humans other than humans, please do not buy chimps and we have a lot to learn from them.

Thank you once again for your support and please keep enjoying our blog.

Ghost Town

Adam and I have really been enjoying wandering around Aketi lately on daily walks. Sure, it’s a bit cumbersome to have to lock up the house but really, it’s been such an adventure!

I think too we’re trying to make up for all of the french fries we’ve been eating recently! hehe

The sanctuary is about a 2km walk from the house, so that’s been a great stroll. But we’ve also been wandering the side streets and really getting a sense not only for the state of the town now -- but for the grandeur the town must have once possessed!

A new official who just came from Kinshasa stopped by the house the other day. to say hello and introduce himself. He was actually quite nice, and understood when I told him that he was not allowed to visit the sanctuary, and then proceeded to tell us that his family was from Buta. His father, along with his forty six brothers and sisters, used to take them to visit Aketi all the time ... on the train!!

The story he told us filled our eyes with stars -- an Aketi full of bustling restaurants, and electricity, and music concerts and really, a beautiful mental picture.

Walking around Aketi, it’s easy to see where many of these bright-eyed memories come from -- husks of buildings and paintings on the front of restaurants. Some of the houses are, or rather, were so beautiful! Detailed lovely accents, delicate archways and vibrant color combinations.

There are even electricity poles and cables, standing idle all over the town as the goats munch the grass growing from between the old railroad ties.

Many of these houses continue to be used even in their dilapidated states. Three-walled, missing roof tiles, collapsed gateways and overrun gazebos. No one can say that the inhabitants aren’t enterprising!

How different might it have been to live here only 20 years ago? When we wouldn’t have to pay $4 per litre of gas just to charge up our computers! Or where we could have gone to a restaurant maybe once a week for a cold beer (oh cold beer!)

The sadness of war quakes you at moments like these -- as well as the regretful realization that Aketi will probably never return to its former glory -- how would anyone bring it to that level again?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Please Read

I entitle this blog entry "Please Read" because it has come to our
attention that many people have been receiving the wrong message from
our blog. I want to reiterate the facts of what we have been doing
here and that everything we have done here has been written in this
blog.
And seeing Laura upset makes me angry, so there are some things I need
to get off my chest.

The first thing I would like to mention is please read the blog in its
entirety. If you have the time, please read the welcome message and
every entry. Please remember that, in order to pass judgment on our
lives here, you should KNOW what we are doing here (and read every
caption too). We work really hard, and for people to just drop in,
pass judgment, cause trouble and go without even knowing all the facts
just feels really disrespectful.

The next thing I would like to state is why we are here in the DRC and
what we are doing here. We were invited to come here by a legitimate
wildlife foundation. They invited us to watch over these young
orphaned chimpanzees that had been confiscated, NOT bought, from
hunters and others. We have kept these chimpanzees in a sanctuary
environment, separated from everyone but their caregivers in a forest
setting. The only time a chimpanzee was kept away from the sanctuary
was when we looked after it in the house we are living in to
quarantine him in case he had any diseases that might have killed the
other chimpanzees. Anyone who works with chimpanzees in sanctuaries
should know this. All of the chimpanzees were quarantined for 4 – 6
weeks before they went to the sanctuary. After this we introduced
them to the sanctuary gradually, so they could become accustomed to
the other chimpanzees and the caregivers there.

The reason we have a sanctuary here in Aketi is there is a slaughter
of chimpanzees happening now in central and northern DRCongo – leading
to a sanctuary in Kisangani where the chimpanzees were to be
transferred. Due to delays, such as the only cement factory in DRC
collapsing, the sanctuary is not yet finished. Our colleague only
started confiscating, not buying, orphaned chimpanzees because he was
under the belief the sanctuary in Kisangani would be complete by late
2008. In the interim, we are doing everything we can to keep these
chimpanzees safe and well taken care of.

The last reason why we are here is that Laura is conducting research
for her thesis at Columbia University. As you know, if have been
reading the blog completely, that she is collecting fecal samples from
humans and chimpanzees to study zoonotic disease transfer between the
two.

We keep this blog to give people an idea of what it is really like to
live out here. We put a lot of time into writing entries, and we add
a lot of emotion behind the entries because we want people to really
know what it's like. It's very upsetting (Laura is especially sad)
when people don't take the time to read what we write fully. What is
the point of writing at all?

Serious Dearth of Supplies

I do so enjoy reading other Africa-centric blogs, like Jina Moore’s blog from Rwanda -- which recently posted about Rwanda’s puzzling lack of gas. I’ve seen the waggle-finger guy before too, whose sole job is to stand at a gas station and tell people to go away, that there is no gas.

I laughed -- before we suffered our own little problems here in Congo!

There is currently some fighting going on in Northeastern Congo -- still quite far from here, but as a result lots of the supplies that come here via boat are being routed instead there. Prices are going up (gas is now nearly $4 a litre!!).

The real dire situation, funnily though, is with toilet paper. It’s not just that it’s expensive now ($1.50 a roll!) but that there isn’t any.

None! In the whole town!

Unwilling to accept our terrible, crappy fate (ba dum *ch!*), I asked Seba how it was possible for the town to have no toilet paper. I mean, what were people using?! Leaves?!


“Notebooks!” he responded.

There is no waggling-finger man, here. There is just people, buying school notebooks...

...to wipe their butts.

Oh my!

The Chicken Liberation Front (CLF)

I’ve had little trouble being a vegetarian during my various stints in African countries, mostly because there is such a variety of interesting vegetarian dishes -- full of interesting flavors and textures because it’s also the primary diet of local people here!

Funnily, though, in this more rural area, it’s been more difficult to be a vegetarian not because of the food available, but because of the proximity to Future Someone’s Dinner.

Animals here in Aketi are treated so callously, and I find myself often wincing at the cruelties they’re subjected to. Often we’ll hear screaming, shrill and awful, coming down the road and it is not a person being murdered (though it sounds like it) -- it is a pig strapped uncomfortably to the back of someone’s bike, bound and helpless and squirming and clearly unhappy!

Goats are transported the same way, and often two or three goats are bound together on the back of the bike, half hanging upside-down and panicking, rightly so.

When we arrived at the house here, in addition to a single Toupée Chicken, there were four Guinea Fowl, called kanga in Lingala. Guinea fowl are sort of like Forest Chickens. They’re not particularly smart, and sound like rusty bicycles when they wander around.

But, they’re considered a delicacy because they’re not as “common” as regular chickens. Because of this perceived “value” and their inability to stay in the yard, these four guinea fowl were locked inside a large room around the outside of our house.

If the window was cracked, they would jump through and go running through the yard. I’ve been one of the people trying to chase them back into the room, so I know how difficult it is. But every time I entered the room, I couldn’t help but feel horribly sorry for these fowl -- recoiling from the light that they so rarely saw, languishing in this horribly smelly, dark and dank room.

I pleaded with the man responsible for these chickens to let them run around once a day or every two or three days at least -- just watch them for a couple of hours, I begged.

“But then they’ll run away or someone will steal them!”

The logic that the chickens were being subjected to cruel conditions didn’t penetrate this man’s head. They were merely property, and had no feelings or needs. And that is hard, at least for me, to process.

I was half-tempted to “accidentally” leave the window open, but after our recent problems with their owner, the last thing I needed was accusations of Chicken Theft! And it’s not like I could blame it on the Chicken Liberation Front!

Thankfully, today the four of them were stuffed into a tiny bamboo basket for the 500km trip to Kisangani, to live in their owner’s yard and finally get to run around. Though their traveling accommodations were far from ideal, I do feel relieved that I will no longer have to worry about them!

I’m aware that I’m a sap -- I’ve named all of our chickens -- and I felt so sad when one of our baby chickens vanished in the night! When I came out in the morning and saw that Ruffles was gone, and only Runty and Little Toup were running around the yard, it was a terrible feeling!

So yes, now at the end of the day, Adam and I and two of our employees chase Mama Toupée and her two remaining infants into the chicken room to spend the night in safety! And it’s a lot harder than it sounds... but at least I know that they won’t be eaten by civets or snakes in the night!

Congolese Ladies

When we first got here, it was very nearly a complete sausage fest at the house. Male cook, male motorcycle driver, male errand guy, all male researchers here -- and I definitely felt the need for more of a female presence!

So when we knew Dido, the old cook, would be leaving and we needed someone to do our laundry, I asked specifically if maybe we could have a house lady! Sure, guys might clean the bathroom, but never to a woman’s standards! And our bathroom needed help!

The guys working at the house counseled me against Congolese ladies, but I think really that Congolese ladies get a bad rap!

I was told that we would eat late every day (dinner at 9pm!) and that they would be very lazy, and generally need a lot of prodding. Mind you, I was told this by Congolese men!

I’ve since hired two women -- one refills the water in the bathroom tank and does all the laundry and cleaning, and the other fills in for our cook when he goes on forest expeditions. And they have been GREAT!

Not only do we never eat at 9 pm, but they bring out dinner early, refill the boiled drinking water without us even having to ask, literally search out chores to keep themselves busy, and after we showed them how to make French Fries, they made them the next time even better. I’ve been so impressed, that I almost welcome the forest trips so that I can the replacement cook come in! She never gives me any headaches!

And it’s got me thinking that really, life for Congolese women is quite unfair. They’re expected to do all the cooking, washing, cleaning and care for all the children. They typically don’t get proper jobs and are completely dependent on the income of their husbands. In fact, one of our employees is sort of married to another, and when she first started working for us, he demanded that she be fired or else she’d get “uppity”!

I guess the overall gist is that I’ve been incredibly impressed, and I only wish that the women’s rights movement here had more support or momentum or even, interest. At least I feel like I’m doing my part, paying my female employees the same as the men. I don’t know if life will ever change for the women here either, and, depressingly, the only consolation I have is that they don’t know that it can be any better than this!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Frustration in the Public Eye

I’ve been taken with a fit of frustration today -- because it was becoming necessary to check email again mid-week (there’s lots of stuff going on) and I got some news I wasn’t expecting!

And I’m stricken with the realization that sure, lots of new people are reading the blog (exciting!), but not all of them are reading the blog from the beginning. Or even reading things like the welcome post!

It’s frustrating only because of course I have the urge to share my experiences and have people understand what it’s like to live out here, but I want people to get the WHOLE PICTURE.

Firstly, we may have problems with some particularly corrupt officials here, but we also have MANY friends here whom we enjoy and cherish immensely. Stories about officials trying to get gas money, etc, I feel need to be heard, but they are, by no means, the only stories of Congolese here. We’ve met countless wonderful people here who I had previously thought I had talked about as well!

In particular, FS, who has given us countless problems here in his constant efforts to usurp the project, cannot be referred to by his actual name. Much like names we’ve given to other “characters” in our Congo story, we gave him a name that plays not only on the pop culture name “Slim Shady” but on the general stereotype of the well-dressed and rotund corrupt officials here. Yes, there is a “type” and we are certainly not making fun of FS for being rotund. I am certainly no one to judge anyone else in that respect! Fat fattism is one of my pet peeves!

And most importantly, the photos of chimpanzees that we post here are SANCTUARY chimpanzees. Yes, we have funny pictures of Aketi Kigoma during his quarantine period in the house, when it was not safe for him to be at the sanctuary facility because he had JUST been confiscated, and yes, he was not living a very chimpy life in the HOUSE with us! Of course not!

But now he is with other chimpanzees, climbing in the trees and eating chimpish food and at no point was he a PET. I spend so much of my life rallying against the dangers and evils of keeping chimpanzees as pets that the thought that anyone takes away the message from the blog of “Yay Chimp Pets!” just makes me want to cringe!

And, while I resent the idea of having to keep my blog “professional” since I feel like it is a personal account of Adam and my adventures here, please be aware that I am a professional -- this is the third sanctuary I’ve worked at and the second sanctuary I’ve helped set up and manage from scratch.

Additionally, I am also here doing my thesis research because I am trying to further the safety and protection of wild chimpanzees while working here! If I thought people would just love to read a blog about fecal parasites, maybe I’d write more about them, but in the interim, funny stories and memorable things we experience here will fill the blog instead.

I hate even having to write this entry and feeling defensive in general, but I guess that it is a potential pitfall whenever you open up your life to public scrutiny and judgment.

Beam Me Up, LaForge



Yes, Adam and I are huge nerds and took photos of our quarantined chimp with a mini lightsaber.  But we also got a HUGE hoot out of this guy at the New Year's Party we attended last Sunday who was wearing a Star Trek Uniform!  He had no idea why his shirt so tickled us, but was glad to be posing for a photo!

Aketi Participates in Lost Cities

We were going through old photos and saw so many wonderful photos that
we never uploaded! I figured Alex S, who introduced us to this
wonderful game that helps us while away the time when we have no
electricity and I can't bear to read any more scientific articles!

Lost Cities: An Adventure for Two - is quite an appropriate game for
us to be playing out here too, and Aketi definitely agrees!


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

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

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

A Foray Into French Fries (A Photo Journal)

We write a lot in this journal about our food variety -- or at least,

what little variety we have. Food is of course an important aspect of
any adventure, and when we first got here, potatoes were only a
figment of our imaginations. Cleve had told us stories about nearly
paying $12 for a bunch of potatoes because he was so desperate for
something different!

Or, for us, desperate for something familiar from home.

Well, we're no different, and we've paid about a total of $5 this week
for four ginormous potatoes (shown below). We were *determined* to
try and make French Fries, something I'd been able to eat with
alarming ease when I lived in Goma, DRC! But here, all of our
attempts at French Fries had been not only disastrous, but disgusting!
Slimy and squishy and reeking of the sour, dirty aftertaste of palm
oil, they were inedible and what a waste of gorgeous huge potatoes!

Well, today (Friday) we were determined to do better -- and do it
ourselves!!

Adam poses with a local potato, which is probably the size of TEN regular American potatoes. It's also very hairy and rough on the outside, and they ONLY are harvested in the dry season.
It cost about a dollar.

Adam cuts up the potato into tiny slices -- not the huge chunks that are usual here. He is horrified to discover that, inside, this potato was super moist and slimy!!

We found a FRYING PAN in our kitchen!! We didn't even know we had it! The palm oil at first in the pan was very very thick and opaque but as the fire got hotter it started to become clearer and more oil-looking.

No splash guards here! Adam has to stand WAY back to keep his arms and legs safe as he stirs and spreads out the French Fries in the frying pan.

They're getting brown and nearly ready to eat!!

Adam is amazed and delighted HOW MUCH like real French Fries they taste! We are very proud of our culinary prowess. We add some salt, and wonder how difficult it would be to make ketchup!

So delicious and satisfying! We finish off half of our huge potato and end up eating pineapple and French Fries for breakfast. It makes us feel better about walking ALL the way to the cathedral later in the day!

Now for the rest of the dry season we can have French Fries whenever we want, now that we've taught Beya and Gracia how to make proper American fries!




Learning to Ride the Moto

Learning to ride the moto was an adventure all of its own yesterday!
First of all, it was very fun! Second of all, it was a bit scary!!
Especially when I let go of the brake too quickly at first and the
bike popped a wheelie, throwing Seba off the back completely!

Seba helped me get the moto started at first -- once I was already
going, it was pretty easy and fun, though. Seba let me drive down the
main road, almost to the corner store, which was great. It was sort of
like riding a bike that propelled itself.

We sort of turned a little bit, but not really so the next time we do
a lesson I want to get better at starting off and also turning. The
gas is on the right handlebar and there are two brakes next to the
handlebars, like other motorcycles. You change gears with your left
foot!

I'm looking forward to being able to drive the moto myself, because
then Laura and I can go anywhere in the town ourselves if it is too
hot to walk!

Big Smile Baby's Head

Big Smile Baby got a haircut this week and it revealed some unsettling
circles on the back of his head! We wonder if they're a side effect
of worms, or some other sort of parasite, but we'd love any medically-
minded people reading to let us know for sure!

A Tangle of Arms and Legs!!

Bolungwa and Django Mayanga love wrestling around, and when they play
it is indeed a tangle of arms and legs and teeth everywhere! It's
tons of fun for them -- the wide open mouth on a chimpanzee like this
is referred to as "Play Face" and is usually an indication of fun and
happiness!

The face entertainment chimpanzees make -- "the smile" -- is actually
a fear grimace!

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

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

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

Local Chiefs at the New Year's Party

Local chiefs and their wives. The gent in the vest is the very same
one who tried to extort motorcycle gas money from us.

Quelle Partie De Chevre??

At the New Year's Party last Sunday, Adam was given a plate of "Taba"
-- Lingala for "goat" though, upon examining it, he was not quite so
sure WHAT part he was eating!

The New Whites

We’ve been told now for nearly 3 months that 2 French people are about to come here! At first it was a November 1st arrival, but then they postponed because they were “afraid” after the unrest in Goma. Of course, Goma is 2500km from here, but who knows what they thought would happen...

Then we were told they’d be here by Christmas, but again, a delay!

We walked over to the cathedral, our formal potential residence, today -- about 1.5 miles from our house.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s quite boggling to see because it is simply ENORMOUS and very fancy! A remnant of Belgian colonialization, of course, but still so impressive all these years later!

I’m still glad we decided not to live there, though, because upon entering the area around the church where there is also a huge school and mission, we were swarmed with children who refused to go away!

And the disappointment too of discovering we’d gone all that way and that the French people weren’t even here yet! We did meet their Congolese counterpart from Action Contra La Faim who assured us that yes, they WOULD be coming via CAR.

We are still extremely skeptical about this fact -- we’ve traveled the PATHS (not roads) between Kisangani and Aketi and especially have traversed the tiny, wooden or extremely ancient and rickety steel railroad bridges between here and there!

There is only one car in Aketi for a reason!

Apparently they are coming “next week” so we shall see when they come! Adam I think is hoping that they speak English, and will want to come hang out with us and watch movies and participate in the White Conspiracy.

Ha, no, seriously, it will be nice to see some new faces around here, and maybe not be quite so unique!

Visiting Aketi Kigoma

Now that we were both (finally) healthy at the same time (scandal!!), Adam and I got to walk down to the sanctuary yesterday to visit our favorite little guys -- Kathé, Aketi Kigoma, Mangé, Django Mayanga and Bolungwa.

For me, it was the first time I’d gotten to visit Aketi Kigoma since dropping him off at the sanctuary for integration. Of course, I’d dropped him off, waited five days so that he could acclimate to new mommies, and then come down with terrible malaria.

Since the sanctuary is about 2 miles from the house, maybe a little less, it’s quite a walk when you’re not feeling well! But yesterday, leaving early before the oppressing heat moved in, the walk was great!

I know enough Lingala now to keep us from having a huge entourage of children (most importantly, phrases like “Go away!” or “Stay there!” or “Leave us alone please!”), so we were relatively unmolested on the walk!

Oh! And since I’ve been here so long and have also learned enough Lingala to say “My name isn’t Whitey! My name is Lola! Your name isn’t Blackie, is it?!” -- when I walk down the street people call out “Lola! Lola! Hello!” and it’s wonderful to hear!

And oh what a joy to see the kids (chimps) again! They’re all doing so well, and Aketi Kigoma has folded into their little hairy community so well! He’s very independent, and doesn’t seem quite as attached to the guys there as he was to us at the house, but it’s only because he seems attached now to the other chimpanzees!

It’s so wonderful to see -- such a proud moment -- when your little one is out foraging on his own and scampering around with his “brothers” and “sisters”.

Of course, he doesn’t recognize me or Adam, but it’s usual since we only spent 1.5 months with him and baby chimps tend to have two settings: Momma and Not-the-Momma.

I’m sure the more time we spend there the more he’ll reacclimate to us, and it gives us motivation to spend more time there now that we are healthy!

Despite Aketi’s trepidation about playing with us again, we still played lots and lots with the other kids, and there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing them so happy and well-fed and well-adjusted. Even Mangé seems to be mellowing!

Django and Bolungwa have such funny interactions, and Django is so eager to have everyone pay attention to him now that he is no longer the baby! Adam, funnily, says that maybe we should change his name to Djealous Mayanga!

Adam and I will return to the sanctuary tomorrow early in the morning (before the heat sets in) and spend another day there! It’s such a great thing to look forward to!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hilarious Lessons

I love riding on the back of motorcycles. It’s a love I discovered while tooling around Entebbe and Kampala in Uganda, and while renting motorcycles with Willi when I was last in Goma, DRC.

Especially in Africa, where there are no speed limits in many of the countries, just being able to zoom around is so exhilarating!!

I don’t, however, like driving motorcycles. It messes with my depth perception in a big way and it means that I must be reliant on others to drive!

Adam and I meant to get tutored in moto driving with Adam’s Uncle Carl before we left, since Uncle Carl loves them hogs, but it didn’t quite pan out so when we got here, neither of us knew boo diddly.

We decided this week that the time had come! We were/are healthy, and what a better time to learn to drive!

Motorcycles here seem to be pretty similar to ones in the US. They’ve got gear shifts by the left foot, and there is a starter pedal by the right foot, but also some sort of auto-start button by the right hand near the gas. Because it’s a shifter bike, you need to keep coaxing in gas when you’re just sitting idle or else the bike will stall out.

And of course keep your hand depressed on the brake, a lesson Adam learned the hard way when, the first time he started out, he released the brake WAY too fast and the bike popped a wheelie, sending everyone watching in the garden scattering and throwing Seba right off the back!

It was funny to watch, for sure, but also scary!!

Adam was brave and kept going even after his inadvertent wheelie, and he and Seba tooled down the main road.

Adam will have another lesson today before he gives karate lessons at 4pm. I’m hoping he’ll feel comfortable enough to drive me around soon!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Why Can't You Be Like the Mondelle?

On Jan. 4th , Laura and I went to this wonderful New Years' Party that we were invited to in Aketi. There was a lot of food and happiness. It was so nice to see so many people come together and have such a great time.

We met this man and his daughter. I forgot what his name was in French, but in English it was Mr. Hope. He was really nice and spoke English! Quite well actually. He said that he was an English teacher for twelve years in the DRC but had to quit since was not getting paid. This is a huge problem in DRC. People do good jobs but no one pays them.

His daughter was in Aketi for the holiday from school in Buta. She is studying English and African Culture at the university in Buta.

The reason for the title is for what happened at the party. I got up and got a plate of food for Laura and then got up and got a plate of food for myself. After I sat down, Laura fed me some of her food from her plate. All the people at the party got a big kick out of it. A lady said to her husband, “if you got me food like the mondele (white person), I would feed you too!” Laura and I thought that was hilarious. All in all, the New Year's party was great and we were invited to another one on March 8th. The only problem is that we might be in the forest collecting samples for Laura's research. I hope that we can go.

Until next time!!!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Question and Answer

Lovely Lauren Lief asks this week:

        “Just a little nervous about the Christmas violence in the northeast quadrant of DRC. You are ok? Except for malaria?”


The answer is yes! We are okay. We hadn’t even heard boo diddly about violence in the country, but we’re still pretty far west of Northeastern Congo. The only news source we really get is Polycarpe’s crappy short wave radio, which he uses to listen to news almost obsessively, but it has terrible reception and I can barely make out what they’re saying half the time!

But yes, we are fine here. Not deported. Not sick anymore.

And enjoying our Congolese peanut brittle candy!

Random Visitors

As sort of a funny interlude, while running the generator today, the bulk of the staff was away at church.

A man came up, dressed very finely, to our BACK DOOR (the cage surrounding our front patio is usually locked when we’re not out there). He just marches right into the dining room, his cellphone and charger in hand.

“Who are you?!” I asked.

“I am here to charge my phone!” he replied.

“Who are you?” I repeated, incredulous.

He held up his phone and his charger, as though his name was Mister Phone-and-Charger.

“Are you a friend of someone who works here?” I continued, trying to figure out who this guy WAS.

He just stood and gawked at me, his phone and charger still sort of dangling limply from the ends of his indecisive wrists.

It was all the answer I needed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, still annoyed, “but gas is expensive and we can’t afford to just charge anyone’s phone.”

So he smiled, said “Thank You” and turned and left.



I wonder whether he just wanders through the streets, phone and charger in hand, listening for the sounds of a generator! And then just walks into people’s houses!

How strange!

Question and Answer

We had a great comment from Jen this week on the blog, who asked:

        “are scary illnesses incredibly common in Africa?”


The answer to your question, Jen, is yes. The “standard” African illnesses in a big part of the continent (that’s tropical, at least) are no joke to anyone used to the winter flu being the scariest bug out there!

There’s a lot us fragile whiteys can do ahead of time to protect ourselves... including getting a LOT of vaccinations! Yellow Fever is an especially noxious disease but you can be easily vaccinated for that one, and, in fact, in many African countries it’s a necessary vaccination to have in order to enter the country at all!

Adam and I got a host of vaccinations before coming, including Yellow Fever, Meningitis, Typhoid, Hepatitis A & B, Measles, Mumps, Polio, Rubella and Tetanus and I’ve been vaccinated against Rabies and Cholera as well. While coming to an African country doesn’t mean you’re going to get all these diseases, treatments are hard to come by in the field, and especially while working with chimpanzees, it’s important to be vaccinated against potentially zoonotic diseases.

Preventative malaria drugs are readily available in the United States, but they have their own caveats. If you’re planning on spending a LONG period of time in Africa (1 year+) they can lose their efficacy and may even mask the symptoms of malaria, making it harder to diagnose when you’ve got it!

They’re also expensive -- Malarone (my favorite of the options) costs $1 a pill.

And, they often have a host of side effects. Doxycycline, mandated last I heard by the US Peace Corps, seems to have made a LOT of my Peace Corps friends go bald - men and women alike.

And, of course, I’ve railed against it before - Larium - which makes people go crazy, forever.

I don’t mean to scare you, though I’ve probably already succeeded. Adam and I aren’t taking malaria preventative drugs right now, and sure, we got malaria, but we bought over the counter cures from the pharmacy here which did the trick just fine!

I should also mention that I’ve been in and out of Africa for the last 6 years extensively and I had never gotten malaria until this current visit. I think certain regions are just more malaria-prone! Poor Cleve had malaria here 40 times!

There are some diseases here which scare even me, like Filaria, which is not well understood and has a whole HOST of side effects, the least of which is joint stiffness and the worst of which include things like River Blindness and ELEPHANTITIS! (Adam finds this one funny, though)

Africa is also the continent of HIV and Tuberculosis, neither of which have a vaccination, and who ravage through here nearly unchecked, and do a terrible job of exacerbating the other!

Yes, indeed, disease-wise, people here have it tough, but with substandard medical care and indiscriminate pharmacies they plod along just fine. And so do we, overall!

If living and working here were not worth every puke and such, we’d definitely leave! There are aspects to being here that trump any sort of disease discomfort for sure!


I hope this answers your question, and doesn’t send you running AWAY from field work, but it’s definitely part of the job and good to know ahead of time!

It's Amazing

There’s this line in Shawshank Redemption, one of my favorite movies of all time, where Andy Dufresne says “You’d be amazed what you can accomplish by mail!”

Of course mail is non-existent here, but the sentiment holds no less true --

I cannot yet divulge any of my accomplishments of today, but by sending emails last Friday, I got responses today, mailed them out, and perhaps everything I have been worrying about will be resolved... who knows... by next week!!

And all via email!!

Today feels so good.

New People Are Coming

The assistant immigration officer told us yesterday that the two French volunteers from Action Against Hunger (the acronym in French is ACF). I am excited for them to come because it means two things. First, we will have other foreigners to possibly to talk to. They are French so they may be quite rude and may want to ignore us. The second reason is that the officials will have other people to bother for money. Since they are ACF, they will be giving stuff away. That means they will definitely harass them more. Yay for us.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Conspiracy of Dunces

I don’t know what the process is like getting visas in the United States. But I cannot, and will not accept that anything could be as complicated or quite frankly, as stupid as the rigamarole we’ve experienced during the past two days.

We were told by Cleve long ago that it was best to get our visas in Kisangani, the closest main city, approximately 500km from here. While there are district immigration offices nearer to us, we were told that the visas they issue are not always “legitimate” and could cause us problems later.

So, knowing all of this, we sent our motorbike driver with a festoon of cash and specific instructions to Kisangani to get us some new 3 month visas.

Had it only been so simple!

Someone, anyone, please send cable television to Congo to give some of these people better things to do with their lives than track the patterns and movements of whiteys.

One of our employees had stayed in Buta, a city approximately 150km from here to pass the New Year with his girlfriend, who lives there and sells beers and private dances (though we’re not entirely sure what else). While there, I’m told the head of the immigration office tracked him down and stopped him along the side of the road.

At least I’m told. The moment I became involved happened when this chief immigration guy called me, randomly, on the telephone.

“Hello Mrs White!” he said, as though he didn’t have my passport in front of him and was somehow unaware of my name. “I am here with Seba, who was going to go ALL the way to Kisangani to get your visas, but we want to do your visas here! In Buta! Did you know that I am the chief of the entire sector of Bas-Uèle? I have your passports! Kisangani is SO FAR! You don’t want to go to Kisangani!”

“What!?” I said, stunned. “You have our passports?”

“Yes, yes,” he replied, “and we’re going to give you new three month visas! Much cheaper than Kisangani! And Kisangani is SO FAR!”

“Um,” I said, not quite sure to respond because fuck (pardon my French), he already had our passports, “isn’t it against the law to get our visas in cities other than Kisangani?”

“No, no,” he said, “don’t you remember me from when you were in Buta? I talked to Kisangani! It’s just fine! Kisangani is so far!!”

“Uhhh...” I honestly had no idea how to respond. Here was a man who had our passports, was 150km away from me and I had no driver and no motorbike and really, if you think about it, very little recourse.

“It’s really not illegal to get our visas in Buta?” I repeated, slowly, to make sure he understood me. “If I go to Kisangani later they’re not going to throw me in jail? I don’t really care much for jail. And I want real, official visas.”

“Yes, yes, ” he continued, yessing me to death, and he laughed, “you will not go to jail! It will be fine! They are real official visas!”

I was stuck. “Well, um, okay.”

I talked to Polycarpe later in the day, who had also received a call from our “friend” in Buta, and it was Polycarpe who had discovered that our driver had been stopped on the side of the road and taken to the immigration office.

“I don’t know why the driver *gave* them your visas!” he said, frustratedly. “Sometimes, he is a little stupid. Maybe next time I will go with him.”

But I asked Polycarpe if he figured that everything would be alright, and he said that yes, he thought it would so I stopped worrying about it and the affair, in my mind, was finished. Our driver would return with visas, we’d save money since he didn’t go all the way to Kisangani, and it would be done.

Ha!

Ha ha!

Later in the day, Papa B, our friend the local immigration guy came by and wanted to talk to us about our visas, and why were we getting them in Buta and not in Kisangani. Um, how is our business circulating ALL OVER CONGO?! Was there a Muppet News Flash?

I got annoyed with him and told him that the visas were already procured, that I was fine with it, that everything was on the up and up and really, I didn’t care to talk about it any further. He said that was fine, ate all of the rest of our pineapple, and left.

We turned on the generator yesterday because I had a BUNCH of edits to make on the computer, thanks to a wonderfully comprehensive email I’d gotten from my adviser at Columbia, helping me finalize my IRB proposal.

The generator had barely been on ten minutes when not only did Papa B return to the house, but he brought his superior, Whiny Mister Weaselface.

We’ve had generally pleasant dealings with WMWeaselface before, so I didn’t think much about it when I told him, Thank you for the visit, but we’re using the generator right now and gas is expensive and we’re trying to get some work done could you please come back later.

“NO!” he bellowed, trying to act about 200 pounds heavier than he really is. “We have very important work to discuss RIGHT NOW!” and he stormed onto the patio, clearly uninvited.

“Oh come on,” I pleaded, “the visas thing is already finished. I don’t want to talk about it anymore!”

“You are here illegally!” and he grimaced meanly, shaking his flimsy folder of papers at me.

I had to laugh. “Seriously? Should we just leave the country tomorrow then?”

“Yes, okay.” and he nodded solemnly.

Despite my laissez-faire attitude, this whole thing was really getting on my nerves and I’ll admit I got upset.

Actually,” I said, probably condescendingly, “our visas are good until the 6th of January so we’re legal until then! You’re just gonna have to wait!”

“No!” he hissed, “they expired on DECEMBER 6th!” So I had to begin counting for him. October 6th-November 6th-December 6th-January 6th -- three months.

“But your visas are from September 6th!” he cried, clearly losing ground. He pulled from the flimsy folder a copy of our visas, clearly issued on September 6th.

“But we didn’t enter the country until October 6th,” I said, exasperated. “Visas don’t start until you ENTER the country.” I tried to take the folder from him but he clutched onto it, preciously. He shuffled the papers inside, filtering through the countless photocopies he had demanded of us when we first registered in the city.

“Honestly, [WMWeaselface],” I said, “why do we bother giving you all these photocopies if you don’t even bother to read them??”

And finally, he pulled out the page photocopied of our entrance stamps into the country - again, clearly dated October 6th.

“Uh, uh,” he stammered. He was wrong. He knew it. “Let me see your passports!”

“You know that our passports are in Buta,” I said, completely frustrated, trying to maintain my calm even though my legs were trembling in anger and I could feel the flush in my face.

“It is ILLEGAL not to have your passports! I’m going to call Kisangani and notify them you are against the law!” he cried, seeming to have found a new banner to stand under, however illogical.

“Alright,” I said, ”enough. Get out of our house.“ I beckoned towards the door, but he wasn’t ready to give up. I was, however, ready to forcibly expel him if need be. Especially considering he’s approximately the size of an adolescent boy.

Thankfully it didn’t have to come to that. I repeated, ”Get out of our house. Come back later when Polycarpe is here.“ and Papa B, to whom I am grateful despite his constant greediness, ushered his colleague out of our gate and encouraged me to lock it behind them.

The crazy thing is, the guy who called us from Buta is WMWeaselface’s BOSS. So not only did he not have a leg to stand on, but really, it was none of his business to begin with. Frustrating to ME too was that at the very SAME TABLE on our patio, I had discussed a month earlier with WMWeaselface the date of expiry of our visas, and he had confirmed for me that it was in January.

Why does everything have to be made so complicated? And additionally, this bureau of immigration whose proclaimed purpose is to ”protect immigrants to the country and ensure their security“ is doing exactly the opposite.

I asked Polycarpe, who is friends with WMWeaselface, to please let him know that it would be good manners of him to give us an apology for his behavior yesterday.

And, with luck, our driver will arrive today with our visas, and they will look official and not scrawled in CRAY-PAS.

Hopefully.

Ugh.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Sounds of Happiness

There are things here that I love, and they can’t help but bring a smile to my face.

The sound of the pounding of poondoo -- into the old wooden pestle and mortar, carved with lovely shapes and designs.

The sounds of the police singing in the morning --however much we tease it’s something I look forward to daily.

The sounds of music in the air, sometimes warbled from ancient old cassettes that have been played too often and too loudly, as people sing along.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Just When You Think It Couldn't (Readers Beware)

I’m going to warn people ahead of time NOT to keep reading if they don’t want to hear the absolute frankness of my most recent illness. I haven’t ever filtered myself in other subjects, and feel like there might actually be people who are curious to know what it’s really like out here, not just the Hollywood version.

So, that is your warning. Apologies for disgustingness, but just remember, I had to live through it!



There is nothing more humbling ... or terrifying... than being deathly ill, far from home and in the middle of a third world country.

This past week I came as close to feelings of death as I have in nearly 10 years -- the last time being when I had appendicitis at age 12 and was in the hospital, fading in and out of consciousness - and woke up in the room in the hospital with all of the lights off and only the shaft of light coming in through the window and I couldn’t see anything and was sure I had died. At least then I was in a hospital.

As many of you might have read, my illness was already apparent on Christmas Day -- and we almost thought it was kind of funny.

While I laughed with Rachel, she told me that the traditional cure for worms was to sit over a bucket of milk and the smell of milk... lured... the worms out of you. And that, of course, you COULD put the bucket by your mouth, but of course the worms follow the milk. Euch!

And I wasn’t really all that worried. Adam and I had managed my illness with relative facility at that point -- though I’d been really sick on Wednesday, by Thursday I’d already seemed better and was well enough to lie around and internet and talk on the phone.

But when I seemed to be considerably worse on Friday than I’d even been on Wednesday, we wondered whether I’d “pushed it too hard” on Christmas.

Yet the same medicines I’d taken on Wednesday and Thursday that seemed to have done the trick did nothing. If anything, the struggle to keep any medicine down at all was more brutal and the medicines only seemed to exacerbate my illness.

We were running out of options, evidenced by the increased lines on Adam’s face and my continued inability to get out of bed. Desperate, late on Friday, we cracked open our very last package of Tylenol: Severe Cold -- our benchmark for malaria. For, typically, if it works, the person does NOT have malaria. Of course, this study was “verified” in an amazing study group of 1.

Though the possibility of malaria medicine always loomed, the side effects are so awful that quite honestly I did not want to take it until I was absolutely sure I had malaria.

So, I took the Tylenol and Adam and I chanted, he told me stories, rubbed my stomach in a downward direction ... anything to get me NOT to throw up for an hour to ensure that the medicine could have a chance at efficacy.

The stomach pain was dizzying, though I’d eaten nothing but a spoonful of poondoo for 4 days. Perhaps that’s why it hurt, but Adam cried as I cried, in pain.

When I started to sweat profusely and my fever finally started dipping below 103º, we realized that it was working. What I didn’t realize is how far it would knock me through to the other side -- while, before, clearly sick, I could still shuffle to the toilet and speak coherently -- now I was panting, hardly able to breathe, sticky with sweat, unable to walk without toppling and so weak and feeling so heavy that the end of the day found me sprawled across our concrete floor, mostly unconscious and sweaty but, at the very least, less feverish.

The night, however, found me equally breathless and weak and mostly unaware of what was going on. All of the various medicines had ripped through my intestines, and the dull thud of pain that had been constant right under my ribs and diaphragm had faded into a fully rumbling, angry, twisting pain in my lower intestines.

I was vaguely aware in the night of passing gas, and feeling sticky, and of being in pain, but imagine my horror when, upon waking up on the floor, I discovered myself not covered in sweat, but diarrhea.

Adam should be considered the champion of this tale, as he cleaned me up where I lay: crying, sweating, and hurting. He sponged me down because I couldn’t, and wrapped me in a towel and put me back to bed. He carried me to the bathroom when I just couldn’t even stand up straight and waited after I crawled onto the bathroom floor to rest before returning to the room. It was simply too far to go. But I could not have gone any distance at all without him.

When I woke up on Saturday, things seemed to have improved! And in fact, I spent Saturday resting in bed, but my fever seemed not to go over 100º and we were convinced that we had finally licked that bug! It was a joyous feeling, and I felt very well taken care of! I was still woozy and short of breath, but we figured it was because I’d been so sick and hadn’t really eaten much.

I was still, however, extremely odor-sensitive and the slightest bad odor would send me reeling towards my faithful bucket. Again, a side effect, I thought. I could get a little tomato salad down (and some up), and life felt good.

Imagine our horror when, for apparently no reason at all, my fever started to climb on Saturday night. It was still very low, so we weren’t too worried, but it didn’t seem to have a cause. And diseases don’t just rear their ugly heads again for a sequel because Lucas or Spielberg tells them to.

The night continued like that, but halfway through Sunday, my fever was up to past 104º -- higher than it had been during the whole duration of my illness thus far.
Even worse, my consciousness seemed to fade in and out, and I wasn’t quite sure where I was when I awoke from naps and kept confusing the real world for the world of Harry Potter (which I’d been listening to in Audiobook form).

I kept telling myself everything would be alright and that, because it was Sunday, that my mom would call and that she would make everything better because she was my mom. But she didn’t call, and I only got worse.

I was at a point of desperation I’ve rarely known, where I was ready to call for 100 powdered milk packets to put into a bucket and get ready to hover, or do really anything someone told me to.

Which was when Polycarpe told me to take malaria medicine -- he had the same look of consternation he’d been sporting for the last week, watching me deterioriate slowly, and thought that it must be malaria.

I was skeptical, one because malaria is always the answer here. Whether someone has a cold or a bruise, it’s always “malaria” as the first option (it is practically like the common cold here).

But additionally, I was still afraid of the side effects of the medicine. When Adam said to me, “Could it really be worse than how you feel right now?”

And really, it couldn’t.

So I took the Artemod. I spent the next few hours in a delirious haze of fever and medicine. The medicine doesn’t eradicate the fever right away, so I still burned hot.

I recall waking up at one point, and having a voice in my head say “8 out of 10 doctors have already declared you dead.” and I screamed, in my head, “No, I am not dead, I just need to cool down my body!”

So I crawled, pulling myself like a cripple, onto the floor to try and leech its coolness (it’s concrete). And there I lay, mumbling to myself, for most of the night, sweating out my fever and convinced that, if I were to live, I had to solve this “puzzle” of malaria and unlock things in the right order.

When I awoke needing to use the toilet, Adam tells me I asked him lots of strange questions about puzzle pieces and then I think it probably took us an hour to get to the bathroom for a 10 second pee.

I could barely stand, and had to rest 3 times on the way to our bathroom (which is, by the way, maybe 50 feet from our room) and needed to lie on the floor of the bathroom afterwards and rest.

But I made it there, and made it back, though I’ll admit it was too difficult to do more than once during the night and I used the bucket in the room instead (I am officially the Queen of Gross).

HOWEVER, all of this night suffering yielded a very diminished temperature on Monday morning and a clear-headedness I had not experienced in days! I was still extremely weak and extremely fatigued ... in fact, I still am, but I am up, eating, and haven’t had a fever since that Sunday night.

My mother is, of course, relieved, having called me Monday AND Tuesday (she didn’t call Sunday because of an out of town guest, but had sent me an email I didn’t get at the time, not checking email and what-not).

Honestly, I am relieved too. Relieved that something did, in fact, finally work because I was definitely starting to panic and lose hope! Adam is glad that he will not have to cart my dead body back home and have a Corpse Bride.

But really, the overall moral of this story is: Congo is tough.

Next time you’re sick and you go to the doctor and get well in 2 days, remember this tale!