Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not Dead

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for keeping track of us!

Monday, March 30, 2009


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

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

Ain’t happening. I’m ON the ball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re nearly there! Nearly nearly nearly!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Larry, Curly, and Moe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Hurrah (Yay Corruption!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh! Please let this be the last hurdle!

The Last Day (and the Last Supper)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 28, 2009

2 Days to Go

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Waiting Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does it all seem so far away!?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Four Days Left in Aketi!!!!!!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


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

Enjoy the link!


The Element of Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thank you again to everyone following our journey!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back in Aketi

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rally the Troops!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

... Probably for good reason.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Didn't Know It Could Be This Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Under the SIFORCO Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 1 Conservationists!

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

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

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


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

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

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

Score: 2 Conservationists!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 3 Conservationists!

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

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

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

Adam's Malaria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Moibi (The Drama Of It All)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C’est à dire: $150

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

I wish that day would come already!!

To Tell Not

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 16, 2009


It’s always nice to have to write blog entries that you wonder if you’ll ever be able to post, because of fear.

I guess, though, that censorship itself roots in fear, but right now my main fear is that I will never ever get out of here, run out of money, and end up being completely helpless to stop the forces that constantly threaten to derail me from my purpose.

I’m afraid too that this crook will succeed in getting the chimpanzees brought to the Kisangani Zoo, which is a deathtrap. I’d stand in front of the caravan myself before letting these chimps anywhere near that place.

But to be so close to finality, to success, and to have SO MUCH CRAP go down, every day, no way to vent, poor Adam still sick, just trying to hold it all together and not go completely insane...

To add to that, certain otherwise-inclined parties who take interest in finding ways to take my blog out of context and use it against me, my colleagues or my employers... makes every entry I write in candor a potential minefield.

I’ve enjoyed being able to be frank and use wit to best convey life here -- the ups AND the downs - and I’m feeling constrained by the inability to recount things as they happen.

Thus, I may never post this entry, but being able to know it exists, to mark this day where I paced so much I might as well have created a furrow in the cement floor, makes me feel ... at least a little bit... better.

Sorcery! (Sorcerah?)

Sadly, the boy across the street, Prince, who helps around the house and is one of Adam’s star pupils in the advanced karate class, fell off his bike, and didn’t go to the hospital, and has spent 3 nights crying in pain.

Although it’s pretty common to have kids helping out around here and not get paid, I figured if it’d mean that Prince would go to the hospital and get some real medical treatment, I’d give him some money for the work he’s done around the house for us.

Because he was also in too much pain to walk, we sent him to the hospital on the back of our moto -- poor kid, Adam ended up picking him up and gingerly placing him on the back, while silent tears streamed down his face.

It’s become therefore surprising that his family has taken him from the hospital, convinced that he’s crying not because he broke his arm and it’s not splinted or casted, but because the man whose house he hit with a stick has cast an evil spell upon him.

I’m told too that this man has “killed many people” and is very evil.

I’ve probably had my fill of rushing to judgment, and throwing stones from glass houses, but what baffles me extremely is that otherwise rational and clear-headed people can look me in the eye, completely convinced that Prince suffers because of sorcery.

And it’s not the kind of situation where you can reply to this person, “that’s crazy! There’s no such thing!” because there’s a kid, suffering, and the more important task is just getting him medical help so he can get better.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Malaria - No One's Friend

What a terrible night, fitful and full of thoughts of how next to proceed with our troubles with this local official, trying his best to extort $3000US from us!

This morning brought excellent emails, our contacts at ICCN coming through in fighting style, but it’s still disappointing that the fate of wildlife in this territory is now in the hands of a man so indifferent to its suffering and destruction.

If one recalls my battles with malaria, Adam had it no better last night with this, his fourth case of malaria in six months.

He awoke in the night, and asked if I wanted to accompany him to the toilet. Which in a state of malaria seems like quite a distance.

I don’t even recall him asking, mostly asleep as I was, but I remember seeing his hazy shadow, illuminated by the flashlight, through the mosquito net.

I called out blurrily, “Wait, I’m coming,” but the next thing I remember was hearing Adam call from the living room that he felt dizzy.

I jumped out of bed, and found him stumbling, as though drunk, and slick with sweat, his skin fiery to the touch.

I held him close as he leaned against the wall, his eyes unfocussed. I started to usher him back to the room -- to the bed -- and I felt him go limp.

As strong as I may be, holding up Adam when he is deadweight is beyond me, and I cried out as he collapsed to the floor. I called his name and shook him, but he didn’t respond for what felt like minutes (but was really only about 10 seconds).

“Where am I?” he asked. I told him he was in the living room, and that we were going to get him back to bed.

Though I knew from experience what he must feel like, to watch him fall to the ground was just horrifying.

I didn’t let him go to the bathroom alone for the rest of the night, and as we walked together, one of his hands on each of my shoulders, I could feel the quantity of weight he rested on me and just kept assuring him that we were almost to the bathroom, and that we would make it together.

Thankfully he didn’t fall again during any more toilet excursions, and when we woke up this morning, his fever had finally broken from nearly 104º to a solid 101º.

I’m glad he’s on the mend, but it’ll certainly be nice when malaria is no longer an angry storm on the horizon!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

In Its Clutches

Not wanting to jinx it, reporting it here, but we (95%) have a flight now, and are on the countdown clock of preparation for flying the chimps to Lwiro.

I guess it just goes to show what friendship and persistence can do for you!

Congo hasn’t finished with us, of course. Yesterday the new new Minister of the Environment came by, intent on bullying us for money and further registration of the chimps.

I let him know that not only had we registered the chimps legitimately with the previous Minister, but we had already gotten permission for the transfer from ICCN, a national governing body of wildlife in Congo.

Though thankfully, my contacts at ICCN assure me that we’ve already got everything we need, and shame on this guy for trying to prevent conservation efforts in Congo.

I’m assuming it’s just a further attempt to finagle money from us, but it’s so frustrating when, to think, had this guy waited a month, it’d be too late to try and Document us to death!

Additionally, the malaria Adam had last week either didn’t fully subside or he’s gotten another case of malaria in just the next week after his third case.

I’m worried about him, because his fever doesn’t seem to be responding as quickly to the Artemod we’ve given him, and wouldn’t it just figure that he’d get sick right before it’s time to leave!

The overall feeling, too, is that it really is time to go.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

...and this is a condom...

We’ve developed a good rapport with some of the neighbour kids, and one of them who takes English classes and is always eager to practice comes in from time to time to speak with us.

Yesterday she came to talk to us about Women’s Day, but ended up revealing that really, equality between men and women was wrong, because it contradicted the Bible.

And, after a discussion about some of the odd things the Bible also promoted (and whether she also endorsed those), I had to reveal that not only did I believe the Bible was solely literature and not a dictum for how to live one’s life but that <gasp> I did not believe in God (about which she asked, surprisingly, if it was due to reading of Sartre).

I imagine the conversation would have ended more quickly had she not said that she pitied my soul and my ignorance and my eternity in hell, which incensed me to a heated conversation about the existence of God and about her blind reliance in everything she’d ever been told in Sunday school.

Things took a bit of a different turn, however, when she continued to proclaim that the proof of God’s existence was in my “provenance” on Earth.

Ever the biologist, I broached the subject of the real source of my life, only to discover that she had no idea about the reproductive system.

(How does she know about Sartre, and not about reproduction?)

More saddening, though, was her fear about the “irregularity” of her periods, because they didn’t come on the exact same day of every month.

I assured her that it was completely normal, but she seemed convinced of a fear of being pregnant. No one had ever explained to her the things we women in America take for granted.

When I queried her on whether she had ever had sex, she responded “no.”

No French I’ve ever undertaken has been quite so obscure or scientific as the explanations of the means of conception I tried to parse together, eventually resorting to diagrams of the female reproductive system.

But, when someone tells you that the fact that some women cannot produce breastmilk is evidence of God’s existence, you really just have to take control of matters!

(Though how, in retrospect, the word “breastmilk” in English was taught to them, I’ll never know)

Later, in privacy, she confided in me other questions, and was perplexed how people could not become pregnant if they were engaging in sexual activity.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when told she had never even HEARD of a condom, let alone any other method of birth control!

I remember in African Silences, Mathiessen’s complaints of Dian Fossey revolving around her insistence that a lot of problems in Africa could be solved by the introduction of condoms.

Harsh, maybe. But seriously, it’d be a start to instill a little education about the subject, at the very least!

Ready and Waiting

Our daily visits to the sanctuary have been such a boon to our happiness of late, as we continue to work         on the flight east.

The five chimps there -- Kathé, Django Mayanga, Bolungwa, Aketi Kigoma and Mangé -- are doing superbly, and it is such a joy to watch them play with each other, climb and feed in the trees, and well, act like chimps.

The caregivers are sad to be saying goodbye to the chimps as well, as they’ve grown so attached to them and so involved in the well-being of their wards, and lovingly attentive to that purpose.

It seems hard to imagine how long ago I started this blog, intent on documenting my adventures, yes, but also extremely committed to raising awareness to this region, where chimps are being slaughtered freely and no one outside of the region, let alone the country, seems to know, or care.

It’s thusly been so rewarding for me to see in our visitor logs the people we’ve reached, and to receive emails from those people who enjoy reading the blog and are now too seized with the want to help the chimpanzees here.

We may not be a huge movement, but little by little, I am so hopeful that we are making a difference.

And as I have the extreme honor of watching our sanctuary five - “The Aketi 5” - grow older, more confident, unconstrained by the terrible circumstances that brought them to our door ... that it is really all that matters.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happy Birthday To My Dad

Happy Birthday and lots of love today to my Dad in New York, who turns 71!

Forward Progress

We’ve been quite stressed since coming back from the forest -- I had over 200 emails that were not junk mail and needed to be answered, and everything felt much like it had crept up on us while we were away, forest-living!

Additionally, the flight we’d secured for the end of March was suddenly up in the air, because the the air company needed an NGO to vouch for the flight. And, though four different NGOs offered, none of them had an obscure document issued in Kinshasa that, while not necessary to run an NGO in Congo, is necessary to be registered with this air charter service.

The two pre-registered NGOs they recommended we seek a favor from were unfortunately non-repsonsive, and here we were, left with five chimpanzees and no way to fly them out!

I think Adam began to panic (and I might have as well though I was slightly less obvious about it), because all of our plans had been made around being able to leave with the chimps at the end of March.

Were we to need to stay longer, it meant having to go back and get our visas renewed (easily a $300 venture and one week process, requiring 300km of travel via motorcycle).

Not only would the visas infringe on our carefully budgeted cash, but we’d need to pay another month of chimp expenses, salaries, and everything else involved in residing here.

We set out immediately on the internet, trying to find an alternative air service that would be able to land on our little Aketi airfield and wouldn’t cost us $4000 an hour.

$4000 an hour is a literal quote we got for a charter service out of Kinshasa, btw. Not even an exaggeration!

We received a phonecall last night from a guy in the UK, who said (very British-ly) that there were several people keen to fly us, and that he’d get back to us today (Wednesday).

So there’s hope, and a definite forward progress! The man building the bamboo cages for the chimps’ flight is mostly done, which is thankful since it took 3 months for the furniture man to finish the shelf and 2 night tables we paid for in December!

We still need to cut the airfield, and finish out the research and what-nots here, but our defeatism has definitely flown the coop!

I will mention, though, that if anyone reading is in Africa and has a private plane (or a friend with one), we would not object to further offers of assistance!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fresh and Clean

I’ll never know what about the rain here makes me feel so new and refreshed, but negativity seems washed away.

We walked back from the market early this morning, with a huge bundle of poondoo in my hands and Adam with a pineapple and some generator gas. The sky was black as night, and we scurried back to avoid the impending huge rainstorm.

Polycarpe often laughs that Lingala is a “poor” language (with a lot of words absent or just stolen from other languages), but I think it might just be that there isn’t a whole lot to talk about when it rains or doesn’t, or you’re having poondoo or beans for dinner.

But the street conversation is indeed hilarious.

Running back with my huge bushel of poondoo, here are some things I heard:

“Hey, you have poondoo!”

“Are you going to eat that poondoo?”

“Is that poondoo for eating?”

Really, I can’t imagine what else we’d do for it! But it’s sort of fun, still to be able to say “We are going to eat this poondoo tonight” in Lingala, even if I have to say it 40 times in a single trip back from the market!

We found a puppy before the rainstorm, and have taken him in and named him “Happy”

It’s nice to have something to focus on that isn’t work, sometimes!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Highlights From Women's Day

We're in a serious bandwidth crunch, but we thought it might be nice
to include some shots from Women's Day Yesterday!

Women's Day Garb

Adam and I, decked in our outfits for women's day

Not What We Expected At All! (Women's Day Festivities)

Women’s Day, expected by us to be a parade and maybe a feast, was an absolute explosion, and I think, just what we needed.

Working hard yesterday morning, I found myself barely inclined to put on my hideous, quickly-constructed uniform we’d had made the day before for the event. As Invited Guests, however, Adam and I had been requested to show up at noon!

None of our clothes fit us anymore, so I ended up using a luggage strap as a belt, trying to salvage my appearance in this table-cloth dress, identical to the 2 others the tailor had made for the three ladies of our Foundation. I’ve never felt more Congolese!

I was so reluctant even to shell out the 15,000FC on fabric for these dresses -- it felt like another Congolese scam where I, as the employer, was obligated to shell out a whole bunch of money on something that is “traditional” but yet still somehow unnecessary.

After seeing the parade yesterday, though, I only wish we’d spent more!

Arriving in the center of town, we found it looking completely different, with a huge canopy constructed outside of the Administrator’s office. There were lines drawn on the ground in chalk, and ALL of the policemen were in their full regalia -- even though most of them had empty pistol holsters!

We were ushered into this tent-canopy, and seated directly in the middle, second row. The men in the third row, all in very fine suits, grinned widely at us and all reached for our hands in greeting.

Man, was I glad I’d put on earrings, lipstick and deodorant!

We sat, waiting, for a quite a while, as officials continued to enter. For each government official’s arrival, the police chief would march down the center of the street in time with the drums and home-made flutes of the “band” and greet the official, well, officially, and then usher him to his seat (which was right in front of us).

We did certainly feel bad for the chief, as he marched, stiff-legged and unnaturally, the fourth time -- even the band seemed already tired, though they would continue to play for HOURS!

Once finally all settled in, we all rose in unison, and the band commenced the Congolese National Anthem. As the voices of the crowd swelled, Adam grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and it was then that the logistical crap that had been haunting my thoughts sort of swooshed away and I was caught, overwhelmed, in the true magnificence and uniqueness of my surroundings.

I was SO glad we’d come (Adam was disappointed we’d lent the video camera to one of the workers, because he’d wanted to get it on film!), and we sat, excited to watch the parade.

I could only sit for several minutes before Olivier ran over to get me to tell me to line up for the parade -- we were to be marching third in line, and already Gracia and Beya were sporting their equally-hideous uniform dresses!

The only white person in the parade, I did feel a bit paraded as jaws dropped at my passing-by, but it was a complete thrill as I stood in front of the ATE (chief of the Aketi Territory) and gave my little national-pride hand gesture.

We didn’t actually “march” per se, but did this sort of shuffle-dance in time with the music, that involved varied amounts of butt-shaking.

I was glad, though, to return to the privacy (and shade) of the Elite Tent and to watch the rest of the parade go by.

Ladies were decked out in their finest matching dresses -- sometimes as many as 50 dresses in exactly the same fabric, as they displayed their professions in often-witty little plays in front of the tent.

The Wives Of Motorcycle Repairmen brought a motorcycle with them and mimed fixing it. The head woman got on and pretended to drive away, which is when we realized she had NO idea how to drive a motorcycle and nearly careened into the compressed crowd around the main thoroughfare.

Everyone cheered extra loud when the Ladies Who Import Primus (and other bottled beverages) came by, dressed in delightful Primus Fabric dresses! I am sure now that I cannot leave Congo without one of these dresses, and must go to the market to find the fabric as soon as possible!

Equally crowd-pleasing were the Female Makers of Raffia Wine (aka Kongolo) -- the cheap alternative to beer that intoxicates many a drunk at 9 am in any city in Congo as likely as it does at 9 pm.

Many church groups passed by too , decked in various kinds of Jesus Is Our Savior/Light/Lord/Etc Fabric and shaking their Bibles vigorously!

Each group of women left some sort of gift at the table in front of the territory officials -- including the beer and wine ladies -- though some of the gifts were terribly obscure!

The Women Tailors left a pile of zippers, and the Wives of Gas Sellers breezed by without so much as an ounce left at the table, much to the chagrin of the officials and with a lot of catcalls ensuing!

We’d thought perhaps the parade would feature all of the ladies of Aketi (the city), so as the hours passed on, and the sun blazed away, it felt more like every woman in Aketi Territory.

I relayed this to my mother as expecting the ladies of Manhattan, and getting the ladies of the entirety of New York State.

Countless school girls passed by us, coordinated in their dance-march steps and their blue and white school uniforms.

“I can’t believe I see so much movement and yet so little forward progress,” I said as the fifth group of school children passed by, ever-so-slowly.

“That’s Congo!” said Adam, and we had a good laugh at our cleverness.

I was glad, however, to be among the “Elite” in the tent -- the crowd accumulating on either side of the street was continually berated by the policemen and hit with wooden sticks for going over the line and into the street!

Curiously, (and perhaps Cleve could shed some light on this), the group of ladies from the Azande Tribal Quarter were booed and hissed at considerably during their part of the parade, and managed to find a way to move much more quickly down the street (though still in time with the music).

Unprepared, we’d brought no water, and as 4pm rolled around and the air thickened with humidity, we were desperate for the parade to be over.

We were glad to see, however, a group of women rallying against sexual violence. They gave no gifts, but did deliver a harsh speech over megaphone about the dangers of staying silent and of the need for societal change.

The parade did finally end, and we were asked to stay for the “meal” afterwards -- only for those invited they impressed upon us!

Very exclusive, when we made our way back from the house with our waters (Adam already looking a little green), the “meal” was, in fact, a plastic bag per Invited Guest filled with peanuts, some fried plantains, and a piece of chicken.

...in the same bag.

Any appetite I’d had was quickly extinguished upon finding the piece of chicken hidden among my peanuts, slimy with the palm oil from the plantains.

We thanked our hosts immensely for inviting us, and I explained in Lingala to the other guests that Adam was sick. He did look the part, thankfully, to ensure our quick exit.

At home, we relaxed and drank a LOT more water, though found ourselves with nothing to eat for the night since we’d given the staff the rest of the day off, presuming we’d have dinner at the feast!

We had some lollipops for dinner, and Polycarpe eventually sent someone out to get us some bread.

But all in all, a great, though exhausting, day!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Field Journal - Part Two (MEMBULU/MONGOMBO)

Day Twelve
Day Thirteen
Day Fourteen
Day Fifteen 1 2 3
Day Seventeen 1 2

And, ladies and gentlemen, that’s it!


Field Journal - Part One (DIFONGO)

Day One
Day Three 1 2 3
Day Four 1 2 3
Day Five
Day Seven 1 2 3
Day Eight
Day Nine 1 2 3
Day Ten 1 2
Day Eleven 1 2

The photos will probably have to wait a while -- there are just so many! Maybe until we’re out of Congo (sorry!)

Friday, March 6, 2009

One Hell of a "Woman's Day"

Our invitations just came after we gave $2 to the Woman’s Day party.

And... they’re addressed to:








At the request of Cleve, a photo!


Maybe the luster and shine of Aketi has dimmed again, but I am in serious need of a vacation.

I’ve only been back from the forest for 2 days, and not a single person who has greeted me has not afterwards asked for money -- a “hand for the road” as the phrase goes in Lingala.

But wasn’t it just me who was on the road? Shouldn’t it be me, holding out my hand?

Back in town, originally so pleased to be back, the same old rigamarole has been creeping up on me in not-so-pleasant ways.

A bunch of our employees came back to work yesterday at 2pm, clearly drunk. And then left before 4pm, without asking permission at all.

They know they’re not allowed to drink at work, but apparently 3 weeks in the forest is enough to forget? Everything?

While we were gone the wall at the side of the house fell down, but no one even bothered to fix it! I had to ask.

AND! There is a HUGE SPIDER living in the toilet! He only comes out at night, but is probably the size of a palm and loves to be IN the toilet bowl and under the toilet seat. It’s the real definition of a night terror!

It was all compounded when, this afternoon, I was interrupted from reviewing data in my room by one of our workers, telling me that there were two women here to see me.

When I asked him what they wanted, he had no idea, because he hadn’t asked at all.

So I emerged, interrupted, and discovered two women who were soliciting donations for the Women’s Day Feast. Women’s Day, happening tomorrow all over Congo, is a celebration of women and, I would assume, the accomplishments of women.

Happy to give $2 towards the feast, I was abruptly stopped by the primary woman who said, rudely,

“Where is your patron (boss)?”

“I am the boss,” I replied, somewhat hostilely. This question is one I’m asked a lot, and it does indeed rile the feminist in me.

“No,” the woman said, we don’t want to talk to you. We want to talk to your husband.“

Already annoyed, I basically told them that if they insisted on talking to my ”husband,“ who spoke no French, they could just leave without money.

... Right now.

And then, very undiplomatically, I stormed back into the house and flopped on the bed.

Some ”Celebration of Women“ !

Looking forward to going to Uganda

Since we are done with our forest trip and having the bulk of our research finished, I am looking forward to leaving Congo and spending some time in Entebe(sp). The only thing is the difficulty of obtaining a private flight to come here and take us and the chimps to the Lwiro Sanctuary in Bukavu. I thought it would be much easier but we still don't have a flight date. It is also frustrating since there are people that I would expect to put the chimps first, and they are not. They are putting money first, which makes me sick, angry and sad.

On a better note, I went to the sanctuary today and saw the chimps and got to play with them. They are all healthy and doing well. They were also very happy to see me again, which makes me happy. Cathy is still as rambunctious as ever and still very good natured. Bolungua and Jango still compete with her for my attention when I am there. Jango still likes to cuddle and hug for a spell from time to time. Aketi still likes to go off and do his own exploring of the world and Mange still is a little neurotic but is doing more things with the other chimps, which is great. I plan on going to the sanctuary almost everyday so they can become more accustomed to me. That will make their flight to Bukavu a lot easier. I will right again soon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Old Journal Entries

I’ll be backdating all of the entries from the forest, which I’ll probably start transcribing tomorrow after I do some data entry today.

I’ll perhaps post some link posts that link to the forest trip section-by-section, but I’ll try not to flood you all!


Being back in Aketi feels surreal -- but also wonderful. I forewent an immediate hot bath to walk down to our café and have a cold beer with Adam. The forest really shrunk me, though. I could barely finish half the beer, and when Adam ordered 2 sodas afterwards, I could barely get through a third of the Coke (and wow, carbonation is EVIL!)

I have nearly an entire journal full of entries, and GPS points, and data from the trip, I have to pay salaries, and I’m not quite sure that I don’t have ischial callosities from all that motorcycle riding.

I’m not sure what to do first, but part of me just wants to have a “check out” day where I lie in bed and watch old episodes of Deadwood on my computer with Adam.

Djodjo, our head caregiver, came by yesterday, eyes glassy, his roughened, pockmarked face pinched in barely controlled sadness. I knew how he felt -- though Souza had been in better shape than Akuma ever was, the death of an infant - whether fostered or another species, is heartbreaking.

We discussed what had happened with Souza, and Djodjo had, in fact, done everything that I probably would have in similar situations. I can’t say that things would have been different had I been here, but I still feel guilty for having left.

Such is the difficulty of dual responsibility -- had I stayed, I would have sacrificed any thesis I could have written as a result. And, at the time, Souza seemed to be in good health and I never imagined that he would die.

But this lesson is a hard one - and chimpanzees away from their mothers do have precarious health. I just feel more resolved than ever to move the rest of the chimps east to Lwiro. Maybe I couldn’t save Souza, but there are still five chimpanzees here who need saving.

Oh, and the neighbours stole our cat.

In wonderful news, the US House passed a bill banning purchasing or selling non-human primates for the pet trade [thank you to John B for sending the link!)

Now we must wait for final passing in the Senate, etc, but if it is successful, no more chimpanzees as pets in the US!

If only this legislation didn’t cause a huge spike in the hits on my blog for “chimpanzees for sale as pets”...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Home Again Home Again (Jiggity Jig)

I’m extremely exhausted but back from the forest, safe and sound (and definitely browner!)

Haven’t gotten to take a bath yet, have eaten too much peanut candy (which Adam lovingly plied me with immediately upon getting off the moto) and have 8,000 emails to read and deal with.

No worries! I’ve got electricity now!

Sad news though -- while we were gone, Souza came down with terrible diarrhea and, though he was given medication and a lot of TLC -- he died.

We’re all in shock, and I have confidence that Djodjo did everything he could. I’ll write more about it later, but it was definitely a sad thing to come home to!

Also, can’t find the cat! Will keep searching.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Field Journal - Day Seventeen

Membulu Village

Last night in Membulu, left with nothing but my own thoughts and the stars.

The tent feels huge without Adam in it -- but all I can think about is Souza, and what in the hell went wrong.. Seba arrived today with more sample tubes and a note from Adam with some peanut candy (the sweetest gesture!), a boot-licking note from our extortive “friend” the official, and a note from Polycarpe, woefully relaying to me of Souza’s demise.

I know Kisanola also had a terrible diarrhea at the beginning of the sanctuary here and died, but Souza had seemed so health and well on his way to being saved -- one of the main reasons I finally chose to leave and impart him to the care of Djodjo’s capable hands.

I have no one to ask for answers... no one to talk to here at all, really...

I can only wait for the muddy return tomorrow.

There and Back Again

I struggle to write this entry write now as I am in the middle of doing a million things at once. I am trying to get salaries done, charge everything for Laura so she can finish her research and return home tomorrow and keep Papa B out of my hair. At least I got to take a bath.

The forest trip was amazing and a lot. First thing is first. We all went to the town of Likati. It is another old Belgian town that is now remnants of what was there before. Laura and I had to go on two separate trips since we had one motorcycle and and one driver in Seba. That meant I had to spend the night without Laura, which made me quite sad and worried. The only thing that remains from the Belgian Empire is the Catholic Mission we stayed at. It is one of the comfortable places in Likati. We stayed there until we bought all the supplies we needed in the way of food and medicine. While I was there the first night I was there without Laura, there was a funeral going all night for a the Abbot that just died. That meant singing and dancing all night and waking me up through out the night.

When Laura came the next day, I was very happy. While Laura and I were at the mission, we were stared at by the children, just like Aketi! We also had a pygmy man as a our servant and were approached by man with a large..... thing hanging from his nose (I think it was a booger, I hope). We also had to deal with another drunk official and his close talking bitch boy. They were so drunk, you could smell them a mile away. They were being a pain in the ass and not wanting to sign our documents, so we went to his superior and he cleared everything up for us.

After that went to the town of Difongo. The chief there was very nice to us and signed our papers. We then tried to find the best ways to collect chimp poo and miner poo. Even though we got a lot of good elephant evidence, there wasn't much in the way of chimps and miners. We were also delayed since Mr. P got sick. After a week and only two chimp poo collections, we tried to mobilize and get the people of Difongo to help us. However, they were all too lazy to work.. So we packed up and went back to Likati. After that, we headed for Membulu.

In Membulu we got a lot more results. There we got all of the rest of the chimp samples we needed and hiked to a diamond mine and got all of the miner samples we needed. However, that was an adventure all on its own. We were suddenly faced with the challenge of doing this hike. Laura was afraid that if she didn't go with our team, they would get something wrong with the samples and one of the main reasons we would be here in Africa would be lost. The hike there was a challenge. We were not prepared and we were worried about crossing a dangerous bridge. It turned out that the bridge was not as bad as we originally thought but, we were both very tired and cranky at the end of the journey. When we got to the mine, it was dirties central. When I mean dirties, I mean dirties. They made me and my friends look productive citizens while we eat fast food and play D&D. They were filthy, sick and rough necks. I was glad Laura didn't go without me. It turned out that the miners weren't bad, but they were annoying with their give money, buy me cigarettes, buy me this, give me that attitude. We only spent two nights there and were able to get most of our samples from the miners. The hike back wasn't bad at all. Laura and I talked the whole way and it made the kilometers go by fast. Also, we ate before we left so we were not hungry this time and we were better prepared mentally.

Since we were running low on money and Laura has to finish up things, I have come home to send Seba back with money and supplies. That means I will have to spend tonight without my Happle but, she should be back tomorrow.

Field Journal - Day Seventeen

Membulu Village

Portions of this entry have been excised for later re-insertion

It seems amazing (and I’m somewhat incredulous) how much we did yesterday - walking 8 miles was only half of it!

I’m not convinced that a few of them may not be wadges, but the bulk of them seem legit.

Yesterday morning flew by in a haze of moist brown and green. We left the mining camp by 7:30am after eating more rice and beans - amidst a storm of calls for money and/or cigarettes.

My anxiety made me winded much faster, and the forest was saturated with two days of rain.

Mud was not as much of a problem, but the low-hanging branches and leaves, heavy with rain, seemed eager to obscure vision and splatter faces with water.

We were in much better spirits, though, laughing and talking and dreaming about the future -- it felt much less like a death march, though the damp conditions certainly made it more taxing!

The impact of the rain was clearly visible when we reached the bridge - the quiet, still clear river below was clouded and furious with the added water, and we ended up needing to cut an alternate route to get onto the tree-bridge, not particualrly keen to slip on the soggy roots and fall into the chasm below them.

The tree too was wet and slippery, and the bottoms of my shoes were caked with mud, so I willingly crawled on my hands and knees until the tree became wider and flatter towards the other end.

Polycarpe says he wished he’d taken photos or video, but I’m glad he didn’t!!

After the bridge, Polycarpe and Olivier went ahead to prepare camp (and food) in Membulu, and we stayed with Seba and Joseph, our tracker.

The mood of the hike felt so much lighter, and the time flew by! Although the rain had made rivers and lakes of nearly every gully on the trail. Soaked and resoaked, some of the trail even felt unfamiliar because it was so unrecognizable after the rain!

We came to one such place, a deep river, maybe 15 feet wide, that we had no memory of ever traversing.

There was a faint shadow of 2 branches, slanted across the water, a sort of pseudo-bridge. Adam slip his feet down them, his arm outstretched, but still very wobbly.

“Shouldn’t you just walk through the water?” I asked, worried. “Those branches look slippery!!”

“It’s okay!” called Adam, “My balance is perffffffffeeeeeccctttt!” and he fell into the river.

It was then that we remembered this river! In its pre-rain state, that is.

Though it had been merely a brook before, as we’d climbed up the slanted branches to get on the opposite shore, Adam had fallen, right after proclaiming his superior balance!

Two falls in the same exact spot!! At least he laughed after this second fall instead of grumping!

And I had his passport, though the electronic translator was irreparably soaked.

The water water was so much deeper this time that it was nearly waist-high at points, and I had to port my bag on my head!

We felt so good we didn’t want to ask how far yet to go, for fear it may be discouragingly many.

By the time we did ask, there were only 2km to go and we were ecstatic! We emerge from the forest in a huge field, cut and open, very sunny and hot!

But there in the wild barren space was wild poondoo and papaya! We even found huge stalks of sugar cane.

The sugar rush was a big pick-me-up, well-needed energy though we could feel our teeth rotting in our mouths.

We picked the poondoo and the papaya, and, using the sugar cane as a walking stick, continued on towards Membulu.

Wet and tired, we arrived and everyone was excited to see us and amazed by what good time we’d made!!

Certainly it wasn’t nearly as tiring as the walk out had been, though our soaking clothes, shoes, and filthy bedraggled water-sodden socks were indicative enough!

Adam left for Aketi this morning, to charge up some stuff and send out more money.

Being alone here, I’m reminded of my solitary tim in Goma -- it’s somehow extra isolating and lonely when you’re the only one “of your kind” and have no buffers whilst subjected to stares.

Plus, Adam gets to bathe today!! And sit on a toilet!! And wear clean clothes!!

I socialized with people after he left, though, and local ladies braided my hair. I have to wait for Seba to return around 3 or 4 before I can do any work, so, until then, lazing around in the hot sun is in order!