January 17, 2008

Monkey Business

One of the first movies that I remember watching, and feeling trully grown up and "deep", was "Gorillas in the Mist". We knew that we could never afford going 'gorilla' tracking- but when we heard about "Chimp Island" off of Entebbe- my little monkey heart skipped a beat. We had talked seriously about going for some time and our friends in Entebbe also were interested and have a boat.

As time grew near I entertained day dreams of me in an all khaki short suit with my long hair in a braid sitting quietly and patiently near playing chimps. I envisioned one recognizing my kind nature and coming over to investigate, perhaps even taking my glasses off and sniffing them while I sat as still as possible- full of excitement and trepidation. At that exact perfect moment- Jacob would quietly take a picture of me and my monkey friend and it would be a framed and adored memento.

We boated out to the island with our friends Ricky and Brenda. Pictures of this day dream flashing through my mind. I didn't have a long braid or khaki shorts- but I still had hope that the picture would be great.

We got to the island and got debriefed. These island chimpanzees are all orphans- saved from illegal trades and 'bushmeat' sales etc. They have all had very bad experiences with humans and can be very agressive and dangerous, more so than chimpanzees in national parks etc. If one is loose- the guide/workers would blow a whistle and you would retreat to the nearest water- since they can't swim.

Jacob and I had watched a special on chimpanzees in a forest in Uganda in which one 'clan' of chimps attacked another and ate a chimpanzee baby. I tried to block this from my mind but as the guide discussed the 'whistle', pictures of me having my glasses sniffed in Jane Goodall glory were rudely interspersed with visions of screaming angry chimpanzees ripping one another apart.

I timidly asked, "When was the last chimpanzee loose?" Thinking I'd cover my bases though surely he would answer once a year or something.. The guide quickly answered, "Yesterday."

The Jane Goodall picture of sniffing glasses seemed foggy now.

About 10% of the island is for visitors- boat docking etc- and is seperated by the other 90% by double electric wires about 20 feet high- and fences far out into the water. He said chimps couldn't swim but suddenly I imagined one in some sort of a bark boat that they had ingenuiously discovered- floating around and ripping us apart. Had I washed my hands? Did I smell of banana? My heart beat faster...

As we neared the viewing area- I asked how did they 'escape'? The guide told us mainly when the alpha male or any older male is angry the younger one will get scared and run away- crossing over the fence.. The doubled up- 20 foot high electric fence...

I forgot I even wore glasses or if Jane Goodall had a braid. We climbed up on the viewing tower, no chimps in sight, and a gush of nostalgia rushed back. Oh I wanted to touch one! to be near! Just then 40 or so chimps came running, lumbering, foot to knuckle through the underbrush- screaming chilling screams- some fighting. They didn't have to be called- they knew it was 'food time'. And instantly I was glad my childhood dream would not be coming true. The cute little chimps weren't the small things I remembered from Beverly HillBillies Ellie Mae. The males were huge- like a gorilla (in my estimation). I was so grateful for the fence, for the electricity and for the water. They romped and played, as fruit was thrown out at them.

The babies had silky hair and rolled around. The old 'men' sat near the fence- making 'raspberry noises' with their mouths. "They want your attention" the guide said. Sure enough they kept 'phluffing' air out through their lips and then lifted their hands up.

They would sit quitely- hands raised- like good pupils in class who could any minute rip you to shreds. Some of the males near us clapped their hands and jumped up and down for attention. They fought and played. One or two were greedy and stole fruit form others- causing screaming fits. Others shared with the young. Just like us, I thought.

As we got back on the boat, I thought what a great once in a life time trip that was. Even if we didn't wear khaki or braid our hair.

1 comment:

Robin said...

I LOVE your blogs. They're so fun and your musings are so interesting and unique. Keep on blooping!

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