On this Thing Called Being Alive
It's 10:00 a.m. when I arrive to the Primate Trust. Carefully, I open the gate. Sam the overly protective (read: scary) dog is put away. There are no jealous monkeys flying about. (Not a metaphor.) It's safe.
I am offered a cup of coffee at the house. The breeze is gentle, the atmosphere serene.
But suddenly, four of the twelve former street dogs that now call this place home stand up. Their attention shifts to a voice that is calling something from below the house. For the moment, they just watch, focused but unmoving. Maybe something is happening, but this is India. Like the street dogs who nap in the middle of the road, they'll move when they absolutely have to.
Me? I have worked with primates long enough to know this energy that now surrounds me. It's like the thickness of the air just before a downpour. I cock my head and listen. Indeed, something is happening.
"Nora!" the voice from below now has a shape. "Nora's out!"
"Right," John says, and he turns to me with the following:
"You stay here. And if you see a monkey coming, barricade yourself somewhere."
And with that, he runs down the stairs.
Nora the monkey didn't hurt anyone. John returned her to the home she shares with a few other macaques. There's a host of creatures here. Monkeys, cats, squirrels and dogs, all rescues. One little pug, a pedigree, was abandoned in a grocery store parking lot because she was covered in mange - COVERED. She looks like a warty braille pad now that she's healing. She is absolutely the ugliest and most affectionatest dog I have ever met, having possibly just crawled out from under a hybridizing pile of hobbits and trolls and ewoks.
I love India, even if the animals aren't always treated well (though one of the most well-known Indians ever, Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi, is the person who said, "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”)
India reminds me a lot of Africa, except it is far more Indian and Africa is totally more African. Maybe I'm just weaseling out of a description, but it might make sense if you've been to both places. In other words, it feels like this: if India is the spirit (both light and dark), then Africa is the bloody, beating heart. You know that thing? If you dissemble a body and then meticulously put it back together, it won't be alive again because something would be missing? That, that thing, which holds it all together. That is Africa for me.
There are things that I love about living in an unruly place. For instance, I love the exhilaration of riding my scooter in the moving jigsaw puzzle of Indian traffic. It is a real-life game of Tetris and keeps me so stimulated. I also like that sometimes someone has to get a cobra out from the thatched roof or you have to tape your possibly broken toe to another toe that isn't broken and just keep on doing your thing. Infestations of maggots that've burrowed under your skin (courtesy of Cameroon), warding off carnivorous ants in the wee hours (ditto): I don't know why these things make me feel so alive, but they do, they do, they DO.
It could be the utter lawlessness of it all.
I've been stuck between two places for some time now. One part of me wants to live on a jungled mountaintop with monkeys or apes, just like Dian Fossey did (until the whole machete thing happened). Then there's the part of me that loves to be around people. People mean wonderful things, too, like playing capoeira and strumming the guitar and learning new and wonderful things to do with your body. I've tried playing capoeira by myself, and it just makes me sad.
The problem is that usually there are no capoeiristas or other such fun things in the jungle (the real jungle), and I'm really getting so tired of wildly turning my head from one direction to another.
So I've been thinking of how to merge all these things that interest me and get back to Africa. Something like …
Yeah, I am for real thinking about that.
I cannot teach capoeira and it would be years before I could, and I don't want to wait that long. If you (YOU!) are reading this and are an advanced capoeirista with a teaching cord, or know any advanced capoeiristas (with teaching cord) who are interested in discussing such an abstract and very big concept (a.k.a. living in Africa and working in environmental education and somehow working in primate conservation???), please direct them my way, I am TOTALLY serious.
There are places on the big, beautiful, voluptuous mother continent (entire countries!) where McDonald's and 7-11's and Starbucks have not yet cared to tread; where jungles and oceans and mountains meet; where everything is so darn raw and real that you just want to cry about how confusing and beautiful and weird and pure it is.
Or maybe that is just me, I like to cry. Also sometimes monkeys hug you, and they give the best hugs.
So smart to write about what greets you at your arrival! So fresh and honest. India and Africa are continents that are way more than the sum of their parts, but that image of the "moving jigsaw puzzle of Indian traffic" is really compelling. The NGO idea with its complexity of focus is a winner! I don't think you will have trouble attracting people to work along with such an operation, and it will very likely inspire satellite centers in many parts of the world. Our "little blue planet" needs more people with the vision your life is articulating.
Great to read about what you are up to.
I loved cruising on my scooter in Goa, from Calangute to Mapusa everyday and back - crazy fast! You can't be anything but mindful and the honking bothers me way less when I'm joining in.
Although not primates - these little ones are monkey-esk - check out https://www.facebook.com/BeingChildrenIndia
I volunteered here for 3 months back in 2006. Maybe you are interested too.
Love you sista xoxo
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