Ten years ago, I boarded an SN Brussels flight from the US to Cameroon. It was my first time on the continent. Going to Africa was a goal that'd needled me since I was a girl -- perhaps it was all the wildlife movies with Dad.
I spent a lot of time finalizing the arrival details with the organization for whom I'd spend the next half-year volunteering. Obviously. I was going to a Francophone country (with a pitiful understanding of French) on what (I would argue) is the most storied continent on our planet. In one of the last emails I received from IDA-Africa's liaison officer before embarking: "Your life will never be the same again."
I started a blog while there, even though, at the time, I didn't even really know what a blog was. Until I found out it was a journal. Shoots. I can do that.
Sometime in 2012, I lost all of my entries. All of them. All of them. They were gone.
Tonight, while rifling through old belongings, I found some of those entries, transcribed as an article for ZooView the newsletter for the Honolulu Zoo Society, my home, my employer, my family, for eight years.
Here is one such entry.
October 12, 2006
One day, while walking through the forest, we heard the wild chimps again. Suddenly, I stopped. There. Just to my right. It was such a simultaneously familiar and alien sight that I did not register it for a moment. A wild chimp. Two metres away, up in a tree, brachiating through the branches. And another, slightly hidden, to his left. And another to his left, and another on the ground that we could hear, but not see. How many times had we walked by them? I would not have known they were there if the first one had not been in the process of moving through the trees.
I do not think I can adequately describe my emotions. I have worked with chimps (off and on) with chimpanzees for the last five years. All these experiences behind me, and yet this one before my eyes was somehow different. I was muted in an instant. Not just my voice, but also my brain. Here, so close, is a wild chimpanzee! More chimp-like, less human-like. I could not believe the enormity of it. His path crossed with mine not because he was kept there or forced there. No. His unencumbered decision-making led him through life to that moment in that spot -- just as my life had done as well. Funny how seeing something makes it so real.
That night, a thought woke me abruptly from my sleep. Oh, please no. What is poachers find the wild chimps I saw today? Here? It is so possible, as poaching increases with every acre of the forest that is logged. And it's happening here; it's not just the sob story of some armchair conservationists. I see majestic tree carcasses still dressed in their skins being carted out of the forest by the truckload. Logging is such a virile presence in Cameroon. The forest is whimpering and fading to a relic of what it once was.
Challenges here -- from carnivorous ants to unsuitable drinking water to deforestation -- abound. But solutions abound also, like abstaining from buying tropical wood in all its forms. It is truly up to us. So much of what we do has an impact everywhere else. Let's not forget this. We have to find a solution. There won't be another chance.
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