Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
I’ve seen them on television shows … the tornado-like funnels of bazillions of insects moving across Lake Victoria in plumes. Now I’ve witnessed them in person. Looking out over the lake during breakfast, I could see them. And by afternoon, I myself was engulfed in them. The sound is very loud as you approach a swarm. I was walking beneath a tree once and a large packet of insects just dropped out of the tree at my feet. I looked up to realize that the tree was completely taken over with these packets that engulf the leaves. Isaac told me not to swat at them or to swish them away with my hand, as this makes it worse. I noticed then, that nobody anywhere was trying to wave them away with their hand. “Just bend your head down and walk through.” They still get in your eyes and nose and mouth. Walking back from lunch with Bruce, he said, “You have to talk with your lips closed …” The one saving grace is that these buggers do not bite. They’re little gnat things that simply invade your orifices. Not particularly pleasant.
The vervets were really getting nasty today. Maybe the gnats get on their nerves as well. One tried to steal my breakfast again (I saved it), but he went to the next table and absconded with the sugar bowl. Eventually he broke it. For an outfit like this restaurant, that’s a fairly major blow, losing an item like that. I’m somewhat confident it was the only sugar bowl they had. Late in the day I came across the troupe and followed them about taking a few photos and one of them became very aggressive and attacked me! Good thing I had on pants rather than shorts. It was actually a bit scary.
It was apparently grooming hour … I came across numerous pairs or triplets grooming each other, and noticed that the groom-ee falls into a trance while being groomed. One monkey was lying down on his side in the road while another groomed his fur. After the groomer left, the monkey still didn’t move a muscle. I honestly thought it was dead. I walked up to it, and it was motionless. I was about to nudge it with my toe to make sure it was dead and suddenly it sprung up, scared the hooha out of me. Then I looked around and noticed the other monkeys being groomed looking like they’d checked out for awhile on heroin or something.
Today's conversation at the chimp house among the zookeepers centered around governments and corruption. Often we have downtime between when morning chores are finished and lunch. "Is there corruption in America?" they ask.
"Yes, of course," I say.
"There is??" they are slightly incredulous. If only their perception of America was real and we all had maids and consciences to bar corruption! OK, elephant and baby chimps coming soon, as promised on Facebook.
Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
The chimps can be pretty hilarious the way they hoard food when it is thrown to them on the island. Often, they will gather an armload of food and then go off near or into the bushes to lay it down and then eat it in solitude. Henry said sometimes they even dig holes in the bushes and hide it for later. Matoke, the alpha male, is naturally adept at this. Yesterday Sara was very funny, grabbing food until her hands were completely full, and then she grabbed more with her feet. So she was sort of hobbling back to the bushes on her heels, chunks of cassava tucked into her toes.
Mmmm lots of goodies …
Matoke with a fistful. Second photo came out blurry, but you can still see how he has both hands completely stuffed plus some food already in his mouth. He just runs back and forth across the hillside gathering stuff and intimidating others out of their food.
Aluma, incognito and almost always by himself all day, finds a nice quiet spot to munch in.
Onapa looks on, waiting for the arena to clear before he heads over to forage the leftovers. He is often the last chimp to come for porridge as well.
Nepa often takes refuge in or on top of her tire swing. Being the littlest, she’s often chased away from food by the others.
Just love the facial expression on the right.
Today at breakfast I watched the rains come across the lake and over the islands. Isaac, who was sitting near me, said typically the rains come from different directions for the islands and the mainland. So if you see rain on the islands, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is coming to here, even though they’re hardly a stone’s throw away across the lake. Usually rains for the mainland come from a more northwesterly direction. However, a short while after that conversation, some spectacular thunder crashed overhead for awhile and then dropped a few bucketfuls of rain.
I may have undervalued myself in the last post, for I asked guy what he thought I could fetch as a bride price and received a wildly more optimistic number. But I can’t hoe the ground from dawn till dusk, don’t yet know how to make Ugandan food (though, since a lot of it is simply cooked and mashed fruit or vegetable, surely I can pick it up), and I can’t even pitch food very competently across a moat for hungry chimps. Nor can I cut sugar cane. At first, Robert had thought maybe 50 cows and 30 goats was a better price than 15 and 8, but after listing these deficiencies, he re-tallied to about 25 cows and 11 goats. And 2 chickens for being a mzungu. Being my closest friend and confidant, he explained rather bluntly the other guy was simply flattering me.
Oh, and Martha now has a boyfriend. I strongly disapprove.
It’s a good thing that drinking a beer and listening to an mp3 player are activities enjoyed equally well in the light or dark. The electricity goes out every day/night several times. I’ve started just wearing my flashlight around my neck around the house at night… at some point I will need it (mostly just to scout the floor to make sure Martha isn’t having a party with some friends or something …). Also nice that laptop runs for awhile on battery.
I’m starting to get the hang of Ugandan time. Generally, if you choose Time A for a meeting or event, it simply means that the meeting or event will take place at either Time A + 40 minutes, Time A + 2 hours, Time A + 27 hours, or Time A – 20 minutes. Though on occasion, it’s followed the devious route of Time A x pi / square root of the height of the nearest marabu stork.
So there are on the order of about 55 tribes and tribal languages in Uganda. Some languages are mutually intelligible, others are not. Customs are often similar but not always. When people tell me about how things are in Uganda, they typically start with a general statement, that is to say a broad type of behavior that is generally true of all or most Ugandans. Then they say, “In my tribe …” and go on to explain the details of the subject matter within the context of their own tribe. I’m not sure exactly why, but it’s a trip to me (and was in South Africa, too, except I only dealt really with the Zulu) that all the people around me dress like me, act like me, talk English around me, eat and drink like me, maybe live in a house like me (like mine here at UWEC), etc., and yet have this other-worldly existence within a tribe.
So today Robert informed me of marriage customs in his tribe, involving letters of intent, arranged meetings, and bride prices. He named a typical bride price which included some number of cows and goats, maybe chickens, and a type of clothing for both the mother and father of the bride, some money, and some misc. I asked what I would fetch as a bride. The first price he named was 15 cows and 8 goats. But then he reconsidered, maybe 50 cows and 30 goats was a better price than 15 and 8. However, I can’t hoe the ground from dawn till dusk, don’t yet know how to make Ugandan food (though, since a lot of it is simply cooked and mashed fruit or vegetable, surely I can pick it up), and I can’t even pitch food very competently across a moat for hungry chimps. Nor can I cut sugar cane. After listing these deficiencies, he re-tallied to about 25 cows and 11 goats. And 2 chickens for being a mzungu.
I kept asking this question to men I met throughout Uganda, how much I would fetch in a bride price. Another friend I'd made provided a wildly more optimistic number than 50/30/2. I mentioned this to Robert, and being my closest friend and confidant, he explained bluntly that the other guy was simply flattering me.
I wondered what people who live in cities pay, since they don’t have yards for cows and goats. Naturally, Robert laughed over this. Either a family member who lives in the country keeps animals for you on their land, or if the bride’s family also lives in a city, you can give the equivalent in cash. He asked me what was the penalty in Colorado for people cheating on their spouses. I said there really wasn’t one … it’s for the husband and wife to handle the situation between them. He was so shocked. He explained how in his tribe, if cheaters are caught, the man has to pay a fairly substantial fine to the woman’s husband/family. It’s presumed the man was responsible for luring the woman into his arms. Everybody in the community will know about it and the man has to pay some livestock and maybe throw a feast and drinks. And maybe despite that, he will end up with some strident enemies in the community.
But he was a whole new level of shocked to find out that in America it is the bride's family who pays for the wedding. I believe Robert is more keen than ever to move to Colorado. Ha.
He is absolutely convinced that everybody in America has a maid. There are a fair number of things he refuses to believe about me. One is my age. Another is that I don’t have a maid. (believe me, I would love to have one!)
Today while throwing fruit across the moat for the chimps, one of them caught a mango directly from me, like catching a baseball. Was pretty sweet. Maybe I should say a little note here, as I’ve talked to some people here (visitors at the UWEC) and online who don’t really get why we don’t spend time with the chimps on their island. Perhaps someday I can snag some video of Matoke slamming open the door to the island as a brief illustration, and some pics of their mouths while I’m feeding them porridge so you can see their canines. Even 3-year old Nepa would probably be too big to handle. Sometimes when I give her my hand through the caging and she pulls it toward her, you can feel the strength even in her. But you know how I told you about the baboon snapping the broom handle … chimpanzees are far more powerful than baboons. Just trust me on this … it would be an exceedingly poor idea to saunter onto the island with 9 fully adult chimps and 2 young ones. These aren’t Hollywood chimps.
The enclosure with the shoebill stork also has a large population of weavers They’re loud all the time, but one night I was walking back home past their enclosure in the dark, and the sound coming from there was deafening, the combo of those birds and the frogs and insects … it’s a swampland environment … was unreal. It literally hurt my ears, actual pain was throbbing through them. Never have experienced anything quite like that. Was especially strange being in the dark. The shoebill ... taken almost at dark, so foliage is colored a little funky, but the bird really is blue. And huge ...
Pleasantly, sometimes you can hear the lions roaring. There are 2 females and a male. Today one of the females had fallen head-over-heels in love with the male and was desperate to get his attention, playfully attacking him, rolling around beside him, pushing the tire swing at him. Very cute.
A last note … I learned the efficacy of honey on burns. I managed to spill some boiling water onto my stomach today. It was quite painful. Henry produced a jar of honey and told me that spreading some on the burn would help the pain. So I made several applications of a dark honey over the next few hours, and sure enough. Nighttime now and it is merely a pink spot that is only the slightest bit tender.
Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
So here’s a conundrum for you: How is it that I detest cleaning the home that I live in every day and therefore seldom do it, but I’m OK with cleaning an animal’s overnight cage, full of spoiled fruits and veg , and intestinal evacuations of all sorts, every day? Similarly, I’ve kind of lost my zest for cooking the last few years, yet am perfectly happy chopping up food and stirring porridge for the critters. Except the cassava. That stuff’s a … well, it’s a very stubborn root when it meets a knife. Tried another new fruit yesterday: pawpaw. Looks like cantaloupe but tastes heaps better.
There’s another American volunteer here doing a 4 month internship. The other day, she and I were walking past the deranged baboon’s cage and she had a broom in her hand. She thought maybe he would like to play with the broom through the caging (stick his hand out and touch it, etc.). So she held the broom up to the cage and he grabbed it all snarling and aggressive, and within a second he had snapped the wooden broom handle completely off and had the brush part left in his hand. It was so lightning quick and so brutally forceful. Just makes you realize what wicked strength those guys have. And if that guy ever escaped… I do believe he would rip your arms off! So there he is with the broom brush and we can’t get him to drop it, so just had to leave it be. Eventually he dropped it out of range of where he could reach it through the cage. So I went to pick it up. Even though I knew he couldn’t touch me, still I was only just beyond the reach, so I bent down slowly and warily, my eyes completely on him, and as I got near to the ground and it became obvious what I was going to do, he went bezerk and slammed his body full-force into the cage and shook it with his hands making an unbelievable racket and baring his full set of wicked canine fangs and growling/barking/snarling/screaming an unholy threat of violence. I’ve never seen an animal behave so aggressively, and it really freaked me out. Reflexively I yelped and jumped back. Then he quit. As I bent forward again, he reacted the same way. Three times we went through this before I kept my nerve and actually picked up the broom the fourth try. And when I did pick it up he went through the roof, absolutely maniacal.
So every day is an adventure with that guy. Every day is a royal treat with the chimps. And I love feeding the patas monkeys, too. It was so funny the other day, we threw dried beans at the chimps on their island. Normally they pick up all their food with their hands and then sit down somewhere to eat it. But with the beans, every last one of them bent over and picked the beans up off the ground with their lips. It was hilarious watching this whole troupe bend over and mill about with their faces on the ground.
Total GQ chimp, posing for the cover of next month’s magazine issue.
I just love the expression on this chimp’s face.
The thing I love about this photo is that the chimp has his feet clasping each other, like you would normally hold your owns hands.
Planet of the Apes! Ready to do some business …
The American intern spends some of her time in the lab analyzing fecal samples from the animals looking for parasites. So the other day she showed me how to do this. First time I’ve looked into a microscope in surely over 25 years. I don’t remember being too particularly enthralled with biology in school, but she showed me a parasite and some bacteria in the sample I prepared. And it was fascinating. The little bacteria were just a riot to watch move around. I know you’re wondering how in tarnation bacteria can be so entertaining. Not really sure how to explain the amusement. But these little dudes going about their lives … swimming around aimlessly in the preparation liquid (smashed onto a slide) … some of them spinning themselves around in circles, others trucking around here to there and back again, other string-shaped fellows compressing themselves into a very short string and then elongating into a long string, like a tiny slinky being played with. It’s just like a random 3-ring circus of critters behaving like loonies … seemingly without rhyme or reason.
Huge cockroach inside my house … now I’ve discovered the enormous monitor lizard that lives in my yard. Hopefully someday I’ll have my camera on me when I run across him, though he’s quite skittish ... unlike Martha, who has become quite sullen and disobedient and does whatever the heck she wants, blatantly violating the terms of our roommate agreement. I have named the lizard Bernie. I hope he eats snakes. I’ve been informed there are five cobras living on the UWEC grounds and a few green mambas (more deadly than cobras).
I don’t know if the oribi have official names, but I’ve dubbed the little family: Serena (mom), Samantha (young girl), Scaredy (dad, who is totally scared of the food thrown into the enclosure… everyone else is unfazed if something lands at their feet, whereas he gets spooked and runs away), and Sorro (the young rambunctious male who takes on the taunting patas monkeys).
So I met my second Facebook friend last night. Actually, a busy social calendar yesterday. While I was eating breakfast, a fellow asked if he could sit with me. He was a Canadian university student taking a semester off to ride his bicycle across a good stretch of Africa. He said he was thinking of checking out the botanical gardens before heading out of town. When I said I’d been planning to see them at some point, he asked if I’d like to join him, so I did, as many activities are more pleasant with company. Definitely not all, but many. I didn’t pay the camera fee and not a soul would have known if I used it or not, but you know what an honest little lass I am. So I have no photos. But the entrance was cheap (he gave me the local’s price when I told him I was volunteering at the UWEC) and it’s a short walk up the road, so I imagine I’ll go back. Then I had an appointment to meet a couchsurfing friend in the afternoon; we just met at the UWEC. Then I met my Facebook friend at the hotel he works in after dinner for a drink and chat. All three were nice encounters, but I think the last was particularly pleasant. He was kind enough to clue me in to how much I should pay a motorcycle taxi to get from my place to his. Otherwise, I would have had no clue and surely been raked over the coals.
Time is flying by. I fear it will all be over before I know it. But I guess that’s just how life goes… over before you know it. Hopefully that last flash of light I get before checking out is a brilliant one.
Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
My favorite part of the day is feeding the chimps their porridge in the morning. They walk through a little tunnel from their nighttime enclosure to their daytime island. We simply unlatch the gates along the way and let them push them open. Then they gather at the last gate and we feed them porridge from cups. Some of them push their lips through the holes in the fence and you hold the cup to their lips and they slurp it in. Some tilt their head back and open wide, and you just pour it in their mouths. Little Nepa holds her own cup. But this is the time when you get to look at them each close up. They will stick around until you turn the bucket of porridge upside down to show them it's all gone. Sometimes they still loiter around and sometimes they're gung-ho to run outside. Onapa is a straggler. Henry says he is very stubborn. One time I accidentally closed all the gates thinking all the chimps had gone out but Onapa was still way back. He missed his porridge and almost got locked in the tunnel. We noticed yesterday Aluma has a big wound on the back of his neck. Must have gotten into a pretty good scrap with another of the big boys. But it looks to be healing fine. They really are quite well behaved and patient waiting for their porridge. Nobody gets too up in arms if the guy next to them is getting fed and they aren't. It's hard to tell if you've dished it out equally. I cannot yet tell them all apart. But I am trying to learn a new chimp each day. If I get to the chimp house (night enclosure) before anyone else, I sit with them and they stick their hands through the cages and I can hold them and play with them. This also is awesome part of a day. Little Nepa especially like to do this.
Also tried a new yummy fruit that tastes like a cross between pineapple and banana: jack fruit.