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.
Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
Mostly just some photos for you today of the guys I'm helping take care of. Here is a selection of the sweet chimps in their daily life at the center.
These first two photos are of Nepa, the youngest chimp of the group.
Chimps being pals ...
Onapa chillin' to the max ...
Pearl always clapping hands and stretching out for food and attention. Another silly chimp likes to make farting sounds with her lips.
Mine, all mine!! ...
The chimps have learned to use tree branches to reach out into the water and retrieve fruit that has fallen in the moat ... from say, a girl who can't throw worth a darn ... (you see, I'm merely contributing to their intellectual enhancement ...)
These are the patas monkeys that I feed each morning, as I have only to clear a ditch with my throwing arm. They are super cute, though the alpha male is really a bully. I try to target the other monkeys so they can get some food without him trying to hog it all in his greedy little monkey hands. ha.
The patas share their enclosure with some oribi ... a female, male and a young female and young male.
Very funny exchange with a patas monkey and the young male oribi today. The monkey started chasing after the oribi and at first the oribi was sort of cowed, and backed away. Then suddenly it occurred to him that he had some little horns and hoofs, and that he could probably take on this monkey. So he turned around and tried to head-butt the monkey who then fled. Then it was this game where the monkey would come up behind the oribi and touch one of his hind legs ... just totally trying to provoke him. So the oribi would turn around and chase the monkey with his head lowered trying to intimidate him with his little horns. The monkey would inevitably be the one to leave the confrontation. But then a couple minutes later he'd be back knicking the oribi on the hind leg ready to start another tussle. Was very amusing.
Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
I’m glad Isaac warned me that armed guards would be walking around my house from time to time, or it would have freaked the hell out of me this morning as I was sitting on my couch shoveling in fistfuls of ibuprofen (hoping to restore some functionality to my sore arm) to see a guy with an AK-47 walking straight toward my window.
One of the camels that passed me the other night in the dark seems to have developed a crush on me. This is very disconcerting. I ran across him after dinner, strolling through the public thoroughfare among the crowds of Easter Monday revelers. He walked straight up to me and put his head right next to mine. I was afraid he might try to bite me; I kept trying to move away, and he wouldn’t have it. Some guy had been videotaping the camel before I came along, so he kept recording while I was ducking and dodging the camel love. I tried to walk quickly away, but I was followed at close range. The videographer was laughing hysterically, and I’m sure he has truly hilarious footage. I laughed as best I could, but it was nerve-wracking having this creature latch onto me.
Some pics: Another plant along the road to my house. The cat’s eyes seeds I mentioned in the last post. The lawn outside the restaurant with carnival gear. Check out the miniature electric swing for the kids, so hilarious. And the two vervets prowling the grounds. Was a fun atmosphere.
Today Robert told me to feed the deranged baboon, Ngugi, some bananas. I said I was scared he was going to attack me -- he’s completely mental. Though I said this, I wasn’t truly inhibited from feeding him, it was merely an admission of my emotional state in regard to Ngugi. So, the first banana he snatched was OK. Another freaky thing is that he gets a bit, um, aroused around me. So his little willy, which is practically prehensile, goes up and starts wagging around. Second banana I feed him, he grabs the fruit with one hand, and with his other, lightning-quick reaches through the bars and grabs hold of my hand and tries to pull it toward him. Out of shock I screamed, but managed to get my hand away, even though the pull was seriously strong. I didn’t get scratched or anything, but whew, that was freaky. So the next banana, I held way off to one side of him so he could only reach it with one of his hands.
But on the delightful side of things, the black and white colobus came outside his cage today and was just hanging about in the tree while we were carrying some food in. He was completely docile and took a couple bananas gingerly, eating them with delight, smacking his lips. Very cute.
Here are some more animals around the grounds. Sorry I haven’t gotten pics of the chimps yet. But here is my favorite bird, the gray crowned crane, an ostrich and one of the gazillion antelope species in Africa.
On a sadder note, Henry’s brother (there are 2 Henrys, this is the guy I worked with my very first day here) in his village 400 kilometers away had a terrible accident and broke his shin bones, they were sticking out of his skin. Not having a vehicle, Henry was trying to arrange transport. It took nearly 2 days, with his leg like that, bleeding the whole time, to get him to the hospital in Kampala, where they were able to perform surgery, but due to overcrowding at the hospital, didn’t give him any pain killers (!!) or antibiotics. Henry himself began looking around the hospital for his brother’s chart and finally got it and was able to point out that his brother was prescribed these various medicines and finally at the end of the day, they were administered. He will be in hospital 2 weeks at least, and Henry and his family have already run out of money to pay for his stay. Henry tried to get money from his bank today but there was none there (presumably his paycheck from the UWEC).
It’s tempting for me to just give him all my money and forget traveling around the country. I’ve overheard and been involved with other conversations illuminating how strapped people are. And this facility could use so many things… considering their resources, I think they’re doing an admirable job. It’s the only zoo in the country of Uganda, but the country is more Third World than I expected. I can see that being here will present far more emotional quandaries than I ever imagined. I know these people and this place and know how desperately they could use my financial resources, limited as they may be in the context of my world and my personal desires. I wish I could just not think about it and stick to my agenda. But methinks this will not be so easy.
Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
Since we are likely to be living together for awhile, I decided to go ahead and name the cockroach. My roommate is now called Martha. Here is my shared bedroom. As of last night, Martha was taking the lower bunk and I the upper. Also a picture of my living room.
My breakfast companion I’ve named Ninigoomba. This was at the suggestion of a very energetic young girl who joined me a couple days ago. This is how I spend my breakfast: sitting quietly at a table on a porch overlooking Lake Victoria, where I listen to the waves meet the shore, watch majestic crowned cranes stroll the lakeside along with other birds whose names I don’t know, a pleasant if faint breeze on my face, the sun still low on the horizon creating a golden light, and Ninigoomba on my lap… Nini, if you can believe my good fortune, is a kitty cat. Climbs right up in my lap and curls up in a ball or stretches up and lays her head on my chest for me to scratch her ears. I’m not entirely sure how things could get much better. Even my breakfast is one of my favorites, an omelet.
Last night after I ate dinner at the restaurant amid the Easter celebrations, it was again completely dark when I struck out for home. There is not a single nighttime light at the facility except for the public buildings while open and private residences. Even the holiday partiers had thought to bring flashlights. At first I rued my lack of forethought not bringing a flashlight. But soon I was delighted by a spritzing of fireflies in the bushes beside me. This is alright, I thought. As I was nearing home, I heard a seriously creepy, large mammal-esque grunting sound behind me. Looking behind me would not have illuminated anything in such darkness. The sound was scary enough and close enough that I literally doubled my pace down the road. There is a very deranged and aggressive male baboon at the chimp house, with one lower fang perpetually outside his mouth. His indoor cage is adjacent to the room where we prep the food for all the primates and monkeys. So he is constantly sitting on his window ledge, smashed against the caging, sticking his hand outside the cage and slapping the cement wall. I had visions of him escaping and chasing me. (In fact the next day, I found out that animals do escape from time to time, but mostly the warthogs.) So I’m speed-walking now in the dark, and suddenly 2 camels trot past me. It was so shocking, as in utterly unexpected, that I just starting laughing and slowed back down. They give camel rides to little kids here, so these were obviously those camels, I guess running home for the night? I have no idea where they were going, heading away from the zoo toward my house.
I can’t even tell you how relieved I was today not to have to pitch food to the chimps across the moat. My right arm is so ridiculously sore from all my girly throwing. I can throw left-handed to the smaller patas monkeys across their ditch, so I did that today, but avoided the chimp sport. However, in the morning I got to feed them their porridge. They hold their mouths open and you just pour it right in out of a cup. It would be mayhem to let all 11 chimps have their own cup of porridge to drink or throw however they wanted. But little Nepa, the youngest, took a cup and fed herself. So cute. Their bottom lips can stick out and hold a truly astonishing amount of liquid in them. So I got to see the insides of a chimp’s mouth very close up. I most definitely would not want to be bitten by one!
Here I am in my morning uniform – overalls and rubber boots.
After feeding the patas monkeys I accompanied Henry, the keeper at the chimp house, to feed the colobus monkeys in a different part of the zoo. Along the way we searched for and he picked a vine that grows wild to feed to the black and white one. This is basically what he eats (rather than assorted fruits and veg fed to everyone else). It obviously grows copiously on the grounds in order to be picked everyday from somewhere. Along the way and afterward, because we were finished with morning chores at that point, Henry and I had some lovely conversations. If you subscribe to my email notification list, you will get to read more of this with the next notice.
He took me to a small horticulture garden where they grow native medicinal plants. Each has a sign with its name and the things it’s supposed to alleviate. Henry told me a lot about how his tribe uses the various plants. There is one plant whose leaves curl up if you touch them. I, of course, couldn’t stop touching them. So fun to watch. The cat’s eye plant has seeds that are bright orange with a black end, hard and small. Henry had me eat some of the leaves… first they taste just plain leafy, then as you continue to chew, they become very bitter, then as you chew more until it’s nothing but slimy pulp in your mouth, it turns sweet. Another plant is for adolescent body odor… apparently children here when turning into teenagers produce a certain body odor caused by hormones and so you bathe them in this herb to help combat it. A certain herb for tea, helps stomach ache, Henry says he never makes tea without these leaves.
Walking back to the chimp house, Henry stopped suddenly and asked me if I detected the smell of cooking rice, like when it’s boiling or about to burn. He said, “There is a snake here.” Just a few feet away was a thick mess of jungle vines and bushes. He pointed, in there. “What kind?” I asked. “A python. Or sometimes a cobra when it is older has that smell. That’s how you can tell there is a snake nearby, it smells like boiling white rice.” Please, please, please let me not have to find a name for some resident snake in my yard!
I will tell you more about Henry another day. Once you start talking with him, he is a fellow who attracts immediate affection.
Robert taught me a Ugandan greeting, the greeting plus reply (like “how are you” “fine”). So I’ve been going around using this. My target first makes the prescribed reply and then immediately asks me who taught me that. Must not be common for foreigners to go tossing that around.
This afternoon if it’s not raining, perhaps I will try to get some photos of my daily walk into the facilities and some of the animals for you. I get teased a bit for not understanding the very non-temporal nature of "Ugandan time." Today my lack of understanding caused me to miss lunch. Normally I eat with all the employees at lunch. But since I missed it today, I had to go eat at the restaurant where I take breakfast and dinner. Well, suckers, I had a totally awesome buffet meal because today is still Easter celebration, and watched people playing all kinds of organized silly games down on the lake shore. Can't wait to rub it in tomorrow.
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