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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Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
Feel free to ask me why I choose to spend time living in places rife with critters I cannot stand. I’m not sure what answer I’ll give; frankly your guess is as good as mine. First hour in South Africa, giant spider and deathly poisonous snake infiltrated my camp. First 5 minutes here in the jungle environment of Uganda I found the guy below crawling out of the shower drain. My first jungle pet. I tried to wash him back down, but the showerhead wasn’t equipped for this.
There was no way in hell I was going to sleep, let alone get up in the night to pee, knowing that thing was crawling around. So I decided to coral him into a wastebasket with the single kitchen knife that exists. I expected to have to have coax him along, maybe have to fend off a vicious attack when he felt threatened (I was fully prepared to scream and run), but as soon as I touched him with the knife, he curled up into this magnificent ball like a seashell, his armor was hard and brittle. So I took him outside on the porch and let him go. I have to say, he was pretty cool rolled up in his spiral. But not welcome otherwise.
I imagine as I’m sitting here typing this, two others of equal or greater creep factor have crawled on up to say hello. While I was staring down the sink drain brushing my teeth, I could see small creepies crawling around. This, I can tell you, will be one of my greatest challenges, not freaking out over all the bugs. Call me girly, call me wussy, call me lame; I won’t deny the truth. Oh, and there are gecko-like things on the wall.
But my little abode is pretty sweet otherwise, with a little porch area with flowering bushes. A living room with couch, desk and even a TV (haven’t tried to see if it works yet). Bathroom and 2 bedrooms and a big sort of industrial-type kitchen… obviously in the past it was used in another capacity.
I ended last night’s entry at the above paragraph. As I was closing down my laptop, a gnarly 3-inch cockroach made its way across the floor. Another pet. There is a mosquito net over my bed. I hadn’t noticed any mosquitoes in the house, so I originally thought I wouldn’t use it. I turned out the light and snuggled into bed. About 30 seconds later I heard the beating of massive insect wings and then a loud “thunk” as said insect made a rough landing on the wall. I turned on the light and arranged my mosquito net.
The sound of legions of insects partying in the night air beyond my window is quite magnificent, though. I don’t mind them as long as they stay outside. At home when I get up in the middle of the night in my mountain home, it’s utterly silent. I think a visitor to my house from here would be completely freaked out by the silence. It must seem like the world has died. I think I would fear the night much more, thinking darkness is a killer.
The morning bird songs are spectacular. I couldn’t even guess at how many different species are pulling the sun into the sky with their voices. Isaac told me that Saturday morning a lady would come fetch me at 8:30 to show me where to eat breakfast and show me around. I forgot this is Africa. I was ready promptly at 8:30 with a growling tummy.
I waited outside sitting on the porch. And waited. My tummy twisting into ever tighter knots. Bees hovered inside delicate pink flowers beside me. I studied a bush of green leaves with pink and white splotches on them. Hedges of yellow flowers smiled brightly at me from across the yard. Teeny tiny ants formed ranks on the porch and an endless supply of soldiers streamed down the pathways they’d marked for themselves, completely unfathomable to me why they go where they go in such precise patterns. Bird were still saturating the air with their calls and I saw several alight onto tree branches, leaving soon thereafter. I sat watching the wild little world around me, entranced, while ever so slowly starving to death.
Finally a lady came walking through the yard. She had her sweater turned up and full of small fruits. I figured this was the lady who was supposed to meet me. She had me try one of the fruits. Meh. It was OK, but my tummy was ecstatic with the presence of something in its midst. I soon realized she wasn’t my escort but she told me how to get to the restaurant (“the rhino bar”) where I was to take my morning and evenings meals. So I made the executive decision to abandon my waiting post and strike out in search of food.
It’s a perfectly lovely walk down a packed-dirt road through the jungle to the restaurant which is perched right on the shore of Lake Victoria. It was a little more daunting when I had to walk back home after dinner in the dark when, having only walked the way once that morning, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going. And by dark, I mean dark. This bird is always along the road in the same place.
Another day, I’ll bring you on this walk with me.
I eventually hooked up with the lady who hooked me up with Henry who was supposed to give me an orientation to the facilities. But one of the zookeepers didn’t show up for work, so instead he had to work. I followed him around for a bit learning how to clean cages until he handed me off to the fellows working in the chimp exhibit. Spent a lot of the afternoon just watching the chimps on their island. There are 11 right now, endlessly entertaining. I’ll tell you more details about them another day. They are quite excitable and have a great little community tool ...
At the end of the day I got to hold hands with one the adult chimps through the fence. I think I will not get to have the degree of physical interaction advertised to me, but I will still get to be right next to them. It may sound stupid but holding her hand was absolutely endearing. She wrapped her soft finger pads around mine and held my fingers. I was surprised as how soft they were. Their knuckles, of course, are leathery and calloused, but the inside of their hands are soft. She was so gentle and I just looked into her sweet little face while she wrapped and unwrapped and rewrapped her fingers around mine.
While I was sitting with Robert, with whom it sounds like I will be spending a lot of time watching the chimps from across the moat, Nicholas, another zookeeper showing me ropes, came up with his cell phone and said I had a phone call. Naturally I thought he was kidding. “You know someone named Innocent?” he asked me. “You have a phone call. Someone named Innocent is calling for you.” Nicholas was smiling widely. Well, as it happens, I do have a Facebook friend named Innocent with whom I’d corresponded with about coming here. He works on the Ngamba Chimp Island, a chimp sanctuary founded in part by the UWEC. Because Nicholas kept looking at me smiling, I finally said this. “He is calling for you,” Nicholas replied. “You are teasing me!” I said. Then he handed the phone over.
“Shara, this is Innocent. How are you?” Sure enough, it was my Facebook friend. He knew when I was arriving, and turns out he is very good friends with Nicholas and actually knows many people at the UWEC as he worked there formerly. This was just too funny to me. There I am, my first full day in Uganda… Uganda, mind you… watching chimpanzees, and I get a phone call.
I ate lunch with Robert in the staff lunchroom. Full full of questions and some pretty hilarious ideas about America and Americans. Even though everyone speaks English as one of their 3 languages (tribal language, Luganda, and English) I can’t always parse the words through their accents so I often have to ask them to repeat something. Robert was asking me something I just couldn’t understand. I asked three times for him to repeat and finally I just stared blankly at him. “Your tattoo,” I finally picked out. I just didn’t expect this word/phrase at all. “My tattoo?” “Yes.” I was surprised that he’d seen it because I was wearing a shirt with sleeves (I have one on the back of my shoulder). So I pulled my sleeve back and showed him. “This?” I asked. “Oh, you have a tattoo already!” he said with no small amount of surprise. I was very confused, then. Finally, we hammered it out… he had been asking me when I was going to get tattooed. Apparently in his tribe this is something people do before they get married, tattoo the name of their beloved on their chest or stomach. “Everybody gets a tattoo?” I asked. “Yes. Don’t you do this?” He seemed genuinely shocked. I tried to explain that not many Americans have them, though they have greatly increased in popularity recently, and how there is a common (mis)perception in America that all people with tattoos are unsavory characters. (I assure you, dear reader, I am quite sweet and savory.) It took him awhile to wrap his head around this.
My sleep schedule is a bit off. So I’m actually up typing this at 4:00am. Had been tossing around awake for the last hour and a half, so decided to just get up. I don’t have internet in my house, I have to go to the front office. But I can type up in Word and download photos. I keep getting dive-bombed by small inhabitants of the night. But I have opted not to turn the light on and see who my companions are. I simply flail blindly at them when I feel them. My mutant cockroach pet has moved into my bedroom. If it were a normal-sized bug I’d just step on it and squash it or something, but this thing is way beyond stepping on. It’d be like trying to kill a mouse with my foot. Can’t do it. So we are cohabitating in a very uneasy truce.
Some flowers from my yard:
The last thing I should tell you for now is that I throw like a girl. Yep. That’s pretty much the story of my last couple days. For lunch and afternoon snack, the chimps are out on their island and we have to throw food across the moat to the island. I suck. Simple as that, and my arm is so sore. From first cutting up buckets of food and then pitching it. I’ve never played ball sports in my life, so my arm is utterly atrophied in regard to these muscles. My pal, who has been accompanying me in all chores (technically the other way around), has been very supportive and is convinced I will be a pro by the end of the week. We’ll see. I’m skeptical of his optimism. We’ll see. I don’t know that an old girl like me can be taught new tricks. Below is a selection of the floral life in my yard. Very lovely.
Today is Easter. The grassy yard near the restaurant and the lake shore has a small stage set up and kiddie carnival rides of the tiniest scale you can imagine. Families have their blankets spread out and kids are dressed to the nines or nine-and-a-halves running and screaming as the vervet monkeys chase them all over the place. Just as in South Africa, these critters occupy human settlements to forage for human scraps and can get a bit aggressive. Having them chase the little children in their beautiful shiny dresses and bow-tie suits is priceless.
A very pleasant surprise befell me on this year’s annual family vacation near Ixtapa, Mexico. Staying at an all-inclusive resort for a week isn’t normally my style of travel, but when the in-laws are treating, and the whole family is along, there is no better style. This year I discovered a wildlife sanctuary a mere stone’s throw down the beach from our resort. This was my third year at this resort; I can’t believe I didn’t know of it sooner. The sanctuary is home to many crocodiles – I was told about 500, but I cannot confirm that. It’s also home to numerous bird species including the impressive spoonbill, plus many turtles, and of particular note, large numbers of iguanas.
Iguanas were an epiphany to me. I’d paid only mild attention to them in photos, and I’d only seen them in real life a couple times with no particular impression made upon me. Now I want some as pets. I became utterly fascinated with them. One day I was at the sanctuary alone sitting on the ground snapping photos of the iguanas through the chainlink fence (no small feat), and a local restaurant owner came to me with a bag of cabbage. He threw it over the fence on my behalf and the iguanas swarmed in from every direction. I felt astounded at nature’s creativity. Jurassic and creepy, yet beautiful with vivid color and a texture incomparable in the animal kingdom… these reptiles completely captivated me.
I’ve seen spoonbills in the Denver zoo and was excited to see them in their natural habitat. In the Bird World atrium at the zoo, they don’t have the opportunity to fly much distance. It was marvelous to see them spread their wings – an impressive span – and glide across the lagoon. I spent some time watching 2 of them build a nest together, squabbling over its details. I realized that when I was describing what I witnessed to others, I was referring to the bird who did most of the building as “he,” and the bird who constantly pecked at “him” nitpicking about his placement of twigs as “she.” Later, I saw their babies inching along the branches.
Other beautiful birds such as the green heron caught my attention as well. One of the neatest aspects of the sanctuary was the cacophony of bird calls echoing throughout. It was always a pleasure to finally spot a bird with whom I could associate a particular call that I was hearing. But this was rare. Mostly it was a mysterious symphony of sounds seemingly performed by the air itself.
Love turtles. In the afternoons, they would line up in long rows along the banks of the lagoon.
And then of course there were the crocodiles. Surprisingly large ones. Striking an uncomfortable combo of abject fear and admiration into one’s heart. You are granted extreme proximity to these creatures. I spent time scrutinizing their ancient bodies in detail. The sheer mass of the large ones was terrifying. Inspecting their webbed and clawed feet, their massive tails, their exposed teeth, their tiny eyes and the patterns and topography of their skin and scales … it’s hard not to end up with the word “exquisite” in mind. Yet I am loathe to use this word on such a violent and sinister creature. So let’s just say they are very interesting.
It was a step back in time, coming to this small sanctuary. No mammals were to be seen, only the reptilian and avian representatives of our planet’s deep history – crawling, swimming, gliding through a primeval lagoon. Reminding me that evolution is the most glorious upshot of the inexorable march of time, the eons fluttering behind it like ribbons in the wind, as though they were effortless.
Goodbye lovely Mexico and your golden evening light.