River Crossings

I am waiting on some photographs from some fellow travelers for my next post, so while I wait I decided to write down my side notes, and tell you a bit about my research project. So let’s begin with some side notes. These are just little things I have written down in my journal that might have belonged with a previous post that I forgot, or if it was a thought or observation that didn’t really belong anywhere:

Driving onto the Freetown Ferry
Driving onto the Freetown Ferry

On my trip into Freetown debarking the ferry, I noticed a woman carrying about thirty woven baskets on her head. They were all different colors and stacked so high that I had to stick my head out of the window to look up to see the top of the pile. She maneuvered artfully around the crowd of people leaving the ferry, with only one hand held to the baskets on her head to steady them. We were all in shock and pointed up at her, which was probably not the most polite thing to do. She looked embarrassed at all of the attention. I turned to Hassan and asked, “What are those baskets for?”

“For to wash the dishes!” he replied excitedly. “This how you wash the dishes in America?”

How do you describe to a man that you wash your dishes in a machine that heats and sanitizes and dries. This machine that uses up electricity and clean water and sits in your house. I was stunned into silence. I don’t even think I answered, a fact which was covered up by the swarm of people distracting Hassan as he drove the car off of the ferry.

This was the first moment I truly was able to grasp the culture difference. Sure, dishwashers are not in every home, but everyone knows of them, everyone has used them. Here, I was looked at because I did not recognize the baskets, woven by hand, for the sole purpose of holding dishes. Though later in my journey they became common place. Each family seemed to have several. They were used for everything, not just washing dishes.

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My project while in Sierra Leone was to document possible places where the chimpanzees could cross the Pampana river through observation or interviews. We found people who were able to tell us of instances of river crossings, though they occurred almost exclusively in the dry season when the river was at it’s lowest (January and February). One of our forest guides, Almani, confirmed that chimps crossed by using a series of fallen trees in one location where he had observed about nine chimps crossing just a few months prior to our arrival. This is a very interesting occurrence because of the risks associated with crossing a river.

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Chimpanzees are not like humans, they can not swim, or learn to swim. They are simply to dense, they sink like rocks. So if they are willing to cross the river, which not only means risking their lives, but also means leaving all of the mangoes that are ripe at that time of the year, it means that there is something that they are trying very hard to avoid.

It was also noted through ethnographic interviews conducted by other members of the group that the peak season for hunting chimps is also the dry season. This means that the hunting pressure is so great that the chimps would rather risk the river than stay and risk the hunters. While this information is useful for the project and an interesting documentation of an unusual occurrence, it is also a devastating blow because it means that the chimps are being forced out of their habitat by hunters.

I’ve included a couple of pictures from Google Earth. In one image I used a star to note our camp site and two lines to show two confirmed river crossing sites, In the other I circled a site that I deduced to be a chimp river crossing site by following a well worn chimp trail down to the water, it was also one of the narrowest places in the river.

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