Monday, June 2nd, 2014
Yesterday was my low. I had been upset when the children would not let me play soccer with them because I was a girl, and my heart had broken when I was brought a baby mammal (possibly a mongoose or a cane rat, though it was too young to identify) with it’s tiny body convulsing in the palm of my hand. Yesterday was lower than that.
The people here, as amazing and wonderful and kind as they can be, assume that because we like animals we want to be shown them in any state. This includes dead or dying.
My first encounter with this was the tiny hairless baby animal that was handed to me by a young girl of about seven. She ran up to me excitedly and handed me the creature. I felt sick almost immediately. Its little body shook and I could see where many of its bones had been broken through its young, translucent skin.
There was nothing I could do for the little creature; it was dying. Part of me wanted to put it out of it’s misery, to let it die quickly, but as I discussed the best way to put it down with some of my group, the little girl snatched it out of my hand. She ran off laughing and holding the animal high above her head so the other children couldn’t take away her new toy.
That day, during my allotted speaking time, I gave the villagers a talk about how the reason I had traveled all of the way from America (there were even some badly drawn maps) was to see African animals in an African jungle. I explained to them that I could see chimpanzee’s easily enough in America, but that they were in cages and that made me sad. I wanted to see the beautiful place that they called home and the wonderful animals that lived in it.
It was an odd sensation. I had not gone into that talk with any real hope of making a lasting impact, but every time I paused so Papanie could translate my speech to Temne, they clapped and cheered at my words. I think injecting a complement about where they lived into every sentence was the way to go.
I told them that I wanted to see them be able to protect their forests and their animals so that one day I could come back. I begged them not to take more than they absolutely needed from the forest, and that if they saw a baby animal in a nest, that it needed to stay there so it could grow up and help the forest to grow as well.
By the end of my lecture everyone cheered and there were questions from some of the elders in the village. They liked what I had said, and they wanted to protect their forests, but they didn’t know how. They wanted solutions from me. Where should they get the wood to fix their houses, if not from the jungle? What should they do when the monkeys raid their crops? They wanted a simple answer. But there there are no simple answers in conservation. We have to work together, I told them, to figure out what works best.
But when Ebrahim and his friend showed up at our camp carrying two fledgling African Pied Crows, I knew that my message was not heard by everyone, if anyone at all.
This is a story I have already told in my introductory post about Africa. You can read it here for more detail. But, so I don’t send you flip flopping all over the internet I’ll give you a quick go over of what happened:
I managed to get the healthier looking crow away from Ebrahim’s friend, the one held by the chief already had a broken neck and not much could be done for it now. I took the crow away from him, glared, and walked back to my chair, away from the cacophony of Ebrahim shaking the fledgling around.
I let the bird rest in my lap, not holding it down, but letting it keep it’s grasp on my fingers. I faced it towards the woods, with the people behind me and tried to let it calm down. I didn’t know what to do. I had the bird, but now what? I couldn’t keep it here are raise it. I would be leaving in less than two weeks.
Andrew suggested I bring it to Papanie to see if he could get it back to the nest. This seemed like a good option. Papanie would help me climb the tree and put the bird back in the nest. The only problem was that Papanie was on the phone with an organization affiliated with CSSL and I had to wait until he was finished.
As I waited I stood in the road, clutching my little bird. The men from the village came over to see what I was doing. It started with them taking my picture on their cell phones and slowly morphed into them poking me and the bird. They tried to take it from me while laughing, saying things about me I didn’t need to speak Temne to understand.
When Papanie got off the phone he turned and began speaking harshly to Ebrahim, pointing at him, me and my bird and down the road.
“Get on the motorbike, Ebrahim will take you to the nest.”
I looked speechless at Papanie as Ebrahim took his seat on the bike and the man who had led the charge against me only moments ago sat behind him. I was meant to sit on the back of this small broken down motorbike with two other men, who had no problems with harassing me, and drive a few miles down the road? This did not seem like a good solution.
“Papanie, please? Will you take the bird? I don’t think I should drive with them.”
Papanie looked at me for a moment before nodding. He took the bird gently from my hands and joined the other men on the bike.
As the motorbike drove off down the road I exhaled. I needed a drink. I returned back to my seat and explained what happened while someone opened a fresh Star beer for me. I spent the rest of that night contemplating what had brought me to Africa. Why I felt the need to rescue every creature in distress, even if it was nearly hopeless.
In the end I decided I would do it again. Papanie had returned later to inform us that the bird had quickly been rejoined by it’s parents. And although there was no guarantee for the fledgling, and it’s brother had been lost, at least I had done my best. It was a conclusion I came to while sitting alone, staring at the Sierra Leonean stars, crying. I had hit my low while I was there. But it would all be okay. There are difficulties in every journey and all we can do it learn from them, and let the experiences shape who we are and who we become.