Forward: This is a long post, but it is my hope that you will make it to the end. Getting the chance to meet someone as inspiring as Jane Goodall is an experience I could not limit to a few hundred words. And although this is a post that may not introduce to you a new species or a conservation crisis, I think that it can introduce you to hope if you will let it.
I arrived exactly one hour early. I stood and watched the meerkats outside of the Woburn Safari Park’s Safari Lodge, biding my time until the doors opened and I could find my seat. Even before seeing Jane Goodall standing a mere 10 feet from me the day was perfect. I had seen my first ever wild pheasant, which could seem silly to many people, but for me it was incredibly exciting. Even the mundane turns magical on the day you get to meet your life-long hero.
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.
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:
You see the towns in pictures and documentaries, and you always know you’re lacking something because it’s second hand. Driving through the outskirts of Lungi and seeing how many buildings are crumbling or were never completely built is an overwhelming sight after the clean streets of Schilde. Scraggly chickens and stray dogs run around the brush piles and cooking fires as our car speeds past. The people in torn t-shirts with their bare feet do a double take upon noticing our skin color. The air is thick with the smoke of agricultural fires burning along the side of the road.
Before going into the details of my days spent sweating in the jungles of Sierra Leone in search of chimpanzees I wanted to reflect a little on my trip. Now, it’s true that this is no travel blog, but it was meant to not only teach people about science and conservation, but also to chronicle my journey from confused college freshman to fully fledged primatologist. I think that there is no better way for you, as readers, to understand the realities that come with being a primatologist, conservationist, scientist and woman than to give you an in depth look into what I faced every day in Sierra Leone.
Exhaustion. Since arriving in Belgium after my journey in Africa came to a close I have done little but eat ravenously and sleep. I am both physically and mentally exhausted from eating little but ground nut and rice and trekking through the bush for up to five hours a day. While finally having the opportunity to shower and use a real, flushing, toilet I find being around more than a few people at a time overwhelming. I try to describe to my friends the differences in the culture and attempt to tell stories about the games the village children would play, but explaining that it was an average sight to see the children dancing around and whipping each other with branches was quite normal gets me strange looks.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is one of the largest national parks in the world and one of the few national parks that actually covers multiple countries. This was in hopes to create a protected migration path for a variety of the species found in this park. So lets learn a little bit more about this amazing park.