I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

A pied crow on the grounds of the lodge,

I'm still not feeling great so I've been catching up on draft blog entries, and watching a lot of truly terrible television. I'm bored and restless, but don't have the energy to do much about it.


Some of the children in the park gathering around to see their photos. Unlike most Rwandans they were eager to have their pictures taken.

We asked Timothy why most Rwandans said no when we asked if we could photograph them and he explained that they didn't want us selling their pictures to magazines. These kids obviously weren't bothered by the idea.

The little cowherd

This is one of my favorite pictures from Rwanda. There was an older boy -- maybe ten years old -- herding the cows, and this little guy was helping, running after the cows with his stick.

Volcanoes National Park

A few pictures from the park entrance/staging area, taken early in the morning while I was still upright.

A view of the park

This is how I saw most of the gorilla trek.

When we were in the thick jungle, it was surreal to lie there and watch the canopy pass overhead. But during the climb, riding the teepoy was like being on a slow-motion roller coaster. (My Fitbit buzzed me halfway down the mountain, mistakenly believing that I had reached my step target for the day -- if you ever need to cheat your Fitbit just hire a teepoy.)

In which I emulate Dian Fossey

I was ordered to change clothes, then “allez!” out the door to a waiting teepoy -- an elongated basket affair with stout rims and handles manned by six Africans. I was trussed up into the basket along with piles of blankets, and before I could say kwa heri, the men began carting me off in such a silent and gentle way that I really had no sensation of movement beyond the passage of tree boughs over my head. It was a rather strange experience. I didn't really possess all of my faculties, and yet I was so aware of the silence of the porters and the sparkling, crisp beauty of the morning....

I was taken to the nearest hospital and checked in as a rabies patient by all the French-speaking doctors and nurses in Ruhengeri. No one spoke English and I guess I learned more French during the next three days than I'd learned during the past three years.

That's Dian Fossey, writing about the aftermath of being nipped by a wild dog -- and refusing to leave Karisoke until she started to show symptoms of rabies and had to be carried down the mountain for treatment. I don't think anyone ever described her as easy-going; on the contrary, like so many people who actually get things done in this world she was often a colossal pain in the ass.

I on the other hand have yet to bring a single species back from the brink of extinction, and I try hard -- maybe sometimes too hard -- not to be a pain in the ass. I knew I was going to have a hard time with the gorilla trek; I wasn't able to eat much and my legs felt as though I'd borrowed them from a different body and hadn't bothered to read the instruction manual. Everyone hires a porter to carry their gear; I figured if I hired two one could carry my backpack and one could assist me. But it quickly became obvious that I was struggling, and the tour leader suggested that I use a teepoy. I knew I was slowing the group down and we hadn't even started the serious climbing yet so I agreed.

Was it embarrassing? Oh my God -- totally. I'm still embarrassed.

But the embarrassment was mitigated by the knowledge that I could never have seen the gorillas otherwise, so I told myself that if Dian Fossey needed a teepoy when she was sick, who was I to turn it down?

(The picture is from the cultural village near the park. That's a teepoy on the ground to the right.)

More Charlie

Two more pictures: Charlie staring thoughtfully into the distance, wondering what he should eat next, and one including part of our group so you can see how close he came to us. We kept trying to back off and allow more distance, and he kept coming closer. The other side of that low underbrush between us is where he stretched out and went to sleep.

Charlie in all his magnificence

Unfortunately, all of my pictures of Charlie are a little blurry, but this one is my favorite.

I was already unsettled, and the setting was completely alien -- thick underbrush, roots and wet leaves underfoot, quiet except for whispers and camera clicks, and the rustles and grunts and croons and crashes that are apparently the soundtrack to the daily life of the mountain gorilla -- but the gorillas themselves were somehow strangely familiar.

They are so much like us (we share 97% of our DNA). Looking into those beautiful, deep-set eyes and having them gaze calmly back was a profound experience.

I see you.

I see you too.

It made me feel rooted again. I was far from home, sick in a strange country, but among friends.

And yes, I realize that this is all the most extravagant projection. Charlie was probably not aware of our presence except as something he had to evaluate as a possible threat to finishing his snack and taking a nap, but he did allow us to get close to him and his family. That acknowledgement and acceptance was the most thrilling part of the experience.

Here he comes, walkin' down the street

Charlie, the silverback of the Umubano group, pauses in his stroll through the jungle to check out the wacky humans with their clickety cameras.

After deciding that we posed no threat, he came closer, ate some delicious wild celery, and went to sleep.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Oh baby baby

Here's a cropped image so you can see a little more of that sweet face.

Oh baby

Yes, that's a baby gorilla, only a couple of weeks old, with mom.

They were back in the trees and so not easily photographed, but it was astonishing to me that we were able to get as close as we were. The trust that the gorillas showed us was humbling. It made me want to be worthy of it, to do everything I can to see that they are protected.

Gorillas in the trees

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