Wait, you want me to fix breakfast for 54 chimps, 74 monkeys and a turtle?

All to say, I got sucked into re-reading my posts from my time in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s been interesting to revisit that fearless, free-spirited girl who was in her element…which was usually placing herself in situations completely out of her element.

She was full of life and passion, she felt loved and still believed she could change the world. I miss her, to be honest, and wish I could get her back.

But for now, tales of her adventures remain, and an adventure it was…

Fixin’ Breakfast: Dull Knives and Rusty French

I had no idea what to expect when they told me I would be helping out in the sanctuary, and I can’t say that I came away from my first day feeling excited about my second.

When I asked Christophe, who manages the staff, what time I should be there to prepare the chimps’ meals, he started listing off the hours…which pretty much spanned the entire day. I almost laughed but refrained and tried to explain that I was here to write grants and try to get money for the sanctuary.  He shook his head, looking just as confused as I was.

Herein lies the problem; I’ve lost a lot of the French I had learned in Paris. To complicate things further, Carmen, my supervisor, is Spanish. So I spend most of the day speaking Spanish, trying to remember French, and reading and researching in English.

I’m basically a linguistic hazard at this point.

With all the different languages flying around, trying to learn the very regimented procedures in the sanctuary is a bit of a disaster. We work mainly in the food prep room/kitchen area. The extent of my knowledge regarding kitchen utensils and food preparation is limited in English, so not exactly a category I mastered in French.

The animals (54 chimps, 74 monkeys, and a turtle) get fed three times a day, and each piece of fruit and vegetable (usually around 8-10 different types) has to be weighed and portioned out.

You can imagine the scenario: Christophe asks me (in French) to grab the bowl on the table filled with ‘choux’ (cabbage), cut it into 5 pieces and place each piece in the bowl corresponding to the specific animal or group of animals outlined on a piece of paper taped to the wall.

I laughed out loud and then went into a complete state of panic. Christophe was mildly patient, but my insecurities took over and I translated every encounter between him and the staff as, “Wow boys, we got a real gem this time; she can’t speak, follow directions or chop an ear of corn into 6 pieces with an extremely dull knife.

But, I wanted an adventure…


Introductions: Meeting Kongo & His Crew

My first experience with the chimps was intimidating, to say the least. Despite the 6-meter electrical fence between us, when dozens of full-grown chimpanzees start dropping out of trees, jumping over bushes and hurling themselves toward you…I somehow suppressed the urge to scream and took a BIG step back.

They all stopped as close to the fence as they could get, looking me up and down for long enough to feel a bit awkward. And then the silence broke and the spectacle began: utter chaos ensued, all of them trying to solidify their position in the spotlight- beating their chests, stomping their feet, tackling each other…sheer mayhem.

But even with all this going on, I couldn’t help but notice his approach. Kongo slowly came over to sit directly in front of me with an undeniable sense of authority. The other chimps honored his arrival with screams of delight, each competing for the chance to be close to him and granted grooming privileges.

But Kongo brushed them all aside, his gaze fixated on the new visitor. He looked at me intensely, straight in the eyes, but more as a question rather than a threat. His presence was commanding to be sure, but comforting at the same time; his gentle demeanor and air of wisdom juxtaposed with his size and rank.

I was smitten. But did he like me? Did I exude whatever it was that one should in order to win the affections of an ape?

I began to walk slowly along the length of the fence. He immediately stood up, trailing behind me by a few steps until I stopped. He would catch up, taking his time, then turn to face me and sit down. I would walk, he would follow, I would stop, he would sit. This continued along the entire 5 acres of the fence. I took it as a sign…I think he likes me.

You can donate directly to the sanctuary here to support all the work that goes into protecting Kongo and the rest of these amazing souls.

Congo.bristleCongo now, right, with pal Kamituga in the new chimp forestNamoya copy


25 thoughts on “Wait, you want me to fix breakfast for 54 chimps, 74 monkeys and a turtle?

  1. She’s still in there, Brooke. It’s just that there is more to her now. Nothing that I have read from you shows me anything other than you are bigger, better, and yes, stronger than just her. You have grown. Growth isn’t always pleasant or comfortable…but it is inevitable.

    From where I stand…sit…uh whatever…you have changed more of the world than anyone I have ever encountered. Perspective remember?

    You are more contemplative. That does NOT mean you are not fearless. You are more reflective. That is because you have more to reflect on than you did. I believe it is more just a matter of embracing the reflection you see today, and not trying to hold on to a memory of a former self. You can’t hug a memory. But you can hug the self you are right now.

    Just reach out…wrap around…and squeeze. Consider me doing it to you right now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow–what an adventure! I can’t wait to read more, especially about the apes. As for the rest, I don’t know what’s going on, but to me, you’re full of passion, and talent, and all kinds of other amazing things!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The Brooke I know is full of a lot of things; life and passion are definitely two of them. And let me tell you something else…not a snowball’s chance in hell would she back away from a fight or an opportunity to put on her cape and go save the world. I will send you a wall stencil as a reminder because I am super not down with you feeling absent of those things, especially when it is so apparent to me and everyone else orbiting blissfully in the atmosphere of your world. You, my friend, are a powerhouse – weren’t those the words that were recently used to describe you?! Yeah, they kinda were. And of course, Kongo liked you, he knew what was up the moment he laid eyes on you and saw the beauty and magic of your heart and soul. Duh. Umm, you are only trilingual, though? You could really work a little harder on that you know. *biggest eye roll ever* AS IF. You are a goddamn superhero, and it’s only a matter of time before you are taking names and the rest of the world by storm. Of that, I am super fucking sure.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well, okay then. I guess I’ll refrain from arguing because you clearly are not having any of it. Except I do have to reject the trilingual part. That would mean I can hold my own in French…so not the case. Pas du tout! ;o)
      You have a lil’ superhero thing going on yourself, so, once again, ‘company I keep’.

      Liked by 1 person

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