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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life is not luxurious

My body: I have been bitten, peed on, pooed on, scratched, vomited on, gotten a fat lip, my hair pulled…  Sounds like I’ve been in a battleground fight!  Lest I not forget an outie mole on my neck nearly removed, too.  And it's only been a week since I arrived!

Daily shifts: The day starts at 6:50am by bringing the babies into their outdoor hok (hok = afrikaans word for enclosure/cage), and ends just before 6:00pm.  Every volunteer is scheduled in 1-hour work shifts ranging from making/cleaning bottles (for 60 or so young baboons under  3 years old) to cleaning out cages, sitting in the baby enclosure, cleaning the communal kitchen, sweeping the house, etc…  There are breaks in between, including 1-hour for lunch and any time that shifts are finished early. 

Me getting groomed
Olivia hok: The youngest baboon troupe at C.A.R.E., the babies, get brought out of their overnight indoor cages (sleeping 3-4 together) at 6:50am every day.  Until 5:00pm, all 15 play together in their outdoor hok under supervision by 1-3 volunteers also in the hok.  Supervising entails breaking up fights between older kids picking on younger babies, and generally acting as an "Aunt (or Uncle)" in the hok, ensuring order and overall peace, while also being a friend and playmate.  Playing with the kids can be very amusing watching their cheeky monkey behavior.  The mood can range from fun and exciting to relaxing or stressful.  I don a pair of waterproof pants before entering the hok during a 1-hour baby shift, as pee and poo are released bountifully.  Grooming is an essential aspect of baboon behavior, and as an "Aunt," you must be subjected to ample grooming: see picture of my hair being groomed by Jayne, while others climb/rest on me.

Volunteer Charlie
Sleep: It is mired in a mixture of sounds I’ve never heard before while falling asleep, while waking up in the middle of the night, and upon waking.  Nearly every night I am awoken to hair-raising screaming sounds as if the world is coming to an end.  Baboons make a greater range of sounds than I ever thought possible.  At any given time I have thought there are screaming cats, birds, lions, hyenas, wolves, and other unnamed animals outside... but it has been nearly uniquely baboon sounds!  There are a host of other animals in this nature reserve, but the baboons are by far the most audible (and vocal!)!

Me: At first my pride thought to write this blog with only good feelings and thoughts, ignoring any questionable feelings, but ultimately honest desires won out.  How do I feel about this around the world choice?  I invested a lot of money in this journey: plane ticket, 6-weeks at C.A.R.E., plus 7 weeks further in South Africa.  Did I make the right choice?  Am I happy here?

This first week has been quite challenging with difficulties arising mentally and physically.  All of the shifts, about 20 different ones, are brand new and require full mental concentration.  The physical side of the work is not overly strenuous, but the hours can be long and tiresome.  So far it is the mental perspective that is the most difficult.  Week 1 has had me shaking my head in wonder and confusion on multiple occasions, wondering if I really want to be here for 6 weeks.  C.A.R.E. has about 650 baboons, and just trying to tell apart the 15 different babies has been immensely arduous, let alone the hundreds of others.  I get them all confused constantly while they jump on my head, pull my hair, or bite my leg.

In the baby hok
Bottle time!
I regularly feel completely unprepared and such a novice.  Most every volunteer is on a 2nd or 3rd return trip here, thus I stick out like a sore thumb with my greenness.  Thankfully everyone has been very welcoming and generous with knowledge, happily giving tips on how to identify and interact with the babies and communicating baboon social complexities.  According to every volunteer, apparently my week 1 concerns are rather ubiquitous, each person admitting the same feelings as my own.  Now, each of these people are utterly in love with the baboons and C.A.R.E..  Apparently it is just a matter of time until these insecure and confusing feelings pass?...  I'll keep you updated!

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