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Friday, September 7, 2012

Life as a C.A.R.E. Volunteer

Not everyone wants to do volunteer work, and volunteering to work with animals (and paying to do so!) is a special class of its own.  While it may seem alluring at first glance, the reality is long days, lots of cleaning, food preparation, and more cleaning.  The animals do not know weekends, nor does your work schedule; work persists 7 days per week.  The very rewarding job is spending time with the animals, being embraced by one of them, and realizing how one can make a difference.  At C.A.R.E. all volunteers are part of a daily schedule of 1-hour shifts; the workday begins at 6:50 and ends around 6:00 pm.

Sitting in my bed with Adam as he woke up/recovered from surgery

6:25 am Wake up!  If you are (un)lucky enough to have an upstairs room, then an earlier wake-up call is courtesy of the wild troop that uses the roof as a playground.  From my quieter downstairs room, I watched dawn from my room every morning in awe.  The sun breaking the horizon is the same miracle that repeats itself day after day, every day the same yet different.  Prepare and feed the dogs, bundle in warm clothes (it is winter here), and quickly head out the door for a brisk commute down the hill.

Walking with arms full of baby baboons
6:50 am The daily volunteer schedule commences at 7:00 am, but everyone must first gather to carry out the two youngest troops of baboons (35 baboons total, all under the age of 1.5 years) to their outdoor enclosures.  Babies, like human children, preferentially choose to whom they gravitate and wish to be embraced.  The first few days or weeks, no babies may jump into your arms, but as they know you (and like you) better, your arms may be replete with 2, 3, or 4 baby baboons!  Safely, volunteers attempt to carry no more than 2 babies at a time, each one riding side-saddle.

7:00 am Feed Room.  Individually housed baboons have food crates made for them by the volunteers, while full troops are fed out of massive feed sacks.  The locally employed workers (all men) feed all of the adult individuals and troops.  Feeding MUST be done by a male, or under male supervision. The wild troop, affectionately known as the “Longtits,” will attack and/or steal from any female carrying food outdoors, regardless of quantity.  Baboons are extremely sexist and do not respect females, but will respond to a male’s presence or threats.  Who knew being a female would be so unfavorable?  After ~110 crates are made, the shift is over and one hopes that enough moments rest to make breakfast before the next shift commences.

8:00 am Clean-up.  Wash about 90 overnight bottles, food buckets, prep stations, basically 45 minutes of washing stuff.

9:00 am “Olivia hok” Don appropriate clothes for time with the youngest babies (16, under 11 months old) (for me, this was waterproof pants and jacket).  Playing with the babies necessitates getting extremely dirty as the baboons view you as both protector and play apparatus.  Your hair is pulled, your head jumped on, you get peed and pooed on, and in general it looks like you rolled around on zoo grounds.  Sounds like disaster, but it is wholly worthwhile.

10:00 am Bottles.  Make 40 bottles (for the 2 youngest troops) and cut fresh buckets of vegetables, fruit, and bread (for the 4 youngest troops).  After doling out the bottles, collect and wash all of the bottles.  (See precious (17 second) video at right of me holding "Dot" while she drinks a bottle and makes her 'bottle sounds.')

The rest of the day consists of other cleaning shifts in the volunteer accommodations, of the overnight cages, making bottles, dog walking, more babysitting the babies, other tasks, making and distributing enrichment items, and lunch hour.

Daily volunteer schedule board

4:45 pm Olivia Ship. Return to Olivia hok and start cleaning their enclosure.  It is regularly amusing to begin cleaning an enclosure when the occupants are still inside, and often your labor is undone by said occupants.  No one really knows where the term “ship” came from to signify cleaning, but it has been suggested that it was an acceptable term in place of “shit,” which is what you are really cleaning.

11-month old Smeegal
5:00 pm Baby Time.  All volunteers meet at the youngest troop’s enclosure (Olivia) to carry them into their sleeping cages.  Next stop, the second youngest troop (1 – 1.5 years old orphans).  For the last 4-5 weeks I carried in and out consistently Jossi in one arm and Hillablue (“HB”) in the other arm.  Like clockwork every evening, once HB was securely in my arms he would take a big pee on me, followed by  big poo.  Awesome-sauce.  Jossi? Rarely (thankfully!).  After all the babies were inside, return to finish Ship. 

5:45pm  Work day is over!  Walk up the hill to either shower, sit, cook, rest, or read.    The internet is frequently broken.  There are 10-15 volunteers that need to shower, but only enough water pressure for 1 at a time.  Everyone is very dirty after a long day, cleaning up after baboons and humans, and a dusty, dry environment.  The immediacy of showering wanes somewhat as the weeks pass.  The first few days I didn’t want to stay dirty for more than 5 minutes post-Ship.  After a few weeks, I would happily sit down with something cold to drink for an hour without complaint. I can promise you that I showered every single night though! (But I can’t say the same for everyone! Ewww! ;)

~7:15pm Dinner.  Dinner is planned and prepared by 1 volunteer for all 20-30 volunteers and staff members.  If you can cook well (vegetarian) for large crowds, you’re on the cooking schedule.  If you regularly burn things in the kitchen, you’re on clean-up duty.  I cooked all 9 weeks J

Between 8:30 pm – 10:00 pm Fall asleep to the sounds of baboon calls and screams, lions roaring, jackals waling, and hippos snorting.

11-month HB's hand on mine

In studying the traits and disposition of the so-called lower animals, and contrasting them with man’s, I find the result humiliating to me.
-Mark Twain


With my sweet girl, Jossi

1 comment:

  1. Straight up...Amazing! You're WAYY tougher than me. Great Stuff here