Wednesday, June 29, 2005

monkeys

i saw monkeys. very big ones. monday morning after discovering that i would not be
needed for the second tour of the bepc (the test to determine if the students can continue
to high school) i got on my bike and rode to the edge of one of the mountains. i have to say that in addition to all the other things that makes my village great,
the mountains are right up there at the top, perhaps even higher than the pool although im
sure im only saying that because its not the hot season. are they really mountains? ive
struggled with this question, mostly because im extremely bored, but ive come to decide
while they would be referred to as large hills in any normal country, in burkina with the
altitude of florida or louisiana, theyre mountains. the mountains surround the giant lake or
barrage if you speak french (they arent actually the same thing, but i dont really care) so
you cant actually see the lake without going over the mountains and you cant get to the lake
without going over the mountains or taking a really long bike ride. earlier i had climbed
one of the smaller mountains and i had seen the lake but not the dam so that was the main
goal of this sojourn, climb the tallest mountain, see the dam. i hadnt actually been
thinking of monkeys. i knew that people said that there were monkeys in the mountains, but i
wasnt sure if i actually believed them because people say alot of things here - your food
will be right out, we can make anything you want, i speak french, also see the fanta story
on the earlier post. I got to about the half way point on the mountain (keep in mind that there is no trail, this isnt america) and i sat down to drink some water and read some of my book. after a while a looked up and saw a cloud covered dark sky and i began to debate whether or not to
head down in case it was going to rain. At the same time i began hearing a noise which i
immediately described in my mind as that of a rabid donkey. I was pretty sure that there
were no donkeys on the mountain, much less rabid ones so i came to a conclusion that it must
be some type of wild boar. i briefly considered that it might be a monkey but i thought i
knew how monkeys sounded and they do not sound like that. of course, it was a monkey. but i couldnt see anything yet so i hiked up a little farther until i got to a clearing
where i was suprised to see an unsupervised herd of cows. apparently, in addition to all the
other crazy animals in africa, they have mountain cows. but then i looked up on the side of
the biggest mountain and saw what was clearly a monkey. and then another, and another, and
another, and so on. probably about 10 or 20. now when i heard about monkeys, i had expected
something small, no larger than a baboon. they dont have chimps or gorillas in burkina. I
dont know what type of monkey it was, but it was at least as large as a full grown
chimpanzee. Bigger. they were far away, and i couldnt see them well without my glasses (i
hadnt been expecting to see monkeys) and they were making horrible noises. For some reason, i decided not to follow the monkeys (they appeared to be on the move, i
dont think they got along with the mountain cows) but instead climb the mountain next to the
dam, an unfortunately monkeyless mountain. when i came down the monkeys were gone and my attempts to find them were thwarted by the mountain cows who gave me the evil eye whenever i got close. i did make it up the monkey mountain, but they had passed. BUt mark my words, i will find the monkeys again, oh yes, i will find them.
The story isnt over yet as i have yet to relate the reactions of the africans to my monkey
sightings. that night i talked to one of my students - bassirou, who hangs around a lot and
does a lot of chores for me but who also occasionally takes my food without asking - and i
told him about the monkeys. his immediate response was to ask if i was hunting them. Such is
the clash of cultures that exists in africa. to the western mind, at least to my mind
killing monkeys is monstrously wrong, second only to killing or raping humans. Im not
against hunting animals, indeed i often think fondly of killing a donkey or a goat or a
rooster but never had i even entertained the notion of hunting a monkey. But it happens
here. Apparently there are frequent battles between the big monkeys (it turns out there is
another species of smaller monkeys in the mountains as well) and the africans. the humans
throw bullets, the monkeys throw rocks, and eat goats and peanuts. I flirted with trying to
explain the western anathema to killing monkeys but realized that the only understandable
way to do it would be to state that monkeys are sacred animals to westerners. later, i was talking to the husband of my tailor (its very nice to be able to use that
expression - my tailor) and relating the monkeys to him. he again remarked on the rock
throwing nature of the big monkeys and how it was dangerous to be alone around them.
apparently they dont even flinch when you throw rocks at them. but them he asked if i had
been carrying a gris-gris, a talisman. If i had one i would surely be protected. as a matter
of fact, i do have one, a voodoo one from my cajun girlfriend, and i assured him that i
would carry it with me on any future monkey expedition. in turn he was assured that nothing
ill would come to pass. Such is africa. A lot more to come later.

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