Friday, December 15, 2001
Leaving the Forest and Saying Goodbye
This is our last transmission from Ghana. Although we are looking forward to getting back home to friends and family, we are also sad to leave this beautiful place. We have met many good people here and will miss them when we leave. We wish them well as they each strive to save this amazing place and all its creatures large and small.
In preparing for this trip, there were so many details, that it was not until the last minute I realized what we were doing. Going to another country, half the globe away to stay in unfamiliar places is a big risk. Luckily, everything turned out well. Lindsay took care of all our details and allowed us to enjoy our time in the jungle. I do wish I had the vision to see the monkeys and the stealthness to sneak up on the elephants, but hearing the calls and knowing they are close is enough. Just being in the jungle is an all encompassing experience. It smells, tastes, sounds, looks and feels different. It surrounds you. I know it is teeming with animals and that each one has its particular role, from the ants to the elephants and especially the monkeys.
I am so impressed and thankful for amazing women like Lindsay who truly care to make huge sacrifices to protect endangered species and educate others. You may think that you cannot make a difference as one, but clearly, one person, Lindsay has made a huge impact on this area. From the townspeople who are working with her, to the villagers who are learning how to hunt conservatively to George, Samuel and John, her companions the past five months, she has clearly touched them all and made an impact.
I have loved the bustle of the towns and the calm of the reserve. I am sad to leave, but know that the pressures of home will soon blur my experiences here in Ghana. Hopefully I can return and see that the local villages have turned the area into a conservation, ecotourist spot, thereby protecting the monkeys and providing them with the income they need to survive.
The only regret I have is that I could not spend more time talking to the women of Ghana. Most of our experiences have been with men in the Wildlife Department. I look at the young women busy selling vegetables, walking down the road carrying things to provide for their families, and going to school, and think how different their lives are from mine. I wonder at the beautiful young woman in the market whose picture I took and who then gave me plantains, at the young mother who trusted me with her baby, and at the seamstress who taught me the words for the clothing she was selling. Did I make the same impact on their lives as they did on mine?
This has been a difficult 9 days. The minimal accommodations, the heat and humidity, the limited food, the intestinal disorders, and the ever-incessant insect biteshave all contributed to this being one of the most difficult trips I have ever taken.
Yet, we have only been here a short time. Lindsay has been here six months, day after day, walking the forest looking for monkeys. Doing this kind of work obviously requires strength, good humor, patience, intelligence, and in Lindsay’s own words, stubbornness. Most of all though, it requires believing that you are doing something worthwhilesomething that will make a difference in the world.
As much as anything I love waking up in the forest, whether it is here in the jungle of West Africa, or on a boat in the Amazon, or in the forests of Colorado and California. Waking from a night’s sleep to the myriad of forest sounds always instills in me a renewed sense of wonder at the variety of life in all its multitude of forms. I may never see the great blue turaco that makes such a loud racket, or the tree hyrax that keeps us awake at night, or a Roloway monkey in the wild. Yet to know they exist is enough. Like Kente cloth, they are each a thread in a very intricately woven piece of fabric. We lose one thread and the fabric begins to fray. More, and the fabric will unravel.
Will the monkeys of these forests be protected before it is too late? The answer to that question lies ultimately in the hands of the Ghanaians. I know though that I am grateful for the Lindsay’s, the Samuel’s, the John’s and the George’s of this world who are doing their part to ensure that they do survive. I am fortunate to have been given the chance to be a very small part of their efforts.
I can hardly believe nearly six months have already flown by and I am now preparing to leave Ghana for the second time. I have to say, though I had counted on this project being an adventure I could have never imagined how true that would be.
Between catching poachers, falling in rivers, being eaten by bugs, chasing monkeyswell, there has never been a dull moment.
This project, like my first trip to Ghana, has certainly changed my life and myself. Traveling to a place like Ghana, where even fetching a glass of water to drink is often difficult, surely makes you appreciatewell, almost everything.
In all honesty the primitive toilets, bug bonanzas and snake stories really don't bother me all that much (though I certainly won't miss them). Rather these experiences enabled me to realize all of the things we take for granted in the developed world and I am truly grateful for that. You know what we tend to take for granted? Relaxation. Even on the most relaxing days, village women have to go to the farm or the family won't eat. Children still have to fetch water and carry it up the hill so the family has something to drink (with a gallon weighing somewhere around 8 lbs and the containers being 5 to 10 gallons-that is A LOT of work!).
There seems to be no such thing as a day off here in Ghana. I am certainly looking forward to a lazy day at the beach with nothing but a book and my thoughts.
It will be very strange returning to America after this time in Ghana. I remember last time thinking how spoiled we are as Americans. It felt unnecessary to have so many things, I even gave away my car. Coming from a world where even the school children don't have paper or pencils it is heartbreaking to watch as family members throw away loads of Christmas wrapping and paper plates. Even plastic water bottles, here in Ghana, are considered a commodity. Containers are hard to come by.
In any case, I am looking forward to going home though I think it won't be long before I am wishing I were back in Ghana.
I think Ghana is a truly magical place. I've been to many countries throughout the world and I can say you would be hard pressed to find people as friendly, accommodating and generous as Ghanaians. Amid poverty, and the daily difficulties of life here, Ghanaians shine through with radiant friendliness. That to me is truly inspiring and keeps me going even in tough situations.
Nine days in the tropical jungle affords ample time for reflection. I am reminded of the vastness of natural forces, and the tenuousness of individual life, the immutable passage of time, and the powerful hand of history that carves what we see.
We live here surrounded by jungle walls, circling our oasis of civilizationour beds, outhouses, showers and kitchen. Meters from this edge, forest elephants traverse. We see their foot prints, we can find their still warm droppings. How can creatures, weighing nearly a ton and capable of tearing out trees with their trunks, walk by us in the bush and yet we do not perceive them? How many other massive, powerful forces operate around us and yet we detect them not with our Western senses?
Africa today is a mix of change, decay, awe, and danger. It is a challenge to think what my role can bewhat is should be. Can these explorations and efforts be seeds for hope? I mentally take with me myriads of images, sights and sounds. Surely these will take me years to fully assimilate.
Before we set off for Ghana, I had a slight notion of what to expect. Only because I had spent almost two prior years working in Kenya, so I have logged time on the African continent before.
I also knew there would be vast differences which would remain a mystery and begin to unravel upon our arrival. There are after all, eight countries that lie between Ghana and Kenya which is a lot of space, a lot of tribes, a lot of animals and different governments. To say that everything was the same would be like saying everything in the United States is exactly like everything in Canada.
Things such as dusty road side kiosks, over packed lorries and busses (called matatus in Kenya and tro-tros in Ghana), and animals such as hyena, colobus monkey, and bongo antelope were similar in both countries.
Even some of the family and social structure bared resemblance, but there was also a plethora of differences between the two places. The languages were different, the tribes were different, the beliefs and landscape were different.
Most of the Serengeti; the wide open spaces of Kenya; the Savanna; was covered with grass and patches of acacia trees in which the hot sun lay low along the horizon in the heat of the day and highlighted the activities of the animals across the countryside.
The deep bush of Ghana, with it's Banyon trees, Ebony trees, and constricting vines did not provide the visibility to see the wildlife as clearly. It mostly worked to hide and protect the majority of it from view. The silent stepping that we had to adapt on our jungle excursions had taught us patience and we learned to appreciate the simple pleasures of just listening for the animals instead of enjoying the visual stimulation.
When I was asked to reflect my thoughts on our trip, I went for a silent walk to think, and ended up looking into a stream along the way. My reflection was staring me in the face, which at the time was frightening, because I hadn't looked into a mirror in such a long time. There are after all, no bathrooms in the bush, just areas to toilet and shower.
Besides noticing that I needed to shave, and had some pimples that needed tending to, something else had changed. It was in my eyes, even though they were the same eyes that I came here with, they had seen something different, they had absorbed another piece of Africa. They had seen different things and had different experiences that would change their outlook forever.
So as I sit and read over with my eyes what I have just written, I can only be thankful that Lindsay, George, Samuel, John, and the Virtual Explorers crew have chosen the road less traveled. And most of all they chose me to come along and see it with them...and for this I am grateful.