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Baboons & Bottles

Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared. --Eddie Rickenbacker

For the rest of the afternoon, we did mostly manual labor. First we had to move a tent pitched outside Baby Hope's enclosure to a clearing roughly 500 feet away. Next we loaded 20 or 30 five-foot logs onto the back of the truck. Josh and I carefully maneuvered our place amongst the logs, while the others climbed into the extended cab once the logs were in place. It was fun riding the backroads of the sanctuary -- despite the dust and blazing sun. The physical work made me feel useful, and I liked that. It was also good to move my body after hours of sitting around earlier that day.

Eventually, I learned that Helee had severe shoulder pain, thanks to a large baboon who unexpectedly dropped onto her back from his perch high up in a tree. Lotte was exhausted from “night watch” – an overnight assignment where the group keeps watch for poachers outside the lion enclosure. Knowing this made me realize that maybe their chilly reception had nothing to do with me. I really needed to stop making everything about me.

I’d also learned that a pack of wild baboons had made their way through Bush Camp.

Ugh. Back to me.

“I’m in Bush Camp,” I told them.

“Did you leave anything out in your bathroom?” Helee asked.

Of course I did. (Like, everything.)

“You have to keep all your stuff inside. They love to squeeze out toothpaste, shampoo – and smear it all over the walls. They’re very mischievous.”

They sounded downright evil. The thought of a bunch of baboons having a party with my Kiehl's overnight serum, Shea Moisture Co-Wash and Sensodyne toothpaste, produced an internal freak-out. I was in the middle of nowhere. It’s not like I could run to the store for new stuff. What the hell was I going to do? Right then and there? Not a damn thing, except hold onto the back of the truck (and my hat) while we sped along the road to pick up more logs.

When we got back to The Farm, Helee showed me a stash of things left behind by previous volunteers, including never-been-used toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.

“If they got your stuff, you can just take what you need from here,” she assured me.

Helee may not have given me the warmest welcome, but I no longer cared. If the baboons got my shit, I now knew where to go to get what I needed. And that was golden.

We finished up earlier than expected due to the “urgent” matter that wasn’t Baby Hope. It turns out a baby baboon had arrived earlier that day, and Camilla was tasked with getting her acclimated. I had no idea what that meant, but I was anxious to get back to Bush Camp to see what the other baboons were up to.

I did a quick sweep of the common areas of The Farm to see if I could find anyone heading back to Bush Camp, but everyone was still engaged in their afternoon activities. I really didn’t want to wait around imagining what fresh hell was waiting for me at "home," but all the talk of snakes and walking in threes was not lost on me. I knew walking through the bush on my own in 90-degree weather was stupid, but I really wanted to get back to my tent.

I tried to retrace my steps from that morning. The deeper I got into the bush, the more I knew it was a very stupid idea. I even heard my mom’s voice in my head screaming, “Are you CRAZY? Do you want to get bitten by a snake?” I focused on the ground as I stepped gingerly up the path, hoping and praying there would be no “visitors” at my feet. I think I may have held my breath for that entire walk, but 10 minutes later, Bush Camp was in sight. I was so excited to be safe I completely forgot about the baboons and reveled in yet another scary mission accomplished.

I was starting to enjoy my mini adventures. It felt good to be afraid and do it anyway. It was a lot like a new bartending job. When I would start a new gig, it would take some time to figure out where the bottles were. I knew how to make the drinks – I just needed to get used to the bar setup.

This wasn’t much different. I’d been traveling solo for over 20 years. And each trip would take a minute to get my bearings, find a routine and settle in. It was my first full day, after all, and I’d already fed a baby rhino and braved the bush alone (twice!) – snakes and all.

A few others were chillin’ by the pool with drinks when I arrived at the Activity Center. They greeted me warmly, and I shared my relief over not being attacked by snakes.

“I’m Helen,” said the woman with a thick British accent and hair piled high in a loose ponytail on top of her head.

“You’re a shepherd, right?”

I'd never met a shepherd before, so it stuck out when we’d introduced ourselves at the induction earlier. Helen laughed and confirmed that she, indeed, was a shepherd.

“And I’m Jean,” said the shorter of the two. She had chin-length, reddish hair and a kind face.

I grabbed a beer, and the three of us sat by the pool. It was easy to talk to them and the conversation quickly turned to shared stories and frustrations. I began to relax for the first time since I’d arrived. I loved that they were both closer in age than anyone I’d met so far. I really loved that they had personality and spunk. And I was so grateful they were feeling some of the same things I was.

And then I remembered the baboons.

“Well, there’s not much you can do it about now,” Helen said as she got up to get another drink.

She was right. What could I do?

I was beginning to find my bottles, and it felt good. The baboons could wait.

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