Post by Elizabeth Kelly
I love animals, and ever since I was little they have fascinated me. Any shape, size, color, or species sparks my interest. At home, we get so accustomed to the sight of certain animals that we only really notice them when they do something extraordinary. I find a squirrel interesting, but I will really only take time out of my day to notice it if it does something like carrying a whole pizza slice in it’s mouth, because if not it appears just average. When there are 10 deer in my backyard, I may watch for a bit, but they are not as interesting considering they are there almost every day.
Here, the “average” animals are far from average for me. It doesn’t matter what I have to do or where I need to go, if there is a monkey sitting in the tree near me, I’m going to stop and watch it until it decides to move out of my sight. Some of the locals recognize that as foreigners, these average animals are exotic. We saw our first monkey during the first week of Swahili lessons, where a big one dropped from the roof and sat right by the window. Mwalimu (“teacher”) let us take a break to run outside and watch as he swung through the trees to join his friends. The second weekend on the coffee tour, our guide went out of his way to catch a chameleon he had spotted so that we could hold it. It was tiny, but we fussed over it for about thirty minutes. The next time we saw one we were prepared, and picked it up and passed it around as if we did that all the time, but it was still so exciting to have a lizard the size of a stick of gum sit on your shoulder.
As he began to relax, he started getting some of his green color back.
When we ventured to a lodge near Lake Diluti one weekend, we found ourselves surrounded by trees packed with Vervet monkeys. Vervet monkeys are the most common in Tanzania, and I’ve now seen them on a stump near the road, stealing food from the tables of numerous picnic areas and hanging out in trees by the highway, but I still want to see more. This time at the lodge was special, and as we sat in the grass under the trees where they were, we watched mothers jump around with babies clinging to their chests, teenagers play around, a few clean each other, and even one who ventured to the ground to investigate us.
The next time we saw these monkeys were on our safari, which obviously involved views of plains and fields of exotic animals. I’ve seen most of them in a zoo, but it is different to see them wild and in their natural habitat. The giraffes and zebras, lions and elephants and hippos were fascinating to everyone there, and it was very special to appreciate them there.
We definitely watched The Lion King after the safari weekend.
Our opportunities to hold different animals did not stop at the chameleon. Looking through pictures on Facebook, many of our photos are of us holding lizards, chicks, snakes and tortoises. I think best of all was the monkey named Chobi that we met in Zanzibar. It only cost us a small donation to “Chobi’s family,” but it was definitely worth it to have the monkey jump from person to person, sometimes stopping to sit and eat the fruit we had given him, or stopping on the boys to try to groom their arm hair. Monkeys are my favorite animals (if you couldn’t tell) and that definitely made my weekend.
Chobi preferred sitting on the tallest in the group.
Although the point of this trip has absolutely nothing to do with animals, it has really become a large aspect of it. Being the biology major that I am, the places I travel to are largely defined to me by the nature in my surroundings. But playing with the monkey, or even marveling over the geckos on our porch roof, has made me realize that there are many things here that are so simple but exotic, beyond average, and are really shaping the experience I have had here. Doing my laundry by hand is quite foreign but amazingly simple. Going to the market and bargaining for the price I want is so easy and not very novel at this point, but I still get the thrill of being in a foreign place and the sense of adventure.
When I go home, I’ll definitely miss these little things. I can do things such as make fresh fruit juice and go find a lizard in my yard, but they won’t have the same impact or impression as doing those things here has. I’ll appreciate the monkeys and chameleons even more, but I also look forward to the squirrels and deer that make the places I go special.