Reflections on My Year at the Vervet Monkey Foundation
The past 2 days I have been so stressed about leaving I have felt physically sick. Sitting on the bus, just passing the outer limits of Tzaneen I feel nauseous and unsettled, as if I’ve left some important part of myself behind. The monkeys, the amazing scenery, the wildlife, the sounds, the smells, the experiences, none of this will happen for me again. This place has become a defining part of who I am. It has been my home, my job, my friends, my love life… my everything for the past year of my life. I feel it has changed me and yet I am so terrified to return to the person I was, to become complacent with my mundane life in Canada, though the overwhelming ache in my gut tells me I will not be whole again until I am back in Africa. Africa has become a part of my very being, as I always knew it would.
And the monkeys… they made every bad day and low point worth it. Seeing Sangoma integrated, watching last year’s orphans move into a big enclosure, even just seeing Henry at the fenceline or grooming with Seeay or Kelsey, I love them as I love my own pets. Even the aggressive ones like Seuntjie if ill have me stressed and worried until they have made a complete recovery.
My job has been very rewarding. It was amazing, challenging, and painful. From the successes of Button’s broken leg healing, Nicky’s recovery from her numerous wounds, and Ghosty’s miraculous turn around and return to Goliath, to the disappointments of losing Mo, Neil, and Mr. E among others, the traumatic experience of the Camelot bush fire, to the sudden death of Opal after so much hard work and progress; every experience made me a better vet nurse, and made the long days of tedious meds bearable. I still had the same gut wrenching stabs of sadness and self doubt in my abilities when we lost Opal as I did in my first month when we lost Mo. It never stopped being an overwhelming sense of failure and helplessness losing one of my monkeys, and in the successes I never stopped feeling a tremendous respect for nature’s abilities when a monkey would heal up from an initially horrific looking injury, such as Shadow’s lip and hip, BeeBee’s arm, or Luxi’s whole body to the point where you couldn’t tell any of it had ever happened. They are truly amazing little creatures who deserve to be protected and advocated for before they reach the point of becoming endangered due to habitat loss and attacks from humans.
On a personal level, I have met so many diverse and fascinating people from all over the world, many of whom I will never forget. The staff: Dan, Sophie, Mel, Joe, etc., have played a huge part of the past year, and Lily (it goes without saying) was by far the most influential of all, accepting me in every way, flaws and bitchiness included to become one of the best friends I have ever had. The volunteers were such a varied group. From David, Samuel, and Sjoukje at the beginning, to Danny, Paul, Alex, Mia and Rosie in the middle, to Nicole, Peter, Cora, Matthias, and Damien at the end and the countless people in between; every group had its ups and downs, and I feel I have grown as a person being exposed to so many personalities, cultures, and languages in the past year.
Communal living was a huge struggle for me. For a person who spent five out of seven evenings of the week in quiet solitude in my own place in Vancouver it was a difficult transition to being constantly surrounded by the same 10-30 people from waking until bed every day. Not having any personal space besides my tiny cabin, or being able to prepare and eat my own meals, or to have the freedom to leave and get away for a bit was challenging. Although I will never consider myself a people person, I have at least gained some patience and tolerance I didn’t have a year ago. I now feel more prepared for future volunteering jobs abroad.
Applying for a year long position at a sanctuary I had never visited on a continent I had never set foot on was a huge blind leap of commitment, and though I often thought of leaving, I couldn’t look at Kelsey, Ghosty, or Henry’s faces and seriously think that I could leave them behind. The worst of days where I would be left feeling angry, frustrated, and helpless would be calmed by sitting against the side of James enclosure and having Seeay come up to softly and meticulously groom every inch of my skin and hair she would get her hands on through the fence. Through it all, these little monkeys have carved themselves permanent places in my heart, and I will forever have a love of these hilarious, clever, and highly individual and unique little black and grey bundles of energy.
Thank you to Dave and Josie for having me the past year and teaching me so much about the vervets and helping me expand my vet nursing skills.
An extra special thanks to the staff who had to put up with me the longest, for becoming, at least for a little while, my family. I will miss you terribly.
Posted on February 24, 2012, in African Experiences, Vervet Monkey Foundation and tagged Africa, Living Abroad, Monkeys, South Africa, Vervet Monkey Foundation, Volunteering. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.