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A touching letter from one of our members:
Hi there, I just had to send an email (sorry!! it turned out rather long) to tell you a really weird thing, every time I've 'donated' a cup of food to a poor wee orphaned chimp I get really emotional and have a huge lump in my throat.
Maybe I should explain that I lived in Liberia, West Africa for a year in 1972/3 on a remote rubber plantation (Firestone) way up in the hills near the Bong Mining Company. Our nearest 'town' was Buchanan Port, a very small typical African township, some 42 miles away which we reached along a dangerous and constantly eroding dirt track. It was the first time I had ever been abroad, I was an immature 20 year old and it was a HUGE culture shock (they live in mud huts, I shrieked, in a state of near shock at finding they really DID live in such primitive living conditions), it was absolutely fascinating to see 'real' Africans going about their daily lives - just as I had seen it in many documentaries (and I thought they were all 'hammed' up for the camera's
It was truly a steep learning curve for me, but very quickly I came to understand and love the proud, extremely hard working Africans I lived near (nice, Scandinavian styled and furnished, cool, clean bungalows for us 'whites' !!).
As a mother of two children I was 'assigned' two 'Boys' to do my housework and to look after us. Lock everything away I was warned - they will steal constantly!! Well my 'Boys' never stole anything from me, I told them - just ask - and I will give you as much as I can!! They were so pleased and proud to be trusted, especially by the youngest 'Missie' on the plantation, that they even brought me back their used teabags so that I could count them to make sure none had gone missing !!! Bless them, sadly I believe they have both died in the tragic war that is raging in Liberia, as too have the seven wonderful Roman Catholic nuns who looked after a Leper colony (we always went to tea on Tuesday afternoons!), I heard they were macheted to death for no good reason other than they had refused to leave the Lepers to fend for themselves!!
Part of the 'culture' of the area we lived in was the 'Cheap Charlies' who regularly brought us wooden sculptures, ivory (not banned then but we still didn't buy any), locally made crafts ............... and wildlife!!
Whenever you heard African voices out on the verandah early in the morning it could only mean one thing, the 'Charlies' had caught something and were bringing it to sell. On the verandah would be a wriggling sack, sometimes a snake, baby civets, baby mongoose, baby pygmy hippopotamus and even a pygmy deer once (very rare now) .......... all exhausted, hungry and terrified. The 'Charlies' trapped anything that moved to sell to us 'whites', but how could we refuse, knowing if they weren't sold they would be killed or just thrown away to fend for themselves, ultimately dying of starvation or being eaten by something bigger and stronger.
One of the saddest 'trophies' the Charlies brought were the chimps, young and immature they were clearly distraught at being taken from the family group. As they sat, chained to the Charlies shoulders waiting their fate, they would look at you with such 'deep' sad eyes, eyes huge with fear, eyes that pleaded 'save me'. We bought every chimp that came our way (yes, I know this DOES perpetuate the trade ... but if we didn't buy someone else less scrupulous would have).
When the chimps were released from their chains, they held their small arms out to you pleading to be held and comforted. Believe me chimps can and do cry!! Those small frightened pathetic baby chimps, snatched away from the family group, bewildered, hungry and just needing to be hugged. Even now, some thirty years later, I can remember how one chimp, very young and absolutely terrified by the whole experience, just clung to me for hours and hours, his little hand in my hand, his eyes huge and just looking for a sign to say all would be well!!
I really loved my year in Africa, I learnt about other cultures, the 54 'whites' on the plantation came from 10 different countries, the Africans taught me so much about tolerance and patience. The fauna and flora were breathtaking, imagine seeing hippopotamus and crocodiles basking in the midday heat whenever you go shopping.
So each time I have 'donated' my cup of food, that's just some of the memories that flood back, particularly those poor orphaned chimps that just needed to be hugged and loved. Thank you for making it possible for me to 'donate' the cup of food a day - it really is a pleasure to do this. I have been there and seen at first hand the awful things that can and do happen to these animals, it is very, very sad that it is still happening some thirty years later.