ECU Field Journal: Africa

Marie's Blog from Lambaréné, Gabon<-- back

Meet Cheetah
September 1, 2008

It has been a little more than one month since I left home in the United States. Sometimes I look at my calendar and wonder where the month went. Other times I can’t believe I’ve been away from my family for so long. I have been looking forward to September just so I can say to my husband and daughter, “I will see you next month” when I speak with them. Their e-mails and phone calls (thank you Skype!) have provided me with such strength over here. I simply could not have done this without their support. They encouraged me to do this because they knew it has always been my dream. I am so grateful to them. So guys, if you are reading this, I’ll see you next month!!!!!

I still keep very busy during the week, seeing as many patients as time will allow. It is during the weekends that I feel most homesick. It helps to hang out with my new friends, American, Gabonese, French…quite the international center here! I also like to venture out into Lambaréné to take in some culture.

This past weekend, some friends and I were invited to witness a spiritual healing ceremony performed by the husband of a nurse at the hospital. I was excited for the opportunity to see how faith and spirituality affect the perception of health among many of the people here. But, little did I know the surprise that was in store for me on the way to the ceremony. As we walked along the winding road to the house, I saw something shadowing us in a stand of banana trees. When it comes to animals, my radar is very keen. I love any and all animals—to the degree that my roommates love to poke fun at me for saving even the smallest bugs from beings squashed by one of their shoes. I always poke right back, though, saying, “Not on Schweitzer territory!”

I peered into the banana trees and saw a small, dark furry shape through the leaves. I shouted to my friends, "Stop! I see a monkey!" And sure enough, it was. Although, I soon realized that it was not a monkey at all, but a chimpanzee. We all grabbed our cameras in hopes of getting a snapshot before he ran off. But instead of running away, he just stood there looking at us. Then he surprised us by walking right towards me until he was standing at my feet! I stood as still as a statue, but I was jumping for joy inside. I wasn’t sure if he would be aggressive, but I remember thinking…“Hope the rabies shots work!” Since childhood, I have always dreamed of having a pet monkey, and here the most adorable chimpanzee just walked up to me! I spoke the softest baby talk in French I knew, but remained perfectly still. He grabbed my legs as if to say “Bonjour!” and then proceeded to greet my friends Lillian and Christy just the same.

A woman came out of her house and nodded to us with a smile. I asked, “Is he nice?” At this point the chimp was back around my legs staring up at me. She nodded yes, so I proceeded to bend down very slowly. I came down to his level and put my head down to him as I kept cooing—talking as if he were a baby. He put his arms around my legs and looked up at me as though he wanted to be picked up. I reached down towards him, but he got scared and moved away. I put my head down again and he approached me, walking around behind me and then licking my foot! Then he wrapped his arms around my legs and hugged me. I guess I passed his test! I was in heaven. I continued to talk to him and he walked back around to face me and latched on like a baby. I was able to stand up and hold him. He was so adorable, I never wanted to let him go!

In talking to the woman, we learned that his name is Cheetah and that he is three years old. As I stood there talking with the woman who had raised Cheetah since his mother died, he held me so tightly, alternating from looking up at me to putting his head on my chest. Since we were now running late to our spiritual healing ceremony, Cheetah’s mother tried to take him from me, but he didn't want to let go. He finally had to be bribed with a banana to let go. Cheetah’s “mother” works at Hopital d’Albert Schweitzer, so I am sure I will be seeing more of him. I told her anytime she needs a babysitter, I’m there!

Meeting Cheetah was something I will remember forever. As I said, sometimes I do get homesick and miss my family, but meeting Cheetah really lifted my spirits. Of course I can’t wait to see my family, but now it will be harder for me to say goodbye when it is time to leave.