The Grass is Greener on this Side
Right here, right now. To be present, to live in the moment. Your guru, shaman, priest, fortune-teller, dealer, palm-reader, prophet, tv evangelist, AA program counselor or whomever serves as your holy man for spiritual guidance will likely advise you to "be present". However, this fashionable nugget of spiritual advice, although theoretically and aesthetically an attractive neo-eastern philosophy, is difficult to practice. No matter how conscious of this mantra I remain, my mind wanders. It takes journeys to inner space, hidden by my outer face. Travels to distant lands. Dreams of sitting with aboriginal cultures around a midnight fire....native tribes on sacred ancestral ground. Communes with nature and all her wild inhabitants. Meditates on icy mountain peaks or on scorching desert sands. Traveling without moving, as my man Jamiroquai would flow.
Our entire lives are hopelessly escapist. We live in a perpetual state of wanting to be elsewhere. Those fortunate few whose work is mercifully aligned with what they truly love to do can claim exception. (Alright, everyone can take exception and I am likely just speaking for myself but Im covered in a batter of sweat and dirt, swatting mosquitoes, pumped full of two different anti-biotics, chocolate-deprived, and a scorpian just crawled out from beneath my chair. The tropical humidity is melting my normally objective mind so GET OFF MY TITS!!.) Many people spend 8 hours per day at work, numb, detached, in a state of advanced mental decay. Going through the motions to give the appearance of actually giving two shits. Empty and vacant. Lifelessly slogging through the day, careful to separate personal from professional life. Silently cursing unreasonable bosses and sycophant co-workers amid a stifling corporate atmosphere filled with degrading office protocol and manipulative political posturing. Waiting, clock-watching, biding your time for the weekend to arrive. Friday night rolls around and you're at home, slumped on the couch with a bowl of greasy chips in your lap, sucking on some beers, staring dumbfounded at the tittie-tube. Despite the comfort of this slothy indulgence, you wished you had made plans to get outta town, perhaps to the mountains. If you were ambitious enough to get yourself to the mountains, you find yourself shivering in your tent amidst hordes of creepy-crawlies and you wish you had stayed home on your chip-littered couch with a movie and a feedbag of licorice. If you are on an extended vacation in a foreign land, the language barrier, unfamiliar food, and lack of local deodorant have you pining to return home.
Occasionally, I amuse myself by polarizing this dilemma with a hypothetical. Given a choice, by the omnipotent hand of fate, to be anywhere on the planet at any given time, physically and temporally, how often would I actually choose- right here, right now? With full admission, hardly ever. Although this does not preclude the possibility of attaining a modest amount of happiness, it leaves me with the unshakeable feeling of perpetually chasing whatever the hell it is Im looking for. One day, in the hopefully not too distant future, I will move nearer to this junction and, with any luck, perhaps even arrive.
However, there are rare circumstances, when fate and fortune are feeling particularly generous, when we are delivered to these moments. There exists neither instructions nor formulas to achieve this. You do not dictate nor control its manifestation. It decides for you. All you can do is loosely put yourself in position by aligning yourself with condusive circumstances to allow the possibility to occur. From there on out, it's up to the wind. If it blows favorably, you have a chance. If it don't, you won't. I have been blessed to be in the blissful presence of a few of these fleeting moments during my time on the planet. When they happen, you instinctively want to prolong them but they become memories all too quickly. Fortunately, because they are so vivid and indelible, they can be recalled and replayed from deep storage tanks, preserved cyrogenically for the ages.
Today, I had one such moment. A right here, right now. Clutching a sack of fruit in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other, I hopped off the boat and clambored up a steep riverbank and sat there at the edge of the forest gallery. I was surrounded by 5 other primates: Nanou, Lottie, Mama, Robert, & Albert. These chimps have lived virtually their entire lives in a cage. They have all been traumatized and orphaned at the hand of humans, either evil or ignorant. And today, I sat quietly among them, back where they belong, the forest. Just a grateful guest in their home. Emotions darting and bursting from within. Fortunately, pure joy supplanted pride which supplanted fear. All three were fiercely vying for my attention. Careful not to intrude or disturb their dynamic, I inched closer and handed each of them some fruit. Retreated and watched them eat for a few minutes. They seemed to accept my presence, which is to say they largely ignored me. I stood, slowly walked towards Albert, then crouched beside him, just off his shoulder. I offered a few calming words of reassurance (intended for him but really for me) and then began, tentatively, to groom his back. Picking off insects with my thumb and forefinger from between the long course hairs on the surface of his skin. Confidence rising with every passing minute. Every cell in my body was buzzing. Molecules were dashing about in a mad frenzied rush, drowning in dopamine, asking each other what the hell is going on up at the surface.
I've had several epic wildlife encounters but none of them exercised my adrenal gland quite like this one. During all the other close encounters with dangerous game, I always had an "out". A truck nearby to leap onto in case an animal charged or an armed ranger behind me uncase things turned violent. No such safety net here. Until now, I've only been out in the bush with the babies and the teenagers. The babies are harmless, the only possible concern is being licked to death. The teens could do some significant damage but probably not lethal unless it was a gang attack. But to be out in the forest with adults, with no cage, no fence or any barrier between you, will force you to take an inventory of your karma. Before coming to Guinea, I must confess, I really didn't think a chimp was capable of mortal harm. My opinion has been corrected. I have seen some of our bigger adult males display a ferocious strength that belies their size. Last week, Rocky unhinged welded rebar from his cage. Bobo, our largest male, who resembles a gorilla more than a chimp, broke an iron padlock and lifted a trap door to escape his enclosure.
And there I sat, next to Albert, the same chimp that just a week ago inflicted three vicious bite wounds on Rappa, tore his flesh to the bone. But fear is not a luxury I can afford to show. All animals, including Homo Sapiens, can smell fear and will often use it against you. Primates, in particular however, tend to emulate the emotions we display. Therefore, it is crucial to remain calm when they are irritated or are displaying aggressive behavior. Fake it if you have to (and you prolly will). Fortunately, I spent a fair amount of time with these chimps and built, what I perceive as, some trust. They have my respect and I can only hope I have earned a bit of theirs. I let them be and returned to the waiting boat. Back at camp, dinner was rice with peanut butter & tomato sauce. It's a very common dish served in Guinea. A can of tomato concentrate, 2 cups of water, a few dollops of peanut butter, some onions. Bring it to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes. Pour over bed of rice and choke it down. Its actually not as disgusting as it sounds but 4x per week for six months.....We played some cards after dinner, Crazy 8's (American 8's as it's known here) with all the attendant insects and moths as our audience, attracted by the candlelight. Suddenly, a lizard landed on the table from out of nowhere, startling all of us. It had caught it's dinner mid-air, a moth dangling from its mouth. It had leapt from a beam above us, a meal well-earned. Crawled into my tent, switched off my headlamp, and added today, August 5th 2009 to the precious short list of "right here, right now"