Thursday, April 29, 2010

Speaking Wild Chimpanzee

G'ma and I went to hear Jane Goodall speak this afternoon.  After saying "Hello" in what I can only describe as  "a proper British accent," she said it again in Wild Chimp.  I've never heard anyone converse in Wild Chimp before, and I have to tell you that it sounds like a language I could learn to love... and like a language I could probably learn.  My sense is that grammar wouldn't be a huge part of the curriculum.

Dr. Jane spoke for an hour this afternoon in the lovely outdoor atrium of Pima Community College's Northwest Campus, conveniently located right between G'ma's pod-castle and my house.  And before I wax eloquently about her and her work and her general wonderfulness, let me do the same about PCC and its student body.  Parking was abundant but crowded, yet no one was tailgating or honking or looking peeved.  The signage was ok, but I asked a group of boys (ok, young men.... I'm getting old.....they all look like boys to me....) where the Atrium might be and they were polite and grammatically correct and genuinely glad to tell me that it was "beyond that steel building" and then add, with a big smile and the certainty that the information was golden "after 3 speed bumps."  And they were right; the speed bumps were crucial.  There were credentialed (t-shirts, necklace-badges, big welcoming smiles) helper-bees who greeted us as G'ma "I can walk"  and I crossed to the walkway, and one of them strolled, slowly slowly slowly, with us to the elevator (cleverly disguised with a big clear sign saying ELEVATOR) which took us up the one "no I am not walking up all those stairs"  flight where we were greeted by another smiling worker who showed us the seats set aside for those with disabilities.  Thanking G'ma for being old, I moved two of the folding chairs under the shade of a blooming palo verde tree and we smiled.

The introductions began 10 minutes late but weren't all that long-winded and then, there she was, under the canopy protecting her from the Sonoran sunshine, worrying about those of us out under the blue skies.  Of course she was good with the chimps -- she picked up on the energy of the audience in a nano-second.  She's a beautiful and delightful human being and I wish that I could have gotten close enough to take my own photo of her oh-so-comfortable-with-herself scarf clad person.  But there were a hundred or so school kids on the steps before her, so instead I'll give you a collage of the many umbrellas which were shielding skins from the sun

There's a lot I didn't know about her personal story, and as she shared the histories of JoJo and Satan and her other primate buddies, she told us about herself, as well.  She's received zillions of honors from zillions of institutions which give honors (UNESCO, Kyoto, Ghandi, UN Ambassador of Peace, Dame of the British Empire)  but she reserved her highest honors for her "amazing mother." I liked sitting next to my own mother as Dr. Goodall talked about her mother's encouragement and support and willingness to move to Africa for 4 months so that Jane could fulfill the British government's requirement that she not go into the bush without a companion  For her work with gauze pads and patent medicines, the indigenous people decided that her mom was a white witch doctor.  Personally, I'd say she ranks right up there with best mothers ever. At a time when finances precluded her daughter from attaining a degree, when girls didn't do those things, she had no trouble sending her obsessed child off on an adventure to follow her passion.  I have to believe that she was the one who gave the young Jane her first copy of Tarzan of the Apes.

I learned a lot about chimpanzees, too.  Their DNA differs by 1% from our human DNA; you can get a transfusion from a chimp and live to tell the tale.  They have a sense of self, emotions and family relationships.  They are tool makers (remember when humans were thought to be so special because we were the only ones clever enough for that leap?) and they tell stories and protect their young even when they are old and feeble and absurdly out-matched. 

With the reforestation of range areas spreading out from her compound, Gombe, there are fewer chances of intra-chimp-family-funny-business......that is to say, the opportunities for in-breeding are reduced as different groups are able to meet and mate.  There are water systems and latrines and micro-loans which have grown from Dr. Goodall's work in Tanzania, where destruction of the environment has become a necessity as human populations live without birth control on land which can no longer support their numbers.  She educates women because once they can read they are - surprise, surprise - happier, healthier, more self-sufficient and bearing fewer children. She's contributed to global awareness of our interconnectedness as she travels 300 days a year, repeating this mantra:
Every single one of us makes a difference every single day
That's something I can get myself to think about with a smile.

When I brought the car around to pick her up, G'ma was talking to a Happy Lady who recognized her as my mother, having seen her at luncheons and such with me.  As the security guard directed the traffic around The Schnozz, G'ma buckled her seat belt and, as he stopped the traffic so that we could leave, we drove down the driveway with smiles on our faces.

Life is good.  This is why I moved G'ma to Tucson, after all.  I was looking for a playmate and today she was right there with me, listening to a primatologist speak Wild Chimp as palo verde leaves, 2cm long and light as ... well, as palo verde leaves... landed on our arms as a toddler made not-at-all-random-circles in the space between his brothers and my chair as we listened to a real hero encourage us to stay involved with our poor old battered Mother Earth. 

There are many reasons to love living in Tucson; today was just another one.