Sunday, September 4, 2011

Things I've Wanted to Tell You

Seth and I are leaving South Sudan. If you read our blog you already know this.
I’ve been sick to varying degrees since May and with the baby on the way it’s time to come home. So all of that is happening, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you.
What I want to tell you about is this year we’ve lived. I’ve wanted to tell you the stories of our lives and friends here; from the absurd to the painful to the laughable. I’ve wanted to tell you about the hard and beautiful moments. It would be a lie to say I didn’t have time to tell you these things while they were happening. The truth is I didn’t have the clarity of mind or the will.
So indulge me if you will as this blog (at least for me) becomes a reflection of the last year. I will try to post regularly over the next few months as many of the stories as I can, so check back often.
Let’s start with a monkey story…
The Education of Johnny Cash
Some of you may not know this, but I know how to break horses. I don’t mean I worked a summer on a ranch and learned a thing or two; I mean I rode and trained horses several hours a day for more than a third of my life. I was good at it, and people paid me to do it.
My background as a professional equestrian has given me a knack for training most animals and an understanding of animal behavior. Like when my friend says to me that her aggressive rat of a dog pees on her when they are at the dog park, I can say, “That’s because he thinks he owns you and is marking his territory.”
I really hate undisciplined pets.
That brings me to Johnny Cash - the Cornerstone Children’s Home pet monkey (and his sidekick June).
I had determined before reaching Nimule that I was going to train Johnny… you know, as a side project. Sure, there may have been some grand ideas of all the useful things Johnny Cash could be trained to do for us, like go to the market for hot samosa, mingle posho (cook, basically), carry an AK-47 and guard the compound, discipline children, and spy on our teenagers when they left the compound - you know useful things. In reality I just wanted him to stop biting people (or at least the wrong people), and I knew this would take some serious will breaking and most likely neutering.
Johnny lived on a compound with 60 resident children; another 200 school children under the average age of seven were on his compound daily. If I could get him enough under my control to keep him from terrorizing and trying to maim these children, then I would feel pretty good.
Prior to our departure I tried to do a little research. There are NO books on training monkeys, no websites either (I know, can you believe that?!?!). For several thousand dollars you can find someone to train your monkey and train you to train your monkey. All I figured out was that Johnny Cash is a vervet monkey and is not recommended as a pet. Sweet.
My biggest inspiration came from a podcast we heard one day while driving around Denver. You can listen to it here; I’m going to summarize it and probably not very accurately so you should go listen to it later – it’s great.
It’s told by a guy who was doing lab research for his Ph.D in Neuroscience. He had a lab of monkeys that he was using for different experiments. One monkey in particular was precocious, and he grew a strong affection for this monkey and it’s lively spirit. This affection soon began to affect his lab work as the monkey would not do as it was supposed to, and as the man ended up compromising and pleading with his beloved monkey, his work became impossible. Eventually he had to shut down his personal feelings and attachment towards the monkey and become very strict, cold and unwavering in his interactions with the monkey.
After many months of this treatment the monkey finally fell in line, but it seemed to lose all its spark and life, and all the things the man had loved about the monkey were gone. The monkey became resigned and dull.
The man continued his lab work and completed his Ph.D, but he was so crushed by his experience that he decided that if he had to continue that kind of research to pursue his career, then he wouldn’t pursue his career. 

He couldn't stand that he had had to break the monkey’s will.

At the end of the story I turned to Seth, who was practically in tears and said, “that’s what we need to do to Johnny Cash.”

I will continue the story of Johnny and June over the next few months.
Thanks for reading.

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