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Please go to my new Psychology Today blog to see what I'm up to. To buy the book, Bonobo Handshake, please visit my website. To follow the adventures of the Lola ya Bonobo orphans, please visit Friends of Bonobos

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Today we went up the couilou river, to try and have lunch by a lake. The water is an amazing Coca Cola brown. On the way to the lake the river got choked up by water hyacinths that kept getting stuck in the boat propellor. We never made it to the lake. The water hyacinths were like spooky monsters that kept closing in behind us. The Congolese boat drivers were nervous because they had never been that far up the river before and they were worried about mermaids. Apparently if you don't perform elaborate rituals and ask permission, the mermaids get really pissed off.

But, not to be defeated, Brian captured some of the enemy and stuck them in his hat, like feathers.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Queer eye for the straight dog

thanks to all for your sweet, encouraging comments about the congolese compliments. i carried them with me this morning as deanne looked me up and down critically and said, 'well your tits have gotten smaller but your ass is definately bigger'.

thanks also for being patient till we get to bonobo land - 8 days left, and still just kicking it on the other side of the congo river. as to what i do all day, well some people get all goey over other people's babies when they are about to have a baby.

I am like that with people's dogs because when we get back to America, Brian says I can get a puppy.

This is Tango.

I don't know if you can tell but He is the manky African dog of our friends Rebeca and Fernando. Whe I saw him, with all his natural dreadlocks and smelling like he'd rolled in dead fish then jumped into a sewer, I practically clapped my hands and squealed 'project!'

I gave him a bath today.

Then I tortured him for four hours, cutting off his dreadlocks and combing out the thousands of burrs in his fur that were causing the dreadlocks.

Now he looks like this

So purrrrty.

Save the bonobos!


Last night, Brian woke me up by shining his flashlight in my face. I was ready to kill him because I am jetlagged and it takes hours to get back to sleep. He pushed me so I rolled over and then when I knew I was woken up, I sat up and prepared to kill him, but then I saw Brian pulling a scorpion off the netting that was right next to my head.

I have a thing about scorpions. I hate their little square heads and I think it's wretched that they eat their children when they get hungry. I hope I am not that way with my kids when they wake me up, but it's too early to tell because I don't have any yet.

Anyway, my friends Meride was stung by a scorpion and she nearly died. So obviously I was very freaked out by the scorpion sitting by my face.

Take no notice of the fact that it's about as big as a dust speck. i think the smaller they are, the more poisonous. I totally nearly died.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

feeling fat

I don't know why, but the Congolese feel compelled to tell you 50 times a day you look fat. Especially if they haven't seen you for a while.

'Oh Vanessa,' Christelle says 'You have become so large.'

'You are completely fat now,' says Godeline. 'Your ass is so big.'

I guess big is beautiful over here, and the Congolese women have definately got bootylicious going on. It's like they could perch a parrot on their behinds. But for me, I have already got a fat complex since I turned 30 because I don't burn calories just breathing like I did at 22. And then I moved to the South (North Carolina) where everything that doesn't move is deep fried.

So I walk for an hour a day.

'Where are you going?' says Clotaire. 'I'll give you a lift.'

'No thanks, I'm walking.'

'Eh? But I'm free to drive you.'

Everyone thinks it's hilarious that I would walk around for exercise. As in, not to go somewhere but effectively do a big circle.

'I need to lose some weight,' I say by way of explaination which is still completely incomprehensible. But every morning when I see everyone, it's still

'Vanessa! You are fat!'

Don't forget! you can adopt a bonobo here:

Monday, June 23, 2008

penis post II

Oh la la. Quite a few hands went over groins in the last post I see. The men here have a specific walk here now when they visit the market, where they cover their jewels with their hand in their pocket.

I don't blame anyone for their concern, as there are certainly a few women in prison for something that isn't likely to exist, but after spending enough time in Congo, I'm fascinated with their beliefs in witchcraft. I started off with the same views most of you have, that it's probably a load of nonsense, and after seeing bonobos and chimpanzees arriving with parts of their bodies cut off, one finger at a time for use in black magic, I was indignant and appalled.

Congolese black magic is often cruel and has no scientific basis. Yet the people here beleive in it with a ferocity that is unshakable. After a lot of thought, I wonder whose fault it is that the standard of living here is so low that the people in the villages have no access to an education that would persuade them boiling the bone of an infant bonobo in water will not make pregnant women strong, or cure them of lethargy.

As I sit here at night, I can see the flames of the oil drilling at sea. Pointe Noire in Congo has a reserve of oil that would embarrass Saudi Arabia and it is selling it for a song to oil companies in Europe and the US. Both regions pay off government officials so they can buy the oil at a cheaper rate so Americans can continue to drive their SUVs (not sure what the Europeans do with it, since their cars are the size of matchboxes) , even though buying at a fair price and ensuring the money goes where it is supposed to would ensure a secondary education for every child in Congo.

So before you riducule beliefs that have been part of tribal heritage for generations, ask whose fault it is that those beliefs have never changed.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Penis theft

Just arrived and already it's got interesting. I don't know if you heard about the penis theft panic that was hitting DRC Congo last month

So apparently it's come across the river to Congo Brazzaville. This is Chantal, my source:

yes that is a giant bug she's holding. So she tells me she heard from one of her friends who has a friend whose penis has disappeared. The witches arrived in Brazzaville from Nigeria, and that they bump into men in the market, and their penis vanishes. Not falls off, just vanishes leaving an area as smooth as your arm. There is no blood or scarring. There have been 3 cases of this penis theft in Pointe Noire. The men here at the chimp sanctuary are terrified and no one is going into town.

Of course this all sounds like total nonsense, except for the absolute conviction of everyone here where magic is a part of life. And is the penis theft stranger than the concept of cancer? Where your cells start mysteriously destroying each other? Or anyone of a hundred weird diseases that baffle doctors and specialists and no one knows how to cure?

And the other question is, if you're Evan (the graduate student) or Brian (my husband) do you risk going into town?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The team

While Brian and I have been swimming in the lake near our house, baking muffins and sitting on our bottoms, there are already two graduate students from Duke and one from Harvard over in Congo working hard. Here is a post about them by Duke Research

Check out the chimp grabbing Evan's arm...

For mentors like Duke assistant professor Brian Hare, a visit to graduate students working in a tropical jungle involves more than going over the science.

“It’s sort of a morale booster because field work like theirs is tough,” he says. “They’re working in places with no air conditioning in the most hot and humid conditions. And it’s exhausting.”

“I need to remind them to drink lots of clean water, take their malaria prophylaxes and wear a lot of sun screen.”

But when they aren’t working on their own survival skills, the students gather important data to contrast and compare the thinking style of our two closest ape relatives.

Duke graduate students Evan MacLean and Alexandra Rosati are working this summer with Harvard-based graduate student Victoria Wobber at two reserves in Africa to evaluate tantalizing questions about bonobos and their alter ego lookalike species, chimpanzees.

Wobber previously built evidence that male bonobo toddlers produce the highest levels of sexual hormones in their lives during infancy. She collected hormone samples by enticing the infants to drool saliva as they sucked on a sweet.

This summer, Wobber will administer a battery of mental development tests on 2- to 5-year-old infants of both species. Evaluations will range from tool use and counting ability to social learning skills.

Meanwhile, Rosati will be assessing how each species handles the primate equivalent of “economic decision-making” — in this case involving food. She and her colleagues have already learned that chimps are gamblers who are willing to risk losing food for the possibility of getting more. But bonobos “prefer the safe option,” Hare says. They’re more comfortable with a smaller but unchanging ration.

Now Rosati will use Wobber’s saliva sampling technique to monitor sex hormones of both species to see if the levels may be tied to their differing food risk strategies.

One of MacLean’s summertime projects will evaluate whether young bonobos and chimps learn tasks more quickly – like human children do – when the subject is presented with a happy face. In the process, MacLean will make ape-like vocalizations “equivalent to ‘I’m really happy,’” Hare says.

adopt a bonobo here!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Going to Congo - and adopt a bonobo!

I can't believe it's that time of year again. It feels like just yesterday I was so sad to be ending the blog and now it's time to go.

We're leaving on Wednesday and of course I haven't packed a thing. Or done anything I'm supposed to do. We've just bought a house in Chapel Hill so all I want to do is reupholster some chairs and design a Japanese garden but instead I have to go and deal with all those Congo bugs. I almost want to call off the trip but then how am I going to resist this?

This is Pole, Opala's baby, and just like every other baby he is going to have grown so much!

So of course I'm excited to see everyone again. No doubt Boyoma is going to bite me, the little punk, but it will be worth it if I get to give Yolo hugs.

On to more executive matters, we just had the Friends of Bonobos board meeting in Washington D.C on the weekend, and our President told us we only had 8 adoptions last year! Partly it's because the payment option on the website was a pain in the ass, but now it's been revamped.

So adopt a bonobo! Look how cute they are!

That's Lomela and Kata from last year, our little survivors. They'll look so different this year. Apparently Kata has a terrible temper and is a total drama queen.

See you in Congo!