Elizabeth Marie Houser and the Monkeys
My cousin Elizabeth (no, not you, Libby!) is marrying Chris (nope, not yours, the other one!) on Saturday. I’m not even taking my computer to the wedding, so there will be no Dissertation Diary tomorrow (I’m sure you’re all terribly disappointed), and this is going out today in case E starts to think she has more important things to do this weekend than read the world’s best blog.
Although age seems to make time together happen less frequently (doesn’t it always?), we have some great memories–like daring Daniel to eat dog food (he did), spending holidays at game parks, and making sure that ALL the Not Juice in Nyanya and Babu’s house was properly labeled.
There’s one memory, though, that often sticks out. It’s the most awfully stereotypical of Wild Africa stories, but I’ll tell you about it anyway. After all, near-death experiences create bonds, and that’s what this one sort-of-but-not-really was:
I think our story takes place in 1995, and I know it takes place at Mission Meeting. Mission Meetings were an annual week-long event for missionaries from across the region to meet and discuss the proper dimensions for house windows, commiserate about the heat in vehicles with no air conditioning, and discuss important issues like how to be culturally sensitive. Naturally, these meetings took place at the Wigwam–an American Indian-themed hotel where guests could stay in their very own tepees.
We loved hanging out with the cousins–both biological and MK–at these meetings, especially Alicia, who got married and went on her honeymoon there at the ripe old age of four, broke a glass while trying to make toasts with Daniel, and did other stuff. While the adults met, we kids would play under the supervision of US mission trip volunteers who had traveled all the way to Africa just to spend a week with a bunch of American kids whose lot it was to live in a land without Tootsie Rolls. Don’t worry, they brought plenty of Tootsie Rolls, along with lessons on how to interact with passive-aggressive adults from the southern United States (“You will call me Miss Mitzi, please. And you will stop hitting your sister now, please.”).
Although it sounds like Shangri La, meetings at the Wigwam were always terrifying, for this one reason:
Yes, Vervet Monkeys. Vervets look cute enough to keep as pets (which Dad apparently tried and failed at as a child), but they are neither cute nor pets. They’re vicious little creatures that love to feast on biscuits and tea. Since the Wigwam catered mostly to foreign tour groups, the monkeys had a year-round supply of people ready to feed them in exchange for a photo.
Year-round except during Mission Meeting, that is. Mission Meeting consisted of tough, hardened folks who knew the wily ways of those monkeys and refused to feed them treats. It’s probably not the monkeys’ faults that they always became aggressive during our stay; I too get cranky when my blood sugar drops. They wanted cookies, and by gum, why were these the only Americans unwilling to contribute to their growing diabetes problem?
I had always feared the monkeys, and the day of our story was no exception. Elizabeth, my friend BB, and I were walking back to our rooms one day when we noticed some monkeys watching us from their tree perch. As we passed them, the monkeys slowly climbed out of the tree and started staring us down.
We kept walking. They kept staring. We walked faster. They began to follow. We walked even faster. They walked even faster. So we started running, and. . .
. . . The monkeys started running (duh). Actually they started sprinting. Not to be outdone by whatever sound I’m sure they were making, we started screaming for help at the tops of our lungs as we picked up a slow-running Elizabeth and each carried her by an arm. They were so close that it felt like they were almost grabbing us, and we couldn’t go any faster. As we reached the spot where BB’s and Elizabeth’s families were staying next to each other, both of their terrified mothers emerged from their rooms. “What’s happening? I hear my baby screaming!” E’s mom, Aunt Ana, exclaimed. They ran toward us, grabbed our arms, and shoved us inside one of the rooms, shooing away the monkeys and shutting the door in their sugar-deprived faces.
After a round of hugs, the moms checked to make sure everyone was okay. They looked at our arms and faces and asked us if any of them had “gotten” us. We all said no, sure that we had escaped their grasp. As we cleaned up, however, I felt something wet on the back of my leg. I looked down and saw puncture marks with blood flowing out of them. I didn’t tell anyone, for to admit to a monkey scratch would have been tantamount to acknowledging the need for rabies or tetanus tests. One of our friends had been bitten by a rabid dog a few months before, causing them to receive injections against those diseases, and if there’s one thing in life I’m adamantly opposed to, it’s needles puncturing my skin.
In hindsight, perhaps that omission of details did not represent a particularly smart way of thinking, but at least we didn’t have to get any shots. And we wore pants and long sleeves during most subsequent Wigwam stays.
So, Chris, good luck in your new role as designated monkey keeper-away-er. I don’t know what details Elizabeth left out of that story leading up to the wedding, but I just wanted you to hear it today (before it’s too late) , in case she ever starts foaming at the mouth. . .