“Afrika, Afrika, Afrika,
Waalejam, naaledjam hirejam,
We all say: Jam tum!”
One part of the song we made about life in Dindefelo during the fieldwork for the Jane-Goodall Institute Spain. Now, 1.5 years later, I still think back of my times in Senegal as one of the most enriching experiences in my life. January 2016, luggage packed. My mother brought me to the airport. I only knew four weeks in advance that my long desired primate research would be in Senegal instead of Congo. “Bye mum!” – and I threw up over her favourite jacket. “No problem Denise, I also threw up when I was nervous for something when I was young. Just drink a good glass of water and enjoy the ride”. I did. I arrived in Dakar after a short mid-stop in Barcelona where I got the last instructions from my professor. A crazy cage tunnel was facing me when I wanted to leave the airport. Luckily, the guide was waiting there with a carton sign that said “Denise”. I cannot explain my feelings of happiness that this all went well and that this guy would bring me to a hostel. In simple English mingled with some French we found our way to Dakar, where I would spent some days before departing for the final destination: Dindefelo.
“Dakar first stop, a real shock,
Nikolo bus, not a plus,
Nature comes, life is a bom,
Final stop: Dinde rock!”
The bus stopped. Everybody went out, and I, of course, did not understand what was said again. I went out as well, all of a sudden everybody peed. Just peed. There next to the bus. Ok, I did the same. Pants down, and pee. Then a loud horn shoot and everybody ran back to the bus, including me, with my pants half down. Luckily, I got back in the bus before it took off again. The next challenge was the sept-place. A kind of taxi that is made for 7 persons but fits 12 and finally drives with 20 persons. Not very surprisingly: A leak in the wheel after we drove with this no-window-full-rust-car-with 100km/h over a “road” that was full of bumps. Just one hour delay, that was not the worst. I arrived in Dindefelo, got nicely welcomed by the team, just that I forgot my phone in the car. OEPS. But these amazing locals found it, and brought it back. All good.
“Toebab donne, moi un cadeau,
They ask your name and then they go,
But we go with their flow,
Dindefelo here we goooo.”
Time for fieldwork, a speed course in French and there we went. Diba, Douda and me went to measure on average 10 chimpanzee nests per day. They were my daddy and mummy in the forest. Every time I slit from a slope and wanted to grasp a spiky three they screamed just in time: NOOO Denise, don’t grasp that tree! Take the next! Did you check the snakes under the tree, Denise? Uh no.. Denise, tu es notre bébé dans la forêt. We had the biggest fun and hit the target of an average of 10 nests per day! Singing songs, crossing rivers, biking through the forest, sharing breakfast, seeing chimpanzees, and laughing and crying about language and cultural differences.
“Arie naamie, no merci,
Bedou sera, no me haari,
No mersuda, sera sera,
Honto yata, me hoti, awa!
The Senegalese household where I ate every day: I had a lot of mums there in Senegal. This mum did not speak French so time for another speed course but this time for Pular. The kids, or my siblings, did not speak French either, leading to a new communication system: an unofficial sign language. This worked perfectly but mostly existed out of hand-clap-games. Every day. But I loved it. The kids sang their song and I just had to do the hand-clapping with them. We cooked coffee from mud, as a game of course, and I had to play that I was buying it from them and drank it. They insist to braid my hair, which I could not reject anymore. I slowly became a real family member since I also got an African fabric from my mum, to wear as an African skirt. I cried. How lovely!
“Afrika, Afrika, Afrika,
Bonjour, bonsoir, et bonne nuit,
Ca va bien, et toi aussie?
We all say: MERCI!”
Back home. After a 3.5-month rollercoaster. I could write a book about it, but I'll leave it as it is. My study aimed to investigate the nesting patterns of the chimpanzees in this area by measuring variables from their nesting site, nesting trees and nests. These variables were linked to the environmental constrains these primates face. My second aim was to test the anti-predator hypothesis of nesting with the help of eight possible strategies. I found that the chimpanzees chose nesting sites rather than nesting trees and that their nest height was mostly dependent on the trunk diameter. These results were presented during the 7th edition of the European Federation of Primatology Meeting in Strasbourg last summer. I won the first price of oral communication during this congress thanks to all the people that helped and supported me during and after my stay in Africa. I am going to work on the final version for the publication during my stay in Barcelona during the winter. I thank everybody again for their support in making this project of value for science and primate conservation.