Meeting Jane Goodall: A Guest Post
by Mary Vanhooser
Hello Traveling Marla readers! Marla went out on a limb this week and let me write a guest blog for you guys. I’m Mary, an American expat who has been living in South Africa for about 18 months. I moved here with my husband (Aaron) and 3 children (Parker, 8; Nathaniel, 6 and Taylor, 4) and began the greatest adventure our family has ever undertaken. We were able to experience some amazing outings recently and Marla asked if I would share them with you.
My family. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
We live in Pretoria, South Africa, one of the main cities in the most populous provinces here. So, there are lots of things to do if you know where to find them. Google and South African travel magazines have become my go-to when I have some free time. Through one of my searches, I found out about The Jane Goodall Institute
and her South African Chimpanzee Sanctuary: www.janegoodall.co.za
This was also featured on Animal Planet as a reality series called Chimp Eden. It is about a 4-hour drive from our home and we haven’t made time to visit yet, but I became a fan on Facebook so I could cyber-stalk them until we could come out.
Last week, the sanctuary announced on Facebook that they still had tickets available to see the movie Chimpanzee
at a casino only an hour from our house and that after the movie Jane Goodall herself would be doing a talk about chimpanzee conservation. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass! I quickly e-mailed that I would like 5 tickets.
Now, getting tickets to things here in Africa can be an adventure in and of itself. Often times, they don’t accept payment on-line or even via credit card and bringing cash to an event to pay is a no-no. So, you have to get creative. The Goodall Institute responded back the next day that 5 tickets were available but that I would need to pay via EFT, electronic funds transfer. Well, my US bank account doesn’t play nice with African banks 99% of the time, so I have to shlep down to the actual bank, get South Africa Rand from an ATM and then make a direct deposit of said cash into their account. Then you take a picture of the deposit slip and e-mail proof of payment. And of course save the slip to turn in once you arrive. A pain regardless, more of a pain when I have to drag 3 kids along for the exciting banking field trip, but for about $70 (all of which went directly to the sanctuary) we secured our spots.
A typical transaction in the life of an expat: depositing South African Rand into a bank for a wire transfer to pay for events. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
I felt the need to prep my kids about who Jane Goodall was. They were very excited to see Chimpanzee because that meant popcorn and soda, but they were not so sure about the talk. Luckily, we happened to have some great Zoobooks here that discussed Dr. Goodall and all the research she had done with the chimpanzees. I explained that she was a grandma now, not the young lady featured in the book, but that she still loved chimpanzees and wanted to help them. My 8-year-old daughter Parker was enamored with the idea of living in the rain forest! And all the kids seemed much more eager to learn from Dr. Goodall, plus one for having the right books on hand!
I swear I have not been more excited for an African outing since we moved here. I remember reading about Dr. Goodall’s adventures in Tanzania when I was my daughter’s age. My mom got National Geographic and I remember reading all the articles about this crazy woman living with the chimps. I remember loving the idea of living in the rain forest and the solitude and quiet. I am an only child and the thought of living alone with the animals sounded like paradise.
I woke up early Saturday morning ready to go. The movie started at 2 p.m. and I had the whole family in the car at 12:45 for a 45 minute drive there. But, this is Africa, so of course we hit unbelievable traffic on the exit ramp, 1/2 mile from our destination. We hit traffic at 1:15. It was a fender bender on the bridge over the highway. There were cops there, but in Africa that just means cops were sitting in and on their police cars watching as traffic snarled around them. Not one of them took the initiative to direct traffic to help with the congestion. By the time we parked and were running inside, it was 2:15.
We had brought the Zoobook that discussed all the work Jane Goodall had done with us and I had planned to have her sign it. But, in all the craziness with traffic and being late, we left it in the car. I think I will always regret that. But, there was good luck too, the traffic had affected everyone and they had delayed the start of the movie so we didn’t miss anything!
After the movie they led us into the outdoor amphitheater in the casino’s bird gardens. It is winter in South Africa and by the time we were seated it was after 4 p.m. and the sun was already setting. The temperatures were dropping and I began to worry about Dr. Goodall. She is now 79 years old and I was picturing this frail grandmother talking in the cold. I shouldn’t have had any concerns.
Once she took the microphone it was clear that even at 79, Jane Goodall is a woman to be reckoned with.
Dr. Jane Goodall speaking at Montecasino Bird Gardens. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Dr. Goodall gave an amazing speech. She began with her childhood and said that her mother truly created the scientist she became because her mother always encouraged her curiosity. She said at the age of 18 months she went to bed with a handful of earthworms from their garden. Instead of being repulsed, Jane’s mother quietly explained that the worms would die if they weren’t returned to the soil and took Jane outside so the worms would be safe. Jane said her first and clearest memory was of being a girl of 4 1/2 and visiting friends on a farm. The friends had a chicken coup and sent Jane to collect the eggs. Jane, a city girl from London, was fascinated, and asked where the eggs came from. No adults would tell her, so she took it upon herself to climb into the chicken coup and sit and sit and sit, waiting quietly without moving for more than 4 hours until finally she saw a hen actually lay an egg. She then went running to her now very worried mother and instead of being scolded for disappearing for 4 hours, was encouraged to tell the story of what she had discovered.
“Isn’t that just what a scientist would do?,” Dr. Goodall said. “Ask a question, not get the answers they want, go out to collect data through observation themselves and make their own conclusions.”
I will be striving to add the lessons from Dr. Goodall’s mother to my own parenting. I try my best to be patient and encourage my children’s curiosity but I lose it sometimes.
Dr. Jane Goodall speaking at Montecasino Bird Gardens near Johannesberg. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
I must say that Dr. Goodall embodied everything you want from an environmentalist today. She is not a crazy person, hell bent on forcing her view on others. Instead she is very measured, very articulate and, despite decades of watching rain forest destruction and chimpanzee poaching, very hopeful. She said she must have hope because otherwise what point is there? Her speech was incredibly moving. She discussed how her team in Tanzania has engaged the local people to help with chimpanzee habitat protection and it has worked. 50 years ago they tried to do it without the local people and the people fought conservation, once they educated the people and asked for their help, the habitat loss reversed and it is now growing.
She spoke an hour in the cool evening standing the entire time and then stood longer to answer all the questions from her audience. Both of my daughters asked questions. My 4-year-old asked how old Dr. Goodall was when she moved to the rain forest and learned that Jane was 23 years old. My 8-year-old asked what it was like living in the rain forest and Jane said it was wonderful. So quiet except the sounds of birds and insects. Very green. Soft. I loved her description.
Dr. Goodall said the best way for anyone to help our world is to not focus on the big, but instead look at the small things we can do in our own families, neighborhoods, schools and towns. Small changes work and can scale up, but trying to change the whole world will just overwhelm us.
At the end of her speech she finally found a place to sit down, but stayed to personally greet anyone who wanted to talk with her. So, my whole family got to go down and shake her hand and thank her for her amazing service.
Meeting Dr. Jane Goodall. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
She told the kids about her program called Roots and Shoots (http://rootsandshoots.org/
). I am going to contact the South African chapter and try to get something started at their school here.
Vanhooser children and Dr. Jane Goodall at Montecasino Bird Gardens. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Even at nearly 80, Dr. Goodall said she still travels about 300 days out of the year. If she ever happens to do an event in your neighborhood, jump at the chance to attend. I will remember meeting her the rest of my life and I hope the meeting had some impact on my children.