Packing for the Congo

Well, I leave in less than two days, and I'm still pondering what to bring the chimps of Tchimpounga. The Tchimpounga Sanctuary in Congo-Brazzaville is operated by the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and is the largest chimp sanctuary on the African continent. There are more than 150 young apes there, most of them orphaned by the bushmeat trade, and due to my promise to carry five eco-lanterns for JGI in my bags, I've only got about 26 kilograms of total luggage weight to my name. What to bring, what to bring?

A few days ago, I asked you this same question on Facebook and Twitter, and you gave me some wonderful ideas, some pragmatic, some poetic. Rachelle suggested I bring baby bottles and nipples for the infants (and some love, of course).  @nairammarian said I should bring vials of the measles vaccine, as Pointe-Noire (the closest city to Tchimpounga) is currently suffering through a measles epidemic, and chimpanzees are desperately susceptible to the virus. Chris went all existential on me, saying I should just bring myself. And Jon thought the best thing to bring the chimps would be HOPE, in all caps (Jon, I couldn't agree more).

But one answer really stuck out to me and got me to thinking. It was from a woman named Diana. She suggested I bring the chimps "Peace".

Diana's suggestion strikes straight to the heart of the issues facing the chimps of Tchimpounga. Because while Congo-Brazzaville isn't war-ravaged, rape-ravaged, mineral-raped DRC (that's just a short paddle across the Congo river), this small sliver of a country is still a complicated place, mired in the impossible history of the entire region and struggling to move on from it. And as the timber industry pushes further into the jungle, new roads are constantly being built, allowing the bullets of local people who are desperate for meat or a livelihood or both to reach ever further, too. It may not be peace from wartime the chimps of Congo-Brazzaville need, but it is certainly peace of a sort.

I can't pack peace into my luggage. There's just no room, what with all the camera equipment, audio equipment, bugspray, sunscreen, notebooks and pens (not to mention the extra set of 'measles' clothing to be worn only in the city). What I can do is remember that the sort of peace the chimps of Tchimpounga require is the same sort of peace we all require. When it comes to the bushmeat trade, no one is to blame and everyone is to blame. And laying blame will result in nothing but less peace and no solutions.

Maybe Chris was right. Maybe I should just bring myself to Tchimpounga. That's as good a starting point as any.

Check out the video below, A Day in the Life of Tchimpounga, and wait for the scene with the milk bottles: