I like to think I’m pretty tough. I’m a farm girl. I do physical labor. Dirt and smells and creepy-crawlies don’t (often) faze me. Going into this trip, I was pretty confident that I was cut out for Ghana. Maybe it’s just a delusion of grandeur and I’m overcompensating for my smallish stature and a face that refuses to let go of its baby fat, but I like to think that there isn’t much I’d be too afraid to try here.
But there was one thing. There was one activity that I dreaded months before we got here: our visit to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. And that is because I, Franziska Carol Monahan, am terrified of monkeys.
I don’t know exactly why. I’ve never had a scarring personal experience with a monkey. I think it might have something to do with them being so human, but not at the same time. They also supposedly throw poop, which isn’t charming in the slightest.
But I had promised myself at the beginning of this trip that I wasn’t going to let myself miss out on anything, including almost certain death by the tiny opposable-thumbed hands of dozens of monkeys. I was going to the monkey sanctuary and I was going to go all the way.
When we pulled up to the sanctuary, we were all handed bananas and instructed keep a firm grip on them, otherwise the monkeys would tear them straight out of our hands. They also told us not to peel the bananas so the monkeys would have to climb on you in order to get their snack. Great.
Our tour guide then began to lead us into the forest where the monkeys lived. As soon as the trees enveloped us, we could hear the monkeys chattering all around in the distance. We walked farther and farther down the trail, but still no monkeys made themselves visible to us. Convinced a monkey was going to jump out of the bushes any second and scare bananas out of me, I held onto mine so tightly it was turning into a banana pudding. And then, just as I had anticipated but was still not in the least bit ready for, a monkey jumped down into the branches right above us. Someone fed the monkey and then we continued on our way.
After a while it seemed like they had figured out we were there and bunches of them were crawling down the trees, grasping at our bananas and then scurrying back up the tree once they had sufficiently stuffed their little mouths. At this point, everyone was holding out their banana-bearing hands and encouraging the monkeys to come closer. I decided it was time I tried to join in.
I held my banana above my head towards a smallish, less threatening looking monkey and watched as it timidly made it’s way down towards my outstretched arm. Then, right as the monkey lunged for the banana, I chickened out and pulled my arm back like a little kid taking back a high-five.
After a few more tries I was able to let a monkey take some of the banana out of my hand. But then, another monkey, a much larger, more confident monkey jumped down and almost made off with most of my banana. I thought that was pretty rude so in a moment of fleeting courage, I grabbed the piece of the banana out of his hand and jumped back. The monkey, who I later learned was the king of this particular tribe of primates, jumped to ground and started advancing towards me. I panicked. I forcefully threw the broken-off piece of the banana at him. Luckily, he caught it. I would have felt a little bad if it had hit him in the head – maybe I was making progress?
A little shaken, I walked over to where some more of my friends were, to maybe find a smaller monkey to let climb on me and finish off my banana. Everyone around me was having monkeys climb on them, and everyone else was taking pictures. Suddenly, in the midst of it all, I saw her. A smallish monkey was timidly letting off of her branch to make her way towards me – her eyes locked on the battered and bruised banana in my hand. Then she jumped and I had a monkey sitting on my shoulder, munching happily on the rest of the banana. Once she was finished, she jumped off and scurried back into the tree, leaving me stunned and banana-less.
But I survived. I wasn’t scratched or bitten. My shoulder did smell distinctly of what I imagine was monkey poop, but hey at least she didn’t throw it at me. After we were done socializing with them, the tour guide told us about the history of the monkeys, saying that once, a long time ago, they used to protect the people who lived there, so now the people protect the monkeys in return. It’s illegal to kill a monkey in Ghana, and you have to pay a fee if you want to cut down one of their trees. He also reminded us that these monkeys are tame and used to humans. Other monkeys of their species would not be as much fun to feed bananas to. He said that the monkeys living in the sanctuary aren’t kept as pets, because it’s important for them to know how to take care of themselves in the wild.
And as for me, I still wouldn’t say that I love monkeys, but I don’t feel bad about being nervous for having one crawl on me. Like the tour guide said, just because these ones might be friendly, it doesn’t mean they’re not still wild animals. They shouldn’t be thought of or kept as pets. They’re a part of nature, a part of wilderness, and that’s the way they’re supposed to be. Wild.