Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 44 & 45 – Volunteering

For the past two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) I’ve only used my car keys to get stuff out of the trunk. Haven’t left the grounds of Save the Chimps. In the morning I make the rounds of the five buildings checking for freshly laundered blankets to hang on the line or for really dirty blankets to put in the wash. Later in the day I make the same rounds to take down the blankets that have been dried by the sun and the wind (lots of wind today) and fold them.

I also go into the kitchen to count and bag chow or to help make treats. This afternoon I made an ice treat for each of the 150 or so chimps who currently live at this facility. The laundry work seems a bit lighter than last time I was here two years ago.

I spent some time today chatting with different people on the staff. I went to the workshop and looked at how various enrichment devices are made. It’s quite a challenge to create something that will occupy the chimps’ time and also withstand their strength so it can be reused – and then make dozens or a hundred or more of them.

When I’m making my rounds and at the end of the day I walk around the outside of the buildings and say ‘hi’ to the chimps. There are so many here that it’s hard to know who is who, but I’ve found a couple I know from past visits. Some appear curious about the stranger strolling around and a few seem to like the attention when I stop to talk to them. I wonder if anyone recognizes me from before.

The first time I came here to volunteer three and a half years ago, it felt a bit awkward. It wasn’t the really, really dirty laundry or the mouse in the washing machine. It was the fact that almost no one spoke to me. After an initial tour of the facility I set to work, and except for two other volunteers who were here the first day, all the caretakers pretty much ignored me. Eventually – after a few days -- a few of the more outgoing people began thanking me for my help and made me feel welcome.

This time has been very different. The folks I know from my previous visits have, of course, been very welcoming, but even the newer people seem happy to have a strange volunteer lending a hand – even if it disrupts their routine.

I’ll probably work through Friday and then set out on Saturday to continue the drive west and north. I’m thinking Petrified Forest National Park, Grand Canyon, and California Coast up to Oregon. The last part of the trip I’ll be making up as I go along.

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