Alright, alright – I know I’ve been slacking off with this blog idea. I promised far too many of you that I’d keep you updated on my time here in Uganda with this spot on the net. Yet I’ve been in Uganda for just over a month now… and not a single post! But I promise you, I’ve got a good excuse. No, it’s not the quality of the internet (I’ve been checking my emails multiple times a week), nor is it that I am too busy to write (I’ve been swimming and reading nearly every day). Truth is, I’m only now settling in and finding the words to describe it all! Plus, I have been designing my own research project here, and I’ve been in the field with the monkeys nearly every day, so I guess I *have* been busy enough!
Uganda is a wonderful place. Though it’s only one piece of the enormity of Africa that I would love to explore, I am incredibly grateful to finally have reached this continent. Anyone who’s has one or two conversations with me will already know that I have a (slight?) obsession with primates. With the likes of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey as my childhood heroes, it comes as no surprise that I’ve always dreamed of coming to Africa to see monkeys and apes in the wild.
For those who don’t know the whole story, here goes: I’ve had a thing for all things primates for as long as I can remember. Its not entirely clear to me when I decided that primates were my “thing,” but from that early collection of (30+) stuffed monkeys, they’ve shaped my life. As I learned more about how these animals were so similar to humans, my perspective on where humans fit into the world order began to take shape. It led me to become a vegetarian and an animal rights activist around the age of thirteen, made an environmentalist and conservationist of me in high school, and pushed me into the Environment program at McGill where I’ve studied Biodiversity and Conservation for my bachelors. In my first years of university, I swayed back and forth without much drive, unsure of what I really wanted to do. But, when I stumbled upon primatologist Dr. Frans de Waal’s book “Peacemaking among Primates” at a book sale on campus, I came full circle: I fell back to my childhood fascination with primates.
To my great surprise, a friend told me that there was a primatologist here, at McGill! Though he was mentioned to me a couple more times, it was only after I took a class with Dr. Colin Chapman that I got the guts to approach him to find out how I might actually make a career out of studying monkeys.
After a few conversations about monkeys and Africa, I finally got to the point: I really wanted to work with primates. After three exciting, and sometimes grueling independent study projects poring over data collected in the field, Dr. Chapman and I finally started honing in on what really interested me about primates. I thought about working in conservation projects or volunteering in primate sanctuaries, but with Dr. Chapman’s guidance, I realized that it was asking questions about primate behaviour that really interested me. When I started searching for ANY way to get field research experience (there is only so much one can learn from books) I found myself being offered the chance to join Dr. Chapman’s research team in Africa! All that was left – getting funding. Finally, within weeks of my departure date, I received word that I was a recipient of an competitive NSERC USRA research grant! All I needed now were a few more vaccinations and to pack my bags, and I was ready to set off for the heart of the continent I’d only dreamed of visiting.
And so, here I am! I’ve been in Uganda working at a research station on the edge of Lake Nabugabo for just over a month now, studying the behaviour of vervet monkeys with Dr. Julie Teichroeb. I’m quite pleased to say that I am having the time of my life. I am surrounded by intelligent, interesting, and friendly colleagues and I am learning something new everyday. I wake up every morning to vervet monkeys just outside my front door. I can already identify most of the individuals in our study group, and they don’t seem to mind my singing. It’s a good thing, because it’s the best way I know how to let out my emotions when I remember where I am and what I’m finally achieving.
I have so many more stories, photos and thoughts to share, but I hear blogs are supposed to be short and sweet. I can’t promise all my posts will be short, but I hope you’ll be able to appreciate my excitement. You’ll notice my blog is named “Maxvina” (that’s a story for another post). In short, it’s a sort of pseudonym/online persona I’ve had as long as I’ve been present online. I hope that through this blog, you’ll be able to experience a bit of my adventures here in Uganda, and wherever else I might find myself in this awesome world.
Until next time,