Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo
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A young woman follows her fiancé to war-torn Congo to study extremely endangered bonobo apes-who teach her a new truth about love.
In 2005 Vanessa Woods accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and agreed to join him on a research trip to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Settling in at a bonobo sanctuary in Congo's capital, Vanessa and her fiancé entered the world of a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA and who live in a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake.
A fascinating memoir of hope and adventure, Bonobo Handshake traces Vanessa's self-discovery as she finds herself falling deeply in love with her husband, the apes, and her new surroundings in this true story of revelation and transformation in a fragile corner of Africa.
“He disappeared one day at the American school. Three days we were looking for him—three days! We searched the forest, we looked in the classrooms, the food storage, everywhere. Then, on the third day, we see crows circling a mango tree and we thought, that’s weird, why would crows circle a mango tree? So one of the keepers climbs the tree and sees Kikwit, right at the very top, covered in leaves. Can you believe it? For three days, he just sat in a tree and covered himself with leaves. I mean,
prompting or instructing, the guards became sadistic and cruel. They made the prisoners clean toilets by hand and defecate in a bucket in their cells. They locked the prisoners in solitary confinement and sprayed them with a fire extinguisher. They humiliated the prisoners by making them strip naked and simulate homosexual sex. Everyone was so absorbed in their roles that the experiment had to be stopped after only six days. Both prisoners and guards suffered trauma for months afterward. In
Brian, he has never raised a hand against me. If someone had asked, I would have said he wasn’t capable of it. Besides warfare and killing other males, chimpanzees have another unattractive trait they share with us. Richard Wrangham calls it battering. A male chimpanzee will begin a long, slow assault on females he lives with. He beats them for superficial misdemeanors, but the underlying reason, as in human males, is to display dominance and gain control. Every female chimpanzee is battered.
“There was a fire in the village last night.” “Where?” She points with her lips. “There. A man there had a son by his first wife. The son dropped in on the man’s third wife and her two children last night. They knew the son well; the children called him Big Brother. Then he took them down to the basement and slit their throats.” “No!” “Yes! Then he poured gasoline over the house and set it alight. The next-door neighbor saw the fire and bashed down the door to drag the son out. He was
ulterior motive to our benevolence. A hidden agenda to our gifts. I could despair, like almost every foreigner who understands a fraction of the challenges that have yet to be overcome. I won’t. Because I know the spirit of the Congolese. The Mamas, Suzy, Fanny—all of them have been through so much and yet they are not the walking dead. They are living, and they are living as though they believe they will become free. Almost half the population of Congo is under fifteen years old. The children