Saturday, February 23, 2008

Our experience at the Addis Ababa "Zoo"

OK. Those of you on my email list, I warned you this was coming: the blog about animal cruelty and drugged monkeys. If you're a sensitive reader or a member of PETA, please do not continue.

First of all, I'm not sure which one was more entertaining or higher on chat; the man or the monkey. Next, let me explain what chat is, as this is what was being fed to these monkeys when we were there visiting the zoo.

Chat is a leafy shrub of a plant, whose tender leaves are chewed by almost all the population of Ethiopia. It's a natural stimulant and is considered an illegal drug in the civilized part of the world.

Chat is sold in small plastic bundles which cost more than a bottle of beer. The people who live in nearby villages and forests bring in an abundant supply of this stimulant. By the time they arrive into a town or village, it is past noon time because the people have to walk from where they cultivate the plant. The time they usually show up is 2pm. People who take chat on a regular basis disappear after 2pm. They buy chat as soon as it arrives. Then they chew it like a bunch of goats and basically are so high the rest of the day that they are unable to function.

So imagine us watching these moneys go absolutely crazy with Jeff narrating (you must speed up to about 32X regular speaking voice with a monkey accent): "give me some more chat it's really good ooohhh seeds seeds seeds give me some seeds i think i want to jump up and down now i really need some more seeds i need more chat give me that it's mine i'm going to jump up and down again hey look at me i'm counting seeds seeds seeds....." And it went on and on. I was crying. I was laughing so hard. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "ape $%#." You may be asking yourself "what is a monkey accent?" Call my husband and he will do a great imitation for you... he's quite talented.

This poor little dude kept picking up seeds seeds seeds, but he never ate any. He couldn't concentrate long enough to eat them. He would pick them up and then drop them again to hang off the bars. Outside of the context of animal cruelty, it was really hysterical.

The Abyssinian lion is famed for its black mane. This lion is only found in Ethiopia and is associated with their monarch, Haile Sellasie, whom they refer to as the lion of Judah. This lion is the Ethiopian national symbol, adorning statues as well as the local currency. The Lion Zoo of the impoverished nation's capital has been killing the endangered animals, poisoning six cubs this year because of lack of funding and space. They receive $170 for each cub pelt. (Taken from The Associated Press, Dec 2006)
So we get to the circular area with the lions, which you have to pay extra for. We start walking around to "look" at the lions (what I call doing it American zoo style) and I hear this man yelling and screaming in Amharic. I mean really yelling and screaming. There were people standing up next to the cage, so I assumed that he was yelling at them for being too close to the cage. (Here I was being a stupid American again) So he continues screaming. When we get around to that cage, we find that he's YELLING at the lion, poking it with a garden hose and generally trying to get it angry enough to come up to the front of the cage. All I can think is, "Oh my God, do you people not watch the news?" Visions of us being eaten alive by these huge lions, held back by flimsy Ethiopian made steel bars made me think of the tiger in San Francisco who got loose and attacked. The show "when animals attack" came to mind.

At one point, this lion jumped up on his hind legs and had its front paws sticking out of the bars of the cage. He nearly got one of the idiots standing in front of the cage for a picture. I think we were all just kind of shocked and unable to say anything. Merkeb was scared to death, although Filemon wanted to get up close. Going to an American zoo will definitely be an experience, won't it?
They really were beautiful lions. I felt horrible for laughing at the situation. But it was either laugh or cry. It amazed me that a population of people who could be so tender and loving to their children, could be so horrible and cruel to their animals. One of our friends staying at the guesthouse told us about watching a man "wheelbarrow" a goat in the street. They pick up the goats back legs when they won't move in the right direction to help steer them. He was thinking, "oh how cute." About that time, the man flipped the goat over and started beating the crap out of it. Our friend said, "In America, I would have gone up to him and said 'hey man, do you really think you need to be doing that?' But here, I was like, 'good luck, little man'." It's definitely not our country. It's not our values. It's not our goat or lion or monkey. It was difficult to remember that we were but mere visitors in a foreign land. Aren't you glad you're not an animal in Ethiopia?

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