by Madi McKinstry

Chimfunshi, meaning place of water, Zambia, a third world country. Africa, a continent torn apart by the world. This June, eight high school students from Steamboat Springs, Colorado set off on a journey that would make a lasting impression on the people who live in small villages of Northern Zambia. I was lucky enough to be one of those eight.

We arrived in the town of Ndola on the 17th of June, ready to make the last stretch of our journey. Six hours later, we found ourselves finally at Chimfunshi, a refuge for chimpanzees, something we had been working towards since October. We were there with one goal, show the kids who lived in the surrounding villages of Chimfunshi love and care. We focused on teaching, helping, and playing with the kids, which included a variety of things, like painting the inside of their small, one room school house blue and cream, and giving them coloringbooks, crayons, bubbles, and colorful ballons bigger than basketballs. Teaching English was our main focus in the classroom, and we taught them basic colors, the alphabet, and for each letter of the alphabet, we taught them a new word. There was one boy named Steve-o, who was very intent on learning, but had difficulties writing letters such as “e” and “y.” So I took on the job of working with this eight year old, and day by day his “e”‘s and “y”‘s improved. When he would get it right, I would become very excited for him, and he would laugh and smile and become eager to write more letters. In the flood plain where all the kids went to play after school, we brought nail polish, jump ropes, and other fun toys for them to play with. Here again, another little girl named Juliet stole my heart. She was maybe three or four years old, and had one pink plaid dress that she wore everyday. She was fascinated by the bubbles, and would sit down, hold the bottle in her lap, and carefully remove the wand, concentrating hard on blowing the perfect bubble. When the bubble floated away, she would point and laugh and clap her hands. When we didn’t bring the bubbles, she would insist on being spun around and tossed into the air, where again she would laugh and giggle.

We also sponsored 15 kids from a nearby middle school to come up and learn about the chimps, take showers, eat as much food as they liked, and sleep in their own bed. They did some traditional dancing for us, and sang late into the night. They all loved the chimps, which we saw at feeding time one day. When chimps are fed, they go crazy and make all sorts of loud noises. It’s all very interesting. The chimps are divided into four enclousures that are each 500 acres. They are wild, and can be dangerous. Chimfunshi is the perfect place for researchers to come and study chimps in their natural habitat. Some chimps however, were in worse conditions when they arrived at Chimfunshi needing care. In these cases, the chimps become very attached to humans, and are a bit more domesticated. We had the opportunity of going on a “bushwalk,” where we were able to go in a smaller enclosure with six chimps, aging anywhere from six months to 13 years old. We got to feed them, and they climbed ontop of our heads, perching there while they ate watermelon and drank juice straight from a carton. They took pleasure in spitting out the watermelon seeds into your hair, for you to find later. One chimp who stood out for me, and was my favorite, was Sims. He was having somewhat of a bad day due to fighting screams coming from the bachelors’ cage. He seemed depressed, so at one point, I sat down with him. He had his head in his hands, and was sitting cross-legged. I tried talking to him, but he scooted around so his back was towards me. So I decided I would just lay my head on his back, which he really liked. Then I put my head on his shoulder, and gave him a nice ear rub, which seemed to calm him down and he almost fell asleep. It was so cute.

When our two weeks at Chimfunshi had passed, we drove down to Livingstone, which was 15 hours away. There we went to one of the wonders of the world…Victoria Falls. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and the closer you got to the falls, the thicker the mist got, and soon it was like a terential downpour of water, even though you were veiwing the top of the falls from a good 70 meter distance. Once we were soaked through, we hiked down to the boiling pot, where the falls hits the Zambezi river and so begins the raftable section. It was amazing, with water moving so quickly downstream and eddies moving just as fast back upstream. We watched the bunji jumpers fall from the bridge that connects Zimbabwe and Zambia. It looked like a scary plunge. The forest was also beautiful there, it was like a full on rain forest with a lot of baboons. One of my friends actually had her waterbottle stolen by a baboon…he had troubles getting it open.

Next we went on a safari in Chobe National park in Botswana, which was amazing. We saw elephants, giraffes, monkeys, baboons, lions, impalas, sabels, wild dogs, kudus, pelicans, pythons, zebras, cape buffalo, and bushbuck. Seeing all these animals was so great, and we went out at sunset to watch them drink from the river and see the beautiful colors cast by the setting sun. Overall, this trip was amazing, and it certainly made my summer perfect. I learned a lot about Zambian culture, and I do hope to go back someday.