From Mary, a 2010-11 MBP Prolemur simus monitoring team volunteer
When I first told my friends and family I was embarking on an adventure of a lifetime to follow endangered lemurs in the forests of Madagascar I received a wide array of reactions. Although responses varied, there seemed to be an overall general sentiment that was quite universal: “Mary, you’re just not really the ‘campy’ type, are you sure you can do this?” As I tried to act shocked at this judgment, deep down I knew how true it was; “campy” has never been a word I use to describe myself. Growing up, I was always the child who quivered at spiders and enjoyed the more cushy pleasures in life. I was even scared to use the bathroom at my summer camp because I was certain that the daddy long legs would crawl into my underwear. Although at the age of 24 I now know that my underwear is safe from such bathroom invasions, I couldn’t help but question my decision to immerse myself into such a foreign and bug-ridden place.
Leading up to my departure, I attempted to prepare myself for what I could potentially encounter in the forest. I informed myself about a variety of topics, from the most common jungle species to infectious diseases and how I may react to each of them. As I read as much as I could I quickly realized that there is no real way to prepare for these types of experiences. I would just have to deal with them as best as I could whenever they came my way, or simply, to anticipate the unexpected. Little did I know just how quickly I would be presented with such a challenge.
After arriving and settling in at camp I was quickly thrown into the tornado that is life in the field. One particular night after a long day in the forest I settled into my tent to manicure my mangled and almost unrecognizable feet. After a proper cleaning I proceeded to remove what I thought was a small section of dead skin. As I began to nudge at the skin on my pinky toe an impending sense of doom fell over me. A small amount of unfamiliar, dot-filled liquid began to leech from the opening: something had laid eggs in my toe.
After a brief moment to assess the situation I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to prove to all the skeptics at home just how “campy” I could be. After gathering my composure I attempted to proceed with the eradication process. As I continued to remove the larvae, two unfamiliar black worm-like pieces came pouring out. I reacted to this unexpected surprise with a complete lack of composure. The inner girlie girl emerged and my tweezers went flying as I flapped my arms and high kneed it out of my tent. After some deliberation I decided to call out to my lemur partner, Olly, for assistance. He immediately came over to play doctor and aid in the removal of the intruders from my toe. As Olly worked, I looked away in defeat. This clearly was not the time for me to prove my outdoor abilities, however I was confident that there would be plenty of other opportunities for me to be victorious.
Throughout the weeks that followed I was faced with a variety of other jungle challenges: frantically chasing after lemurs, dodging hornet nests, maneuvering through thickets of bamboo, losing battles against razor grass, slipping down embankments and working through cyclones. I even had the privilege of walking back to my tent after a night of drinking and dancing to find a tarantula-esc spider lying on my floor. After mustering up my courage, I was able to grab a broom, hurdle over the spider, and sweep the impostor out of my tent. Although I’ve survived each of these challenges, they were not always faced with the degree of equanimity that I had always envisioned.
As I embark on the second half of this adventure I know that there will be a whole new plethora of jungle challenges that I will have to face. Although I’ve always dreamt of being a “campy’ and fearless outdoor leader, this trip has taught me to not only step outside of my comfort zone but to be content with who I am and to look at each challenge with a sense of accomplishment, no matter the outcome.