The first two weeks of our CHCI apprenticeship became a blur of lectures, tests, meetings, projects and bleach.
We first learned safety protocols. Tatu, Dar and Loulis may be very peaceful souls, but even a friendly hug with arms up to eight times stronger than ours would prove severely injurious. We must stay at least 36 inches away from the chimpanzee enclosures and doors to prevent even a playful interchange to unexpectedly harm either Homo sapiens or Pan troglodytes. Of course, we also took the requisite refresher on proper ladder safety, which for this middle-aged klutz probably poises more danger than any misguided primate encounters ever could.
Once we learned the safety ropes, we got out the scrub brushes. Cleaning both chimpanzee and human areas occupy a large part of the day. Once the family finishes breakfast and begins their day, we clean and disinfect their night enclosures. Breakfast dishes must be washed, nesting blankets and sheets laundered, toys disinfected and enclosures hosed, soaped, hosed again and squeegeed dry. Food spills and waste material are flushed down drains. When the family returns to the night enclosures for lunch, their daytime areas are spot cleaned if necessary, as is their night enclosure after the meal. In the evening, the indoor play and outdoor areas again are hosed, disinfected, hosed and dried including the high ledges where the chimps often perch. After dinnertime, the kitchen gets the twice over, garbage dumped, dishwasher turned on, and carpets vacuumed. Finally, we ready toys, magazines and other fun items for the next day.
Although all caregivers participate, the housekeeping chores seem like a type of apprentice initiation rite. By the end of our shift, we’ll be soaked to the bone (We novice hose handlers tend to spray more on each other than the walls). We pull on fireman-esque rubber boots usually a size too big or small for our feet. We juggle pails, long squeegees, brushes and bottles of disinfectant (for the floors, walls, and structures) and vinegar (for shiny windows) as we waddle toward the daytime rooms–tip-toeing to avoid the red taped “no human” safety zones marked on the floor.
Then our apprentice initiation ritual turns into an overt hazing. Loulis awaits with a bit of dinner or (more typically) a big mouthful of water which he proudly spits on the hapless apprentices as we pass. Caregivers warned us not to react to such displays–so as not to encourage future entertainment. While we march on, ignoring our dripping hair, Loulis seems to enjoy the last laugh.

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One Response to Initiation

  1. andrear says:

    I really enjoyed this blog! Terrific writing!

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