Summer Apprentice Chimposium Experience

The past eight weeks spent as a summer apprentice at CHCI have been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I was very excited to come here and meet the chimpanzees, but I never expected that I would not want to leave.

I found out about the apprenticeship while researching Washoe and her family for an Anthropology project. I was not too sure about my chances of being accepted into the program as my educational focus is primarily ASL and Deaf Studies, but I have always loved primates, so I thought I would apply anyway. Luck was on my side and I got in!

My first week here was very intense! I was extremely nervous since I was the only apprentice with ASL as my major, but we all survived the first week. Once that first week was over I felt more relaxed. I had met a lot of amazing people and began helping to clean the enclosures.

This summer had a lot of highlights for me but one of the most memorable involved the docent program. The best, most fantastic experience I had during the past eight weeks was becoming a Presenter/Observer Guide for the chimposiums. I love teaching people, was loving working at CHCI, and wanted to help educate the public, so I decided to become a Presenter/Observer Guide.

During training for the observation portion Dani B., one of the current graduate students here, took me into the observation area for the chimpanzees’ outdoor enclosure. Tatu was sitting down by the human cage and I began to interact with her. I signed HI TATU, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? She stared first at me and then at Dani with an expression that looked to me as if she were asking, “Why is this stranger signing to me?” After a moment, Tatu looked back to me and signed ONION. I replied SORRY CAN’T. She then signed CHEESE, so I had to apologize again and tell her I could not give her any. This effectively ended our conversation and we moved to the indoor observation area.

tatucheese.jpg(Here is Tatu signing CHEESE although she is sitting in the indoor enclosure rather than outside.)

Inside the East Playroom Dar was sitting in the cargo net hanging from the shaky tree. Dani asked him if he wanted to play and he came down to sit on the wooden platform in front of the glass. I signed HI DAR, WANT TO PLAY? He then stared at Dani with a similar expression to the one Tatu had just demonstrated. Dani told him I was a friend and I reassured him by signing YES FRIEND. He then asked to play PEEKABOO. Dani showed me how to play this with him and I began playing peek-a-boo with him. It will be a memory I never forget!

dar3.jpg Next we approached Loulis. I signed HI LOULIS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? He pointed to my shoes signing THAT THAT. I showed him my shoes and encouraged the fun by signing YES SHOE YES SHOE while shaking my foot for him. He then asked for a game of CHASE. Dani showed me how to play chase with him, and the game began. Yet again, I could not stop smiling!dscf4556.jpgAfter playing chase, Dani and I signed THANK YOU BYE and began leaving the observation area. I could have stayed in there all day long and played with them! I had a huge smile on my face the rest of the day. I’ve loved every part of working here but that 10 minute interaction was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced in my entire life!

The summer apprenticeship was a wonderful way to spend my summer. As the program approaches its end I realize more and more how much I’d like to stay. I will be heading back to NV to finish my Deaf Studies degree but I would love to return to CHCI and continue to help the amazing chimpanzees here. I am very happy to have experienced the apprenticeship program; I will be leaving more aware, more educated, and with an amazing experience involving ASL that most interpreters could never imagine. I am very grateful for my experiences here and I will miss everyone especially Tatu, Dar, and Loulis.

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