One bright, humid morning during a delightful breakfast at a game park in East Africa, a buzz of excitement rose from the diners.
‚Did you see the baboons climbing the wall? They went into a room up there!‚
Someone else laughingly shouted, ‚Wow, they climbed three stories! That big one found an open window. Oh, no! They‚re going into the room!‚
In short order, the window had been pried open, and the baboons slipped into the room. No one was sure whose room it was, but someone thought it was a room shared by two women. I began to get a little apprehensive, remembering I hadn‚t bolted our window securely. We had just returned from a missions trip in Uganda, and we were exhausted from weeks of difficult travel. This was our R & R time, and I had become careless, not bolting the window and not locking my luggage. Such small things -- what could possibly go wrong?
‚Stay far away from the free-roaming animals who come into the hotel‚s common areas,‚ the guide warned earlier when we checked in. ‚The monkeys and baboons are aggressive, so particularly avoid them.‚
We soon found out that avoiding them was impossible. The monkeys would perch on the back of booths in the open dining area, watching guests eat. Occasionally, one would reach over and steal food right out of guests‚ hands then run away, making happy monkey sounds.
The baboons, however, kept their distance from the diners, preferring to sit on the overhanging roofs creepily watching people eat. They were clever and knew from years of careless visitors that there was food in the individual rooms. They only had to find a window left slightly ajar to get the party going. The window they found was mine. That morning, they were heard calling to each other as they scaled the wall. I could almost hear them:
"Hey, Big Harry. We found an open window. Bring the family and meet me in Window 303." Before long, there were six very large baboons in my room screeching and fighting over my belongings.
We were cautioned to stay away from the room until it was cleared of baboons. Baboons are very dangerous when agitated, and I didn‚t want to engage them in any way. They were ultimately chased out by brave game park staff. I sensed that the staff was a little afraid of the baboons as they made loud noises and waved their arms to send the baboons out the window instead of out the door into the guests.
My friend and I entered our room and saw a dizzying sight. Clothing and food wrappers were everywhere. Beds and walls displayed brown foot prints. Clothing hung from the lamps and dressers. Some of my clothes were shredded as though they had been the object of a tug-of-war between baboons.
‚What is that smell?‚ my roommate asked. ‚It smells like a sewer!‚ When the commotion died down it dawned on me that the ‚mud‚ the baboons brought in from the watering hole below the resort was a mixture of dirty water, mud and animal dung, making a heady bouquet indeed. My clothes were covered with it. After I got over the initial shock, I realized a few things:
* All the food in the snack bag was gone except the energy bars. One of the baboons had tried a bite and tossed it aside. The rest were neatly wrapped on the floor. Really? Even baboons won‚t eat energy bars?
* Of all my clothing, one dress appeared as though it had been carefully lifted out of my suitcase and placed on the floor. It was not unfolded or muddy. I like to think it was a girl baboon‚s thoughtful act. It turned out to be the only item of clothing I had to wear for several days until we got to a hotel with a laundromat.
* My friend‚s belongings hadn't been touched. She had obviously locked her luggage. Her bags were merely moved from one spot to another. It would appear that when the baboons realized they couldn't get her stuff, they left it alone. And why not? They had before them my three cheap bags, including our shared snack bag. Had my luggage been locked, which it wasn‚t (just like the window), the baboons would still have been able to tear it open. They had destroyed two of the bags by ripping open the seams. Only one rolling tote bag remained intact. Even that had damaged wheels.
* It appeared that one of the baboons had taken a special interest in a fake hairpiece and planned to take it with him. He got it to the window, dropping it on his way out. That made me wonder how many pieces of my clothing actually went out the window with the baboons that day. Did something of mine show up a week later down by the watering hole being proudly twirled above the head of a fun-loving baboon?
The group we were traveling with was merciless about repeating the story to every interested (or not) person who was unlucky enough to cross paths with us for the next few days. Finally, we made it to a hotel with a laundry service. Everyone was happy when I carried the smelly plastic bag of my clothing to the laundry area and left it. After several hours, one of the hotel employees found me.
‚We are not sure what is on your clothing, but we are fairly certain you won‚t like the way it is turning out.‚ he said. ‚We are so sorry, but we will do our best.‚ Later that day when my clothing was returned, I was dismayed to see that all of it was one color from being laundered in the local water. It was all a dull gray.
‚Thank you for your efforts.‚ I said to him, trying to be especially cheerful when I saw how sincere he was. ‚It does smell lots better, and that is really important to me.‚ He beamed when he heard that something was right about the monochromatic wardrobe he returned to me.
The rest of our trip home was not uneventful, but nothing happened that could top the story of the baboons. Our missionary group continues to meet to plan future trips and takes time to reminisce about the amazing African people and the miracles we witnessed while among them. During those gatherings, I know it will only be a matter of time before someone retells the story now forever etched in their minds as ‚The Great Baboon Encounter.‚
Claudia Thomason is a pastor, mom, and short-term missionary. Her stories of adventures in Africa range from humorous to heart-touching. Claudia oversees a program providing school fees for children in third world countries. www.reachingkids.org. Copyright Claudia Thomason