Leisurely approaching the half-dozing wildlife officer with a wide smile, I casually introduce myself. We exchange greetings over our handshake, and I curiously inquire about the officer’s wide-eyed, hairy companion.
Cautiously, I hold out my hand Aladdin-style (“do you trust me”), but Sarsibo’s not shy at all. Carefree, he takes my hand, drops it, puts two little hands on my lower thighs, and then plasters his entire body against my calves in a half-hug. He pushes back a bit and lifts up both arms, a two-year-old child insistent on being picked up. Hoisted up into my arms, he settles at my hip, locks his arms and legs around me and contentedly snuggles his head into my chest. Gently stroking his coarse (and likely flea-ridden) hair, I inquiringly peer into cognizant hazel eyes. More overwhelmed by curiosity and awe than him, I pry open his hand and wonderingly compare it with mine. Long, brown, wrinkled, furry fingers tangle with stubby, tan, Coke-bottle shaped fingers. They really are the same.
Unhesitatingly trusting, he stays put in my arms, securely nestled in, and enjoys the loving as though it is the most natural occurrence in the animal kingdom for him to be wrapped in my arms. While my distinctive skin color inspires frightened tears from human children and cruel mockery from adults in South Sudan, in this three-year-old chimpanzee my unfamiliar appearance evokes absolutely nothing.
Are we humans equally capable of accepting differences?
Predictably cliché, Abbas, our goofy-grandfatherly driver, holds out a small banana from afar. Is it really possible to meet a monkey and not offer it a banana?
Abbas, who has been watching me with a disgusted frown-smile, thinks I’m a khawaja (foreigner) out of my mind with no standards of cleanliness. A chimp after my own heart, Sarsibo loses all interest in anything but the food. He grabs the banana, rips into it with teeth and hands, and hops out of my arms to devour the banana alone. Sharing is not on the agenda.
Banana finished, playtime commences. He grabs my hands, and my body becomes the launchpad for his acrobatics of somersaults, side-flips, and handstands. He ends up cradled in my arms like a docile baby, and we begin a face-making war – sticking out tongues, opening mouths full of matching teeth, and scrunching up noses. A furry little hand moves up as though to sweetly caress my cheek, but mischievously detours and tries to lodge a finger in my nose instead. Unhappy at being refused my nose, Sarsibo flips sideways, uses his hand-like feet to hold my arms while his hands dangle at my feet; then bored, he jumps away altogether.
Sarsibo follows the rope around his neck to its wooden post, scares away the little kids surrounding him merely by approaching them, mock karate fights with the wildlife officer, and then lops back to me swinging on his fists. He pulls on my hands, leads me a short distance, lies down, and then tries to tug me down while swinging a fist. My genetic cousin seems to need a sibling for a wrestling match as much as I do.