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Jane Goodall Short Story
Emily’s shoulders slumped in a silent sigh as she stared outward. In front of her lay small hills, on which long, yellow-green grass waved.
After the hills, was a thick, overwhelming rainforest, and, somewhere in the oppressing forest, there was the long, glistening lake Tanganyika, grandly finishing the landscape
It’s beautiful, really, she thought, to anyone who doesn’t have to come and live in it!
Truthfully, Emily had no problem with chimpanzees, or the
conservation efforts (led by the famous Jane Goodall) to help them.
Emily just never thought she would have to be the one helping. Stupid financial troubles. And family pressure.
“Pardon me, miss,”
A finger tapped Emily’s shoulder, tugging her out of her grumpy
“Sorry,” the diminutive, gray-haired individual behind Emily
continued, “But would this be your bag?”
“Oh- yes, sorry.” Emily replied, taking the heavy suitcase from the
old man’s grip. “I didn’t realize we were unloading.”
“No trouble! If you’re with the Jane Goodall group, however,
they’re preparing to leave to their camps over there.” He pointed to a
point some 200 yards away, where jeeps were indeed being loaded up.
“Oh! Thank you, I must go!”
Breaking into a awkward jog, Emily hurried toward the loading
point, lugging her suitcase behind her.
Soon Emily reached the camp. The jeep ride had been bumpy and
dirty, but Emily knew there was no reprieve at camp. The camp was really
just a shabby collection of tents were set up around a few more
permanent structures, and everyone there seemed to know exactly where
they were going and what they were doing. Emily felt completely lost.
After wandering about in utter confusion for several minutes, Emily worked up the nerve to ask an important-looking person what she should be doing, and was given her first job. As an under-assistant, she was mostly grunt work. Not that she minded. Anytime not with chimpanzees was good time in her mind.
After carrying water, setting up tents, (or more permanent shelters,
depending on the importance of the resident), moving luggage to
wherever it needed to go, and finally helping some eccentric old lady clean her binoculars and cameras, Emily was done.
Next, she had to meet her sponsor for the first time. This was what
Emily had been dreading all day. Emily was in a program that demanded someone else pay for her ticket, so she could come and do volunteer work. She’d never met her sponsor, however, and was desperately worried about not measuring up. She was given directions and quickly found the
large tent. Nervously, she entered, wishing there was some way to knock
to announce her presence.
“My dear girl! You must be Emily! I’m Dr. Zhandinza, but everyone
just calls me Dr. Z. Are you thirsty? Hungry? Desperately wanting to see your new chimpanzee friends?” Dr. Z laughed. “Yes, I can see by your face it’s that last one!”
Emily couldn’t help but gape at the old, diminutive man- the same
one that had carried her trunk to her! Instantly mortified, Emily felt her cheeks warm. Her sponsor had carried her trunk like an under-assistant, not the PhD professor he was!
“Oh- sir- I-”
“Calm down, child, and sit, please.” Before, Dr. Z had been happy and loud, but seeing Emily’s confusion and embarrassment, he calmed down and spoke more quietly, as though to a wild chimpanzee.
Carefully, Emily sat cross-legged on the canvas tent floor, tried to
look Dr. Z in the eyes, failed, blushed, and stared down into her lap instead.
“Emily Deary, right?” Dr. Z asked kindly. When Emily gave a small
nod, Dr. Z continued. “You’re just here for the volunteer work, right?
Then your tent is on the far side of camp with the rest of the volunteers, you’re going to need to talk to someone about going on the next chimpanzee sighting expedition (I think it leaves in an hour), and I think you’re going to need your own set of binoculars.”
While Dr. Z rummaged about in a large trunk behind where he had
been sitting, Emily thought over his kindness. Other sponsors, she knew, paid volunteers to get promotions, but Dr. Z seemed to genuinely want to help her.
“Here you are!” Dr. Z jumped up from the trunk, happily waving a
nice set of binoculars above his head. Cheerfully, he handed them over to Emily.
“Thank you, sir!”
“No problem, no problem. Now hurry and catch that viewing
After a few more stammered thank-you’s, Emily left to set up her
things in the tent. What a nice man, she thought. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought!
During the hour before the viewing expedition, Emily found herself
with a lot of time to think. With a furrowed brow and blonde hair tied
back in a brisk ponytail, Emily began a letter to her Father.
I hope this letter finds you safe and well. I reached Tanzania
without incident, though I was terribly sea-sick on the boat. My sponsor seems to be a very nice man, and I’ve found my way around fairly well.
Emily paused and sighed. What she was really thinking, grumblings
against the whole idea, the overwhelming desire to flee, the revulsion she felt toward animals, all of that would only worry Father. He was doing the best he could, even though some of his plans were terrible, at Emily’s
expense. The only way to get into a good school though, Emily knew
very well, was to get excellent volunteer hours. Their income was just too small to pay for college otherwise.
After staring at the feeble heading to her letter, Emily got up to leave. Luckily, the viewing expedition was about to start, so Emily didn’t feel too guilty about her abandonment.
Clutching her binoculars in sweaty fingers, Emily reluctantly
pressed the lenses against her eyes once more, straining to see the wildlife everyone else on the expedition seemed to find with ease. So far, Emily had been lucky. Her shudders and grimaces that she unconsciously found herself making whenever a new animal was sighted had gone mostly unnoticed amid the others in the group. How could anyone actually be here because they wanted to see chimpanzees? It was incomprehensible to Emily.
Lindy, another assistant, kindly sat next to Emily to try and show
her where everyone else was looking. Lindy didn’t miss the frown that crossed Emily’s face when she saw a chimpanzee’s black fur, but she didn’t press. Everyone has their own secrets.
Emily was surprised and pleased when another assistant began to
help and talk with her. A friend might make this trip worthwhile, Emily decided. Especially if that friend knows what they’re doing!
Eventually, the expedition ended and the group headed back to
camp. Emily’s head was spinning with all the facts she’d learned about chimpanzees. She grudgingly admitted (to herself only, of course) that chimps were a lot more interesting than she had given them credit for. She was impressed how like humans they were! 98% of their DNA was the same! Emily rubbed goose-bumps off her arm as she thought about it. They even acted human- making and using tools, clearly defined social rankings, making beds at night, the similarities were endless!
Eventually, the expedition ended and the group headed back to
camp. Emily’s head was spinning with all the facts she’d learned about chimpanzees.
She grudgingly admitted (to herself only, of course) that chimps were a lot more interesting than she had given them credit for.
She was impressed how like humans they were! 98% of their DNA was the
same! Emily rubbed goose-bumps off her arm as she thought about it.
They even acted human- making and using tools, clearly defined social
rankings, making beds at night, the similarities were endless!
Emily grinned when she heard Lindy’s voice behind her. She quickly spun around to greet her new friend. “Hey! Want to eat here?”
Lindy nodded, and went off to grab some food before sitting down
across from Emily. “So, how was your first day?” she asked cheerfully.
Emily shrugged. “Oh, you know. Pretty good, I guess. How about
“Great! I love learning new things!” Lindy smiled. “I thought what the expedition guide was saying was really interesting.”
Emily nodded. Everything Lindy did was energetic and happy-
including eating. Her short brown hair was caught back in a headband,
and she was wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Everything at the camp was
really informal, Emily had noticed.
“Emily, look!” Lindy’s excited cry burst into Emily’s thoughts,
startling her. Turning around, Emily realized she was looking directly at Jane Goodall herself!
“Wow!” Lindy whispered across the table. “Isn’t she amazing?!”
Again, Emily nodded. “I pictured her way different, though!” she
hissed back at Lindy.
“She’s so cool!” Lindy replied. “Did you know she completely
revolutionized chimpanzee research? Before her, chimps were basically
used as big test rats!”
“Yeah!” Emily agreed. After a few more minutes of gawking, Emily
and Lindy went back to the tent to talk some more and go to sleep.
This really isn’t so bad. Emily thought. I’m actually excited for
Over the next few days, Emily became comfortable in the camp.
Going on many different expeditions and stakeouts made Emily fairly
knowledgeable about the wildlife around the camp. Soon Dr. Z,
recognizing her ability to catch on fast, began asking her for help as he wrote up his documentary on chimpanzees. Lindy also became a good friend, never pressuring her to get closer to animals she didn’t like, merely encouraging her out on more expeditions. Slowly, Emily felt less and less nervous around chimps.
On evenings Emily had nothing better to do, she wandered paths in
the rainforest near the camp. Not wanting to get lost, she always stayed within hearing of the people in the camp. And she never went far enough to meet up with any sort of dangerous animal.
“Hey, Emily, I have to go now, and I’m going to be working for
that crazy lady all evening. I’m sorry!” Lindy apologized.
“Better you than me! Good luck!” Emily laughed. The eccentric
woman Emily had met on her first day had taken a liking to Lindy, and often called her over to ask for help for something.
Soon after Lindy left, Emily found herself bored, with nothing to
do at the moment. Since it was still a while before dark, Emily decided to go see a picturesque stream she had found a few days ago, only a couple of minutes from the camp. Emily pulled on her sturdy hiking boots and left the camp quietly.
Some careful hiking got Emily to the tiny stream, and she
contentedly sat for a time, plopping rocks into the water and absent-mindedly shredding leaves off a bush nearby.
It was a beautiful evening. The exotic smells of the rainforest and
the cacophony of animal noises seemed to welcome Emily into its midst. She stood and began to follow the stream away from the camp, reasoning that it was impossible to get lost with the stream right there.
After ambling on for a ways, Emily was startled by the sudden explosion of monkeys from the trees above her. In a flash of brown and
white, the screeching bundle of monkeys shot over her head, frightening her into stepping backwards a few steps.
That was weird…. Emily thought nervously, carefully glancing
around. Suddenly she froze. How long have the birds been quiet?
When a twig snapped behind her, Emily didn’t hesitate. Sucking in a
little gasp of air, she sprinted off the path, down into the trees and thick, impassible undergrowth. Scarcely stopping to breathe, Emily plunged straight through the bushes, thorns or no thorns, never even glancing behind her in her complete terror.
Minutes passed, and Emily still ran. The rational part of her mind
knew that nothing was chasing her, if anything had been in the first place, but that part was consumed by a pulsing, irrational fear.
The only thought that finally managed to bring Emily up short was
the time. How could the day have gone so quickly? Finally stopping,
Emily realized she’d been running well into the night.
It only took a single glance for the truth to hit Emily like a cannonball. She was lost and alone in the middle of a dangerous rainforest.
Even before Emily consciously realized it, she was busy calculating, planning, thinking. Everything she tried hit a dead end. Don’t they teach you what to do in a situation like this? she groaned.
Already the fear was threatening to consume her again, pulling at
her dark imagination, conjuring images of her mangled body, found in the morning. Furiously, Emily forced those thoughts away, letting herself think of only the positive. This worked for a time, but Emily soon started to feel her painful scratches all over, and she fully realized her situation. Giving in to self-pity, Emily sat on a twisted tree root and cried.
Somewhere in the tears, Emily became aware of a presence nearby.
Whipping her head up, Emily looked around, heart beating very quickly.
She saw nothing at first, but then looked harder at a clump of
shadows near here. Was something moving?
Before she could jump and flee, the figure revealed itself. It was a chimpanzee.
Emily froze, thoughts racing. Should I back up? Hold still? Run?
Jump? Try to make friends? Unable to decide, Emily stood paralyzed. The chimpanzee moved closer, grunting under its breath. Soon it was close enough for Emily to see it was a fairly old female chimp.
Breath coming in ragged gasps, Emily finally woke up enough to
step back slowly. The chimp didn’t look aggressive, but Emily wasn’t
taking any chances. She knew that chimps were wild animals, and could
easily kill a human if one wanted to.
Emily’s few, stumbling steps didn’t move her fast enough. In
moments, the chimp was right in her face, not touching her, merely
looking at her. It’s breath came in little whuffs, pushing air into her face. When it slowly reached out one arm to touch her hand, Emily snapped.
“Go! Go! Get away from me! Don’t! Stop! Go!”
Emily’s hysterical screaming left the chimp unperturbed. Rather
than running in fright, as Emily had hoped, it simply looked at her, then reached out and firmly grabbed her arm in it’s thick, black fingers.
Screaming, Emily turned to run into the bushes, but the chimp’s
fingers felt like iron bars encasing her arm. The ironic thought came to her that any other assistant would die to be in her place, and Emily was
trying to run away.
The chimp waited for Emily’s breath to run out, then stared at her some more. Emily stared back. Slowly, a flash of understand came to both of them. Trembling, Emily relaxed her arm. Calmly, the chimpanzee let go of it.
Then the chimpanzee stepped forward and wrapped its arms around
Emily, in a very human gesture of love.
Emily stood stock-still, her whole body tensed. Everything seemed
to be jittering, and it took a second for her to realize she was crying.
Understanding the new compromise, the chimpanzee took Emily
by the hand and led her to a small patch of grass a few feet away. Emily looked around for a child or mate, but saw no one. This chimp appeared to travel alone.
Emily watched the chimp as it slowly patted and shaped the grass
into a soft bed. When it finished making the first bed, Emily was surprised when it started on a second. Emily realized it wanted her to sleep there as well. When the chimp finally finished the second bed, it didn’t pull Emily
into it, it merely looked at her with dark, intelligent eyes before laying down in its own. Emily was reminded of Lindy. It wants me to be warm and safe, but it’s not going to force me to do anything. She thought.
Emily squatted on her heels, thinking over her choices. She could leave, of course, and continue wandering through the dark rainforest until she was killed or found her way back to the camp. Or she could just sleep there. It looked safe and comfortable, and Emily was tired of trying
to avoid animals all the time. Strengthening her resolve, Emily lay down in the bed, and quickly drifted off to sleep. The last thing she heard was the sort snores of the chimpanzee next to her.
“Oh my heavens!”
Emily sat up and shook her head, groggy and disorientated.
“You were here all along? Sleeping in a chimpanzee-made bed?!
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Emily squinted up at the figure in
front of her and gasped.
“D-D-Dr. Jane Goodall!” Emily stammered, blushing fiercely.
“Did you really sleep here, child?” Jane asked in a business-like manner. “Was a chimp here previously? There are two beds, you know.”
Still blushing, Emily mumbled her account into her crumpled, dirty
shorts. She tried to smooth out her hair as she spoke. When she finished, Jane sat down next to her.
“Amazing! Look at what this shows! Chimpanzees, capable of human mercy! This’ll show all those skeptics who still think of them as
nothing more than brainless animals! Amazing! Oh, how lucky you are, Emily!”
Emily only nodded, still embarrassed. Of all the people to find her, why Jane Goodall?!
Jane was still talking. “- and you’ll have to come with me, of
course! We’d need your account! Why, you could be famous! After a
start like this, nothing can stop you!”
Feeling stupid, Emily nodded again.
Jane looked perceptive. “Oh, I know,” she said quietly. “You don’t
want to work with animals, do you? Don’t worry, if you’re just here for college volunteer hours, I can just give you money for this, and you’re all set! You don’t even have to stay here any longer, if you don’t want to.”
Emily felt overwhelmed with the kindness Jane was showing her. Just
giving her the money? And letting her leave?! The deal seemed perfect!
But Emily hesitated.
“Could I… I think I… can I just stay here? I guess there's still a lot I need to learn.”
Jane looked surprised and pleased. “Of course! We love having you!” Together, the two of them walked back to camp.
Alone in the trees, a chimpanzee smiled.