Dislocation: My Transition Back to Gombe National Park

Enjoying a view of Lake Victoria during my travels to Gombe National Park. (Photo by: Lisa O’Bryan)

Lisa O’Bryan is in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Jane Goodall began the first studies of chimps in the wild. Lisa will be heading into the forests to try to better understand the calls chimps make, to help discover just where the line is (or isn’t) between sounds and speech.

 

A few months ago, I had a dream I was sitting alone in the middle of Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Actually, this isn’t that unusual for me as I have spent 9 months of my life doing just that. What was alarming about this dream was that I had been teleported back with no warning or preparation, simply torn from my life in the States and dropped in camp. I was distraught, left wondering how I would get by, until I woke up curled in my bed in Minneapolis. I rolled over and contentedly fell back to sleep with the comforts of home surrounding me.

However, when the dream returned again a few weeks ago, I found it harder to shake. That’s because this time when I awoke, I was squeezed between strangers somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. I felt a sudden jolt of panic as I realized I WAS being transported back to Gombe, albeit within the realm of modern technology. However, as the fog of sleep began to clear, my weeks of preparation came back to me along with a flood of relief. I was not unprepared, I reminded myself. Nevertheless, I quickly reviewed my packing list to put my mind at rest.

I recounted the equipment I needed for my research first. I remembered packing my recorder and microphone, waterproof notebooks, field bags, water bottles, ponchos, flashlights, hiking boots, insect repellant, computer, and the video camera loaned from National Geographic. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least if I had forgotten all else I would be able to accomplish what I was going to Gombe to do: study chimpanzee vocal communication. However, without some other necessities it would be a long five months. I continued reviewing other essentials. Shampoo and conditioner (check), power bars (check), multivitamins, antimalarial drugs, sunscreen, my Kindle, Sour Patch Kids (check). All seemed accounted for.

I nestled into my seat and turned my attention back to the movie. Everything was going to be OK. In contrast to my dream I was prepared, and, with two field seasons under my belt, more so than I have ever been before.

 

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Lisa O’Bryan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation research focuses on the function of chimpanzee food-associated calling behavior. She is currently conducting fieldwork at Gombe National Park through the end of May 2013.