How to Fight Withdrawal by Running Away with Baboons

In my head, weaning myself off of caffeine was a thoughtful, health-conscious decision. Despite the loopy scribbles on coffee shop chalkboards across urban America, dark, slow-roasted brews do not flow from every crack in East Africa. At Gombe, where electricity and running water are at a commodity, it made sense that I conserve what water we were able to boil for more necessary practices, such as preparing oats at breakfast before heading into the field for several foodless hours. And, as my friends know all too well, I use half and half to a sickening degree when preparing all of my hot beverages, and this much beloved additive, like most dairy products, was simply not an option unless I were to pin down a lactating bushpig and milk it myself. From the comfort of a quirky coffee shop arm chair and to the tune of something by Bob Dylan, or the Smiths, I vowed to renounce caffeine in all its forms, and live purely–nay, righteously– as a woman free of stimulants.

I suppose I romanticized withdrawal, because I just finished foaming at the mouth while fighting the urge to shovel fistfuls of instant coffee into my face. You see, “to wean” implies slow, almost practiced removal. Foolishly, in an attempt to anticipate one experience in the midst of another, I misjudged my capacity to withstand the “cold-turkey” approach. Sans coffee, as I emerge from my bed and into the common space of our living quarters, it would seem that the other researchers find me difficult and somewhat bear-like. And by bear-like, I mean a bear with post-menopausal syndrome who has just done bath salts, and for what it lacks in energy it makes up for in heinous face-eating tendencies.

Mirroring my current insanity are the baboons, who, for reasons unknown have adopted our tin roof as a playground for their motley dramas. As they gallop, slide, and beat against the structure overhead, screaming all the while, I have half a mind to join them. Although my body laments the loss of caffeine with a roaring headache, I feel the restlessness of being held at the edge of the forest. In order to limit the transfer of zoonotic diseases between researchers and their non-human subjects, we spend a week in quarantine, waiting for any potential illnesses to emerge. It is an important wait, but waiting nonetheless, and though I try to fight the stir with swimming in the lake and reading, I am anxious to strap on my boots and get into the field.

And as I write, the Africafe sits atop a shelf, leering at me from across the room like a shiny gold devil full of caffeinated goodness. Fighting the urge to hurl it across the room as the part-human, part-banshee I have become, I slink into my room to read by candlelight. Only then do I realize that the 12 pounds of beef jerky rationed to last the duration of my field season have yet to be unpacked, and another battle of food-related impulse control begins. I resolve to climb onto the roof and share with the baboons, because despite our language barriers, they appear to tolerate poorly behaved females with lack-luster grooming habits. Today, I should fit right in.

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