I now understand why Dorette has described her trek with the Eastern African mountain Gorillas, five years ago, as the most amasing experience in her life. My dream to share time amongst these loving and undeniably human-like creatures started ten years ago during my first stay in Uganda. Back then my savings from working at a hotel in South Africa were simply not adequate to track the gorillas.
This week however I was given the opportunity to both raft the River Nile at its origin and be stunned with the beauty of the mountain gorillas. The Habinyanya Group we trekked turned out to be a few hundred meters away from a middle-of-nowhere farming village, enjoying the fruits of the banana trees deep in the valley but still earshot away from the village above.
As Dorette sat in my lap for the last few minutes of the hour we had with them, we comfortably admired this group feeding and moving around us in an almost enclosed circle. I instinctively embraced her with a long, warm and appreciating hug, my arms around her as the sun shone on our faces and reflecting from the black furs of our ancestral family.
On the reflection of the experience the most imprinting and moving moment was when one of the mothers took her nine month old infant out of the tree and placed the baby on her chest as she laid flat on her back, embracing her arms lovingly and protectively around him. We were informed that it was a male baby since only the male infants exercise their acrobatic movements at this age. The moment instantly triggered the memory of an old photo of my father laying on the carpet of our old house in a similar position, embracing my sister, Heidi, in his arms.
The admiration for the mother-baby relationship extended to the silverback leader who immediately installed respect and submissive feelings in me. The reason for this extension is due to another small baby enjoying the food a meter away from him, territory no other larger gorilla would easily dare to share. The silverback, Rwansigazi, enjoys and enforces his freedom to enjoy both food preferences and copulation with the four adult females in his group. Younger adult males obviously tests his territory on both fronts time to time, and with the females even succeeds sometimes when the big boss is away. Once again, behaviour that strangely feels known, somewhere tuck away and reverbing in our own human instinct.
For the rest of the day as we trekked back and drove to our campsite, many of my actions and feelings felt as if I could relate them to what I observed in this hour with the contemplative mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. True or not, created in my own mind or not, the feeling that they seem far-far away family is undeniable, just as much as the curiosity that brews in me, wondering what is going on in their minds.
I will always remember the curious eyes of those baby gorillas on us, the embrace between me and my wife between these undeniably wild, yet relaxed, creatures with so many familiarities and the warm embrace from my father, mother and siblings.
The power of family, now and possibly millions of years ago.