Central African Republic
When I was a child I spent quite a lot of time up a certain willow tree in our family’s back garden. There’s a particular kind of comforting solitude that can only be found up a tree. I think it has something to do with the fact that as you sit there, you can’t help feeling like you are being cradled in the arms of an immense and loving creature.
Today, unfortunately, the reassuring support of a solid branch under my backside was somewhat lacking as I found myself hanging, for the second consecutive day, from a rope 30 metres up in a tree waiting for a man to collect some honey from a bees’ nest. Learning to trust a rope has been a slow and thus far incomplete process for me. A few months ago I had my first experience of canopy rope work during a week long course with my BBC colleagues at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, UK during which I was reminded once again of the fundamental truth that I am afraid of heights. This vertigo is something that has for me revealed itself in later life along with an emergent fear of flying, something which when analysed statistically, is completely irrational. During that course, I asked climbing expert Ben, one of our instructors, whether he got nervous high in the trees and to my surprise he said that he did. Especially if he hadn’t been climbing for a little while.
So it seems that a fear of heights is both healthy and normal. In the jungle today, however, I’m not so sure my fear was of the height per se, but rather just another manifestation of my distrust of ropes, something that completely baffles me since I know for a fact that I stand more chance of being struck by lightning twice in the same day than of falling foul to a breaking climbing rope. Well, our Bayaka honey gatherer Mongonjay put my worries swiftly into context when he arrived beneath me on the trunk presenting me with a rather startling reality check. His relaxed demeanour defied the small fact that he was perched there supported by only a length of liana about an inch and a half in diameter. On top of that, said liana was actually fraying from the friction burns it had received on his slow journey up the trunk.
If climbing a very tall tree to get your sugar fix wasn’t enough in itself, then battling with angry bees hell bent on stopping you from achieving your goal might tip the balance for most of us mere mortals. Not so for our Bayaka friends. A smokey fire is set alight at the bottom of the tree, and upon nearing the ambrosial bounty, the fire is wrapped in wet leaves and couriered up to the top of the tree by attaching it to the end of the liana wrapped around the climber’s waist.
Imagine the scenario if you will… You are 100 ft up a tree surrounded by angry bees. Your only means of support is a solid foothold and an organic harness wrapped around yourself and the tree. Now a bundle of burning leaves has been attached to the end of the one thing keeping you from plummeting to earth and certain death.
Spare a thought for Mongonjay the next time you pull a jar of honey from the supermarket shelf.
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Interested in more stories from the Central African Republic? Try HERE