Another test of my sanity came from the local wildlife. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m from Texas so I’ve dealt with my fair share of deadly snakes and poisonous insects.
But monkeys? Monkeys are a whole other story.
Living in the village at the NGO on my first trip, I stayed in a small concrete room with a few other volunteers. We had electricity, but only at night. So during the day, we opened the windows and doors to get a breeze. Everyone took a break after lunch to rest and nap.
I used that time to write up my notes from interviews, conversations, and observations as the ethnographer in-training I was.
One day I was sitting on my bed, in the room all alone. I had left a banana on the table next to my bed for a snack. I looked up from my typing at movement at the doorway. It was a monkey, about two and half feet tall.
He (it was he) walked over to the table (effectively blocking me off from the door) and picked up the banana. He peeled it and threw the peel on the floor with great force, sending little bits of banana all over the floor. He ate it in a few gulps and then turned around and left the building while I was still trying to decide what to do.
I didn’t want to catch his attention so I didn’t yell or move.
After he left, I gave him a minute and then went out to find someone to tell about the encounter…to freak out in front of basically. A few of the women employees were setting up tea outside under the trees and howled with laughter hearing me tell them about being so foolish as to leave a banana out in the open.
I recognized the ridiculousness of the situation a lot later. Instead, I used some of my precious minutes to call my partner in Boston on his morning commute and freak out to him.
You see, I was scared of monkeys, not just because they are fearless and will steal from humans with impunity, but because they seemed to me as completely disease ridden—mortality in animal form.
I had done my OCD-fueled research and found out that they could carry rabies (incredibly common in Indian animals) and even better a kind of herpes fatal to humans. These were not the ways I wanted to go. Additionally, rabies shots on my insurance (or lack of it since they didn’t cover it) was almost a grand, so I hadn’t opted for preventative rabies shots before I left.
In sum, I was not happy when I learned monkeys would just come visiting like that.
The next time I encountered a monkey at home, was five years later, during my third summer spent in Rajasthan. I was living on the third floor of an apartment building with two roommates.
I was in the heart of the city of three million people, but that didn’t matter to the monkeys.
One of the other apartments had hosted a party the night before and left out a bunch of trash in the stairwell. A monkey smelled it and came looking for food. Before he could find the trash, he smelled my roommate’s lunch laid out for her take to work. He turned the knob of our unlocked apartment door and casually walked in.
I was getting ready for the day when I saw him saunter in through the windows in my door (a holdover from when the room had been a sitting room for a family)!
I immediately called my roommate and told her to close her door, which she did barely. I proceeded to watch the monkey demolish the kitchen.
He (another he) picked up the Tupperware with the lunch and took off the cover, threw it on the ground and ate part of the roti before also tossing it on the ground. He tried a bit more of it and then threw the rest on the ground.
He got on the counters and opened more Tupperware containers. Many of which were empty, which he threw on the ground, as though annoyed. He threw spices and dry goods all over.
While he was doing this, my roommate called our neighbor with a dog to come and scare the monkey away.
We started to hear barking echoing up the stairs and the monkey heard it too. He went to the door but the knob was stuck (as it often got in the humid monsoon weather). He moved away from the door, trying to find a way out away from the stairs. He tried our doors and the windows over the kitchen counters.
He ran around the living room, climbing on the chairs and sofa, when Ginger (the dog) ran in barking with excitement.
The monkey panicked, he ran at the balcony doors, but they slide, not push out. He jumped back on the sofa and took off running for the doors, which this time pushed out enough for him to get through just as Ginger got to him. He jumped off the balcony to another and off to the roof of the building next door and was gone.
After the monkey, dog, neighbor, and flatmate left, I gave in to the panic attack. I took my panic meds. I emailed my therapist even though it was midnight there. I called and left a message for my partner. I was shaky and anxious for a couple of days.
The monkey came back my last day there, but thankfully I wasn’t at home and all that greeted me when I returned was a mess of spilled dry goods.