(Photo of Jane Goodall courtesy of www.wikipedia.org).
A few nights ago I saw a hero of mine on television…Jane Goodall, British ethologist, anthropologist, conservationist and activist extraordinaire. The Gombe Research Centre, which she founded, is celebrating its 45th anniversary. When the interviewer asked Jane who her hero, her biggest influence, her biggest inspiration was, Jane replied that it was her own mother.
Even from a young age Jane felt nothing BUT encouragement. For instance, when she surprised her mother by bringing a handful of wriggling, writhing worms to bed, her mother handled it with such grace. Instead of panicking or scolding, she appealed to Jane’s interests and sensitivities by telling her that she must set the worms free or they would surely perish. So together they returned the visitors back to their home in the dark garden muck.
Jane continued her love affair with all creatures great and small into adulthood. She had a special fascination with various animals’ habits and relationships to one another, as well as to their human counterparts, and vice-versa, brought on by the stories of Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan that she had heard in childhood. She was always looking for connections, acknowledging the fact that every animal is a unique sentient being, with more going on internally than we give them credit for. Since that early time, she had been longing to visit the “Dark Continent” of Africa, as it was then called.
She said that hers was a big dream at the time…for a little child of the female persuasion. The only way a female could dare travel to or live in Africa, was to become a Missionary’s wife, and she wasn’t going to wait around for that! Remarkably, Jane never received a discouraging word from any member of her family. Instead she was constantly reassured that anything was possible, if she wanted something bad enough and was willing to work hard for it.
Through a series of “synchronous” circumstances, Jane’s dream did come true. She received her opportunity to work with the animals, with a slight caveat, and again it was her mother to the rescue. Jane was commissioned by anthropologist and paleontologist, Lewis Leakey, to study chimpanzees in the Gombe National Forest in Tanzania, East Africa, under his tutiledge. But at her tender age of 26, a chaperone was required to accompany her. So she and her mom ventured together into the jungle. They were issued one spare army tent, which also became host to a variety of large insects, scorpions and snakes, of which her mom was terrified. Nonetheless, her brave mom sat alone at base-camp all day while Jane was off observing chimpanzees. No wonder Jane picked her mother as her biggest hero and inspiration.
When the interviewer asked Jane what her life held for the next 50 years, she’s in her mid-70’s now, she said…”dying!” I’m paraphrasing, but what she said next went something like this: “I’m not going to live forever and the torch will have to be carried on by all of you. The younger generation has the commitment, the energy and enthusiasm. The elders have the wisdom. We must do this hand-in-hand.”
She also shared how angry she gets when people use the quote that, “We’ve not inherited the earth from our parents, we’ve borrowed it from our children.” She says that’s a lie, we’ve STOLEN it from our children and it’s up us to help make things right.” She would like to see her “Roots & Shoots” program, now in more than 100 countries, extend its reach even farther, especially in the Middle East.
Jane is one of the reasons I majored in anthropology, she and my Junior College anthro professor who encouraged me to select it as my major, and to go on to University. That professor, Dianne Smith, was an empowered woman and an excellent teacher, who greatly inspired me. I wanted to be like her, and I wanted to be like Jane in particular…unorthodox, brave and adventurous, with a sense of style, humor and spunk…studying primates in their natural habitats, be they Great Apes or Homo sapiens! Little do we realize the power we each have to influence one another, whether from near or far.
Also at the time I was attending the Junior College, I was introduced to new and interesting explorations on the home front. My boyfriend’s mother, Mary Ronchelli, had just given me my first cookbook. She too became a role model to me, especially for vegetarian cooking. (Jane is also a vegetarian :)). Mary knew everything about everything, from basmati rice to cilantro! When she eventually asked for MY advice on cooking, that was the biggest affirmation I could have ever received…My mentor asking little ole me for my little ole opinion?! (I must have impressed her with my first dinner party. I invited herself, her husband, my boyfriend, his little brother and my mom. Hmmm…that would be 6 people, too bad I only had enough food for 4. That was an FHB moment…Mom and I ate very little. I would never make that mistake again!!)
Jane’s remembrances of her mom reminded me of Mary, with her subtly engendering her encouragement, confidence and self-esteem building techniques along to me, the younger generation…These women have proven to me that such a thing is indeed an art form. It takes a village…I’m glad to have had these “elders” in my life to have helped me, and others like me, to find their way.
For more on Jane Goodall: