Deep in the heart of darkness in the lush rain forest of the Congo, the gorillas were dozing under the rays of morning sun that pierced the dense vegetation, exuding their infectious, albeit misleading, aura of calm. I, on the other hand, was swatting at sweat bees trying to make their way into my ears and up my nose. These bees are attracted to salt in human sweat, and although their sting is almost painless, their constant presence is a total pain in the butt.
Especially when one is trying to observe gorillas and share in their Zen-like state. Ironically, the more I waved my hands to get rid of the annoying creatures, the more I sweated and added to my appeal. By the dozens, they clustered on my arms and legs and dive-bombed into my eyes. What satisfaction it gave me to crush them. While digging a bee out of my eye, I heard a noise behind me. Like most primates, gorillas are usually heard before they are seen. Not having a mirror, I was using the lens of my camera to pick sweat bees out of my pupils. Suddenly, reflected behind me was a gorgeous, 400-pound silverback. As if responding to an inaudible command, the gorillas had stopped dozing and now surrounded me. This wasn’t good. The females let out a piercing shriek. There were only three of them, but it sounded like a dozen or more. Frozen, our guide whispered to me to cower and pretend to eat leaves. Why pretend? I ingested several.
Evidently feeling threatened, the females prodded the silverback to charge. So like a husband, at first he pretended not to hear, but the females began running at us. Our only weapon a ballpoint pen, I quickly ate more leaves. The silverback joined in the charge. Just inches from us they all stopped and began furiously slapping the ground.