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Sinterklaas Not Again

Yesterday was Sinterklaas' birthday, which is traditionally the day when children that were well behaved all through the year find one or more presents in their shoe or boot. Of course, as every parent knows, the phrase 'well behaved all through the year' is up for interpretation, and although Sinterklaas is supposed to know everything, there is a lot of leeway. Every parent knows this, because every parent once was a child too and desperately counted on the good man's sense of humour.

Anyway, because the 6th of December fell right smack bang in the middle of the week this year, Sinterklaas in all his wisdom decided to advance his schedule and pay his nightly visit to our household last Saturday. Much loot was had by both our sons, since it was Sinterdad who did most of the shopping this year because he didn't agree with the quota that Sintermom tends to infringe.

So when the children woke up at a time that is technically morning, but what can only be described by any sane person as 'the dead of night', we quickly climbed down the stairs and opened the door in anticipation... to find that the coffee table had disappeared under the presents, chocolates, marsipain and various other treats. Wolf got a giant Lego truck, a dinosaur hunter from the same brand (Jurassic Parc style), the Who-is-it game and a book on how to draw animals. Tyl got the cash register from Fisher Price, a couple of Miffy books and a Miffy DVD (guess who is currently his favourite). Dad got nothing at all, despite acting as a child for most of the year. Not fair.

So you can't say the children had any reason to complain. Still, on Wednessday evening, Wolf timidly inquired if Sinterklaas was still going to come that night, because his teacher had told him so. No harm in asking, right?

He was a bit disappointed the next moring when he found that Sinterklaas hadn't brought a second load of toys, despite the fact that the first time around, he did forget to bring a number of things that were on his wish list.

Well, Christmas is only two weeks away son!


Well, SOMEONE must have been good this year, because Sinterklaas visited our house on Saturday night. So this Sunday morning...

An airplane!An airplane!

Chocolate! And biscuits! And candy! And more biscuits! (And mandarines)Chocolate! And biscuits! And candy! And more biscuits! (And mandarines)

Someone's going to school in a couple of weeks.Someone's going to school in a couple of weeks.

Chocolate-eating time!Chocolate-eating time!


While I was staying in Mbandaka, I met this little fellow:

His name is Gaston, and he was staying at the same place as I did.

Although I must admit that my room was slightly more comfortable. And more spatious too.

He was staying at the procure of the archbishop of Mbandaka, after being 'rescued'. This means that he was bought from a trader, but of course that's exactly what keeps the trade in baby chimps and baby bonobos going. Hunting, catching and selling chimpanzees and bonobos is 'highly illegal' in Congo, which means that you have to avoid the cops or you may have to bribe them.

The sad part is that to catch these baby/infant chimps, they have to kill the mother. Gaston is still a young animal, but when he's full-grown, he'll be able to tear that cage apart like a house of cards.

There's nothing really much for him to do all day long in that little cage, except for eating. As you can imagine, his diet is not really adapted to his needs, although the staff of the centre are quite fond of him and regularly offer him food.

He spends a lot of time sucking on a piece of bone.

All in all, his food was almost as fresh as ours...

As you can imagine, it's a pretty miserable life. The chances that he'll ever get out are slim. I talked to his caretaker, and he said that he would be released into the wild when he would be old enough. Problem is, he won't know how to feed himself even if he does regain his freedom. One stormy night, his old cage blew over and broke apart. But Gaston didn't run away. He was lured back into another cage with a bit of food.

To try to cheer him up, I made him some toys. My brother works with bonobos in the zoo, so I tried to create something similar to what I saw there, something that might keep him busy for a couple of hours. Here you see the Chimp Amusement Device Mk II (the Mk I was just an empty water bottle). You can see the hole in the cap, which is just big enough to get one of the nuts out that are inside the bottle.

Gaston was very happy when I offered it to him. It captured his imagination for at least five whole seconds. Then he understood that it was not immediately edible, and that he'd have to work a bit to get the peanuts out. So he discarded it on the floor of his cage.

Well, at least I tried.

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