Good tidings and well-wishes!
I must once again apologize for neglecting my blog, an all-too common tendency which has, in this instance, been largely inspired by my recent return and attempted re-acclimation to Tucumcari as I await the onset of my final semester here at Mesalands (for those who don’t know, I’m planning on transferring to SUNY Stony Brook upon its conclusion). However, as one door has closed of late, another has opened: I’ve been able to get significantly more reading done over the past few days than I have over the past several weeks.
Most recently, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Carole Jahme’s energetic study of women and primatology entitled ‘Beauty And The Beasts: Woman, Ape, And Evolution’. Despite the book’s well-asserted focus upon female researchers, Jahme nonetheless spends a considerable amount of ink detailing the life and times of the legendary archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey who, it turns out, was vastly ahead of his time in terms of his progressive views on female scientists, especially with regard to field research involving primates.
It would also appear that, like most scientists (and amature scientists such as myself), Leakey was a bit eccentric, as evidenced by the following excerpt which depicts the great man’s first evaluation of the research potential of Dian Fossey, who would later become the world’s leading authority on mountain gorillas (and an eventual martyr for the cause of their conservation):
“Leakey was interested in Fossey, as he was already looking for someone new to study the gorilla, though at first he was not totally convinced that she was right for the job. Some years later Fossey spoke of this incident. She said Louis’ eyes twinkled with mischief when he asked her if she’d like to be his gorilla girl; she answered in her Southern drawl, ‘Of course, of course my God.’…He eventually decided to put Dian’s commitment to the test. This story remains a potent part of her mythology and therefore it needs emphasizing that it really did happen.
Leakey told Fossey she had to have an appendectomy before going into the field. He told her she could suddenly fall ill with appendicitis in the jungle and die, so she must have the operation before he would take her seriously. Although [his second wife] had once become very ill with appendicitis, this was a ruse Leakey used to test Fossey’s commitment, but how was she to know? She was initially stunned by the request, but determined to be rid of the said organ…
She was very poor at the time and couldn’t afford the cost of the operation, so she had to embark on an insane and melodramatic assault on the accident and emergency rooms of various hospitals in [her home state of] Kentucky. Feigning appendicitis, Fossey would turn up doubled over in ‘agony’, grabbing her waist and crying for help, though she kept forgetting which side was supposed to hurt. Fossey had to go through a series of techniques at a number of hospitals before her acting technique was perfected and she finally convinced one surgeon to perform the operation. Within two weeks of meeting Leakey in Louisville she was waking up in a hospital bed after the operation. At the moment of consciousness, Fossey said she groggily thought to herself, ‘My God, are the gorillas worth this?’
Hospital doctors are today aware of patients faking pain and begging for unnecessary operations, not because they are swamped with nutty women who wish to live with apes at any cost, but because it is often described in behavioral psychology as a feature of Munchausen’s syndrome. But [forty] years ago, after a number of humiliating hospital encounters Fossey got away with it. Her tenacity impressed Louis. He wrote and told her she hadn’t really needed to undergo the operation, which at the time perplexed her. But later she said whenever she had a stomach pain while at Karisoke, her Rwandan study site, she felt some comfort knowing it wasn’t appendicitis because, ‘my appendix was in a garbage can somewhere in Louisville, Kentucky’.”