UPdate May 13, 2016 and Our Story: Chapter 1
INCEF update: We’re completing two films significant to local conservation efforts toward preserving forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We’re launching our first video production and education outreach training effort in the East of DRC since 2007. This time in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Society in Kahuzi Biega focusing on Grauer’s Gorillas May Soon Be Extinct, Conservationists Say , and our decade of working with the CDC and local healthcare workers on monkeypox is entering a phase which we hope will end in eradication of this disfiguring and sometimes fatal disease – we’ll work with CDC and local health officials to educate the public on vaccination trials in the Tshuapa Province of DRC.
Our Story: Chapter 1
On Wednesday evening (May 11), even over the excitement of’ National’s pitcher Max Scherzer striking out 20 Detroit Tiger batters, matching the major league record for a nine-inning game, and winning for the Nationals 3-2, the person sitting next to me (someone I was introduced to for the first time and chit chat is always part of the experience) asked me the proverbial question – How did you start – referring to INCEF? So here goes:
The word epiphany was used for the first time according to the Bible (Mathew 2:1-12) was used to describe the arrival of the three Magi at the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem on the 12th day of Christmas or January 6. It is defined as an experience of sudden and striking realization -- a revelation. Those Magi were inspired to follow a new and bright star that suddenly appeared in the sky as predicted in 7 B.C. by a diviner named Balaam; an erstwhile messenger of God. Though Balaam was of questionable reputation, he predicted and they believed that the appearance of this star would result in a revelation, an epiphany signifying the birth of the King of the Jews. According to both the Bible, and apparently the Torah, by following that star they would find him. And then whoever wrote the Bible called this miracle of these three Magi finding Christ the enfant The Epiphany, which in its Greek iteration actually does mean a striking realization. The word stuck. Interestingly, at one point the Magi lost the star, it seemed to have disappeared and left them without direction until they found its reflection in the middle of the day in a water well in Bethlehem which seems rather unlikely and totally coincidental to this writer, but... The star, some 17 centuries after Balaam’s prediction may, or may not, have been explained scientifically by an astronomer named Johannes Kepler, who apostolized that this prophetic star was merely the conjunction of planets Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces, the two planets being so close as to seem a single star.
It may be important while reading these blogs of how INCEF came to be INCEF to keep in mind that Magi from which our modern word "magic" is derived is only a sleight of hand and not “magic” at all. In fact, magic may just be another way of pulling the wool over people’s eyes or is it off of their eyes so they can see clearly as the case may be.
The point here really is that I, like the three Magi ((Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar), characters in great literature and philosophers throughout time, like brilliant scientists and other wise-persons, had an epiphany, a stark revelation. And much like all those before me it gave me knowledge and would make all the difference.
My own Epiphany, (revelation) was historically less significant than the sudden appearance of the Magis’ star and the revelation of Jesus Christ son of God born on earth, but for me it was certainly no less important. It was sudden and mentally noisy, a firework launched into the dark sky of a Fourth of July that bursts into an enormous white dahlia, appearing to cover the whole of the endless night space streams of light streaking glowing white petals of sparkling sudden beauty and from its middle. Boom phssst!!! -- a suddenness of realization falling slowly and ultimately to earth and where it would lodge in my brain until I thought of nothing else. Except it wasn’t the Fourth of July, it was an otherwise quiet afternoon in a Congo Basin forest – not even a pretty primary forest, but a rather depleted depressing secondary forest that had been taken over by marantaceae with its big rubbery leaves blocking one’s ability to see anywhere but where they are. Marantaceae is gorilla food. Between what it hides in insects and snakes, holes to trip you up and stinging vines it is a human hell. We were in a clearing of chopped down marantaceae doing a stand-up with a young and handsome National Geographic presenter named Nick Baker.
The forest was much quieter than it had been since my previous visits. I knew this forest well as a filmmaker, I recognized many of the gorillas who lived there by name. That was before most of them succumbed to an outbreak of Ebola, along with monkeys and antelopes and chimpanzees in 2001 and 2002. There wasn’t even any birdsong present.
Nick Baker was dressed in his hazmat suit from head to toe sweating and feeling claustrophobic which he was processing in verbal angry phobia. He stopped his tirade long enough to look into the video lens and proclaim in much the same joyous voice that the Magi might have used when they arrived at their ultimate destination, the stable where the baby Jesus lay. Nick’s lines, however, were not those of adoration. “I’m at ground zero and Ebola is all around me”, he said it with drama and the knowledge of sharing a dark secret. It was apocryphal, pure and utter hype, and perhaps that was the trigger. That’s when it happened, I was struck dumb by an epiphany -- Boom Phssst!!! I had my moment of revelation and it was a big one – I was going to change the world or at least on a practical level, make it a better place for the Africans inhabiting the Congo Basin.
It would lead me not to Bethlehem, but right back to the same Congo forests where my epiphany struck and my journey would indeed be one of pain and pleasure. Not far from this very handsome and articulate presenter who by now was giving in to the heat and claustrophobia of his hazmat suit, insisting they had the shot and tearing away at the disturbing yellow and white costume, were a row of young men that I had known over several years as I made films in the very same area. We hired the village men, and often women, to help us carry things, or chop down the marantaceae, as in this case, so we could take the shot. The epiphany: I was making films for the wrong people. Helping to produce this hyped up film on Ebola for an American audience was not going to help prevent the spread of Ebola. Why wasn’t I making films that would help these local people? They didn’t even know what the presenter had said – Most of them were fluent only in the local Lingala. But he hadn’t said it in Lingala, he’d said in clear proper British English. And it wasn’t even factually true and would do nothing to stop the spread of Ebola, give advice or tell the story in a way the local people could understand and take heed. Just a year earlier Ebola had killed 143 of their neighboring villagers and family members and according to reports some 1500 western lowland gorillas-- who knows how many chimpanzees and other endangered or not species. It made the forest we were standing in, not ground zero but a petri dish of clues for scientific research of the disease that would help these very same people to prevent Ebola should it rear its ugly head again.
The seed was planted, the idea started to grow, I began to consider what the solution would be.
Please follow Chapter Two at the end of next week.