A Visit in Georgia
Communication with a Lost Soul
I made the long distance call ahead of time to see if any arrangements could be made to meet him personally.
“There’s no guarantee he’ll be there,” the lady said. Saddened, but not disheartened, I decided my desire to see him was worth the two thousand mile trip. I had loved this “lost soul” from afar after reading everything I could about him. I had to see him. I had to communicate with him.
After a difficult time trying to find a parking space, I hoped this bad luck would not continue. Eventually my husband and I found a spot on the far side of the park, and made the long walk to the entrance. I took my chances that Sunday morning as I strolled into the park hoping he would be there, and I could see him.
One says you can “never go home again,” which I believe is true, but only to an extent. Some things change and some things stay the same. The park was bigger than I remembered it after almost fifty years of being gone. The tall pine trees stood larger, the smell of freshly mowed grass and pine needles still permeated the area, but loads of people continued to enjoy the park. The most famous soul who once lived there when I did, Willie B., died a long time ago, but I was happy to see the monument erected there in his honor. People from miles around, even from other states like myself, gathered around him and took pictures. I wanted to have my photo taken with his statue, but too many kids stood in line wishing for the same opportunity.
We walked around the park for about twenty minutes looking for the place where the lady said I could find him. To my surprise, I saw a figure that looked like him in the distance with a family. Could that be him? As I approached closer, I saw that it was him! Eureka!
His family members were gathered on a stage-like platform looking as if they were getting ready to entertain us and all the other people there. Mom lay on a hammock, and their baby ran around on top of the canopy playing like a typical two-year old. Papa, the one whom I had come to see, lay stage left on the platform pretending as if his audience was doing the entertaining and not his family.
I used my communication skills to best of my advantage. From my stage experience, I stood in the best possible place and communicated in a big way, where he had the perfect view. First, I called his name over and over again. I knew that would grab his attention. Then I shouted, “You! Me! Sign! Same!” I did this over and over again until I finally got a response from him.
“Hello!” he answered back. I cried. I was elated. He signed back to me! The lady on the phone told me he rarely communicates with someone he doesn’t know. I felt privileged as well as overjoyed. I continued to sign to him in American Sign Language. I told him I loved him. I told him I was his friend. From my readings, I knew that his limited vocabulary of 150 words in American Sign Language were sometimes approximate. But I persevered. Then it happened. He communicated again to me.
“Come here!” he signed. I wanted to cry again but this time from sadness. I couldn’t go across the barrier and into the exhibit with the orangutans. I couldn’t meet his family of wife and baby. I had to explain as best I could. I had to stay where I was. I couldn’t get closer.
Zoo Atlanta has a wonderful exhibit as well as a good home for Chantek, the signing orangutan. They do not advertise that he is there. Unfortunately, they have to keep it a secret because of the bad press Chantek had in the past. (As a teen, he had been taken away from his human “mother” who taught him all his signs. He attacked another woman at the university where he had grown up.).There are no photos or souvenirs of him in the gift shop. If you are interested, you can find out more about him on Google or YouTube.
I hope one day they will place a monument like Willie B., the famous gorilla, in Chantek’s image with a plaque that says “Chantek, the orangutan who signed.”