“My mother always taught us that if people don’t agree with you, the important thing is to listen to them. But if you’ve listened to them carefully and you still think that you’re right, then you must have the courage of your convictions” – Jane Goodall.
I stand in the busy and brightly lit auditorium at the University of Cape Town’s Baxter Hall. All around me people queue waiting to enter the hall for a talk by the renowned English Primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace, Dame Jane Morris Goodall.
The excitement is tangible through the energy and busy chatter – this is quickly drowned as the announcement is made that the talk is about to begin.
There ahead of us is the lady herself, at 80 years old she looks remarkably well. Jane proceeds to address the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, she pats his head (Chimpanzee language) and he responds in the same way both embracing one another. The hall erupts in laughter.
I find Jane’s talk not only humorous, she has a great sense of humor, but I am left inspired. At 80 years old Jane’s talk is centered around her mother – she acknowledges her mother throughout her talk – how her mother (Margret’s) support sculptured her path and that her life could easily have been very different had it not been for her encouragement.
As it is Mother’s Day today I thought I would share a few of the stories from her talk that have made an impression on me.
The first story began when Jane was only four years old. Jane already at that age was showing a deep curiosity in animal life and after spending some time in her garden she came home with handfuls of soil and earthworms, which she proceeded to place in bed with her! Her mother, no doubt, was very surprised at her behaviour but instead of scolding Jane, explained that Earthworms need soil to breathe and that their survival depended on them being put back in the garden. This was one of the first lessons that her mother would teach her.
The next one that Jane remembers is the story of the ‘chicken and the egg.’ Again at a very young age, Jane had been fascinated in the animals around her. She writes in her website biography, “One of my earliest recollections is of the day that I hid in a small stuffy henhouse in order to see how a hen laid an egg.” Jane spent at least five hours in that hen house observing the hen and watching it. Her parents in the meantime had been frantically worried about Jane’s whereabouts and, her mother not able to find Jane, had even phoned the police to report her missing child! When Jane emerged from the hen house, she could not contain the excitement of her discovery. When her mother saw how excited Jane was, she could not scold her. Instead she sat down with Jane and listened to her wonderful story of how a chicken lays an egg.
When Jane in 1956 at the age of 23 was invited to a family friend’s farm in Kenya, it was almost unheard of for a mother to let her daughter board a ship to ‘deep darkest Africa’. Yet, Jane’s mother, being the extraordinary woman that she was, gave Jane the go ahead and subsequently changed her daughter’s life, and the world of Chimpanzee behaviour that we know today! It was in 1960 that Jane observed chimps strip leaves off twigs to make tools for fishing termites. This was the first time that this behaviour had been seen and up till then it was believed that humans were the only species to make tools – a groundbreaking discovery.
Jane’s mother also accompanied Jane in the summer of 1960 when she first began her research on the Gombe Chimps on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. The British Government which controlled Tanganyika would not allow Jane to venture into the African forests alone and insisted that she have a companion. Jane and her mother Margaret , shared in the adventure of her new project for a couple of months.
It is these wonderful stories that remind us of the important role that a mother plays in our lives and the influence she can have. Back to the stage, I watch the white-haired lady as she speaks about her mother – despite her fame, she has never forgotten her early life and the role that helped shape her destiny. I hope like me, that you’ll be inspired by Jane’s story.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Written by: Kate Collins