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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 793

Quotes from A Primate's Memoir help shed light on the author's life as well as his time living in Africa with a baboon troop.

Sapolsky writes, "You make compromises in life; not every kid can grow up to become president or a baseball star or a mountain gorilla. So I...

(The entire section contains 793 words.)

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Quotes from A Primate's Memoir help shed light on the author's life as well as his time living in Africa with a baboon troop.

Sapolsky writes, "You make compromises in life; not every kid can grow up to become president or a baseball star or a mountain gorilla. So I made plans to join the baboon troop." Though he'd been interested in gorillas, his research needed a different kind of animal. He needed something that lived in open grassland societies and wasn't endangered. So he decides to work with baboons.

His research requires him to tranquilize baboons and study their reactions to the stress of their lives. He writes,

So I would go out and study the behavior of baboons, see who was doing what with whom—fights, trysts and friendships, alliances and dalliances. Then I would dart them, anesthetize them, see how their bodies were doing—blood pressure, cholesterol levels, rate of wound healing, levels of stress hormones.

Sapolsky's area of study was how stress affected brain cells and could cause deterioration in physical health over time.

After a lifetime of preparing to go to Africa to work with the baboons, he's excited to arrive. Despite falling victim to financial scams in the city, he's delighted with the experience. He says,

I didn’t even know which direction to face, but throughout, I had the same thought, over and over—somewhere out there, beyond the spanking new skyscrapers, beyond the shantytown, beyond the immaculate colonial Brit suburbs, it all melted away and the bush began. Everything else was just me holding my breath until I could get there, to the place I had been planning for most of my life.

His arrival in Africa comes after years of scientific and language studies, volunteering, and planning his research. Once he arrives, he only has to wait for the proper permits before he can go start studying baboons.

When his money is constantly delayed and not sent by his supervising professor, Sapolsky has to find ways to make ends meet. He decides to run scams which were common in the area where he lived. He writes:

There was no shortage of explanations for the endless scams and maneuvers and cheatings and victimizations amid a world of people of intense decency. The desperation of being desperately poor. The raw tribal animosities that made “us’s” and “them’s” in ways I couldn’t begin to detect. The most venal of corruption. A Wild West mentality, small-town boredom, unbridled selfish capitalism without even the pretense of regulations and restraint. Maybe this was how my own world worked, if I had ever bothered to experience anything outside of my ivory tower. Maybe this was also how the ivory tower worked, if I wised up a little there as well. But it was a startling revelation, as the animals continued to graze in the museum diorama I thought I had gone to live in. And it was remarkably preparative for my own minor descent a few months later.

He begins by tricking fake money exchangers who take advantage of tourists. Later, he plays scams to get food from drug dealers who also sell produce at the market.

When Sapolsky hires Richard and Hudson, he doesn't know the impact they'll have on him. He just wants help getting vital readings on the baboons. He writes,

I should congratulate myself for my astuteness in choosing them among the endless office-seekers, but it was dumb, random luck that I found these two who have become, I anticipate, my friends for life.

Ultimately, Sapolsky is as changed by his negative experiences with the tuberculosis plague that kills much of his troop as he is by time itself. He writes:

I am a different person now and at a different point in life than when I started here. Once I was twenty and I feared nothing but buffalo and I came here to adventure and to exult and to defeat my depressions, and I had an infinity of love to expend on a troop of baboons. Now, more than twenty years later, I am almost as afraid of not balancing the budget on my grant, and I come here to think clearly about my lab work and to catch up on my sleep and to escape the demands of the endless academic committees. And despite still missing those baboons, the infinity of love I have now is for Lisa and our two precious children, our Benjamin and Rachel.

In the same way the baboon troop changes over time, so did the researcher himself. Though he still worked with baboons at the close of the book, he didn't allow himself to get emotionally attached to them the way he did with the first troop.

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