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The Typical Day at Project Bow: Helpful Hints for Guests

Updated on June 27, 2011
Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz has a PhD in linguistics from Rice University. She is an ape language researcher and the author of Vacuum County and other novels.

I have written about what is expected from interns at Project Bow. But sometimes we have guests who are not interns. Sometimes they come specifically to see Bow, and sometimes they come for completely different reasons.

This is a household like any other. My daughter Sword is eleven and has friends of her own who come for short visits and sometimes stay overnight. Some of these children are fascinated by Bow and some don't really care -- they are here to see his sister.

Not all of the people who visit this house do so for social reasons. Some of the people who come are delivery folk or repair people, who just came to do their job. They may not even know that there is a chimpanzee in the household when they are dispatched to the scene, and they may not know anything about chimpanzee etiquette.

This is meant to be a short guide to making your interactions with Bow as smooth and pleasant as possible. While Bow realizes that not everyone who comes to our house has come to see him, he likes to be acknowledged, and a little courtesy will go a long way to helping us all have a pleasant day.

Bow helping to proof my book "Ping & the Snirkelly People"
Bow helping to proof my book "Ping & the Snirkelly People"

The typical day at Project Bow: Breakfast

The typical day at Project Bow begins around 6:30 am. Bow gets up around then, and we take care of hygiene related tasks first, then proceed with breakfast at 7:00 am. Bow likes to have a very big bunch of grapes for breakfast. Sometimes he asks to drink a small glass of milk, and sometimes he will also have cereal. If there are fresh muffins, he will have a muffin, too.

After breakfast, Bow will lie around pretty contented and allow me to clear the dishes and feed the dogs and do other things that I have to do before returning to the pen for the rest of the morning.

If you are an overnight guest with us, chances are you will be having breakfast with us in the pens. You will be on one side of the glass, and Bow will be on the other side, and I will be shuttling back and forth between the two sides.

Before you enter the pens, please stop by Bow in the entry way and say "good morning." If you don't, Bow will feel slighted, and chances are he will throw his full weight against the doors as you pass by just to show you how strong he is.

When Bow makes a display of his strength, please don't be frightened. He is not going to hurt you, and the best thing to do is to take it in your stride. But whenever you have a chance, try to address Bow directly and say something pleasant, or at least neutral. Bow hates it when people talk about him as if he weren't there. He likes to be acknowledged and included, and people who do interact well with him are rewarded with a pleasant, friendly greeting.

Between Breakfast and Lunch: A Window of Opportunity

If you are not an overnight guest, then you probably don't want to come by during breakfast, as this would disrupt our routine. If you are coming in for a morning visit, plan to be here around nine am. This will be long after breakfast, and long before Bow starts to ask: "Is it lunch time yet?" (Some days, Bow wishes that lunch would be at eleven thirty, but it never is. It's always at noon.)

If you are a repair person, the period between nine am and twelve noon is a window of opportunity during which you can effect a repair. If the job is not done yet by twelve, then take a lunch break and don't return till one. Unless you have specifically been asked to stay to lunch, it would be rude to stand around watching us eat.

If you think the job will take four hours, and you want to finish before noon, ask if you can come at eight am. I will okay it, if the repair is urgently needed.

Please understand that when we have someone here, Bow doesn't do what he usually does. Unless the guest is there to see him and they get along really well, Bow sees the presence of the guest in his home as an intrusion. This can't always be helped, and Bow can't always have his way about everything, but as a way to ease the tension, here is what we do to introduce the guest to Bow.

We ask the guest to come into the entryway to the pens, and we ask that he sit down on the ground or squat, so that he does not tower over Bow. Introductions are made, for instance:

"Bow, this gentleman is here to fix the furnace."

To the repair person: "This is Bow."

The repair person says: "Hi, Bow. It's chilly today, isn't it? I'm going to go fix the furnace now."

If you follow this scenario, everything will be fine. Just don't talk to me instead of to Bow during these introductions, don't ask me what he can do, and do not assume that because you have the right to be here, you can then leave and bring many other new people with you.

If you decide that you need help from a co-worker, then ask my permission to bring a new person in. The new person will have to be introduced to Bow, too. And whatever you do, do not bring other people who are not even employed by your business to stand around and gape at Bow.

Since we have been confined to the pens, it seems as if it takes a whole crew to do a job that one man could have done before. Don't take advantage of our hospitality. If I invited you only, then come alone.

Bow looks at himself in a computer image

Bow's self image is important to him
Bow's self image is important to him

The Typical Day at Project Bow: Lunch

Lunch is at noon. If you are not staying to lunch, please make sure that you and your vehicle are gone from our property by about five minutes before the hour. Bow can see what's going on outside, and he knows when people haven't actually left yet. It worries him that they may be planning a surprise invasion, so he climbs up on the front door of his pen and watches carefully until he sees your vehicle leave and drive far, far away. Only then will it be okay for me to start bringing in the food from the kitchen.

If you have been asked to lunch, then be sure you are here about ten minutes before noon, so that you can say hi to Bow before the bustle of bringing in the food entirely distracts him.

Your food will be set out on a little table before you. Bow's food also goes on a little folding table, so he can look at it from the other side of the glass and decide what he wants to eat first. Please stay far away from Bow's table and his food, and whatever you do, do not touch the food. It would terribly rude to touch somebody else's food, and even pretending that you're going to touch his food upsets Bow. If you can stay in your chair throughout the meal that will be a big help.

I will be going back and forth between Bow's pen and the other pen, serving the food to Bow as he requests it. As long as you stay seated, Bow will also stay seated, waiting for me to serve him.

After lunch, there might be friendly conversation. Make sure that everything you say really is friendly, not only toward Bow, but toward the other people in the room. Sometimes people who come in pairs or larger groups unwittingly bring in their own conflicts with them. Every relationship involves some degree of conflict, and power struggles are the norm when any two people have to negotiate their place in a family, a business or even a friendship. Bow is very sensitive to subtle shifts in power. He can tell when one person has just put another person down. He senses the hurt feelings and the open psychic wound. It upsets him, and it doesn't help to downplay whatever just happened by saying: "Oh, I was just kidding. Can't you take a joke?"

It's normal to have some degree of backbiting and conflict, but if you can hold off on these things until after you are safely home, then you can engage in non-violent warfare all you like. Bow expects people to resolve their differences by trying to find out who is the strongest in hand to hand combat. (I didn't teach him that, it's just something that came built in.) If you use fighting words, Bow will want there to be a real fight, and he'll try to start it himself, if you don't.

Bow is not a saint. He just likes to keep things real. So if you're having a bad day and need to lash out against someone in a civilized non-violent way, you might reschedule your appointment so that you can safely fight with other humans.

Bow has an interest in music

Bow likes music
Bow likes music

Recreational Activities with Bow

Of course, not every part of the day is about eating. Bow likes to do fun things. If you are a guest and have a talent to share, Bow will enjoy that very much. Can you sing, play an instrument, or recite poetry? If Bow is in the right frame of mind, he can sit still for a long time to listen to a story or a musical piece. He has a good ear, and he can tell if you've made a mistake. He's told me that he is a better singer than I am. It's not hard to be a better singer than I am, it's just that he never quite demonstrates his point. Apparently, his ear is better than his voice. But he's working on it.

Bow also likes interacting in much more physical ways. If you have not gone through the medical screening process, you will not get to go in with Bow. But this does not mean that you can't play chase, with each of you on either side of the glass. Bow also enjoys jumping up and down and having a contest to see who can jump up the highest. And of course he enjoys smelling people's breath in order to find out what they have eaten.

Getting to know Bow takes time. He will not accept you all at once. He may not choose to spell anything when a new person is there. Bow's trust has to be earned slowly, but he can tell when people are open to a friendship with him, and he responds accordingly in due course.

Light nap

Bow sometimes takes a light nap in the afternoon
Bow sometimes takes a light nap in the afternoon

Bow is a light napper

Sometimes in the afternoon, when Bow has had a good lunch, and nothing much is going on, Bow will ask for his blanket and take a light nap. Now, if there are strangers in the house, and he doesn't feel secure, that's not going to happen. It's not a good idea to come by unannounced, because it could really destroy a quiet moment when I could be working on the computer in the adjoining pen.

Bow never takes a nap if I or the current intern or caretaker is out of the pen. He needs us to be right there so that he knows all is right with the world. And, of course, the moment that anything interesting happens, even if it's just a video playing on YouTube, he's wide awake and very alert.

Bow wakes easily

Bow wakes up easily if something interesting is going on
Bow wakes up easily if something interesting is going on

Bow and Transitions

Bow doesn't like transitions. What are transitions? It's a change from one state to another or from one activity to another. When someone comes in, Bow makes raspberry noises to indicate his displeasure at the change of state. When someone goes out, he blows raspberries again. When we empty the potty, he acts all abandoned until we come in to put it back. When I go to get the food for one of his meals, he acts as if he's concerned that I won't come back. When I clear away the dishes, he worries that I might take a moment to do something else outside the pens.

What does this mean for guests? It means that you should attempt to minimize and smooth out transitions as much as possible. If you are coming in, don't make a big production about it. Come right in. Say "hi" right away. Make that awkward moment when you are neither in nor out as short as possible.

If you announce that you have to leave, then say "goodbye" and leave right away. Don't stand there starting a new convesation, with your hand on the doorknob, neither in nor out of the room. We have very strict rules about how long any door to the pens is to remain open. We unlock the door, we allow you the time you need to go through the door, and then we lock the door again. Standing in the doorway is prolonging the transition. It makes Bow worry about what might happen next.

If you start to walk out, and even get in your car, and then remember that your forgot your gloves, and come back in, that is disruptive. Bow will wonder if you did it on purpose and were trying to trick him. Try to remember to take all your things with you the first time.

If you are a friend of Sword's, you can hang out in Sword's room with her, you can go out to the back yard and see the chickens and play with the dogs, but don't keep coming in and going out. Decide on an activity and then concentrate on it for a while. Every time you go down the corridor, this has Bow worried that maybe his territory is being invaded, and this can make him go into one of his magnificent displays of physical prowess. It's probably not what you want, so minimize the transitions. Stick to one activity and one location for as long as you can.

Eating is a social event at Project Bow

Thanksgiving Meal 2010
Thanksgiving Meal 2010 | Source
Bow socializes through the glass during the meal
Bow socializes through the glass during the meal

The Typical Day at Project Bow: Dinner time

We have our dinners at five o'clock. If you are not staying for dinner, time your departure so that you will be in your car and on the road by five minutes to five. If you have been asked to dinner, please arrive at least ten minutes early.

If you have been here all day, because you are an overnight guest, then stay in the back rooms while the meal is being prepared, and then come to dinner when the bell rings. (It distracts Bow to have to keep track of lots of different people in the living room area, when he is expecting me to serve dinner promptly.)

Dinner routine is much like lunch time, except that after we have our pleasant conversation, and after Bow is feeling very, very relaxed, he expects me to start putting everything away, so that he can go to bed. If you are not an overnight guest, then it is a good idea to say goodbye after six o'clock and certainly no later than six thirty. If you are an overnight guest, say "good night" to Bow by six thirty at the latest, take all your things with you to the guest room, and stay there till after I put Bow to bed.

Books by Aya Katz

Bedtime and Beyond

Every night, after I've cleared away the dishes, I move all the folding furniture and computers and books and papers that I had in my part of the pen out into the living room area. I tidy up and sweep or vaccuum the cleared pen, and eventually I bring in Bow's giant teddy bear and his blankets. Bow uses the teddy bear as a mattress, and he makes a nest of the blankets. He reclines on his blankets while I sing him a lullaby, and then I say good night, and turn out the lights, and go tidy up in the kitchen.

After that, Sword and I and our overnight guests, if we have any, usually watch a video in my room, and Sword plays her piano, and we talk and joke around (and even argue, if necessary).

Does Bow hear all of that? I'm sure he must, because his ears are very good. But it doesn't seem to bother him, and he sleeps through the night and is ready to face a new day at 6:30 am sharp the next morning.

(c) 2011 Aya Katz


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    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      6 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Nell! Every day is a little different, but they are well worth the effort!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi, this was fascinating reading, it sounds really hard work but very rewarding, thanks for an amazing read, nell

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Sword's friend!

    • profile image

      Swords Friend  

      7 years ago

      Very Interesting

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, ChaiRachelRuth, for your thoughtful comment. Saying hello to those we meet is a simple but important way to show respect.

    • ChaiRachelRuth profile image


      7 years ago

      I always acknowledge animals when I come in contact with them, including insects. Your routine with Bow and guests of any sort remind me of how important that is.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      7 years ago from The Ozarks

      DTR, thanks for your comment. I expect Bow will want more independence as he matures, and our rules and the relationship that we share will change accordingly. All of us have a potentially violent streak, and we need to watch how we behave. Bow is more open about his desire to resolve conflicts by direct means than most humans are, but we at Project Bow keep things safe for everyone by adhering to a strict set of rules that do not allow small conflicts to escalate.

    • DTR0005 profile image

      Doug Robinson 

      7 years ago from Midwest

      Do you expect Bow's temperment to change significantly as he gets older? I have read chimps, being much like humans, have a potentially violent streak in them. I do appreciate your narrative on this fascinating experiment/project.


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