Amazingly enough, after crawling through fresh gorilla shit for the last half mile, we have come upon them in one of the few real clearings I've seen all morning. The gorillas are chillin'. Bigingo is some distance away on the far side of his family, sitting under the canopy. He is observing us with a perfect combination of attention and detachment. A real Zen master.
Closer to us, the ladies are spread-eagled on their backs. The young male is busily peeling some of the 20 kilos of bamboo he will eat today. And the kids are just plain busy. Really busy.
Now they come closer and peer at my PowerBook. I am pretty sure this is the first time a wild mountain gorilla has ever seen a computer. I find myself hoping the little ones will be as fascinated as the rangers were. (My God! Have I really become so demented in my techno-evangelism that I now want to wire the gorillas?) It's probably fortunate that they seem to have lost interest. They've rolled themselves in a big, black ball over to the other side of the clearing. Now one has just chased the other up a bamboo stalk near me. It keels over, and they almost land in my lap.
- John Perry Barlow, ‘Africa Rising’, Wired
“Don’t get me started on Gates,” said John Perry Barlow, a Wyoming cattle rancher and former lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Under a naked 40 watt bulb in Jupiter Room, at the Sky Blue Motel in Kisoro, Uganda (“a 50-bucks-a-night concrete blockhouse with the rooms named after planets”), he was sharing a marijuana joint with me and Dutch entrepreneur Eckart Wintzen who had smuggled it in in his shaving kit. Jupiter Room was next to the latrine and a urine-infused funk hung in the chilly mountain air. The cannabis smoke went some way to reducing it. “Bill lives in a world of his own,” continued JPB, “breathing nothing but his own fumes. You’ll be lucky if he even acknowledges your appeal.”
“But he’s communed with gorillas in the wild,” I said, passing the joint back to Eckart, “like you guys did today, you know. How could he possibly turn us down after an experience like that?”
“When will you be ready to go to Gates?” asked Eckart, pausing to hold in a lungful of smoke. “You need to strike while the iron is hot.”
“Almost all our ducks are in a row,” I said. “Mike Backes has made a short film that clearly states our case, and business guru Ian Charles Stewart is helping us hammer out the dints in the business plan.”
“Ian’s a good guy,” said Eckart.
“I’m surrounded by good guys,” I said. “JPB, did you hear what Eckart did for the gorillas? Gave us $50,000 for the sole purpose of preparing a winning bid to Gates.”
“That has got to be the most enlightened donation of the year,” said JPB.
“So don’t fuck it up,” said Eckart.
“I won’t fuck it up,” I said, taking a hit on the joint.
“Kinda like what you did for Jane and Luis,” JPB said to Eckart.
“How’s that?” I asked.
“He invested $35,000 in a single-issue that they produced but never printed, which was a forerunner to Wired.”
JPB was writing a piece for Wired. During the entire nine hours journey by road across Uganda, his PowerBook remained open on his lap as he banged away on how information highways were snaking their way across Africa, “skipping industrialism entirely and leaping directly into the information era.”
We spent the first night at the White Horse Inn in Kabale from where we’d intended to commute each day to trek gorillas from the small mountain town of Kisoro. But after enduring 3 hours on jagged volcanic roads that first morning, we had decided to stay in Kisoro, at the Sky Blue Motel. Problem was, most of our luggage was back in Kibale, including electrical chargers. Consequently, cameras and computers were gasping their last, and we stank.
John Perry Barlow put away his PowerBook and beamed. “The vibe is so different here. People we see along the road smile and wave. I see them waving even from the distant fields, genuinely glad to see us. Imagine average Americans smiling and waving at a carload of passing Africans.”
|John Perry Barlow at his apartment in New York City, 1998|