The Orangutan Project

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Last Saturday night, I read this story by Lika Frenkel on her Facebook page:

Near my house, just off Nevsky, two drunken Russian FC Zenit fans assaulted an Uzbek worker repairing the porch. They were giving him a ferocious beating, but when I cried for help, a a Russian dude popped up and yelled, “Young lady, those are our own Russian lads. They’re doing the right thing!” Thank God, another [Uzbek] worker came running and fought out his countryman’s attackers. I called the police. The Russians dashed off down Nevsky. Only a skateboarder reacted to my heart-rending cries of “Stop them! They beat up a man!” But it was too late: the fascists got away. The police went looking for them. I returned home and brought the Uzbeks clean towels. The young man’s head was badly injured. The other man turned out to be his brother. He said to me, “You think this is the first time? My brother is a doctor himself. He just arrived [in Russia]. I’m used to it. I would have given them what they had coming, only there are cameras everywhere here, and I don’t want to draw attention to myself.

Just like my fierce friend Lika Frenkel, Al Jazeera’s doco about former Perth zookeeper Leif Cocks and his Orangutan Project, below, will restore your faith not in humanity per se but in the fact that our planet still occasionally produces actual human beings, people capable of seeing and actively defending the humanity in Tajiks and Uzbeks (as in Lika’s case) and personhood in endangered and captive orangutans (as in Leif Cocks’s case).

If you are wondering how I make such absurd thematic leaps, it’s simple. After reading Lika’s late-night story, I got into bed and listened to this interview with Leif Cocks on ABC Radio National before drifting off to sleep.

Needless to say, a double dose of militant empathetic humanity like that made me sleep like a baby all through the night. All is not right with the world, to be sure, but there are heroes in our midst like Lika Frenkel and Leif Cocks. We need to identify them, celebrate them, and, most of all, emulate them.

Story translated by the Russian Reader. Image, above, courtesy of the Orangutan Project.

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