I now sit in the MSP airport. I am excited, but apprehension is in the forefront of my mind right now. There are so many questions and unknowns, but that is how every journey starts out. It wouldn’t be a journey or adventure if the realm in which I’m thinking is predictable and safe. There is a quote that says, “Your life is measured by the risks you take”, which I believe to be true. Nothing would change and no progress would be made if people did not take risks and go on adventures. My risk on this trip is experiencing something completely unknown to me in hopes of helping me understand the world a little better which will in turn make me a better teacher, citizen and person.
-experience something new
-connect with new people
-gain a better understanding of a different culture
– learn about wildlife and animal cohabitation
-promote peace and understanding about wildlife and conservation
-pass on my experience to my students to inspire their own conservation service
-be open to new ideas and experiences
-embrace this time and enjoy
-do positive things to help others and the world around me
Video of me on the plane!
goals and expectations – original page from my journal that I kept throughout my trip
I finally made it. I’m in Swakopmund and ready to go to bed and conquer the jet lag after five flights.
5 flights – MSP-Newark
Zurich – Frankfurt
Frankfurt – Johannesburg
Johannesburg – Walvis Bay
I am here.
I didn’t do much once I got here – just emailed, skyped and tried to venture into town at sunset and go a little scared by myself. I still can’t figure out if it is safe or not. I don’t know if it is my preconceptions or reality.
The Villa Wiese hostel is pretty nice. As of now, I am just sharing a bedroom with one other girl, but two others are supposed to arrive tomorrow. I went out to dinner with other EHRA members and got fresh fish of the day. It was good.
Video of EHRA briefing
Here is a link to my original handwritten journal page – finally arrived in swakop
Tomorrow starts the journey into the wild! After talking to past volunteers, I am pretty confident this will be an incredible experience. Stories have been told about a herd of elephants silently walking just meters away from camp without any notice except someone who had a particular keen intuition; stars that match nowhere else on Earth. I imagine just lying awake gazing at the speckled sky just like a previous volunteer told me she did.
I am going to strive to embrace this experience to the fullest, live in the moment and not take anything for granted. I will be in the true wild, living among true wild animals and beings that have walked the desert sand and know its secrets. A wild that is full of energy and unbridled life that matches nowhere else in existence. I want to feel and be within this place and understand on a personal level its importance.
Video packing for build week
The moon arched above us in the desert night as we crawled into our sleeping bags among the branches of an old and weathered acacia tree. On wooden platforms ten other volunteers, seeking to enrich their lives and others, star gazed under a speckled sky, unwilling to close their eyes and miss the beauty.
At dinner, we were given our briefing before we embarked on our first night camping in the desert.
“We saw fresh elephant tracks on the way to base camp, and they usually follow the dry river path which comes along the tree where you will be sleeping,” Chris said.
We each secretly hoped that even though it was our first night we could be lucky enough to see an elephant pass by feet from our sleeping platform.
With this secret yearning, we slipped into our sleeping bags with open eyes, trying to make out shadows in the distance beneath the acacia branches.
“The elephants are silent,” Chris said. “They will not wake you in your sleep.”
I stayed awake long after I noticed the last volunteer going to sleep, straining my eyes and ears into the desert night. I have heard some people feel vibrations, an electric type of energy or just a “sense” or “feeling” that an elephant is close. I believed that I would see an elephant.
A branch broke in the distance and the desert sand shifted. Then, the giant shadow emerged – an elephant. The lumbering, graceful giant grabbed a branch of the acacia tree where we slept and then seemed to sense the sleeping human contents of the tree. Without a sound, he continued down his path to the dry riverbed , noiseless, alone, into the moonlit desert.
I finished up building week two days ago. Now “recovering” in Uis by the pool under the Namibian sun. We finished a quarter of the wall for the village. The last day of building, I interviewed a few of the villagers about the elephants. Neval and Mr. Uganda had especially interesting and contradictory things to say. Neval said that his generation (younger 20s) understood the elephants better and were not afraid of them, while Mr. Uganda said that people are fearful and made the elephants out to be wild beasts with a mission to kill and destroy.
It was very eye opening and hopeful to hear that ideas are changing about elephants and the wild animals in Africa. I hope that EHRA had a part in that.
Building week was hard physically, but very rewarding to see a physical creation of hard work, effort and passion. Next week (tomorrow) we will start “patrol week” where we will track elephants and camp in a different site each week depending where the elephants are. Yesterday, we worked around camp and then had a few hours of free time. My duty was to clean one-eyed Willy who is Chris’ and the camp’s dog.
He is an extremely gentle and loyal dog and he didn’t put of any fuss or complaints when I gave him a bath, took off his ticks, and applied flea and tick medication. I also made him a collar out of the cobra stitch.
Video building the wall
Video 2 building the wall
Like hot whispers from a lover’s rage
the wind swells and swirls encircling
boulders, dry branches and arid vastness
The sky watches, twinkling, dark and silent
sometimes urging the wind to increase its
The sky has stillness,
quietness, loftiness -everything the wind
As the sky remains silent, lofty and dignified
the wind’s jealous gusts throw up amber
sand reaching for the twinkling eyes
looking down upon it.
Then, for a moment, all is quiet
As the wind pauses to look at what is
The wideness, the everywhere, the blanketed night.
Patrol week started yesterday. We all got in two big trucks with open tops and sides, and began to track the elephants in the area. We talked to local villagers and looked at elephant footprints to try to figure out where the herds were. We found the Ugamba small herd. The elephants were very close to the trucks and seemed very relaxed and at peace with us there. There were two large elephants and a baby. We saw them grazing on trees and walking/traveling in line formation. As the sun set, the pinks and oranges lit up the horizon and darkened the forefront to make the elephants look as if they were just silhouettes and shadows.
The sky has immense beauty here and seems to be open, wide and free like nowhere else I have experienced. We camped at a site near the wall we built during build week.
Elephants also passed meters from the site during the night. I could only hear them breaking branches, but couldn’t distinguish their shape in the darkness of the night.
Yesterday, I also sat on top of the truck on top of our sleeping mats as the truck swerved in and out of the sand, pricker bushes, and acacia trees. I felt as if I was soaring in and out of the desert like a bird with the open air and sky around me. Nature is all wild and wonder here and very untouched by human conventions.
Today, we started tracking the elephant around the wall that we built during build week. It only took us a few minutes to find the Mama Afrika Herd. This herd is larger than the Ugamba herd and consists of about 12 elephant including 2 very little baby elephants. We observed them grazing and resting on the ground. One elephant came so close to a vehicle that it grazed its trunk against the exterior. I feel lucky and privileged that these animals are letting us witness their exquisite beauty in their natural habitat.
Video of the elephants I observed
My time with EHRA has shown me beauty of the wild that I have never experienced before. At times beauty was shown to me by landscapes – colorful and vibrant sunsets, wide immense sky, sparkling stars and warm sand that sustain desert life.
The beauty is also contained in the animals of the wild. I feel privileged that I was allowed to, however brief of a time, be part of their world. The elephants, who no doubt have had experiences with human brutality, still chose peacefully to let us observe and enter their habitat during patrol week.
The beauty of this experience was also portrayed by the people that I met during my time with EHRA. EHRA is doing great things for conservation and I was able to begin to understand the complex relationship between humans and their environment during my 2 weeks. After talking to local villagers where we built the wall, it was apparent that great progress is being made – both in the physical (the wall) and the abstract (thinking). Younger villagers frequently voiced that they were no longer as fearful of elephants and understood them better, which no doubt could be credited to EHRA’s work. None of this understanding would have been made possible if it weren’t for Chris’s great passion and knowledge. He is a great teacher. Mattias instinct and insight also added great value to my experience. The camaraderie of other volunteers, fireside laughs and hard work definitely brought people together and made my trip more meaningful.
One-eyed Willy, the base camp’s dog, also taught me about the beauty of Africa. This is a dog that was adopted from the desert. He is missing an eye, has scabs all over his body and smells, but he is loving, loyal and hopeful. Just like Africa – there are things which may seem ugly, I was at times shocked, disturbed by some peoples relationship with their environment, but progress is being made and there is hope in the deep and immense beauty that the land and people here hold.
Here is a link to my reflection on the EHRA field blog: http://volunteeringafricadotnet.wordpress.com/page/3/