So here it has arrived — the last week of my internship, and it’s bittersweet to say the least. It has been an amazing experience, full of highs and some lows, much fun and laughter, as well as much introspection and even some sorrow. Such is the case with any complex and richly textured life experience — it’s the combination of these things that make it authentic. I’ve been inspired by all of the humanitarian and environmental work that I’ve seen during my time in Africa, by this organization and others, and at the same time found myself wishing that things could be even better. The whole “TIA” or “This is Africa” phenomenon is very real — things work differently here. It’s not necessarily better or worse, but for anyone from an industrialized place, it can sometimes seem like you’ve stepped back in time. If you’re really paying attention, however, you’ll see an ingenuity in the approach to things, with people using the tools, materials, and resources that are available, often until they are quite literally falling apart. It makes you appreciate everything so much more, including what you learn from the people here.
I’m currently in Livingstone, Zambia, spending four weeks here as the third location during my internship with ALERT, after my previous time in both Antelope Park and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I’ll be here until the 25th, and then will return to Vic Falls for a couple weeks. Each location has been unique, with different things to offer, and I’ve glad that I’ve spent time in all three. I’m splitting my time between project management type of duties, mostly helping with coordinating volunteer activities and logistics, and spending time with the lions manager and researchers on the animal management side, as well. It’s been a busy few weeks since my last blog post, so here’s a little of what I’ve been up to lately…
The cubs continue to do really well, expanding their environment day by day, as they explore a bit further into areas of the bush. Liuwa and Lekker just turned seven months old on Friday the 17th, and Lila and Lala are about two and half weeks ahead of them. The river continues to be their favorite place to play, and we go there often. They love the long grass, which gives them cover for stalking and chasing each other, and they go a bit nuts wrestling with tall clumps of grass, as well as having epic wrestling matches with each other. Every now and then they play their version of “you’re it” with each other, where three of them gang up on one of them, and you can see them practice their hunting and take-down skills in the process, where they circle behind the one who is “it” and attack from the back. They are getting more adventurous with wading slightly into the water when they spot something that they want, usually a branch or a clump of plant roots, getting wet and muddy in the process. Liuwa is typically the one to get the dirtiest, and it is somehow perfectly suited to her personality.
There is chosen down time, to relax and rejuvenate, and then there is the unplanned variety, that can be either a good thing or not so much. I just got hit will all sorts of not so much, with back-to-back illnesses that took me out for the better part of two weeks. The first was an intestinal bug from HELL. I’ll spare the details and just say that it required a doctor visit the house, as I was too sick to go to the clinic, complete with an IV of three full bags of saline to rehydrate me from chronic dehydration, as well as antibiotics and other meds. One other person got it as bad, and a third person got a milder case. On the tail end of that party, I got a raging sinus and chest infection, and am just recovering from that. The people here took good care of us, and I’m glad that we got such good care, but I was missing home a bit the last couple weeks, as it’s tough to be that sick while traveling. So after tonsillitis, tick bite fever, and now an intestinal hell bug, I’m done with illness for this trip. In addition to just being miserable, it’s a waste of time and money, and I’m of no use to the team here when I’m that sick, which bothers me as I want to contribute as much as I can. But I just couldn’t push any more than I did — it was brutal.
I recently finished a book called Animal Madness, which was an interesting read about animal psychology and behavior, and so I was looking for another book to page through as I had time. There is a small book swap stash at the volunteer house, and looking through the options I almost chose a novel about a foreign woman who falls in love with a Masai man, and then a book titled What Should I Do With My Life? caught my eye. How apropos. The author, Po Bronson, interviews about 900 different people from all walks of life, who have pondered this question and are at different places in the journey toward their answer, and he includes about 50 of those stories in the book. It was so interesting in and of itself, and adding to that was the people that showed up in my life around the same time who were asking themselves the same question. All of which goes back to the awakening that Martha Beck speaks about, a great burning as she calls it, that is creating a new consciousness. People may not know the answer to the question, or even be aware of all the questions they have yet to ask, but they know they are yearning. Uh… hello!
It’s an odd existence to live out of backpacks and suitcases, something that I’ve been doing for eight months now. It teaches you, or reminds you, depending on your current perspective, just how little we really need to get by. That all of the truly important aspects of our lives are not things that we physically pack around, but rather that we possess internally, sharing connections with the people, places, and natural world around us. When I think back, I guess I started the metamorphosis some years back, first in small ways, such as foregoing material gift giving at Christmas in favor of charitable giving and sharing experiences with loved ones, to more recently shedding half of my possessions, selling my home, and hitting the road with no more than what fits in two bags. All of our things… it’s just stuff. When all is said and done and we leave this plane of existence for another we don’t take any of it with us. But we sure do obsess about it while we’re here. I like my creature comforts as much as the next person — I just don’t let my things own me.
[Web readers: I’m using a new format to truncate posts — click “Continue Reading” to see the rest]
So many great things have been happening for the program lately, and it’s such a joy to be a part of it. Here’s the latest!
With the recent move of four of the young cubs to Victoria Falls, the existing four sub-adult lions that were here were finally moved to Antelope Park. Two of the lions had already been retired from walks, and the other two, Phezulu and Pendo, were just retired on Monday of this last week. I went on that last walk, and while they were very good as usual, it was a relief to know that they were moving on to the next phase, which will be night encounters. They have been very successful day hunters, with about a dozen kills already, so I’m hopeful that they will transition into night hunting just as successfully. I had my ugly cry to see them go, with a private moment to myself to say goodbye to them through the fence in the afternoon before others arrived, the sadness tempered by my happiness to see them get the next chance in their development.