If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this is my first weekend coffee share. I like coffee, but I normally drink it with my wife or on-the-go at work. I don’t often get the chance to sit down and chat with someone new while I sip my extra large black at Tim Hortons. But, today I am taking my wife’s advice. She suggested that I take part in the weekend coffee share and just write. My blog is about one of my major hobbies. I am an adult fan of LEGO. What can I say? I never grew out of it. If something brings you joy and helps you to unwind, why should you give up just because you are older?
But, this post is not about LEGO. I like to write, and I am thinking about picking up this weekly coffee share to take the opportunity to write about other things. Today, I would like to tell you about my time in Africa. It has been on my mind a lot lately. A few days ago was the 10 year anniversary of the day I left for South Africa. I was pretty fresh out of undergrad, and I had landed a job doing wildlife research. It was a dream come true. Those types of jobs are hard to come by.
I spent about one year in the Hoedspruit/Timbavati region of South Africa, adjacent to Kruger National Park. The experience is still close to my heart a decade later. People I have spoken to who have also spent time in Africa all seem to feel the same. Africa has a way of entrenching itself in your soul, and forever beckons for you to come back. Perhaps it is something primal about it being the cradle of humanity. It is where we are all from. In many African traditions, there is the concept of the Line of First Time. Oral histories say man came to be on the Line of First Time. It stretches down from Egypt along the river Nile, all the way through the continent. It is also known as the Nilotic Meridian, or the longitude of 31° east. The Great Pyramids of Giza are found on this meridian. Interestingly, so are many of the archaeological sites from which our earliest ancestors come. Timbavati is also on this meridian, but I digress…
I was but a lowly research assistant living on just enough to pay my grocery bill for the week. I was doing field work on wild lions. So, that meant I lived in a little metal shed, not unlike the one in your backyard, but in the wilderness. There was no electricity in my camp. I had an oil lamp for when it got dark. I cooked over a fire or camping stove. My neighbors were lions, leopards, hyenas, giraffes, wildebeest, and a variety of deadly snakes to name a few. But, I was in heaven.
My fondest memories are of the nights. Contrary to popular belief, Africa is not always hot. Where I was, the days were always warm, but in the winter it was very common for the nights to drop below 10°C, sometimes even reaching freezing. No electricity means no heating. I was often bundled in my Canadian thermal sleeping bag, in my long johns, in my sweat suit. You are cold, but you are not the only one in the neighborhood who is feeling it. I woke up one night sharing my sleeping bag with a snake… in the dark you can’t tell what type of snake it is, you can only feel it. You can’t do anything but lie still, and hope it is not a black mamba, or something of the sort. But, again, I digress…
Cold nights are not why I loved the dark in Africa though. I loved the night because I have never seen a sky so clear anywhere in the world. In the wilderness, there is no light pollution from the ground. I saw stars and constellations. I saw the Milky Way. And on some nights, the moon was so bright, you could walk without a flashlight and the sand beneath your feet seemed to glow.
And then there were the lions. My lions. I would often lie quietly in the dark listening to them roaring in the distance (some nights closer than others). Occasionally, if I had to monitor the pride through the night, they would begin their eerie chorus right next to the Land Rover, and shake me straight to my core. We tracked them with radio collars that were attached to certain members of the pride. Sometimes, you would have a full signal, but there would be no lion in sight. Then, without warning, they would silently glide out of the shadows, glowing in the moonlight. And, just as quickly as they appeared, they would vanish again. “Like ghosts”, I wrote in my journal all those years ago.
Then there were the signs you would find the next morning. Like the leopard paw prints that circled my shed one morning when I awoke.
I felt alive in Africa. I felt purpose. I felt pride in the attainment of a dream. Sadly, don’t feel that anymore in my day to day life as a teacher. I miss the adventure, and the magic of an African night. But, like I said earlier, jobs like that are hard to find, and hard to fund… and harder still for and in terms of the family and friends you have to leave behind.
Well, my coffee’s done, and I have to go. I hope you enjoyed our chat, as one sided as it was.
Until next time,