I enjoyed build week a lot even though rock and sand runs were very hard work. The staff as well as the other volunteers were really friendly and so the first week passed by enormously quickly. I hope patrol week won’t pass by so quickly. In the build week we finished one wall that was started some weeks before and began to build a new wall around a waterpump.There were only two things till now that i didn’t like. One thing was the flies and small bees which fly the whole day near your head and go into your nose and ears. Even now some flies are annoying me. The other thing was that it gets dark too early. The sun sets already at 6p.m, but except those two things the desert elephant project is awesome and i am glad that i am here. I’d like to come back again!
Build week – 4 days of sun, flies and sand/rock runs. After successfully completing one wall started by the previous group of volunteers, we moved on to start work on the next project – another wall. Negotiating with cows, bees and spider hunting wasps for access to the water supply, and undergoing inspections by goats as to the sturdiness of our constructions we managed to build a 3 foot wall around the farmers water supply in a little over 2 days.
Despite the high temperatures and hard work there was a permanent jovial atmosphere amongst the volunteers. Meal times the fire become a social event as personal history’s were exchanged and the days events discussed.
Exhausting our cement supply on the morning of day 4, and after a final rock run for good measure. We headed back to the base camp for a weekend free from mixing cement. Instead – a day trip to Uis and a opportunity for people to charge all this “vital” electrical items to make the important status updates on Facebook and visit the supermarket to stock up on the sweets and snacks. The return journey provided opportunity to stop at a number of road side stalls were dolls, bracelets and other locally crafted items were purchased for both self and loved ones.
The lay anticipated patrol week around on Monday morning, and after a brief highatus whilst repairs were made to the vehicles, we headed off into the desert and search of elephants. Unfortunately despite following a number of promising tracks we were unable to locate any elephants, as we sat round the camp fire that evening, the mood of the group was one of frustrating, dampened further by the proposed of rain and a soggy night under the stars. Day 2 couldn’t have been different, and after a damp start we were treated to a view which we had all been waiting for. A herd of 12 elephants led by Mamma Afrika. The sight of these magical animals weaving their was through the trees towards us is one that will stay with me for a long time. The remainder of the day was proved to be equally amazing as we tracked and i.d’d a total of 3 herds as a number of lone elephants. While at times it has been hard work both physically to the heat, and mentally with the presence of flies around ones head. The past week and half have been amazing and one that i would most emphathically recommend to anyone, not already considering spending time in this amazing environment.
Leaving base camp for the last time after two amazing months with EHRA, and I can’t help but think of everything I’ve learned and experienced here. Driving away from base camp feels like driving away from home. Saying goodbye to the staff like saying goodbye to family, but though I leave with a heavy heart, I will carry my experiences here with me for the rest of my life. This place, these people, the work and the elephants…they get inside of you and change something profound, if you let it I know I will be back , that I can’t stay away now, and so I leave sadly, but excitedly planning my next visit. My four build weeks with EHRA were challenging and rewarding. I think I will forever be scanning hillsides for perfect building stories and riverbeds for the perfect sand. As each building week progressed into the next, I could feel myself getting stronger and more confident. I’ve really enjoyed the work, getting used to working in the heat, discovering and pushing my own limits, watching a group of strangers come together to make a difference, solidifying friendships with cement and sweat along the way. The satisfaction of standing back after build week and seeing the physical representation of all of your hard work is a timely amazing experience. Writting your name in the fresh cement on a finished wall so rewarding. You quickly forget all the cuts, scrapes, bruises and blisters that went into getting there. And of course. what would be a trip with EHRA without the elephants? After a tough build week you appreciate going out on patrol so much more. You can feel the excitement in the air as everything gets packed up to head out into the desert to find the amazing animals. Exploring this beautiful terrain by land cruiser is a feeling I will never forget. The open sky, the mountains and hills, the vegetation…it all comes together to create one of the most breathtaking landscapes. At times, like when the sky is a glance with a brilliant sunset, the beauty of the area is overwhelming. And in this stunning landscapes live the majestic desert elephants. Not only do we track the elephants, we learn about the tracking process itself. We learn about the elephants in general. Their family structure, eating and sleeping habits, the way they communicate etc, but we also begin to recognise and identify specific elephants. We learn their temperaments and personalities, and along the way you fall in love with them. They will get inside of your head and heart and you will carry them with you long after leaving. It’s these moments when I feel connected to something far greater than myself, these moments when I realise I’ve gained far more than I ever could have imagined by volunteering here with EHRA. And so, as my time here comes to an end, as base camp, the walls I’ve helped to build and the elephants get farther and farther away, my sadness is overshadowed by my happiness at having been able to experience this wonderful adventure. EHRA and the elephants have altered my perception so drastically that I know I will never be the same. How could I stay sad knowing that?
Until next time,
Courtney Gallant, Canada
“It’s where we go and what we do when we get there, that tells us who we are”. – Joyce Carol Oates