As you may have read in the previous post I went to Namibia to volunteer the summer of 2011. When I arrived at the farm there was a ton of new impressions and sights that stole your breath away. The african plant life may not be very welcoming, everything is covered in thorns (we’ll come back to that later), but it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We were driven right in to what we later learned was the village. This was where the volunteers lived and had their base. The first person we met was our soon to be volunteer mom, Eve, and she told us a lot about the life on the farm and what we were expected to do and what not to do. We also got to meet the one responsible for the volunteer project Herman. He was a big man and I later learned that he had a heart bigger than Africa itself. In the evening we got to meet the other volunteers who had been there for days or weeks already. We had to introduce ourself and that is one of the most awkward things I have ever done. The introduction went like this: “Hi my name is Astrid and I’m 19 years old from Norway. I just graduated from high school and i’m waiting for answer from the university of Oslo, and I’m staying for 6 weeks”. It was like that for everybody and just as awkward. After dinner and introduction there was suddenly voices over the walkies that all the superiors had. Suddenly they ushered all of us in to the kitchen, turned off the lights and told us to be very quiet because the big baboons had gotten out of their enclosure. For those of you that doesn’t know big, grown baboons are extremely dangerous. They have canines longer than those of a lion and are many times stronger than a grown human. This went on and many of the volunteers were scared. A few of us thought that it may be a joke, but i decided to believe it until that told me it was a joke. And correctly enough it was a joke. Apparently they do this to all the new ones. After that we gathered around a big fire and talked until it was around 9 pm and then everyone went to bed. The next day we had to be out of bed and ready at 6.30 am. We were going on fence patrol. On a fence patrol you check if all the fences and animals are OK. If they are you can go to breakfast. Breakfast was easy. Some cereal, bread, jam, peanut butter and some kind of warm food. I don’t remember what the warm food was that day, but it wasn’t good so I believe it was millipop. Millipop was made like a tasteless porridge that tasted awful. After breakfast we got a tour of the farm and it’s animals. The variety of animals on the farm is amazing. They have lions, cheetahs, baboons, vervets, birds, bat eared foxes and more. At three we had a meeting by a tree in the middle of the courtyard. Here we got divided into different groups. The volunteers were divided into four groups on the farm. The Hounddogs which i became a member of, Snoobabs, Crocolisious and The one eyed owls. During the rest of the day and sunday we worked in foodprep. This was where all the food for the animals were prepared. A lot of cutting of meat, donkey for the most part, and some seeds, fruit and scraps for some of the animals.
Cutting meat and dividing food soon became easy after a few hours of practice. With a lot of animals to feed comes a lot of work. On Monday we were finally allowed in to the enclosures. It was amazing to finally be able to get close to the animals. The first ones we went in to were two small baboon “babies” names Elvis and Loydie. Baboons as I said before can be really dangerous, but as kids they are very sweet. Well, they can be a real pain in the ass, but you’ll alway forgive them because they are so damn cute. Elvis and Loydie came to me at once and I was sold. When small baboons come up to you and sit on your lap wanting you to groom them there isn’t much in you that can resist.
There wasn’t a lot that happened until Wednesday that week. That day Herman came to me before breakfast and told me he wanted to ask me something. When we were alone he told me that he wanted to give me some responsibility and asked me if i was up for it. I always love a challenge so i asked what he wanted of me. He said that he wanted to make me the new animal caretaker. That meant that I had the main responsibility when it came to the welfare of the animals. Of course I accepted and from that day on my new introduction was: “Hi my name is Astrid and I’m the animal caretaker here at Harnas”. My responsibilities consisted of checking all the enclosures to see if they needed cleaning, be sure that all the animals got in and out in the morning and evening, that everyone got the right food and that they were in good shape in general. I had a little book that I noted things in which I handed to Herman every morning. The days went by and volunteers came and went. We worked hard every day and the mornings began at 6 am and the work ended at 6 pm. I thought I had experienced darkness, but I was wrong. Nothing is as dark as africa during the night. The only light you have besides a flashlight is the moon and the amazing stars. We had lots of fun during the days as well as work. We had one game that lasted from saturday till wednesday which was called silent murder. Here you get a not at the start of the game with your name and the name of the person you are supposed to “kill”. No one can see the kill or hear it. If you can do this you will get this persons note and your new kill. The one that is left on wednesday wins and his/hers team gets pions for the victory. After getting the job as animal caretaker I was placed in a new group called the awesome group. This was the group made up by the coordinators. I was one of the bosses! Another game we played was paintball. But not you usual paintball with guns, protection and rules. No this was paintball in shorts, sunglasses and with slingshots. We fought till we were covered in yellow pain and it was a lot of fun. We had some babies on the farm during my time there. There is nothing that can melt your heart more than four baby leopards and a baby cheetah.
During the next weeks I worked a lot and got a lot of new friends whom I still keep in contact with and visit. A couple of week in to my stay two new faces arrived. I’m not talking about human faces as you may understand. Two new cheetahs came to the farm to be a part of the soft release program which allows an animal to slowly get uses to living in the wild and hunting it own prey. The two newcomers were the brothers Max and Maurits. I fell in love with the boys the first day and I spent a lot of time with them and in the end i bonded with them better than anyone there. Me an two other girls even slept out in the enclosure with them one night.
I also got the responsibility of a little spring buck baby I got to name Winter. It hurt me deeply when we found him the day before i was leaving. He had died of unknown reasons and it wasn’t unusual for spring buck babies to die, but it came as a shock non the less. The last weeks went by with a blur and before I knew it, it was time for me to leave the place that had become a home to me. I had to leave my new family and friends and all of my beloved animals. The one it hurt to leave the most was Herman. At the goodbye “ceremony” he hugged me and whispered in to my ear: “You know you are like a daughter to me right?” And that kind of started the water works. I left Africa, my new home and my new extended family and it left a big hole in my heart. But one thing is for certain, i will alway be able to look back and say that i did something that helped change the lives of some animals, i got to meat new people and extend my family. My stay in Africa changed my life and made me want to help change the world even more, no matter how little the change was.
During my stay and in some time before a austrian/german film crew was at the farm. They were making a series about the farm and the volunteer project. If you are interested to have a look click on the link. There is no subtitles, but there was talk about a smaller amount of the episodes airing on National geographic or something.