The Inevitable Comparison

I’ve been thinking a lot about baboons lately. This might sound strange to a newcomer, but all of you loved oldies of my followers, you know baboons and me have a history. No matter which one of these groups you belong to though, you might ask yourself why I’m thinking about them now, in Australia, several months after my time in Namibia. It’s because of the koalas. The stupid, stupid koalas.

image

#creepily taking pictures of him while he’s sleeping

Baboons have this look in their eyes. You can see them thinking. You can see them evaluating you and plotting their grand plan. In koalas’ eyes I see nothing. Sure, they are cute, and waaaay softer than I expected, but they sleep 18-22 hours a day. They sleep, they eat, and then they sleep again. Where’s the fun in that? Now, you might be saying that I am here to help out with saving them from extinction, but as I can’t very well say this at work, I needed to let it out. I miss my playful baboons (at that point where they only wanted to play with me and not bite, scratch and pull my hair).

image

My furry friends could play all day, jumping up and down and in and out of my shirt.

Having thought of baboons, I started thinking about the rest of my project in Namibia. It’s so different this time around. I live at a hostel in the middle of the city, right next to a huge mall, not isolated in the middle of nowhere. I fall asleep to the sound of the French guys clinking their glasses together for the millionth time, not the lions roaring. However, there’s also always enough food on my plate and I never feel like I should offer it to someone that is more hungry than myself.

image

Ain’t nobody gonna eat this food, but me!!

I’ve gotten one cut since I arrived here, and even that tiny injury was taken seriously. While, probably right now, at an animal sanctuary in Namibia, a volunteer is walking up to a coordinator with a blood covered hand and arm – and the coordinator looks down at it and shrugs “hm, yeah, you might need stitches for that. Go see if you can find the veterinarian”.

image

Another similarity is that the work is hard. Digging up this tree was nowhere near fun, but immensely satisfying!

After I leave this place, I know, just like I knew as I turned around in the car to get one last look of the camp in Namibia, that I will never return. For better of for worse, some experiences are best left as once in a lifetime’s.

image

Having a dingo lick my face not included!

7 things I learned while volunteering abroad

After publishing Wednesday’s guest post , I felt inspired. I’m about to do another project, my flight actually leaves today, so it’s time to review the lessons I learned last time I volunteered. Hopefully I won’t do all my mistakes twice.

1. Volunteering equals working. I worked every day for two months. Hard, manual labor. Losing weight wasn’t part of my expectations, but it was a reality after only a week. This time I’m in better shape and hopefully won’t feel so sore the first days.

DSC_0641
An enclosure doesn’t look this good without someone having cleaned it. 

2. Just because I signed up to work, doesn’t mean everyone else did too. Some are there because it will look good at a future application, or make for a good story. Ignore their complaints. Shake it off.

DSC_9877.JPG
Or take a walk with a cheetah.

3. The true meaning of “African time”. “Soon” doesn’t mean the same in every language. It could be 10 minutes or it could be hours. If I respect their meaning, they will come to respect mine.

12190751_916813435052329_1527290520_o
Time will pass; relax.

4. Abnormal can rapidly become normal. I worked with cheetahs and other wild animals; the first days my heart was on constant overdrive. After a while though, it was “just” cheetahs.

DSC_9859
Their fur was softer than I ever could have imagined

5. “Luxuries” can include juice. Especially when water and food supply is running low. Missing material stuff is normal in the beginning, it will pass.

12169700_911795905554082_1836585827_o

6. The place I am visiting is also learning from me. As a visitor I first made the mistake of thinking that I was the student, while in reality it is a two-way street. I brought my Norwegian culture to Namibia, and took some of the African ways with me home.

12248302_923703604363312_13577488_o
Everyone loves to dance. They taught us, and we taught them.

7. Small changes do make a difference. I dug waterholes and fixed fences; stuff anyone could do. However, I was the one that was there, and that waterhole has made a difference to the animals in the area.

DSC_0333

How to survive extreme heat

“Isn’t it very warm in Cairns, Australia now? I heard it’s warmer on that side.”

I get this a lot when I tell people about my upcoming volunteer trip. However, I’m visiting when it’s almost winter, so it’s “only” going to be 20-30 Celsius. The temperature on my last project, in Namibia, was much higher, averaging between 35 and 45 Celsius, but going on 50 on the warmest days. How do you survive this? Work in it? Well, I don’t know about you, but here’s how I did it:

1. Keep hydrated. Keep one two bottles of water with you at all times when you don’t have a place to refill nearby. Consider using thermoses instead of the regular plastic ones, as they can keep your water cool. In addition remember to drink before you’re thirsty, you need more water in a hot enviornment – drink regularly.

DSC_0333.JPG

2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. They have diuretic effect which increases water loss and contributes to dehydration. Take a bath instead.

4.7

3. Do like the locals and stay inside (or at least in the shade) when the sun is the strongest: 12 pm – 3 pm. Go out early or late. Work smarter instead of harder.

DSC_0383

4. Food = Energy. Eat fresh fruit and nuts to help replenish the electrolytes (i.e., “salts” such as sodium, chloride, potassium). lost through sweat. Try to keep your meals light and balanced, if they are large they take more work to digest which will increase your temperature.

DSC_0818

5. Cover up. Use sunblock on all exposed skin, and don’t give in to the temptation to wear as little as possible. When the temperature is high and humidity is low, sweating may not be noticeable because it evaporates quickly. Therefore remain clothed to avoid direct sun on your skin and to reduce your body’s water loss to evaporation. Lightweight and lightly colored clothes of natural fabrics such as linen, cotton, and hemp are good choices to keep comfortable.

DSC_9669.JPG

6. Better safe than sorry. Take a couple of minutes to look up the signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. No one ever plans for something to go wrong, but often it does anyway, so plan ahead. If it doesn’t help you, then it just might help someone else.

DSC_9309.JPG

Good luck everyone, and stay safe in the summer heat!

My Biggest Adventure yet

Some of you might think that this is about my upcoming trip to Australia. However, I have found that I can’t start a new adventure without properly finishing an old one. Before Christmas, September – November, I volunteered with animals in Namibia, Africa. It was the greatest adventure I have ventured out on, yet.

12242779_923879217679084_1768923201_o
A braai and sunset is always a great combination!

My trip was challenging beyond most travels I have done before. The animals kept hurting me and the camp was in the middle of nowhere. I was isolated with 50 other volunteers that sometimes did not have enough food and water for everyone. However, I don’t regret any of it, even if some of the nights lasted forever.

12180803_915777411822598_252476890_o
Just one of many.

I met people from all around the world and we are bound together by the experience. It changed us; I came there as an eager teenager, but left as a leader. One evening walking home, after having been back in Norway for several weeks, I realized I no longer look over my shoulder. I’ll know if there is anyone there. I’ll know how to react. I have fought baboons and faced off with cheetahs – I am no longer ordinary prey.

received_10207039244553203
The baboons accepted me in the end, but not before I had learned the true meaning of dominance.

When I left Namibia I had volunteered for two months. I was one of the people that had been there the longest, so in the end I had a lot of responsibility. I led several of the activities; I had lives in my hands. My back is straight and I keep my head high, I now know I am good for it if something were to happen. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – I have the scars to prove it.

12250565_923879344345738_1588669829_o
Thank you, Namibia. Or as you would say – Dankie.

Baby Cheetahs bite

So soft, so small, so adorable!! And yet, so sharp teeth…

Sorry for the radiosilence guys, I’ve been trying to adapt to being back in Europe. Where’s my 50 degrees? Where is my beautiful African Savannah?

12250565_923879344345738_1588669829_o
Namibia ❤

Oh well, one can’t be a volunteer forever. I love going through some of the videoes I took when I was at Harnas Wildlife Foundation; this is one of my favorites! I hope you love this baby cheetah as much as me:)

Goodbye to the land of straight roads and white cars

It’s time. One last hug. One last “We’ll stay in cantact”. One last whispered “I’ll miss you.”. One last look. Goodbye two months of volunteerwork. Two months of challenges. Of new and good friends. Of animals you’ll never forget.

DSC_1292

Missy-Jo, I’ll miss your purr in the mornings.

You’ve been saying goodbye for a week. It’s easier to ease into it. You’ve walked around taking pictures, spent time outside of work with the animals – and now the day is here, the day to leave. In one way, you can’t stop smiling, because everyone knows that after a long trip – coming home is always nice. However, in another way, your heart is breaking. You’re massaging the back of your right wrist; the tiny scars from a baboonattack that now seems so long ago. That was such a long day. You learned so much from it.

IMG_3814Remember my struggle with them?
The Baboon Bullies

12165177_912475335486139_704577504_o
Always be ready for a fight – one of the things I learned
If you had a bad day

12180803_915777411822598_252476890_oAnd that it gets better.
The reality of volunteering

“Do you think you’ll ever come back?” Your roomie looks over at you from behind the white bus that’s going to take you away. You shake your head “probably not. This has been an amazing experience, and I’ve learned enough to write an entire book, but… This isn’t a come-back-to-place for me. It’s more of a once in a lifetime thing. One you in the end will only remember the good memories from.”

DSC_0456This crazy group of friends I will always remember.

The coordinator hands out your certificates.

wp-1448814379287.jpgNotice the word “Survival” anyone?

People hug again (there can never be enough hugs). The group leaving enters the bus. All of your heads are turned. You stare at what you leave behind until you can’t. Some are crying. You reach out and take your roomie’s hand. Going home now would have been ten times worse if she wasn’t leaving at the same time.

At the airport you all sit down and get milkshakes.

DSC_0466

They still exist! Good heavens, you’ll have to have another one. Chocolate of course. You wander around afterwards, Windhoek airport isn’t big. “See ya when I see ya,” you say to your Danish friend, and he waves. “It was nice meeting you,” the german couple smile and nod, “you too.” And then there’s you and your roomie, your best friend, left. You’re on the same flight to Johannesburg.

Take off. Holding on tight. She’s leaving someone special behind. She cries silently. Both are leaving a great time. A time where you matured. Fought baboons. Walked cheethas. Cared for an injured caracal. Cleaned waterholes and dug graves in 50 degrees. Friends you don’t know if you’ll see again. You watch the straight roads. The white cars becoming smaller and smaller.

DSC_0108

In Johannesburg you buy Amarula, promising to think of each other when drinking it.

wp-1448814386292.jpg

Promising to tell your stories if drinking with others. It’s emotional, but neither says anything. The last goodbye is right around the corner. At gate A00. You’re going to Norway. Your flight leaves first, so she has acompanied you to your gate. You watch her like you watched your camp when she walks away. Not turning back. A short woman. 27. Poledancer and jewelery-maker. Direct and honest. Funnier than most. The French dialect in every word she says. You will see each other again. Life won’t get in the way. Not this time.

Up, up, above the clouds.

DSC_0503.JPG

Africa under you. Africa behind you. Africa coming home with you. You fold your hands in your lap. Close your eyes and lean your head against the cold window.  Your heart beats faster and your breath threathens to choke you. Pictures run through your head.

DSC_1131
A bat-eared fox baby ❤
DSC_0357
Bat eared foxes a few weeks after birth
DSC_0283
Totally normal to sit on a caged car, going too fast through the desert. I’m gonna miss the wind in my hair
DSC_1364
Hey! They are stealing my hat.
DSC_0348
Jesse, my girl ❤
DSC_9859
After a sleepout
DSC_1628
Meerkat interaction
DSC_0199
Pride’s cubs a month old. Little biting monsters. Adorable, of course.
received_10207039168311297
Athino, always thirsty, always friendly
received_10207039268833810
On baboonwalks – you walk.
received_10207039244553203
In the end I worked it out with the Teenagers. After all of our fights, after all the pain they caused me, winning their trust and loyalty will be one of the memories that will make me smile the most.

“Thanks for everything. Dankie,” you whisper.

The shower community

Thirteen past 6 pm. You lock the door behind you and stroll from your hut to the showers. On your short walk you smile and wave at the people you know, who smile and wave back. You avoid the warthog, curse the thorn that sneaks past your sandal and into your middle toe. Several people a standing by the showers. They stare at you as you approach. Oh, you forgot it’s Friday. Newbies. You politely greet them before you step around and into the shower hallway.

There’s already other volunteers there. You meet each others eyes and laugh with your hands covering your mouths. It was strange for you too the first time you saw someone walking in only a towel and sandals. Not to mention doing it yourself the first time. Now you know everyone does it. It doesn’t matter what gender, age or size you are – you all have two things in common- you are all so freaking dirty. And you all hope there’s water left.

12167186_913070672093272_108694837_n

Like the bathrooms, the showers can’t be locked. Hanging your towel over your door is therefore important, unless you want visitors. You may get them anyway, some people needs glasses.

The spiders welcome you as usual, you chase the cat away, and step into one of the showers when it’s available. You only turn on the cold water, because turning on the hot water makes no difference. It’s nice though, it cools you down.

“NOOOOO! I have shampoo EVERYWHERE!” You laugh. Like everyone else. The voice belongs to a friend of you, and there’s undoubtedly no more water in her shower. You rinse and listen to that girl that always sings. You listen to someone’s story about a caracal sleepout with lots of mosquitos. You smile. This will, strangely, be one of the things you will miss when you leave.

Feeling refreshed, you get out of the shower. What you thought was a new tan is down the drain, and you can see the real color of your feet again. It will be possible for about five more seconds, until the sand from outside blows over you.

12166289_913070432093296_995241365_n

As you look yourself in one of the few mirrors on the entire camp, another volunteer enters the showers. He puts his fingers to his lips as you open your mouth to ask what everyone asks around here: “how was your day?” With your head tilted, you watch him as he slowly approaches one of the showers. He has something balled up in his left hand. Your mouth takes the form of an “O” and then you grin. He lifts his eyebrows at you and drop it over the door. He starts grinning too. A few seconds later another guy, the one currently taking a shower, goes “what the hell?!” And you both hurry silently out. There you laugh and whisper “see ya!”.

Who would have guessed that taking a shower in a volunteercamp could be such fun? Not you before you came here. But every shower is an adventure here, at Harnas Wildlife Foundation. Especially when warthogs are hiding in the bushes. Your towel looks like an excellent dessert.

IMG_3805
They sneak up on you when you least expect it…

P.S. It was a pair of his old boxers he had in his hands