“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
So I’m sitting outside at a long wooden table … it’s a still, hot African afternoon – the air still and filled with sounds of countless wild animals. I just unpacked my iPad to do a little writing and looked up to see a huge baboon meander by. Then the project staff came by and carried away the platter of Mopane worms they served for lunch (alongside stewed meat and big mounds of pale white nshima <the local corn meal mash they traditionally serve at many meals>). Some of the baboons are fighting on the metal roof of “the White House” – the building we are living in during the project. Yes, I am in Africa …
As you may imagine, it’s impossible to describe a “normal” day here. So here are a few highlights of the past few days ….
Yesterday (Tuesday?) I had my first lion walk – heading over to their enclosures with our guides Lovewell and Happy as well as a few scouts carrying AK-47s to protect us. They rarely shoot these big guns and to date have only fired them in the air to scare away tempestuous animals charging out the bush …We got a bit of a scare by an errant water buffalo before the morning walk began, but no shots were fired – just shouts of “run!” as we all scattered. During the outing we walked Saba and Tisa – two beautiful, 15-month old lions who seem like best girlfriends. They raced after each other, lolling about on the shore of the shallow Zambezi river, pawing elephant dung and gazing across the water.
After the walk and a bit of lunch, several of us volunteers packed into an old pickup truck loaded with ripe-smelling, fly covered donkey meat to feed another group of lions. Once we arrived a few of us ducked into empty enclosures to pick up lion poo and rinse out and refill their water troughs While I noticed the thick metal wires surrounding the enclosures, I failed to realize they were actively electrified (to protect the lions from nasty poachers during the dark nights) and managed to get electrocuted no once but twice. My loud screams filled the air and the second time around my iPhone went flying out of my hand, tumbling across the red earth. While the shocks were a bit painful, I think my reactions were more from surprise (and perhaps embarrassment the second time around … had I not learned anything the first time?!)
This morning I awoke at 5:45am to a vivid orange and pink sunrise, jumped out of the mozzi-net covered twin bed, grabbed a cup of Rooibos tea filled with room temp Parmalat milk out of a box and hurried outside to my favorite stoop. I sat there entranced … gazing across the patches of grass at the elephants and watching a baby vervet monkey shimmying up the trees, examining me from up high. I know the locals and perhaps many of the volunteers who have been here a while likely look upon these little monkeys as we Americans regard squirrels, but I continue to be amazed that I get to watch them scamper about. And as I sit at my stoop every morning, I try to keep my friend Dana’s words in mind …. Before I left, she reminded me of the Buddhist concept of Shoshin – meaning “beginner’s mind” or having an attitude of openness and eagerness. I simply don’t want any of my experiences during this journey to become rote or overly familiar.
This is why I squealed like a little girl when I saw the adolescent giraffes hanging out on the railroad tracks the other morning and then stuck my head out the open aired truck staring at the small herd of zebra until they were out of view. I hope I can maintain my focus on this lovely concept of Shoshin and continue to be amazed and moved by the things I am seeing … whether it’s tiny, smiling children waving wildly at us as our huge truck rumbles by, or the sight of little George (the ridiculous dachshund/Labrador mix who lives at the project site) scampering through elephant dung, racing alongside us as we rush to catch the sun before it sets over the blue Zambezi.
Reprinted with permission from Kathryn Gilmore.
Learn more about her 7-month volunteer adventure at: