Realising that it has been so many years since my stay in southern Africa I am astonished that many memories have remained as fresh as if they had occurred last week. Often I dreamily think back of being awoken by a snorting hippopotamus or a troop of baboons raiding our bins and sometimes it can take me a couple of hours to find back to reality again. Being aware of the substantial impact this continent has had on me I am finally attempting to put my experiences into words.
In 2013 I spend half a year in Zambia, Botswana and Namibia participating in the KAZA TFCA project. During that time I lived in Sioma (western Zambia) right at the Ngonye Falls, I joined the Wildlife Patrols at Mudumu National Park in the Caprivi Region of Namibia and I travelled almost the entire length of Namibia as well as helping out on local farms.
My first real task was to be accomplished at the Ngonye Falls National park in Zambia, where the thunder of the falls would be my closest companion for the next 6 weeks. There I spend my days living on the front porch of a small hut, cooking at the fire and leisurely strolling around the countryside. On behalf of the national park I also established a Tree ID Guide for Tourists and did various other admin tasks.
Often I would go and join the people of Sioma on their daily tasks, such as fishing, farming or foraging. I particularly enjoyed the early hours of the day, when the sun was just about to rise and we would go and bring in the nightly fish harvest, which would often be enough to provide me with a daily local source of fish as well.
While I was stocked with plenty of non-perishable foods, there was certainly a lack of any refrigerated ones, simply due to the absence of electricity. That I didn’t expect a conventional bakery out here shouldn’t come as a surprise either. One day I thus I came up with a method, not knowing then it was already a well established one, of lighting a fire below as well as on top of a Dutch oven in order to create reasonably well distributed heat in the interior of the pot, necessary to bake bread properly. The results were astonishingly tasty !
After I had decided to scrap my malaria provision, I consequently also got rid of the associated photo-sensitivity, which subsequently allowed for longer foraging strolls without the risk of incredibly painful sunburns at minimal sun exposure. One of our leisurely walks even lead to a Monkey Orange tree and to this day I believe that the fruit may have been one of the tastiest I have eaten in my life.
One of the interesting features of every single inhabitation in the area are the well raked buffer zones surrounding the tall fences of each property. These may be raked several times a week and act as a warning systems and thus protection against animals, particularly snakes, as their tracks can be easily identified and the house evacuated until the snake has been killed or scared away.
One of the hobbies I enjoyed most was fishing, which would certainly not have come to my mind if it wasn’t for George, who I met in Sioma one day and who had been incredibly helpful throughout my stay in Zambia. I purchased a fishing rod just across the border in Namibia and thereafter spend many evenings along the riverbank enjoying the solitude while being on continuous lookout for approaching crocodiles, which thanks to the rather rapid flow of water, was limited to only a few occasions.
I still remember the moment clearly when I got up in the early hours only to discover these incredibly huge footprints that almost seemed to resemble some sort of humongous hand. Curiously I followed the tracks up to one of the meadows, where they would eventually hit a fence and then returned to the river. The faces the rangers pulled after I gave them a rather detailed description of my newly made discovery were priceless and will certainly remain in my memory as another jewel of Africa. Naive as I was I had never even considered studying Hippo footprints to that day.
Another memory, still very present in my mind, is one of my small Mokoro adventures. I was challenged to paddle a Mokoro (a boat carved out of a single wooden log), while standing up right, which I immediately accepted. After wobbling my way out onto the Zambezi for a wee bit and back again, I was subsequently told that this part of the river in particular is crowded with crocodiles, due to calm and murky conditions. I certainly agree that there a few better ways of finding the motivation to improve your paddling skills than having crocodiles lurking all around you.
Once it was time to leave Sioma I made my way back to Sesheke in order to cross over to Namibia where my next project would be waiting. I have kept wondering about the future of this magical place ever since, a place that has had the privilege of still being reasonably isolated from western expansion. While in the past the only access to this area was maintained via a mucky single-laned bush track accessible only by 4X4, I witnessed how massive working camps run by the Chinese started to appear over the landscape, eagerly building a new highway right into heart of Western Zambia. While the first impression could have easily fooled me to be a positive one, such as thinking about “progress”, I immediately came to realise that the potential consequences could also be disastrous. When hitch-hiking into Sesheke, I would almost always be accompanied by fellow hitch-hikers carrying a rather conspicuous cooling box, whose content I unfortunately was all too familiar with. Being able to witness bush meat expansion at first hand has been truly frightening, as much as the sad irony that the local population owns very few bicycles, let alone cars and will not nearly benefit as much from this road as logging trucks, which will probably become even more numerous over the next years. Realising, that this might have been the last time that I have seen Sioma as a sleepy wee village, where the noise of the wild is still ubiquitous, makes this memory even more precious for me.