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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Soweto: South West Township

The clean, bright, sanity of a large house-converted-backpacker’s-hostel in the suburbs of Johannesburg seemed a welcome change after months living on a Big 5 game reserve.  I lusted the plentiful hot water, spaciousness, ability to walk to a store, and quiet night’s sleep.  As it turned out, many other features accompanied these bounties, mostly less desirable traits such as extremely high crime and lack of personal safety.
"Welcome to Soweto"
Rebecca & I with our tour guide's 2 cousins
The majority of houses in South Africa have nearly insurmountable large concrete fences around the property and bars on all windows.  In my backpacker’s hostel I was installed in an empty 5-bed room in one corner of the house; on my last night I was the only person in the entire backpacker’s.  With lots of time during the day, as well as some much-needed downtime, I discovered all of the (public) nooks and crannies of the house and the large backyard complete with sprawling bar.  As I fell asleep each night, I replayed the house’s layout in my mind.  Virtually, I walked through the corridors and surveyed each window and door. If there was a fire in the kitchen, where would I run?  What if a fire was blazing the corridor to my room?  This was the first location I had laid my head down after leaving C.A.R.E., and I hadn't realized all of the pain that followed me.  My haunting thoughts took in the bars on all of the windows, I could not escape through them unless my body shrank to the size of a toy doll.  How would I get to the front or back doors?  Nightly I terrorized myself with burning house potentials as C.A.R.E. experiences continued to follow me.  Finally by my last night in Joburg my mind reached a suitable, peaceful option of running through a potential inferno with all of the blankets on top of me for protection.  My mind finally quieted for sleep.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

On "Leaving C.A.R.E."

Rebecca & I on our last night
After taking in the babies to their indoor sleeping enclosure just before sunset each night, we normally rush back to the Mountain Lodge for showers, dinner, and relaxing.  Instead, for my last night, as well another volunteer’s, Rebecca aka The Vet, we all walked down to the Olifants River beach with wine and snacks to wind down in peaceful nature.  After 10 minutes or so of happy sipping and chatting, we realized we were not alone.  Just down the beach and in some bushes, we were also joined by 2 male elephants.  Our excitement grew as we judged the distance between us.  Even remote close proximity to elephants is not safe, but thankfully we were a safe distance if we remained quiet (and the wind direction did not change).  We peered into the eyes of other creatures that call this area home, admitting the subtle wonder in which we are all connected.

It is customary that a volunteer is not on the schedule their last full day at C.A.R.E.  The day flew by as I ticked off small projects, took pictures, visited baboons I wanted to talk to, and areas I wanted to sit at and reflect.  I felt weird leaving C.A.R.E., mostly overwhelming and confusing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Life as a C.A.R.E. Volunteer

Not everyone wants to do volunteer work, and volunteering to work with animals (and paying to do so!) is a special class of its own.  While it may seem alluring at first glance, the reality is long days, lots of cleaning, food preparation, and more cleaning.  The animals do not know weekends, nor does your work schedule; work persists 7 days per week.  The very rewarding job is spending time with the animals, being embraced by one of them, and realizing how one can make a difference.  At C.A.R.E. all volunteers are part of a daily schedule of 1-hour shifts; the workday begins at 6:50 and ends around 6:00 pm.

Sitting in my bed with Adam as he woke up/recovered from surgery

6:25 am Wake up!  If you are (un)lucky enough to have an upstairs room, then an earlier wake-up call is courtesy of the wild troop that uses the roof as a playground.  From my quieter downstairs room, I watched dawn from my room every morning in awe.  The sun breaking the horizon is the same miracle that repeats itself day after day, every day the same yet different.  Prepare and feed the dogs, bundle in warm clothes (it is winter here), and quickly head out the door for a brisk commute down the hill.

Walking with arms full of baby baboons
6:50 am The daily volunteer schedule commences at 7:00 am, but everyone must first gather to carry out the two youngest troops of baboons (35 baboons total, all under the age of 1.5 years) to their outdoor enclosures.  Babies, like human children, preferentially choose to whom they gravitate and wish to be embraced.  The first few days or weeks, no babies may jump into your arms, but as they know you (and like you) better, your arms may be replete with 2, 3, or 4 baby baboons!  Safely, volunteers attempt to carry no more than 2 babies at a time, each one riding side-saddle.