Monday, November 1, 2010

The Road to Namibia

Life is funny, not that I’m wise enough to make absolute declarations such as this one. I always knew what I wanted, from the age of three, when I planned my future as an attorney-turned politician. In shopping malls, I’d ogle women’s suits through reflective window displays, reiterating an innate desire to be traditionally successful.

Snaking around such certainties were equally informative forces that were for many years overlooked. I was magnetically drawn to the Earth and its many creatures, animals being my preferred childhood companions, the ground my favorite resting spot. I was confident, adventurous and believed in my own ability to live large, certain in fact that I possessed the power of human flight. I simply had to find the right cue, which is what propelled me—pun intended—to routinely jump from our wooden deck towards the grassy lawn below, improvising verbal exclamations and hand signals as I soared towards the Earth, hoping that one of them might hold the key. Accompanying my personality was a natural gift for storytelling, but I equated art with tangible products, creations that I was unable to satisfactorily produce, so I stayed in my safe harbor towards mainstream living: good grades, leadership positions, law school, and a coveted job. I toiled away until I arrived at the end of the map charted by my three-year old self when it hit me: the suit I long admired doesn’t actually fit.
I am working as an attorney in England when I meet Davey, a friend of a friend who stops in London en route to Africa where he plans to “work with wild animals at a wildlife sanctuary.” Approximately 2.5 seconds pass—just long enough to set down my beer—before I assail him with rapid-fire questions about his program. “They’re letting you work with lions, cheetahs and baboons?” Yes. “Will you actually be able to see them up close and touch them?” Apparently. “You don’t need a background in zoology?” Nope.

A curious picture begins to emerge, one filled with: animals in need of refuge, cast out from the wild terrain they once ruled; people of all ages and backgrounds who unite because of their devotion to wildlife, leaving much behind for the sake of their journey.

They risk everything to learn about wild animals, particularly the predators that effortlessly captivate you with one intense stare. At night, the volunteers slumber to the sounds of roaring lions, whose elocutions emerge at dusk in a terrifying, beautiful symphony.

My experience deserves more than a few romanticized paragraphs, but my initial plan (to self-publish a personal account with sale proceeds going back to Harnas) encountered some difficulty when I discovered that another woman (a former professor in fact) just published her own, much better-researched book. Soul of a Lion may be purchased through major retail outlets such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders.

I’m meanwhile headed back to Harnas, where things will be dramatically different. The young lions have outgrown human contact: they are now living in distant enclosures where they are poised for release into the quasi-wild lifeline. The cheetahs, too, have moved on. Pride, the semi-tame cheetah who slept alongside me and the other volunteers for years, now lives on her own in the lifeline where she regularly makes successful kills.

My trip also includes stints at the Cheetah Conservation Fund and Africat, two extremely valuable organizations devoted to big cat conservation. I return from Africa in just over a month, when I'll be absolutely saturated...with new insights, photos, stories and (hopefully) a few scars.

1 comment:

  1. So awesome! I'm totally jealous. I'll definitely do this one day. Can't wait to hear about it & see pics when you're back!