Final part of this extended update, in which I’m reflecting on our first month here in Central Africa.
What does your daily routine look like?
Ok, so our daily lives look something like this:
05:45 – We wake up and light a fire to make coffee and oat porridge for breakfast.
06:30 – The sun is on its way up and we each team up with two trackers from the local BaAka pygmy tribe and head off into the rainforest.
My commute to work:
08:30 – Depending on which Gorilla group we are working with that day, it can take over an hour to walk to their home range. It can then take the trackers up to an hour to follow the tracks and actually find the group.
We then spend the rest of the morning collecting data and battling through the undergrowth to keep pace with the Gorillas as they move around. The undergrowth is thick, full of thorns and swarming with insects. A challenging (but endlessly beautiful) working environment.
The typical view from my “desk”:
14:00 – By now we will be back in camp and have finished our data entry duties.
We don’t carry food or water with us in the field, so most of the afternoon is spent rehydrating (with endless cups of tea), washing in the nearby waterfall and preparing the evening meal.
Our humble abode (we live in one third of this building – the room with the hammock outside):
18:00 – The camp fire is going at full whack and we cook our meal over the open flames.
We get supplied with food once a week from the local village. We normally get enough fresh vegetables to last us around four days, which combine with our staple (rice) and what ever tins / spices / condiments we can lay our hands on (imported from neighbouring Cameroon). Tinned sardines and eggs provide protein and extra vitamins. A very typical day’s food might look something like: coffee, oatmeal and/or eggs for breakfast; snacks of peanuts or locally-made peanut butter with bananas and tea for lunch; then for dinner, rice with possibly beans, mushrooms or wild forest spinach, with papaya for dessert.
21:00 – We hunker down in bed under the mosquito nets and listen to the elephants trumpeting in the nearby forest clearing.
Is it what you expected?
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream in the dark recesses of the night awake in the day to find all was vanity. But the dreamers of day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, and make it possible.” – T.E. Lawrence
Whether you believe in fate or in coincidence, few would deny that there are moments in life where events occur which change the direction of your life. At the start of this year, Eeva and I had an email from an old friend who we hadn’t heard from for years. The email contained no greetings and no news, simply the quotation above. It arrived on a day which, even at the time, we recognised was a fork in the road. We needed to make a decision on that day that would affect the rest of our lives. The email and this quote very clearly nudged us to choosing one of those forks. And it was that choice has directly led to my writing this post sat in a wooden hut in Central Africa, deep in the Congo Basin, exhausted after a day of tracking down Gorillas through tropical rainstorms!
This change in our lives had been brewing for a while, we just needed the stars to align and for us to get our acts together. So we have had quite a while to shape our expectations and think about what it would all be like.
In this three part post I’ve tried to give you a glimpse of what we do, where we live, what the conditions are like and what we do day-to-day. Broadly speaking, I think that our experiences in all of these areas are meeting our expectations so far. We knew more or less what the job would entail, we’ve spent plenty of time in African cultures before and we revel in the physical challenge of the working conditions and of day-to-day living. The work itself is more challenging than I expected, but then there are some aspects (such as learning the local language, Sango, which we use to communicate with everyone here, plus a bit of French) that have been easier than expected.
For an insight as to “why” we had made this change, read this blog post. One of our very clear hopes was that this change would make “what we were doing with our lives” more “meaningful”. I appreciate that this motivation is subjective and ultimately probably quite personal, but important nonetheless. On this front, I think that our expectations have most certainly been met. There is a very clear line connecting what we are doing, even if it is a menial task, to the bigger “nature conservation” picture. That is incredibly fulfilling and satisfying. In times when life here gets a tad boring, or a bit tough, then the touchstone question of “what are you doing this for?” always brings us back on track. I feel like what I do every day is making a difference to a cause that I believe in. You can’t ask for much more than that.
So, in conclusion, I hope, that in our own humble way, Eeva and I have started to live T.E. Lawrence’s quote for real, acting out our dreams with open eyes.
I look forward to sharing more insights with you in future months.