Nothing Ventured, Nothing Won
December 6, 2013
By Leah Powley (Colby College)
Our eleventh week in Namibia began with a feast that prepared us well for the week’s coming adventures. On Saturday, we had a belated Thanksgiving, spending the day devouring pancakes with cinnamon peaches, deviled eggs, squash pap, pap vegetable pizza, and a fire-roasted peach crisp. Though it was not the traditional Turkey Day fare, everything was delicious, and we ate around the fire together until the stars appeared and we couldn’t eat another bite. In that meal that we shared, we felt far from our families, but also completely a part of a new family, the family that we have become.
The following days were filled with typical semester-end activities—studying, finishing research projects, writing up final assignments, and having the occasional dance party—but the environment for all these (mostly) academic pursuits was not a small library cubicle, filled with the hum of buzzing fluorescent lights, but the great outdoors. We spent our time studying for and taking our final exams in the warm, fresh, Wereldsend air, in the sun and the wind and the flies, occasionally pausing mid-essay to scare off an obnoxiously talkative crow or watch a slender mongoose scamper across the pathway. In the hundreds of exams we will all take throughout our college careers, none will quite compare to the uniqueness of these.
When three days of finals came to an end, we all celebrated by enjoying a “real pizza,” courtesy of Bekah’s cooking talents, and playing a constant stream of Christmas music that put us in the mood for the holiday festivities at home (although it’s likely that nothing can quite prepare us for the chilly reintroduction to wintertime precipitation…). It was strange to consider that, in only a matter of days, we would be leaving this incredible land—this place and these people who have taught us so much—and returning home. We will be reentering what seems like our “former” lives with a new (or renewed) sense of purpose and perspective, new friendships, and a fresh understanding of the beauty and mystery of the earth. A lot of things have helped shape each of us during this experience, and by facing each day and each challenge head-on, we have become entirely new individuals.
Some of us have realized that what were once our greatest fears are now our strongest passions. Others have learned to eat the foods we most detest. Some of us have rekindled our love of being creative, or found and encouraged new talents that we never knew we had. We’ve all realized the value of perspective and have reexamined our lives and the meaning we derive from them, seeing that joy can arise from the simplest of things that turn out to be the greatest treasures.
On Thursday night, we all suited up for our last nighttime game drive, hoping that maybe we’d be in luck and have a leopard or cheetah thrown our way. Though the big cats never came, our happiness never wavered or waned, for we found all that we were wishing for in the sky’s inimitable beauty. The moon, a small crescent, lingered in the night, its color deepening from pale white to smoldering orange as the hours passed. The stars came out in full force, and as those in Orion’s belt twinkled like diamonds, a single shooting star blazed overhead across the blackness of the night, its arc a warm farewell to seven young, passionate minds.
Friday morning posed a great treat and a great challenge: conquer Wereldsend Mountain. Waking before sunrise, we put on our hiking boots and drove to the base of the mountain. Over an hour later, with sweaty backpacks stuck to our shoulders, we reached the top and gazed out with gratitude and awe over the vast expanse of Namibian landscape that we were lucky enough to call our home. As we munched on apples and rested our feet before taking a rocky, jelly-legged journey down, it was hard not to think about leaving Wereldsend and leaving Namibia. In a few days, we would no longer wake to the sound of footsteps on gravel, walking to the kitchen to make breakfast. We would no longer enjoy a natural view of rolling hills dotted with zebra from an open-air bathroom. We would no longer drift off to sleep with the scent of mopane still on our clothes and hair, listening to the cackling of jackals and the beeping of the electricity monitor. Although at home our days will be without these things, we hope to keep the memories locked in our minds, refreshing them by glancing at photographs and reminiscing with each other.
So much can happen in a mere eleven weeks of one’s life, and so much has happened in the eleven we have spent together. We have grown, we have learned, we have cried and laughed and been inspired, both by nature and by those around us. We have learned how to concoct a good stew. We have counted over 8,000 animals and seen thousands more. We have become (somewhat) accustomed to the scents of dead rhino and meat gone bad, and accepted the fact that our clothing may permanently smell of a mopane wood campfire. We’ve learned the proper technique for baking bread over an open fire—or, rather, that there isn’t one—and have come to view fresh fruits and vegetables with joyful, stomach-rumbling gratitude. We have learned to respect the incredible endurance of a Toyota pickup truck and the importance of always keeping a spare tire (or two) with us at all times. We’ve learned how a constant layer of dust and sand feels upon our skins, and recognize that a little dirt never hurt anybody. We have a renewed sense of thanks for the toilet, but have also come to cherish the alone time and the feeling of accomplishment that going in the bush provides. We’ve become used to naming every inanimate object around us: the teapot, the radio, dish rags, our tents, our suitcases, and our beloved transportation, Uncle Duke and Party Sue. We’ve felt our hearts grow with love when we shared smiles and games with local children, communicating with them in a way that no spoken language can. We have come to recognize the beauty in the simple things—the sunset, a solitary flower, the cool evening breeze, the entrancing glow of a dying fire’s coals—and an awe for the complex. We have learned that creating lasting friendships doesn’t always take years, but that by the collision of lives thrown together in an entirely new world, you only need a few weeks.
Eleven weeks ago, we came together as strangers, and in a week, we will leave as friends. We know many things about each other that probably don’t appear in a typical friendship—our regular bathroom schedules, for example—but then again, we became friends in a rather atypical situation, on the other side of the globe, living, eating, and breathing together, every hour of every day. When we all go our separate ways and embark on new adventures, those first meals, hours, days, and nights without each other are bound to be strange: a part of ourselves will be missing. As time passes, we’ll become accustomed to once again living as individuals, but we will undoubtedly face moments that make us wish for each other: when a wave of nostalgia hits us as we have a cup of cocoa, open a can of peaches, or swat away a buzzing fly, we’ll subconsciously look around for someone with whom to share a smile, a laugh, or a memory. And while those people we’re looking for may not be next to us, we’ll remember, they’re never too far away.
“Ask yourself for one moment what your feelings have been on the eve of some act involving courage, whether it has been physical courage as it is commonly called, or moral or intellectual…What has happened to you? If it has really called forth courage, has it not felt something like this? I cannot do this. This is too much for me. I shall ruin myself if I take this risk. I cannot take the leap, it’s impossible. All of me will be gone if I do this, and I cling to myself. And then supposing the Spirit has conquered and you have done this impossible thing, do you find afterwards that you possess yourself in a sense that you never had before? That there is more of you? So it is throughout life…you know “nothing ventured, nothing won” is true in every hour, it is the fiber of every experience that signs itself into the memory.”