Settling in to our new home, Wereldsend
October 1st, By Miles Pulsford (Oberlin ’13)
We’ve been here at Wereldsend (pronunciation: vair-elds-end, meaning: world’s end) for just a week, and I already feel like there’s too much to write about. Tent life, canned food life, off-road driving life, dirt life, and of course wildlife. It’s all so new, and so much.
Students on one of their first natural history hikes with Vehi, our Namibian instructor
Everything here has a learning curve. Sleeping, for example: we rise with (or before) the sun, every single day. That turns out to be easier than usual, though, since there’s very little to do but sleep once the sun has set and dinner and dishes are finished. We don’t leave the immediate vicinity of our tents after dark because of potential wildlife threats; this means outhouse visits require an escort after dark.
The same goes for cooking. Since the nearest grocery store requires a long drive over brutally rocky roads, we’re limited to mostly nonperishable items that we can bring in bulk. Additionally, essentially all of our cooking happens over the campfire, so complex dishes are out of the question. Generally for dinner we’ll boil one starch (pasta, rice, or pap (corn meal)) in a saucepan while cooking something to put over it in a cast iron potjie pot (basically a cauldron). Breakfast is usually oatmeal, and lunch is always leftovers and basic sandwiches. Doing dishes can be tricky too, as our version of the sink is simply two plastic buckets and a drying rack.
Of course, it also takes some time to get the hang of work. So far, the field portion of our assignments has usually involved walking or driving around the Namibian wilderness, scanning for animals or specific plants (or for some species, their tracks or scat). In these massive, wide-open landscapes, picking out an oryx, or (surprisingly well-camouflaged) zebra can be quite tricky. Once we do find them, we try to count them and distinguish their sex, which varies from somewhat to extremely difficult. Also, today we began a project on bird identification and counting. Those of us who aren’t bird people are finding this very intimidating.
Aileen, Molly, and Maggie on their first game drive
The end result of all these challenges, however, is an incredibly rewarding experience. That’s awfully clichéd, but also absolutely one hundred percent true. Our one week of practice has already pushed us leaps and bounds beyond where we started. Everyone seems generally well-rested, even after our earliest mornings, and we’re certainly getting more sleep than most people I know back at school. Our cooking is getting more and more creative, with highlights like Annie and Margaret’s Mexican dinner than included tortillas made from scratch, as well as Sergei and Kristen’s homemade garlic bread last night. Most excitingly of all, our ability to spot and sex wildlife from the bed of a pickup truck is improving rapidly.
This is, of course, due largely to our amazing leaders. Their skills in the above-mentioned areas put ours to shame. In particular, Vehi’s wildlife spotting and tracking abilities (as well as his exhaustive knowledge of the country) cannot be overhyped. All of them know just how hard to push us, and our successes are due in no small part to their hard work and patience.
Vehi, our Namibian instructor
I think we students also deserve some credit, though. This program tends to be self-selecting, and I think I’m beginning to see how much sense that makes. All of us are hard-working, open-minded people who cooperate well and don’t mind making sacrifices, and that’s exactly what this program requires. I’m already so happy to know everyone else on this program, and I’m excited to spend the next eleven weeks with them.
Students scan the area around a natural spring for wildlife before walking up to it
So don’t worry, moms and dads, we’re all happy and healthy. Stay tuned for Molly’s post in a week or so!
By Miles Pulsford, Oberlin ‘13
Miles and Annie practice distance sampling techniques at Wereldsend