Nambia? No, Namibia. Where the hell is that?! PART 2 by Erin Rainey
Read PART 1 of Erin's adventure as a volunteer in Africa here.
If Harnas was a game show I would've walked away with the million dollars AND the entire showcase. I trawled and read through every volunteer based Facebook page, every review and even ordered a book called For The Love of Wildlife. I was ready to ace this Africa thing. What I wasn't prepared for was missing my connecting flight in Johannesburg, a volunteer agency that wasn't interested in helping a hysterical and stranded tourist (what the hell did I pay these people for then?!) and 4 hours of sleep in 36 hours. How smug that the Harnas volunteer motto is: "Expect the Unexpected."
When I finally got on the shuttle bus for the final (3 hour) leg of trip, everyone was so excited and already making friends. I, however, was sleep deprived and was no doubt emitting a smell that had been carefully crafted over 2 days sans shower with undertones of stress sweating and that subtle tang that only comes from being soaked in 14 hours of recycled airplane air. I also sufferer from chronic resting bitch face. A few of the girls later told me, obviously after they got to experience my sparkling and witty personality, that they thought I was a stuck up bitch when I crawled onto that bus and were all quietly hoping I wasn't going to be sharing a cabin with them.
We were greeted at the volunteer village by the program coordinator, Frikkie. A 60-something, quite thin, almost frail-like man, unshaven with a face suitable weathered by a harsh Africa sun. You'd be forgiven for underestimating his capabilities. As a retired High School superindentant, he had a unique (and very rarely understood) way of pushing you so far beyond your breaking point and then just like that, he'd pull you back in and rebuild you. You know those boot camps they send juvenile delinquents to? Yeah, like that. Only difference was I was stupid enough to pay a lot of money and fly half way across the world to voluntarily enrol in such a program. I'm not a particularly religious person, but the amount of risks that man took, it's hard not to think that there wasn't some sort of higher power keeping watch.
I'd been on the farm for 3 days so I had received my introductory lessons in the Frikkie School of Life. I was in the office, trying to send an email and I was already late for the afternoon meeting. "Hurry up, you are late!" I heard Frikkie's voice boom behind me. Part of his whole old school thing was that any sort of technology was a waste of time. I think this was the second time that day I'd pissed him off with my new world advances. I rushed out of the office but was stopped dead in my tracks by Frikkie, who was leaning casually against a large pot plant with a lit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. He looked me straight in the eyes, removed the cigarette from his mouth and said, "Come with me." The only thing worse than getting eaten alive by a lion was being reprimanded by Frikkie. A lion wants to take you out as quickly as possible, one swift 600psi blow and you'll fold like a deck of cards. Frikkie liked to play with his prey before deciding what do to with it. He lead me into the kitchen of the family home. My heart was beating. What kind of serve was I going to receive if it warranted him taking me into the house away from witnesses?! He lead me over to a large wicker basket with a blanket draped over it. I knew exactly what was in there. Four perfect little 3 day old orphan lion cubs. Barely able to muster a stumble, falling over themselves and each other, ears and eyes still closed, the only identifying feature was a piece of different colored string around each their necks. I was utterly dumbstruck and Frikkie was beaming like a proud father. "Ok." he whispered "Let's go before the others come looking for us!"
The cubs were now about 2-3 weeks old and volunteers were allowed to interact with them but they were suffering from constant diarrhea and dehydration. I thought it might be a good idea to write a 'clean hands' check list so I went into the main office to see if I could use one of the computers. When I entered the office, the only person in their was Schalk, the owner's son. Now, if I only had one word to describe Schalk, it would be "Tarzan". He is also a man of few words but can have quite an intimidating presence about him. I made a few pathetic noises and pointed at the computer. Schalk gave me a pitied look and said "ok?".
The signs went up and I quickly heard along the Harnas grapevine that Frikkie was on the prowl for the person responsible for the signs. It was late in the afternoon and I had gone over the bar to get a cold drink. Frikkie appeared on the far side of the bar and I could feel him staring at me.
"So you are the one who write the signs for my lions?" "Yes...?" "Hmmm...and what is your name?" "Erin..?" "Hmmm." He grunted as he looked me up and down. "Good." Then he got up and left.
I still maintain it was that one act of initiative that started my obsession with Africa.
*I must stress that none of the organisations I have been affiliated with have ever sold any lions to a third party. Although my opinions and values regarding conservation practices have changed over the years, I know without these early experiences I wouldn't be anywhere near as passionate about conserving African wildlife as what I am today. I am thankful each and every day for every single opportunity I was given whilst living in Africa. I strongly encourage anyone thinking about conservation tourism to do their research before booking, especially if traveling to South Africa as canned hunting is highly prevalent.