I have no fear, for I walk with lions…
…And make toys made of elephant poo for them… And shovel their poop into bags to clean their enclosures… And wash their water trays… Yeah, it’s just like a relationship, the magic fades after you scoop your partner’s shit…
I spent a whole month in Antelope Park, Zimbabwe, and only now, 35 days into my round the world trip I finally have a few minutes free time to write about my experience and the people I met there.
First and foremost, I realize that some people will have issues with parts of what we did at the park (like walking with lions), but I will preface my post by saying that I heavily researched their work, policies and vision and all in all I feel I can stand by my choice of going over there to work. If you’d like to read up some more (because I can’t possibly include that too in this post) check out lionalert.org or google the “ALERT-project” and/or “African Impact”.
Ok, so… This is probably going to be the worst post I’ve ever written. There’s so much going on in my days now that I can hardly sort it out in my head, let alone put it into a coherent narrative.
Upon arrival in Bulawayo we were picked up as promised and driven to the park (2 hrs away), a minivan full of volunteers wondering what they’d gotten themselves into. After the rockiest “road” I’d ever been on we made it to the park and got to our rooms and I can tell you right now I have no idea what we did the rest of that day. I know we had introductions to everything the first week, but the whole month is just a blur of awesome stuff (with some enclosure cleaning and snare sweeps tossed in there) 😉
A week in the life of an Antelope Park volunteer is pretty hard work. We get up around 06.00-06.30 and have a lion walk/elephant herding until breakfast at 08.00. There are two work slots between breakfast and dinner (interrupted by lunch) where we do chores like snare sweep (how to get a tick 101), giving the lions water, behavior enrichment (poop!), painting (fences etc), road repair (basically hauling rocks from the quarry to the road that needs repair), cleaning lion enclosures (more poop! personal favourite, note the sarcasm, please), meat prep (smells lovely), feeding, cleaning elephant bomas (much better than lion poop!), making new sticks for the lion walk (so Alvin and Matt can burn them for bonfire night :-P) We are also given the opportunity to spend a few days in the stables and/or at community (working with the kids). I spent a day with the kids from special needs and the Alert-center, another new experience that probably gave me more than it gave the kids (hey… I’m not a teacher, ok? I didn’t know what I was doing, I just read the book about the toad…)
I don’t know what to tell you. I would do it all again. All the shit shoveling, all the bloody carrying of the water cans and the rocks, all the picking up of old bones from a whole donkey we put in there a few days before… Everything. And the reason I would do it all again is the people I did it with. It’s so funny how I went to Zimbabwe to help lions and get a selfie with them that I could take with me as a souvenir and the thing I miss so much I teared up again is the people. I guess I should’ve seen that one coming, really…
I left the day before most of the others to catch a bus to Vic Falls and the hugs and goodbyes still stay with me. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but I guess that’s what happens when you isolate a group of people for a month and make them share a completely new experience… They bond in shared joy and frustration, over spending almost every waking hour together, and it creates a situation where you suddenly realize they all really matter to you. A lot.
Again, I can’t find the word to adequately describe it… I have to hope some pictures say more than the excess amount of words I’ve managed to scribble down 😛