Categories Africa

Antelope Park: The Day to Day

Tired Yet Worth It

I want to describe I detail the hot dry environment, my interactions with others throughout the day and each emotional reaction I have to be doing something besides sitting at a desk all day staring at a computer monitor. But, I’m so damn tired that it’s hard to do. I’ll be getting up at 5:30 tomorrow and get some up and close time with the lions, which should be cool. And looking forward to being a little more busy on the trip. As much as I love a vacation that involves sitting around doing nothing, this isn’t one of those trips, and tomorrow should be the time to get busier. I only hope that I have the chance to get some good pictures of the animals.

I’ve met a few people that have been here multiple times, so that says something good about the place and the work they do. I tend to be against the caging of animals, but if they honestly are using them to breed and reintroduce some into the wild, that is a worthwhile cause. Yet seeing the number of lions on the site, and the cages at what point should breeding stop and the reintroduction begin? From talking to people, the organization has had setbacks because of government instability, weather, finances, and any number of other reasons. There are only 4 stages of the introduction program. How many years can be spent in phase 2, waiting for phase 3 to begin, and watching more and more lions being born for the entertainment of tourists, only to end up in pens racing for dead animal scraps at the entertainment of visitors?

Sitting here in the volunteer lounge, the air smells of dust, the sounds of people are all around, but the bug population isn’t anything like I thought it would be. The mosquitoes don’t seem to be out much, and even though there is an ant nest surrounding one of the toilets, it seems to be not quite what was expected. A lot like Arizona or Nevada as a comparison for my U.S. counterparts.

The Food

At first, the food sounds like it would be fantastic; meat cooked over a wood-fired grill, each meal served with vegetables and a dessert of ice cream or cake. But, the reality is, after the first few meals, the trend becomes apparent. With breakfast, we get eggs and sausage or bacon, some cereal or oatmeal for the vegetarians, and tea or coffee. With lunch, it can be overcooked steak, chicken, and occasionally pork. Each meal includes rice and/or some type of potato, with vegetables on the side usually cooked carrots and cauliflower. We get a dessert of ice cream or something along thoughts lines such as cake. Dinner might throw in a portion of pasta, which will be some type of white cream sauce if they have it. And of course, the ice cream or cake for dessert.

It doesn’t take long to get tired of the food and to realize that it could be easy to get fat eating here. I know the locals are hard pressed and would love such a meal, so it’s funny that they serve all of this to the guests and volunteers. I’m not sure what I will want to eat when I get home, but it’s safe to say it won’t be a beef or chicken product.

As much as I don’t want to, I have to comment on the elephants and my dissatisfaction at seeing them being trained to do carnival tricks and take people on rides, but the means to the end can be justified? I guess… and the idea that another option is slaughtered by people selling bones or ivory makes it a little more palpable. I don’t see myself throwing the pictures they had me do setting on them on Facebook when I get home. They have me sit on the elephant while they take my camera to do pictures of me. They have the elephant lean forward, sit, hold one leg up for me to sit on, all while I feed it peanuts as a reward. After the photo-show, they have us do a ride on the elephants where they drag around a chain on the rear leg that is used to chain them up with when not on display for the guests and volunteers.

I realize it’s still only the first few days, but I find myself sitting around quite a bit more than I would prefer. And when not sitting around, being toured around like some of the resort guests that are also here. I came to volunteer to help wildlife after all.

I have used the term guests when referring to others a few times, so I guess I should explain. The Antelope Park is half African Safari and resort, and half volunteer save the animals. The volunteers have separate living environment and quarters to keep them away from the guests, except for some joint events like elephant rides and meals. The park uses the revenue they generate to help pay for the food and care required for the lions and other animals at the part. They also employee about 100 locals, which in a country with 80% unemployment, the jobs are a good thing to have.

The Dusty Air

I had another comment about the food but forgot what it was, so instead I’m going to write about the dust and the dirt and the dust and the dirt in the air.

Overall the plant life is more abundant than what I thought it would be. the trees are thin, the grass is a light brown, and any shrubbery is much rougher to touch than to look at. But the dirt and dust floats around the air amplifying the heat as it is blown around in the wind. The temperatures I’m assuming are in the upper 80’s (Fahrenheit) during the days overall leaving me satisfied with not sweating everywhere I go. My imagination runs with the thoughts of what it must be like here when it is really hot and dry, since I am here during the cooler, yet dryer season. The heat in the air mixed with the dust must be oppressive during the summer to someone like me who is used to the humid climate of the northwest. However, it does make for some lovely sunsets.

Canoe the Lake

One of the nice things about volunteering here is access to the resort. Today, a few of us took the canoes for a paddle around the small lake. The canoe ride was a nice change that involved some exercise of sorts. You would think that I would be really active here, but since I’m volunteering as a photographer, most of my time is spent sitting in the back of a truck watching lions sleep. They spend about 20 hours out of a 24 hour day sleeping.

Not actually me in the picture, but you get the idea
in a canoe
Here I am

Soccer at the Orphanage

The trip to the orphanage was more fun than I expected it to be, playing soccer with the kids and having some fun. I assume they are used to hamming it up for the white visitors who come and drop stuff off on occasion, but playing and running around was a nice change from sitting in the back of the truck watching lions. Having a 12 year old kid run circles around me with a soccer ball was interesting as well.

It started out as two adults against a bunch of kids, but as we started kicking butt, they began to change sides.

The second orphanage wasn’t nearly as nice as the first. The first one was for younger kids so it is much easier to get funding and supplies. The second one which is for older boys, doesn’t have a good of luck. The sleep two to a bed and most of their food comes from volunteers like me visiting. Which is a step up, we were told, not long ago they were sleeping on the floor. As you can see in the second picture, not the same space for soccer. The interesting thing about both places was how happy the kids were.

The American Couple

To put them in perspective, they were probably in their mid-60’s, and until they arrived, I was perhaps one of the old ones in the group, in my mid-30’s. And if I had been to Zimbabwe with someone, we would have been the old American Couple. Unless she was young, and I would be the creepy old guy with the young girl.

The Old American couple arrived at the beginning of the second week of the trip. I was out doing something or other and heard about them before meeting them.

“Did you hear?” I was told, “There are other Americans here now.”

“Cool,” I replied, but not really caring all that much unless one of them turned out to be young, hot, and easy…. Just kidding…. Sort of.

My first encounter with the American couple was that evening for dinner. They sat down at the table and introduced themselves. The man was a little heavier than me, with not much hair left, and the woman had a friendly grandmotherly way about her. We will call him Frank and her Fran for the sake of this, not using their real names, because I can’t actually remember what they were. They told us they were from Boston and I replied I was from Seattle. Other niceties were shared, and they asked how we liked it, we asked why they were volunteering. Nothing new in the conversation from the time I arrived, or anyone else for that matter, just getting to know everyone.

The next day, I went and did my thing to return to the volunteer area to find Frank was out in front of the barracks taking some of the long grass some builders were using for roofing material and making what appeared to be a symbol out of the Blair Witch Project. No one said anything, instead choosing to ignore him. Fran chatted with the girls, and complained about the living arrangements, and telling stories about how they lost their travel itinerary.

The day went past and for the evening volunteer meeting where Dan (volunteer coordinator) tells us what we are going to be doing the next day and introduces any new arrivals. He introduced the new couple and Frank shared with us the meaning of his religious symbol. We all smiled and acted like we cared. Even Fran did the same, apparently used to his personality quirks.

The next day, I found out that they were so dissatisfied with the volunteer quarters they booked one of the fancy tents the regular guests sleep in. And Frank spent the day using more of the grass from the roofing material to build brooms we didn’t need. I was wondering, if they were planning on doing any actual volunteer work.

The Volunteer Area

The next day (yes it goes on) we find out that Fran lost her iPhone. Actually, the iPhone was stolen. The phone was taken because they had it with them at lunch, and left it on the table. Naturally, at some point, one of the workers found it and stole it. They, of course, were all offended that someone in a country with an unemployment rate of 80% would steal an iPhone. They wanted Dan to bring in the police to interrogate everyone and were willing to offer a reward for the return of the phone. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking the local police probably don’t give a rats-ass about some American tourists/volunteers who leave a phone lying around and it gets stolen.

As you can tell, I was annoyed by these people. And, I think I was probably more annoyed by them than others. When traveling, I usually try to show people that not all Americans are right-wing fanatics. I try to show that some of us are open-minded, and easy going about the rest of the world. That we all don’t watch reality television, and that we are not all fat and stupid. After a week of spending time with the others in the group, mostly Europeans, of showing that to be the case, it irritated me to encounter the only other two Americans volunteering at the camp who end up proving the things about Americans that I am trying to disprove.

Language Lessons

One of the activates they offer to help us learn a little of the local language. So today, we all gathered in a room where Shawna, one of the locals attempted to teach us some local terms and a song. Knowing full well that I wouldn’t retain any of it, I did take some notes. Others however seem more interested in asking her about her personal life and marriages between couples in Zimbabwe and how they work.

Some highlights

  • Good morning – wa mooka sae
    • Response – da mooka
  • Good afternoon – we sware sae
    • Response – da shwara
  • No – quete
  • Yes – wangoo
  • Excuse me – pam saware

Since we are volunteering in an animal park

  • Lion – shumba
  • Elephant – zo
  • Cat – kitty (I can remember this one0
  • Chicken – wooko
  • dog – embwa

And of course, since I’m with a group of mostly girls, they have a few they wanted to know as well

  • Beautiful – waka noka
  • Ugly – waka shata
  • I love you – de noku farea
  • Awesome – shaka naka
  • Take your top off – visa hembe
  • So, waka noka laides, if you could please visa hembe

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