By Lori Duvall-Jackson
“Help, this is Imfolozi One, Marumo’s been bitten by a boomslang!! Come in!!” I shouted into the emergency phone. No response. “No one’s answering,” I called out frantically.
Marumo reached up and took the “phone” from my hand. “That’s because you’re yelling into the GPS.” Of course everyone but me had realized this, and my fellow volunteers were wiping tears of laughter from their eyes. I had the GPS in one hand and the emergency phone in the other and had brought the wrong one to my ear while practicing the emergency drill. Sheepishly, I raised the phone and completed the drill properly.
It was my first day in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (HiP) and my second volunteer stint for Wildlife ACT, a South African organization that runs endangered species monitoring programs in KwaZulu Natal (KZN), formerly known as Zululand. Because I had successfully run the emergency drill on my first trip I had offered to do so again, much to the amusement of my companions.
My son accompanied me on the first trip, but this time I traveled alone on the 16 hour flight to Johannesburg, followed by a short flight on a prop plane to KZN. There I met my fellow volunteers and Marumo, a native and our group leader for the next two weeks.
One of the best aspects about volunteering is meeting people from all over the globe. My teammates hailed from around the world- Ursula from Switzerland, Rob from England, Chantal from New Zealand, me from the States, and Beatrice from Mars by way of France (when you dress for the bush it doesn’t usually involve flowing scarves, tiny sneakers and leopard print silk blouses).
On the way to HiP I noticed how much had changed since my first visit – more roads, developments, markets and traffic. Africa is changing, bolstered by Chinese investments and an exploding population. Still, the majority live in poverty, and being poor in America doesn’t come close to being poor there.
I saw plenty of barefoot women walking miles for clean water, carrying enormous jugs on their heads. People live in tiny rondelets with tin roofs and no utilities. Domesticated animals are everywhere – not cats or dogs, but goats and livestock. It’s a shock to come home to America, with our supermarkets and plentiful, clean water. I often think people would be much more appreciative of the things we take for granted if they visited places where people aren’t as fortunate.
Eventually we left the modern world behind and reached the park and an hour later, our camp. The accommodations were spartan, limited electricity and hot water, but the view from the edge of the camp couldn’t be beat. It overlooked the lower plateau, through which the Black Imfolzoi river flowed. We could sit on an outcropping and watch herds of elephants and buffaloes in the river, and saw a pride of lions beneath us engage some rhinos.
My GPS faux pas was a running joke until an even funnier episode occurred where I offered to close a gate, jumped off the truck, walked past the gate and kept going because I didn’t see it in the twilight. (I was alerted by the howls of laughter emanating from the truck). My hilarious miscues aside, I had the adventure of a lifetime. We helped collar cheetahs and wild dogs, got charged by an elephant, rescued tourists who got out of their car to photograph the charging elephant, and saw creatures I never knew existed.
I brought home jaw dropping footage and memories to last a lifetime. Or until I sign up for another stint.
Lori Duvall-Jackson of Amherst saw that Africa is changing