Together Claire and I spend the next three and a half days working on the changes to the course materials, and I gradually start to become accustomed to the routine and way of life living out here in the wilderness of North Luangwa. In the morning I wake up early with the rising sun, have a shower before the heat of the day kicks in, and then head over to have breakfast at the nsaka with Claire, Ed and the children. (Once or twice the hyenas manage to get into the food storage area in the night and make a mess, so there’s a bit of clearing up to do first!)
After breakfast it’s a short walk over to Claire and Ed’s office (about ten metres away), where we work until lunchtime, and then we head back to the nsaka for a slap-up lunch before heading back to the office for the afternoon. We are literally in the middle of the wilderness, and although it sounds like a fairly average day at work, we are surrounded by wildlife. Occasionally I have to pinch myself as I look up from my laptop and glance out of the window only to see an elephant standing right outside!
After a while I start to get used to this, but on my first day it’s quite a shock! I’ve been warned to be careful and always check for elephants before leaving any building, but when I see one right outside my bedroom door on the first morning I am genuinely terrified. They are huge, powerful animals that could crush a person with ease. I’m told they don’t generally attack people, but if you startle them and they charge towards you, then they can cause a lot of damage. What’s more is that they don’t stomp around loudly as you might imagine, but instead are almost silent as they move, so you can be completely unaware of their presence until they are incredibly close. However, the one outside my bedroom simply has a munch of some leaves on a nearby tree and trundles slowly away, so I have nothing to worry about!
I also have to get used to the heat. On a couple of days it reaches almost forty degrees in the shade, so I have to keep remembering to drink water so I don’t dehydrate. In the evenings when the sun goes down at about 6pm, it cools down to a pleasant temperature, and I sit with Ed and Claire in the nsaka and learn more about the project and hear some amazing stories about life in the bush. On one occasion Claire recalls camping with some friends and waking up to a herd of buffalo stampeding around their tents, and the next day seeing the footprints of the lion that they must have been running from, right outside their tents!
I then have to make my way back to my room in the dark, so I carefully shine my torch back and forth checking for any animals that might be lurking, as I make my way along the path. I then quickly brush my teeth in the open-sided bathroom, occasionally stopping to shine my torch out across the river bed when I think I hear a rustle, and head back to my room.
Most nights I wake up at intervals to the sound of the various animal noises. Sometimes I can easily identify the sounds – an elephant stripping leaves from a nearby bush or a lion roaring in the distance, for example. But sometimes they are less obvious and my imagination runs riot with hyenas, porcupines, leopards and buffalo all sniffing around outside my door.
In the mornings I try to work out what might have been there from the footprints in the sand, but by that time they are mostly obscured by the prints of the birds that have been pecking around since sunrise. The only one I can pick out for sure is an elephant footprint, which is pretty obvious as it’s so big!
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