I originally wrote this post on my phone, in the London Heathrow airport. I was on my way back home from South Africa and was having seriously sad feelings about leaving Askari. I thought writing down some of the good things might make me feel better in the moment (it didn’t. Actually, all it did was make me even sadder, to the point that I was openly crying in an airport cafe, while a Spanish couple at the table next to me looked very worried and asked if they could do anything. Bless them).
The good news is, after a month and a bit at home, thinking about all the things I miss about Askari doesn’t make me bawl in front of strangers. There is lots of nostalgia, but mostly I feel grateful for how good my month in Africa turned out, and I’m happy that I have all these memories that are going to be with me forever.
So, without further ado, my airport list – everything I miss about Askari (in no particular order):
- The crazy electrical storms
- The friends I’ve made
- The amazing manager Katie, and the above and beyond things she did for us (one day, we were driving around the river “looking for lions” when we turned a corner and Katie was waiting for us with a massive bush breakfast. The lions had just been a ruse to get us in the right spot, where Katie had prepared for us sausage, eggs, and yogurt parfaits. Completely unnecessary, and so wonderful)
- All of the Askari workers, & how much they taught us
- Getting to learn so much every day
- The warmth
- Game drives (anytime we were out, driving around, looking for animals)
- Seeing something totally unexpected and amazing. And just the possibility that was always there – any minute, something wonderful could happen
- Having my bed made every day and my room tidied by the wonderful Askari housekeepers (I honestly felt so spoiled)
- Having my meals planned for me (Katie bought the groceries and planned the meals, we just had to take turns making them and doing dishes)
- The simplicity of life at Askari – not having to worry about things and schedules. Just being on the game vehicle when it was time to go
- Having truly free time, to do anything we wanted. Read a book, swim in the pool, play bananagrams. Not worrying about what other things I should be doing, or a million errands that I had to get done. Just enjoying life. The type of free time you normally only get when you’re a child
- The lions
- The elephants
- The rhinos
- Impala lambs
- Nyala of all ages
- The birds!!
- All of the animals, honestly
- Giraffes, staring at us (here’s one that was trying to hide behind a tree):
- Going for sundowner drives
- Taking time to sit and watch the sunset
- Starting our day early enough that we could watch the sun rise
- Nala! (Katie’s dog). She was very shy, but after 3 weeks, we were friends.
That month at Askari has been the most incredible of my life. It’s hard to put an experience like that into words. Only the people who were there with me, living it, can totally understand – but I hope I’ve brought a little of the bush into my reader’s lives, too.
I was scared to go to Africa. Before I left, I was worried about, in no particular order: dying, getting mugged, getting kidnapped, snakes, scorpions, spiders, and more. After I booked the trip, back in May, I began having recurring dreams where I was eaten by a lion. I finally managed to convince myself how unlikely it was – I wasn’t going to be eaten by a lion, that was stupid, and they weren’t even the most dangerous animal in Africa, hippos and snakes were probably way more likely to kill me. And then I started having recurring dreams where I was crushed to death in the jaws of a hippo.
The point is, I was very afraid to go to Africa. There seemed to be a lot of things there that could kill me, or a lot of things that could go horribly wrong. But going to Africa and seeing the animals there has long been on my bucket list. I wasn’t about to let the fear stop me and wish for the rest of my life that I’d gone.
And once I was there, most of my fears disappeared. I always felt safe at Askari. Even when we encountered lions twenty metres away, or when we found scorpions in the house, I never really worried because the Askari staff had taught us how to deal with situations like that.
Some nice hippos:
So for anyone considering a trip to South Africa, or specifically to Askari – I cannot recommend it highly enough. Go, go, go! The bush is beautiful. The experience I’ve had is one I feel ridiculously lucky to have had in my lifetime. It’s given me a love for the bush, conservation, and the animals of Africa.
“Wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” -Edward Abbey
Thank you so much to Askari, Katie, my fellow volunteers, and all the defenders I met along the way.
South Africa was amazing.
Wow. I’m so moved by your writing. It sounds like you found a true community at Askari; so much for you to process once you got home. Truly a life changing experience I suspect, which possibly will propell you into different directions than what you anticipated for your life. So proud of you!!! *I hope you send this to Katie.
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Thank you AJ!! 🙂 Life changing indeed!
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Such a wonderful way with words Caelan and reading this takes me back to sonia my fantastic moments that we shared in the bush that month. Thank you for being such a committed, passionate and driven volunteer. An absolute pleasure to share the bush alongside every day 🙂
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Thank you Katie!!!
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