Life as a Researcher in Okaukuejo

the Okaukuejo gates

the Okaukuejo gates

I live in the William Gasaway research camp, a small site within Okaukuejo camp gates but behind the staff housing, furthest away from the tourist area. There are a couple parked trailers and 3 tents; I live in one of those, a big, old-school, Army-type tent with zip up windows and a big canopy. Ive hung my hammock on the tree growing beside it, and there are anywhere between 2 and 8 other people in camp at once.

the tent i called home

If you ever come to Africa for a long time, or even a short time but do a lot of camping, there are a few things and skills I highly suggest you bring. First of all, bring binoculars, a flashlight (preferably in the form of a head lamp), and a camera that has either a dust or water proof case. You should also bring your own sleeping bag, sleeping mat and tent since you can camp virtually anywhere and a lot of places won’t offer accommodation except for at ‘western’ prices which is surprisingly more expensive than one would think of budgeting for Africa (at least I grossly underestimated the expenses of being a tourist in southern Africa). Finally, make sure you know how to make a fire and how to barbeque, since these are two must-have assets for the braii culture so prominent here. Related to this point is a suggestion for vegetarians: its tough to avoid meat or meat products.

Three Berkeley researchers have come to live in Etosha and after a few months here, all turned from vegetarians back to eating meat. Meat is one of the cheaper, most easily accessible meats, and is always offered in tourist meals and restaurants. Its also very healthy, with a lot more selection (lean game meats), and the food chain somehow seems ethically and environmentally enforced here better than it does in other parts of the world. The circle of life within the national park is also an interesting moral subject to deal with; before coming here I would always have thought a dead animal is a sad occasion, and that watching carnivores hunt and kill would be too sadistic, but it quickly becomes apparent how normal and necessary this circle is to the ecosystem. As much as I want to save a baby zebra being chased by a herd of lions, I also get really happy for the cute, furry little lion cubs that get to keep on living. I’ve noticed I eat a lot more meat and fish products in Iceland which seems environmentally justified on some grounds, but I eat sooo much meat in Namibia. The difficult thing is the closest town is almost 2 hrs away, so only getting to grocery shop once a week or every other week forces you to shop differently. Fresh fruits, veggies, milk, cheese, and bread are luxuries since they’re only fresh a few days later, but buying frozen meat, eggs, pastas, rice, and beer makes for a very high protein and carb diet. The beer here, called Windhoek Lager, is in weird 440ml size bottles and cans, and full strength at only 4%; however, funnily enough it was one of the most available, popular and cheap beers also in South Africa and Botswana. We are lucky enough to get freshly baked bread about twice a week; the Chief Science Warden’s wife makes it for the research camp and it’s delicious.

Steve basically works every day since there is nothing else to do here anyway. By work, I really mean we get to drive around in one of the Toyota’s with a big 6m pole and a bunch of stray antennas sticking out in all directions tracking jackals. The antenna on the top communicates to the collars put on some of the jackals Steve is using for his research, but we only ever get downloaded information once every other drive. So, we just get to enjoy the scenery and wildlife, until we see a carcass and then Steve has to swab it for anthrax and record all sorts of data. That’s strangely fun, not because of the poor, dead animal, but its really the only time we are allowed out of the car since you have to remain inside your vehicle anytime youre outside of a camp. Sundowners is a fun, routine thing to do; at sunset, you crack a drink and stop and enjoy the sun disappear behind a waterhole, and wait for something exciting to come to drink water like a rhino or a breeding herd of elephants. Me and Steve recently tried sun-uppers, having coffee and Amarula with the sunrise during a game drive we took with NWR (for research purposes, of course).

The days here are funny because it makes no difference if its Wednesday or Saturday, and I actually missed Canada Day since I had no idea when July 1st actually was. Although, with 2 other Americans we had a pathetic little July 4th party that just involved making a fire and sitting around it.

I walk between camp and the office, past the senior staff housing, and many of the people here are called Owambo, who speak a cool language called Ochiwambo where almost everything, especially place names and animal names, begins in O. There are these elderly Herero women who wear their traditional clothing around camp, and they look like busty dolls in big, beautiful dresses that are made of layers of colourful material with a matching cloth hat that kind of resembles a hammerhead shark. When I was driving into town for our weekly grocery shop, two women were sitting curbside by the entry gate and hitchiked a lift into town. We didnt speak much, but listening to them laugh and talk whiles their dresses overflowed in the back seat certainly made the 2 hr drive more entertaining than my ipod music.

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4 thoughts on “Life as a Researcher in Okaukuejo

  1. This is a good blog. Keep up all the work.

  2. Amazing freakin blog here. I almost cried while reading it!

  3. Is there any way to get in contact with you guys? I can’t seem to find it here. Thanks! – Dustin

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