Simon Reeve’s on conservation
IN May of 1999, I boarded a Qantas flight to Johannesburg with my dear partner Linda and our 20-month-old daughter Stella. I had wanted to live in Africa since I first stepped onto the continent nearly a decade before. Now it was happening. Our lives packed into suitcases. Our fate hanging on discussions via a couple of visits to my new employers in Botswana and what were the early days of email.
This was heady stuff. But I was also, well ... um ... anxious?
I think I took it for granted at the time how incredibly brave Linda was to accept this undertaking. With a toddler in tow and a nice "normal" life in Bondi in Sydney fading into the distance, this would test anyone.
But Linda is made of very strong stuff and Stella just wanted to see some "animals".
As I have said to many since then ... for every blood red sunset in the bush watching elephants crossing a river, while sipping an icy G and T, there were lots of tears, sweat and no small amount of stress.
This grand adventure over two and a bit years tested us, probing the weak spots, of which I have many. But it also taught us, it inspired us and gave us memories and friendships that remain strong and vibrant to this day.
Africans, black and white, have a special resilience. Africa spits on hubris, but rewards humility. It took us time, but we found a rhythm, a way of accepting that life and priorities were very different in Botswana.
We lived in a small-ish town called Maun, at the bottom of the Okavango Delta. Tourism is its lifeblood. Maun is home to dozens of companies that service the camps through the Delta and beyond. There is a great mix of cultures, colours and characters in what was until recent times, a real frontier town. It still retains that spirit.
I was up and back from the Kwando Safaris camps, filming in the bush, Stella was popped into a fabulous little preschool where she made many friends and Linda, bless her, packed her pasta maker from Sydney and created an amazing home away from home for all of us. We had a huge grove of lemon trees on the property where we lived, so each week there were lemon tarts for half the people of Maun coming out of our very rudimentary oven!
We had baboons, rock pythons, spitting cobras, huge water monitors, giant eagle owls, civets and many more critters as part of daily life at home. At 5 every evening the mosquito coils would be lit and the nets would go down over our beds.
This was our new life and for me this was truly "living" ... not just going through the motions. Being a part of it gave Linda and I a much more informed view of the issues people face every day. From the outside we often have this very narrow take on how we need to "save the rhino" or "save the elephant". That is all well and good and don't get me wrong, it's what I want as well. But we have to see people as part of that picture, we have to expand our understanding of the complexities of these issues.
So here we are years on, surrounded by the comforts of life in Australia. Drinking water from the tap, power for our lights, our ovens, our "devices". Woe is us when the internet goes down! We are rendered helpless. It's hard when your emails don't get through or you can't post some inane thing to Facebook. That's when I try and think of the old people we would pick up on the dirt roadside to take them to the well in the 40 degree heat. Or the woman who brought her three year old son to our door one day because he had just drunk paraffin by accident.
I will forever love the African bush and its extraordinary creatures. But Africa, is so much more ... and I say to everyone who will listen, if you really want to save the animals, go there on safari. Nothing comes close to helping conserve these great wilderness areas than seeing it for yourself.
Dubbo Weekender journalist Natalie Holmes with Simon Reeve.