Welcome back! [Be sure to catch up on Namibia, Part 1: Getting Lost in the Desert before this post]. Time to get back to Namibia and EHRA’s volunteer projects. Upon completion of week 1, or build week, the weekend is spent at EHRA’s base camp, taking showers, relaxing and enjoying Namibia’s natural beauty. Come Monday, it’s back into the field for track week. For four days and nights, the volunteer group follows the elephants – based off of footprints and reports from locals – to ensure the herds are healthy. This was the part I was most excited about – seeing elephants in the wild. I’ve always felt a strong sense of melancholy when I’d come across an elephant in a zoo. They’re not meant to be cooped up in a small enclosure, without the company of other elephants; like humans, they are extremely social animals who travel in matriarchal groups and need socialization. To deprive them of this seems inexplicably cruel.
Needless to say, the experience of sitting on a Land Cruiser in total silence, observing elephants as they went about their business, is burned into my memory. I have never been so content to sit for hours at a time without moving. Alas, all too soon it was time to leave Damaraland and return to Swakopmund for a weekend in the city. Some of the group had plans to stay on – EHRA allows volunteers to stay for up to three months – while others, like us, would be leaving Africa and returning to our normal, everyday lives. Initially, my friend and I had plans to go sandboarding on the Namibian sand dunes, but over the course of the two weeks, I realized that a few of my now-friends were expressing interest in going skydiving. Being the planner and responsible traveler that I am, I had purchased the required travel insurance, but hadn’t gone with the plan that would cover me in case of a skydiving incident. I was hesitant at first, but beneath the hesitance was a stronger desire to be daring and take a chance. Plus, I love rollercoasters and the Tower of Terror at Disney World, so wouldn’t skydiving just be an extension of that? After my friend secretly signed us up along with three fellow volunteers, I knew I had to go through with it (and yes, I Googled Ground Rush Adventures to make sure they were legit – are you surprised at this point?).
We were picked up at our hostel and whisked away to the jump site – after paying for the adventure, of course. We then headed into the hangar for a safety debrief and to put on our jump suits. I was anxious, but felt reassured by the fact I was doing this with four others, and that we’d be tandem-jumping with experts. My friend Jess and I were first to go up (coincidentally, she’s the same one from the desert/donkey cart adventure), and we hopped in the doorless plane for the ascent to 10,000 feet. We had been advised by others in our group who had gone skydiving that you don’t want to be the second one out of the plane, as you don’t know the fate of your friend who has gone first. Naturally, this meant that I was the one to jump second – and my tandem partner had assured me that ‘NO!’ sounds just like ‘GO!'
As I’m writing this post, it’s clear I survived that particular adventure; not only did I survive, but it was a thoroughly exhilarating experience. The first 30-35 seconds of freefall – the parachute hadn’t engaged yet – were easily my favorite moments. I did have a split-second panicky thought of what I’d do if the parachute didn’t open, but then it did and I found myself disappointed that that part was over. We then fell leisurely back to earth, and I had the biggest grin possible on my face the rest of the day. So did my friends.
The next day we left for Walvis Bay airport, though I was sorely tempted to stay on. I did have a job to get back to, but there was something about those two weeks in Namibia that altered the course of my life. Prior to those two weeks in Namibia, and every so often since, much of my personal experiences have been defined by my desire for control. Intellectually I know nothing in life can be controlled (‘Man plans, and God laughs,’ etc), but emotionally I’ve gone through life convincing myself that if I can control this outcome or the next, everything will magically work out. My experience in Namibia turned that on its head, and really has led to where I am today. I had no real control when we were lost in the desert – aside from the ability to ask for help – and I certainly didn’t control when and if the parachute opened successfully when we jumped out of that plane. My experiences in Namibia were much more than these two examples, but in the end it all enabled me to learn so much; to trust my own instincts, to be reminded that people are good, and to learn that if control is to be relinquished, you’ll be all the stronger (and perhaps happier) for it.
Of course, it’s true that nothing is so simple when you examine the intricacies of everyday life – and my own life hasn’t been a straightforward fairytale in the years since – but this trip was a massive, timely reminder for me to, above all, trust myself and just be. For that I am endlessly grateful.
P.S. Namibia 2019, anyone?