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Updated: Mar 17, 2019

photo by Jean Kelly

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one. -- C.S. Lewis

Two things happened on Thursdays at Naankuse. The first was the arrival and departure of volunteers. Corné announced this at our morning meeting.

“Hola!” he sang. “Do you know what day it is?”

Mumbles from the crowd.

“Uh, Thursday?” some guy behind me said.

Corné waited a beat before he answered, taking extra time to bat his eyelashes at us.

“It is, and you know what that means, right?”

Small groans from the crowd indicated a select few knew what was coming.

Helen, standing next to me, leaned in closer and whispered, “I don’t care what bloody day it is.”

I stifled a laugh, grateful to have someone to roll eyes with.

Finally, Corné told us it was time to say “farewell” to a few volunteers whose “time has ended.” It was all so dramatic – and a bit sappy. Especially because I didn’t know any of the people he’d called up to stand next to him.

I did feel badly for them, though – being put on display like that. There was no way I was showing up for that crap on my last day.

“Let’s all give them a big round of applause as we wish them well on their journeys.”

“Yeah, yeah, great. Let’s get on with it then,” Helen muttered.

“And now, we will sing a song in your honor.” Corné announced, his chest puffing up like he was about to sing the coveted solo in his high school play.

More groans.

“Now, now, we’ve all got to do this together. Remember. We are showing our appreciation.

“Appreciation?” I said to Helen. “I bet he doesn’t even know their names.”

“On three. One, two, three.”

Corné waved his hands like a drum major.

“I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back a-GAIN.”

All I could muster was an “omigod” to Helen’s “Ah, fer fuck’s sake.”

It was pretty epic, standing there singing John Denver to a bunch of strangers in the middle of Africa. Oh, and annoying, because I had that stupid song in my head for the rest of the day.

The second thing that happened on Thursdays was the liquor delivery. We knew this, thanks to Adele, the manager at the Activity Center. (Remember the one who gave me “directions” down to The Farm on my first day?)

“Wow. You guys drank a lot last night,” she’d said to a few of us at breakfast that morning. “Good thing we get our liquor delivery today.”

That was a good thing. I was getting used to drinks on the deck in the evenings with everyone. They were beginning to feel like family. Nothing like throwing a bunch of strangers together in a unique and sometimes confusing environment. We bonded with ease, and I looked forward to sitting around, sharing a meal and listening to all the stories.

Jean's photo of Jess, Hedda and Eeva

My lazy afternoon with Josh and Lotte the day before had turned into a night of drinking with the Bush Camp crew and a few others who’d wandered up from The Farm. Apparently, the drinks up there were much better, and those in the know would brave the dark and scary road in search of a good cocktail. That night, we pushed the tables together, and the group alternated between separate conversations to full-on stories that had us all roaring with laughter.

Helen told us about her night watch experience where everyone fell asleep on her, because they were cold and tired. Jean saw a bunch of rhinos while doing research. Carla walked with the cheetahs. When I mentioned I’d had project work that morning, everyone moaned.

As we drank and talked, I realized for the first time since I’d arrived, I felt like I belonged. A lot of stuff at Na’ankuse still remained a mystery, but I was starting care less and settle into the comfort of being in it all together.

The Bush Camp Crew (left to right): Josie, Jean, me, Josh, Lotte, Jess, Eeva, Hedda, Ollie, Carla, Helen, Kasia, Dominique, Annie, Adele

And as always, Helen, Carla and I walked back to our tents together. There were no lights, and walking through the bush scared the shit out of me. Helen loved to tease when she knew I spotted a kudu in the not-so-far-distance.

“They’re waiting fer ya, Liz,” she’d say, her deep and hearty laugh filling the silent night air.

I’d just keep walking, flashlight on, pointed in front of me, repeating my new, silent mantra “You’re okay, you’re okay” as they’d wait for me to get to my tent and call out: “I’m home!” before going inside.

There was so much that happened each day, it was hard to process. And each night I was so wiped out (and okay, maybe a little tipsy) that I didn’t even have the energy to reflect. But I knew one thing. This experience was filling me up; opening me to things I’d never imagined I’d see, feel or even touch. I was starting to hit my stride, and beginning to really love it.

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