In 2007 I spent a year in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as a SANParks People and Conservation volunteer intern based at Twee Riveiren.
It’s difficult to put the isolation of this spectacular place in words but the experience of living in the Kalahari has been one of the most profound of my life. My time in the Kalahari inspired the name of this blog – Pure Spaces. Spaces/places have such significance for me. The way they make me feel, the energy they give affects me emotionally and often spiritually. The space that is the Kalahari would definitely fall in the spiritual category. And my name means “pure”. So there you go…
What you quickly learn in a place like this is how important your small community is, you rely on each other for support, for companionship. You have to get along because you don’t have a choice. In my case the small community within the slightly bigger Park community were the residents of Blikkiesdorp (Tin Can Town). Our lodgings being converted shipping containers. Let’s pause for a moment to let that fact settle – a shipping container room in the Kalahari Desert!
So Blikkiesdorp, our little area of the staff accommodation of Twee Rivieren rest camp, was home to me, the intern, and two students studying Nature Conservation from Tshwane University. Occasionally the field guides would visit for a braai. But mostly it was just the three of us. A resident cheetah researcher and his wife adopted me as did the border policeman and his wife which meant a welcome break from Blikkies for a yummy meal or even the luxury of watching a little television.
Don’t get me wrong though, I grew very fond of Blikkies as the year progressed and it brought out some very creative “decorating” in me.
Here is where I need to introduce Kerryn, one of those students I mentioned earlier. A petite, feisty girl absolutely passionate about wildlife conservation. Kerryn and I clicked almost immediately. I say almost because she admits based on meeting my predecessor, she was determined NOT to like me. But it seems our common love of the band Smashing Pumpkins broke the ice! There is a good 10 year age gap between us, but I quickly began to admire her, particularly her determination to succeed in a (still to this day sadly) male dominated field of work. I am thrilled to say that we remain very close friends today even with the many miles that separate us.
It started with Kerryn, this kernel of an idea. By the time I had spent time getting to know Margie, the researcher’s wife, and Isabel, the policeman’s wife, as well women of the Khomani San community, I was overwhelmed by these extraordinary women I was meeting and the stories I was hearing. None of them would describe themselves as extraordinary. Most of their “voices” weren’t the voices of activists or feminists. They were just ordinary women blooming where they were planted – creating, nurturing, learning, growing, caring, loving in that very unique way women do.
I have to share these “voices”, I thought. Their stories deserve a place in the sun. So here I am all these years later beginning this journey… I finally seem to have found my courage, to have found my voice. This is the introduction to what I hope will be a series of posts over the coming months – the extraordinary voices of ordinary women.
What is the significance of finding your tribe? You are in your element, time stands still leaving your open heart to soak up all you are experiencing, really seeing the people in front of you and really hearing their stories. There might be no other purpose to this than for those people to be seen, to be heard. But it could be that in this flow you are being given access to knowledge and understanding which moves you forward on your path. For me those 14 days on our Journey with Purpose was the latter. I feel compelled by all I have seen and heard to champion these stories, to spread the word about the incredible work of these passionate individuals working for wildlife and community.
Now I love nothing better than seeing the “bigger picture” and some of you reading will know how I love a good map! And I didn’t see this straight away as we progressed through our itinerary, but I think I see it now…. What connects all our conservation and community stories from this expedition together is the increasing collaboration and building towards recognising the increasing value of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs).
Here is where I mention the Peace Parks Foundation. Their single purpose is “to restore a tomorrow for life on Earth”. Their dream – “to reconnect Africa’s wild spaces to create a future for man in harmony with nature.” What does that look like in action? Helping, guiding, supporting, facilitating TFCAs. Creating a hub for a conservation collective in a particular region. This hub transcends national borders and helps take these seemingly small, individual actions and bringing them together – the dragonfly effect.
Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith are a husband and wife team who have applied what they term the dragonfly effect to using social media to affect social change. Their book – The Dragonfly Effect: quick, effective and powerful ways to use social media to drive social change – is an interesting read. They talk about the dragonfly being the only insect to move deftly in any direction when all four wings work in unison. This effect is similar to the ripple effect and is used in sociology, psychology and economic circles to show how small actions can create significant change. While their focus is the use of social media, I think the effect applies to the situation I am describing here.
Our JWP01 South expedition took us into two significant TFCA areas – the Greater Limpopo TFCA and the Lubombo TFCA. The people we got to meet and spend time with, the projects we got a little glimpse of on our journey were some of these small pieces working to their strengths and their passions. Placed in the bigger picture of the TFCA landscape there is more than a little hope of significant, lasting change both for wildlife and wild spaces as well as the human communities coexisting here.
For me this sort of hope is especially inspiring as I am on my own journey where I am currently planted to demonstrate how this dragonfly effect can work for conservation and community upliftment anywhere in the world.