Its our last day in the Kgalagadi. Time for one more little adventure – the Nossob 4×4 Ecotrail.
A perfect way to meander through the dunes on the tracks less travelled. Stop to investigate the less iconic wildlife often overlooked. Hear stories about the unique plants including surprising flowers that bloom in the desert. Climb a dune to drink in the view to infinity.
Making camp in time to enjoy a spectacular Kgalagadi sunset before enjoying an evening round the fire. Going to sleep to the screech of an owl or the jackals calling. Wondering what the rustle in the bush close by is during your midnight toilet break only to discover the leopard tracks in the morning. Kgalagadi magic!
Day 3 and we are still in the Kgalagadi. This time highlighting landscape, light and colour.
Light and colour would change constantly during a day and with the seasons or the mood of the weather. I was profoundly captured with each change – a spiritual experience. More a feeling than just using my sense of sight.
And the stillness, the quiet was incredible too. Standing atop a red sand dune staring at the infinite horizon – serenity… You need to be comfortable with silence in the Kalahari, in my experience.
There is a purity here I have never felt anywhere else – it is a soul journey.
My Kgalagadi time actually inspired the name of this blog.
But it wasn’t always serene. There is a harshness here too. It is a place of extremes and paradox… as so much of the human experience is.
Choosing today’s pics was a tough task… a year’s worth of Kalahari wildlife encounters limited to 10!
Of course, there are the iconic Kalahari predators like lion and leopard. Then there is the majestic gemsbok (oryx) with their sabre horns.
The bird life astounds – raptors, owls, vultures…. I chose ostrich and a kori bustard to share today.
Then there are the cuties like the meerkats and ground squirrels… the mischief makers like the ratel (honey badger).
Cheetah were an added bonus. A little taste of true wildlife conservation research by accompanying Dr Gus Mills on a cheetah radio collaring project. We followed this sibling group most a of day through the dunes. The next day we changed tack and found a new female to collar. Elena had recently become independent. After I left the Kalahari Gus and Margie sent me photos of her with her first litter. There she was looking healthy, a gorgeous first time mum still sporting the collar I had helped to fit…
As part of my journey with Dr Tererai Trent’s book – The Awakened Woman – I have been reflecting a lot about the place of ritual in daily life.
She talks of the importance of ritual in helping her on the path towards her sacred dreams. In the companion journal I am working through there is a section titled “grow your soul through ritual”. She writes about the richness of her culture in the part of rural Zimbabwe where she was born. There is such beauty in the connection of her people with natural world and the rituals that result. It is an inspiring read.
Dr Trent is not the first woman I have come across who speaks of the essential place of ritual in her life.
One of the prompts in the Awakened Woman journal was
to list any rituals you practise already.
At first it was difficult to think of any rituals in my own life. Looking to the past, my ancestry, the idea of
a rich cultural history is fraught. My
ancestors come from a group of people who’s past actions and values I would
prefer to distance myself from in many ways.
Then I started thinking closer to home, to my family and my childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up with my great grandparents and grandparents on both sides. Family tradition in abundance. As I began to list our family traditions a realisation occurred – it was me who turned many of these traditions into ritual. Especially at this time of the year as we head towards the festive season I have become the keeper of my family’s rituals. So without consciously thinking about this before, ritual has played an important place in my wellbeing – in feeling connected with the spirit of the past and in rooting deeply in the present to grow into the future.
There is another quote from the Awakened Woman journal I like,
“Rituals are the actions we can take to help us walk the path to our dreams. They connect us to a more authentic version of ourselves, allow us to pause and focus on what’s important and strengthen our beliefs”.
So what can ritual look like? I think it can be any action sacred to you, that you deliberately and thoughtfully repeat. I believe ritual becomes a very personal thing. I have rituals around prayer, meditation and a mindfulness practice… oooh and time on my Shakti mat! Finding time for stillness in the day to day busyness of life has become essential for me. Particularly as I currently live and work in a busy city – an environment that drains my energy.
The next prompt was to consider how the rituals you practise
help move you closer to your dreams. Definitely
a concept I had never considered!
One of my dreams goes around treading lightly and respectfully on the Earth. And so I got to thinking about whether ritual plays a part in my attempt at living sustainably. And upon reflection it does.
My family has a lot of ritual around food. We use food and precious family recipes as a way to commemorate family occasions, mark anniversaries and the passing of seasons. As immigrants our food rituals connect us to a spirit of place and time as well.
And what I now realise is that I have come to think of food and food preparation as a way to honour what Mother Earth provides – there is ritual in that. I still choose to eat meat – not in large quantity and only if I know where and how it was produced. I focus on what’s seasonal and grown locally. In a country like New Zealand I am extremely lucky to easily know where and how meat, eggs, milk, butter, fresh fruit and veg are produced and make my consumer choices accordingly. While cooking and preparing meals, I have now added in quirky little prayers of thanks to living things, plants and animals, that have given their energy to allow me mine. A weird ritual perhaps but one that has given me “pause and focus on what’s important and strengthening my beliefs”.
All this has made me ponder the food thing when travelling. How can you be comfortable without really knowing where the produce is coming from or how it was produced? I then remembered my time as F&B manager at an ecolodge in the Okavango Delta. The thought that went into sourcing food to provide a 4 star offering in a very remote location. We did source locally as much as possible. We did create menus based on seasonal availability. So the food side of things became as considered in the journey towards a sustainable organisation as the energy use, green building materials or waste minimisation strategies.
Above are some images from my time in Okavango…. best office in the world!
So even on safari in really out of the way places, treading lightly and living sustainably is possible. I take comfort in the knowledge that in their own way many eco-conscious tourism operations in Africa today do incorporate ritual. Ritual that makes them respectful of the wildlife and wild space in which they operate. Ritual that makes them sensitive to the communities they impact and include in their conservation intention. Ritual that ensures their guests are supported to also tread as lightly as possible in their journey of exploration.
On Friday 27 September 2019 I had the opportunity to participate in the Schools Strike 4 Climate Change in Auckland, New Zealand. As a conservation educator it was a thrilling moment to be able to march alongside my colleagues and the youth of the world as we speak up to secure our World’s future. To continue to walk my talk of many years.
Now not everyone agrees with Greta Thunberg’s or
Severn Suzuki’s type of action. But this
is just one approach that supports countless others as we each work or fight
for change in our own way. The future of
our planet really does rely on every individual, mindful action as well as
policy change at the highest levels of government.
I was sixteen years old when 12-year-old Severn Suzuki gave her moving call to action at the UN Earth Summit in Rio 1992. The South Africa I grew up in was only just emerging from the evil, tragic grip of apartheid. Rio’s Earth Summit certainly did not play out widely in my troubled environment. I didn’t even hear about Severn and the Rio Summit at the time. I only got to hear about her and the Earth Charter at university a few years later while completing a degree in Environmental Science.
There was no such thing as recycling of rubbish while I was
growing up. But I did have an inspiring
Geography teacher who talked about CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer, rising
sea levels and global warming.
An immense amount of Good Work has been done since then. Voices for action can derive hope from that,
I think. I know I do.
My personal journey with Sustainability started as a child, privileged
to be surrounded by the magic of prolific wildlife. Though back then I would not have described
my passion as ‘in aid of Sustainability’.
Wildlife conservation is my original passion. For me, the heart of my desire to make a
difference in the World has always been derived from my intense love of all
things wild in Africa – wild, pure, open spaces and all the marvellous creatures
that are so precious, deserving of their right to life and their perfect role in
a thriving ecosystem – simply because they are, like I am!
As I hit my tweens, I started to realise that the human
world I had been born into was messy. I became aware of the concept of Ubuntu. In light of this ancient truth I could see
that South Africa was in a dark place. I
am because we are – for me “we” is all aspects of Mama Africa, and by
extension, Mother Earth.
The ‘wildlife’ concept of conservation had to be expanded to
include human communities. Some decades
later I guess we would now refer to this more holistic approach as ‘Social
My degree focused on Environmental Science and Conservation
Biology. I began to understand
sustainability – the complexity of unsustainable human practices that focus on
technological advancement, convenience and to some degree simply because we
can…. pushing the human brain to its creative limits. This level of advancement and focus on
economics, profits and convenience is energy-intensive, to say the least, and
the highest cost has been to Mother Earth.
Even to people whose compassion doesn’t extend beyond their own family it must be becoming alarmingly obvious that the outcomes of unsustainable practices, particularly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, will affect their future – health, ability to generate wealth, perhaps even their whole way of life.
You would think that I would be a sustainable living Champion,
with all the information I have gleaned in my education and in the course of my
professional life as an environmental scientist and conservation educator! But it has been a journey of years to put the picture puzzle pieces together and
genuinely start living sustainably.
To be honest, my practical buy-in started really simply with the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. What’s possible in terms of recycling looks different in diverse parts of the world, depending on infrastructure and resourcing. It varies greatly between urban and rural areas in New Zealand, where I am currently living. And it will continue to change over time, hopefully rapidly and for the better. Even just getting the 3Rs right can be confusing, frustrating and certainly inconvenient, depending where you live.
So here’s what I’ve learned … being mindful of how I tread on this planet, and making environmentally conscious decisions, has to supersede convenience. I recognise that it is not my right to live conveniently at the cost of All around me.
These days I work with the 7Rs in mind – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rehome, Replant, Rot. Here is an image of what that looks like, taken from ubuntunomad.com.
I also like this image (below), with RETHINK at the centre, taken from a Google image search – Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with “things” and your relationship with the Earth.
From a place of Rethink anything is possible. This is motivation to mindfully, actively,
continuously pursue the 7Rs strategy.
For example, we can find out about composting in our area. For me a recent delightful discovery has been
that my hair salon belongs to the Sustainable
Salons initiative – I’m very happy to support ingenious organisations like
There are so many amazing examples like this now. Yes, it does take a little extra time and
energy to do the research, but I believe it is worth it in the long run. Spending
money with local businesses that have sound sustainability initiatives is a
simple and practical contribution everyone can make. I have found social media to be an invaluable
tool in connecting with environmentally conscious groups and organisations I can
So that’s it in the daily micro-moments of my life. Turning off lights and electronics on standby, separating out the soft plastics for recycling, refusing disposable cups or straws or single use plastic bags, thinking about water use and saving where I can, being a mindful consumer as much as possible for everything from clothing to cosmetics, being aware of the palm oil predicament and only purchasing products containing certified sustainable palm oil.
The list goes on and I will make it longer as I learn to tread as lightly as I can. I have to believe that each of our small mindful actions will make the necessary difference in the end.
In my bigger picture, I try to make my mark by taking my conservation education career very seriously – and I never forget about the beleaguered African wildlife that planted this seed in me that lead to greater knowledge of the plight of life everywhere .
This year my focus has been to look at conservation and sustainability
when travelling, which is another great love of mine.
I spent a number of years working in high end ecotourism
lodges in Botswana. Such an incredible
time in my life! What particularly stands
out for me is the environmentally sensitive architecture used to construct
these lodges – the temporary footprint
they are able to create, completely off the grid and very sustainable. If this can be achieved in extremely isolated
areas of the Okavango Delta, I think there is little excuse for organisations
based in areas of the world which are better resourced!
I finally managed to get back to Mama Africa this year. Previous blog posts cover this absolutely amazing Journey with Purpose. I chose that particular trip because it ticked so many of the environmental and social sustainability boxes that I am trying to be mindful of in my travel choices.
On my bucket list, since always, is to visit East Africa,
the birthplace of safari, so I constantly search in hopes that a perfect option
and opportunity will arise. I am looking
for tourism organisations that focus on wildlife conservation, community
conservation and sustainable practices in their delivery to guests. My experience in Botswana tells me exactly
what to look out for.
I have been following Asilia
Africa on Instagram for a while now, and I find their authentic community
conservation initiatives utterly inspiring.
Of course, their tourism offering looks stunning, too! And Yellow Zebra Safaris appears
to be a good bet to organise a truly caring, conservation-conscious safari in
Kenya! Their concern
for solo travellers backs that up.
And so my journey dreams continue … next on my agenda is how to tackle the carbon footprint of air travel, especially from this part of the world? For such a vast distance, I’ll have to look further than contributing to the planting of thousands of trees.
I will finish off this rather long post with a thought-provoking
excerpt from The Infinite Game
– How to Live Well Together by Niki Harré:
“Well, changing the behaviour of other adults has always seemed to me both patronising and misguided. What we need, if we are going to promote human and ecological flourishing, is people working together on creative solutions, not experts training others like circus animals. The enormous beauty and power of our species lies in our capacity for collective innovation. It is an endless, uncertain task, improving this world of ours and trying to do so with love and joy. It takes both big, powerful players and small, discrete players each working within their sphere of influence – experimenting, adapting, and negotiating new practices; and the policies, laws and technological innovations that help hold these practices in place. We need to ignite that creative capacity in each other – not smother it with assumptions that ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ may be) know best.”