In 2009, the United Nations declared that July 18th, Mabida’s birthday would be celebrated internationally as Mandela Day. In tribute to the 67 years that he fought for equality and social justice, communities, businesses and individuals were tasked with ‘giving back’ for 67 minutes.
As part of the EcoTraining Trails Guide Course the students get the opportunity of sleeping out under the vast African sky.
With a sleeping bag and a cooler box of food, they get to experience what it is like to be outside in the wild from sunset to sunrise.
While there is the possibility of animals wandering past, the silence of the bush and the vastness of the African sky is what created an immersive experience that was unforgettable.
Finding a campsite proved to be harder to agree on than actually setting up camp for the night.
After much discussion, a suitable spot was eventually decided on and the task of unpacking the vehicle was dealt with in quick time.
The first task was the collection of firewood to heat water for coffee and tea.
But not just any wood. No, it had to come from places around the site where the use of the wood would not have any impact on the ecosystem.
Sleeping bags were then laid out and tasks were assigned.
The backup guide, Aagia, had brought her guitar along and in the silence of the bush, her chords were clean and sweet, not loud and intrusive, but calming and quieting (Aagia playing guitar). It was now time to start a fire.
With the fire roaring in a purposely dug hole, it was time for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories.
The pasta that the camp kitchen staff had prepared for us was enjoyed with gusto. And the container of biscuits was most welcomed by those on duty in the early hours of the morning.
Ever used a bush loo? It’ very simple, find a nice bush with a good view, dig a hole and there you go!
The ever-changing flames of the ‘bush TV’ were hypnotic and despite the early hour, we were all ready to creep into our sleeping bags and settle down for the night.
But before the final good nights were exchanged a duty roster was worked out as there had to be someone awake at all times to keep an eye open for animals that might take an interest in our sleeping forms.
There were enough people for us to have to only do an hour each between 21h00 to 05h00.
It was soon discovered that all that was required during this on duty time was to keep the fire going and the water in the kettle boiling!
The bush does not sleep and although you might believe it is quiet there is a constant stream of noises that are sometimes difficult to identify.
The lions that walked past our sleeping forms were the easiest to identify. Their guttural vocalizations left no doubt as to whom they were and what they were capable of doing.
The crashing of branches close by signaled the fact that there was at least one feeding elephant in the vicinity.
Warm in our thermal sleeping bags we lay in silence, allowing all these sounds to envelop us without the need for discussion (That would take place over coffee in the morning).
Although the ground was hard and unforgiving, sleep did eventually come. And with it a deep, contented almost childlike sleep.
As the dawn broke and faces began to appear out of bedding it was time to share our impressions about our night and to repack the vehicle before heading off back to camp.
Just as we had set up camp the night before, we had to return it to as pristine a condition as we could before we headed off.
The campfire had to be doused and the ashes scattered.
The wood had to be replaced back into the tree line.
And the area swept with branches to eradicate as much of the traces of our stay as possible.
Personally, I believe that no one who spends a night under the vast African sky can return without a change of some sort.
It might not be a huge ‘Eureka’ moment, but deep in the psyche of each of those present, a change had occurred.
In contrast to our silence during our stay, we drove away in high spirits. Chatting loudly about our experience…and enquiring as to when we could do it again!