England was difficult for me during my first year of under graduation as I was studying Animal Science. I was struggling with culture shock and though I hadn’t expected my first venture out in the real world to be all graceful and straightforward, I had faced my own share of hardships over the past 6 months in the foreign country. The feeling of being outcasted had deprived me on contemplating my decision to study abroad. The only thing to look forward for me was the college trip to South Africa, but that too was a subject of hesitation for me.
“I will be isolated!” I would tell my mother over Skype. “I barely have friends I get along with from my class. Do you think this was a good idea?”
“Of course it is.” She would reply. “You will be able to spend more time with your classmates and get the opportunity to explore somewhere completely different. These experiences don’t come very often, so they need to be grasped when you find one. And besides, we’ve already deposited the fee, will they be refunding the money if you cancel?”
That was another issue; The main issue. I hadn’t talked to anyone about the money refund because firstly I didn’t know who to talk about it. Secondly, my course co-ordinator would be discouraging me to quit. So, without much anticipation, i was planning my trip to South Africa.
We landed in Johannesburg International Airport on 23rd of March 2012, tired and flight sick. Everyone was shattered with the 11 hours of flight and me personally wished I would never had another encounter of a long flight. But, the motion sickness continued with another eight hours drive towards Moholoholo Camp where we were staying for the first 4 days. As we entered the premises, my weariness started disappearing and excitement developed. The destination turned into a heavenly delight and we were divided into groups to stay in our cosy chalets. The huts were simple, with few beds enough for the people staying over, a toilet and a shower room with curtains used to secure the privacy. We were served with an early dinner and despite not knowing what was being served, I thoroughly enjoyed the satisfaction of my hunger with food that tasted divine.
The evening dissipated into pitch dark night as I sat down to listen the crickets sing and retaliate every bit of emotion i was feeling in the moment. I was afraid being miles away from home, farthest i ever was. Anxiety filled me. I wondered what tomorrow had in store for me. Nervousness was inching inside my heart as I wondered how would this trip turn out to be and I was eager to educate myself about everything I might come across. I would’ve laughed if someone had told me i would be in between a South African forest last year. But life had fate work in a quirky way. It had given me when I had least expected and never imagined it happening. With excitement patterning in my heart for tomorrow, I walked back to the chalet with my roommate and called it a day.
The next morning started early, but the view outside our huts motivated the dawn and as the rays of the sun slowly found itself towards the high hills facing us, we found our way towards breakfast. Later, we visited Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre and took the time to learn gruesome truth happening beyond the vast greenery. Different types of species here were brought from the wild, saved from captivity and were given necessary treatment required. Every animal, bird or reptile seen inside the enclosure had had its own battle; a sad story that had finally found a home in the centre. Gratitude emerged in my heart when I looked at the people working in the institution who showered love and kindness as they slowly proved to those hope-ridden living beings that humanity still resided in many human heart.
We spent the night outside, around a big bonfire and in the middle of nowhere. All we had was bushes and trees and few marshmallows that wasn’t all good but it still worked for us while opening up and started talking to each other. I laid myself on the concrete ground and counted the stars on the sky. The wind blew through my ears and although my sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough, somewhere not too close and not too far, I could hear a stream flowing. Its sound felt like a nature’s lullaby and took me to sleep. Coming to South Africa must’ve been a good decision anyway.
The following few days kicked off our adrenaline rush as we found ourselves abruptly holding a scalpel for the first time and dissecting a snake in the Reptile Centre. Some of us discovered the hidden love for snakes while the rest shuddered with fear. I had a vulture sit on my head and though it didn’t kill me, my calm reaction surely gave me a unique reputation among the crowd.
We had guided walks across the forests early at dawn along with giraffes, zebras and wildebeest grazing just few meters away from us. Discovering leopard footprints gave a sudden realization how deep in the forest we had gone and how vulnerable us humans could be out here where a single sigh of a carnivore was enough to contemplate death. And yet we proclaim to be the mightiest.
Nature truly flourished across this country, I anticipated as we visited Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. It was the third largest canyon on Earth and one of the favorite for tourists that provided the view stretching far from Kruger National Park to the Mozambique. Eastwards had the Three Rondavel or Three Sisters; three massive spirals of dolomite that rose from the wall of the canyons. It was an exquisite sight that made us stand in awe, spellbound by the natural beauty and although dozens of pictures were taken, nothing distinctly defined the heavenliness of the canyon. It truly deserved its common name; God’s Window. The country was indeed not just about wildlife and conservation but the blend between everything found in nature made the country twice as beautiful.
Towards the end of our trip, we mostly drove. We drove every single day under the clouds, followed by thunderous rain or burning heat. We passed roads following rhinos, hills to locate klipspringers, bushes for hyenas, plains for lioness and her cub along the way. There wasn’t just a specific word to describe how every drive went as we all knew we had no clue how the day would turn out to be until we returned back to our camps. Sometimes we saw lots, sometimes we didn’t see a thing. We burned ourselves in the sun and then soaked ourselves in the rain. We felt the wind in our face and the heat in our back. Everyday was the same, we would get up, get ready, have our breakfast and go for a long drive. We would have lunch and drive again and sometimes drove even in the dark. Yet, every drive would give us a new thing to comprehend. It was indeed a unique experience; to find exhilarating thrill even in obvious routine.
As we all sat around enjoying our last night in this divine continent, we shared on what we expected further. Some said the dreadful long flight, some were still admiring the pictures, few had already decided they were coming back to visit this terrain once again. I listened each one talking while thinking of who I was a few weeks ago; shy, scared and resistant to change. The idea to come out of the box was so unachievable for me that I had convinced myself I wouldn’t have a good time. But being in the moment, letting myself enjoy the wilderness and being brave to jump into whatever that came across led me to understand one thing: Change is inevitable. It might take years, months, weeks, days or just a moment, but change is eventually going to happen. What you do with that modification, how you handle it and what you make out of it is what makes the change an important aspect in your life. I accepted the challenge of change and I evolved not into a completely different human being, but a better one. That night, when I laid on my bed, just before I fell asleep, I prayed to be the better version of this change, each day.