by Thomas Elliott

I’m back in South Africa!

After a month of suffering in the bitter northern-European cold, it is a wonderful feeling to spend entire days sweating in hot and humid Lowveld conditions. My trip home would make for relatively uninteresting reading, but there was one event that I do want to highlight here.

My second week back I travelled to Brussels to the place where I attended middle school. Since then, they have added a high school and expanded into a new building. Being back amongst old friends and finding that our relationships had not really changed was an enlightening experience, but what excited me the most was that I was given the opportunity to speak about my experiences in South Africa, focussing on some of the issues confronting my particlar region .

To the high school students I spoke about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and some of the social factors that drive its prevalence. I talked with the middle schoolers about some of the negative realities that surround Kruger Park. The younger students surprised me with their interest not just in cool pictures of animals but also their engagement with issues of poaching, land claims, and damage-causing animals.

Talking about South Africa in Brussels.

Talking about South Africa in Brussels.

In general the opportunity to talk with old friends about some of my experiences was very helpful in the process of appreciating what I have seen, heard and felt during my gap year.

Anyway, back to reality and a look ahead.

I found myself back in Kruger National Park on the day I arrived back in South Africa. The suddeness of my immersion back in this hot wild place after a month in cold civilization kind of rocked me a little. The next day I came across a pack of the extremely rare African Wild Dog, quite a welcoming party.

My first day back at work was quite special, as well. We were in the field collecting data on our tree harvesting plots when Frank, one of the environmental monitors we work with, spotted a tree he didn’t recognize. Proffesor Twine, my boss and Socio-Ecology professor, didn’t recognize it either. So we took some samples back home with us.

Turns out we discovered an entirely new population of Duiker’s Berry, a species previously only known to exist in Northern KwaZulu-Natal and Southern Mozambique. I won’t pretend that this was in any way thanks to me, but it’s still a cool feeling to have been part of the team that found it.

Looking forward, my next few weeks are going to be occupied by more fieldwork, monitoring and repairing weather stations, analyzing rain data, and most importantly, preparing the logistics for a project that is aiming to provide 18,000 (yes, 18,000) fruit trees to local communities. It’s great to be back =)!