In early February we joined the annual vinterferie (winter holiday) exodus from Kastrup in search of some much needed sunshine. Wanting to try something other than a beach, we (perhaps naively) signed up for a volunteer project in South Africa on a nature reserve for the rehabilitation of orphaned primates.
With hindsight this was rather a bold move. At the time though, it seemed like a great idea – the kids were electrified by the idea of caring for baby monkeys, and we liked the idea of doing something good for Mother Nature in a different cultural environment …
The reality of the trip was like a slap around the face. Getting both kids up in the morning to start work at 6.30 am wasn’t easy, especially after tropical storms that lasted all night. Scrubbing out dirty enclosures in the 40-degree heat was pretty tough work.
You had to get used to going everywhere in pairs in case anything untoward should happen. The baby monkeys were cute, but when an adult baboon on heat escapes from the enclosure you need to be careful. There were also snakes – one day a Mozambique Spitting Mamba managed to imprison a homesick teenager from Watford in her hut until we heard her screaming for help. And there were hippos and crocodiles in the river 200 metres from where we slept.
New sides of yourself
It was an intense experience – and if we had known quite how intense we might not have gone. Having done it though, we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was remarkably enjoyable working together all day, eating a communal meal in the evening, and then collapsing into bed utterly exhausted.
The kids didn’t ask about iPads or TV once for the whole two weeks we were there. We certainly didn’t think about work. We also got an in-your-face view of some of the realities of life in post-apartheid Africa.
It wasn’t easy, but it really did show how valuable it can be to remove yourself completely from your everyday experience and find sides to yourself you didn’t know were there.
And the baby monkeys were, indeed, very very cute.
Daniel is the managing director of Nordeq Management (nordeqmanagement.com), managing cross-border investment projects with a focus on international corporate and tax law issues. Educated as a lawyer, Daniel is passionate about mindfulness as a means of personal transformation, and he holds workshops and runs one-on-one mentoring programs on the subject (deepening-connection.com).