My husband and I had an agreement, if he was going to volunteer in Iraq, I was going to volunteer in South Africa. Not exactly an equal trade, but it was fair.
I spent 6 weeks camping, literally a sleeping bag and two person tent which I did in fact share with another person, in the heart of a wildlife research preserve in South Africa. There were 12 of us on the team and we were 3-hours from the nearest town. We had a satellite phone, 2 jeeps, a van, 2 outhouses, and a kitchen-type area where everything had to be locked closed at all times to keep the monkeys from raiding it. The camp site was surrounded by an electrified elephant fence to keep us from being trampled in our tents. Trees were kept trimmed but you were still forbidden from walking near the fence line at night because a leopard could make that jump. We had rain wells to supply us with water and solar panels for electric, but only during the day as there was no battery system to store the power through the night.
Seven days a week we would wake up at 5am and inspect the jeeps, test the telemetry equipment, eat breakfast, drink instant coffee, pack a lunch, and head out on our assigned portion of the preserve to start tracking and recording data. We did this for 10 hours a day before returning to camp.
10 of the 12 people went in the field every day in 5-man teams each in 1 jeep, the other 2 were assigned to camp duties. One had a cooking duty; preparing breakfast and dinner for that day and prepping lunches for the next. The other person had camp cleaning duties; cutting firewood, chasing off monkeys that tried to steal things, getting the boilers ready to create hot water for showers when the field team returned. Everyone rotated duties.
I enjoyed the field days, I loved the cooking day, and I hated the duty day….and everyone loved my cooking so it was real easy to trade my duty day for a second cooking day every single time that came up on my schedule.
We had to ration our food supplies and plan the meals out well in advance, because remember, town was 3-hours away and we didn’t have spare people. Every 12 days, we all took a day off to wash clothes, relax, and make a run to town.
This preserve wasn’t like the tourist safaris that are the popular eco-attractions in other parts of Africa. This was a research area, left natural, aka feral. Because the camp was in the center of the preserve, the first hour of the drive was actually just to get to the exterior fence, which meant we still had to watch for the wildlife that for all intense and purposes, always seemed to be trying to kill us. Not really, but kind of really. Imagine Jurassic Park but with elephants and lions instead of T-rexs and velociraptors. The animals only saw our jeeps and the occasional biologist or veterinarian. And they didn’t like any of us.
Elephants in particular did not like us. We quickly learned what it meant to be on Ellie-time. If an elephant decided to step out into the road in front of our vehicle, well, you just have to stop and wait for the elephant to decide to let you pass. Sometimes this took all of 3 minutes, usually if it was a female group hustling their kids to cross the path quickly, and other times it took hours. Yes, hours.
The picture I included in this post is of a young bull who put us on Ellie-time for 3 hours. He was in musk, which essentially means his testosterone was raging, and he didn’t want us to move. We couldn’t go forward, and even trying to go backwards set him off. He kept throwing dust up into the air and flapping his ears into it to create his very own dust storm. Much like the police or the army using gas to obscure their movements when they need to storm into a building or a crowd, that’s what this elephant was doing. He’d create his dust storm and he’d be a few feet closer to us when we could see again.
A 3-hour delay when you already have a 3-hour journey, each way, to get supplies, is quite frankly, annoying. But that’s Ellie-time.
It meant we didn’t have the luxury of doing anything extra on this particular supply run and we had to just hit the market and the gas station for the absolute essentials so we could get back to camp before dark, of course allowing enough extra time in case yet another elephant stopped us on the way back.
The meals that followed that trip had to strictly follow the plan since we didn’t have anything extra to supplement with. Not having extra supplies never deterred me though. I like to calculate things and look for loopholes. There was slightly more flour then we needed, lemons we hadn’t used the week prior, and if I reduced the amount of butter used for morning toast by just a little each day, I’d conserve enough to make something delightful. Okay, so I had to hide a stick of butter to make sure the other 11 people didn’t use it before my next cooking day, but I offered up my own personal stash of Nutella in replacement and that went over well.
On my cooking day, I decided to bake rolls. One of my all time favorite bread recipes that is dripping in butter and has a delightful lemon fragrance but adapted for the camp stove and the ingredients on hand. When the field team came back in that day, they could smell the extra treat. I only had enough supplies to produce one small roll per person, but there was instantly a request to make more. On the following supply runs, we made sure to get some extra bread making ingredients to keep on hand and I made these rolls twice a week on my cooking rotation for the remainder of my time at camp.
- 8 cups of flour
- 2.5 cups of warm water
- 3 packets of yeast, or aprox 1 oz
- 2 tbls sugar
- 1 tbl salt
- 1 stick of soft butter
- Lemon zest from 2 lemons
- Pile the flour onto a clean surface and make a well in the center.
- Pour half the water and all of the yeast, sugar, and salt into the center. Gently start to mix in the flour, dusting your hands with the dry flour on the outside and adding more water to the center until all the flour is incorporated into smooth dough.
- Knead the dough for 4-5 minutes, cover with a moist towel and let rise in a warm area for 30-60 minutes until it is double in size.
- Punch the dough down and turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 30 seconds.
- Tear off handfuls to make your rolls. With each roll, punch down into a disk and quickly cut 4 times around the edges, leaving the center intact.
- Sprinkle a pinch of the lemon zest into the center and smear soft butter onto the 4 cuts, then fold them over each other into the center. Repeat for each roll.
- Place rolls on a baking sheet greased with butter and cover with a moist towel and again let rise in a warm area for 30 mins.
- Heat oven to 350 and bake rolls for 18-20 mins until just golden brown on top. Serve warm.
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I loved reading this post. What a unique experience!
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