Fieldwork is about how well you can adapt. If you can’t adapt, can’t make plans on the fly, have no creativity and a quick temper you’ll never make it in fieldwork. And that is because fieldwork is never what you expect it to be. Even if you already know your field site well anything can happen out in the field and you always have to be on your toes. An example, you ask? Well the perfect one happened on base a mere few days ago.
With some of the newly arrived volunteers gone for a day in town, Brie, a GVI staff member, and I were changing a gas bottle for the fridges. We requested some of the older volunteers to take the empty gas tank over to the garage and bring a new one over. A few minutes later we hear one of them shout “Yo…. Fire!” (to give him a little credit, he did have a slight panic in his voice). Looking over towards the generator we saw high flames pouring out of the window. Now, I also understand that people exaggerate. Especially people who want a good story. I definitely have been known to do this before. However, in this instance, no exaggeration is needed. Flames were pouring out the window. Now, unless you are a trained fire fighter, nothing really prepares you for that moment, aka, what the HELL are you going to do with high flames pouring out of the generator room, which is full of diesel and oil covering the floors? In an act of pure stupidity or bravery (I like to think the latter, but I know it was the former), I quickly grabbed the nearest fire extinguisher and ran straight into the generator room. Having spent hours of my childhood staring at fire extinguishers dreaming of yanking out the pin and spraying the extinguisher fumes everywhere just for the hell of it, I knew the general idea of what I needed to do, even if I never had needed to actually use one (I strongly urge for all of you to look at your own fire extinguisher and do the same, it does make a difference if you’re in an emergency). Keeping the volunteers at a safe distance away from the flames and building, we used 7 entire fire extinguishers to kill the fire. That’s right, 7. If you still thought I was exaggerating about how big the flames were, now you know.
So after that whole saga you would think that everyone would be done for the day. Or at least the vehicles and machinery would give us a break. Unfortunately, not to be out done by the generator, on of the bakkies on drive started smoking and burnt the battery wire. With minimal staff on base, and minimal functioning vehicles, Melanie and I delivered a new bakkie for Brie to continue on her drive while we waited with the broken/burnt bakkie for another vehicle to tow us back. By the time we have gotten the bakkie out of the dip and towing back to base the sun was setting. It’s frustrating when you get pushed back an entire day just because of things no one can control, however that sunset, like every sunset in Africa, just makes it completely worth it. And I think that is what I love most about fieldwork and being out in the bush. Every day is completely unexpected. You don’t know where the animals are going to move, you don’t know how they are going to react, you don’t know if your vehicle will get stuck or not… and you don’t know if your generator will explode randomly. But that’s good. It keeps you on your toes and forces you to constantly make plan A’s, B’s, C’s etc. A skillset that everyone should have.
And lets be honest, no one would love fieldwork if it was boring…
(photos are of the presumed source of where the fire started, the seven fire extinguishers we used, and the aftermath of the generator room after being sprayed by fire retardant chemicals!)
—Kaggie Orrick, Masters candidiate, posted from South Africa