Why not go to Central African Republic?

Its 4am and a dark, rainy night in Paihia.  What began as a ‘well why not’ moment – looking after pangolins in Central Africa – is now a looming reality, and face-to-face with my own vulnerability in the dark of the night, I’m wide awake and I’m scared.   My past two weeks have been not only overcommitted but fearful: curiosity, usually uppermost in my day, became  pushed aside by long moments of overwhelming anxiety, about the adventure I’ve set myself. Potential issues of security, health and isolation are flooding my system with adrenalin: its only 3 days until I leave.  My confidence that saw me responding to a volunteer request, a plea for assistance from lodge owners in the Central African Republic, is currently submerged under waves of ‘what if’ fears.  Am I going a step too far this time?

It is as the dawn breaks over the wing, somewhere over the Gulf of Hormuz, 24 hours after leaving New Zealand, that I feel the first glimmers of balance, slowly unfurling through my body.   Absolutely my choice, but that’s the thing. This morning as I look across the calm beauty of a still morning, the flittering dance of giant tropical butterflies backgrounded by the Sangha river, a slow-flowing tributary of the Congo, how could I ever have doubted this would be the right place for me?  And yet, of all my previous volunteer pre-departure, it was this adventure to Sangha Lodge in the heart of the Congo Basin on the southern border of Central African Republic that has been the most challenging, where lack of courage almost overcame my need to discover what I could bring to others and they to me.

Indeed, were it not for certain friends’ extraordinary faith in my capacity for adventure , allied I think with their own vicarious curiosity, that provided the necessary buoyancy to keep me afloat.  As I  gently and carefully  unwrapped my fear, like a piece of delicate ancestral porcelain, and shared it first with one friend and then another and another, I found it treated so carefully and with such respect, that the shame I’d felt of being a person unable to turn down adventure, became transformed by others into an extraordinary treasure, with its own unique value.  Allied with the extraordinary  thoughtfulness of my own close family, my journey moved on forward, and now, here I am!

Where else could I have spent an early morning was spent bottle feeding a duiker (tiny antelope) and sitting with a small pangolin on my arm, while she woke and stretched her 15cm tongue slowly to its full length, readying herself for her day before attending to her breakfast of ants?  I’m so pleased to be here.   I can only thank you collectively but I trust you each know who you are –  I couldn’t have done it without you.

But now, evening is drawing on, and I must draw to a close and find a way to remove the hordes of brilliantly coloured orange butterflies from my bedroom.  I do have a mosquito net over my bed but I’m keen to avoid the mess tonight.  As you will possibly be aware,  its that messy bat habit of discarding the wings and feeding only on the butterfly bodies.  Its easier to shift the butterflies than chase a bat in the dark. Obviously……pangolin small image



    • You’d love it here! Its quirky, unpredictable, edgy and stunningly beautiful… and thankfully the staff are tolerant of my rather slow and cumbersome French, despite the fact that some of them speak 8 languages…


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