The black asphalt divided into two by white stripes leads the way for us. The flat road cuts like a black scar through the vast yellow surroundings. Inside the van ten people sit from all over the world. The United States, Germany, Canada, England, France, and Israel. A true UN summit meeting – but we don’t have world hunger or the Israel/Palestinian conflict on our minds.
We all share one passion: to get as close as possible to the animals we have only dreamed of seeing, the animals you only get to experience on television or by reading National Geographic. To feed them, to clean them, to care for them – whatever they need.
Our van is but a small insect crawling along a long black tongue, smooth and endless, jetting into the vast wilderness of Namibia. Not a cloud in the sky. Hot, pleasant air with not a hint of humidity. Desert. Happiness.
Every volunteer is able to take their sleeping bags and warmest clothes to sleep at night in the cages with the animals – meerkats, monkeys, even lions. Whoever is willing to give up the comforts of the cabins get to sleep alongside these incredible animals under the vast sky littered with more stars than you’ve ever seen.
After a week of sleeping outside with the cheetah I decided to take a night off for the comfort of the cabin and a real bed. The irony is that I tossed and turned all night long, so the next night I returned to the outdoors. I took two of the mattresses volunteers use to sleep on outside and brought them both into the cheetah enclosure along with a borrowed sleeping bag. I set up camp under his big tree away from the thorny bushes on a flat sandy area. I arranged us a double bed and within a few seconds the cheetah had jumped on and curled up leaving me just a small sliver of mattress to sleep on. I got in my sleeping bag and tried to nudge the cat over to make room for myself. I lay with my head on his soft chest listening to his heartbeat and thought ’everything is perfect’.
I fell asleep to the cat under me purring like a lawnmower and to the roaring of lions in the distance.