Why am I dreaming of a life in Africa when I have everything I could possibly dream of here in the Netherlands or in Norway? Why would I even consider giving up all the luxuries we enjoy in these ‘wealthy’ countries? What’s driving this desire to move so far away from my family and friends, and why do I yearn to start anew in a foreign land that’s miles away from home?
This longing for a life in Africa wasn’t always a part of me. As a child, my dreams never ventured beyond the realm of a typical holiday. I grew up with a father who embarked on a three-week trip each year, and it’s clear where I inherited my love for travel. However, little did anyone know that my yearning to explore the world went far beyond the desire for extended vacations. In my early years, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answers were quite conventional. I aspired to be a mother, a teacher, a midwife, and at one point, I even entertained the idea of becoming a clown.
As high school came around, my certainty about my future started to waver. None of my previous aspirations seemed as appealing anymore. I had a fondness for sports and briefly considered pursuing a career as a personal trainer, but even that vision didn’t quite fit. Feeling uncertain about my career path and craving some time away before diving into college, I ultimately made the decision to take a gap year to experience the dreaming of life in Africa.
Madagascar, the start of my dream
My gap year journey began in July 2014. During the first five months, I primarily focused on working and diligently saving every penny I earned for a single purpose: venturing abroad to engage in volunteer work. My heart was set on Madagascar. Where I aimed to participate in the ‘pioneer project’ facilitated by SEED in the southeastern region of the country. At that time, I hadn’t yet realized my passion for nature conservation. I was merely someone who relished spending time in the great outdoors. On the 5th of January 2015, I embarked on my journey to Madagascar. A solo expedition at the tender age of 18.
My stay in Madagascar extended over a period of 10 weeks, during which I engaged in a wide array of activities. In the initial stages, we dedicated ourselves to constructing a school in Mahatalaky. This was no ordinary construction project, quite different from what one might expect back home. We mixed concrete by hand and then transported it into the building to pour the floors. The walls received a coating of chalk mix, and with each layer, they grew progressively whiter.
In Sainte Luce, we set about building a shed for a stitching business affiliated with the organization. This shed was constructed using locally sourced materials like wood and reed, foregoing the use of concrete. We relied on simple tools, and my personal favourite was the hand drill. Through sheer determination and the collective efforts of many hands, we managed to complete the shed in just 1.5 weeks, making it ready for use
The tropical rainforest
Apart from the construction project, I had the privilege of immersing myself in the lush rainforest through various research initiatives. My inaugural encounter with wildlife in the rainforest was rather unexpected—a colossal rat making its ascent up a tree, certainly not what I had envisioned. Fortunately, this unusual sighting was an anomaly, as the subsequent encounters with wildlife were infinitely more captivating.
Our quest often led us in search of lemurs, an adventure that proved to be much more demanding than one might anticipate. The rainy season had transformed vast swathes of land into waterlogged expanses. Forcing us to navigate numerous creeks and sizable puddles in our pursuit of these elusive creatures. The nighttime excursions added an extra layer of adventure, as we groped through the darkness, our path illuminated only by the faint glow of our flashlights. Holding sticks in front of us became a necessity to clear away spiderwebs that appeared mysteriously in our path. And let’s not forget the days when our mission was to locate geckos and lizards in the midst of pouring rain, a challenging endeavour indeed.
Even the days spent at our camp were nothing short of extraordinary. Lemurs leapt among the trees above our tents, and chameleons gracefully navigated their way through the foliage. The sheer elation of enjoying a lukewarm shower, meticulously timed after placing our buckets of water in a strategic spot to bask in the sun all day, was a simple yet sublime pleasure. Or the sheer relief of the first day of sunshine after enduring days of relentless rain. When we could finally dry our soaked clothes and bask in the warmth of the sun.
Travelling in Madagascar
Amidst our demanding work schedule, we also cherished our free Sundays. Which offered a delightful respite and a plethora of entertaining activities. However, the journeys between Fort Dauphin, Mahatalaky, and Sainte Luce were often teeming with adventures of their own. Our trusty truck had a knack for getting ensnared in deep mud and breaking down more frequently than you could imagine. I lost count of the times we all had to disembark from the vehicle to lighten the load. Ensuring it had the best chance of ascending the steep hills, traversing the waterlogged terrain, or crossing rickety-looking bridges.
We adopted two distinct strategies when it came to navigating the puddles, alternating between them depending on our success. There was the ‘go as fast as we can’ approach, which often proved effective—until we encountered a puddle deeper than anticipated, subjecting us all to an unexpected drenching. In such instances, we promptly switched to the ‘slow and steady’ method, until the driver decided it was time to revert to the faster strategy once more. Oh, and did I mention that the steering wheel was a makeshift affair, tightly secured to the steering column with a piece of string?
In addition to our nimble puddle-crossing strategies, we faced the formidable challenge of our engine frequently overheating during our adventurous road trips. As we approached water crossings, the telltale signs of an overheating engine would emerge, prompting us to pause and spring into action. With a sense of camaraderie, we’d grab a jerry can filled with river water, and the driver would cautiously pop the hood to reveal the steaming engine. Pouring river water into the coolant became our unconventional yet necessary solution to cool it down and avoid potential breakdowns. This impromptu pit stop became a familiar part of our journey. Highlighting our teamwork and adding an element of unpredictability to our thrilling escapades through challenging terrain. All while our trusty wooden steering wheel remained securely tethered with a piece of string.
The first step towards dreaming of a life in Africa
Those 10 weeks passed in the blink of an eye, and they turned out to be the most rudimentary yet utterly astonishing weeks of my life. Before I could fully comprehend it, I found myself on a plane heading back home. It was during this journey that a new dream began to take root within me. Despite encountering gigantic rats and spiders in the wilds of Madagascar, I had an unwavering conviction. I wanted to forge a career in nature conservation and research. But not just any nature—I yearned to immerse myself in the tropical realms.
My post-trip aspirations led me to take my first significant step: enrolling in my studies. I embarked on a Bachelor’s program in Forest and Nature Conservation, a journey that would span 4.5 years. However, this commitment didn’t mean I spent all that time confined to the Netherlands. Quite the opposite, in fact—I spent approximately half of my bachelor’s years abroad. Actively engaging with the diverse ecosystems and vibrant landscapes of the tropics. Will this experience lead me to a life in Africa?
Want to support my work?
I spend a lot of time keeping this website filled with educational content and keeping updates about what I do to achieve my dream of working and living in Africa. Do you want to support me? You can buy me a coffee or purchase one of my digital prints. All proceeds will go towards my elephant research and the time spent on this website.