I came into this experience feeling confident; I have visited the Djuma Research Camp before, spent a fair amount of time in the Sabi Sands and I’m comfortable and happy in the bush. I was also familiar with Hoedspruit, which proved highly useful when one of the newer crew members came to pick me up and needed help to do one of the infamous ‘town trips’. Safe to say I had underestimated how much I still had to learn! Proud and excited, the two of us smartly plonked our purchases onto the main table when we got back to camp. Much to the dismay of the crew, we discovered that we had not done as well as we thought. A few personal items bought by us were found to be less than adequate in quantity, which caused great discontent. We had also spilt most of the petrol out of one of the jerry cans. All-in-all, not the best first impression! Although I think this was quickly mended when I whipped out the bottle of juniper juice that I had brought along with me.
Aside from pre-purchasing a month’s supply of “apple juice”, how does one prepare for such an incredible and unique opportunity? My compact ‘Packing List’ should tell you just how out of my depth I was: Stopitch, Peaceful Sleep, and a fan. Yes, I did bring my own fan, and no, I do not regret it. I was shown to my new home, which I happily share with one other human and what sounds like 20 squirrels. This humble abode is the beloved Wendy house; she is made entirely of wood and seems to be the storage unit for all of the Kruger’s hot air. Luckily the Final Control (FC) team has me busy and out of my room for most of the day and I collapse gratefully into the warm hug of the Wendy, falling asleep instantly each night. This positivity, however, would be absent if you asked me immediately after my 4am alarm. This early wake up call is as bad as it sounds. On my first week here, I overslept, and I found myself at 4:40 in the morning in a full-blown sprint to FC, coming in 10 minutes late without my morning coffee or my dignity. Fortunately for me, everybody is friendly and forgiving and most of my blunders have been mercifully swept under the rug.
This is a brief glimpse of the crew getting ready for drive. I love the moments before drive as the camp has a burst of energy and everybody pulls together to make sure things are running smoothly, we are also usually treated to a lovely performance of Steve singing.
While this early wake up and manic schedule may seem totally unachievable, I am adapting quite quickly. I am no stranger to pre-dawn rising – I have spent many early mornings at university last-minute cramming before tests and exams. I have just completed my last set of
exams for my undergraduate degree, which kept me very busy for the last few weeks. I am being taught how to D2, which means that I’m training to be the assistant director of the live daily shows. I have very little experience in live TV production, so it has been like learning a whole new language. Not only am I learning a new and intricate technical skill, but I am also learning so much more about the bush.
I have been a bush lover all my life, and am a little too familiar with the laidback lifestyle of the African wilderness. Despite this familiarity, my confidence in my knowledge of the wild was very quickly put in check when I met all of the amazing presenters and nature enthusiasts at Djuma who really blew me out the water. Speaking of water, I was also thrilled to hear that the diveLIVE presenters, Lauren and Pat, were also at Djuma, as the show had been one of my favourites. Having the teams of both diveLIVE and safariLIVE on hand to pester at all hours means that I have the best of both worlds and a never-ending pool of knowledge and talent to learn from.
I have been teased for getting attached too quickly to people in the camp, which has been to my detriment as it is horrible having to say goodbye to the people who go on leave. In my defence, it is hard not to get attached when you have smiles like these around almost 24/7.
Life at the camp centres around balance. There is an equal amount of play and work, of laughter and seriousness, and of luxurious (the delicious food) and rustic living. Whilst watching the show on one of my afternoons off (FC is the only air-conditioned room), Steve in the Maasai Mara said that one of the most important things to understand about the Natural world is that everything is connected, one thing effects the next in a continuous cycle. I do not need to have completed the whole internship to know that my time at Djuma will have an effect on all aspects of my life; I am so grateful and so honoured to be here and to learn as much as I can.
Words and images by: Charlotte Ross-Stewart