Monty's Year at Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, Namibia

Archive for August, 2010

Station Tour

Gobabeb was founded in 1962 by an Austrian entomologist interested the incredible beetles found here, most of which belong to the Tenebrionidae family.  As time went on, Gobabeb grew to accommodate biologists, geologists, and anthropologists.  When Namibia gained independence in 1990, the station expanded it’s role from that of strictly a research institution to one of teaching and learning as well.  Last year over a thousand students visited the station, and efforts continue to expand our environmental education impact across the country.

I live in building situated on “Luxury Hill.”  As the name suggests, my accommodations are nicer than the trailers where interns live.  The view from the front porch…

Garden under the porch, dunes to the south, gravel plain all around.

Kitchen facilities, a communal dining and living room, as well as a T.V. are found in “Old House.”  After work, myself and the other staff usually cook dinner to the sounds of the Namibian hit artists like Tate Buti or the horribly dubbed English of a Brazilian soap opera entitled “Shades of Sin.”

(Left to right) Old House, Intern Trailers, Luxury Hill (where I live).

The Main Station has offices, research labs, the library, storage facilities, a workshop, a petrol pump, and our all-important server tower.  Beyond Main Station are more staff accommodations, guest lodging, a swimming pool, and the river-bed camping spot that visiting school (and safari) groups use.

Looking west over Main Station, the swimming pool / basketball court, and guest accomodations

Water is pumped up from the Kuiseb River aquifer into the 20 meter tall water tower.  The depth of this aquifer varies greatly from year to year, depending on how strong the floods are.  The water tower can be seen from many miles away, and is the symbol of Gobabeb.

Power to the station is supplied via a hybrid solar-diesel system.  About 75% of the energy is generated using our 370 solar panels, but sometimes a back-up generator is needed for foggy mornings.  We are almost 50 miles from the nearest access point to the main power grid.

Battery room where solar energy is stored. It is air-conditioned (the only room at the station) to ensure they don't overheat.

A solar panel array near the villas (i.e. where the station director lives). The petrol pump can be seen in the foreground.

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1 Month

When I first came to Gobabeb, I couldn’t decide if I had been transplanted to the Moon or Mars.  I definitely wasn’t on earth.  The statistics didn’t make sense.  Ground temperatures on the dunes routinely fluctuate over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a single day.  The solar radiation here is 300 x more powerful than necessary to bake away the 1 inch of rain that falls per year.  Indeed, the conditions are so extreme here that NASA comes to Gobabeb to study how life might survive on other planets (no joke).

Yet, after almost a month, I’m feeling very much at home.  While the creatures that thrive here are inspiring in their tenacity and evolutionary creativity, my own existence feels idyllic.  New friends, frequent adventures, and constant stimulation with work duties keep me happy in a very fulfilling way.  Somehow the pulse of nature just feels stronger here.  And I think that’s awesome, sand grains etching into my corneas and all.

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Braai

(braɪ) noun, Afrikaans.  A meal in which meat and other food is cooked over an open fire outside.

We’re cutting across the gravel plain moonscape in an open bed of a bakkie.  To the west, muted oranges and purples emanate skyward from an absent sun.  Behind, dust clouds follow the truck, veiling the inky blue-black sky.  My companion stares through me, her eyes sweating tears.  I cover them gently with the palm of my hand while her moon-lit hair whisks amid eddies of chill air.

She, our new goat, is lying at my side, shackled at the ankles with twine.  Frequently testing her situation, she convulses.  Occasionally she curls her tongue through a loop in my shoelaces, pathetically pulling for a snack, a hold.  All around her face, pools of sand buzz to the metallic reverberations of a rutted road.  One bump sends her bloated ribcage skywards only to be slammed harshly down instantly.

Some time later we arrive at Tsababis, a collection of houses the Topnaar staff and their families call home.  Just far enough from the main research facilities of Gobabeb to have a name unto itself, it exists, apart, perhaps as originally designed.  A dirt area between the cinder block houses forms a small courtyard where we park.  Excited shouts of young children pierce the air.  They know what comes next.

In a single coordinated motion one of the men drags the bleating animal from the back of the vehicle and onto a raised cement slab.  The head is left hanging off the edge, exposing the neck.  Bathed in yellow light from a nearby porch, the carotid artery swells rhythmically.  A careful positioning over a plastic bucket, and the punch-swipe of a blade ends everything.  A dog warily cleans up the warm liquid.

Although none of it would not have been possible without the supervision of a toddler council, adults remove the hide, pull out the guts, drain the blood, and distribute the cuts to various stakeholders.  Myself and a few other station staff, as the financial backers of the operation, claim the choice meat and the liver.  The warm skin, too.  You never do know when you might need a goat skin rug.  We leave the head and innards for more appreciative recipients.

All are invited to a braai, to be held in one weeks time.

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