It’s morning at the camp. The marmalade orb they call the sun is clinging to the horizon, appearing dreary eyed from behind the haze, as if it hasn’t quite made up it’s mind. Should I go up, or come back down? In this case, it’s the mind of an ancient continent – the keeper of a dream as old as time, and as young as a child’s smile. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but today is like a billion others. The African sun appears in life as it does in photos – large, orange, perfectly round, tranquil, fiery, close and distant – teasing from its perch. Ha!, it says. A rooster, or several, perform their annoying call. I used to like rooster, but now I find them pedestrian. Please. They are chicken. They’re whats for dinner. Far more interesting are the chorus of every other avian species here, and, if you’re lucky, the baboon. They’re hungry too.
At 6 AM the camp is alive with the arrival of the grounds crew, the kitchen staff, the construction team and the gardeners. Work needs to start early to avoid the heat which is only now kicking into season, although mornings are still chilly, and even as I write I am wearing long pants and two shirts, but these will soon be shed. By 1 PM it will be a pressure cooker, and an apt description that is. Heat pushes. It’s heavy. It peels your garnets and pushes you into the cool of stone-walled cabins. All the construction here is all stone with concrete floors and thatched roofs. Birds, wasps, and sometimes lemurs live in these roofs. My cabin wasn’t that fortunate. No mammals besides me, that I know of.
The building materials are sourced from within the immediate area: the stones, the grass, and the mortar. And by immediate, I mean yards. A beautifully designed cafeteria is being built in front of me and the stones that make it’s thick walls are carried by wheel barrel from their grounded home, just behind the eastern face. Many of the men who make the construction team are married and their wives comb the grass for the thatched roofs. Rocks for men. Grass for women. There is a large thatch preparation area just down the hill where the grass is dried and bound into long bundles. These will provide insulation and repel the elements – a construction method as old as habitation. It will out live modernity.
The ground keepers’ first job is to water and rake, no doubt, like their brethren at so many other campuses around the world. Here, though, they wet just about every surface to wash off the profuse dust from the previous day. Dust is a constant here, at least during the dry season, and showers are done in the evening to rid the desert from one’s skin, finger nails, and hair, so as not to carry the fine suite of geologic weathering into crisp sheets, that wait each night under the drape of mosquito netting, for your baptized and exhausted body.
The cook’s first job is prepare breakfast, or, excuse me, I mean tea. This is how life begins.