EHRA – Building Week

So, after all those “on my way to the elephants” and “on my way home again from the elephants” posts, here is the first post to tell you how I actually spent my vacation – working for two weeks as a volunteer for the EHRA (Elephant Human Relations Aid) project in Damaraland, Namibia.

The volunteers work in two week cycles – the first week is building week, and the second week is spent on patrol (more about that in a later post). Normally speaking, the building week is spent on location at one of the Damaraland communities, and the time is spent building a stone wall to protect windmills or water pumps from the elephants, who have a tendency to knock things down in their search for water.

Originally, it was planned that we should complete a wall for which the foundation had already been created. However, due to a lack of water (this is the rainy season, but no rain had yet arrived), it wasn’t possible to mix the cement, so wall building had to be put on hold.

Instead, we were put to work on a different task – building a 3 fences at EHRA Base Camp, which has also been suffering from elephant visitors.

We gathered logs from dead trees in the surrounding area – a tough task given that the wood we used was extremely hard, and didn’t much like to be sawn through, loaded them up in the landcruiser and brought them back to camp. As well as being hard, the logs were very heavy, and we needed all the strong guys we could find to help carry them.

We painted the bottom of the logs with diesel, to protect them from termites, planted them about 3 feet deep and stabilized them with rocks, sand and water, which we beat down with a “stomper” (i.e. a heavy lump of metal on the end of a stick). By the end of the week, the stomper was feeling the strain, and about half of its stomping end was stomped away. The photo shows me having a go at stomping – it didn’t last long, it took all my strength just to lift the wretched thing a couple times.

Once we had the main posts in we found smaller logs to build up the fences with, and fastened them together with bolts and wire.

Since we didn’t really want to put our fences to the test, we finished our creation with 6 feet of “elephant cobblestones” (another fun job – gathering rocks) in front of each fence, to dissuade the elephants from approaching the fences and trying to break them down.

The work took us four days, although we had to leave the job unfinished because we ran out of bolts. Of course, we weren’t in an area where you can just nip down to the local hardware shop, so everytime something broke (we broke a few tools along the way, that wood is seriously hard!) we had to find an alternate solution or fix it ourselves.

Recent EHRA tradition has been assigning a name for each group of volunteers – our group earned itself the name “The injury group” for reasons which are pretty obvious. My own personal contribution to these injuries included the stomper falling on my foot, right across the toes, and two days later, the side of the LandCruiser falling on both feet – hitting my toes for the second time. Ouch, and ouch again! We also had a couple head meets log incidents…

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