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May 2008: The Essence of the Night Vigil...

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The Essence of the Night Vigil in a Wild Camp

By Zachary Makanya

Zachary is the Kenyan Coordinator of Participatory Ecological Land Use Management, an association of 170 NGOs in 10 eastern and southern African countries. He helped organize the Five-Day Pan-Africa GROW BIOINTENSIVE Workshop and Four-Day Symposium that took place at Manor House Agricultural Centre last August.

This month, I went to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape South Africa to participate in a meeting called by Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN). One of the activities was to take part in a wild trail where the participants went and stayed in the wild for 2 days. In the evening, we camped and slept around a camp fire.

It was a good practice; each member of the team kept a night-watch for about 50 minutes. During this time, the rest of the members would be asleep while the night-watch kept vigil, kept the camp fire burning and watched around – in order to ensure that the rest of the group were safe. After the time for one’s watch was over, the night guard would then wake up the next person in the line, and this went on the whole night. In case of danger, we had a duty to warn others of the impending danger, and while this was not explicit, those awakened may have been expected to react in several ways:

  1. Wake up immediately
  2. Try to understand what kind of danger they faced and what kind of action to take
  3. Once agreed, spring with vigor and zeal to chase away the danger
  4. Keep on the watch

This exercise made and left a deep impression on me. It reminded me of nature and the essence of keeping watch on biodiversity and its environment. Those of us who are passionate about biodiversity and nature are supposed to monitor and keep watch what money-hungry human beings are doing and whether this amounts to destroying the environment. As we go on with our business, we all should have whistles in our lips so that in case we see people destroying nature and the communities’ livelihoods, we immediately blow these whistles and awaken everybody. This is how Africa has been able to resist GMOs and push other imminent dangers away. This is why whistles are being blown about AGRA and AGRO fuels, as we all know that these have been introduced in the guise of addressing the problems of the world.

During my watch, I was gifted to see a leopard. My torch shone on some flashing eyes, and there it was: the spotted one, as we call it in my community. It disappeared behind some bushes. After five minutes or so, I also saw it in another side of the camp, and this time it disappeared into the night. Of course, during the rest of my watch I was very alert.

I was trying to imagine what could have happened had I gone to sleep and not kept the camp fire burning. Obviously, we all would have been in danger. But we all trusted each other, and hence people went to sleep knowing that someone was watching.

In the last day of the camp, I was the last watch, and I was able to see how the night changes into day. I was surprised by how birds and baboons welcome the daylight. Suddenly the birds were singing and the crickets louder. I looked at my fellow human beings – none detected the change to daylight as they were all sleeping, so disconnected from nature that we, unlike other earthly creatures, do not notice the changes in nature.

I have several questions for all the friends of biodiversity and nature. One: do we really keep watch over the biodiversity, nature, and communities, or have we all gone to sleep? The second question is: if we are asleep and others are keeping the watch, do we awaken to their whistle-blowing, or do we turn the other way round and go on sleeping in our comfort zones?  The last question is: shall we now keep on sleeping, or do we join the watchers and whistle-blowers? The choice of what we do, my dear friends, is yours and mine and indeed ours. A quote from Mark Twain may help us remain focused: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream and discover, and be part of the change you want.”




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