To start with, field o’clock is determined by the time the earliest meerkat group rises, which at the moment means being in the cars, on the roads, or in the dunes by 6am – or more precisely, it means getting up when my mood is as dark as the sky, gulping coffee, and forgetting at least one piece of kit as I head out. Data collection for the morning means mindlessly traipsing after individual female meerkats for half an hour at a time, recording every behaviour. So much for the glamourous PhD life – there’s a lot of moving, and a lot of scrabbling, and needless to say this is not a torrent of emotion.By the time we return to the farmhouse, the heat is stern and heavy, and we entertain ourselves in and around it until it’s time for our evening session.
Mostly out of boredom I have joined a group of girls who work out in the late morning. Amanda brought with her a set of DVDs that promise to get us “ripped in 90 days”, and so I find myself every day at around 11:30 almost certainly ripping something, if not at least my dignity, to shreds.
“I know you’re strong!” says the impossibly tanned and unsweaty trainer.
“Screw you,” we chorus through gritted teeth as we jump lunge and sumo squat.
“Look at Sally! Sally has perfect form!”
To a man we hate Sally, her perfect form, and her rock-hard abs. We’ve sworn a sisterly oath to cease rippage just before we lose our tits and become boring girls like Sally. So far I don’t think we’re in any danger.
At the moment my other free hours are further eaten up by a more cerebral exercise – revising a manuscript according to comments I received back a couple of weeks ago. I can’t be the first person to blog about the angst of manuscript revisions, so I’ll just say this – my reviewer was THOROUGH, and I swing between extreme gratefulness that someone took so much time to make comments that will improve my paper immensely, and blood-chilling horror every time I turn a page and find yet another comment requiring yet another analysis. Guh. Publication and glory surely to follow.
Now that the days are so long, and the heat so constraining, midday walks or outdoor activities are replaced by napping. A two hour nap every day and I am living the dream. Desert-induced heat dreams are revealing. I dream about babies. I dream about sandy nipples. (I should specify that I dream exclusively about meerkats.)
But during the day, I daydream about autumn in the UK. October is my favourite month. On Jesus Green the leaves will be starting to fall on the banks of the Cam, and when morning temperatures here soar above 30 degrees I daydream of my old walk to work across Lammas Land, gentle British cows emerging from the frosty mist that bear little resemblance to the heavy-headed eland I meet on my way to the farmhouse.
But for now Kalahari it is, and Kalahari it must be. This special place is wearying, but the moments of beauty I always refer to are now common, thanks to these little guys. Their delicacy is touching, and inspiring. What clever evolution, to make such survivors in a place like this.