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My Gap Year

I guess I always knew that I was going to take a GAP Year. When I was younger I watched both of my big sisters as they went off on their intrepid adventures, leaving us all at home desperately waiting for news as to how they were and, more to the point, where they were. So then, when it came to the point where all my friendswere looking at university courses and dealing with the inevitable stress of that, I was spending hours on the internet trying to plan a GAP Year.

Maybe it was because I was fed up with school but, before the Christmas ofUpper 6, I had already planned the majority of my year. My parents had always said that when planning my GAP Year I had to remember that firstly it was not a GAP Year but more like a GAP 18 months because you have both summers to think about. They also made it quite clear that I had to have some sort of structure to the year; I should gain some sort of qualification, make some money and do something worthwhile that wasn’t just bumming around on a load of beaches.

So what did I actually do? Well, in the summer after I had left school, my sister and I stayed in Italy after our family holiday and spent a while traveling around it. When people found out that we were traveling together, they looked surprised, as if the idea of two sisters putting up with each other for so long was an insane thought, but it worked really well and we saw so much and had a really amazing time. We kept to a ridiculously tight budget which at times meant we only ate a hunk of cheese and a nectarine between us for lunch. But despite this rather slimming aspect of our travels, Italy really taught me the value of sticking to a daily budget.

So then after that I did a Business and Media course in Oxford for a term. This was a lot of fun. I was living in a house with 5 other girls, which at first horrified meas it seemed far too close to the experience of living with goodness knows how manygirls at boarding school as I had done for the previous 7 years! Needless to say I had aball and made some of the best friends ever in that house. It also taught me how to becompletely independent, I learnt to handle my finances so that I could both eat and have fun – a delicate balance to perfect I discovered. But of course, let’s not forget themain reason I was there, I also gained valuable computer skills that have enhanced myCV considerably.

On January 5th I embarked upon what was the real challenge and main bulk ofmy GAP Year. I left for Tanzania, with the conservation organisation Frontier, to do Savannah conservation in the very remote area of the Kilembero Valley. Frontier wasa group that I had found on the internet. They had appealed to me as they were one ofthe few organisations that I had come across that were offering experiences longerthan 3 months.

So for 3 months I lived on a camp with 16 other volunteers, whilst we surveyed the flood plains ofthe valley and counted the various animals thatlived there: puku, diker, hippos and buffalo toname just a few; we chased baboons and ran afterbutterflies with sweep nets. We battled with malaria, the monkeys that haunted our camp and the beginning of the very rainy, rainy season.

By the end of the 3 months I had managed to persuade a few of the others tostay on and travel for a bit. So we made our way back up to Dar es Salaam and began some self-determined travel of our own. This included one of my most memorabletrips of all to the spice island of Zanzibar, such a colourful and friendly island, full ofinteresting experiences at every turn of a corner.

Next I was off to Madagascar. Getting there was an experience in itself because I had to fly from Dar es Salaam, to Nairobi in Kenya, in order to get to Antananarivo in the centre of Madagascar before flying up to Diego Suarez in the North of the country so that I could meet up with the people from my next project. Despite initial worries I succeeded in getting there in one piece with all of my luggage.

Subsequently, I began my next project with Frontier. This time it was coral reef conservation and it involved living on a beach for 3 months, which meant I had finally found a loophole in my parent’s specifications of a gap year. I was definitely doing something worthwhile asthe bay of Diego had never been dived in before and as, like the rest of Madagascar, the seas of this fabulous ecological hotspot are just as rich in biodiversity.

Whilst I was there, we managed to finish the surveying of 100% of the coastline in thebay where the most amazing corals and fish have been found. This work has enabled the slow process of setting up a marine park in the bay to begin. A marine park willensure the protection of the reefs there, especially as the tourist industry in Madagascar is beginning to grow and management of the bay is desperately startingto be needed.

After we finished the project I spent a few weeks traveling around the North of Madagascar until it was time for me to fly to Kenya where I waited for my best friend from school to fly out and join me. Once she arrived we had a month in which we managed to pack in a lot. We drove up to Nukuru and went to the National Park there. Nukuru is a massive lake that is famous for being home to hundreds of thousands of flamingos. In fact, looking over and just seeing a strip of blue under a strip of vivid pink that goes on for miles and miles in the haze of the heat was another of my top experiences of the last 7 months.

After returning to Nairobi we took the night train down to Mombassa whichwas also exceptionally exciting. It was genuinely a very bizarre experience and muchlike being in an Agatha Christie movie, especially, when we were called to the diningcarriage for supper. We walked in to find the tables set on a crisp, white linen tablecloth for a 4 course meal, with this ridiculous Kenyan Railways silver that Icannot believe has not been stolen by people like me, wanting to take home a souvenirof this peculiar episode of their travels.

After getting to the coast we spent a while traveling through such places as Milindi and more up to Lamu. Lamu was so gorgeous that we ended up staying longerthan planned; the opportunity of a going on a donkey was too great to pass up!

However, before we knew it, our month was up and it was soon time to fly home. So I did and now I have been home a week, long enough to reflect and long enough to decide where my next adventure will be….I’m thinking India but who knows. Going away and seeing such amazing things has made me realise that I can’t possibly spend my life in one country. I think it has also made me a much more patient person, or at least I hope so. ‘Pole Pole’ as they say in Swahili or even ‘Mora Mora’ from Madagascar. These are both sayings that mean ‘slowly slowly’ a concept that is applied to life as a whole in Africa and enables one to appreciate other people’s values and ways of life.

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Quotes

India has played a large part in my life over the last 18 months. Whether it is simply sharing a joke with my housemate about Indian postal service experiences, or admiring the country’s geographical and cultural diversity while looking over photos…. rarely will there be a day where its nagging, probing, and ultimately perplexing spirit doesn’t wheedle its way into my thoughts.

Robin Baddley, University of Sheffield, 2006

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