Commentary by Rosie Kunneke and Dinielle Stockigt
Operation Desert Seal team members
Growing up in Africa, camping out is part of your childhood. Sleeping in tents in designated camping sites is exciting and being so close to nature makes you realize what is important in life. Namibia’s desert, however, is a tough and unforgiving place. Home to ever-changing sand dunes, which bring winds that can fill your lungs with sand if you don’t cover your mouth with some kind of cloth. Namib Desert means “place of no people” in the local KhoiKhoi language. This was our home for several weeks.
Our home was not the normal camping site either. No, the desert became our basecamp where we would plan our missions, configure our equipment, and keep an eye on the opponent. Our opponent does not want us to expose their brutal seal murdering ways to the world. We will risk it all to stand up and fight for the Seals.
Camping out in the harsh Namibia Desert without being noticed (but still close enough to the target where security levels are very high) is what we on the Operation Desert Seal team would describe as “next level stuff”. Forget all the luxuries you sometimes take for granted such as electricity, running water, toilet facilities, shower, etc.
Waking up in the dark early hours of the morning, your first challenge is to get dressed and brush your teeth while only having a very low level of light (because any light source can be seen miles away in this vast desert). Desert nights are really cold, so you literally put on every piece of warm clothing you have and the equipment that you would need for the morning’s scouting session must already be packed the previous night and placed to be easily found in the dark. The distance to the sentry point is walked in the dark, with only night vision and GPS to guide you which can be scary because you never know if you will encounter a hyena or jackal over the next hill.
By mid-morning you have a total wardrobe change. The sun beats down mercilessly and most days the wind picks up and for the rest of the day sand is trashed in your mouth, ears, eyes, or any part of your body that is exposed. The meals we have are mostly food that can be quickly prepared and usually spiced with some desert sand.
Any task that must be completed can become challenging when fighting against the heat, sand, and wind. Usually UAV’s will be configured and fine-tuned in surgically clean workshops or wind tunnels. Well, we had the wind all right, just not the tunnel part. With Gaffa tape and cardboard boxes to use as tables, the Aviators managed to make it work.
The evening meals are prepared in the last rays of the setting sun in order to ensure that by the time night falls over the desert, we do not have the need to use light sources.
Bitterly cold at night, very hot during the day, wild animals around you, sandstorms, and strong winds, your toilet is a self-dug hole in the sand, a shower is non-existed, water usage kept to minimum levels and whatever you do or wherever you move, the environment must be minimally impacted. That is life camping out in the Namib desert. However uncomfortable it can be, nothing compared to what those beautiful Cape Fur Seals have to endure at the hands of the brutal clubbers, so you brush yourself off and continue with the job at hand….