I sat staring at the screen muttering “what have I done?” over and over again. I can imagine there was a look of equal parts abject horror and severe disbelief on my face as the night wore on and I refused to believe quite what I had set into motion. I couldn’t forgive myself that I had forgotten to check the seasonality of the country we were heading to next and I was going to pay dearly for it.
We were heading to Vietnam.
Vietnam made no sense. We’d already done Asia but I struggled with the heat and the food and the snakes and there were other much more desirable countries on the list. To add to the challenge I would actually be doing this bit alone too. All of it was absolutely nonsensical and to top it all off the temperature would be obscene, the humidity would be the death of my energy and it turns out that May is completely the wrong time for a visit. Websites were warning of up to 40 degrees Celsius alongside 86% humidity (or more) and torrential downpours (which are more likely to bring out the snakes). I was fairly sure I would be unable to cope. I was sat in the dark in a comfortable New Zealand farm house trying desperately not to panic at that which I was no longer able to change. The flights were booked, the arrangements were made and there was nothing I could do but go ahead and do it.
So why was I doing it? And where would Peter be in all this?
The answer, of course, as always, lies with animals. Peter and I were both heading to Vietnam to follow opportunities with animals that had presented themselves to us. We were to be helping two separate animal projects at either end of the country for three months. Peter was to be going back to his beloved Bears, working with Free The Bears in their Vietnamese sanctuary whilst I was going to be in Hanoi, working at the zoo in Thu Le Park alongside Animals Asia and Wild Welfare. These charities aim to improve standards in this zoo in order to be an example for other animal collections in the country to follow. They have already made incredible headway with improvements but to continue the work they needed someone crazy enough to find joy amongst the challenges that this work would involve. They certainly found someone crazy.
The work excited me but the country terrified me. And to not have Peter’s daily reassurances this time would be a real struggle. I was excited and petrified in equal measure and the tasks on the to do list were extensive. I would have to find somewhere to live, find food that I liked, get my head around a new currency and hope that during country excursions I would not encounter the dreaded slithery ones. But as well as that I would have to start all over again. We had grounded ourselves in New Zealand by staying there so long and to be leaving its familiarity and simplicity would not be easy. What had felt foreign when we arrived from Cambodia would be sorely missed when arriving in Vietnam. I would have to re-orientate myself in a place with no signs and no Peter to help me. Not only would I be missing home and everyone in it but this time I would have to cope with missing Peter too as he would be at the other end of the country.
However I could do what I usually do and jump into the work. I was excited to hopefully be able to make a difference to the animals I was going to be working with. I remembered how rewarding the work we did in Cambodia was and I was hopeful that I could recreate some of those successes. The challenges would be many (and in another language) but I was looking forward to being able to sort through them and see what solutions could be found.
Animals do this to all of us in the profession. They can take us far from our comfort zones and introduce us to new and terrifying prospects but they also make it worth it. And so we would say goodbye to the lush rolling landscapes of New Zealand, surrounded by sparkling oceans and crowned by snowy jagged peaks. Instead of the comfortable temperatures and vast, quiet landscapes I would be in the middle of a noisy capital city with high pollution levels and a challenging climate. I would miss New Zealand terribly much. The place had been so good to us and we had really enjoyed our time there. I just didn’t want to leave. The only thing that made me sure this the next step in our journey was the right thing was the thought of the animals I was soon to meet.
Aside from that, just hours before another life changing flight, with fear in my soul and doubts in my head, I am still questioning what I’ve done.