Coronavirus, and its emerging variants, has swept around the globe faster than anyone could have predicted, changing our lives, as we knew them, forever. With the subsequent announcement of strict lockdowns, curfews and shortages around the world, things can look pretty bleak. But it’s not all doom and gloom. To be a cameraman or camerawoman, you must be prepared for remote living in small confined spaces, whether that’s a hide you make your home for 3-weeks, invisible to passing strangers, or vehicles and boats that you live, sleep, exercise, and work from. In this blog, I ask our camera operators to share their survival tips, in the hope that they might give you a little inspiration. In the process, you’ll see if you’ve got what it takes to be an NHFU wildlife cameraperson.
Our first tip is to swap those soap-operas for natural-history documentaries (plus some sneaky advertising if you haven't already seen Hippos: Africa's River Giants).
Firstly, I know that our Okavango surroundings aren’t exactly a fair comparison to a one-bedroom city apartment. But that is the most important lesson the NHFU can teach you. The importance of nature. The term Biophilia refers to Homo Sapien’s innate ‘love’ (philia) for nature (bio). Countless studies, and I’m sure your own observations, have revealed that immersion in nature has dramatic positive impacts on our mental health. Now, I know you can’t exactly pack up the Delta and drop it in your living room. But, there are other things you can do. Brad, our camera director, of course recommends replacing your soap operas with natural history documentaries (and I think he might have a suggestion or two in mind… *cough *cough “The Flood” *cough *cough Africa's River Giants). Noah, our specialist gear operator in the field, comes from a background of working in a garden centre. He recommends sprucing up your space with low-maintenance houseplants, like cacti and hanging ivy. Just having this green carbon-sucking, oxygen-giving, pollution-crushing foliage in your home is guaranteed to brighten up your day.
Cuisine a la Noah! Fried onion, garlic, and a smattering of wild sage. Photo credit: Hannah Gormley
Next, we move to the kitchen. Food shortages, stock piling, border jams and limited trips to the shops means that more than ever, we are relying on our cupboard goods. Luckily, our camera operators are specialists in this department and have been honing their skills throughout their remote living stints. First, we go back to Noah, who has specialised a remarkably delicious dish comprising of a bag of pasta combined with three tins of beans (butter beans are the preference) fried with an onion, and nearly an entire bulb of garlic, garnished with a sprinkling of salt and copious amounts of coarse black pepper – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! After working in a Michelin star restaurant as their dish-washer, hygiene and the proper washing of dishes is also a top priority for him. Rich’s diet is (sometimes) a little more civilised, with the addition of the hardy vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, to make scrumptious stews. Steve, on the other hand, spices his dishes up with a little bit of foraging. A smattering of wild sage here and there, and, on very rare occasions, the addition of the steak-like mushrooms that bloom from the termite’s fungal-gardens, deep in the Okavango’s iconic termite mounds, which only emerge when the rain pours and the ground is soft enough.
Cameraman Steve with his foraged mushrooms. Photo: Steven Dover
Finally, exercise. What many people don’t realise about the glamourised wildlife filmmaker role, is just how much heavy lifting it involves. From cameras to tripods, high-lift jacks to logs, maintaining your strength is key to being a good cameraperson. But exercise is also critical to mental health, especially when you are kilometres away from the nearest person. In this department, you, I assume, have the advantage. For us, exercise is very much confined to our temporary homes, out of respect to the wild animals that roam the Delta. Andy, our head of production, has an ingenious trick up here sleeve in this department. One of the most abundant trees in the Delta is the sausage tree, which, as the name would suggest, have enormous sausage-shaped missiles dangling from their branches for most of the year. Far from being a nuisance, these make excellent weights for a spot of bush-friendly body toning. Seetseele, our trainee cameraman, recommends exercises you can do from your bed, including push-ups and planks, so you can start the day with an endorphin rush.
Trainee Cameraman Seetsele demonstrating how he stays fit in the bush! Photo: Tristen Woodward
As the saying goes, for every cloud (no matter how dark and gloomy) there is a silver lining. In previous blogs, I’ve written about the astonishing re-emergence of nature, thanks to decreased traffic, pollution and general human interference. Here in Maun, news of hyenas near the Sports Bar, an aardwolf den near the bridge and buffalo roaming Disaneng are becoming ever-more normal. This blog, I hope, shows the brighter side of what we know can be an incredibly lonely and isolating experience, both for our cameramen and those of you that are stuck at home. Lockdowns, food shortages and infringements on our ability to travel are miserable, but they are also a reminder of how luckily, and how lavishly, we lived our lives before. Luxuries like international travel and supermarkets stacked high with glossy rows of fruit and vegetables will never be taken for granted again. Nor should they be. If Coronavirus has taught us anything it is to live more simply and to love more fully.
Written by Hannah Gormley.