31 May 2021
Although it has barely been a year, it already seems too distant to be able to hold on to it, to see it, smell it or touch it. It is buried deep underneath the monotony of everyday life, a life that is now tightly embraced by rules, cornered by the single thought of "Just stay healthy, no matter how".
It seems too long ago to be able to spontaneously reawaken the feeling of Namibia. An ache so strong that it seems unattainable at the moment.
But sometimes, when I allow my mind to travel, the fire of curiosity, discovery and adventure sets ablaze in me once again. My gaze then drifts out towards the horizon, devouring the seemingly infinite landscape with its colours and shapes so foreign to us, yet which has become home to me.
The glistening morning light seems to flood my body and in my imagination, I blink against the sharp rays of the sun. The warmth displaces the cold of the night and slowly turns into dry heat. The pungent smell of my sunscreen rises to my nose, sweat begins to settle on my hat and I start to feel my sunglasses leaving an imprint on my face. The last cool breeze disappears and the desert wind blows a layer of sand onto my skin. Never have I welcomed the thought of dust on my skin as much as I do now. Never have I wanted to breathe in the dust from an oncoming vehicle as much as I do now. Over and over again I imagine the open window of my Land Rover, willingly letting in the haze of freedom and letting the dust of the dirt road become the equivalent taste of adventure.
In my dreams, wild animals stand alongside the road: antelopes, giraffes, zebras. As I move stealthily through the bush, I take in the warm, humid scent arising from the hot Kalahari ground following a summer thunderstorm.
The animals seem to have befriended me, I can call them all by name, countless elephants, lions and birds who seem to recognise me and approach me without shyness.
The nocturnal call of a spotted owl, the distinctive melody of a crested barbet or the ubiquitous pigeons and flamboyant tokos (hornbills) that vocally accompany the day in the background. They seem to determine the daily routine, with crickets and frogs accompanying the evenings. It is reassuring to know that this has been going on for centuries without interruption, even when I am not there.
In the same way, elephant families take turns with typical greeting rituals by the waterhole. With a barely noticeable rumbling sound, they indicate their territory, young bulls test their strength with threatening gestures and mothers lovingly show the slightly clumsy, newest members of the herd, where it is safe to go to the water. This will continue to be the case in the future, although I might not be there right now.
This evening scene, seen and lived through many times, observed diligently by me, seems so close. I can smell the elephants and almost touch them with my hand, and yet it only forms part of my memory, which I only sometimes allow myself to wander through. The shock of awakening is too great when these dreamy images tear apart and the current reality sets in again. Perhaps I will no longer even recognise "my" Africa again? Maybe because it has changed. Certainly because I have changed.
I miss my easy going and laidback African friends, whom I meet unexpectedly in a supermarket or somewhere in the bush, who give me tips and whom I tell all about my family. Distant friends I rarely see; they seem too far away, out of reach. But they are there, waiting for me. People with whom I sit around the campfire in the evenings, listening to their stories over and over again.
Campfire: The acacia wood crumbles away into red embers, hard and dry it burns long and hot. Again and again I encourage my fellow travellers to take a few steps away from the fire into the surrounding night. Here, noises are swallowed up, only one's own heartbeat can be heard, then one's gaze falls back on the homely refuge under thousands of stars. The small light, a light shrouded in darkness, life reveals itself in magnificent nocturnal nature.
When Africa’s gates open once again, everything will seem larger, more colourful and more intense to me. I will be even more grateful for the precious moments in the bush, I will enjoy the extraordinary kindness of the people. I will notice that the sky is even bluer and the elephants have become larger. The dust will tell me that I have returned to Namibia!
The feeling of sitting on a lonely dune enjoying a sundowner with Biltong and a G&T in hand, is already consuming me, and my eyes, wet with joy, gaze into the fading red on the fringes of the horizon. My hand holds the hearts of my family and friends, whom at this moment I am sharing the feeling of freedom with.
Even if a part of the way still lies ahead, it is worth it. The time of being able to give life to these dreams and memories again, is near.
Lambert Heil has been photographing wildlife, nature, people and typical situations on trips in Africa and Europe for many years. He portrays the space in which the life of people and animals happens. Usually it is nature and sometimes urban surroundings which provide the backdrop for the motif.
Heil works at Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich as a zoo educator. A former travel editor, he has organised nature tours for almost 30 years. As a result he is well-versed in people, nature and animals. During photography courses in game reserves and enclosures as well as on photo journeys he shares his practical knowledge with other photographers. Being a passionate wildlife photographer himself he leads several photo tours to destinations in Africa every year. He also gives talks on nature in general and Africa in particular.
He co-authored the book Tierfotografie which was published in the beginning of 2017 by well-known Rheinwerkverlag in Germany. Heil is a Pentax brand ambassador.
What is important to him in terms of photography? “Wildlife pictures are more than animal portraits, because anyone can take those in a zoo, and usually better and easier than on a safari. Decisive for me is not only the proximity but also the habitat and the behaviour of animals. Viewed as a whole you will see links which you can’t find in the detail (no matter how beautiful it is.”
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