My experience during the Global South Bat course started a bit differently than the that of the other participants. I traveled from Mauritius to Kenya the day the course started in which should have been an uneventful flight. However, somewhere along the way, I caught what seemed to be a stomach bug that almost ruined my entire trip. I arrived at Mombasa and met with a few other students that, like me, were full of excitement but, unlike me, looked pretty healthy. The organizers had arranged a shuttle to take us to Diani Beach, which doesn’t seem too far away in a map, but thanks to the traffic in Mombasa, the trip took over 2.5 hrs. By the time we arrived at Diani, and even after napping during the entire trip, I could barely stand by myself and was feeling absolutely queasy. A local doctor was called and decided that I would have to spend my first night at the hospital!
I was diagnosed with severe dehydration and put on IV drops. The next morning, I went back to the hotel and joined everyone. I was received with cheers and smiles. I felt incredibly supported and wanted so badly to be part of this amazing network. Classes started wonderfully, I met my fellow mates and lecturers, and we formed our groups to lead our respective projects. Begoña (Mexico), Grace (Kenya), Aicha (Cameroon) and I teamed to develop an environmental education project. We brainstormed about our goals and proposed to visit a nearby local school where bats were causing a bit of a problem. Roosting bats were pooping in the classrooms and books, so the school decided to kill them; we wanted to intervene!
However, before we could plan how to best approach the problem, I found myself back into that dreaded hospital room. My illness was back again, more severe than before, and I was faced with a dilemma: either I stayed and finish the course or went back home. I was invaded by a feeling of fear and anxiety. I had dreamt about this course and worked so hard on my application to get there. I missed home terribly. This was the first time that I had been away from my family alone, and the first time I was hospitalized. I told myself: “there you go girl, you’ll never have that career in bat conservation”. I felt incredibly guilty for abandoning my team and wasting my chance to learn from professors that have spent their entire life dedicated to bat conservation. In my feverish dreams, I decided to give up and go back home. But then I would wake up and try to find strength, reminding myself how lucky I was to have been accepted in the first place, and that missing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at such an early stage of my career was something I would regret my entire life.
My mom and the organizers supported me on any decision that I wanted to make, but it was thanks to Dr. Claudia Baider – my academic mother – that I decided to stay. She vehemently suggested that I continued the course and the team project. I found strength thinking of all the bat species that I would see for the first time, the new GSB friends that I’d make, and the chance to become part of a network that would change the way conservation is done in the Global South. On the third day of the course, I went back to the classroom with a bag full of antibiotics and painkillers. I felt strong and determined to make the best out of the remaining days. I was received with warmth and support from all students and organizers. I felt that no matter what happened I was in good hands and that things would work out for me. If it hadn’t been for their unconditional support and my fierce determination I would have probably missed a life-changing experience. Instead, I went back home at the end of the course, I made 30 new friends from around the world whom I’ll remember for life and I was named ambassador of the Global South Bats Network in my home country.
The GSB course was by many means the most incredible journey I have made so far. Not only did I learn and gained so many technical and academic skills that I will use in future projects, but I also learned how strong I can be. Sicknesses and injuries may be a part of life, but one that we can overcome with the support of others. The GSB network allowed me to meet incredible bat scientists and join a platform to collectively work on a common agenda for effective bat conservation in the South-South region. All’s well that ends well. Although I had to face extra obstacles during the course, I could cherish a successful adventure and the many new friends that I made along the way!