Food For Thought

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Being Lonely in Conservation

Written by Jessie Panazzolo

I don’t know this for certain, but I am pretty sure that when people in most other walks of life choose their professions, they do not feel the impending doom of choosing their job over proper social interactions and opportunities for relationship building.

I know that growing up I never considered the potential for a long term relationship of most sorts because I always envisioned myself to be in remote or changing environments. Even as a kid, I knew that this would be a challenging life to live whilst also factoring in someone else’s needs. It turned out that my hunch was a real reality for many people in the field of conservation. I have seen people lead volunteer camps and also a very promiscuous lifestyle to accommodate the ebb and flow of people to and from the program. I have seen people work in rural towns where there is no one else around, and feel their pain as they watch their friends get married and have kids and wonder if they missed their chance to have this life for themselves. I have also seen relationships crumble under the long distance that separates people embarking on long term projects in countries far away from their partner. More so, I have experienced the feeling of being so isolated and disconnected that you are tricked into believing that your actions won’t have consequences back in the “real world”.

In fact, I have also worked in volunteer camps and isolated towns, I have lost a long distance relationship from being so disconnected and I have also had to really think about how my actions in these environments would impact my life beyond the current circumstances. Most conservationists, if they have not experienced all of these situations, have probably experienced one or at least have worried about their relationships with people into the future. But why should we have to choose?

Conservationists are passionate people. I once spent six months straight sleeping on a yoga mat on the floor and eating rice and beans every single day for every single meal. Why would any logical person PAY to sleep on the floor and have no food diversity if they weren’t passionate about the other factors that came along with this lifestyle such as being immersed in island biogeography and biodiversity? It becomes pretty clear if you look at things from this approach that if we are sacrificing two pretty important things like food and sleep for a chance to immerse ourselves in wildlife, then no wonder we are also sacrificing relationships.

So, you may think from this blog so far that I am sad and alone with seven cats nibbling at my ankles, but actually my life didn’t end up the way that I always presumed it would.

In January 2016, I was supposed to begin my six months of honours research remotely in Indonesia, so you can understand that when a guy showed interest in me at the end of 2015, I declared to him that there is no way we could be together. I was leaving the country and it just would not work.

He persisted to show love and affection and so in classic Jessie style I mailed him a letter of twenty different reasons why we couldn’t be together. It turned out that nobody had ever sent him a hand written letter before and he just replied that this was the cutest thing anyone has ever done for him. I was running out of ideas and time.

You know those scenes in movies where you think that a relationship can’t work out, but then someone does something romantic and crazy which makes that happy ending that we all know so well? Well this particular boy quit his job, bought his very first passport and flew half way across the world to spend the first four months of our relationship in a third world country shitting his brains out and sweating through black outs for me. Not only that, but as a technology wiz, he taught the North Sumatran National Parks Department how to fly drones to monitor rainforests despite the language barriers.

It’s crazy because even though when he met me, he had no interest in conservation, he has been amazingly useful in developing conservation based technologies, machine learning and app design. When I left him the next year to peruse a job in a rural location, he helped me choose a camera to get into bird identification in my spare time, and then another camera just recently so we can both go bird watching together.

The importance of sharing this story with you all is to inspire some hope in you if you are someone who is about to leave for a long stint away or is currently working in a rural location or have even just worried about relationships when getting into this industry. You shouldn’t have to automatically assume that you can’t be loved without leaving your herps or plants or birds or echinoderms behind. You can and you will have both your butterflies in your net and butterflies in your stomach if you so desire it.

I will end this blog with a romantic poem for you all. Are you ready?

Roses are red

Vervet monkey balls are blue

But if they can still find a partner

Then so can you.

For more poems about animal genitals, go follow @ecolojesst on Instagram

One Comment

  • Marnie

    Wowwww this one has been the most relateable for me so far!!! (I started trying to read every blog post in order from the beginning). Over two years ago I was getting ready to leave for my first wildlife technician job in a different state for the summer. And then I met a guy. Who i really liked. But I was immediately telling him it wouldn’t work, we can’t just start a relationship when I’m leaving long term which by the way will be a trend in my profession likely for the rest of my life. He was very persistent and drove 5 hours to visit me every other week. When I expressed concern over the possibility of me if moving across the country or across the globe, his response was merely “so?” or “sounds great! I can’t wait to visit!” and we’ve been together ever since. Crazy how things work out.

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