Laramie journalist Mark Jenkins has a story to tell about rock paintings, drought and self-discovery.
Jenkins, the Wyoming Excellence Writer in Residence, is set to speak in Laramie about a trip to view rock paintings in Namibia next week. “A Journey into the Ancient Namib Desert: Rock Paintings, a Vanished People and Water Scarcity” is scheduled for noon Monday in the University of Wyoming College of Education Auditorium.
The talk is part of the UW Center for Global Studies’ “World to Wyoming Tour,” which has been an annual event during the last 10 years. The Laramie stop concludes a six-stop tour around the state this month.
Jenkins said each talk has been based on an assignment from National Geographic magazine, each of which takes him into the field for months at a time. The talks are a way to share his research.
“Why not bring some of what I’ve learned — perspective and new ideas — to the state of Wyoming?” he said.
He described his 2015 trip to Namibia as a “journey of discovery,” during which he learned lessons about water scarcity that could be useful in the water-thirsty West.
Jenkins traveled to Namibia, a country in southwestern Africa, to find 4,000-year-old rock paintings hidden on Brandberg, the nation’s highest mountain. The mountain is located in the Namib Desert, which Jenkins crossed during the summer in 140-degree heat while carrying 30 pounds of water.
“It almost killed me,” he said of the hike.
Atop the mountain, he and his guides found paintings created by an extinct tribe. As Jenkins looked at the paintings, sheltered in the shade beneath boulders where the tribesmen probably searched for water, he had a revelation.
“I realized we’re probably doing exactly what they did 4,000 years ago,” he said. “They came up there to beat the heat and find water.”
Back in the Namibian capital of Windhoek, Jenkins learned that Namibia has struggled with water scarcity as long as humans have lived there. As a result, it has become a world leader in water recycling.
“Windhoek is the only capital in the world that completely recycles all of its water — from toilet to tap — and it’s been doing it for 50 years,” Jenkins said.
While people might recoil at the idea of recycling sewage into drinking water, Jenkins said the process is three times cheaper than desalination. That matters in Wyoming and in the American West, he said, which has a growing population and growing pressure on water sources.
“Our planet is getting hotter and drier,” he said.
Jenkins said he didn’t set out to tell a story about water recycling when he set out to look for rock paintings.
“You think this is the story, but in fact the story turns out to be something else, which is the beautiful thing of being a foreign correspondent,” he said.