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Survival Essentials: Fire with Sticks

After a breakup that left me somewhat stranded in the Amazon I decided that learning desert survival, as opposed to retail therapy, was the best way to mend my broken heart...This brings us a remote Ju/’hoansi community (also known as !Kung or San Bushmen) in Namibia.

I dutifully watch as two San men facing each other kneeling on the ground took turns rubbing a long stick between their palms. So synchronized the stick never stopped spinning against the wood. It was magic (or friction) but a puff of smoke appeared at the bottom of the wood sticks.

Sparks glowed and one of the men coaxed more sparks by adding foliage and oxygen: gently lifting the glowing and smoking wood with limps framed in a kissing expression. And there it was. Fire. Made from two sticks.

Unfortunately my attempt wasn't quite as graceful or successful as that of the San. Attempts involved countless days of the San giggling at my inability to create the most basic element. Fire. A skill San children learn from a young age. Frustrated I practiced until my hands were raw and bloody, yet in spite of my efforts, still no fire. It was only weeks later, I achieved what I thought might be impossible.

I foraged in the bush for dry moss and baobab sticks. I used my knife to make a small notch in one of the the baobab sticks as to create a groove for the other stick. On a bed of dry twigs and grass I placed my knife. I lay one stick across the blade of the knife and place one vertically resting in the notch (with a few grains of sand) at the bottom creating a T-shape. And then I began grinding the two sticks together with all my might.

Just when I thought my efforts were futile and I was about to collapse from heat exhaustion in the 110+ Namibian desert smoke started rising. I mustered my enthusiasm and gave it one final push. The smoke continued. So paralyzed by excited I almost forgot what to do next. I gently slid my knife blade away and tiny sparks caught the moss. I gently blew oxygen into the fire, kissing the flames with joy. Boom - Move over Bear Grylls, I made fire with two sticks.

Wander Wisely,


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