Daily life in Zimbabwe

Impressions of a Country, Things I have learned

Patiently I waited for a friend to arrive, an American middle aged mom like me who was to arrive sometime in the next few afternoon hours. I was uncertain what time she would actually arrive because this was Zimbabwe (Africa), and anything could happen. A bus from the airport to the Victoria Falls tourist district of  thirteen miles might normally take 25 minutes with no traffic; traffic meaning an elephant on the roadway or other rambling wildlife like giraffes, lions or other carnivores .

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And if an elephant were to lay down in the middle of the road and give itself a dust bath, the passengers would enjoy the sight and wait. It is interesting to note that when in a jeep or on horseback, we are not recognized as human beings. We are recognized as a moving rock (jeep), or a strange looking horse with an extra tall hump.

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As I waited anxiously and excitedly – I still couldn’t believe that she was traveling alone halfway across the planet to join me in Africa. We had been Girl Scout leaders together when our children were young, so I knew she would be a good travel buddy. This was waaaaaaay out of her comfort zone (and mine too). I sat outside at a picnic table under a shady tree, eating lunch and talking to a local woman named Reumbi, who owned and worked inside the gift shop. Reumbi was a sweet girl and she and her husband had 2 children ages 11 and 2 years old.

Reumbi, a sweet girl that took us on a tour of how she and her family lived.

Reumbi, a sweet girl that took us on a tour of how she and her family lived.

She was currently separated from her husband because “he had too many girlfriends.” English is a second language and with life being so different, that could mean anything from the literal “he had too many girlfriends” or might mean he is dying from AIDS. 25% of the population in Zimbabwe is HIV positive. Instead of betrayals and a broken heart, she may have been thinking about staying alive to raise her son and daughter. She had recently moved back into her mother’s home, joining two sisters,their kids and her mother.

We talked about family planning and how women can buy 30 days worth of birth control pills for $1 in Zimbabwe. In the USA it costs $70 for a 30 day package of the same drug. Many of the people I spoke to discussed family planning. Children cost money to raise and educate, and each of the people I spoke to took this very seriously. They want their children to have a better life.

Monkey near a chalet in Zimbabwe

Monkey near a chalet in Zimbabwe

Reumbi warned me to watch out for the monkeys. If they spotted me eating, they may try to snatch my food. She advised me that the monkeys only attack women, not men. They know that the men fight back and that women scream and jump away. I hunched my shoulders and wrapped my arms around my plate in a protective stance to fend off any monkeys who wanted to snatch my food. I felt like a dog guarding its’ food, using my peripheral vision to stay on guard. I had walked to the local grocery store and purchased a few pieces of fried chicken and a biscuit and was enjoying the few things that were familiar to me. We discussed a variety of topics while we sat at the picnic table, me waiting for my friend, Reumbi waiting for customers. Periodically, she would leave the picnic table and go into the boutique, a small office that served as her shop in a room attached to the lobby, to help a potential customer.

After asking about childcare, family life and miscellaneous other details of life in Zimbabwe, she asked if I would like to come to her house and “watch them eat.”

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At the local market where Reumbi shopped. There was no electricity, so it had to be completed before dark.

I couldn’t believe it. I asked if I could also bring a lovely Australian couple I had recently befriended and voila – a small, personal, authentic group tour to better understand daily life.

To me, this is what made solo travel so worthwhile, the interaction with locals and learning by experience. In the USA there is information overload and it is difficult to know who to believe. This experience was one the highlights of my trip. It changed the way I think about the world. Before I left on this trip, I did not spend much time thinking about domestic politics in my country. I feel safe and my land has been peaceful all of my life. My country is in war, but it does not effect my daily life, because none of it happens in my land.

Now that I have seen the results of a variety of governments, I realize how important that I be involved. Bad leaders get elected because good people don’t vote. Life is hard enough with a good leader, the amount of massive destruction one bad person in power can do in a short period of time is nearly unfathomable. I still think about Reumbi and her daily life every day.

We met Reumbi at 5:00 p.m. after she closed the boutique. She invited her friend Lisa to join us. I think Lisa agreed to help keep track of us so we didn’t get lost or wander off. We walked with them to the intersection and turned left down the 2 lane paved road which was the main street of Victoria Falls. After walking a couple blocks, we stopped on an dirt area on the side of the road with about 20 other black workers who were headed home, waiting to catch a taxi. We were the only white people in sight. A taxi van pulled up and we climbed aboard.

In Zimbabwe, the white people are rich and the blacks are poor. It is a fact of life, everyone knows it and they openly talk about it. We were the only whites in the van, and we raised a lot of excitement when we 4 rich white people climbed into the van, resulting in a total of 11 paying passengers in a vehicle that is the size of a minivan. We sat on each other’s laps. 11 people was not an unusual number to ride in this vehicle, but being white was. I sat in the very back seat next to a thin fellow who had a jug of petrol(fuel) in a glass container between his feet, and he carried in his lap a large gourd of homemade local beer. It was Friday night and people were ready to celebrate the weekend.

11 people in a minivan type taxi

11 people in a minivan type taxi

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

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Reumbi asked if we would like to see some other things in her village and of course we said yes. Sometimes we walked and sometimes we rode in vehicles. We visited her church, her pastor’s home (we interrupted his dinner), the local hospital, and a small community for the elderly who had no family nearby. We continued, sometimes walking and sometimes in vehicles. One time the six of us rode in a four person taxi – seven of us with the driver, and the car would scrape bottom occasionally.
The township population is about 50,000 people. We exited the cab in an area that I will call a beer hall and paid the driver .50 per person. It was an pavilion type area with a roof and cement floor, but no walls, and it was very busy; mostly men but a handful of women. There were tables of checkerboards; someone had poked holes in a checkerboard pattern in a tin type of tray, and players used metal bottle caps face up for one team, and bottle caps facing down for the opponent. The game is called Draughts.

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The local outdoor beer hall. These kinds were playing draughts and using bottle caps as the pieces. One side had them facing up, the other facing down.

Beer in gourds was passed around a group of about 20 people, each person taking some swallows and passing it to the person next to them. I suppose they weren’t worried about catching a cold, but that is the first thing I thought.What does that say about me? The luxuries I take for granted (owning glasses) or the fact that I don’t like beer? Perhaps both. Anyway, nobody  minded sharing.

We left the beer hall and walked to the nearby local market which had a tin roof but no electricity and lighting. People had to shop before dark.

Local women carrying things on their heads

Reumbi asked my thoughts about Westerners donating free clothing, and vendors selling the jeans for $1.00. My only comment was that someone had to pay for the shipping. I thought $1 was a good price for jeans. Since it was July (winter on this side of the equator), it got dark at 6:00-6:30 p.m. We walked through the market looking at the many different items for sale, so different from the items I saw in other countries.

 

It was nearly dark when we arrived at the cinderblock home. As we approached the entrance, Reumbi called out to her family announcing she brought four guests with her, and to hide the dog. What a delightful translation of “put the dog away” so we could enter. Most families have a dog to protect their property from thieves and/or animals like elephants. We carefully climbed down a steep dirt ditch, balancing on stones, and walked over a narrow cement bridge, then up the other side stepping on chunks of concrete to arrive at the doorway.

The youngest children had never seen a white person before.

The youngest children had never seen a white person before.

We took off our shoes when we entered a large living area with 2 couches and a couple of chairs. The children stared at us, no one was expecting company, and the two youngest had never before seen a white person. Reumbi informed everyone that we were tourists she met and were interested in what life was like for them on a daily basis. She had invited us over to meet the family and to watch them eat.

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Reumbi’s mother was thrilled and welcomed us. Reumbi lived with her mom, three sisters, her two children and several nieces and nephews in the 2 bedroom house. Everyone shared beds except for the matriarch. Reumbi, her 11 year old son, and 2 year old daughter shared a twin bed. There were no indoor toilet facilities but they did have a flat screen TV. Each room had one dim light bulb dangling from wires attached to the ceiling, and the floor was concrete. 2 adult sisters, ages 17 and 22 slept head to toe in another twin bed. I asked if she was irritated at her sister, would she put her toes in her sister’s face, and she said, “yes, sometimes”.

Some things are the same all over the world!

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Typical bedroom, 4 people slept here, the grandmother on the left bed, and Reumbi and her son and daughter on the twin bed on the right. These are all of the family’s possessions.

When I commented about how well behaved the children were, Reumbi talked about our visit being a novelty and the children were using their best manners. They were not normally so quiet and often were rambunctious. This was a unique event and they were absorbing everything. Meanwhile, the children shyly watched us.
One of the sisters cooked dinner on a narrow 4 burner stove. Each family member went into the kitchen and served themselves a plate of food from the pots on the stove, then took their plate back into the common living room. The adults sat on the 2 sofas in the room, and the kids sat on the floor. The focus of dinner was to eat, not converse. Eating consisted of taking a pinch of pap (like mashed potatoes) between their fingers and mopping up the stew-like meal of traditional meat and vegetables. Pap is maize (like fine cornmeal). They ate in silence while we westerners watched.
After the adults ate, the youngest sister, about 17 years old, approached each person sitting on the couch. She carried a bowl of water and a small dishtowel. Each person dipped their soiled fingers into the water and swished them around, washing their fingers, then wiping their hands on the towel that the sister carried. This was like a chore we would have in the USA. In Zimbabwe, one person is responsible for carrying the bowl of water and towel for washing after dinner.

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A Typical meal, “Pac” is the staple (made from maize). No utensils are used to eat the food.

Reumbi’s mother demonstrated how African mothers tie their baby to their backs with a blanket or towel. We were later taught that an easy way to identify a black rhino vs. a white rhino is to remember that black people carry their child on their back, and black baby rhinos follow behind their mothers. White people / Westerners push their babies in a stroller in front of the mother. White rhinos walk in front of their mothers.

Each of us thought we should bring some sort of small gift, I took my paints and paintbrushes and two apples. I was afraid the apples were not enough of a “gift” but the family was grateful, and the grandmother cut them into slices, giving the pieces to the children. It was a treat. Near the end of the visit, we offered our “gifts”. The 13 yr son was incredulous that I was giving him paints and paintbrushes and Reumbi said that he would share them with his classmates. I quietly told her that the paints were for the family, not necessarily for his classmates. She reminded me it is always better to share. If he were to keep them for himself, the classmates would steal them. Better to share. The person who shares feels good, and the people who are receiving feel good. It was a reminder that has stuck with me- it really is better to share. Later, I realized I had not seen any cupboards or storage areas. They had very little in the way of “stuff”. They probably had no paper.

My Australian friend says:

“when you first asked us to join you on this ‘adventure’ I felt the need to take some form of gift with us. But with little time and little knowledge of who and what we were visiting, I improvised by gathering some things from around our room. I collected together some pieces of fruit, some tea, coffee and sugar sachets from the tray in Mike’s room, an old T-shirt that Nikkiema threw out, and some fashion magazines left behind by Lindsay – basically things that “westerners” would usually discard.
We gave the fruit and tea & coffee sachets to the folks at the Old People’s Home. I think I had some Aussie balloons that I gave to the Pastor’s children [remember, we stopped at Rumi’s Pastor’s house, and they were in the middle of their dinner, but still welcomed us into their home]
Rumi’s two younger sisters almost fought over the old T-shirt, it was decorated with some sequins. And they were delighted with the second-hand magazines. Part of me felt that the gifts I was handing them were so insignificant, and yet they seemed truly happy and grateful to receive them. Again, what does that say about us – that they are happy to receive things that we would consider garbage.

At 7:30 p.m., the taxi that had originally dropped us off at the home, came back to pick us up. We then headed off to our next adventure- which was actually eating dinner with another local we met; Clive, a white Rhodesian who owns a farm that is “currently occupied by the military.”

But that my friends, is an adventure that is still to be written.

*Special thanks to Julie and Laura for your memories and help with this essay. This was an experience that changed my life.

 

 

Cheetah in Zimbabwe

Impressions of a Country

I am trying a new format – which means a new learning curve for me. I have posted a video regarding the experience of petting a Cheetah in Zimbabwe.

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I am still learning how to upload the video, without much success – yet! Go to

https://vimeo.com/travelwithpam

This is a rough draft to try out the technology, and to discover if this is something you enjoy more than my writing. Let me know your thoughts, please.

Warmly,

Momstaxi (aka Pam)

Traveling With Language Barriers

Life Sure is Funny, Round The World Trip

People sometimes ask me how I communicate when I travel and don’t speak the language. Since I am not strong in planning and organization, I use creativity and a big smile. Here is an example of a conversation in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

I said, “I would like to reserve a dormitory bed please.”

They said, “Do you have a reservation?” I said “no.”

Silence.

I said, “I would like to pay for a dorm bed for 2 nights, then I will join a tour company in my prepaid room/bed.”

They said, “Do you have a reservation?”

I said “No.”

Silence.

I said, “Do you have a dormitory bed for $15 per night?”

They said Yes.”

I said “Do you have a bed available?”

They said “Yes.”

I said, “I would like to pay for that bed.”

They said “Ok.”

The campsite I stayed at in Victoria Falls

The campsite I stayed at in Victoria Falls

Viola, I had a place to stay. Whew. After this incident, I (usually) got better at planning a few days in advance.

Armadillos vs. Rhinos and Elephants

Impressions of a Country, Life Sure is Funny

Funny that we have the same problems all over the world – unwanted animals getting into our gardens, but depending on where a person lives, there are difference consequences.

In Florida,USA it means my yard is dug up by an armadillo, or for my parents who live in the north of our country, the deer eating plants in the garden.

In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe I was told that a problem animal is the elephant. Each home has a (barking) dog to help keep the elephants away.

Making friends with an African elephant in Zimbabwe.

Making friends with an African elephant in Zimbabwe.

The gardens are fenced, but the elephants lean on the fences, knocking them over. The elephants are so big that if they lean into a house or chicken coop, they knock them over too. Not only do the residents have to rebuild the chicken coops and fences to keep the chickens in, but the chickens won’t lay eggs for a week.

Someone spotted a one-horned rhino and the mahouts passed the word to everyone. So elephants with people came out of the forest. I coulnd't believe how many of us there were. It did not bother the rhino and her baby one bit, since we were on elephants.

A mahout spotted a one-horned rhino and  passed the word to everyone. Within 10 minutes about 30 elephants each carrying 4 tourists materialized out of the forest. I couldn’t believe how many of us there were. It did not bother the rhino and her baby one bit, since we were on elephants.

In Nepal, I met a farmer who had a similar problem with a rhino. The rhino knocked over his fence and ate the garden. The next morning the farmer was fixing the fence and figuring out a way to keep the rhinos out.

(And to think that I paid good money, and spent hours on a jeep ride, and jungle walk, looking for a rhino. If I had known, I could have walked the 100 feet from my cabin to get a good look at a rhino in the middle of the night).

This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night

This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night

This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night

This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night

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Yes, indeed. We may have the same kinds of problems, but in an industrialized country, life sure is easier. I can fill in the hole dug by an armadillo, but this farmer is going to have to spend a lot more time keeping the rhinos out of his garden.

Making the Most of a Challenging Situation in Africa

Impressions of a Country

Sometimes people ask me about the negatives of my trip. Of course, there were frustrations, delays, and all the other negative things that make up daily life. I normally try to the see the bright side, and do not like to spread negativity so did not post many of these experiences. That being said, looking back, I can now laugh and share some of the difficult things.

I signedd up for a tour in Southern Africa through Intrepid Tours, an adventure tour company, and who I highly recommend and will use again.

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping, a place for everything

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping, a place for everything

We tourists helped with the packing up of tents, the setting up of tents, washing dishes and helping the tour leaders as much as we wanted.

My spacious accomodations for the next 9 days.

My spacious accomodations for the next 9 days.

Admire helps with breakfast.

Admire helps with breakfast.

Since this 9 day trip was in Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia), Botswana and South Africa, the tour brochure reminded us that roads and other infrastructure were not made with the same standards that we have in the USA. Think 3rd world vs. 1st world problems. The truck even carried a giant container of water attached to the underside. The water lasted an entire week for 15 people.

I had built much of my travel plans around this particular tour and was very excited to get underway. Africa has been on my bucket list for decades.

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Photo credit: https://seattlethru.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/zimbabwe-1.gif

Airport

Airport

Intrepid and other tour companies have trucks that are designed for traveling in Africa. They are huge trucks and there is a storage area or cubbyhole for everything; tents, mattresses, pots and pans, tables, chairs etc. The guys in charge knew where everything went, and were excellent at packing.

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Our truck for the next 9 days of camping

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping

Inside the truck for camping, and driving through Africa

Inside the truck for camping, and driving through Africa

Typically, each tour group is given a truck that has a couple more seats than the number of people in the tour. This was great, because it gave us room to stretch out and move around. There were 12 of us on this 9 day camping tour.

The first morning, bright and early- as soon as it was daylight, we all climbed into the truck, and off we went. Within the first 30 minutes I realized why it was so important to have a professional driver. A semi-truck was broken down and blocking the road. We had to drive off the pavement, into the sand, pass the truck, then drive back onto the pavement. The sand was soft and deep enough to get stuck in. The other trucks that could not drive off pavement, were destined to sit in line on the pavement behind the broken down truck for the next few hours or the rest of the day, until someone could fix or move the truck.

Southern Africa is a dusty, sandy place.

Southern Africa is a dusty, sandy place.

As a matter of fact, the drivers for Intrepid were not allowed to drive at night.

Not a cloud in the sky the entire time I spent in Zimbabwe

Not a cloud in the sky the entire time I spent in Zimbabwe

I didn’t understand the reasoning behind this rule, until the first day when we were driving down the highway and had to stop suddenly because a group of ostrich’s were rushing across the road, only to stop once their feet hit the grass on the other side. Ostrich’s are really big. They also do not seem very bright.

And there are lots of other animals to worry about in the dark. We could not see the giraffes, water buffalo, elephants, donkeys, cows, lions etc., and would definitely not want to meet one at night, with the additional possibility of being eaten. It is a very different feeling not being at the top of the food chain. Imagine any of these creatures crossing the road in the dark.

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One of our guides had the unfortunate tragedy of losing his wife and 2 brothers, when the car they were driving at night hit a donkey. We saw lots of donkeys with their legs hobbled together, this prevented them from going very far, and the owner could find them easily. There were no fences and the animals were left to graze wherever they could find grass.

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He had earned enough money to buy a car, and his family was driving it home for him. His father was in the car too. The father existed for 6 months after the accident before succumbing to his injuries. There are lots of stories like this. Life in a developing country is a much harder life in every way than in industrialized countries.

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About 30 minutes after going around the roadblock, our truck started slowing down and the driver was talking urgently to our guide who was sitting amongst us. I could not hear what they were saying, but there was trouble in their voices.

Our driver pulled to the side of the road, and our group leader “Admire” informed us that there was a mechanical problem with the truck. The shift stick which rises from the floor, was no longer standing upright. It just wobbled and fell over. Our driver could not fix it, so a mechanic was called. Admire informed us how fortunate we were that a mechanic was only about 1 hour away and was on his way. We all climbed off of the bus, into the sunshine, onto the side of the road where there were a few trees nearby and lots of litter. A couple people wandered off to the bushes to answer the call of nature.

The leaders immediately started making coffee and tea, pulled out a table, and some chairs so we would be comfortable. Someone had brought the game of “Uno” and “banagrams”- a fast spelling game. Our group started playing games and getting to know each other. It was actually a good time. We wondered about the vehicle but since there was nothing we could do about it, we enjoyed what we could, and made the best of the situation.

Our Chariot Awaits!

Our Chariot Awaits!

Only 1.5 hours into our 2nd day and the truck broke down. A mechanic arrived after about 45 minutes and fixed the problem. (A nut had fallen off something involving the shifter. The nut had probably come loose with all the bouncing the trucks do.

Only 1.5 hours into our 2nd day and the truck broke down. A mechanic arrived after about 45 minutes and fixed the problem. (A nut had fallen off something involving the shifter. The nut had probably come loose with all the bouncing the trucks do.

We made the best of the situation and set up a table to play cards and Banagrams. Soon the cook set up a tea kettle and chairs as well.

We made the best of the situation and set up a table to play cards and Banagrams. Soon the cook set up a tea kettle and chairs as well.

Playing Uno on the side of the road when the truck broke down.

Playing Uno on the side of the road when the truck broke down.

The mechanic arrived and within 30 minutes found the problem – a nut had come loose that holds the pin that keeps the shift stick in place – probably because of all the bumps over time. He replaced the nut, we packed up the tables, chairs, coffee and tea, and off we went.

I have to say, I enjoyed the event. Attitude is everything, and we had a good time playing games and getting to know one another. It makes a good story too, because it is so typical of daily life in Africa.

Entering Zimbabwe

Impressions of a Country

Let’s talk about Zimbabwe.

I arrived at the airport via a midsize plane. The airport was so small that there were no jet
ways that I could see. The planes landed, stairs were pushed to the door, we stepped down and were ushered into the building with dozens of other people from both our plane and another.

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It seemed as though everyone was a tourist and they probably were. Most were also white, which makes a difference here. As a rule of thumb, if a person is white, they are probably wealthy, if they are black, they are probably not wealthy, and probably what most people would consider poor.

When standing in line for customs, the man in front of me in line remarked “Welcome to the land of Surprises where you never know what will happen next”.

Zimbabwe – A Scare to Start the Day

Impressions of a Country

So after reassuring my husband that Zimbabwe was safe, and there is good security at the campground I am staying at, I had to rethink my statements this morning. I had another good night’s sleep, in an 8 person dormitory all to myself, and had been enjoying the peace and quiet. At about 6:30 am this morning I awoke to a loud BANG on the tin roof, I then heard screaming and then feet running by. The bang sounded like a big gun, it was a cross between a bang and a boom. About 1 or 2 minutes went by, and I heard another BANG / BOOM. By this time, I was wide awake but remaining calm. I waited and when I didn’t hear anything else, cautiously got out of bed and peeked out my window. I saw a person walking from the bathroom to her cottage, and nothing looked out of the ordinary, she did not look concerned. The noise was so loud, but she looked calm, so I wondered if perhaps she had been showering and didn’t hear it? It was daylight, so I quickly dressed, slipped on my boots and opened the door cautiously. Nothing seemed amiss, so I headed to the reception area to wait for my ride to my canoeing activity. Three steps from my building, I noticed a large monkey sitting near a tree. Then a noticed another monkey about 20 feet away, and still another monkey another 10 feet from that one. There were several other monkeys loitering nearby. Apparently, the loud BANG BOOM was a monkey (or baboon) jumping onto my corrugated tin roof, screaming at another monkey and running across the roof. I was still wiping the sleep from my eyes, but the adrenaline was streaming through my body, and I was ready to start the day.

Things I am learning… already

Uncategorized

One of my friends and I are going camping together in Zimbabwe for 9 days. 9 days! I have never camped that long in my life! Actually, I have hardly camped at all.

Since I moved away to Florida, 10 years ago, my friend LC and I haven’t seen each other but a handful of times. We had met and volunteered as co-leaders for a small girl scout troop that our daughters had joined in elementary school. LC is someone I really enjoy doing things with, like going to the water park and being the only people over 12 years old who would ride the giant slide. (Yes, the slide that has been known to give a thorough washing to the insides of one’s body.), we had learned to kayak, and she taught me to make fire. Our relationship had become one of Christmas cards, and the occasional e mail – how are the kids and husband, graduation cards etc. Both of our lives had changed dramatically in the last decade, much like a plant that when pinched back by life, grows another stem in a different direction. We had grown apart.

*** 10 years later***

Nothing like a good cancer scare to wake you up.

So, when I made the announcement that I was doing this trip, LC was the first one on board to say “Sign me up for Africa”. So now, we are aware that we will both be out of our comfort zone, and probably experience culture shock. Which is really a shock by the way. Having lived in Spain for several years in my previous career, I experienced culture shock for the first time. So now, LC and I are trading e mails almost every day, and photos of Africa. This will help prepare us for the trip, but more importantly, our relationship is already deepening. We text each other about mailing the visa application to Zimbabwe, passport information, as well as making the decision of what to do on a 1 week vacation from work for her, and a new chapter in life for me

Once we decided on a basic camping trip, I figured I would just mail the visa application and fee to a bureaucrat in DC, and get a form back in 2-3 weeks. Instead, I had to inconvenience myself by getting in my car, during my lunch hour, driving down the busiest road around, battling the traffic to the post office, find a parking space that was out-of-the-way (partly because of the retired snowbirds who have forgotten many of their driving skills).  It is the time of year in Florida where we see many people from the snowy north, who have joined us in the warm, sunny state and are driving too slow, and often in the wrong lane.

Once I arrived at the Post Office, I had to go inside, and stand in line with all the people who were already sending gifts and packages to out-of-town relatives, before the Christmas holidays, and buy a stamp for Zimbabwe delivery. All of which took about 30 minutes. Standing in line, I reminded myself that if I found this inconvenient, then I could probably lose my mind in Africa. I need to remember to slow down and live in the moment.

I will have culture shock too. So, most days, I send LC a photograph of something we may see while on our camping trip; A herd of elephants in the water, a zebra minding his own business, a beautiful waterfall. I enjoy looking at the pictures of fresh and colorful fruits on a blanket on the side of a dirt road rather than in a refrigerated cooler at the nearest chain grocery store. Probably where we are going there is no ice, and probably one could not physically make it unless one is in a city. My expectations include a lack of reliable electricity, and probably some places we will see, the families will use fires to cook on. I am already envisioning the landscape is brown and dry and dusty and the Savannah stretches to the horizon.

I am thinking of animals in silhouette, and the nighttime noises. Instead of being afraid of the dark when I was a child, now I am thinking of what is in the dark.  This time, instead of a lion in our dreams, we will be  laying in a sleeping bag on the hard packed earth, with only a 1/8 of lightweight nylon between us and a predator. We will no longer be on top of the food chain. We will now be the prey. In Zimbabwe we will be the frightened animal that is trying not to draw attention to itself while hearing something big snorting and sniffing only 8 inches from my ear. Now, that will be living in the moment.

Lesson learned… a valued and treasured relationship is already deepening through this planning process.

Zimbabwe

Impressions of a Country

Let’s see, what do I know of Zimbabwe? Hardly anything. I know from looking at a map, that it is in the southern part of the continent Africa. Victoria Falls is in Zimbabwe, and it is a huge tourist draw, so Zimbabwe probably is one of the countries that is somewhat Westernized, right?

Wrong.  From what I am reading, as I prepare for the RTW trip, It is no where nearly as developed as that.

A dear friend from Ohio will be joining me on a 9 day camping trip. I keep asking myself, how hard can it be?  I have slept in tents before. I have gone without a shower for a couple of days. It will be like being a kid again. Live in the moment and enjoy the ride.

When I signed up for the camping trip (in a small group tour), I visualized tents on a platform, sleeping by a watering hole with elephants drinking, and maybe some zebras and wildebeests hanging around. I was thinking about riding around in a jeep, with fresh water from the city, camping for a couple of days remotely – how cool is that?- sign me up. After 9 days I will be ready for a hot shower and a comfortable mattress.  I did not give a lot of thought to the rest of the country.  I was thinking of a moderately developed tourist attraction, like a smaller and less touristy version of Niagara Falls.

I did not really envision being prey, with only 1/8th inch nylon tent protecting me from predators. After reading more about the country, I have learned that we may not notice a lot of difference between roughing it, and the lifestyle of the citizens who live there. Not a lot of infrastructure. Now I need to consider a jeep that breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and as long as we are in the jeep, animals consider us part of the jeep. But if a person leaves the jeep, the predators now will recognize us as prey. I have heard this from others who have gone on safaris.  I am now thinking about things like this.

I will let you know what I find, once I actually experience Zimbabwe.

After reading information by the State department, I may have to rethink some of the questions I wanted to know, and certainly be aware of everything that is in my camera’s viewfinder.

Here is some of what the State Department says:

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa, bordered by the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. The official language is English; however, the majority of the population speaks Shona. Zimbabwe has a fragile political environment, and the Zimbabwean economy is underdeveloped due to decades of economic mismanagement and political uncertainty. Although Zimbabwe offers popular tourist attractions in Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe, and selected game parks, much of the country’s infrastructure is in disrepair and emergency medical care is limited. Please read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Zimbabwe for additional information on U.S. – Zimbabwe relations.

The Government of Zimbabwe uses a very broad definition of journalism, and any interviews, filming, or photography may be considered “presenting oneself as an accredited journalist,” a crime punishable by arrest or detention.’

Zimbabwe is a cash society, with very few establishments accepting international credit or debit cards. ATMs in the country are limited and unreliable. Traveler’s checks and check cashing facilities are effectively nonexistent.

Resident and visiting U.S. citizens have been arrested, detained, and threatened with expulsion for activities that would not be considered crimes in the United States, including the administration of humanitarian aid and the expression of opinions regarding the current political regime in Zimbabwe. Criticism of the president is a crime in Zimbabwe. The streets around State House, the official residence of the president, and the Botanical Gardens are particularly sensitive,and drivers and pedestrians in that area should exercise caution. President Mugabe and other senior government officials travel around Harare accompanied by large and aggressive motorcades that have been known to run motorists off the road. Security personnel occasionally beat and harass drivers who fail to pull out of the way quickly enough. U.S. citizens are advised to be aware of police vehicles and police motorcycles flashing lights and sirens, and should move quickly off the road if overtaken by a motorcade.

U.S. citizen visitors have been detained under suspicion of operating as journalists without accreditation for photographing cultural sites and areas that may not immediately appear to be sensitive. Tourists may also be subject to harassment or arrest for photographing police, roadblocks, occupied commercial farms, and government buildings or military installations, official residences or embassies, including the president’s palace. Get prior written permission from the appropriate government office before taking such photographs. It is not always immediately apparent what the police deem sensitive. Police have detained U.S. citizens for photographing any subject they view as sensitive no matter how innocuous it may seem to the photographer. You should be very aware of your surroundings and seriously consider the risks of taking any pictures outside game parks and known tourist areas.

The government frequently uses marked and unmarked (ad hoc) road blocks to enforce order and collect fines, particularly in urban centers and on major roads. Even though these road blocks are manned by uniformed police officers, be cautious when approaching them, particularly at night. When instructed by police or other security officials to stop at a roadblock, comply with these instructions. If possible, carry a mobile phone or other means of communication. Other ongoing security conditions that could affect the safety of tourists in Zimbabwe include crime (see below) and the occupation of commercial farms.

We urge you to take responsibility for your own personal security…

Wow. I am glad I booked the camping trip with a group that uses local guides.

I wonder if the residents have access to clean drinking water?