Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

The rules of (social) engagement

April 12, 2019

One of the big worries I had moving to Vic Falls was whether or not I would make friends. After all, I was moving from a town in which roughly 50 people are related to me by blood or marriage, to one in which I knew a sum total of 0 human beings.

It turns out I didn’t really need to worry, because Zimbos, and the Vic Falls crew in particular, are super friendly, welcoming people.

However, there are some social rules I’m still trying to adjust to when it comes to meeting and greeting in Zimbabwe.

For the sake of the masses of Kiwis immigrating here, I thought I would do a helpful little round-up.

1. Zimbabweans have excellent manners. Kiwis really don’t.

I first learnt this when I was dating my future husband. During my introduction to the WHOLE family, I was greeted and kissed on the lips by an inordinate number of people. It was very surprising, especially since I’m not a particularly touchy-feely person, but I played it cool, because I really liked Will.

When I got here, I discovered the hug and cheek-brush is a more common greeting tactic. But you do this with everyone, always, the first time you see them walk into the room, and when they leave. Acknowledging people is a big deal here, and I really like it.

BUT my kiwi days have left me prone to the old nod-and-raise-your-eyebrows tactic in social situations. This has led to quite frequent, pretty awkward moments, mostly when the other person sort of lurches at me, realizes I’m not coming in for the hug and stops, only for me to have started my belated lurch, which I then have to pull out of.

Just. I’m sorry. I’m trying, Zimbabwean friends.

2. Zimbabweans are a little more hierarchical and formal than Kiwis.

This probably isn’t surprising, since Kiwis are about as informal as you can get. We generally call our Prime Minister by their first name.

Over here, our age group calls the generation up Mr or Mrs [insert last name] in formal situations like employment. We are still trying to get used to our staff calling us by these titles, or using ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’.

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy yarning away to our majority shareholder using his first name…from the very start.

Anyways, this very laid-back approach to social strata has played into my favor so far…I think. People seem to take familiarity as a sign you are relaxed and like them.

Most recently, I was competing in the school triathlon fundraiser event, and was up against Mike Johnson (among others) on the bike. Mike and Alex have been THE BEES KNEES in terms of helping us get on our feet here, and if you ever want a great place to stay in the Falls, you should check out Bayete, PheZulu or their newest lodge Nkosi.

Anyways, as I was about to ride off, Mike yelled out that I should watch out for a dangerous snake on the circuit.

I laughed, then yelled back “shut up, Mike”. SUCH a mature, witty, respectful comeback, to a man I’ll describe as slightly older than I am.

Sorry Mike. But even oldies like you aren’t exempt from psychological warfare in sport ;-).

3. Zimbabweans share our awesome sense of humour.

When we first visited Zimbabwe in 2013, I was ready for Zimbos to be a little more like the South Africans I had met in New Zealand, who seemed to be a little more serious.

Instead, when we weren’t crying over some of the stuff we saw, I felt like I laughed my way around the country. Zimbos, like us, have a self-deprecating sense of humour thanks to being the “little bro” to a nearby, bigger country. In this case, it’s South Africa. Thanks to the common British colonial history, this sense of humour is also quite dead-pan for all involved.

Anyways, over here, I think thanks to Flight of the Concords and my accent, people seem to think I’m a walking comedy (I’m not. I’m DEADLY serious). But sometimes even when I’m being serious people crack up and tell me they love my sense of humour.

I tend to roll with it and grow the joke…which is sort of how I founded a band called the Ukeladies involving 12 women, 4 of whom have ukuleles, 2 of whom have had them longer than a couple of months.

We’re going to be a huge hit.

So there you have it. A comprehensive list of the differing social rules between NZ and Zimbabwe. And I think I’m qualified to say after seven months that Zimbabweans really are some of the most welcoming, kind, top-notch people around.

Play dates and Parties…Africa styles

April 1, 2019

With seven months under my belt in Zimbabwe, I feel like I’m beginning to notice a distinct difference between playdates and parties in Africa, and those I used to go to in New Zealand.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was out at a popular tourist spot with a friend. It was HOT as usual lately, the kids were needing to get out, and so were we. So we decided to head somewhere with pools and refreshments to satisfy all parties.

Upon arrival, we entered the usual negotiations over what things cost on the menu in local currency, then in USD. We then entered discussions over what rate this place was using, and ultimately concluded that it was ridiculously expensive no matter which way you looked at it.

BUT, thanks to the heat, we decided to invest US$4 in a small bottle of sparkling water for me, another US$4 in a small Fanta for Friend, and also bought a bowl of hot chips.

Disgruntled, but resigned, we settled in to let the children tax our drinks and scoop up some chips. Then, we made a fatal mistake.

We decided to let the children play on the playground. We went over to resolve some issue or another, and I realised I was going to have to pick Kepler up. I handed my US$4 sparkling water to Friend, who was heading back to our sitting area with her children, and sorted out the issue.

When I got back to our seating area, Friend was blinking at me in surprise.

“Narelle, I’m so sorry! I had to throw your sparkling water at a monkey!”

Now, I’ve never heard a sentence like this in my life, so you can imagine how eager I was to know why someone would HAVE to throw sparkling water at a monkey.

Turns out the monkey had been eating our chips. All of them. The only thing Friend had in her hands when she got back and saw the catastrophe unfolding was my US$4 sparkling water.

At this point, Friend declared the playdate a fail all around. I declared it the best playdate I’d ever been on.

But the animal stories aren’t always bad, I should point out.

Just the other day we were invited to a birthday party out in the bush. The kids splashed away in the pool, bouncy castle nearby, and a table laden with food sat to the side, while Zebra grazed about 200 metres away.

A whole herd, with colts.


As we watched, a herd of Eland, which I’ve never seen before, walked slowly over to the water hole and began to drink. Then, as if some unspoken safety message was broadcast, the Zebra colts were running around playing chase, some Impala joined in, and a couple of Eland bulls had a gentle disagreement before carrying on their way. It was unbelievably magical, made all the more beautiful by that dusty golden African evening light.

So, yes, on the odd occasion monkeys steal your food and friends throw your expensive drinks at them, or (as happened at another birthday party we were invited to but couldn’t make), you’re busy celebrating a kids birthday party and then someone warns you lion are in the area, and someone else tells you Eles are on the road home.

But, quite honestly, it makes life an adventure – and a beautiful one too. What a way to bring up a child.

Parenting at 38 degrees Celsius

March 19, 2019

It has been hot lately. Really, really hot. As in you walk outside at 8am and feel like you’ve entered an oven, or an inappropriately long hug on a summer day. As in you can’t really think between 11am and 6pm, unless you jump in the pool or lock yourself in an air conditioned room.

All of this, I have discovered, has its impacts on parenting. Tempers are short, whinging is plentiful, and smacks are probably dishes out more readily than completely necessary.

In truth, this has been one of the more difficult aspects of life lately. I’m constantly assessing my mothering, and feeling like it wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be that day. It’s discouraging, but then I remember generations of mothers have been endlessly infuriated for thousands of years before me…and lots of kids still turned out ok.

I mean, once when I wouldn’t stop wriggling, my mum whacked me over the head so hard with my hair brush that it snapped in two. Aside from the twitch I’ve turned out fine. And I have an awesome childhood war story to boot.

(Mum wants everyone to know it was a plastic brush, easily broken, and that all the mums did it in those days. Sorry to dob you in mum. I LOVE YOU).

Also, inappropriate moments often result from these short tempers which, try as I might, I cannot help but find funny.

Take, for example, the time I got irritated enough to loudly say “bugger” in front of Kepler. I thought I had escaped until we were at a playdate a little later and the wee man came marching around the corner with his friend, both of them muttering a crystal-clear “bugger” in unison as they approached.

I think I said something about school being a bad influence at that point.

Or the time we got to playing David and Goliath in the pool, where I am actually cool enough to be a fun, spotaneous, energetic parent. How can Bible stories be a bad thing? I thought.

Later that week Kepler’s teacher had to pull me aside to talk about a “hitting incident” at school.

“He hit him so hard that I heard it all the way down the hallway,” she said.

Then, there was the day Will got so wound up over some problem or another that a loud “DAMMIT” issued forth from his mouth right in front of Kepler.

Our eyes instantly met in that “it’s too late to go back” way, and then a soft “damage!” broke the air between us.

“Kepler,” I said in my best, calm mum voice. “Daddy made a mistake and that really isn’t a word we should say.”

“Damage,” he muttered again softly while staring at me.

I felt my heckles rise. “We don’t say that word, Kepler.” I added in a much firmer voice.

“We don’t say damage, mummy. Mummy, we don’t say damage, ok, we don’t say damage.”

I exhaled loudly. After a while of “damage” being exclaimed in various tones of voice, to consistent reprimand, the little man got a smack. In hindsight I’m not convinced it was the right parenting choice. Had it been cooler, I probably would have just laughed at the hilarity of his pronunciation from the outset.

Later that evening I was chatting away to Will with the little man hanging out close by.

“Anyways,” I finished the story, “there was some serious damage.”

This time, it was Kepler who met my eyes. There was a moment of silence. A soft “damage” broke the air.

Kepler 1, mum nil.

What’s in a name?

March 8, 2019

It is official. Will Henson, the man I married, is now Jamie Henson. It’s on our business cards, our website, our email addresses…everything.

Strangely, I’m starting to adapt to the name, and have even called him Jamie to his face, in private, when it was absolutely unnecessary to do.

In public, it has become a survival mechanism. Only a handful of people know him as Will anymore.

Shongwe Lookout – Business Card

BUT, the saga continues with my name. It turns out that Zimbabweans REALLY struggle to remember “Narelle”.

I first realised this when I was chatting to a vague acquaintance and decided to re-introduce myself.

“Say that again,” he said, literally leaning in and staring at my lips, as I repeated slowly and clearly “Na-relle”.

“Ah,” he said, tapping the side of his head. “Got it. Runelle.”

My eyes nearly popped out of my head, but seeing that he was an older gentleman I decided just to roll with it…besides, it is not the first time I’ve been called Runelle. Apparently it is an Afrikaans name, and not uncommon.

I was telling this story to a couple who are slightly better acquaintances (if you are reading this, know that I love you. I found this all hilarious) for a bit of a laugh, when the husband interrupted with; “I know how to remember it.”

We looked at him expectantly.

“Laurelle, like, I’m resting on my laurels.” He grinned proudly.

His wife mercifully corrected this one by pointing out my name was more like Merrell, the shoe brand.

At that point I realised I had a problem on my hands.

Added to this is the complication of trying to communicate our names to officials. For some unknown reason this escalate rapidly into total chaos the moment we open our mouths to spell.

Juts the other day I had to spell my first name. I started (quite logically, I thought) with “n”. The official wrote down “i”. I tried to tell him it was actually “n”. He added an “n” after the “i”. I asked for the pen and wrote it myself.

Will, on the other hand, was trying to spell our last name. He got to the “n” and it turned into an “a”.

“No, n” he said.

The official added an “a” after the “n”. In the end, our names were recorded for entry to the National Park as “Heanfon”. It’s all bringing back terrible memories of whether or not we are really residents in Zimbabwe, since neither of our names were spelled right on our residence permits.

So there you have it. Jamie/Will Heanfon\Heanson and Runelle/Lorel/Merryl Nenson are here and ready to make their mark on Zimbabwe…if only anyone could remember who we were.

Holidaying close to heaven (and fuel)

March 4, 2019

Those of you who follow my blog will know that Zimbabwe is a) struggling through a currency crisis and b) doesn’t have much fuel.

We hit up against this when we decided to drive to Bulawayo a while back, but then things seemed to settle down for a while.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. So when the chance for a sneaky getaway came up, our first discussion as a couple was whether it would be cheaper and easier to fly to our destination (we kept things simple by deciding to holiday LITERALLY on the other side of the country…), or to drive.

After numerous calculations, we decided it was cheaper to fly to Harare, where we could also do some work stuff, then drive the rest of the way to Nyanga in the Eastern Highlands.

So we were off, with great excitement, to a quick stop with the wonderful Robb family in Harare where Kepler got to catch up with his BEST buddie in the whole wide world, and we got to visit travel agents to drop off our fancy new business cards.

The next stop was a visit to the best coffee roaster in Zimbabwe, Danie Grobler from Mushe Coffee, before our final destination in Juliasdale, Nyanga.

Honestly, the cool mountain air, the moss covered rocks, the ferns and punga trees made it feel just like being home…except for the horrific roads and the fact that as soon as we arrived, Will was stressed about fuel.

So stressed, in fact, that our first day of holiday started with a hunt for diesel. Fortunately, we stumbled across a station just outside of Troutbeck (look these places up, they are amazing) that only took USD, which meant it ran out less slowly than everyone else.

So with a full tank, we set off to the row boats, and horse rides, and picnic stops.

The next day it was up to Mtarazi Falls, the second tallest falls in Africa. I couldn’t believe how much it felt like home up in the mountains, where a cool fresh breeze blew through seas of endless green under equally endless blue skies.

The views were mind-boggling, and the pictures in no way capture the awesome beauty of a green valley rolling out 1000 metres beneath you.

After another day exploring the area, in which we thought we would die driving the most appalling “road” I’ve ever seen, Will’s cousins joined us at the little cottage where we were stayed. There are no pictures of said road, because Will was so traumatised he wouldn’t let me take any…he was actually shaking by the time we made it out alive.

I’m not sure how to interpret the fact that even while I feared for my life I was desperate to take photos.

After that, it was time to fill up at our faithful Troutbeck station, then head back to Harare, and on to home. All in all, I’d say our first holiday in Zimbabwe was quite a success.

Minding our own business

February 25, 2019

Running a business anywhere in the world obviously has it challenges. But I’ve decided that running a business in Zimbabwe elevates challenges to the level of comedic art.

Thus far, under the “usual challenges” category, are the days that I am busy Googling hospitality-industry jargon while emailing travel agents so that I know what the heck they are asking me, from our make-shift office in the lounge because our actual office has no power points.

Under the “unique to a third-world country*” challenges category comes the following little incident:

A couple of days ago I was right in the middle of some very critical (and awful) administration stuff when the power cut. Now, I REALLY had to send an email. Kepler had decided not to sleep, and was attempting to crawl over me, while I bellowed for Faith to come babysit him so that I could whiz down to Shearwater Cafe to use their free internet.

Cue frantic hunting for the computer bag, which Faith also decided to join in on…in the end she produced an oven bag usually used to carry hot dishes around in. It was good enough for me, so off I set with wild humidity-hair, deer-in-the-headlights eyes and a computer in an oven bag.

Now, in the “unique to Zimbabwe” category comes the following HYPOTHETICAL, highly -illegal situation. Let’s say, for example, you lived in a country where the currency was crashing. Presumably, your suppliers would no longer want to be paid in that currency…they would want US dollars.

Now, let’s say that trading currency was illegal in this country…HYPOTHETICALLY you would be contacting suppliers about where to pick up wads of US dollar cash. You would also be feeling a lot more like a drug dealer than a legitimate, respectable business.

But of course, we have no idea what that feels like.

Moving on.

Even where the law functions well, incompetence can be rather a huge challenge. The other day I successfully paid for our P.O. Box to be set up. The paper work was not lost (amazing). The prices were stated at the same amount by all parties involved (incredible). The whole thing took less than 24 hours (miraculous), and then I went to pick up my key.

“Your key?” said the lady at the counter.

“Yes,” I replied, “for box 170, please.”

“It’s not here,” came the reply. “The keys are still in Bulawayo, but don’t worry, you can just come pick up your mail here.”

While the offer of a solution was wonderfully kind, it didn’t explain where my key was, why it wasn’t in my hand, or how long it would take. In the end I managed to discover that the keys would probably take a couple of months…to make the five hour drive from Bulawayo.

Despite the interesting, unique challenges that come with setting up a business here, I do have to say most days we are wide-eyed with wonder at watching our dreams transform into reality.

To see a lodge taking shape, business cards appear in our hands, and bookings coming in is rather incomparable.

We’re setting up a business in Zimbabwe, despite ridiculous challenges, and it is going to be AWESOME.

The day that I’ve been dreading

February 12, 2019

There is one thing I’ve been waiting for since we moved to Zimbabwe. The day that Kepler got proper sick. Given that malaria, tick bite fever, spider bites, and other scary illnesses are now on the list of possibilities, I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Well, I can now official say I survived it, and so did Kepler, despite my high stress levels and his high temperatures.

Basically, a few days ago, Kepler woke at 5.45am crying. He had been off the night before, and was complaining of a sore tummy. Next came some vomiting, then a bit of a temperature.

A few hours later, I knew something was wrong. Kepler was crying in a funny way. I went into his room and felt him. He was burning up.

Now, he was complaining of a headache too…the crying got worse, and we decided to head to the doctor.

Three scary scenarios (well, three main ones) were tumbling around my brain; tick bite fever – because two weeks ago I had to pull seven ticks of the little guy – appendicitis, because of the sudden temperature, vomiting and tummy pain, and malaria, because Africa.

THANK HEAVENS for my friend Chantel, who sent through every doctors detail we could possibly need, and directed us to the best clinic for the situation.

We sat in the waiting room while I wondered how I was going to hold back my panic tears and make sure the doctor did his job. Unfortunately, I had heard a lot of horror stories involving medical malpractice since getting here…so I basically felt like it was my job to figure out what was wrong, then force the doctor to proscribe.

No pressure.

We got into Sister’s room (that’s what they call the nurse apparently), and she took one look at the little guy, and asked if malaria could be a possibility. His temp was at 39 degrees, he was pale and lying still against me, his breathing was shallow and rapid, and I said yes.

Sister got out a little kit, pricked Kepler’s finger for a blood sample, and we sat waiting for the result. Two minutes later it was negative. Sister assured me the test was accurate.

From there, we were allowed to navigate around a chair into the doctor’s room. After a few questions about when symptoms first showed up, the doctor came over and in a very calm, mild voice, told me we would start from top, and check the little man right down to his tummy.

I instantly relaxed. He was SO CALM and chilled. As he checked Kepler’s throat, ears, breathing, lymph nodes and tummy, the doctor explained to me what he was thinking.

He must have dealt with foreign mum’s before. It worked a charm on me, and pretty soon I was thinking this was all totally under control.

Then the doctor, in his very chilled, calm voice, told me he thought it was a respiratory infection, but wanted to check for tick bite fever and appendicitis just incase…in the meantime he was going to put in a cannula and hit Kepler with two different broad spectrum antibiotics, as well as an oral.

It doesn’t really matter how calmly you say all that, any mum instantly wonders why the urgency in hitting a child with THAT many types of antibiotic.

After enduring holding my child while a cannula was inserted, and drugs pumped into him, then watching with trepidation as a scan was performed, we were sent home.

By 4pm, results for all our main fears were back negative. The only thing the scan showed was swollen lymph nodes in the stomach. So it was back home to sweat out the night and see if the antibiotics would work.

After a rough night involving very little sleep, we awoke to a much happier little man. From there it was back to the doctor for our third and final dose of intravenous antibiotics, then home to rest and cuddle mummy.

And I am very pleased to report that I now have a very happy little man on my hands.

So we have survived the day I was dreading, and I now have a pretty good idea of what to expect with medical care here. In a phrase, they don’t muck around.