Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

The art of belonging

October 15, 2019

One of the biggest challenges you face moving around the world is that of belonging.

It’s even tougher when you go from a community in which you have generations of history, loads of ‘aunties’ who have been watching your back (and gossiping about you-in a good way) your whole life, and a good portion of your immediate and extended family nearby.

However, I have discovered some secret tips that help one nestle into a place, and the hearts of those inhabiting it.

1. Laugh loudly and often: This is best done at yourself, as it is remarkably less effective when laughing at a local. I’ve tried both and can testify to that. After all, you are the newbie in town, so you’re the weirdo probably doing all sorts of strange things every one else is being extremely gracious about…like the time I commented to some friends that I was surprised mosquitos were biting us up the lodge tower because I didn’t realize they flew that high.

Practicing my smile.

2. Endure ailments frequently: I have MASTERED this during my pregnancy. People feel sorry for you for being so far from home, while sick etc. Even better, if you haven’t already made friends, it is a sure way to add some people to that list. Here, we are planning dinner with our doctor, and every time I go to get a blood sample done Sam has a good chat to me about being hungry when pregnant (he is a remarkably astute man). Meanwhile, the pharmacists have become my own personal cheering squad, and after handing out the latest dose of drugs, wave me off with a ‘good luck!’ Or ‘I hope you win this time!’.

Another sick day in bed.

3. Force yourself on people: Don’t give them time to realize you’re strange. Just message for that next coffee date or dinner. Then, when you get there, introduce yourself to every person present (force yourself, see?) and make them engage in conversation with you. Some of them are BOUND to lack the insight to realize you are mildly odd, and you’ll be in with a grin. That’s as sound a basis as any for good friendship.

Kuda, the honorary Kiwi who lived in Auckland.

4. Start a ukulele club: This has the benefit of combining point one AND point three, as you’ll end up laughing a lot since the uke is a happy instrument, and you’ll be forcing yourself on people. Besides that, you’ll need all the help you can get making friends, so using any and every friendship tool at your disposal is advisable. Ukes are famed for their friendship-conjuring abilities.

Ukulele, the best tool for making friends.

5. Say thank you: The truth is that you are busting in on peoples’ world…and some of them will wholeheartedly and warmly welcome you in. They will look out for you, put up with your obnoxious cultural breeches, hug you (even if you’re a person who didn’t realize you would need them), check in on you and even love you.

Fortunately, we have found Vic Falls to be full of that sort. Just today a surprise parcel arrived containing gifts for our little girl. Another person mentioned wanting to get our return dates so they could stock the freezer with Pre -made meals. Friends have taken Kepler for the weekend to give us time off, or for play dates when we were sick. Others are master huggers, or listeners, or just laugh at your jokes.

Really, after one year in the Falls, there isn’t much more to say other than one big, giant THANK YOU to the very special people who have welcomed us in.

The first rain dance

October 11, 2019

There really is no way to describe the first rains in Africa. But obviously this is a written blog, so I’ll have to try.

The key to understanding the magic of rain is to really get your head around what a lack of it feels like.

In Vic Falls, rainy season is preceded by roughly five months without a drop of rain, as temperatures incrementally creep towards 40 degrees Celsius. Come October the heat is almost unbearable.

Imagine sweltering in an oven from 9am until about 7pm. Then, add an extra 10kg to your current body weight, since you’re pregnant. Toss another degree or two on top of the ambient temperature thanks to the small human growing inside you.

It isn’t fun.

The side-effects are as follows: You drink literally non-stop. As soon as a glass of cool water is finished, you don’t think ‘ah, that was refreshing’. You think ‘man, is my mouth clammy again already?’

You wouldn’t need to go to the toilet at all, except that you are pregnant, so you have to go every 15mins. (The experience is made more frustrating by the fact you bought single ply toilet paper accidentally -BIG MISTAKE- and the frequent power cuts mean you can’t flush since the water pump won’t work).

You move slowly and inelegantly between the pool and the bedroom, where an inverter keeps the fan or air conditioner going, and you can look out the window and ponder all the things you need to do but can’t even begin to because you are just.so.hot.

You moisturize twice a day because your skin is so dry, but your heels crack anyway, and your nostrils burn from the air conditioner drying them out overnight.

All of this builds to a head over a couple of months as the dogs lie panting in any shade they can find, the national park turns to a moonscape full of boulders and dead-looking trees, and the animals move sluggishly around you towards the river.

A good layer of dust settles on every window pane the moment it is cleaned.

Slowly, an infuriating humidity starts to build, making the air thick and heavy, and that 10kg feel like 20kg. Tempers get short, sweat layers skin from the moment the sun pops up, dirt and dust coat your feet and legs, you feel sticky, sick and frustrated.

All of this is made worse by the failure of the last rainy season to show up at the party, resulting a drought that has sent the Zambezi River shriveling up to its lowest levels in decades- apparently.

Just as you think you really need to move into the pool on a permanent basis for the sake of all those you love, the last reprieve- the gentle breeze- dies completely.

Movement seems to be a ludicrous idea, even to the dogs.

Then.

Then the sky gets dark, literally out of the blue. A firm wind begins to whisk brittle, brown foliage across the property.

That’s when you see it- a shower so fine it’s only visible because of the little ripples appearing on the surface of the pool.

As distant thunder rattles the clouds, the rain grows slowly heavier. You start messaging your friends using way too many words in capital letters and exclamation marks.

Right on cue in the grand drama, fat, heavy droplets of rain let loose, and the steady shower transforms into a DOWNPOUR!!

IT’S THE FIRST RAINS OF THE SEASON!!!

As you can imagine, the moment unleashes celebration wherever those rain drops fall.

We went out to sing and dance (I was trying to convince Kepler that God was not going to flood the world like in Noah’s Ark, since he mostly knew about storms from the story).

The heat was slowly beaten out of the air, until it whispered only around our ankles intermingled with dust. Finally, even that was washed away by a cool, refreshing breeze.

We could actually smell the weariness, and heat, and exhaustion seeping out of the earth. (Seriously. It’s a scientific fact.)

Best of all, we could feel the weariness, heat and exhaustion being washed out of our bodies, minds and souls.

Even Kepler eventually got into the celebration and (after putting his swimming suit on just incase) ran outside to join us in a little rain dance.

No one knows when the next rains will fall, but for now, our spirits have been refreshed.

Really, there is nothing like the first rains in Africa.

One year: The hazards of going home

August 29, 2019

We made it. One entire year on the other side of the planet. One entire year in what is, essentially, a different world.

I was actually pretty emotional reflecting on the moment this past week, but when it came I suddenly realised something: I’m heading back to New Zealand soon, and I’ve picked up an awful lot of weird habits from a first-world perspective. If they slip out, I’m going to look like a real twit.

So now, I have to confess I’m feeling a little concerned about setting foot in the land of the long white cloud again. Quite honestly I think it will feel like a shock to the system.

In no particular order here is a list of the things I’ll probably end up doing:

  1. I’ll forget I don’t have a maid, and will pile up dishes at my parents’ house expecting them to just disappear. It’s amazing how fast you adapt to having home help…
  2. I’ll stand waaaaayyyyy too close to people in the queue at the supermarket expecting someone to try to push in front of me. If your body parts aren’t touching here, you aren’t queuing right.
  3. I’ll drive over curbs, on footpaths, and pass in town. If I get pulled over I’ll express surprise that there are road rules, and that the idea of a “road” is taken so literally.
  4. I’ll keep asking people if there is “ZESA” (power) or water at their house as a general topic of conversation. When they look at me strangely I’ll ask what rate we are using against the US dollar.
  5. I’ll go into shock when I first see the fresh produce in the supermarket and will start tenderly stroking vegetables I haven’t seen in a year as I dribble and cry quietly.
  6. When shopping in general I’ll ask the assistants what price items are today, in which currency, for every single item I’m interested in. Despite the clearly marked price labels.
  7. I will literally cry when I first taste fresh milk again. Then I will drink litres and litres of it even after my dad gets angry and tells me to stop. I’ll buy UHT milk just so I can pour it down the drain and burn the package.
  8. I’ll keep glancing around nervously when we go for a bush walk, and will say things like “this is lion country for sure” or “was that an ele?”
  9. I’ll have a look of pure terror on my face when someone suggests swimming in the Waikato River. When I get asked why, I’ll yell “the crocs and the hippos, you idiot!”
  10. I’ll smack Kepler in public. When I get arrested I’ll be extremely confused and keep saying “but it’s legal here.”

Awkward habits aside, it has been a big year. I think Will and I will be processing it for a while yet, packing it neatly into our memories and studying how it has shaped us as people, and as a family.

There have been PLENTY of horrible lows involving sickness, stress levels we didn’t know a human could survive, and feeling we let everyone down by some stuff up or another.

But I can’t deny that Vic Falls is now firmly under my skin, because on the 25th of July at 11pm I heard the call of the hyena in the night, and felt my heart glow at the beauty of the sound. Then I caught myself thinking “mmm, I’m going to miss that in New Zealand”. I knew then that the good friends we had made, the natural beauty we had come to love, the life we’d forged here and the strengths and talents we’d seen for the first time in each other well outweighed the hard stuff.

So there you have it. A year in, and I’m quite happy in my new home.

Pregnant in the third world

August 11, 2019

Ok, I know that title was offensive to some of you. But I often get laughed at here for using the politically polite language of “developing country”, so I figure I won’t win either way.

Anyways, the point is a little while ago Will and I discovered a wee surprise was on the way. After more than two years of trying, we were actually pregnant. It caught us so off guard (we were VERY busy with the lodge) that it took THREE weeks of me whining about not feeling right before we clicked.

Bump at seven weeks making itself known

After getting our heads around the news, I began the process of officiating things: call the doctor, get a script for blood tests and scans, do blood pressure etc, etc.

The only way to describe what followed is cultural whiplash.

It started with our local doctor, who is AWESOME. He does house visits, which instantly made me feel like a 1950s housewife. After the first visit, it also made me feel extremely joyful at not having to wait up to an HOUR at a local clinic like we used to in Cambridge. Quite honestly, having a doctor come to you feels like the best medical care ever, especially if you are sick as a dog and don’t want to get out of bed (more on that soon). After turning up on time, as usual, Mike did all the necessary checks and sent me off to the lab for bloods etc.

I was suddenly thrust from the serenity of feeling I was in competent, professional hands, to, well…something different. The lab was not like NZ. There was no waiting room, and as I slid awkwardly through the door, I saw there was also no Patient chair. Modern-looking equipment was stacked along one wall, covered in files and papers for Africa (pun intended), while the other was lined with boxes of supplies. Chaos reigned supreme from my observations. A technician slid his chair across to me, while another fought with a strap to tie around my arm. In the end she got a plastic glove and used that. Then she pulled out an obnoxiously big needle and fought with my vein.

Just check out that roof…

“It keeps moving” she said, before heading over to a smaller vein.

In the end, we got the blood and it was remarkably pain-free for how it all started.

Then it was scan time, which thrust me back into a world where medical care goes above and beyond. Brian, whom I consider a dear angel from the Lord, was SO thorough. He made me come back and said he would stay late at work just to get all the information he needed, thanks to bubs not playing ball. His dedication outstripped any experience I have had in NZ (I’m sure you’re out there, wonderful scan people. I just never met you).

About to do the 12 week scan- not the most modern equipment, but Brian was AMAZING!

Things turned quite pear-shaped when I got a BRUTAL flu which had been going around. Thanks to pregnancy-suppressed immune system, I was in bed for five weeks. In the end, it turned bacterial, and through a cracking headache and light-sensitive eyes I called on Mike again. By this stage I could hardly eat, drink or walk, so perhaps it was the illness, but quite honestly when he arrived he seemed to be surrounded by a gentle glow of light, and a halo, particularly when he uttered the words “pregnancy-safe antibiotic”.

I staggered back to gentle, professional, kind Brian for a chest x-Ray, just to clear pneumonia from the list of possibilities, then came home to feel blissful recovery take hold of my body AT LONG LAST as the second antibiotic surged through my system.

Now, I also got flu in NZ with Kepler at about 12 weeks pregnant. But there, a national flu jab programme ensured that if it did hit, at least it wasn’t that bad. AFTER I nearly died, someone off-handly told me that apparently you can get the flu jab here. Thank you Zimbabwe.

I am, thankfully, now fully recovered and the cultural whiplash has slowed as I instead get my head around all of the details that come with planning to have a baby in another country over the holiday period, and needing a passport to get it back again as well as adding bubs to pre-purchased return tickets.

Will’s favourite pic of me: pregnant, and bare-foot in the kitchen. About 17 weeks.

Now, to take bets on whether or not Will will make the birth…he’s planning on arriving one week before the baby is due. And Kepler came early.

Oh, one more announcement. As per Viki Johnson’s dream on February 18 (before we were even pregnant), and Kepler’s INSISTENT predictions from the moment we told him the news:

Five-star glamping and family fun

July 22, 2019

There are a few benefits to running a lodge in the middle of Africa (almost).

One of them, it turns out, comes in the form of the “comp”, industry slang for “complimentary” activity or stay. It might be the latest sunset cruise on offer in the Falls, it might be a game drive, or it might be two nights with your family at a five-star glamping set up in one of the most beautiful parks on the planet.

Now, let it first be known that we also offer our fair share of “comps”. It’s actually quite important for agents, particularly agents with whom we are partnering in some package deal, to experience our lodge so they know exactly what to tell guests about us. Because of this they might get to stay for a night or two for free. Others end up having complimentary meals or drinks. On the other hand, its important for companies offering activities locally, or a tour series that includes us, to let the lodges in on what they are offering – not just to sell it to us, but also so we can answer practical questions for guests to help them have the best time possible. Is there food offered? How long does it take? Do I need my passport?..you get the drift.

Anyways, at this point I need to say that my aunty and uncle from New Zealand visited recently. I was super excited about their visit because it was planned before we even left New Zealand, and Aunty Sheryn is like a second mum to me (along with two other superstar ladies). We didn’t have a lot planned with them because the fuel crisis is still a thing, so we weren’t sure what would be possible when they got here.

It worked out well, for them. The day after we arrived a friend needed people for a photo shoot in a game drive. At the last minute I decided to join, only to discover the whole purpose of the shoot was to get us up close and personal to elephants. We spent an hour throwing ourselves into the middle of a herd trying to get the shots, while I silently died inside a million times, and my aunty and uncle “oohed” and “ahhed” over the “magical” experience…of elephant walking WITH THEIR BABIES a couple of metres from us.

The start of the drive…
No photos of the close encounters. I was too scared.

Next up shots were needed for white water rafting, so that was Uncle Glen for the day, and Will took a much needed “break” too.

Then, we were very excited to hear that we were part of a tour series from an agent, who suggested we head out to the other stops on tour so we could talk intelligently about them to our guests. Mostly, they were VERY glam camping sites.

We thanked them, but pointed out that we had my aunty and uncle with us.

“Oh, bring them along,” said the agent.

And so, with our usual frantic, last-minute scramble we headed off to the sprawling, stunning Hwange National Park. At this point I need to do a MASSIVE shout out to Quinton and Bridget Sole, who lent us their Prado at the last second, when we discovered our Nissan would be at the mechanic’s a lot longer than anticipated (thanks Chobe trip). After a brief trial, we realised that cramming luggage plus four adults and a child into our two-door Pajero for a three hour trip was not a plan.

Will told me not to say how fast we drove to get there on time, since Bridge and Quint will probably read this, so I won’t. We managed to make it on time to our pick up at Main Camp, and the drive to our glamp-camp two hours away was one of the most magical experiences of my life. (Thanks Bridge and Quint!)

The bush was like a fantasy-land. The last of the clinging, autumn leave floated mid-air off invisible branches, lit up by the dying side a million shades of orange, yellow and brown. It was like driving through a fairy-light forest sprung up from deep, white dessert sand. Elephant, giraffe and a host of antelope nodded their hello as we passed (or ran off in fear – same diff), and then we hit a wide open vlei with a pan as its crowning glory. Vultures circled over the bush nearby, and our driver said there must have been a lion kill.

Suddenly, a hyena ran onto centre stage – pretty special since they tend to hang out at night. As we watched, it bowed its head low to the ground, and boomed out its whooping call, smashing the sound into the bare earth and flinging it, on the rebound, far across the vlei.

It’s bros heard the call, and came running to fight off the lions for the kill, but we had to head to camp before nightfall/we froze to death.

The rest of the trip passed in a bit of a dream. Glamping in California King beds, with electric blankets to fend off the freezing temperatures, is not something I would complain about. Although I did whinge about the elephant chatting loudly to its friend till all hours of the night at the pan we overlooked, and the duck with verbal diarrhea.

From there the comps ended, and we headed to Bulawayo to show off Matopos National Park, then send my aunty and uncle BRAVELY on their way to the east of the country…during a fuel shortage…in a country without a currency.

Suffice to say we all had a pretty special time, and made some amazing memories. Entirely suitable, really, that I got to do it all with my pretty special, and amazing, aunt and uncle.

Love you Uncle Glen and Aunty Sheryn!

Lost in translation

July 16, 2019

Moving countries always comes with its fair share of trying to work out local slang.

Fortunately, Zimbabweans are reasonably normal on this front and I haven’t had too many moments of wondering what was going on.

There was the time I offered some friends a “slice” only to get blank stares in return. After several translation attempts, I was informed that I was offering them “fridge cake,” which sounded quite unappealing to me given it starts with the word “fridge.”

There was also the time I asked a friend to put on the “jug”.

“The what?” came the reply.

I pointed it out. “You call a kettle a jug!?”

“No,” I replied quite honestly. “I call a jug a jug. That’s a jug.”

The reality is I lost that debate before it even started, since I’m remarkably outnumbered here. But I gave it a good shot anyway.

There’s also the classic “supper” versus “tea” debate. I haven’t even tried to argue that one. Zimbabweans are quite fond of their tea. Afternoon tea, with something to eat, and civilized conversation seated on a veranda overlooking a garden is almost a weekly occurrence for me now.

The idea that something as sacred as tea could be used to mean “supper” (or “dinner” as some of you might say), although quite common in NZ, is taken with disbelief here.

There’s also togs versus “swimming costume”, jandals versus “slops”, and whanau versus family, or puku versus “tummy”, all of which I’ve managed to handle.

But I have to confess one fairly common Southern African stumbling block is still tripping me up eleven months after arrival, and that’s the habit people have of talking about time using three seemingly innocuous words: now, now now and just now.

I first hit up against the terms when I saw my friend Claire at school. We had just finished drop off and were about 2 minutes away from seeing each other in gym class.

“See you soon,” I said.

She laughed, like that was utterly rediculous, and replied “yeah, in like 2 minutes!”

I got into the car wondering what had just happened.

Later, she explained that “soon” meant “later”…and to say “soon” I should actually say “just now”. Except, not too long afterward someone else used the words differently…then someone else..then someone else.

“Everyone uses them differently!” I whined to another friend who had just said “just now”.

Kim began the process of explaining. “Actually, you know what? It’s too hard,” she said as she broke off the explanation.

“I think this one is genetic” I said.

She looked at me. “Yeah, you have to be born into this one.”

And with a gentle pat on the shoulder as she took her leave, she threw back in a singsong voice “sucks to be you!”

Botswana drama

June 13, 2019

Last weekend we decided to head to Botswana for the weekend to get some shopping done.

We found a little more drama than that, which has had me wondering whether I am prone to exaggeration, or whether we are still a little naive for Africa…or whether this was legitimately was quite dramatic. You be the judge.

The drive there was lovely, the border was quick, and I managed to get a good amount of shopping done on day one.

In fact, by 4pm we decided we would head into the famous Chobe National Park, and enjoy a spot of game watching while the sun lit up the African horizon.

So we set off, with food and water aplenty, in our Nissan Xtrail.

We got through the gate, turned onto the track, and instantly ran into a group of eles. They surrounded the car, crossing the road ahead of and behind us, while I watched in trepidation as a little bubba ele ran off after its mother. That part was actually also a bit comical- the way they run when they are tiny is SO CUTE.

Having made it through that encounter, we headed off again, into the main drama of the day; suddenly, the deep kalahari sand national parks called a ‘track’, turned into a trap for our ill-suited vehicle.

And the petrol light went on.

Will looked at me for the FIRST time in the bush in Africa and muttered repeatedly, without drawing breath, ‘oh man, this is bad, this is bad, this is bad’.

We rocked back and forward. We put the car in 4wd. We revved like crazy. Nothing.

Will was still muttering when I told him he would have to get out of the car.

“I can’t. You’re not allowed to get out of your car!”

“Well, you’re also not meant to get stuck,” I shot back. “We have to jam some sticks under the tyres”. Besides that, we had no idea whether another vehicle would be along that evening- it was the final run of the day for game driving. The park closed at 6.30pm.

I knew what Will was thinking. With its shady trees and plentiful shrubs, this was lion country.

He got out, while I kept watch, and grabbed some sticks to jam under the tyres. Then I tried driving while he watched.

“The tyres aren’t even turning,’ he said. ‘It’s like they’re not responding at all to the engine.”

Suddenly, the IT Crowd came to mind, and I asked Will whether we shouldn’t try “turnin’ it off and on again?”.

We didn’t have any other options, so we did. By some miracle, it ACTUALLY WORKED. Yes, advice from a British comedy show saved our backsides in the middle of the African wilderness. As I revved, the car edged forward, but then I didn’t want to stop moving incase it got stuck again, so Will was left jogging alongside the car yelling at me to stop while I tried to tell him to jump in.

In the end, it wasn’t as easy as the movies make out. Partially, I think this was due to the fact Will was trying to get into the drivers’ seat while I was still sitting in it. So, I had to stop, and Will got back in and managed to keep us going through the petrol-tank-scraping deep sands, which no photograph could properly capture.

By the time we reached firmer ground, along the river flatlands, both of us were so shaken that there was no way we would enjoy the game watching. We couldn’t quite work out where we were on the map, and we didn’t know if we could hit more sand on the way back. Also, the petrol light was, unsurprisingly, still on.

At this point Kepler proclaimed a need to pee, so we made him pee out of the door of the car, without getting out. It was still lion country. He did an admirable job given he is only three years old.

We drove a little further along, and tried to enjoy the stunning vistas of the Chobe flood plains, the stupidly tame wildlife (we basically had to nudge an impala with the bonnet of the car to get it to move out of the way), the elephant playing in the water and the almost elephant-sized hippo (seriously).

But that petrol light was bothering us, so we headed back to the sign pointing to the exit, and managed to make it back safely to the parks gate, where I promptly went and found the ladies’ room.

So there you have it- yet another park visit with too much drama for my liking. I’m pretty sure we are still a little naive for Africa and the Good Lord has his guardian angels working over time on us.