Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

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.

We have interwebs and baboons

February 4, 2019

Admittedly this is old news now. We have had interwebs since a high court ruling a few weeks ago found the complete internet blackout illegal.

This is all great, mostly because Shongwe Lookout is now getting a little busier for me.

As you all know, our little man started school this month, which means I have four hours a day to get our booking systems, internet, social media, marketing strategy and a bunch of other things done.

Here’s a little peak preview into how Shongwe is looking, by the way. It may not look like much, but the gardens are growing, the bar and reception areas are going in, and soon the interior of all the rooms will soon be underway. That middle pic up top is the swimming pool!

There have also been some other important developments. Will’s garden is finally fruiting, which means we have some fresh vegetables. His fruit trees aren’t far behind.

BUT, the baboons are on to us. Lately a troupe of them has been moving in, which makes the dogs go crazy, and also me to be fair. Now, let me explain what these humanoid rats are like; just the other day as I was chatting to a friend, I watched a couple of baboons run into an open doorway, emerging with a skirt and a bag. They boosted from the crime scene faster than you can say “hey!”, and then played around with their new toys right in front of the victim. The baboon that stole the skirt actually put it on, and pranced around in it until it fell off. Yes it was hilarious, but it was also just plain nasty. What sort of criminal toys with your mind like that? Only a psychopath, which is what all baboons are.

Back to our place. Suffice to say we are “managing” the problem in our own unique, Zimbabwean way:

I have to say I’m still getting used to dealing with the wildlife around here, and I don’t just mean my new threenager. Part of this is the extremely strong, obsessive streak in all Zimbabwean over conservation, which makes them not want to harm any animal, including snakes and baboons (which I want to shoot). To be Zimbabwean means to have grown up outside, in the bush. To be a cool Zimbabwean means to drive the oldest, toughest Land Rover you can find and have crazy stories about escaping from a hippo’s mouth. I’m making small, tentative steps in this direction with a new-found love of chameleons.

Unfortunately, I recently had the rather traumatic experience of seeing a chameleon get run over while I was staring at it.

The result is an irresistible urge to stop and save chameleons whenever I see them crossing the road, which is often, and must have something to do with rainy season (as does the appearance of the snakes in our garden, apparently).

Being a kiwi, this probably isn’t the wisest thing to do, since I don’t really know the rules of interacting with wildlife/whether Chameleons can hurt you…hence this embarrassing little situation:

Thankfully, it all turned out alright:

Anyways, that’s all from us for now. Other than the wildlife and the internet and the shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables thanks to the stay-away, we are enjoying the cooler weather brought on by the rainy season (we have even dipped below 30 degrees Celsius!).

Riots, blackouts, and a “massacre”

January 16, 2019

So this was meant to be a New Year’s post ( belated, in the tradition of this blog).

But as some of you may have been reading, the economic crisis has taken a turn for the worse.

At the end of last week, the government announced the price of petrol – in chronic shortage, hence our unbelievable queues – was going to more than double.

It kinda had to happen. Fuel was being sold for less than the fuel companies could buy it on the market, thanks to government price controls. The ensuing shortages were the cause of all the queues.

But adding yet another huge price increase to people already facing goods three times their usual price – without wages having increased – has tipped people over the edge. A stay-away from Monday through to Wednesday was organised. The idea was that everyone would stay away from work, effectively shutting the country down.

Unfortunately, they turned into riots in Bulawayo and Harare on Monday, violent in some areas. I read about it with relative apathy, thinking “meh it never seems to creep this far across the country. We’ll be fine.”

Early Tuesday morning, my phone started buzzing like crazy. The messages were mostly unattributed, but scary nontheless:

Will was already on his way to drop Kepler off. The flood of messages from concerned friends was giving minute-by-minute updates. There was (and is) no way to tell if the messages were scaremongering or real updates. After all, forwarded Whatsapp messages are the main way we get news here.

Kepler’s school was cancelled for the day (yes, he goes to “school” now four hours a day, it’s pretty flippin’ cute), and a friend brought him home.

We checked whether our staff or their relatives needed to come stay on the property out of the way of Chinotimba, which seemed to be the suburb most agitated. They weren’t particularly worried.

Will decided to head up to Shongwe and carry on with work, while I attempted to write this blog back at home. Will got back, and announced that he had driven around Chinotimba and seen none of the supposed road blocks or riots.

Then the internet cut out. Whatsapp had stopped working a little earlier, as had Facebook, but this time I mean it totally cut out.

This is the government’s way of controlling the protests, and it was remarkably effective. Aside from some agitators questioning those who had tried to turn up for work, or shouting at passing cars, nothing happened for the rest of the day.

So we all hunkered down, and prepared for an enforced day of rest today.

My main concern with the blackout was how to get healthcare if something went wrong. It was a very strange feeling to be totally cut off from the world, and Dr Google. It made me realise that I needed to prepare some emergency plans that weren’t internet-reliant.

We had enough food and water in the house to last a while, and a breadmaker from Christmas, so thankfully nutrition wasn’t a problem, since all the shops were closed.

Text messages were still working, and I managed to contact my parents so they at least knew we were alive. Someone had told them the government had shut down the internet so it could massacre people.

I’m sure brutal repression for the protestors will have been part of this story. That is horrific, and it is wrong. It proves this government is no different from the last one.

But the crazy headlines we heard were floating around made it sound like the entire country was on the brink of civil war. I wished for my parents’ sake someone would write “Police station burnt down in suburb of Phumula” as opposed to “City of Bulawayo Burns”.

Then I wished someone would do a story on how many areas of the country were calm…like Victoria Falls where Will was painting and I was writing the second chapter of a book.

(It’s called Primal, it’s gonna be great. Like, totally. Like probably the greatest book in the world).

And really, that’s all there was to it until I suddenly noticed Will’s phone light up with Whatsapp messages around 6.30pm.

Will got in contact with his family, while I shot off an email to dad, and then got writing this blog.

After all, people, we had just been forwarded a Whatsapp message saying the internet would only be reconnected for three hours…so who really knows!?

As usual we watch, wait and try to be wise.