Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

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.

An African Christmas

January 2, 2019

Happy New Year everybody! Sorry that it has been such a long time between posts. It has been a rather a hectic month, so let me explain.

For weeks I had been humming “Give me an African Christmas”, and dreaming about how we could do things uniquely here. The rains had started, the birds were flocking to our tree-filled garden (as were the insects, but let’s be positive), and I was hunting around town looking for African Christmas fabrics with which to make decorations. I had even prepared a Christmas playlist by the end of November.

Then December arrived. Suddenly we realised that the cottage was not even going to be close to finished at current work rates. Having already fired an entire gang of builders, we had to say goodbye to another (who ended up living on our property for two weeks), and found ourselves desperately trying to impress upon the new gang the utmost need for speed. Without that cottage, our guests would be sleeping in store rooms.

As the days crept by, and our stress levels crept up, the work rate remained a slow and steady pace. I suddenly realised I was trying to impress the concept of speed upon people to whom deadlines, and time, are a foreign idea. Suddenly, I was regretting my wish for an African Christmas.

A week out from D-Day, the cottage was still faaaarrr from ready. Temperatures were approaching 39 degrees Celsius, and Will discovered my first grey hair.

This was the state of affairs:

We finally finished the cottage the day before our guests arrived, which meant we were moving things in the day they got here. But hey, it was FINALLY LIVABLE!!!

Will’s freshly arrived parents were seconded out to the task of shifting stuff, and hardly saw us for the first few days of their stay while we tried to get organised. Because we were so distracted with the cottage, Will’s parents and uncles ended up sorting the main house for our Christmas Eve dinner at the newly restored family dining table. It was a lifesaver, and wouldn’t have happened without them. We were even treated to the strong, cool winds and lightening that signaled a coming rain storm – rainy season was upon us!

Christmas Day was a relaxed affair, with lots of leftover food, fresh bread from our new bread maker, and New Zealand chocolate on hand. David’s Christmas Cake, baked in NZ and brought on the 36 hour journey in a fruit bowl for protection, featured quite heavily too. Kepler got more toys than he knew what to do with, and the rest of us enjoyed watching him play.

From there, it was back to trying to finish off the little details in the cottage, like placing pictures on the walls, getting curtains up and hanging pot plants from the roof…all while trying to maintain a slightly festive atmosphere for the little man! In the meantime, Will’s parents kept water boiled and cooled, dishes washed while Faith was on holiday, and meals provided while I was approaching collapse.

At this point, with the huge deadline that had consumed me for a month finally over, and a massive, massive, massive year behind us, I crashed. I’d already fought and defeated a boil, impetigo and an almost-cold, but the tiredness got me. I just wanted to sleep allllll day. Also at this point, good old homesickness hit. I had been warned to watch out for it around the three month mark, but given that this is Africa a slightly late arrival (by one month) was to be expected.

Our primary break maker, Uncle James, headed home shortly after Christmas, having left Faith with strict instructions as to feeding the dogs (He’s a vet and prize-winning dog breeder). He also left me with keffir (pronounced VERY carefully in Africa), sourdough starter, and the bread maker to take care of.

This left us with Uncle Kiev, Oupa, and Will’s parents for the New Year.

And there you have it. My African Christmas. In every way my wish was granted. The stress of impending chaos, disaster averted by hours and then, somehow, the most magical, beautiful Christmas table is whipped together by one mother-in-law showcasing the mind-boggling beauty of Africa that makes you think maybe the grey hair is worth it after all.

Baby tortoises nannies!

December 6, 2018

One of the most exciting things about living in Africa is the arrival of the rainy season.

We arrived just in time for dry season, or summer, and the soaring 40 degree Celsius temperatures that go with it. 

Slowly, over the past few weeks, we have watched massive clouds building on the horizon, and felt a cool wind pick up and blow through each evening. 

We had a few false starts, but finally on the weekend we visited Oupa a real downpour hit. It is a magnificent thing to watch those sheets of water pour over barren land, hear the thunder grumbling and stare at lighting cracking through the sky. There really is nothing on earth like an African storm.

Anyway, I digress. By the time we got back home a little surprise was waiting for us. It was all very exciting to begin with.


We knew Mr and Mrs Shylock had a healthy relationship already, because the dogs sadly dug up a few eggs only weeks ago. 

Emmanuel managed to get to this little guy before the dogs, thank heavens, but the question was where on earth to put him that was safe and secure.

Cue the empty fish tank sitting in the store room, which Faith duly fitted out with food and water, along with a little interior decor.

It was all been very exciting, like I said, except it is now home to five happy little tortoises – and counting – all of whom are brave enough to stick their necks out when we get close, and even clamber around our hands.

On top of that, it turns out that our property has a rich history of raising baby tortoises before releasing them into the wide. The whole process only takes TWO YEARS.

So, with literally no idea what we are doing, we have officially become baby tortoise raisers. And we have suddenly realised that we will be baby tortoise raisers FOREVER unless Mr and Mrs Shylock have a falling out one year.

The question is where on earth we are going to keep them all!

Other than that mini crisis, this week we chilled out with warthog at the Boat Club, watched elephant cross the Zambezi River, and caught a snake at home. (Yes, you read that right).

After getting Emmanuel to kill it and show Will, we had a little disagreement. Will felt an innocent brown house snake, caught 3 metres from my front door, had done nothing deserving of death. I felt that no snake should ever have the word “house” in front of it’s name. 

It remains an unresolved difference in our marriage. 

Just as an aside, we were rather happy to share the excitement with an old school friend of mine, Wendy Robinson. She has been touring Africa and decided we were alright enough people to drop in on. 

Unfortunately, I took her to our touch rugby game on Monday night, and plonked her on the other team. She represented NZ all too well, and four tries later everyone was asking how long she would be staying. 

We had an awesome four days with her, and then sent her off to hitchhike her way to Bulawayo, which is actually safe to do in Zimbabwe.

She duly informed us that Zimbabwe was among the top two or three most beautiful African countries she had visited! You can check out her blog at http://www.theworldmeetswendy.com. 

Hopefully, it won’t be another 12 years between catch ups Wendy!

The downsides of upcycling in Africa

December 3, 2018

One of the first things we discovered about living in Victoria Falls is that things are hard to find.

We are a tiny little settlement, far-flung from most major cities, and the selection in shops shows that, especially when you are trying to set up a home…under a deadline because the rellies are coming to stay for Christmas, and it is preferable that they have beds to sleep in, given that one of them is in her 90s. 

It just seems the kind thing to do.

So, very quickly we have become extreme upcyclers. But, I have to say, as much as I think this makes me an awesome, environmentally-friendly, creative human, there are a few downsides I have discovered. 

It started off well enough. We had a few random cages on the property that were pulled down, and the polls are now being used to build a shelter (it’s too sunny!) for our MASSIVE vegetable garden. 

“We are awesome,” I thought, with smug satisfaction.

Then, our stuff arrived from New Zealand, and we quickly sorted through it all to make sure any spare thing went to the cottage.

“Double awesome,” I thought, giving myself a pat on the back for my environmental friendliness.

Then, the house at Shongwe Lookout was gutted for renovation. I’m talking everything from beds and chairs and linen and towels to light switches and fixtures and curtain rails.

It all needed a place to go. We still needed stuff. So over to our house it all came, in huge, unsorted, dusty piles.

That was when the downsides of upcycling hit me. As I gazed at 30 dusty, stained, wasp-infected curtains, and endless broken furniture and kitchen stuff, I realised I needed A LOT of time to make it quirky, cool, and usable.

And time is what I do not have.

At that moment, I confess I ran out of pioneering spirit, and I cried. 

But, obviously, crying doesn’t actually solve the problem, so after I realised that we all got on with it.

By “we”, I mean that I decided to hire a bunch of other people to do the work for me. We now have a local carpenter (named Effort) fixing up old chairs and tables which look AMAZING. I found a professional laundry service at Victoria Falls Hotel and had all the linen back and looking good within two days. Faith sorted and cleaned all the kitchen utensils, while Emmanuel has lugged all manner of things around the property for me as we sort some of those piles.

To be fair, there is only so much space lugging creates. The simple fact is we just have to live in a bit of chaos for a while, until the cottage is finished.

Until then, I have just one battle to face, and it is a huge one. In fact, it is big enough to be called a spiritual battle, in the sense that it will either break my spirit, or make it. I have 30 odd curtains to beat into shape. They all have seams running randomly through the centre, or to one side. They all have different sized hems. They are all apparently random lengths.

And I have beginner level sewing skills.

After an hour of trying to find matching pairs on Saturday, my legs ache from jumping up and down to measure them. My shoulders and back ache from attempting to shake out the heavy sheets of fabric. My brain aches from trying to comprehend how someone could do SUCH a terrible job of sewing a rectangle. 

So I’m back on the upcycle horse, for now. But I may very well be bucked by a bunch of curtains. I’ll let you know how I get on. 

Road trippin’ Zimbabwe

November 29, 2018

On Friday we decided to do a 440 kilometre road trip. We had a quarter of a tank of fuel, and the hope that Hwange’s stations would be full to the brim even if our petrol stations weren’t.

Before we get any further, let me explain that road-trippin’ a country in the midst of a fuel crisis lends itself to an awful lot of adventures involving petrol. If you are interested, read on.

Our destination was Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second biggest city and, more importantly, the home of Will’s Oupa, who has waited three months for visit.

Fortunately, Hwange did have petrol, and we stared wide-eyed as the assistant poured a full tank of fuel into our car. Somehow, we had timed our arrival just as the station opened full of fuel, and were first in line for as much petrol as we wanted. We were STOKED!

That was enough to get us to “Bullies” by midday, in time for a delicious lunch, and a spot of looking around.

I can’t say Bulawayo is my favourite Zimbabwean city. It is more run down than Harare, with less vegetation to hide the damage.

Still, we did manage to discover a cool little shopping mall where hints of Christmas were actually visible, enjoy some EPIC rain to introduce our next season (creatively called rainy season), and even find a Christmas market!

We also had an awesome time catching up with Oupa, which was the main point of the whole exercise!

Back to the petrol story; by Saturday it was time to fill up again, and so we selected our fuel queue:

After half an hour of that queue we bailed, and Will decided to try filling up after the rugby finished that night.

By 10.30pm he was back with a tank full, having tried ten different stations, and succeeded only when he offered cash-about as hard to get as petrol in this country.

So we were off to Hwange again in the hopes of finding a tank-full there, an hour away from home.

We had a brief stop in Lupane, where there was no fuel, but there was a Zanu PF local politician. Will felt this was an appropriate time to “politely discuss the problems facing the country”.

I decided it was the opportune time for a sneaky photo.

Thankfully, we were soon on our way to Hwange. Well, all three stations were empty. With JUST enough probably to get home, we made the call to explore the train for Kepler and whip up to Baobab Hotel quickly, so I could see the view and Will could relive another childhood memory.

We meandered around the run-down hotel, and eventually found our way into the cloistered, English-style pub, where four Shona men were in a heated discussion about Christ-likeness. Only in Africa!

After a quick drink looking out over the view, we were on our way…or so I thought.

Will decided to explore a little further. In typical fashion he replied to my anxious questions about fuel every corner with “I just want to see what’s around here.”

Normally, I LOVE his inquisitive nature. We have found all sorts of treasures just by looking around one more corner, thanks to him. But I confess I wasn’t so sold this time.

Then, oh glory of glories, we rounded “one more corner” to find a PETROL STATION -with a little garden even- sitting invitingly on the corner. We looked at each other agape, and drove in. We sat like idiots as we watched the assistants fill up the car in front of us, then started a spontaneous prayer and worship service when the petrol started gushing into our tank.

Honestly, we were in shock. To find a petrol station with fuel and no queue is like finding a gold mine here. And we managed it twice in the same town, when we REALLY needed fuel.

So there you have it. After an 880 kilometer round trip in a country experiencing a fuel crisis, we cruised cool as cucumbers back into Victoria Falls with more petrol in the tank than when we left.

And we still have half a tank to go now.