Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

Alternative adventures and mid-air asthma attacks

November 14, 2019

As you all know, Kepler and I recently made the journey from Zimbabwe to NZ.

Months of careful planning meant that we had a) selected the shortest route home, though more expensive, as I’m 34 weeks mega pregga and b) paid extra for premium economy for me during the longest leg (12 hours) because I’m mega pregga.

All told, the journey from door to door was meant to take 29 hours, with Will’s dad David kindly accompanying us all the way back to Auckland for extra support.

We awoke at 5:45am on the big day to news that one of our flights had been cancelled. As I rolled out of bed in disbelief, Will began putting in calls to figure out what, exactly, was going on and what the back-up plan was.

After 45 minutes of back and forth with the travel agent in NZ, we discovered Qantas’ back-up plan was a code-share with Emirates that meant we would now be flying through Dubai…

Our total travel time had just jumped up to 42 hours.

I burst into tears that lasted the entire way to the airport (sorry David and Bob). With each new bit of news Will had to manage a fresh outbreak- first the news our longest leg was about 16 hours now. Then the news I would be in cattle class the whole way. I remember resentfully thinking that G.K. Chesterton was clearly not considering emotional pregnant women when he wrote “an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered”. Here’s our teary ‘about to leave’ photo.

Our first leg involved Will’s uncle, Bob, kindly flying us to Harare in his private plane.

After stuffing around with security at Vic Falls Airport (there was a power cut, and the generator had run out of fuel so they couldn’t scan us or bags), we finally made it. Now, a small private plane is a wonderful thing, but it is also a lot bumpier than a bigger plane- especially when you are flying through the gathering storm clouds of rainy season. By the time we made it to Harare I have to confess to feeling quite green, and having spent A LOT of time bonding with the Good Lord over the need for me to remain earth-side a little longer.

After a few hours with the wonderful Jo and Corks in Harare, cleaning out their pantry and drinking all their water, while Kepler destroyed his clean travel shirt playing with BFF Rafferty, we were off for the 9-hour leg from Harare to Dubai (with a layover in Lusaka for those who are wondering about that travel time). Little did I know cattle class would be the least of my worries.

Two hours into the Dubai-leg of our trip, Kepler started having an asthma attack. After a good half hour of coughing with every breath, the team moved us to the very back of the plane (apparently called the galley), where they contacted their doctor on the ground. I was holding steaming towels over Kepler’s face to try to open his airways, since his meds didn’t seem to be working, when they eventually called the onboard doctor. Praise the Good Lord (whom I spent a lot of time bonding with over the need for Kepler to remain earth-side a little longer), the meds started to kick in just as the wonderful Dr Leke did his assessment. He declared us fit to take on the next long-haul flight, after handing out a few instructions as to how to prevent the next asthma attack. I distinctly remember having to hold in an “I love you,” as he gently explained everything and dismissed our apologies for disturbing his flight.

I returned to my three seats, cleared by the kindly Emirates team (the fourth seat in my row remained occupied by a young, non-pregnant male who refused to move as he felt my request to lie down was unworthy), and managed to get in a bit of rest before we landed in Dubai.

How we are smiling in that photo I don’t know, as by now we had flown through the Zimbabwean night. After David arranged for wheelchair aid for me, we were whizzed around the airport to a waiting room seemingly reserved for the elderly, infirm and us. It was blissfully quiet, with huge bathrooms, and a little cafe. So I sat back, while David fed and watered us, then organised toothpaste so we could refresh properly, in anticipation of the final leg: a marathon 16 hour flight from Dubai to NZ according to the tickets.

In the end, although I had no extra seats to rest on, this leg was somehow the easiest. Kepler was a complete angel, and only melted down in the last hour, after sleeping or playing quietly for the ENTIRE 14 hour trip, switching out to sit beside me or David (turns out it was faster than the ticket said, YAY!!). I attempted to doze, woke thanks to baby thrashing my insides, and then repeated that process a few times. Unbelievably, after 14 months and 40- odd hours of transit time, it was finally time to land in NZ. Just as the cabin crew locked the toilets to land, Kepler declared an urgent need to pee, and began holding himself and talking loudly about how that part of his anatomy needed to go potty. Fortunately, we landed before I had to pull out the empty bottle, and Kepler made it on time. Then, we were heading through baggage collection, customs, and THE ARRIVALS DOOR!

After farewells and thanks to David, who had yet to fly to Christchurch and then drive to Ashburton, we headed to green, luscious Cambridge.

So there you have it, our unexpected adventure home…and I have to say that after a bit of sleep, plus happy reunions, I’m beginning to think that G.K. Chesterton wasn’t so far off the mark after all.

Fan-girling and Baby-mooning

November 4, 2019

In under a week Kepler and I jump on the first of four flights that will carry us back to New Zealand.

Fortunately, we have Will’s dad with us to help out should anything go wrong, but still, the count-down is well and truely on, which means that stress levels are a TINY BIT HIGHER THAN USUAL!!!

After all, it is 25 hours of flying, a month of separation for Will and I, with a very fine line between baby’s due date and his arrival. It turns out organizing baby stuff across two countries is also not that easy, especially in 41 degree temperatures (have I mentioned the temperature before?)

So, we were chuffed when some friends offered to take Kepler for the weekend so that we could get some QT together before our next cutie arrives.

It started as a suggestion that Kepler head to the farm with his besties Callum and Amelia- which he has done before and LOVED. Little man was up for the plan so we started making some of our own.

Will had been offered a comp at a nearby luxury camping lodge and they had one room free on Saturday night.

We made the most of Friday night by heading out for an intimate date at the River Brewery…where two other friends were also having intimate dates with their spouses (small towns eh?). Fortunately, we are preeeettttyyyy social as a couple so we stopped to have a good yarn and quite enjoyed ourselves.

The intimacy of the evening was further enhanced by the arrival of two politicians; one the former opposition leaders’ son (who happened to be staying at Shongwe) and the other the famed opposition force behind the writing of the Zimbabwe constitution. He is also the star of a documentary on said constitution called Democrats, which is on Netflix. It’s well worth a watch. Will instantly started to fan-girl, and walked over to introduce himself, before asking me to take photos.

He impressed the lads with his Shona speaking skills, before they insisted that we get back to our intimate date. Will reluctantly returned to our table where we talked politics and constitutions (just like our first ever conversation!!) for the remainder of the evening before I forced him to watch Pitch Perfect at home to lighten the mood.

Saturday arrived and with it the stress levels of trying to get to our lodge in time to watch the Rugby World Cup final. For some reason, luxury bush camps assume you don’t want a TV and came for other reasons- like game watching or enjoying the view. Go figure!! So I settled us into our stunning room while Will muttered and moaned as he attempted to get live streams of the game.

Rugby World Cup sorted, and we were finally able to kick back and relax for the next 24 hours – watching thunderstorms unleashed over the landscape around us, soaking in salt baths, and reading lighthearted comedies such as ‘Eugenics and other Evils’ by G.K. Chesterton. It was BLISS.

Meanwhile, Kepler was having a blast at the farm, and awaited a pick up on Sunday. After forcing me to do a ridiculous instagram photo shoot that I’m not allowed to publish, Will and I headed out to have lunch with the family he had stayed with.

Just before we headed off, we stopped in to meet the goats and the cows. Kepler introduced me to Nelly the cow, who happens to be pregnant and due in December. We forged an instant bond, as I whispered to her that I was Nelly the human, also due in December. Somehow, it made the weekend feel complete, and we headed home full of good food, having enjoyed good company and a mini escape all in 48 hours.

All of which means it really is time to turn our minds to the other side of the world, where my next update will probably be on living with your parents again, or long haul flights at 7.5 months pregnant.

Oh, and just one more thing: I love you babe. You’d break Instagram if these shots went up anyway 😘.

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!