Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

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 

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.


The longest wait

November 21, 2018

A few people have been asking about that good ol’ container. You know, that container Will (and members of our church) spent hours, and hours finding books for, packing books into, and filling entirely – including the quarter of it made up of our stuff.

Here’s a wee picture of it cheerily packed and ready to go in New Zealand, in June, the last time we saw it.

As you know, that container was shunted around Southern Africa as the documents were found and lost and then found again. Eventually it came to rest in Harare. From thence, the drama of the clearing agent began, in which a man named Wellington failed so completely to clear anything that we decided he was totally unworthy of his job title.

While Wellington wasn’t clearing, the Trust donating the books was busy handing over the wrong papers to all and sundry, such that it racked up huge penalties it couldn’t afford to pay, and began thinking of dumping the books. 

At this point, the Minister for Education decided to waive tax fees so the container could come through, and the Trust miraculously found money.

Somehow, despite the extraordinary comedy of errors, the books actually look like making it to those poor, underfunded and under-resourced rural schools we all do desperately want to help.


Now for an update on our personal stuff; we have it! YAY!! The last few days have been spent shoving furniture around in 40 degree Celsius heat, unpacking dusty boxes, and in general celebrating the pretty good condition of our stuff, given the journey it took to get here. 

I’m not talking about the sea voyage, I’m talking about the simple 12 hour drive from Harare to Victoria Falls.

On Thursday we had word from Wellington that our loooooooonnnnnggggg awaited stuff was finally on the move, after a month of arguing, scrapping and fighting for it to be picked up “tomorrow”. To say we felt we were drinking from the purest fountains of happiness is a massive understatement. Drunk on joy covers it better.

Here’s the quick version of what happened next:

First, the transport guys tried to turn up in a truck far too small, to save money and be clever. Our stuff didn’t fit, so they were delayed a few hours unpacking and repacking trying to find the right sized truck.

End day one.

Next, they made it to just outside of Bulawayo, and the truck broke down.

End day two.

Then, after multiple and tedious assurances they would be on the road early for the six hour drive ahead of them, they left at 3pm. Apparently, they were confident of arriving by 6pm.

They were here at 9pm, more than 60 hours after they first started the job.

I think we are still recovering from the psychological damage caused by the stress of those 60 hours, and fortunately my mum is a marriage counsellor so our relationship is back on track too.

And hey, the important thing is we FINALLY have our stuff.


Cholera and containers

November 14, 2018

A few of you have been asking how I am, so I thought it was time for a quick general update.

Basically, I have definitely survived Cholera…if it was Cholera. I had the one day of horrible, runny tummy, and then I was on the road to recovery. Really, the only scar was a bit of weight loss, which I ordinarily wouldn’t complain about, except that it came on the back of already needing to put weight on.

So, I am undergoing the grueling process of trying to put weight on. It’s tough, but someone HAS to eat that extra chocolate or consume the final cookie, you know?

Other than that, Will did arrive back from Harare yesterday (always a bonus when the flight arrives not on time, but on the correct day, here). Unfortunately, it was without the container. Again.

BUT we did make some important progress and I do think we are not far away now. Within a week I’m hoping we will have the container up here, and I’m a pessimist so if I feel hopeful the signs must be good.

Finally, I would like to tell you all about a new business I’ve opened up, which is exclusive to two customers.

This is Nellie’s Salon.


Basically, I cut all sorts of hair, so long as it is Will’s or Kepler’s. As you can see the customers arrived deeply unhappy with the state of their hair.

Here are the after shots:

I’m rather chuffed with the results, given that it was my first time ever attempting a real haircut. By the way, I don’t actually know why we decided to risk this…there are plenty of hair salons in Victoria Falls!

The making of a madam

November 12, 2018

So after two-and-a-half months of living as a lady of leisure, I think I’m JUST starting to get used to the whole maid thing.

Yes, it may be part of the lifestyle here in Zimbabwe, and yes, it may be a moral obligation given unemployment levels, but it is still flipping weird to get used to a stranger in your home, doing your jobs, five-and-a-half days a week for 8 hours a day.

Not only did I clean a two-story house each week in New Zealand, but I also looked after our Airbnb room and bathroom. At one stage I was cleaning my parents’ house weekly, too.

What I’m saying is that I am abundantly familiar with toilet bowls and scrubbing shower floors. For some strange, twisted reason I got a kick out of seeing those grubby little bathrooms transformed into gleaming palaces.

Then we got to Victoria Falls. Suddenly, there was Faith, doing the things I was meant to do. Initially, I felt extremely uncomfortable sitting around doing nothing while she worked. I couldn’t relax. If my staff are working, I should be too, right? Especially if they are doing MY jobs!

Then, there was the fact that a stranger was in my home…in my toilet…washing my UNDIES!

I actually got so uncomfortable with it all a couple of weeks ago that I was nearly in tears. I would have asked Will to cut back Faith’s hours, but given the economic situation that would be tantamount to heartless.

Then I realised what was going on.

Faith had taken my identity. Not actually, and not even on purpose. It’s just that I went from being a stay-at-home mum who got a kick out of cleaning her house, to being…well…a nobody.

I know that sounds terribly ungrateful of me, but it is the honest truth about how I’ve found adjusting to paid help!

Fortunately, for all of us, I’m getting the hang of it all. I’m even getting used to being called “madam” all the time, and having to refer to Will as “sir”. It’s not because it makes us feel comfortable (I’m a Kiwi, it’s quite the opposite), it is in order to make Faith and Emmanuel (her brother and our gardener) feel comfortable.

The culture here is hierarchical. Paying deference to bosses, elders or the like is done without question. For us to try to change that, to move to first names or some other egalitarian Kiwi idea, would simply change our discomfort into theirs. I know because I’ve seen it in their faces a few times when I’ve done something “unmadamly” (like asking Faith for shopping advice. Who knew questions about finding beans could make someone feel so uncomfortable!)

Aside from the whole title thing, I’ve also discovered how much more fun cooking and baking are when you have someone to peel, chop and do the dishes…I will not lie, it’s amazing. Fortunately Faith loves cooking, and wants to learn whatever I can teach her, so we’ve had a few bonding moments over that. I’ve decided not to mention how limited my skills really are at this stage, and I’ve taken on the persona of kindly teacher, gently allowing her into my vast universe of knowledge…it’s working so we’ll roll with it.

So there we are. I now march around my estate giving orders and feedback on how I want jobs done…and pretending to know the solution to a vast array of problems I’m only guessing at. My staff are now getting the feedback and instructions they need to know they are doing the job well, and I can see how much happier they are.

I am, I can confidently and honestly say, a madam. And believe me, that is not a sentence I ever thought I would write in my life.