Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

Lost in translation

July 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

“The what?” came the reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“See you soon,” I said.

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

I got into the car wondering what had just happened.

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

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

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

“I think this one is genetic” I said.

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

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

Botswana drama

June 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the petrol light went on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The finish line

June 9, 2019

June 1 should have been a special day for our little family.

It was eighteen months from when we first checked out Vic Falls for a job offer, and nine months from moving here. More importantly, it was due date for opening our lodge.

You would think we would be celebrating, or at least marking the occasion in some way.

After all, we’ve done a lot over a year-and-a-half; we’ve moved three times, packed a container, maneuvered our way through beaucracy here to get residency, recovered our container, built a 23-bedroom lodge in a foreign country undergoing a currency and fuel crisis and known for corruption, made friends, started a ukulele band, endured months of random illnesses as our immune systems adjust to a new home, had some amazingly special moments loving our new home/country, and are now dealing with random power cuts.

But instead of celebrating, we all collapsed at the finish line. The whole family was taken out by the flu.

It’s probably unsurprising, given how intense the last year-and-a-half has been.

As usual, I went down first, Kepler followed a few days later, and on June 1, our long-awaited soft launch, Will woke up croaking like a bull frog.

So instead of a romantic dinner for two in which we reflected on how far we’d come, how much we had learned about each other and achieved, and what the future might hold, Will and I were rugged up sniffing and coughing in unison as we ate Thai takeaways and watched a movie on Netflix.

Thankfully, by some miracle, Kepler decided to sleep in until 9am the next day, and afterwards we slowly crept our way into Chamabondo National Park to enjoy beautiful views, elephants from a distance (yay), and other game -along with an epic picnic.

We followed it with a quick family nap so we had the energy for the drive out.

It was a lovely, chilled-out, slow Sunday as a family, and Kepler even did us the honour of falling asleep on the back seat shortly after his first nap so Will and I could croak at each other about our hopes and dreams.

At least, I suppose, we could make the claim to a pretty epic ‘celebration’ for a family with the flu. Even if it did involve tissues and frequent naps.

We can also, I suppose, make the claim to throwing ourselves into things 100 per cent as a family, whether it is a new project or getting sick.

If only I didn’t have the sneaky suspicion that getting flu together might be taking our family commitment a LITTLE too far.

Power cuts and culture shock

May 30, 2019

It feels quite appropriate to be writing a blog about power cuts just after writing one about the fun and wonder of camping.

Basically, that’s what living here feels like a lot of the time. AMAZINGLY high highs, followed by slammed-into-a-brick-wall lows. My father-in-law once described living in Africa as being “like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland”, and I now really get it. It’s the arbitrary, crazy selection between what functions and what doesn’t.

This time the brick wall/lack of function was the sudden announcement, two weeks out from opening our lodge, that we would be load shedding for nine hours a day.

That’s right. From 6am till 3pm, four days a week, we have no power. (We are Cycle 2 if you’re interested.)

Thankfully, so far, the 3-9pm cuts aren’t eventuating.

Anyways, I would explain why these cuts are happening, but the truth is I don’t really understand power generation and distribution even in a country like NZ, let alone Zim. All I can tell you is that in Zim it has something to do with Lake Kariba and the low water levels after a very dry rainy season.

We had heard rumors that the power cuts were quite bad in Bulawayo and Harare for weeks before they hit here. Suddenly, about a week ago, it was our turn.

Our lodge generator, being brought up from South Africa, was ordered in Feb, but thanks to hectic load shedding in SA resulting in a backlog of generator orders there, will only arrive in June. After we open.

It turns out guests expect lights, and fans and air conditioners and hair dryers and things, so after two days of something akin to depression, my husband did his usual and made a plan.

Our generator was shifted up to the lodge. An inverter was hooked up for the office. Then, we got on with business.

I, however, was struggling to get out of my funk on this one. The incompetence, the cost to the country, business, the sheer, blinding stupidity involved, were making my blood boil. As I delicately expressed my emotions to my mum over a video call, she announced that I was in the fourth stage of culture shock.

“You’re seeing the realities now. The honeymoon phase is over. You’re just going to have to be gracious,” she said, as if obnoxiously massive power cuts were very matter-of-fact.

I told mum she sounded like a counselor. To be fair, she is a counselor and she did sessions with Middle Eastern and Asian exchange students on culture shock for a few years at the local uni during their orientation week.

(Quick aside, this is one of the things I love about my mum: The evangelical Christian who adopted a bunch of Middle Eastern Muslim lads missing their mums, and helped them figure out life in NZ. They adored her. I love her practical, no-nonsense, servant heart, and the beautiful humanity of that picture so often missed in media portrayals of how our society works).

Mum won the argument, and I got off the phone knowing I’d better move on to ‘acceptance’ if I didn’t want to end up permanently bitter and twisted.

So, now we have a new routine: ironing, washing, and baking are all done on Tuesday and Thursday, when we have power. Ice goes from freezer to fridge when the power cuts to keep the fridge cold (and opening it is kept to a minimum).

Dog food, meat for dinner and milk are pulled out of the fridge before a scheduled power cut, and put away again if it doesn’t eventuate.

We have a good supply of matches and candles, and batteries in all the torches. Fortunately, we have a gas stove, so cooking dinner isn’t a problem.

Thankfully, it’s winter so we don’t need air conditioners or fans on.

I work from home when the power is on in the morning, and from the lodge, or somewhere else when it is off. We charge everything to full when we have power.

Eventually, we will get our generator back, and life will regain some normalcy. And really, I’m just learning to do what Zimbabweans have done for years now: make a plan, and get on with life.

Camping in the wild

May 22, 2019

First, yet again apologies for the time between blogs.

It turns out that having friends and a social life/ work getting busier makes it hard to keep up hobbies. It’s hard being popular, basically.

Anyways, a couple of weekends ago we went for our first Zimbabwe camping trip since getting here nine months ago.

I’ve never been an avid camper, but I definitely enjoy a spot of the old nature, and don’t have a problem with a lack of toilets. Because of this, and the fact that our lives have been quite full of work, I was very much looking forward to getting out of town for a bit…

The only mild concern, of course, was that we were getting out of town and into the national park, where lions roam free, hippos heave out great breaths of air all day (and night it turns out) in the river, and elephant pass silently by in giant herds. The hippos and lions, oddly, I can deal with…but I have had a deathly fear of elephants ever since that adventure with my parents when we first got here (thanks for scarring me mum).

The Friday came, and our friends Dirk and Claire turned up with their cars to pack our stuff. Girls were in one car, boys in the other, with another family to join us later in the day.

Now, when I agreed to go in Claire’s car, I had forgotten about her overly competitive nature, and she instantly made sure we were ‘beating’ the boys. Into the park we drove leading the convoy…almost straight into a HUGE herd of elephant. Claire was glancing at me nervously, since the whole adventure was part of her scheme to introduce me to the wonders of Vic Falls. We crept forward, while her two little ones giggled away in the back. Suddenly, we spotted a massive bull. He was looking right at us and he had just decided we had gone too far. Ears flapping, and trumpeting, he ran at us as we scrambled into reverse- except the boys were behind us and another car behind them so there wasn’t exactly an escape route. THANK THE GOOD LORD those two meters were enough, and the mock charge (which had its proper effect on me) halted, with the bull standing across the road to block us while he gave us a death stare.

We waited until we were given permission to pass, and breathed rather large sighs of relief as the herd moved off. I told Claire I was glad I was with someone who had grown up in the area and knew what she was doing. Claire held out a shaking hand and my confidence evaporated. It wasn’t a great time to ask for a toilet stop, so I didn’t mention how mock elephant charges impact me.

The rest of the trip passed smoothly, except for another mock charge by another ele, which resulted in Claire going into Rally car mode to race us through the danger zone and out into our camp.

We set up camp at a stunning little spot looking out over the Zambezi River, and all of the strain on my heart from the past hour was forgiven. Quinton and Bridget had arrived with their little man Charlie. A fire was roaring, food was cooking and the little ones were playing pretty happily in our little camp circle.

The next morning was unreal. The sun rose with such glory over a misty Zambezi, that I willingly emerged from our tent in all my glory to watch it. I am definitely not a morning person, so my glory was probably quite surprising to some people.

The rest of the day passed too quickly, with the little ones playing in the dirt, climbing trees, and skidding down sandy banks near the river (under the watchful eye of several adults). Then it was time to head home, via another route, in which we saw the back of two eles walking away (SUCH a lovely sight).

Overall, I would call the trip a raging success- we feasted on natural beauty, good company, and the serenity of being out of town. We got massively hooked on camping, and are now planning to get a roof top tent so I can sleep through the night without worrying the hippos are coming for me.

The only hiccough was the mock ele charge, and just the sheer number of elephants on the drive in.

And yet when I asked Bridget how many eles they saw on their drive to camp about an hour after us, the answer was none.

In a moment of weakness that would disappoint every nature-loving, wilderness-camping Zimbabwean on the planet, all that went through my mind was; “some people have all the luck”.

The rules of (social) engagement

April 12, 2019

One of the big worries I had moving to Vic Falls was whether or not I would make friends. After all, I was moving from a town in which roughly 50 people are related to me by blood or marriage, to one in which I knew a sum total of 0 human beings.

It turns out I didn’t really need to worry, because Zimbos, and the Vic Falls crew in particular, are super friendly, welcoming people.

However, there are some social rules I’m still trying to adjust to when it comes to meeting and greeting in Zimbabwe.

For the sake of the masses of Kiwis immigrating here, I thought I would do a helpful little round-up.

1. Zimbabweans have excellent manners. Kiwis really don’t.

I first learnt this when I was dating my future husband. During my introduction to the WHOLE family, I was greeted and kissed on the lips by an inordinate number of people. It was very surprising, especially since I’m not a particularly touchy-feely person, but I played it cool, because I really liked Will.

When I got here, I discovered the hug and cheek-brush is a more common greeting tactic. But you do this with everyone, always, the first time you see them walk into the room, and when they leave. Acknowledging people is a big deal here, and I really like it.

BUT my kiwi days have left me prone to the old nod-and-raise-your-eyebrows tactic in social situations. This has led to quite frequent, pretty awkward moments, mostly when the other person sort of lurches at me, realizes I’m not coming in for the hug and stops, only for me to have started my belated lurch, which I then have to pull out of.

Just. I’m sorry. I’m trying, Zimbabwean friends.

2. Zimbabweans are a little more hierarchical and formal than Kiwis.

This probably isn’t surprising, since Kiwis are about as informal as you can get. We generally call our Prime Minister by their first name.

Over here, our age group calls the generation up Mr or Mrs [insert last name] in formal situations like employment. We are still trying to get used to our staff calling us by these titles, or using ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’.

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy yarning away to our majority shareholder using his first name…from the very start.

Anyways, this very laid-back approach to social strata has played into my favor so far…I think. People seem to take familiarity as a sign you are relaxed and like them.

Most recently, I was competing in the school triathlon fundraiser event, and was up against Mike Johnson (among others) on the bike. Mike and Alex have been THE BEES KNEES in terms of helping us get on our feet here, and if you ever want a great place to stay in the Falls, you should check out Bayete, PheZulu or their newest lodge Nkosi.

Anyways, as I was about to ride off, Mike yelled out that I should watch out for a dangerous snake on the circuit.

I laughed, then yelled back “shut up, Mike”. SUCH a mature, witty, respectful comeback, to a man I’ll describe as slightly older than I am.

Sorry Mike. But even oldies like you aren’t exempt from psychological warfare in sport ;-).

3. Zimbabweans share our awesome sense of humour.

When we first visited Zimbabwe in 2013, I was ready for Zimbos to be a little more like the South Africans I had met in New Zealand, who seemed to be a little more serious.

Instead, when we weren’t crying over some of the stuff we saw, I felt like I laughed my way around the country. Zimbos, like us, have a self-deprecating sense of humour thanks to being the “little bro” to a nearby, bigger country. In this case, it’s South Africa. Thanks to the common British colonial history, this sense of humour is also quite dead-pan for all involved.

Anyways, over here, I think thanks to Flight of the Concords and my accent, people seem to think I’m a walking comedy (I’m not. I’m DEADLY serious). But sometimes even when I’m being serious people crack up and tell me they love my sense of humour.

I tend to roll with it and grow the joke…which is sort of how I founded a band called the Ukeladies involving 12 women, 4 of whom have ukuleles, 2 of whom have had them longer than a couple of months.

We’re going to be a huge hit.

So there you have it. A comprehensive list of the differing social rules between NZ and Zimbabwe. And I think I’m qualified to say after seven months that Zimbabweans really are some of the most welcoming, kind, top-notch people around.

Play dates and Parties…Africa styles

April 1, 2019

With seven months under my belt in Zimbabwe, I feel like I’m beginning to notice a distinct difference between playdates and parties in Africa, and those I used to go to in New Zealand.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was out at a popular tourist spot with a friend. It was HOT as usual lately, the kids were needing to get out, and so were we. So we decided to head somewhere with pools and refreshments to satisfy all parties.

Upon arrival, we entered the usual negotiations over what things cost on the menu in local currency, then in USD. We then entered discussions over what rate this place was using, and ultimately concluded that it was ridiculously expensive no matter which way you looked at it.

BUT, thanks to the heat, we decided to invest US$4 in a small bottle of sparkling water for me, another US$4 in a small Fanta for Friend, and also bought a bowl of hot chips.

Disgruntled, but resigned, we settled in to let the children tax our drinks and scoop up some chips. Then, we made a fatal mistake.

We decided to let the children play on the playground. We went over to resolve some issue or another, and I realised I was going to have to pick Kepler up. I handed my US$4 sparkling water to Friend, who was heading back to our sitting area with her children, and sorted out the issue.

When I got back to our seating area, Friend was blinking at me in surprise.

“Narelle, I’m so sorry! I had to throw your sparkling water at a monkey!”

Now, I’ve never heard a sentence like this in my life, so you can imagine how eager I was to know why someone would HAVE to throw sparkling water at a monkey.

Turns out the monkey had been eating our chips. All of them. The only thing Friend had in her hands when she got back and saw the catastrophe unfolding was my US$4 sparkling water.

At this point, Friend declared the playdate a fail all around. I declared it the best playdate I’d ever been on.

But the animal stories aren’t always bad, I should point out.

Just the other day we were invited to a birthday party out in the bush. The kids splashed away in the pool, bouncy castle nearby, and a table laden with food sat to the side, while Zebra grazed about 200 metres away.

A whole herd, with colts.

As we watched, a herd of Eland, which I’ve never seen before, walked slowly over to the water hole and began to drink. Then, as if some unspoken safety message was broadcast, the Zebra colts were running around playing chase, some Impala joined in, and a couple of Eland bulls had a gentle disagreement before carrying on their way. It was unbelievably magical, made all the more beautiful by that dusty golden African evening light.

So, yes, on the odd occasion monkeys steal your food and friends throw your expensive drinks at them, or (as happened at another birthday party we were invited to but couldn’t make), you’re busy celebrating a kids birthday party and then someone warns you lion are in the area, and someone else tells you Eles are on the road home.

But, quite honestly, it makes life an adventure – and a beautiful one too. What a way to bring up a child.