The Macheke Sustainability Project 1st annual Self-Transformation & Global Sustainability Trip to Zimbabwe
November 28th, 2018-December 12th, 2018
American Attendees: Tayler Dykes, Jack Bass, Molly Madziva, Becca Isbell, Shannon and Suri Hickson, Alan and Bryna Plofker, Eulah Anyiwo, Sean Taitt, Rosie Thompson, Mpilo Norris, Abigail Lynam
Zim attendees (to name a few): Abigail Bonzo, William (Widzi), Rudo, Tanasfwa, and Tafaswa Madziva, Rose Madziva, Addie and Tongi and their boys, and all of the beautiful people in the Macheke village
Wow. What a journey to get here. Day 1 of travel was a disaster. The morning our flight was to leave we got notification that our flight had been delayed, and so we would not be able to arrive until Friday afternoon (which was the day we were to be at the primary school bright and early). So, I panic first, and then start calling our airline (South African Airways, SAA) and am first told that there isn’t anything I can do about this and that I will have to wait until I get to JFK to figure out how I am going to get the rest of the way there. Finally, I convince a representative to check for other flights now, because how on Earth am I to just fly to JFK and then “figure it out there”?! They finally agree to book me on an Emirates flight through Dubai that will get us there in time. I then ask them to change the flight for the other 6 people who I am supposed to be traveling with the rest of the way once we get to JFK. Everything is fine, I finish my work day and we head to the airport later that evening. Then I find out that the Emirates flight is ALSO delayed, and I would have to stay overnight in Dubai, not getting in until Friday either. So, I call Emirates, and an awfully rude and unempathetic man basically told me we were screwed. By this point, Molly (the one who planned this whole thing) was able to get on a flight leaving from Newark and so we had to decide between trying (and paying for) getting to Newark from JFK in time, or just staying the night in Dubai and missing the first day. If we did Newark, there was a chance we wouldn’t make it, the Lyft would be expensive and to top it all off the Emirates rep said by bags were definitely going to get lost and that there was nothing that could be done about that. At this point I am already in the airport waiting for our flight from JFK to board and I am crying and tell Jack he has to decide because I can’t do this anymore and he decides we should stick with Molly, so we get on the plane prepared to have to get to Newark as fast as we can. Meanwhile, the rest of the “Magic 7”, as we dubbed ourselves, are all trying to fix their flights to get there in time too. We have an uneventful flight to JFK though already extremely exhausted physically and emotionally. We get to JFK and start walking toward the terminal to find Molly and Sean who had also just landed. We happen to walk by the JetBlue baggage office and I say we have a few minutes, why don’t we just go in to see if there is anything they can do about our bags or at least tell us what may happen to them, and maybe 20 minutes later our bags were spit out on our nearest carousel. MIRACLE. We have three huge suitcases, 2 of which are filled entirely of books to donate to the primary school. So, we order an XL lyft to fit all of our bags and head to Newark to meet up with the Magic 7. We had a kick ass Lyft driver named Jeffrey who pointed out everything we were passing and showed us a good hour around New York/Jersey while we drove. We saw the statue of liberty and the Empire State building from afar, and drove through Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, etc. So, it ended up being pretty fun.
We get to Newark with plenty of time to spare and find the Magic 7 and we are all trying to figure out all the problems everyone has. 3 people don’t have flights at all anymore, SAA is the only one who can change anything, and their customer service isn’t open for another hour. Everyone is very tense and worried. It ended up taking a solid 2 hours of standing around trying to make calls, talking to the Emirates attendants, but by the end of it all 7 of us had seats on this flight and were theoretically going to get to Harare later than planned, but in time.
Then this flight. Oh my God. It was absolute mayhem. People were fighting over the lack of overhead space and Jack and I had seats directly behind each other, cause there weren’t any together, and so we were both by these two couples who ended up absolutely SCREAMING at each other about the overhead bin space, because one woman was taking some man’s stuff out of the overhead and telling him to put it under his seat and he didn’t want that and it just erupted. Jack and I were both trapped by the windows with these couples screaming at each other in different languages. Jack legit looked like he was about to have a freak out and is mouthing “I can’t do this” to me and I don’t know what on Earth to do. Eventually we flag down a flight attendant to lets us move to a couple of open seats directly by the toilets, but anything was better than where we were. It ended up being totally fine. I slept and ate most of the time and the 12-hour flight went shockingly fast.
The next flight, not so much. I was trying to stay awake to get myself on Zimbabwe time, so it was far more boring. I watched a couple movies, a couple TV shows. Jack and I weren’t sitting together so it was just quiet. A stop in Lusaka to clean and refuel the plane and then we took off to get to Harare.
Finally in Zim!
Widzi and Abigail #1 (B) were already there waiting to pick us up and they had to wait a LONG time because the visa process took FOREVER. There are no computers at this airport, it is dingy and small. We are all absolutely exhausted at this point, and just have to keep waiting. I get all our luggage packed into trollies so we can go once everyone is done. That takes another 45 minutes probably. Then luckily, we smooth talked our way out of going through customs that would have raised a lot of questions about all the things we were bringing to donate (thinking we were bringing in goods we intended to sell, in which case you have to pay duty fees). This was my first look at some of the corruption in Zimbabwe. You must “take care of” the people who do you a favor. We ended up giving a few bottles of alcohol out that were bought at duty free in Dubai.
Eventually Widzi, who is the funniest and kindest person I think I have met, brings our MSP bus around and we all load up and are finally on the way to our hotel. The drive is an hour or so but feels much longer than that. We get our first look at Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Molly does a great job of being our tour guide and tells us a bit about the current state of Zimbabwe as well as some history of the country and why things are the way they are now. There are hours long queues for gas due to a shortage that just started in the last few weeks. I later find out that a friend was in line for fuel at 6am and didn’t get any until 3pm. Insane. I complain when there are like 2 cars in front of me at QT at home.
We eventually get to the hotel, and we can’t see much because it is already very dark and there isn’t much light here. Our room is big and we have a beautiful living room area and outside veranda that we share with our roommates, Becca and Eulah. Our shower is very beautiful, made of various stones, and is outside and there are bugs everywhere. Lots of “chongololos” (centipedes?), huge beetles, even some hornets for company. Luckily there was a big gecko too that we named Rango. We go have dinner in the dining room and got to meet the rest of the group who had arrived previously with no major mishaps like the rest of us. Everyone is lovely, we will get to know each other later though. We learn that dinner (and meals in general) is quite the affair unlike in the US. Every meal is a starter, main course, and then dessert. We have butternut squash soup (delicious), and then most meals pretty much consisted of rice, potatoes, and some veggies with some kind of meat. I usually chose the chicken which appears to be exclusively served as a thigh and drumstick. I have yet to see a chicken breast like in the states. It is very good and we get some form of ice cream for dessert every night. They do a lot of mixed fruit with ice-cream on top here, which is good. This night is Jack’s birthday and they bring out the big plate of brownies and ice cream for dessert and sing him happy birthday in English and then in Shona. It was beautiful and special to do even something small to celebrate Jack’s birthday after such an incredibly stressful and trying trip here. They also tell us that traditionally they would rub mud all over Jack and then throw him in the pool. We think it is a joke, but it is real. We say we will do it the following night since we are so tired, and then Taffy (Widzi’s son) can do it too since he just turned 15. We never get around to it, though, much to my disappointment.
Day 1 in the Macheke village
Breakfast in the morning (EVERY morning) is a full English. There are toasts and fruits and cereals to start. We get coffee and then our choice of eggs with bacon, sausage and beans. I also each a bunch of toast with a DELICIOUS marmalade and butter. Everything is very fresh and rarely processed which is so refreshing.
We are then ready for day 1 of our time in Macheke. We are running very late. I am learning LOTS about running on African time. People were late getting up, and breakfast takes forever to be served as well. The driving never seems to line up with the quoted time, so the supposed to be 20 min drive to Macheke seems to always be closer to an hour. Eventually we are on our way.
The first stop was to drop some of the volunteers off at the Macheke clinic, where we are providing them a vehicle to use as an ambulance, some donated OTC meds, 10 blood pressure monitors, and diabetes screening materials. Eulah is also going to be spending a couple days with the staff to do some training and help them organize how they run the clinic. She is a nurse back some. We get out of our bus and are immediately surrounded by a ton of people, almost all black women. The men do not head toward us as physical affection is not something they typically partake in. The women are hugging us, shaking our hands and kissing our cheeks. We then start walking into the clinic and there is an eruption of song. I find myself suddenly in the middle of a bunch of Zimbabweans clapping, singing and dancing. They are singing a welcome song to us and telling us they are happy we are here. It is so surreal that we are actually here. This is certainly not the US. People singing and dancing together is not a thing there. I get a bit teary eyed because I have never felt something like this before. The deputy mayor even comes to the clinic to join in welcoming us. He is very happy we are here. Everyone is so happy and after we have introduced ourselves and welcomed each other (everything being said in both Shona, and then English for our sakes), we all go down in a line greeting all of the community members at the clinic. We make eye contact, which I learn is important in Zim culture, and say good morning. Many people are saying God bless you for coming. This is a very religious community, and faith in God and Jesus is always at the center of their lives. I am not religious and so this is very different for me. Religion in the US isn’t so common and unified as it is in this rural, very poor village. But Macheke has such a life to it, and such a spirit. The songs that are sung are all translated for us and they all have various meanings but God is always present. Songs about God having blessed them by bringing us to them, God welcoming us, Thank God we are given grace, etc. They are beautiful and remind me of church and I really do envy their faith as it must be such a comfort. After some time the volunteers not staying at the clinic load back into the bus and drive a couple blocks away to the school. Macheke is very small, all dirt roads and very small, somewhat preindustrial houses. More than a hut, but much less than a house like our homes in the US.
As cliché as it sounds, I am finding that I have far more to learn from these people than what I have to offer them. In these moments of singing and dancing and sharing of their faith and joy, it also seems clear to me that they really don’t NEED anything from me. They seem to have found the elusive happiness that we in the US are always chasing but rarely finding, and they go without so much. Not many have running water here or reliable clean water. There are no roads, few shoes and everyone just gets by. They must stand in lines for hours at a time to get fuel. I am told that the average salary a teacher here makes is about $300 a MONTH, and that is better paid than most. There is a 90% unemployment rate here, most people are sustenance farmers. But they are happy, and they are far more grateful for the things they have than we are. The US it feels is far more focused on what we DON’T have and how to get it, rather than accepting what we have, being thankful and living our lives. We get to visit our new friend Olah’s house a few days later and despite 4 people living there, it could not have been much larger than my living room. There is no oven, no washing machine, not even a sink inside. And yet Olah is so happy, and kind and giving and her mother is such an angel. She is a skilled woman who teaches skills training and is very crafty and talented. I had complimented Olah’s duster (a light, short sleeved jacket) the day before and she said her mom had made it. I complimented her mother’s work and started talking about how cool the fashion is here (Chenesai is a fashion designer and is absolutely incredible). There are so many bright colors and patterns and textures. There is such confidence in Zimbabwean fashion and I find it amazing. Before I know it, Olah’s mom is getting her measuring tape to take Becca and I’s measurements to make us jackets like Olah’s before we leave, even though we leave Macheke tomorrow. But she insists, and I want one so I accept. She finished our dusters in record time and now I get to take one home. This kind of generosity is the norm in Zim, and is something I want to take home, too.
Macheke Primary School
Finally we arrive at the school. We are welcomed by the teachers and headmaster first, but it has to be brief since we are already over an hour late. We end up having to basically cut all of the sessions we had planned in half (was supposed to be one hour but now only had 20-30 minutes). Everything was a little chaotic and unorganized, but eventually we all figured out where we were supposed to be and started. I was teamed up with Chenesai from Zim, a truly beautiful, intelligent, encouraging woman. She is so inspirational and fun and kind, I feel very close to her already as she is one of the few people I communicated directly with before getting to Zim.
I was in charge of the girls sessions at Macheke Primary School, ranging from 8 or 9 to maybe 10 or 11 years old. I felt incredibly awkward and uncomfortable because everything was so new, and who was I to be talking to these girls acting like I know something? It was also uncomfortable because the teachers stayed in the rooms with the children and that meant some topics the students would not be comfortable talking about. But, we had less time anyways so something had to be cut out. My discomfort was furthered by the girls either being shy or having difficulty understanding me. Their language is called Shona and while most people in Zim speak English, this is one of the most impoverished areas and this school rates very poorly in national exams, so it makes sense that maybe their English isn’t quite so strong. I try to just keep going and do SOMETHING even if it is not at all the plan I had. The first session was a little nerve racking, but I got better each time I did it, and we did 4 sessions total. Also, these girls are not shy. Once Chenesai translated for me and started speaking to the girls, they completely lit up. It was a sight unlike one I have seen before. Suddenly everyone is smiling and happy and laughing. They all swarm for a group hug. I ended up doing my first activity I had planned for the sessions to start off and just rolled with it. I brought post it notes and passed them out to all the girls. I had them write down what they wanted to be when they grew up, and for three adjectives to describe themselves. The latter half didn’t turn out so great, as I think the teacher told them to write down some things about themselves. Instead of adjectives we got things like “I like to eat bread” and “I am dark in complexion”. I got enough adjectives/descriptions to put something together. Their career goals were varied. Many wanted to be police, teachers, nurses and a few doctors or other things. In the first session I was still really nervous and not sure what to do- I had never done something like this before. I try to channel some of the Ted Talk speakers I have watched and that goes poorly and feels more fraudulent than anything. I end up leaning heavily on Chenesai for help and inspiration. She is very good at improvising and it was invaluable because I really had no idea what to do. We ended up sending a message about their careers and their hopes and dreams, encouraging them to believe in themselves and not listen to anyone who tells them they can’t do something. I drew some parallels between the US and here to have some common ground. And 1000% on the fly I decided I would have them repeat a mantra back to me: Yes, I can. I don’t know where it came from but it worked really well! To close out all of the sessions we ended up going around screaming and yelling “Yes, I can! Yes, I can!”. Someone says you can’t be a doctor because you’re just a girl, what do you tell them? “Yes, I can!”. We went through lots of those scenarios and chanted back every time. Then we would all swarm together and scream “Yes, I can! Yes, I can!”, jumping up and down together. By the end I didn’t feel so fraudulent anymore. Once we got to talk to the teachers more and talk to the kids, I realized that they truly wanted us all there, they were enjoying having us and I haven’t felt so welcome anywhere else before. Many things were skipped, and many things had to be modified and done flying by the seat of your pants. This would end up foreshadowing the trip as a whole. But things worked out, and even though we didn’t get to do everything we envisioned, the school was so thankful and happy.
The Madziva Farm and Mama Rose
We went and had some lunch at Orange Family Park, where Molly grew up. Widzi (Molly’s big brother) owns the farm and lives there with Rudo, his wife, and his two boys Tanasfwa (8) and Tafadswa (15). Widzi and Rudo planned EVERYTHING for this trip. We are all indebted to them. From visiting the hotels we were to stay at to make sure they were acceptable, planning our meals, snacks, activities, fuel (no small feat with the shortages), transport, EVERYTHING. All with the help of Mama Rose. She lives at the farm too and is the SWEETEST woman I have ever met. She arranged our lunch for our first day, and when she came out to meet everyone she immediately started crying (not that that says much, she cries at everything). She went around the entire group giving everyone extended hugs and telling us all individually how happy she was that we are here, thank you for coming, and I love you. I haven’t met a woman with so much love to give. We all fall for her immediately and all call her Mom, Mommy, Mama, or Gogo (Shona for Grandma). Gogo Madziva is our matriarch and is so kind and lighthearted. I am excited to get to know her better. She always has a smile on her face. I see some dogs at the family’s farm and pet a couple but one is too scared. Then I find a very small gray tabby that Tana says is named Chub Chub. I love him so much and miss my babies back home, as happy as I am to be here.
All out frisbee war…
After lunch we head back to the school, late yet again. We were supposed to be going and playing some sports with the kids, but this also ends up being cut short. When we arrive and are heading to the fields, all the children erupt into a song and start slowly dancing and moving towards us until our groups merge and we are all one, singing, dancing, and clapping together. It is fun and sweaty and a bit smelly. But it is wonderful. we get to watch them play handball, netball, and volleyball. Alan brought a bunch of frisbees to be the American game we play, but there isn’t really time to organize that. So we just start throwing the frisbees out and all hell breaks loose. Terrible idea. Suddenly the kids are swarming, grabbing, and fighting each other to get a frisbee (which I later find out they thought was some kind of plate). None of them know what to do with them and they are all fighting so I start taking them away from the kids (who are far more respectful than any group of American kids I have experienced- at least toward us and their teachers). They let go easily and give me the frisbee and I start trying to tell them that these are for everyone, you have to share, etc. I try to teach them how to throw them. I keep telling everyone to spread out, because they are all in a tight cluster around me, all wanting to be closest to us. Every time I throw it, several kids try to catch it and so I just go and get it from the fight, the cluster still tightly following me. I then tell them to spread out again, throw it, and repeat until I am told that sports time is over and we have to meet with the teachers now. When we left, the kids were still playing and fighting for frisbees. I looked around for the athletics director to apologize for the war we just accidently started, but I don’t see her. Whoops.
Droppin’ the V word…
We go into the computer lab (with more computers than they started the day with since the technology team did such an amazing job fundraising and bringing several laptops and other donations, but there still aren’t many computers). The teachers and the MSP group gather. Abigail #1 asks me if I can make a speech about the $2,000 worth of pads we are donating and to “present the gift” to the headmaster. Uhhh sure. I figure I will come up with something, I typically am better on the fly anyways. I’m also a procrastinator so I doubt I would have written anything if I had gotten notice (lol). So we are going through the donations and get to me. I talk a bit about my history and passion for women’s health and talked more about how we intend to continue to support this project. There has been a borehole set up that would provide a clean source of water at the school that would open up sustainable options for period products. They currently don’t have enough access to clean water to do anything but disposables. Before I speak, I am aware that periods are taboo to talk about in Zim, but I press on not knowing what else to do. I envision providing cloth, washable, reusable pads and menstrual cups starting soon. I brought some demos of pads and cups to show and tell basically and to see if it was something the community would be open to using. I definitely learned a lot. People were certainly already uncomfortable with me talking about periods; the men are all staring at the ground, the women stiff and a bit giggly due to their discomfort. We go through the pads okay, but then we get to the cups. I pull them out to lots of nervous giggling. I don’t know what to do so I just say “you know where this goes” while showing the menstrual cup. Then, thinking they actually might not know, I just go for it and say “You stick this UP the vagina” with a hand motion I wish I had not done, and the crowd erupts in laughter- the men laughing while still averting their eyes at all costs. Another whoops. I find out later that Olah was horrified and shocked when I “dropped the V word” to all of her former teachers. I also learn that these ideas are probably going to need to be thought out more. Olah says that the rags that they use when on their periods are to be thrown away- you could not possibly wash the reusable pads with the men’s clothes or hang them on the line with the men’s clothes. I am, thinking I will need to slow the process down and ease people into the idea of sticking a cup up their vagina. But everyone laughs and it turns out most were very impressed and moved by my speech. I feel special to have been able to talk in that room, and I really did feel quite proud of the period project. While many people did many things for this trip, these pads were really my baby. I raised 100% of the money, I campaigned and with Rudo and Widzi’s help of course, we got those pads from South Africa (there is short supply in Zim and mailing or transporting from the US was more trouble than it would have been worth). To see three huge pallets of pads, knowing that I did that (of course with support from generous donors and friends). I have not been so proud of something I have done before and I try to revel in it for a moment because I never allow myself to do that. More things I am learning on this trip is about self-love. I feel hypocritical telling all these girls that they are amazing and powerful and resilient and should always believe in themselves when I don’t do it. I decide to try to be better about that.
We then get to pass out some Christmas care packages to every one of the teachers, and they are all over the moon and so thankful. These care packages have a variety of things in them but are mostly groceries. Milk, biscuits, etc. The headmaster did something I was later told was unusual. He and his wife got up to receive their basket together, to much applause and lots of cheers. All the Americans were confused by the changed atmosphere. Several other teacher couples got up to get their baskets together as well, each time to the same cheer. I later find out that they were all cheering because even just standing up together like the headmaster and his wife did was a form of PDA just because they were acknowledging that they are married. Since the headmaster did it, it gave other couples the opportunity to do the same, and everyone was having a great time with it. I am suddenly very self-conscious about my own PDA and try to calm it down. That night, we get to take Mama Rose back to our hotel to stay with us and she is our newest roommate. She asks Jack and I what our relationship is and I tell her he is my boyfriend and she says “Oh that is wonderful” and I just touched Jack’s shoulder (we were sitting several feet from each other) for a second and Mama Rose looked a little surprised and then said “Oh that was so cute you can even do it again”. It wasn’t until later that I realized that THAT was a PDA in 72-year-old Gogo’s eyes. She seems quite progressive, however. We had some good conversation with Becca, Eulah, and Gogo. Becca and I are becoming fast friends, Jack is too. She is from Utah, but lives in Portland. She is getting married in September. We bond over our love of cats, any other animals, social/political issues, feminism, cannabis, and more.
After the school we went back to our hotel, Bushman Rock, and got to explore a little bit before dinner, some tea and conversation, and bed. Bushman Rock is a winery, game park and resort. It is very bougie to me with the amenities and constant service. Not used to it at all but enjoying it.
The Women’s Sustainability Event
Day 2 in Macheke is the Women’s Sustainability Event that Molly is hosting at Bushman Rock. We get up in the morning, get ready, have breakfast and head to the winery on the property on one of the safari vehicles that we have to climb a latter into. We arrive at the venue (late, of course) and start greeting all of the women there. Many are missing due to transport issues. Some cannot get fuel, some just live in the village and have no choice but to hitchhike along to Bushman. Hitchhiking is very common here and there are people on the sides of the road all the time walking along but hoping for a ride. The kids have to walk miles to school every day. Yet another area where I take my privileged life for granted. If I need to go somewhere, I get in my car and go. If I need gas, I go get some. Most of the women make it there eventually after wrong turns and long queues. No one is ever upset at people’s lateness, however. We start without them and just are happy when they arrive. Africa time. After greeting everyone and sharing some drinks and snacks, we begin what molly has planned for us. We introduce ourselves and share something that made us smile or laugh recently. I share my story about dropping the V word at the primary school. We all have a very good laugh. We start by picking a word out of little mesh bag and are told to think about it and we will discuss later. We then went around and started writing down some inspirational women and their times. We add the first woman who started the rebellion in Zimbabwe before they gained freedom. We add Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Oprah. Florence Nightingale, many women’s own mothers, and a woman who made the decision to leave a domestic violence situation despite having to leave her children. Another woman who left her husband and took her kids and started getting educated. She ended up going to the US for school, taking her kids with her and now has a PhD and speaks about her experience all around the world. There are many more, too.
Molly tells us some stories about some amazing women. We go around and talk about our own struggles and how we persevere. Chenesai tells the story about her now 3-month old baby boy Quadsai (who is a precious angel), who was born premature and had many health issues and the doctors weren’t sure if he would be okay. They said that he would be “growth restricted” and always small and may have trouble breastfeeding. All she had around her was fear. And yet she continued on and had faith. She knew that she had to keep going for herself and her sons (Qundi is 2 and the most independent toddler I have ever met). When her baby was in hospital, she saw countless other mothers in hospital with their babies who could not even afford the testing to diagnose their child with whatever was wrong, let alone the money to treat it. Chene said that a mother with a severely jaundiced baby could not afford the $5 test to see what was wrong. So Chene left her baby with the good people taking care of him and continued to work throughout. Quadsai is now a very healthy, heavy baby who breastfeeds like an absolute champ. I got to spend some time with him and he is happy, never cries, and loves everyone. It was a very touching story to hear Chenesai talk about her fear and what she knew she had to do- which was keep going and keep working hard, despite those who judged her for going to work instead of being with her child 100% of the time. I think we were all inspired by her story. Other heartfelt messages were shared.
A beautiful woman with a very funny husband, Tongi and Addie (who later travel around the country with us), told us that she had gotten lucky to be here at the event because she was supposed to be working today, but instead she got laid off the day before. We all cursed her former employment, reveled in the fact that she was able to be there, and all learned a new African proverb that roughly translates to “If you a kick a frog, it goes farther”. We talked about how life is full of up and downs, but you are always meant for better, and how we knew that Tongi would come out on top of this situation.
After this we retired for lunch and were instructed not to sit with anyone we had already met. I sat with some lovely women to share lunch, and Molly prompted some conversation by giving out questions. One question was about how we stop ourselves from reaching our full potential. My answer came easy- I know I do that to myself by not believing in myself and being too afraid of failure to try something that might not work out. Another woman said that her life was mostly about her husband, so she never really focuses on herself. It was touching to hear about all of the different problems we face as women, and workshop through them a bit to encourage us all. We also talked about support systems, and I talked about how lucky I am to have friends, family, and a partner that always support me. I talked about the fact that I am the only one I know who doesn’t believe in me and that it doesn’t make any sense. I felt vulnerable, but comfortable talking to these women. It felt good to listen to each other’s perspectives and opinions and help each other through some of what we have gone through. We then discuss the words we chose at the beginning and how we think they related to us; my word was transformation. I thought this was very apt. I said that even in just a couple days here, I feel like I have learned a lot from these people and I need to take these lessons home with me. I feel different here, and I know that sounds cliché, too, but it is true. Making all of these new friends and being welcomed into the community has been the most special experience of my life so far.
A little too much wine and being inducted into the Zimbabwean family
There was a LOT of wine with lunch, too, so we were all opening up and having some fun. The wine turned out to be pretty necessary, too, because what happened next was very unexpected and out of our comfort zones. The 5 American women were told we were going to do a little ceremony. Molly then told us all about mazambias. A mazambia is a common garment that Zimbabwean women use and wear. They carry babies on their backs with them, use it to protect their clothes, etc. It is a symbol of Zimbabwean femininity that we are going to be given and inducted into the family. The Zim women are instructed to get their mazambias to wear while we do this, and 5 Zim women are given our new mazambias to present to us. They line up and start clapping and singing, and we are told we individually must go down the line, dancing on our own, and at the end our mazambia would be put on us. We were all very nervous and uncomfortable, and we made the youngest go first, which meant I was second. Once I got in the middle of all those people, I did my best to just let go. I danced and sang down the line, and my mazambia was bestowed on me. Once everyone had been presented with our mazambias, we all danced our way outside to do the vineyard tour. Everyone got another glass to go and we went to see some of the vines which had lots of unripe grapes growing. We then went through inside where they ferment, press and bottle. Lots of big barrels, lots of jokes about taking the big barrels of wine home with us. We were pretty rowdy at this point with all the wine we had already consumed, so I don’t think many were paying that much attention to our guide teaching us (lol). But it was very interesting, and I learned a lot, because I have never been to a vineyard or winery and I didn’t particularly care much for wine prior to this trip. But I learned a lot and found a few that I really liked that were made at the Bushman vineyard/winery. After the tour, we did a wine tasting which was ridiculous and hilarious because we had pretty much all had probably too much wine already. It was a grand time, however, and we had so much fun laughing and tasting the wines together. It was a nice, lighthearted, fun way to end our time together. Once the tasting was over, many of us were trying to run off to go on the safari we had arranged for that afternoon, but we were running late (of course). We climbed into our safari truck thing and we were off.
Our guide was Moses and he was very nice and knowledgeable. Even with no animals at all, just going around the Bushman land was an incredible sight. The land is just so beautiful with all kinds of trees and bushes and vegetation. But finally, animals!! The first thing we see are a group of 5 zebras. I lost my mind with excitement. They were just grazing in the grass, one crossing right in front of our vehicle, so comfortable with us being there. This is a national game reserve from my understanding, and so the animals are well taken care of and get supplemental feeding and water but are largely free to roam the land. Moses tells us about the gray in between the zebras’ stripes, which secrete an oil that repels bugs! And then he tells us that the black and white stripes allow them to control their temperature regulation easily since the black will absorb heat when they are cold, and the white stripes reflect heat when too hot. I am fascinated. We continue on and see more zebras, and one is a baby!!! I am besides myself as Moses tells us that that baby is probably about three days old. It is first sitting down, then gets up and walks around and then gallops to his mother to suckle. It is amazing. We continue on and see impala (one of which is a 5 days old baby!), wildebeests, ostriches, eland, and water buffalo, which is one of the big 5. It was a wonderful time, especially as I was quite tipsy along with my fellow safari women. The Sun set as we were out finding animals. It was a gorgeous sunset and the perfect end to a perfect day.
Monte Cassino- all girls high school
The next day, we arrived at Monte Cassino all girls high school (late, but a little less late than usual). I am again in charge of the girls sessions on health and wellness, and am looking forward to being able to interact with the students more this time, and have more options open for the sessions since we are allotted more time than at the primary school. They sing us in to welcome us as I am now getting used to. We all introduce ourselves to the group of 600 teenage girls. They giggle and laugh and cheer for us all. It is incredible. We then try to break out into our sessions, and I follow the form 3 (11th grade?) girls to their classroom. Chene sadly doesn’t make it to our sessions as she couldn’t get fuel even though she was waiting all day for it. I have, however, stolen Becca away from the tech team and Rosie, and Abigail. I wished that we had a Zim volunteer but there just weren’t any available for our first session. We welcome the girls into the room and start doing introductions. We ask the girls to tell us their names and what they mean. I have learned that people here generally get an “English” name, and a Shona name. The names almost always mean something, and I have been enjoying learning the stories behind everyone’s names. There are several Tatendas (thank you), for example. Many of these names have a relationship to God, too. Thank you God, God’s Grace, God has blessed us, thank you God for making us whole, etc. I then pass out post its for people to do the same activity as the primary school (write down three adjectives to describe yourself, and what you want to be when you grow up), however it is much more successful this time as these students are the top in the country and understand English very well. They are extremely sweet, articulate and polite. I go into the session with a pretty solid plan this time. I have word vomited all the ideas of topics I want to discuss, and then organized them to make sense. Abigail brings up the idea of Q&A and while I am open to it, we are also supposed to be doing an hour session at the end of the day that is exclusively Q&A so they will get that opportunity later. But we have them also write down a question on the back of their post it so that it is anonymous.
I start shouting words like sex, penis, vagina, periods, etc. just to try to put everything on the table and get them more comfortable. They all giggle and are very excited. Becca suggested doing a short breathing exercise to center us and help create a safe space for everyone, and she leads it beautifully. After some big deep breaths, we all rejoin one another, and make sure that everyone feels like this is a safe place free of judgement. There are no teachers, what happens in this room stays in this room. They can ask whatever questions they want and we will do our best to answer. Once they have put their words and careers up I start reading them. I see lots of neurosurgeons, doctors, piolets, entrepreneur, and politicians. They have big goals. They also have lots of incredible and honest adjectives. Some admit that they are impatient, short tempered, or shy. Most are very positive and say things like intelligent, kind, funny, loving and more. They are inspirational. I also start reading the questions on the back and see a lot of amazing and brave questions. I decide that Abigail was totally right, and we should answer their questions. I throw my plan to the wayside and just start answering questions with the volunteers turned panel. Being teenage girls in a country that does not talk about sex, that is what they want to know most about. Someone asks what sexuality is, what is sex, what is the point of sex, what age is okay to start dating. Someone asks what a blow job is, and I applaud them. It doesn’t take long before everyone is very loosened up and laughing together. The panel picks questions that are asked and we start discussing. There is lots of laughing. We try our best to answer their questions, making sure they know we only speak for ourselves. Through all of the questions we tried to drive home the idea that they get to make their own decisions, shouldn’t pursue things that they aren’t ready for, and that above all their safety is most important. We had some wonderful conversations and I got to learn the term “mango sucking” which someone mentioned but they were not quite brave enough to tell me what it meant though I tried to get it out of them (through more research later I have yet to figure out if it means blow job or boobie sucking).
We then have lunch (which was delicious meat pot pies and fresh fruit), and continue for one more session. As much as the first group enjoyed our session, the second group went crazy for us! Another group ended up requesting us, and so we split the panel up since I had also gotten Olah, Lynn and Shannon into my sessions as well, since everyone wanted to and we were having so much fun. I say I will take the new group after having already introduced myself to this group of girls and starting the session. When I go to leave to go to the new group, they all in unison protest “noooooooooooo!”. I am shocked that they feel so attached to me in about 2 minutes. I say well I can stay but the other group would have to join us (more nooooo!s), and said that the other volunteers would still be with them but they said “no we want you!”. So Becca and some others offer to go to the new group and lead it. They say their session went wonderfully well. My session did too. It was so much fun just to talk to these girls and answer their questions. Many of them asked many brave questions about the US, how to get scholarships, self-confidence, and relationships. We end up running well over our time because we just keep talking. It seems clear that the girls would rather stay here chatting instead of moving rooms for the next session which was to be the Q & A. We figured we were already doing that so we just kept going. Eventually we finally closed it out.
Abigail had the most wonderful idea in the first section to have each girl just in a few words tell us what they learned. It was astounding to hear everything we ended up teaching them in such a short amount of time, and I (kind of) learned what mango sucking is, among many other things. People said they learned that they are perfect and beautiful the way they are, that they should always believe in themselves, that they should support themselves and their friends, and that they get to decide what happens with their own body. It felt incredibly powerful and I couldn’t believe that in just an hour (maybe a little longer) they were able to learn some of these valuable lessons. I was so glad to have thrown out my plan and let their questions lead the sessions- we ended up covering so many of the topics I had intended on anyways!
As we went around the room sharing our take home messages, some also asked for a “private moment” with me. I said okay, not knowing what to expect. What I ended up with was a long line of teenagers waiting to ask me questions or introduce themselves personally. One girl, who had already spoken about thinking something is wrong with her for not having romantic feelings for anyone, came up to talk more about that. She said that she has a friend who she has known forever, who has had a crush on her for a long time. She said that she didn’t feel that way about him but was asking if she should start dating him anyways, since no one else will want to be with her because she is not beautiful because of her pimples. My heart broke. We talked about her feelings, and lack thereof, and the fact that she didn’t feel ready to date. I pointed to my acne scars and pimples that I have and told her she was wrong about herself. That she was extremely beautiful and anyone would be lucky to have her. She cried and refused to believe me. I told her when she feels this way to remember that I told her she was wrong. It took a minute but I told her to look at me, as her head was hanging low and her eyes on the ground. She was struggling and didn’t want to because she was crying. Eventually she gave in and looked up at me. I told her she was beautiful once more and gave her a big hug. The next girl asked me if there was anything wrong with a 14-year-old girl dating a 25-year-old man. Internally, I screamed at the thought! That seems so obviously wrong. Illegal, in the US. But this is a country where child brides are common, and men have to pay a bride price as well. What on Earth do I say to that? Still shocked, I just asked her what they had in common? She said hobbies, and also said that she just doesn’t really have friends at school and just doesn’t really like people. I really didn’t know what to do, so I just told her that from my perspective, it didn’t seem like the best choice. I told her that it would probably be a good idea to try to make some friends with her peers, and that because a 14-year-old and 25-year-old are in such different places in their lives that it would make more sense to date someone her own age. I don’t know what she will do with what I said. All I know is how badly I wanted to find that 25-year-old and take him out. This little girl asked if she could have something to remember me by and I was taken aback because I didn’t have anything to give them. I learn that giving small gifts and such to remember each other is common practice in Zim. I ended up passing out the last of my gum because I didn’t know what else to offer. I then ended up talking to a girl who having an issue with her best friend. She said that they were fighting constantly and that her best friend didn’t even care. Individually I told her I was sorry and that maybe she could try talking to her friend since she had not tried that yet. I also told her that sometimes relationships don’t work out, and that is okay- not to burn any bridges but always prioritize her wellbeing. She then ended up bringing her friend up with her and I somehow wound up mediating these girls’ friendship. Again, very little experience in this but I went with it. I had them both give their points of view, told them the blame was to share and that if they wanted to continue their friendship, they needed to put the effort in to listen to the other and always communicate and be honest. I am finding that in a lot of situations here in Zim arise from a lack of communication. I hope these girls will take that message into all of their relationships. I made them apologize to each other and tell the other they love them and then made them hug. It seemed to have the desired effect and I hope that their friendship will last, or they part ways gracefully.
I don’t pretend to know everything because that certainly isn’t even close to the truth. But speaking from the heart is all these girls seemed to care about anyways. The exchange of information, perspectives and opinions on this trip is something I will always cherish. We wrapped up our day at Monte Cassino with full hearts.
Community Day at the farm
The last day we were to spend in Macheke finally arrives and it was community day at the farm. We arrived to dancing and singing and drumming. Gogo arranged a beautiful day for us surrounded by all of her friends she wanted to show us off to. Many people we had already had the pleasure of meeting were also there- some from the school, clinics, etc. We are far more comfortable with the singing and dancing than we were in the beginning, so some of us easily join in, at least clapping and half singing along. We are late, of course, but no one minds and are just happy that we are there. We introduce ourselves around, and I get to go chat with Chenesai while she feeds her beautiful 3-month-old baby boy, Quadsai. He is the sweetest baby, never cries and lights up when you play with him. I spend a lot of time holding him and also get to play with Chenesai’s 2-year-old, Qundi. He is the most ridiculously independent toddler I have ever met. He just goes around and does his own thing- it is kind of miraculous when you compare it to children in the US. He is a little slow to warm up but is then having tons of fun with everyone at the community day.
We eat a traditional lunch of chicken, sadza (which is a corn-based dough-like food that is hard to describe but delicious and served with almost all meals), beans, etc. Some other volunteers get the opportunity to past out and read some of the books we brought to donate to the many children at the farm. They are all absolutely ecstatic. All of the children get to pick a book to take home, and the rest will be taken to the schools. There is more dancing and singing, and us US volunteers are being pulled into circles to dance. There is a particularly fun woman dressed in a beautiful traditional African red dress. She does a dance move toward Mpilo where she lays on the ground and looks almost as if she is having a seizure, climbing towards him. When she gets to him she passes through his legs as he hops over her. She comes to me next and everyone is laughing and having a wonderful time. Olah’s mom brought our dusters! Becca and I try them on and are so excited. Becca is getting married in September and is going to wear hers over her wedding dress. Olah’s mom must have been up all-night sewing, and I am astounded by the generosity that is totally the norm here. Very un-American. It is amazing.
Planting our roots
Then we move on to the final activity of community day which is a ceremonial tree planting. We all hop onto a trailer with hay bales being pulled by a tractor. We begin driving up to the mountain on the farm’s property. The drive there is scary and steep, and the tractor can barely pull us forward; it stalls out several times and we are all sure we are about fall down the hills. Thank God the brakes work. We finally arrive to our destination, which is the most beautiful place I think I have ever been. There is a huge mountain that has huge boulders and rocks with trees and vegetation all throughout. The dirt is a deep red-orange that reminds me of Sedona. There is dense forest unlike anything I have seen before all around us. I later learn that this is considered “savannah woodland”. There are over a dozen big holes that have been dug in the red dirt. We start getting some plants passed out to all the people who came up, and we are told they are eucalyptus trees. We are told that we are to plant our trees here, that they will be named after us to symbolize our roots here in Zim- our newest home. Mama Rose earlier told me that I always have to come home. If I want to come back to Africa and go other places, I come home first and then they will take me where I want to go after. I have never felt so wanted and at home before. We are all family- that is just the culture here. Gogo is everyone’s gogo or Mom. I am Aunty Tayler to the children, a sister to others, a daughter to many amazing women. This culture is very different from the US and it is something I will remember and cherish. I promise Gogo that I will come back home, and I find it may be easier than I imagined. As we plant our trees all around this land and property, Widzi and Molly say that this is now our land. The dream is to build a retreat center on this land for the Macheke Sustainability Project so that people can come or come back and have somewhere to stay, and not have to spend so much money on hotels and food. The housing will be surrounded by our trees. Tana promises that he will come up here every year and take pictures of our trees to send us updates. I hope that this housing will happen sooner rather than later, as I am extremely emotional about leaving this place. After all of the drama and stress of traveling here, I told Jack we are never doing this again- but I have changed my mind. After being in this village with these people that are now family, I can’t imagine NOT coming back. I am planting my tree and some of me here, and I know I will return. I hope that we all will. There is plenty more work to be done and I am more committed than ever to doing everything I can for this community, for it has given me so much. We cut a cake and sing happy birthday to Sean and Gogo, our December babies, as a surprise. We eat cake and then head back down the mountain on the scary tractor. We get back in one piece.
Unfortunately, it is now time to say goodbye as we are off to start the vacation part of our trip. I wish we had more time here, though I am excited to see more of what this country has to offer. There are hugs and kisses goodbye, and thank yous shared on both sides, and promises to return. We are off to the bus for our trip to the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, Honde Valley.
Death Bus/pothole country
The drive was supposed to be short to our next hotel in Honde Valley- but it wasn’t. We left late, and the drive was excruciating. On the bright side, we see lots and lots of baboons in the middle and on the sides of the roads. We learn from our local friends that they are mean and a nuisance. They are annoying more than anything and will go through your trash. I am still excited though and think they are so cool. There are lots of babies being carried by their mothers, too. The roads here are not well taken care of, and the bus has little to no suspension, so the entire bus is jumping up and down with each pothole we hit, which makes up most of the roads. The bus and trailer are very low to the ground to so there are a lot of scraping noises. There are several stops for Widzi to check the tires and make sure everything is okay. I am very nervous. The tires are fine, but we find that the trailer’s bolt has broken. We are stuck on the side of the road for a while as many of the men attempt to fix the trailer at least to get us the rest of the way to Honde Valley. It is already dark, which makes it more difficult. The guys jerry-rig it well enough to keep going. Then of course that breaks, too. We are running out of options and there are carabiners and a seatbelt tossed around to try to fix it to get us the rest of the way. Tensions are high and everyone is stressed. Widzi is looking for wire on the ground, hoping for a miracle. Some are suggesting we ditch the trailer and get ourselves to the hotel and come back for it. Some offer to stay in the dark with the trailer to make sure nothing happens to it and wait for someone to come back. Widzi doesn’t like any of these ideas and is very stubborn (much like me). Eventually we DO have a bit of a miracle happen and a truck pulls up besides us on this rather deserted road. The kind man has a bolt! He fixes the trailer about as good as it can get fixed, puts it on his own truck to take to the hotel for us. We FINALLY arrive. There is a huge sense of relief through the group. Honde Valley is on the eastern edge of Zimbabwe, and some of us get notifications on our phones that say “Welcome to Mozambique!”, so I decide that counts even though we didn’t cross into it all the way or get a stamp. We totally went to Mozambique. We are all absolutely exhausted. The drive that was supposed to take 2.5 hours took closer to 7. The lodge we are staying at is organized by bird (what the hell??) instead of normal room numbers. I am running out of patience fast. We finally are all taken to our bird rooms for the night. Jack and I are in the malachite kingfisher room. We take a shower and go straight to bed, spent.
Let’s drink tea
In the morning we get up (late) and have breakfast (which takes forever) and then we finally go to the tea factory for the tour we had arranged. Honde Valley is very hot- and humid so we are a little miserable but fight through. The tea plantation is incredible! There are hundreds and hundreds of hectares of tea plants. They are all in clean rows and organized by sections. It is breathtaking. We go to the factory and it is roughly 1 million degrees inside. I don’t know how the workers survive it. It is very cool to see, however. They show us how they process the tea, from harvesting to cutting to fermentation, etc. It is very dusty inside with all the tea particles in the air. Those of us with asthma have a hard time and though the workers have some sort of cloth mask, I question its effectiveness. But we then taste some teas, and they are fixing the trailer at the workshop and though we are nearly 2 hours late for our next activity, we press on.
What’s better than a picnic?
We end up getting a picnic packed up from the hotel, though it takes forever, and we take it with us to go on the zipline. It is disastrously disorganized, and I am trying my best to go with the flow as I am learning is so important in this culture. We were in this meadowy area that would have suited quite well for our picnic, but instead the guides lead us to a bridge over the river running through the grasslands. It is a short man-made bridge and apparently this is where we are having lunch? We are all just standing on this short bridge and the guide puts the picnic basket down and just starts handing sandwiches out. I guess we are here? So we all stand on the bridge and start passing out the glass plates putting fries on them. Someone walks down the narrow bridge with a bowl of salad trying to dole it out. It is hilarious and ridiculous, and I try to just laugh. We eat our lunch and then we cross the bridge to get to the zipline.
Who cares if we get maimed?
Morgan, our guide, is not a good one, I have to say. There is little organization to this ziplining activity we booked and people (especially me) are getting frustrated. Eventually he points the people who are just watching one way and takes us the rest of the way. I thought that it was just 1 big zipline and it turned out to be several of them. I go in the first group with Shannon, Abigail, and Becca. Becca goes first, then I go second. I get to the end of the zipline, but didn’t make it to the platform, so I ended up back in the middle of the line just hanging out (literally). I look below to a large drop, but the line feels secure, so I don’t mind. I ask Morgan what to do and he says he will come get me, but currently he is busy taking pictures of me hanging there in a mild panic. I end up just grabbing the line and dragging myself to the platform. Once at the platform I find that there is a rope bridge to get to the next platform. Great. It is difficult to maneuver and requires a LOT of effort that I wasn’t expecting to have to expend. With some helpful advice from Becca (and none from our guide) I get to the next platform, my arms aching. Everyone struggles a bit over the rope bridge, but Morgan promises this is the only one. The ziplines start to get faster, and Morgan is only taking us 4 at a time and then will have to go back and do it again until the whole group has gone. I hear later that those who were waiting were getting eaten alive by bugs and are miserable. I am having some fun, but as the ziplines get faster it is scarier, not because of the zipline itself but because of all of the trees and branches in its way that I kept getting hit by. The platforms, too, are far too low and dangerous. There is no mechanism to slow down, and several of us land badly on the platforms. I personally take off on one of the faster ziplines and almost hit a huge tree trunk- I end up kicking off of it so it didn’t hit my body which made me spin around very fast so I was going backwards and had to try to spin around so I didn’t hit the platform. I am somewhat successful but end up slamming into the platform with my elbow which I immediately am concerned is broken. It is extremely painful but fades and there is a scratch, but everything is fine. I am able to get down the last zipline, thankfully. Standing on the platforms in the tops of the trees of this foresty area is the only peaceful moments of the ziplining ordeal. Looking down, kicking some stray branches off to watch them fall down. Becca notes that we are literally standing on tree tops! We get off the zipline all in one piece, thank goodness, and then at the end there is supposed to be a waterfall to go see.
Who cares if we die in the wilderness?
It is a 5-minute walk to get to the waterfall, supposedly and Becca and I are the first to finish the zipline. Morgan is still getting everyone else, so he just points and says “it’s that way” and so we go. Something goes wrong at this point because we hear the waterfall, but we cannot see it or figure out how to get to it. We walk for a while, thinking “I thought this was supposed to be 5 minutes”. Becca and I are chatting, however, and enjoying each other’s company. We are planning a trip for her and her fiancé to come visit Jack and I in Arizona and travel around. I keep seeing clearings with sunny spots and thinking the waterfall must be just ahead, surely, but it never is. After walking for far longer than we should with no phones, no water, no nothing, we decide this can’t be right and turn back. Luckily we were smart enough not to stray from the trail as we almost did at several points, and we were able to find our way back. Jack and Rosie have been looking for us and are relieved to find us. At this point I am angry. What would have happened if we had gotten lost and couldn’t find our way? No water, not even good hiking shoes since no one ever told us we would be hiking around! Nothing about this activity was explained or communicated and so we were all ill prepared and I pretty much lost it for the first time on this trip. How irresponsible this all was, people could have been severely hurt and Morgan and the hotel in general did not seem to care even a little. Rosie and Jack show us to the stream and I hop in the water, extremely hot and dehydrated from the humid forest.
Finding the lemonade
The water cools me and my temper. The water feels amazing, and we find that the waterfall is just ahead of us. We wade through the water and slippery rocks to go find it. It isn’t far, and it is gorgeous and serene. It is just Rosie, Becca, Jack, and I. I am adventurously trying to go farther and farther much to other’s protests. But then Abigail joins us and she goes all the way down to the waterfall and we all follow her bravery. The water is deep and cool and refreshing. There is a little area in a big rock that we use as a slide. I slap the back of my thighs hard against the water, but I don’t care. We all swim around and go under the waterfall and enjoy the roaring water and mist. The depth under the waterfall throws people around and we mostly use a rock to keep our feet on while leaning back and letting the strong waterfall keep us afloat. Everything leading to this moment is worth it. I am learning important lessons about the destination being worth the journey and going with the flow just like the waterfall. After the strenuous, slippery trip to get to the waterfall, we are shocked when the rest of the group walks right up from a trail leading directly to the waterfall. Seriously?! Oh well. They join us and we are glad. We play with the kids and help them get to the waterfall because the currents are strong. The whole day ended up requiring far more energy and work than I expected, but I made it through.
Who needs two shoes?
We wrap up and have magically lost my right shoe. We search for it and can’t find it, and I think I know where it is, but Morgan won’t let us go back to get it (now he cares what we do???). We walk back to the hotel, me limping along with only one shoe on the rough ground. We end up going through the lodge’s garden and have fun looking at all the plants and produce. There are pineapples, tomatoes, onions, and much more. Morgan gets tired of waiting for us while we explore and ditches us yet again. But we figure out our way back and everything is fine. We find a flower called Devil’s Trumpet which we later learn is a “poisonous” flower- from the doterra genus. They are psychedelic and we are disappointed we didn’t grab any! We return to the hotel, and Jack and Abigail generously offer to go rogue and go back to find my shoe and they do! My hero. I am no longer 1 shoed and we have dinner and showers and get to sleep since we have to be on the road bright and early to get to our next stop, back to Harare for one night.
More bus troubles…
As we leave the tea plantation and Honde Valley, we have more bus trouble. It is not getting us up the big hills and we all offer to get out of the bus to make it lighter but Widzi says no. I guess we got dirty fuel and that was what was causing the problem. We turn the AC off and it helps us get up the hills. This drive is less eventful than the first, and though it is tiring and uncomfortable, we arrive in Harare at a reasonable time. The reason we went back to Harare was because we were supposed to be doing a happy hour with the US Embassy, however they cancelled on us due to George Bush Sr. dying the previous day (their office was closed in observance). So Jack and I just eat and go to bed, too tired to go out with the group that goes clubbing. We have a nice relaxing evening in our very cool hotel and wake up feeling refreshed. We see videos from the other’s night out an it looks like everyone had a grand time. I don’t regret relaxing, but we decide next time even if we are tired we will still go out. There is still time to party says Widzi. The next morning, we are off to Kariba. The journey goes pretty smoothly though we are of course arriving far later than planned, there is still some light and we can see the great Lake Kariba as we come in.
Lake Kariba is the biggest man-made lake in Africa (I think), and it feels more like we are by the ocean with its humidity and size. We have dinner and go swim in the pool to cool down before getting showered and into bed for our early safari at 6am. Becca, Rosie, Jack, and I also go down to the shore of the lake and look at all the stones and such. It is not recommended to get in the water, and you must be vigilant because there are deadly hippos and crocodiles in this water. To my dismay, we didn’t get to see any of those.
In the morning, we all pile into the safari truck and take off into the savannah woodlands. There are phone lines going through the area, and a lot of people. Eventually we get to less inhabited places, but it still doesn’t really feel like we are quite in the wilderness. We are told that this is “Elephant Country”, but we are unlucky and don’t see any. It was still fun, and we did get to see a lot of water bucks, which were new, as well as storks. We finish the safari a little disappointed and tired. We have breakfast and then I just take a nap before we are to do a bus tour of Kariba.
We pick up our guide, who is named Crabbey (weird but okay), and get going (late). We start heading up the hills. Crabbey takes us to the 128-foot-long dam that was built between Lake Kariba and the mighty Zambezi river, which we get our first look of. The Zambezi river travels all the way to Victoria Falls (our next stop), and all the way to the Congo. It was a very cool sight to see, and it requires us to cross into the territory between Zambia and Zimbabwe referred to as “No Man’s Land”. We joke about disappearing and never being found but we thankfully all make it back to the safety of Zimbabwe land. We were supposed to go into town, and go shop, but all that ends up happening is stopping for a late lunch/early dinner that ends up taking well over an hour for anyone to even get their food. We skip the rest of the tour and just have dinner, since by the time we have eaten the sun is going down fast. It turns out to be the right choice, I decide, because there are two different herds of hippos right by us! Since we are lakeside there are crocodiles as well. There is a little peninsula that we get brave and walk on to get closer to the hippos. As I am walking, excited, I see something move a couple feet ahead of me (I am alone basically, as Jack is trailing far behind). I stop in my tracks, and see a crocodile moving toward the water. I silently turn on my heel and head back, not wanting to run into anymore crocs. I warn the others who basically disregard what I have said until we are all at the edge of the peninsula watching the hippos and I keep telling people to be careful and am watching everyone’s backs. Everyone says we are fine, they’ll just be in the water, and I say well they’re definitely not all in there since I saw one, and then everyone is suddenly shocked that there was a croc on the land that I almost ran into. What did they think I meant?
Everyone is a bit more vigilant. We stay and watch the hippos for a while, as they come up for air and dip back down into the water. We are patiently waiting for them to come out of the water since it is getting to be evening time, which is when they will leave the water in search of food. I notice three zebras to the right, and eventually some of the hippos go join them grazing. It is a sight to see- a wild hippo out of the water. They are huge and adorable and I have to remind myself that hippos have killed far more humans than lions, and that there is very little chance of surviving if attacked. They are just so cute and I want to pet them. I don’t, though. On the safari that morning, we did get to see a hippo’s intact skull, so I just remember what that looked like with its jaw spread wide and I am less inclined to go pet the adorable hippos. We enjoy our dinner and the company of the hippos and head back to the hotel. Some go to bed, I go swim in the pool to cool down yet again in hot, humid Kariba. The kids and some of us play some games and chat before heading to bed for another early start tomorrow to begin our longest drive- to Victoria Falls. I am SO thankful that this is our last long trip in the bus.
One last trip on the bus
There are a million goats and cows on the sides of the roads that we have to honk at to get them off the road to drive through. The drive takes absolutely all day. There are lots of stops in the middle of nowhere were we all take pee breaks on the sides of the road- which is preferable to me after some of the bathrooms we have been in. We don’t arrive until way after dark, and we miss our dinner reservations. Widzi arranges for us to eat at the hotel even though the kitchen is about to close, and we have dinner at 11pm. In theory we were supposed to have been at the hotel at 3 or 4pm. We eat and head to our rooms. Luckily, we have a later start tomorrow and are planning on going on a hike to the falls at 10am.
We finally get to go get our first look of the falls after breakfast! There are vendors all over the place trying to get us to come over and we promise to come back later. The 2 mile “hike” I thought we were about to go on turns out to just be a long walk on a paved pathway- but it’s okay. It is rainy and overcast and I absolutely love it. We are in the African rainforest now, though it is entirely commercialized, the weather helps to make it feel more natural. Most people are wearing ponchos, but some of us forgo them, appreciating the rain falling on us. We walk down the path and see the first fall called the Devil’s Cataract. It is an incredible sight. They say that that is where people used to sacrifice people, so that is fun. We continue on to the main falls, pretty thoroughly wet at this point. It is very misty which makes it a little hard to see, but impossible to capture adequately. It is so gorgeous and powerful. We follow the trail down all the way to the Eastern Cataract which is where the visible falls end. Across the waterfall is the Zambian side of Victoria Falls which has the Falls, but not the views, so everyone travels to Zim to see it. We take lots of pictures and try to take it all in. I wish we had spent more time here just sitting and watching and listening. But, we are all hungry so get going after a bit. We shop around to the vendors for a bit, bargaining and negotiating, which Jack hates. We get a couple things and we do our best to escape them.
Maybe we get murdered, maybe we don’t
It is raining quite a bit at this point, so we are heading back and someone in a company uniform starts walking with us offering an umbrella and somewhat forcing Jack to walk under it. He started leading us on a different path than the one we took because he said it was shorter and I later find that Jack, Becca, and I were all thinking the same thing- this guy is totally about to murder us. We later discussed that we were all very prepared if something happened, Becca was in front, Jack in the middle and me in the back. We totally could have taken him. But, we make it back to the hotel fine and with the intention of getting some lunch. However, suddenly we are told that we are supposed to be going on a safari we already paid for now instead of in the morning like it was planned. Someone says that the morning one is cancelled, some say it is no longer available, and some say they offered to take us now because someone had just spotted a rhino. I don’t know what to do, but I don’t want to miss this safari, so we just drop everything, eat a Cliff bar we packed and go. We are waiting outside for the game vehicle to pick us up, but we find later that they did not pick us up because they were looking for Africans, not white people since it was booked under Molly’s last name. We all laugh and are taken by another bus to get to the safari start point.
Elephants in the distance… and then
On the sudden drive over, Shannon points out way in the distance in the bush, there are 5 elephants!!! I am so excited, but we just drive right past them on the bus and only get a fleeting look. But I think it is a good sign that hopefully we can find elephants and get closer on safari. I notice they their gray color is much darker than I expected. We arrive to the starting point and find that our safari is already started since we were late because of the vehicle not picking us white people up. We also have 4 people, and they thought there were only 3. So there isn’t actually room for us. So I ask if we can just go tomorrow as planned and he says that would make everything easier for both parties. So we still are going at 6am the next morning and this was just a fun little excursion. I am fine with it though, since we got to see 5 free elephants, even if it was only for a second. I hope wildly that we see more and close. We get back to the hotel, and we all get ready and a little fancy for dinner at a very popular place called The Boma that had dinner, dancing, and a drum show with Afro Centric food. We get in the Boma Bus and something MAGICAL happened. This entire time that we have been in Zim, we have not seen a single elephant (besides those from afar) even though everyone keeps telling me we will. Honde Valley was “elephant country”, but nothing there either. But then, as we are driving to dinner, there is traffic on the road. We are looking around and trying to figure out what is going on, and then someone shouts “it’s an elephant!”. I can’t see it but I am frantically trying to find it because I am SO excited. Finally up ahead on our right there is a huge elephant blocking part of the road that I can see the silhouette lit up by the headlights in front of the elephant. I am ecstatic. Then there is another one to the left and then turns out there was a third up ahead a bit. As we drive slowly by the elephants I stick my head out the window to get a better look of his face. As we drove past, the elephant had gotten a bit of tree branch down with his trunk and was holding it. It was the most precious thing, and I could not believe I got to see an elephant just a few feet away. There are totally tears in my eyes. I have been waiting all trip for this, desperate to see an elephant, and we found them in the unlikeliest of places.
Dancing and drumming
Hyped up on elephants, we arrive at dinner and we are all bestowed with a mazambia to wear and we all look very cute and fancy. As we walk in, there are dancers greeting us that welcome us to join in on the dancing. Some people (Molly) get very into it and dance for several songs that they drum out and do lots of partnered dancing that is not so subtly referencing sex. But it is hilarious and some of us are brave (not me) and go for it. It is hilarious and very cool to watch and listen to them sing and dance a native dance, also costumed up. We then head to our tables and are greeted with a complimentary pour of chibucu, which is the nastiest beer I have ever tasted. Very vinegary for some reason. We all cheers and down the hatch to be “welcomed” to The Boma. The buffet opens and there is lamb on a spit roast you can cut yourself (which the chef tries to convince me is actually baboon), a lot of pretty normal food, and then bison steak and Eland meatballs. Jack and I try both and are both delicious, but the bison is very chewy, as most meats we have tried. Just bad luck, maybe? We have yummy desserts and I have one of the “Boma cocktails” that is a shot of vodka with honey and cinnamon because it is supposed to give you energy for the drum show. It is awful, but I drink it and it does the job. The drum show then starts and everyone is given a bongo for themselves to participate. We sit at the front on the ground with Tana to watch and play. The drummer leader guy teaches us some beats and we all make music together, and then they take over with our “help”. It is so much fun. At one point we break into groups to compete for what group can keep a rhythm the best. Our group totally won, thanks to our musical talent and Molly’s loud cheering for us. Then we are told to get up and make a circle and suddenly we are all dancing. One person starts in the middle and then pulls another person in. To my horror, I am pulling in by the first girl and have no idea what to do- I was still formulating dance moves! But I go in and just go with it and have fun. Many others cycle through until the party is over and it is time to go home. It was a great night of dancing, drumming and food. I even get a few braids put in my hair by one of the women publicizing it at The Boma. It is a wonderful night.
A sleepy safari
The next morning, we get up early to get going on the safari we tried and failed to do the previous day. We are picked up without incident and are on our way to this private game reserve, eyes peeled looking for elephants and stuff again. The safari starts off well as there are a bunch of impalas right at the entrance (they are a find of small antelope). This is our last safari we have planned, and I am desperate to see some of the animals I have been waiting for, like elephants, giraffes, and if I am lucky, I REALLY want to see one of the rhinos that this reserve has. They have all The Big 5 (Elephant, Rhino, Water buffalo, lion, and leopard). I would love to see the cats but am told it is unlikely since they sleep during the day and are pretty stealthy. The safari starts off pretty boring after the impala and that is basically all we see for the first hour. Our guide, Cedric, picks up a “tok tok” beetle and tells us about it, as well as points out tracks, poops, and vegetation. Nothing is really happening and I am legitimately falling asleep, I am so tired after a bit of a late night and having to be up so early. Then, one cool thing happens and we see a dead, decayed giraffe. I haven’t seen a giraffe yet, and though it isn’t alive it is absolutely fascinating. Cedric tells us that it has been here for 3 or 4 months, and that it is a male that died fighting with another male because they are territorial. His skull is pretty decayed, and you can see his leg bones clearly. There however is still skin and stuff left on him, and Cedric says that when the rains really get going (they have only just started), the scent will travel and the hyenas with come and finish the job. We later are also shown the skulls of two antelopes (or something), that apparently got their horns locked together and died of dehydration. It is so interesting to see something like this, as Cedric informed us that they do not interfere here, but let nature take its course. The one exception is for the black rhino- since it is endangered, they would intervene if necessary, and even have armed guard protecting them from poachers.
Long necked friends
We looked around some more, not having any luck, and then pull over by the dam that was made for the animals in case of drought. We had coffee and tea at the little lake, as well as a couple pastries. It is a nice surprise since I was not expecting it. We take some pictures in the beautiful scenery behind us, before hopping back into the vehicle to “slowly head out” to get to the breakfast restaurant in the middle of the reserve. We start driving and BOOM. 2 alive giraffes!!! I gasp and am so ridiculously excited. Finally!! We stop quickly and watch them for a while. It is a male and a female. The male has a very dark pattern indicating he is older. They are so beautiful and majestic I can hardly believe it. I have seen giraffes before, and even fed giraffes at a zoo, but it is nothing compared to this; seeing a wild giraffe just doing its thing. The female is walking around slowly, but away from us. The male, however, is just eating from some trees happily. I feel much better, and though I hope we see more I am far more satisfied having seen them. We head forward from the two giraffes and we get lucky enough to see one more! We turn a corner and he is just suddenly THERE, just a few meters away. I gasp this time too more from surprise than anything. I am so happy!
Not just an African salute
We keep going and we are almost to the restaurant when Cedric hits the breaks hard and we skid to a stop, and I don’t realize why. Then we look to the right and THERE IS A MAMA RHINO AND HER BABY. Cedric did it- he tracked them down!! He had told us he could tell it was a mom and baby by the tracks and that is exactly what we found. I could bawl but I try to just silently let a few tears roll down my face. I have the biggest smile on my face. They are in a big clearing where there is some mud, and the baby at some points is rolling around the mud while mama licks it for minerals, as Cedric tells us. It is the most precious thing to see that baby rhino playing and happy. Cedric then points out that the mama rhino is missing her horn. Cedric explains that it was removed by a specialty veterinarian and supervised by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), and it was done to deter poaching. These endangered black rhinos are killed all the time for their horns which are extremely valuable, so for several of the females in the Livingstone private reserve, they remove it with the hope it saves their life. Since they are in an environment where their only predator is man, they do not need it to defend themselves or anything, so it makes a lot of sense to do it. We sit and watch the rhinos for a little while, and then after several minutes, they start to leave the open area they are in and we do too. Cedric tells us how lucky we are to have gotten to see them in the open, so close, and for so long. He tells us that the rhinos typically only give the “African salute” (just showing us their butts), and that that was very rare. I am so thankful. I remember the biggest lesson of the trip which is just that everything works out eventually, and you must be patient. On the rest of the way out of the preserve, we see some baby warthogs as well, and some water buck. Water buck have a white circle around their rears that help babies find their parents in the thick bush, and there is a joke that says that these animals got their characteristic white ring from sitting on a freshly painted toilet seat. We have a delicious breakfast and head back home, exhilarated.
A spiritual blessing
We get home and plan to relax a little, and then Mama Rose is supposed to be doing a spiritual blessing for us. I have been waiting for this for a while now and am excited and curious. Mama Rose is some kind of spiritual guide, and her ancestors speak through her. We start the session and she does immediately identify the main problem in my life without me telling her it. It is spookily accurate, everything she says. I feel close to this woman, but realistically I know she does not know me well enough to have possibly picked up on all of this so fast from just meeting me… It is crazy and strange and exciting. She gives me some gifts that are her ‘prescriptions’ for me, and I am very thankful. I promise to keep in touch with her so she can help me work through some of these issues. It is at least worth a try, and I leave the room believing in more than when I walked in. After this, I am exhausted and just lay down and take a nap until it is time to get ready for our last night as a group. I find later that everyone felt similarly exhausted after their sessions, too. But we regain our energy because tonight we are going on a beautiful sunset dinner cruise down the great Zambezi river for our last night as a whole group.
Super Hippo and friends
We get on the boat to a very nice dining room, and we hear the kitchen bustling above. The food is great, the booze are free, and we have a wonderful time. There is an absolutely stunning sunset to bid the group adieu and I am thankful for that too. This sunset could not be captured it all its glory, but it rivaled the best AZ sunsets I have seen easily. We drink a little too much, and the teenage boys are our DJs. We dance and laugh and enjoy each other’s company for the last night. We see some hippos in the water around us, and even see two elephants faaarrr in the distance on one of the island shores. I especially enjoy listening to Tana tell us a story he makes up as he goes on and on about his new wooden hippo- who is called Super Hippo and can fly with his farts. His side kick is Tiny Super Elephant, who is also a new, smaller wood figurine that Tana got. There is an identical hippo on the boat (these things are massed produced and everywhere), and Tana says that this hippo is the bad guy and he is called Danger Hippo. This kid is very creative and goes on all through dinner telling us more of this story. It is amazing, and I wish I recorded it. It is an incredible night and the perfect way to say goodbye to those leaving in the morning.
One last adventure
On our last full day in Zim, Becca, Jack, and I decide for our last hoorah, we want to go do the abseiling activity, where you repel down one of the gorges of the falls, get to swim in the Zambezi, and then hike up the gorge to get back out. We meet with everyone for breakfast to say our final goodbyes to those heading to the airport, and then head out. It takes a while to get set up and strapped in, but then we all go one at a time down the gorge. The equipment is very good, and I am not worried I am going to fall, but I am still a little scared and it is an amazing thrill. We rappelled down 110 meters to get down to the water, and it took so much more physical strength than I expected. As I type this the next day, my forearms and my biceps are aching. I lean back and let myself start falling, and what a view I had. I try to take my time and make stops to look around and down. It is surreal still that we are here and rappelling down one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world. About half way down, I start gaining speed because my arms are on FIRE and can barely stand it anymore. I make lots of big jumps and go down fast. It is so much fun, and once we have all reached the bottom, we jump into the river and swim around for a little while. The water feels incredible on this hot, hot day after such a tiring activity. The relief is sweet. We swim around and relax for a bit, and then we start our trek out.
We luckily have a guide with us that assisted us rappelling from the bottom. He leads the way as we climb over the volcanic rock toward the exit. He tells us that we have just left no man’s land- for a second time this trip (the dam area in Kariba was no man’s land, too, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia as well). Apparently, since the Zambezi and the Falls separate Zambia from Zimbabwe, the water is considered to be neither or both countries. If you touch the rock, then you are in a country, but in the water you are nowhere. It is very cool to think about. The path out is narrow, and kind of paved in some places, and then has many ladders throughout. It is something like 600 or 700 stairs to get out of the gorge. It. Is. EXHUSTING. My legs are now also on fire and I have to take lots of breaks. It is such a hot day, and we already had a workout with the rappelling. With lots of complaining, we finally make it out. During some of the breaks, our guide tells us about the history of Vic Falls as well as the historic bridge we hang out under for a while that was built in 1905. That is where the other activities like ziplining, bungee jumping and a big swing happen. We watch someone bungee jump and I wish we had done that, too, but had a lot of fun repelling. Exhausted, endorphins pumping, we get out of the gorge and head back to the hotel to shower and rest for a sec before we go out for lunch and some shopping.
At Tana’s recommendation, we go to the KFC to get a milkshake, and it was AWESOME. We also have fun looking at how different the menus are here than at home. They have fried sadza balls, and lots of different chickens. We then meet up at a restaurant called the Three Monkeys and have a drink and lunch for a bit with Abigail before she leaves for the airport. We have a peri peri chicken sandwich, which is delicious, and a very good pizza. It was the most Americanized place we went, but it was very good. We have too much Bond left, which is the equivalent of monopoly money anywhere else in the world besides Zim. They are currently going through a transition period where they are trying to get rid of Bond and use the US dollar, but that hasn’t happened yet. Many places won’t take Bond from non-locals, and so we haven’t really been able to use all the Bond we got. So we go to the vendors to strike up some deals and get rid of the basically fake money. The vendors don’t want to take it either, but they will if you push it. We walk away with several souvenirs for ourselves and families and friends, and also with a LOT of anxiety. These places are stressful with how committed these vendors are. They block your way, insist on putting things in your hands, etc. Some of us are better at saying no than others, and some are better at bartering than others. I walk away happy for the most part with the prices I got. We did get some cool gifts to give for Christmas, which we know is going to smack us right in the face when we get home (I can’t wait).
One last night
We go back to the hotel and I start organizing all our crap and start packing some stuff up. We relax for a while as well, and then luckily run into Widzi, Rudo, Addie, Tongi, and all the kids and we go down to the bar and have a couple drinks before we all turn in. They are leaving at 5am to get on the road back home, so this is goodbye. I tell them all to come visit, and I truly hope they will. We have really been welcomed into this family, and my heart aches to be leaving each other. But I know we will be back, and hopefully we will see them all again not long from now. We go to bed after doing some more packing and get one last night of sleep in Africa before leaving in the morning.
The day has finally come to part our new home, and those of us remaining have breakfast together and then head out to Elephant’s Walk (the shops at Vic Falls) again to get a couple last minute items with the very last of our Bond notes. I get a necklace I was eying, and we are in and out without having to talk to too many vendors, luckily. We have a little bit of time and get some iced coffees from the café- and are surprised when we are brought out coffees with ice cream on top! It was like an Affogato but better. It is delicious and gives us the energy to get our journey home started.
On our way back across the streets to our hotel, Jack attracts a few new friends who are trying their absolute best to sell him some hippo figurines and some giraffe salad tongs. Jack honestly tells them that we literally have no money (except for a $10 bill, but they don’t need to know that because I am buying a Christmas ornament from the hotel shop). They definitely don’t believe him and just start following him. At first it is just one man with the salad tongs and he walks an entire block with us. Then he is joined by the hippo figurine man. Jack is flanked by these two salesmen while Becca and I follow him, unbothered and laughing hysterically. Jack keeps answering their questions and making comments. One man says “support me, sharing is good”, and Jack says “it is but I still don’t have anything to give you”. They try to trade him his hat, his shoes, or anything. The hippo guy says “please, anything, just give me something”, and Jack says “do you take high fives?” and he says yes! Jack stops in his tracks and says “really, I can have one for a high five?” and the guy says yes! Jack gives him a high five and picks up a hippo. The guy then says “five dollars”. We laugh and give it back and they keep following us all the way to hotel security. It is hilarious, and a funny way to end our trip.
I am ready to get back to my bed, my life, and especially my cats even though I am going to miss Africa terribly. We have found a new home and family here, and I have learned a lot of lessons that I am promising myself I will take back home and use in my daily life. We get in a shuttle to get to the airport and I hope for a boring, uneventful journey home after all of the problems getting here. Goodbye Africa, we will return soon