Lessons in Being a Tourist in Africa (Part 2)

This morning I was awoken by the rain clattering upon the tent. When it rains it really rains in Africa. The rainy season us beginning and so the ground is dry and the rivers at their lowest but the rains are beginning and they are refreshing.

Our resident frog returned to share the shower again this morning. The rain was so intense I turned the shower off and had to double check as it sounded like the water was still coming out.

We headed back across the border. It was quicker than before but quick is not a way of life around here. There is still waiting, passports to be stamped, no sense of urgency. Of the staff sat reading the adverts in a paper with no intention of pausing to deal with us. But it wasn’t too long before we were on our way again.

Lesson No.8 : Expect to wait (especially at border crossings).

What can I say about the Victoria Falls? Firstly, if you get the opportunity, come! Come and see then. Stand in awe of the natural beauty of these intense and mighty falls. This is something not to rush.

I am told the Zimbabwe side of the falls has the best views. I am sure this is right, it is the only side I have seen and it is breathtaking. The sound of thousands of gallons of water cascading over the rocky ravine and crashing into the river below. The odour of the humid vegetation radiating the smell of the rainforest. The view is phenomenal. The spray from the falls ascends hundreds of metres into the sky and soaks everything in its path. You can of course use an umbrella or wear a coat but I say embrace and enjoy the full immersion and allow your senses to experience everything. Within moments you will be dry as you walk away from the falls and back into the heat of the sun. A thousands photos cannot capture the full beauty of this place but take a thousand anyway.

Lesson No.9 : Experience the Victoria Falls.

As we stood by the falls I was chatting with the Zimbabwean members of our team. The highlight of my day was singing together Xhosi Sikalele Africa, the national anthem of South Africa. I understand the translation to be “God bless Africa and Africa will be saved”.

We have talked a in the last few days about what it means to he blessed. So often in Christian circles and churches when someone has a good or positive thing happen to them we say they are blessed. One of the team said of this trip that we have been blessed, that as we stood looking at Victoria Falls enjoying a relaxing few days that “God is looking on us favourably and has blessed us.” I have to ask what this says of those who are slaving away in their jobs, struggling to make enough money or grow enough crops to feed their family. What does blessing and favour look like in thay context. Am I not blessed when I am at home? I think blessed is probably one of the words I dislike the most in the contexts in which I hear it. I am privileged to be here. It is an honour. I am humbled I was chosen to join the team. I am grateful for this gift and opportunity, but blessing is an uncomfortable word.

Jesus teaches the those who mourn are blessed. Those who are peace makers are blessed. Those who are poor in spirit. Jesus does not say blessed are the wealthy, powerful and famous. Those with economic do not feature in the list of those Jesus identifies as blessed. But how are those who mourn blessed? Surely to mourn is painful. Surely to mourn feels more like a curse, we have lost a loved one when we mourn and it causes us to feel at our worst. And this is the point. We only mourn those we love. To mourn is an expression of having loved and having been loved. I am not blessed to have economic wealth but I am blessed to have those whom I love and whom love me. That is blessing and that kind of blessing is found amongst the most wealthy and the most deprived. Blessing is all about relationships.

Africa will be saved (whatever is meant by saved) when people love their neighbours and do not exploit the ground or the people for their own personal gain.

Having seen crocodiles on the banks of the Zambezi I couldn’t miss the opportunity to try some for lunch. As is said with just about everything, it tastes a bit like chicken! I was interested to find it doesn’t taste like aligators which is much much more like a white fish in taste and texture. We were joined in the restaurant by some monkey’s – funny for the tourists (until they steal your lunch) and a pest for the locals and the staff.

Lesson No.10 : Crocodile tastes like chicken.

Lesson No.11: Don’t feed the monkeys.

We visited an orphage for elephants. Apparently during a couple of large draughts the elephants were dying and people could not afford to keep them. The intention was to reintroduce them to the wild but as they were accustomed to humans it was not safe to do so. We had an interesting time feeding elephants, I glad I did it but it was a bit wierd. It was clearly an experience for tourists, a photo opportunity. It was a bit more staged than other experiences to date. I love elephants but they looked sad. Still I can say I fed, stroked and kissed an elephant so that’s all that matters, right?

Lesson No.12: You can feed elephants.

I absolutely love an African market! The buzz of the bartering. Each stall or shop selling very similar items, wooden anf soap stone carvings of ‘the big five’ (lion, elephant,wildebeest, rhino and leopard), beaded jewellery, toys and other items made from recycled tin cans. Every shop owner promises a good price, all want you to see their shop. They have the same lines to try and engage you, “looking is free,” “what you like,” “you see my carvings, I make myself,” “you just buy small something, you help me, I make no sale for three day, you feed my family.” I simply enjoy the game of the barter, looking at the artefacts. There is nothing I need, but I will buy a few gifts and memorabilia.

It is fun bartering for the lowest possible price. Going in hard and negotiating. Apparently it is respectful to barter. Of course if you feel you’ve pushed it too far you can pay a little extra than the final agreed price. If you can afford it, enjoy the experience, haggle hard but give back a little to support the local traders.

Lesson No.13: Enjoy the markets. Barter hard and then give back a little extra.

We stopped for coffee. Good coffee. Espresso. In my mind I was transported to Morocco – the taste, the smell, the heat, the open cafe.

The Zimbabwean economy was built on farming; tobacco, tea and coffee were once key exports from Zimbabwe around the world. I chatted with our guide, wondering whether the changes in western life style and legislation banning smoking had a detrimental impact on the Zimbabwe economy. There may well be health benefits to western countries but what about the countries who relied on that demand. Our guide did not blame the West but criticized those black Zimbabweans who chased the white farmers away. As the farmers left so did the jobs, the exports and the wealth of the country. Chasing away the white farmers to claim land was led by war veterans unhappy with their lot 20 years after war, after independence, after Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. Yet that move led to the downfall and crippling of the Zimbabwean economy.

As we’ve travelled to Zimbabwe I have been reflecting on how different this trip is from those I have taken previously. Typically I have stayed with people, shared their homes, eaten with them and immersed myself where possible in local culture.

This time around we are staying in hotels and tourist type camps. Some of the things I see and do are very touristy, they are amazing experiences. However, it is the people I will meet and the stories they share that I enjoy most. This trip rather than staying with those people I meet I will retreat into places of leisure and relative luxury. I know that I will feel guilty.

Guilt is, however, a luxury. It is a selfishness to bad because others have less economic wealth, fewer opportunities for education, travel, employment, and so on. It is important to be aware of our privilege and postion.

Lesson No.14 : Don’t feel guilty for your privilege, don’t abuse it either.

The day finished with a barbecue. In Africa they know how to cook a barbeque. I then sat by the fire reflecting in the days passed and the days ahead before bidding goodnight to our resident frog.

Lesson No.15 : Eat barbecue.

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