My African Travel Diary (Part 2): Local delights in Victoria Falls

By Tsholo Tlhoaele

With only one day in Victoria Falls, we had to make the most of it. First thing the next morning, we got a taxi that took us to the falls. There were tourists like myself, but also local school kids in grade two or three, local workers and families that had come for the day. For me, it was such a great thing to see people of the country actually enjoying their natural wonders. Having traveled quite extensively in South Africa in every province, I found that a lot of the people who enjoyed the countries natural spaces were those from other countries. You hear a lot of people boasting about how many European and Asian countries they have been to, but cannot even share their travel successes from their own country, let alone own continent. For me, the Zimbabwean people in Victoria Falls were an actively patriotic bunch, truly supportive of their country. 

25 November 2013

The pilot announced the upcoming landing – to my surprise, when I looked out the window, I wasn’t convinced that we could land any time soon. The air looked dry with no sign of wind. We approached the Victoria Falls airport and slowly started with the landing procedure. Once we met the ground, my nerves started a war with my mind. It was like going for an interview for a job you really want and once you get it – you question “but why did they choose me?” I knew I wanted to do this, but now that I was doing it, I wondered why I am doing it.

We made off to collect our bags, then searched for a guy holding up a board with our names on it. For a while I didn’t see him nor did I see my name on any of the boards. Now thinking that I shouldn’t be here, I started thinking what if I made the booking for the wrong day – what if he doesn’t know he is meant to pick me up? With no cell phone reception, only a few dollars in cash and no understanding of Shona, I was convinced this was the end. While planning my escape and trying to calm myself down, to the right corner of my eye, there was a brown board with the name ‘Thslofelo’ on it. I am usually the fussiest person when it comes to people misspelling or mispronouncing my name – but now I was completely okay with it because it was the only board nearby with anything that even remotely looked close to something I could read and recognise.

“Hi, you must be here for me,” I casually said to the man responsible for the poor spelling of my name. With documents and agreement forms checking and matching mine, we confirmed that he was the shuttle guy. He quickly helped with getting me a local sim and airtime to call my parents.

As we left for the combi outside the airport, the sound of a dance performance grew louder. To my surprise, there was a group of Zulu dancers taking center stage. As the first sign of culture I experienced in Zimbabwe, I was really confused as to what is it that is unique for each African culture – or why were we as Africans selling an idea of a universal Africa culture?  For many of the European’s who had taken the same flight as me, it was astonishing being welcomed by the ‘African dancing’. For me, it was a question of how different this is to landing at KZN international Airport in South Africa where you would be received with a similar Zulu dance performance. As they were taking photo’s at each beat, I stood surprised trying to make sense of this.

We arrived at Vic Falls Adventure Lodge about 45minutes later. The rooms were compact but comfortable. Over all the set up of the lodge was relaxed and very simple. By the end of dinner, I had found that that there were a few more people also embarking on an East Africa after meeting them that evening at the restaurant.

I am not the most passionate person about numbers or mathematics, but as soon as I had to start calculating and comparing the items I had bought that were available in South Africa, I started becoming a little more aware of the numbers. $1 =R10 – at face value I didn’t have a problem with this until had had to buy a 1,5 litre cool drink for $2 = R20. To me, that amount spent equated to two airtime vouchers and at the time, a Debonairs Real Deal Pizza. For every dollar spent, I only saw my rands being shredded.

With only one day in Victoria Falls, we had to make the most of it. First thing the next morning, we got a taxi that took us to the falls. There were tourists like myself, but also local school kids in grade two or three, local workers and families that had come for the day. For me, it was such a great thing to see people of the country actually enjoying their natural wonders. Having traveled quite extensively in South Africa in every province, I found that a lot of the people who enjoyed the countries natural spaces were those from other countries. You hear a lot of people boasting about how many European and Asian countries they have been to, but cannot even share their travel successes from their own country, let alone own continent. For me, the Zimbabwean people in Victoria Falls were an actively patriotic bunch, truly supportive of their country.

Walking through the trail to see the falls from different angles, I became so engrossed in my thoughts. It was calming, cooling and so natural. It’s as if the environment and the atmosphere put everyone in a trance. Everyone I walked passed offered a greeting served with a genuine smile. For the duration of the trail walk, everyone’s problems were soaked into the misty air enough to make us all friendly to each other.

After a filling lunch, the road led to a local village where we would take a tour and learn about the culture. Strategically positioned, a bowl for tips with dollar notes floating around was placed at the entrance of the Chief’s hut. We were met with a warm greeting from the village locals, the chief’s wives and daughters. The chief explains to us how he manages arranged marriages for his daughters because they cannot marry someone who is not of royalty. As in any family, he briefly mentions that he has a daughter who married for love and did no marry royalty – the black sheep of the family. He walks us through his cattle farm, showing off his 10, ill-fed cows. In the huts, we are exposed to what is known as a ‘modern day kitchen’ in the village – a hut completely designed as a kitchen with fancy plates and cutlery on display. The kitchen accessories were so neatly packed, it seemed like the kitchen its self was never used, but rather part of the package tourists should tip for just before leaving the village.

Back at the lodge, I lay in the scorching sun after a swim to cool down from the heated air. I started some small talk with a girl from Belgium – “I am also on the East Africa tour” – is pretty much the only thing I heard her say. We decided to have supper together and play a game of table pool after. She seemed so comfortable as if she had been in Zimbabwe all her life. Whereas I, on the other hand was still skeptical of everyone around me. I started thinking that my reaction could be consequence of the socialization and conditioned narrative around foreign nationals in South Africa. We are made to understand black foreign nationals as threats – always keeping our guard up because we expect something to go wrong. She didn’t have any of this which made me fall shy of my own subconscious discrimination that I didn’t even know existed.

While playing pool, we met two guys, also from South Africa who had taken a ‘boys weekend away’ without their wives. One was from Fourways in Johannesburg and the other from Randburg. If we had been in the same set up – but at home in South Africa, the evening may have turned out differently. Here they were both very friendly, willing and interested. Unlike the Joburg life that forces you to live past each other, unless you make a conscious decision not to – here in Zimbabwe, they were so much more relaxed, so much more themselves. Perhaps it was the fact that we were the foreign nationals in Zimababwe and we unconsciously felt that needed to stick together. It opened me to a different way of thinking about how I contribute to the attitude South Africans have to foreign nationals.

The pool game between a mix of countries continued late into the night. With no hesitation, the group had formed a bound and a trust foundation, stable enough to make a late night trip to a local backpackers lodge for drinks at the pub.

We took a taxi together and spent the rest of the night there before walking back to the lodge, in preparation for the official start of the East Africa trip tomorrow. The early morning that was demanded of us the next day to make our way to Zambia was not a threat to the late night we had.

The bubbling excitement carried us through the night.

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