We left Chapungo lodge two days ago for my least favorite stop on this trip, at the Rissington Inn in Hazyview. The main purpose of that stop was to be near the Kruger International Airport for our flight o Zambia. I judge a hotel in part by its bath towels. These bath towels, at Rissington, were so thin – well, let’s just say I’ve used dinner napkins in restaurants that were softer and more absorbent. Paper dinner napkins. Enough said.
The Kruger International Airport was a beautiful building with a very courteous and helpful information desk, brown polished stone walls going two stories up in the inside atrium. The only restaurant was a branch of the South African Wimpy’s chain, a step below Denny’s on the evolutionary scale. That was pretty much it for services. A gift shop, a customs office, a newsstand and candy store that had two shelves of candy displaying an array one layer deep of 20 each of about 8 brands of candy bars. You can imagine how upsetting that might be. And I didn’t even want candy, but I like having choices. They do advertise free wi-fi. And they give you a code, your very own code, to sign onto their wi-fi network. But it doesn’t work.
More interesting though, is the way they’ve organized boarding. You do not go through security then sit and wait at the gate. There is only one domestic departure gate and one international departure gate. They sit behind locked double metal doors. When your flight is called, you line up at the locked doors. Very soon, they are opened, and security takes their places at the desk and screening machines. You wait briefly then walk way out onto the tarmac and board. Bringing your own rubber bands to twist and hook onto the propellers so you can fly.
But the building is beautifully designed. Robin really liked the airport. I’m a traditionalist.
So, Zambia. First, there are several noticeable differences between Zambia and South Africa. Second, we are staying at the Waterberry Lodge in Livingstone, the place that is most beautiful and comfortable to me, of our entire trip.
Shadrack, a young Zambian from Waterberry, met us at the airport and drove us to the lodge. Every drive here seems to take a long time, over bumpy roads – only the roads in the game reserve were this bad in South Africa. Everyone at Waterberry begins a conversation by telling you their name. In fact, most conversations in Zambia seem to begin with an exchange of first names and seeming sincere inquiries into how you are. Robin guessed that the importance of names may be an expression of pride, a response to colonialism calling all Africans by some derogatory label. Or it may just be that names are important – but many Zambians give an English name, reserving their Zambian name for later discussion if at all. And an exchange of names creates an immediate sense of familiarity. We have learned how village-based this culture is, and how inclusive and encompassing village life is. So familiarity is important to interpersonal relations. It’s also of course important to the hundred people in each market and at each stop who want you to come and just look at what they are selling because story-story-story… my name is Dando, please come back after you are done in the museum…
One of the hardest things about being in the more real Africa of Zambia – and how’s that for a sweeping generalization? But we’ll get back to that – is that you are immediately confronted with the class differences between Americans with the money to travel and the Zambians who need money to eat and to send their kids to school and buy clothing. Because the village economy continues at a subsistence level but the necessities of life have become commodities, so money is absolutely essential. We’ve bought various goods and crafts, all beautiful and well-considered choices, but more than we intended. How can you not?
Why does Zambia seem like more real Africa than South Africa? In South Africa, there has been more widespread modernization and Europeanization. The end of political and social apartheid has made that world more accessible to some urban blacks. And there is a larger revenue base and a more developed tourism infrastructure, for international and domestic tourists. Zambia has no domestic tourists. People from Zimbabawe cross a bridge over the Zambezi River on foot, looking for work where the unemployment rate is only 70%, not 90%. One tribe moves to Western Zambia to get away from a rival here. Those are the travelers. The South African economy is in flux, with declining returns on investment and declining investment since freedom, with a president no one trusts, but economic apartheid continues – whites own most land and most industry, and the Africans work for them, or for the government, if they do work. I don’t know how far the plutocracy extends in Zambia, or how much wealth is owned by foreigners (our inn is owned by an Englishwoman), but you just see more black faces in positions of authority, and far fewer white faces. But people here are just as warm and welcoming as in South Africa.
The sky is as huge here, maybe bigger, longer, higher, more dramatic. It’s hard to describe and it’s hard to catch in a photograph. The clouds are thick and layered, a back-lit bright pile of white and off white stacked behind and above a deep gray underbrush of a cloud, adjacent to an ascending twisted thick yarn of condensate. And the lines of clouds stretch along a long and almost limitless horizon, almost close enough to touch the earth but never descending, never daring. But always hovering, prophets and soothsayers withholding their message but asking you to look more closely. What are they trying to say?
What have we done here? A sunset boat ride on the Zambezi. A visit to the village where many of Waterberry’s workers grew up & live. We met people, met the head man, the schoolmaster, some mothers, many school kids who could not tire of having their pictures taken. We learned how hard and how interconnected and mutually supportive village life could be, how it is an extension of tribal identity as well. There are primarily Tonga people here, Shona people across the river in Zimbabwe. We went to a museum and had a guided tour through Zambian prehistory and history. His is where Stanley found Livingstone, where Livingstone was a medical doctor and missionary, profoundly devoted to and respectful of the African peoples he met, a fierce opponent of slavery. So respected by the people of Southern Africa that when he died, they carried his coffin hundreds of miles to the Mozambican coast, without pay and without compulsion, so he could be brought home to Scotland and be buried with his family. We rode elephants. We visited the incredible Victoria Falls, and I hope I never see water as ultrapotent and violent as the water of the Zambezi as it pounds and roars over these kilometers of cliffs, between two countries. We donned ponchos to walk through the “mist,” water that is sprayed hundreds of feet up into the air by the force of its descent, to fall on us like a heavy rain, drenching us to the skin. .We hiked down to the boiling pot, where a sidestream meets the river and churns the water in rapid white circles before it continues to class 5 rapids downstream. We met baboons on the way down and back up. We met fellow travelers here at the inn, and had several delightful chats.
Tomorrow we must leave on the long trip home. I miss my girls terribly, though we’ve been in touch often. We have some tangles at home to address. I miss my sister a lot. I have to try to help my brother and his living situation. I have work at work.
I expect to write one more time and see if I have any summarizing yet to express.