Victoria Falls
Day One   Victoria Falls

Off the plane and smack into a smothering wall of heat. At 40+ degrees this is the Africa I had expected, but after shivering in Cape Town just hours before it’s too abrupt. I don't do heat well and this is extreme.

Our anticipated ride wasn't waiting so I looked for a telephone to call the contact number. But this is Africa and things are done differently. To use a telephone you must go to an office where you sit and wait while an attendant makes the call for you. This might seem dumb, but on thinking about it, many Africans wouldn't have had enough exposure to telephones to teach them how to make calls, so making a telephone call has become a skilled job.

We were also to learn, that in many cities land lines don't exist or where built, have not been maintained. Therefor, Africa has simply leapfrogged over that technology and embraced cell phones. It does seem odd. That you cannot make a normal call through a pay phone on the street, but everyone with ten cents to rub together has their ear glued to a cell phone. In major cities the roadsides are plastered with billboards loudly proclaiming the advantages of this cell phone company or another. This, while beneath the sign, peasants whip their donkeys forward under punishing loads of thatch.

Amadeus LodgeThe lodge is nice. When the travel agent told me that the only available rooms in Victoria Falls were $300 US per night I decided she was crazy. I would sleep under a tree before I'd pay the equivalent of $450 Cdn per night for a bed. So I'd done some net research, found the Amadeus Lodge for $60 US a night and booked by email. I was a tad leery, but the lodge is great.

Miriam, our host, is an African woman married to a German. She operates this comfortable, six-room lodge a couple kilometers from the center of Vic Falls. While not fancy, the lodge is clean and attractive. Ceiling fans cool the rooms as best they can. This is fine. While it was sufferingly hot in the afternoons most days, I did not come to Africa to spend my time hiding behind closed doors in air-conditioned rooms. Better to use the "dip in the pool" then "rest on the chaise", "dip in the pool" then "rest on the chaise" method of staying cool. In Vic Falls it only seemed to take three minutes to dry on the chaise so I tended to just stay floating in the pool! Even then, I had to keep rolling so that all sides stayed wet.

But that first afternoon we were stupid.

Steve was anxious to check out the town and had been looking forward to seeing the African carvings he's always heard so much about. So when Miriam said she was going into town, we bummed a ride and went too. Big mistake.

By this time it was deathly hot for gringos like us. Seriously. We walked through the Victoria Falls Marketmarket but it was not pleasant. Psychologically, and in some cases physically, people claw at you, desperate to draw your attention to their bowls or masks or batiks. Vic Falls is a desperate town.

With Mugabe's henchmen terrorizing Zimbabwe, the tourists are staying away. We had been warned against going. Our guide in South Africa, who knows the scene, said that all the tour companies have ceased operations inside Zimbabwe and asked us to change our plans. But we had tickets and plans, so here we were, alone. And we felt quite alone. At the Amadeus Lodge we were the only guests – with the exception of one couple who stayed for just one night..

There are few tourists or whites on the streets of Victoria Falls, one of the wonders of the world. I’m sure in calmer times the streets are crowded with tourists, but not now.

But back to the craft market ....it was a bad scene. Within minutes, my heart was pounding, I was flushed, my legs were shaking, my head ached. I believed I was minutes away from collapsing. We left the market, struggling up the dusty road, looking for a taxi.

No cabs, but we happened on a WIMPYs, looking like it might offer a haven. Indeed, they had some degree of air conditioning so I sat there, nursing a coke float until my body returned to some form of normal. Eventually it did. The staff told us where the cabs waited, just another block up the road.

The African version of "cab" is qualitatively different from what most of us know. These cabs are ancient, bottom-end ,sub-compacts held together with bailing wire and cow dung. We negotiated the price, not because we really cared at this point, but because to not negotiate would invite disrespect that would dogs us for the duration of our stay.

The agreed on price was 300 $Zimbabwean or about $3 US. As we settled into the back seat, the driver whistled and barked till his colleagues came running and they all pushed us up the road until the car jump started. That, is the African way. They started cars like this everywhere we went. There simply is no money for luxuries like spare parts and repairs that are not absolutely necessary.

We got back to Amadeus in one piece. The lodge is an African style building, tan-coloured plaster, thatched roofs. The airy rooms are arranged, compound style, around a central pool. There is a lean-to style thatched roof overhanging and protecting each room from the direct sun. The doors and windows are French-style and steel-paned, with lightweight sheer drapes that diffuse the light and protect one's privacy, to some extent anyway. A huge ceiling fan keeps the air moving, the sheers billowing in the breeze. The rooms are decorated with batiks, carvings and framed artifacts. The bed is comfortable and there is a delightfully clean flush toilet and bath.

The lodge compound is surrounded by a ten-foot cement block wall, with an armed guard patrolling the perimeter 24 hours a day. I didn’t know whether to take comfort in this “protection” or be apprehensive because it is necessary.

Struggling up that dusty road from Vic Falls we had passed women lying in the dirt, suckling infants pressed to their thin, wasted bodies. One in three Zimbabweans has AIDs and it's not hard to guess who. As I hopped from chaise to pool and back through the hot afternoons or settled into the crisp, clean sheets at night, I was keenly aware of those women lying in the dirt, so near by. Aware, but confused about what to do.

In the market there had been a man, his eyes obscured by the milky white film of glaucoma. Blinded, he steadied himself with a long wooden staff, a woman clinging to his arm. Tied to her back with an old beach towel was a bleeting baby, to her skirt, a rheumy-eyed, sad-faced child extending an empty tin plate towards us while her father implored, "Trusted friend," he purred in the soft velvet indigenous to Africa, "I require your assistance in feeding my family."

I wondered why a woman would choose a man so incapable of feeding her children, but this reflects my westernized perspective. In fact, I was told, men as profoundly disabled as this fellow are highly prized by women because they are the most successful beggars. In a country where a living wage for honest work can be impossible to find, the most visibly handicapped beggars tend to be the most capable providers.

That evening Miriam had booked us onto a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. A Zambezi River Rhinobus came around to pick us up and after a short, pleasant walk through the jungle we embarked on a kind of raft/boat hybrid. For $25 US we enjoyed all the pop/liquor/beer/wine we could drink, some very good finger food – mini pizzas, quiches, sausages, drummettes, cheesesticks, meatballs, etc.

We cruised for several hours, spotting elephants, rhinos, crocodiles and a pod of hippos with their babies. Then, as twilight deepened we watched, awestruck, as that big red African sun set over the Zambezi. It was magical. As a schoolchild, I’d been transfixed by this very photograph, “Sunset on the Zambezi River,” and here I was, the most fortunate girl in the world, living Zambezi Sunsetinside her dream.

Day Two   Victoria Falls

After my reaction to the heat the previous day, Steve was grumbling that our whole trip to Vic Falls would degenerate into us hanging out in the Wimpys for four days.

No,” I informed him. “That is not what is going to happen. But we are not going to behave like the stupid gringos we were yesterday and think that we can go out in the mid-day sun and not be affected by it. You may be okay in the heat, but I am a delicate northern flower.”

My plan was to arise early each morning, do whatever we wanted, then be under cover somewhere from 12 to 5. That is exactly what we did and it worked just fine. We arose at 6 am, had a great breakfast at the lodge. By 7 am we were at Vic Falls. The early rising was a bonus too, because there were very few people about and we had the park, at that time, virtually to ourselves.

Miriam had negotiated a “special” rate for us to see the falls, $2280 Zim $ for us both – about $20 US. In Vic Falls everyone is a hustler, selling something at a special “just for you” rate and of course, on every corner someone is whispering:

Pssst, have Zim dollars, good rate, best rate for you, good friend.”

We’d been warned not to get involved in black market dealing on the street, that our lodge host was the only one we could trust, so we did. I think we did alright. I heard exchange rates of up to 300 Zim$ on the street, but I wouldn’t trust those guys not to turn us in. Miriam was giving us 170 Zim$ and that was miles ahead of the 60 Zim$ at the official exchange or the big hotels. No doubt she made a tidy profit, but she knew who to trust to get her 300 Zim$. We didn’t.

So we paid, and walked through the gate, conscious that we were somewhere special, one of the wonders of the world. We strolled down the path towards the rim, a peaceful, easy trail through light forest. Early as it was, the air was still fresh and cool. We were the only ones about.

Baboon HitchhikingThere was a rustling on the trail ahead of us ...baboons. We’d never been this close before. Lowering ourselves slowly onto a nearby log we waited quietly. The baboons were curious, but cautious, particularly the mothers carrying suckling babes. But we sat there quietly and soon they became accustomed to us. We were transfixed, honoured to be in the centre of a gathering of baboons doing what baboons do, which is to play; the youngsters frolicking through the trees, playing their version of catch, tussling with each other, falling through the trees, grabbing a branch with their tail at the last moment.

The older ones groomed each other, mothers pawed the earth for grubs and big males posed and postured in front of us. I might still be sitting there, but eventually some other humans came along, disturbing the trust we’d built with the troop, so they scattered and we moved on.

To see the falls, one walks along the rim opposite the falls. It would probably take an hour or two to walk the length of the trail and back. I don’t really know because between the baboons and taking every little side trail to check out new views of the falls we spent about four hours in the park.

The walking is easy and one doesn’t actually need to walk the full length of the trail toTrail to Victoria Falls see the falls. Within minutes of leaving the park entrance one comes on the first viewpoint, which provides an excellent view of the falls. But we never want to miss a thing and thoroughly enjoyed walking the full extent of this easy trail.

Within an hour the air began heating up, but the trees offered shade and at certain junctures the wind picked up the spray from the falls and blew it all the way over to our side where it soaked us, cooling our already perspiring bodies for the few moments before it dried. Wherever that spray falls the foliage changes dramatically, from burnt out tan to dense green jungle.

At the end of the trail a large, rocky outcropping offers a fabulous viewing vantage – of the falls, of the bridge to Zambia and of the gorge dropping hundreds of feet below us where kayakers set off for the white water. To reach the river proper, they have to negotiate their crafts free of the conflicting currents coming off the spill from the falls. From what I observed, this is a challenging task requiring considerable skill.

Across the falls young boys were diving into a pool just short of the edge of the falls. From our vantage point it appeared as if they were in danger of diving over and into the falls, but presumably this was a matter of perspective. The boys were performing, like young males do, thrilling the watchers with their evident bravado.

Leaving the park we carried on by cab to the world-renowned Victoria Falls Hotel. This remnant of the British Empire is another of my childhood dreams. This is the white-colonnaded hotel where kings and queens and movie stars slept and ate and partied when they “did Africa.” The walls of this venerable old institution reflect that. Hundreds of photos of royalty being welcomed, royalty being feted at lawn parties, royalty playing cards in the lounge, royalty taking cocktails on the verandah. Still in full swing as a hotel, it is also a bit of a museum for lookee-loos like me.

Victoria Falls HotelWhatever the cost, I was determined to “do lunch” on the verandah and so we did. Presentation was très chic, although it was obvious that the menu had been redrawn to reflect modern tourist taste. I had chicken and mozzarella in a pita with salad, while Steve had a Monte Cristo with coleslaw and for dessert, fruit salad with ice cream. It was all delicious and not at all expensive, 2100 Z$ which would equal $21 US for the both of us. We were amused to note that each elegant place setting came complete with its own fly swatter.

In contrast to this classy remnant of Britannia, we moved next to “The Kingdom” which would cause no comment if it were airlifted into the centre of Las Vegas or Disneyland. This is an African “theme” hotel. I am not kidding. African art is unique and stunningly beautiful. But here, it was caricaturized.

The Kingdom is a hotel, but it’s raison d’ être is more likely the casino around which it is built. Unfortunately, due to the civil unrest in Zimbabwe. few tourists are visiting Victoria Falls. So there was virtually no one in the casino or in the restaurants and gift shops which surround the casino pit in the centre. The hotel was obviously built and decorated to appeal to the five star tourist trade and this is reflected in the room rates. These rates are on a sliding scale: Zimbabweans $68 US, other Africans $148 US, and outsiders like us $228 US or about $400 Cdn.

That evening we went to The Boma. This is the word for “village” and this Boma is what is known as cultural dinner theatre. If you are an adventurous and carnivorous gourmet this would no doubt be good value at $3000 Z.

The cooks, sweating profusely but endlessly beaming, grill generous portions of local game: warthog, ostrich, kudu, buffalo, kapenta, and mopani worms. Accompanying the game was ungali, the maize mush that is an African dietary staple. Ungali is okay, tasting quite a bit like sweetened, sticky mashed potatoes. We were to eat a lot of it later in the trip, once we were camping and our daily diet had become more authentically Africanized. But for the faint of heart at The Boma, which was after all, a tourist venue, the cooks also grilled Boer sausage, chicken and beef, all served up with salads and bread.

Desserts were great: trifle, chocolate mousse, cheesecake, crème caramel and apple/raisin strudel. Colonization did seem to give the Africans a taste for sweets.

The evening had commenced with Miriam walking us about a mile through the dusk to “The Boma” which she explained she did to save us money. We would be taking the bus home later because tourists are prohibited from walking about at night – that is when the lions walk around town looking for dinner. Victoria Falls actually lies within a game preserve so the animals right to roam takes precedence over people. Just the week before a woman had been killed by an elephant, right beside the Vic Falls park entrance. It is sobering.

When we arrived at The Boma we were greeting by our host, who explained the traditional practices of the locals, including a washing up bowl and later, appetizers of delicious fresh peanuts, corn fritters and pumpkin. The witch doctor/story teller also visited us during the evening. His job was to relate the culture of the people to us through stories, but by the time he got to us I think the sorghum liquor he was also sharing around had done its work because we didn’t get a damn thing out of the conversation.

Dancers and singers periodically bounced in to drum and jiggle. It was an interesting evening, although I think the highlight may have come as we left. Warthogs roam the grounds of The Boma. Normally warthogs are so shy and skittish that it is very difficult to get a good close photo of them, but these were so accustomed to people that they didn’t move when we approached, enabling Steve to have a really good look at what had become his personal favourite animal.

We rode back to Amadeus on the little mini-van bus, my eyeballs glued to the glass, but I never saw a single lion on the road. But the driver says they are out there all the time. I believe him.

Day Three   Victoria Falls

We got up early this morning to go shopping – not for us the mid-day market scene again. We’d heard that there were craft markets outside town that, because they received so many fewer visitors than the big market in town, were cheaper and the vendors more eager to bargain. So we booked a driver for the morning – $30 US. He picked us up at 8am and we headed out of town.

Actually, first we headed back into town to pick up bottled water, a daily chore. Later we were told that the water at Vic Falls is safe, but Miriam had strongly suggested that we needed to buy bottled water. Of course, she conveniently had it available for sale at a premium price. Kind of the old mini-bar scam I think. So whenever we were in town we recouWhere wooden giraffes are born.ped our supply at the grocery market for half the price.

The out-of-town craft markets were much nicer than the overheated mob scene in town. They are covered, so you are not exposed to the sun, there are much fewer people and no beggars. They don’t have that hot, dusty, intolerable feel to them. We looked at our leisure and while persistent, the hawkers were not overwhelming. We dealt with them by promising to return down the line after seeing everything. I kept the promise, but it was tough. After just a short while, the products all looked identical and it became impossible to fathom out who was offering the best deal.

Steve had read somewhere that if he brought t-shirts, the people would deal. And they did, but the thing is, the cheapest t-shirt he brought cost him $4, so it would have been easier to carry the extra $4 per shirt than the bag of t-shirts he’d lugged across the world.

One scam that was consistently run, was the “pen” deal. The hawker persuades you to look at his wares, promising that all he wants in return for a carving is a pen for his poor nephew or son or brother to write with in school. So you are sucked in. “Wow,” you are thinking. A carving for a pen. Who would believe this back home? But the pen thing is just a ruse to get you into their little shop area. Then they begin dealing …the carving you have fallen in love with in exchange for a pen, plus mon.

This “mon” thing was the cause of great hilarity between some women and myself. I had decided on a bowl, hand painted with guinea fowl. I was offering one of Steve’s t-shirts, which she obviously wanted, but also kept insisting on “mon”. I didn’t understand.

“You want mon?

Yes,” she replied. “Mon.”

But what is mon?” I asked, perplexed.

You know, I want your mon,” she replied, clearly frustrated with me.

Man? Could she be saying she wanted my husband? In exchange for a bowl? In her eyes, this skinny little white guy may not be worth much, but surely more than a bowl with hand painted guinea fowl?

“You want my man? My husband?” I had to ask, incredulous as it might seem.

She burst into gales of laughter. “What I going to do with your man?

More laughter, with nearby women joining in.

“Have own man. A already one man too much!”

She pulled out a wrinkled, old dollar bill. “I want mon,” she said, waving the bill in front me.

I understood.

What was for sale in the markets? African art ...specifically, wood and soapstone carvings: bowls, wall hangings, animals of every possible description and size, serving spoons, bread baskets, batiks, figurines, masks beaded jewellery, spears and drums.

Prices vary, according to craftsmanship, size, and materials. Mahogany, for example is very expensive so its use usually corresponds with a higher level of craftsmanship. I purchased a gorgeous mahogany bowl, beautifully carved entirely around with animals. This was my 50th birthday present to myself – for $80 US. By contrast, a small painted bowl was $2. A 3½ foot giraffe of moderately good craftsmanship cost us $15 while a 10” ironwood rhinoceros and elephant were $20 for the two. A warthog cost a pen plus $2, while a hippo was $1 plus a shirt. Then again, an even smaller hippo was $2 plus a pen and I paid $1 each for 6 tiny little baby hippos. We bought carved animal and beaded necklaces for $1 each and salad servers for $2 a set.

One of my favourite purchases was a bread basket. These are unique, oval shaped containers hollowed out of a log, split into top and bottom, then intricately carved through with African motifs. Also: bookends, lions, masks, baboons, a soapstone carving of pelicans and soapstone renderings of "The Thinker" and what is known as "Happy Family". In total, about $200 US.

Negotiation is confusion. These guys are experts. We found that we’d paid more for some things of apparent lesser value than others. We were totally vulnerable to pressure and walked away with far too much stuff. At the same time, I am haunted to this day by the woman who desperately wanted to sell me something and whom I refused because I didn’t want what she had …she was crying when I left. Damn it. What would it have cost me to buy one more hippo? The price of my morning coffee? Certainly less than a bag of popcorn at a movie. I’m haunted by the memory of her softly weeping figure as we pull away.

I met other travelers on this journey who proudly declared that they had managed to visit Victoria Falls without buying a single thing. Is this right? These same travelers were sporting North Face jackets and Rockport shoes; Calvin Klein shirts and Oakley sunglasses. Obviously they had no problems with consumerism, just with leaving a few dollars behind to feed the children of Zimbabwe.

Vic Falls has only one thing going for it: Victoria Falls. The falls attract the tourists, who stay in the hotels and eat at the restaurants and hopefully, pack a suitcase full of carvings back out. That is how these people survive. Victoria Falls

Those carvings were to cause us considerable grief at the airport the next day. Our flight itinerary from the travel agent said that we were permitted 2 bags of 30 kg each for a total of 60kg each. Even with the carvings, we were well under this. However, once we got to the airport check-in, this humongous great rhinoceros of a ticket agent demanded $83 US for overweight baggage. According to him, we were only allowed a maximum of 20 kg each. We showed him our itinerary, but he was neither impressed nor moveable on this issue. If we wanted our luggage on the plane, it was going to cost us $83 US.

Steve was furious. The man will cheerfully shell out hundreds of dollars for carvings, but he cannot abide being ripped off. I was just getting him settled back down again, when two fancy-pant tarts sashayed up to the ticket agent, pulling bags that were so heavy the rhino had to come around, and with an audible grunt, lift them onto the scale himself. It was obvious that these bags were long past 20 kg. But they twitched their plump rumps and beguilingly bumped their full, flushed bosoms onto his paperwork. He giggled and they were on their way. No excess baggage charge.

Well, that got Steve ranting again, loudly enough for the agent and anyone else to hear. I could see that the rhino was starting to get pissed at us. I don’t like getting ripped off either, but it’s not against my religion. I just figure it’s part of the cost of traveling in third-world countries. Annoying, but heck, we get ripped off at home all the time too.

At the least, I was capable of being a bit more pragmatic about it. From my point of view, the ticket agent held all the cards. If Steve was going to get too irate about this, we could just find ourselves sitting on the tarmac, luggage in our laps. That would be the good news. The bad news scenario would find us in jail. This is Zimbabwe, where being white is not an asset and being a white who is loudly proclaiming the corruption of the officials in front of you, lands you in jail. I sternly reminded Steve of these facts.

With the 40+ degree heat stifling us and Mugabe’s thugs in the vicinity, I really, really wanted out of there. I settled him down by promising that once we got home, I would hound the travel agent to her grave to get his $83 back. After all, it did appear to be her mistake, not the ticket agent’s.

Day Four    Harare

We did board the plane in Vic Falls, and our luggage apparently did too, because it showed up on the carousel in Harare.

It was a bittersweet leaving, realizing just how easy it was for us to leave it all behind. Tickets? Passports? We’re out of there, leaving the heat, the destitution, the dust and the disease behind. The people we’d met: the carvers and the vendors, the cab drivers and the mothers lying in the dirt …it’s not an option for them. I was recently on a website bulletin board where a fellow was holding forth about how he was not a tourist, he was a “traveler”. He was put in his place rather neatly by another participant, “As long as you have the option of leaving, you are a tourist.” Anything else is an affectation.

The flight to Harare was barely an hour. As we approached the airport, the prevailing impression was one of the smog, dense and smothering. That surprised me about Africa. It is so polluted.

Martin of Setanga Lodge met us at the airport, a thoroughly nice fellow. We were concerned about confirming the next day’s flight because we hadn’t been able to do that prior to leaving home. We mentioned that we would like to call from the lodge, but he insisted on driving us into Harare. Telephone service is simply too unreliable in Zimbabwe, he informed us. We’d never get through from the farm to town, a distance of 25 km.

Jacarnada BoulevardsSo he drove us into Harare, it's streets ablaze in a mass of blooming purple jacaranda trees. We’d seen these in South Africa, but being so much further south there, they were still in bud. Poets wax eloquent about the jacarandas of Africa and I could see why. They are huge trees, and once in bloom, just a mass of mauvey purple. They are frequently planted to border major thoroughfares, making an impressive sight as they drift into the distance, a sea of sweet purple.

Confirming our flight was not an easy thing. We went to the address on the ticket, but the office was no longer there. Fortunately a guard in the lobby knew where they’d gone so off we hiked 2 or 3 blocks in that direction. But first we had to find Martin, who was circling the block, reluctant to park anywhere. We found him, informed him of where we were going and set off. We were literally the only whites in a sea of black. Perhaps I am naïve, but I never felt threatened or unsafe. Yet, the next day several white women were hauled out of their cars in that same downtown area of Harare and beaten. Perhaps there was more to the story than was reported.

Although I’d had moments of trepidation on this trip, such as when we were 15 km out of Vic Falls in a market, with no one but the vendors and our cab driver. At one point Steve disappeared from sight and when I couldn’t find him I suddenly realized that there we were, packing a lot of money, no one knew where we were, it would be so easy to dispense with us …but the nerves arose from my own imagination and not from any word or gesture of the people. Rarely did people treat us with anything but warm welcoming smiles and friendliness.

The exceptions were occasional groups of angry young men at the roadsides who shouted and threw rocks at our vehicle. Later, in Arusha, a young man in the market threatened to kill me. “Because,” he said, “I am Muslim and you are my enemy.”

I told him that he and I had no quarrel. He didn’t concede this ground, but by then the market vendors had noticed the altercation and were pulling him away and berating him for his rudeness to "mother". African males are very respectful of mature women. Everywhere, I was referred to as "mother" and treated with both warmth and gallantry. When I took a fall on the street in Arusha they were literally knocking each other over in their rush to help me to my feet and gather up my packages. I don't think my instincts about this are wrong.

So, there is hostility, but not usually. I certainly experienced a lot more warmth than otherwise. I became so accustomed to those warm, beautiful black faces that on returning home, everyone looked so white and pasty and ugly to me. I yearned for that sea of black.

We did find the right office and then we sat. No one is in hurry here and so we waited while the sole agent dealt with the clients ahead of us, each of whom found it necessary to explore every feasible combination of date, flight, discount and seat assignment before committing themselves. I worried about Martin waiting for us out on the street, but our travel agent back home had been adamant about confirming this flight because this local airline is notorious for changing dates and times without warning.

We did not want to miss our flight. To me, Zimbabwe is a scary country. The reason I say this is because there is no consistent rule of law. There is no authority to appeal to, in fact just the opposite. The arrival of authorities like police or militia is more often a sign of trouble. One fellow, a park ranger, was very curious about how things are done in North America and questioned me at length about our penal system and the punishments entailed for various crimes. He told me that in his country, people are thrown in jail if the authorities say they should be. They are tried at some time in the future, completely at the discretion of the authorities. In the meantime they are beaten every day. Why? I asked. Because that is the way. How hard they are beaten is determined by what they are accused of, but in any event they will be beaten daily. Needless to say, conditions are extremely unhealthy.

On the drive out to the lodge, the van is stopped twice for police road checks. Martin tells us not to be concerned, they are just looking for overloaded minivans, expired licenses, smuggling, etc. But even as he says this, I am sitting behind him and I can see his jaw tensing and twitching. It is unnerving.

So, it is very unsettling to be in a country where the abuse of human rights as we know them is routine. The cloak that protects people like us, is the recognition that tourists bring the foreign currency the country so desperately needs …and that reports of tourists being attacked would discourage tourism. Pretty much everyone grasps this principle so it keeps abuses to a minimum, but very often, that cloak feels thin and tattered.

Setanga Lodge is set on the rural farm Martin's family has worked for three generations. It is a beautiful place of peace and orderliness, big trees, very green, attractive home, with fat speckled guinea fowl and peacocks on the make roaming the grounds. Always though, the ubiquitous 10 foot chain link fence with barbed razor wire at the top. When we approach the front gate he honks and someone from the house comes out to let us in, securely locking the gate behind us. Like living inside a jail.

Martin is born and bred in Zimbabwe. He is a Zimbabwean. But he is a white farmer and their lives in the country they love is over. Martin and his wife Karin have applied for Australian citizenship. They will leave their home, their belongings, their lives behind and move when it is approved. Martin would hang in longer, hoping for an improvement in political conditions, but Karin is adamant. They have two young children and she lives in fear.

As we speak, the civil war vets are roaming the countryside, repossessing farms and forcing the farmers off. Zimbabwe is in an agony of turmoil. Everyone agrees that land reform has to happen. These lands were confiscated from the blacks in the past and they need to be returned, but it needs to happen in an orderly fashion, accompanied by training for the blacks so they can run these huge agricultural concerns. In the past, Zimbabwe had the most stable and progressive economy in Africa, now it is regressing into one of the hungriest. As white farmers are turfed out, their equipment is destroyed and the land lies idle or returns to subsistence farming. Zimbabwe is marching unrelentingly towards starvation.

So it is a tragedy for everyone, white farmers forced from their homes and blacks who have not been educated to operate these farms. Naturally, corruption is playing a huge role here too …but that is another story.

That evening Karin fed us an excellent meal of beef filet in mushroom sauce, potatoes and carrots with home made pecan ice cream for dessert, all with a lovely local wine. The food was wonderful, but the conversation was distressing. It gave us some insight into the issues and left the faces of Martin and Karin, as well as their staff imprinted on our hearts. For not only are the whites endangered by the political turmoil, but even worse, because they have no resources to escape, are the blacks who worked these farms. Reports are coming out that they are being beaten and run out of their homes, because of their loyalty to their employers who often, over several generations, have become extended family. And the hunger. As the crops are not planted, not harvested, the people are dying of hunger.

Day Five   Harare

The night was uneasy. After hearing of the horror of vets marching on farms in the area, I had difficulty falling asleep and once I did, I awoke with a start. The geese, those farmyard watchdogs, were honking anxiously off and on all night. Our rooms were in an outbuilding, set about five feet from that chain link fence and it seemed that there was a mob of noisy men just feet from our bed.

In fact, there were. There was a village, just the other side of the fence, separated from us by a narrow margin of trees and bushes which had obscured the village during the day. The men were gathered around the fire, doing what African men do at night, which is not any different than what men all over the world do when they gather in a pub in the evening. They drink and they brag and they are loud and noisy. A Samburu woman explained to me that it is men's job, in the evenings, to "exchange informations" and this is what they do all night. As the night wears on they get louder and more boisterous.

But I didn't know this.

I only knew that there were a lot of men's voices, just the other side of the fence and they seemed to be getting louder and more excited by the hour. I didn't sleep. Steve? He slept through everything. Why should he stay awake worrying? He knows if there is any worrying required I'll have it covered. No wonder married men live longer, healthier lives.

Driving to the airport in the morning was an adventure. First of all, we had to push start the minivan. Then we were informed that we were driving on fumes. At each gas station we passed on the 15 km route to the airport, there was no petrol. This is apparently the result of Zimbabwe's participation in the war in the Congo. The petrol is all shipped up there for the military. Shortages are a chronic challenge. So we got to the airport on fumes, where they believed there would be a station that still had petrol. I hope this is the way it turned it out.

The terminal building in Harare is new and very grand. It is also very empty. Huge expanses of seating but we and another couple were the only ones waiting at our end of the terminal. I went for a walk. In this whole, huge, international terminal there were maybe only 50 people, including staff. Even the shops were virtually empty – not just of customers, but there was no one staffing them – in the middle of the day. It was eerie.

We had re-arranged the carvings in our baggage. Steve was determined not to be dinged for that extra $83 again. Despite having a stated 5 kg maximum, we had never ever had our carry-on baggage weighed, so all the heaviest soapstone and ironwood carvings were packed into the daypacks on our back. There must have been 25 kg in each of them, which we attempted to carry with the devil-may-care nonchalance of being filled with nothing more than a sweater, a snack and novel. In fact, they were punishingly heavy. Oh well, on to Kenya.

Carolyn Usher

This trip was taken in 2001 by Steve and Carolyn Usher. Unless otherwise noted, costs are quoted in Cdn $ and were current in 2001.