Friday, June 25, 2010

Seeing Victoria Falls from another Perspective

A trip to Zimbabwe would not be complete with a stop in Vic Falls. I settled into Shoestrings Backpackers with a couple guys I met on the bus. I can’t seem to totally recall Niagra, but the sheer spray from these falls soaked me to the bone. Then there was the sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, where we saw elephants, hippos, and crocodiles, and obviously jumping on one of the highest bungees in the world (which was petrifying and amazing at the same time). Multiple people told me about detached retinas resulting from jumping, but I say it was a retina well worth it.

During my wait to hitchhike to the next destination, a skinny young guy named Stanely struck up a conversation with me. We talked for a bit and he said he wanted to show me his art, but I had to wait for a ride. He went home into the bush, and never came back withthe promised art. So as I had been waiting for over an hour with the sun beginning to set, I decided to try to find him. Walking into the abyss of the bush made me feel a bit like Kevin Costner in a corn field. I followed random paths for about 75 meters of thick bush. Then suddenly it cleared, with an entire colorless community of gray cinder block homes in front of me.

Why I did I walk in after this guy, who was probably no different than the myriad of hawkers on the street? I did it partly because I wanted to see his art, but mostly because I wanted to see what life was like over here. I’ve come to realize that I care pretty little about the tallest building, wildlife parks, old temples, etc. I certainly would never give up my Great Wall or Taj Mahal experience, but you don’t understand a country and its people on guided tours or viewing monuments. Give me a cup of coffee with local or a couple nights stay in the slums any day of the week. Anyway, after clumsily asking around for a guy named Stanely, two round, jolly women helped me out. Word got out that a white guy was looking for Stanely, and it wasn’t long before he found me.

Within in half an hour I had two offersof places stay, and decided on Stanely. I was ushered into his three-room home that was only slightly bigger than my room back home. As I sifted through his keychain art (he carved some out of cow bone from beef his family had eaten), we chatted about himself. He was a Rasta (he must have lit up close to 10 times during my stay), and sells his art at a local market, though he is trying to learn Spanish so he can become a tour guide. The house was his uncle’s, a war veteran who received it free, and most of the houses in the community were free as part of a vote-getting strategy. Stanely would be attending a meeting the next day to sign his name for his house. Married to his wife Philani, he has a 19-month-old baby named Patience (last pic), who was busy wearing more food than she was eating. I don’t blame her – it was some of the nastiest okra I’ve ever had.

After dinner we walked around town looking for the two jolly women I owed a drink for helping me. The community was eerily quiet for a Saturday night. Before this fellowship, I thought the rural areas and slums were full of activity, and people were toiling to make every penny. The pace of life is very slow, not because they are all lazy, but because they don’t have many options. Stanely summed it up the next day when I asked what his plans were for the day. “I have no program. Moving is money.”

Shortly after we went to bed, I heard clapping, whistling, and yelling. From the other room I heard Stanely whisper something like, “There’s an elephant.” The full-grown male elephant was less than 50 feet away from the house, eating a neighbor’s bushes. Some of the neighbors were trying to scare it away and/or agitate it. Stanely said they usually come at night, and this is when they’re most dangerous. I grabbed my camera and ran after the elephant as it walked down the street chowing on bushes. Elephants are an enemy of the locals – they destroy houses, eat crops, and in some cases kill people. I eventually got within 30 feet of the elephant, but once it turned and faced me, I ran pretty quickly in the other direction with all the other locals.

My perception of the poor is a summation of all the people I’ve read about and, most importantly, met. Stanely adds another piece. I wonder about some of his reasoning: That he has no money saved for the Spanish classes, which he needs to get ahead; this is because he’s not earning enough currently to cover his family; but he has enough to pay for marijuana. If you were backed up into that position, would you give up those types up habits and do everything to get ahead? Or does everyone have his/her breaking point or weaknesses? More likely, I think, it’s impossible for me to conceptualize this because I haven’t grown up in the same context as him, where success probably isn’t expected and life is just about getting from one day to the next.


  1. Awesome post and incredible pictures! What a lifetime of memories.

  2. You are just amazing, Rob. Love the picture of you jumping, I love all of your pictures. I want some elephant pics though since I read this story!! How crazy and exciting each and every day is for you!! Megan