Letters from Zimbabwe: July 30, 2014

Heather ZwickeyHello!

Yes, hello. No Swahili in Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, we’re quickly learning that Shona, the tribal language in Zimbabwe is similar to Swahili, probably because they both share Bantu roots. How’s that for a piece of trivia you’ll probably never need to know?

There are two phrases that we use often on our trip: TIA (This is Africa), and AWA (Africa Wins Again.) The trip from Zanzibar to Zambia was an AWA moment after a TIA moment after another.

We were scheduled to catch the early ferry from Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam, and our friend Magologolo had volunteered to bring us to the ferry. We piled into his car, only to discover that it was filled with mosquitoes and was nearly out of gas. TIA. And because it was 6 a.m., none of the gas stations were open. We stopped at three gas stations before we finally ran completely out of gas at the third. Magologolo disappeared across the road, leaving Maria, Chelsey (one of our students) and I sitting in the mosquito filled car. Eventually, he found someone to siphon gas out of their tank to put into ours so that we could get to the ferry, but now we were running very late. A perfect time to be stopped by the police, don’t you think? We were stopped three times in 20 miles. Needless to say, we missed the first ferry. TIA.

We decided to pick up our ferry tickets for the next ferry while we were near the ferry terminal. The passenger ferry terminal is beside the truck terminal – which was filled with a mob of rusty trucks, most far too tall to be stable. The trucks were trying to squeeze into a space designed for horses, not for big trucks – not a safe place for pedestrians. You see it coming, don’t you? Yes, I was hit by a truck. It wasn’t too bad – he backed into me and only bruised my arm. AWA.

Adopting the Zen Tanzanian attitude, we used the missed ferry as an excuse to go to our favorite Stone Town coffee shop for cheese & date crepes and cappuccino – and our friend Pam was able to meet us there. Unfortunately we talked for so long that, again, we were running late for the ferry. Jumping into Magologolo’s car, we asked him to rush to the ferry. Magologolo is a Rastafarian, with some of the best dreads I’ve ever seen, and rasta guys don’t rush. They also don’t pass other rastas without saying hello. So, with only six minutes to ferry departure, Magologolo stopped to chat with some fellow rastas who were walking along the waterfront. TIA. Nevertheless, we made it onto the boat – the last passengers embark before it launched. Phew.

We spent the day in Dar because we had an early morning flight the next day to Zambia. We thought if we were already in Dar, we could get a good night’s sleep before leaving for the airport at 5 a.m. the next morning. Not so. I think they were demolishing a building on our block between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. While I didn’t witness it visually, it sounded like someone was riding the wrecking ball, and would grunt “ooooof” every time it hit the building. Boooom! Ooof! Booom! Ooooof! I didn’t get any sleep. AWA.

The airport at Dar provided additional humor. It took five ticket agents to check us in for our flight, one to operate the computer terminal, one to weigh Maria’s bag, one to weigh my bag, one to put the tag on Maria’s bag, and one to put the tag on my bag. Wait – maybe there were six agents, because I definitely remember one woman who was just monitoring what everyone else was doing… TIA.

Then we went through security – and the power went out. In fact, it was one of the only times in Tanzania that we lost power on this trip. Probably not the best time for the power to go out… but TIA. And if we were worried about security, we shouldn’t have been too concerned. The security guard wasn’t – he was dead asleep on the far side of the X-ray machine.

After getting through security, we noticed that our gate was listed as Gate 7. But there was no way to get to Gate 7. We went left and found Gates 1-5. We went right, and a Mosque blocked the way to Gate 7. After 10 minutes of trying to find a door to Gate 7, we asked an airline agent who informed us that it was a mistake. Our flight was at Gate 5 – because there’s no way to get to Gate 7. And was our flight on time? It was supposed to leave at 7:20. But the monitors said it was leaving on-time at 7:50. I guess 30 minutes late IS on time in Africa time. AWA.

Perhaps the best TIA moment at the airport was the restroom. There was a sign for the ladies room – but at the end of the hall were the urinals (no door blocking them) and men walking out zipping their trousers. So we turned around – but the only sign for the ladies room was in that hallway. Sure enough. The ladies room door was right beside the urinals. The doors locked in the ladies room – well, rather, they had locks. But the doors opened in, and the locks were on the inside, so the doors just swung open. TIA.

We had a long layover in Zambia – 28 hours. We found a camp just outside of Lusaka based on a recommendation from one of our new Australian friends from Moshi. It was a great, quiet spot – a perfect place to sleep and recover from the hustle of Dar. We’d hoped to catch up on some e-mail while we were there, but the only place we got internet reception was outside on the restroom stairs. Best to avoid most of our e-mailing, and just relax and eat. The house specialty? T-bone steaks. Delicious, juicy T-bone steaks… with chocolate and strawberry ice cream for desert. Wait, is Zambia in Africa?

With only a few hours to kill in the morning before our flight to Zimbabwe, we decided to hit one of the markets to see if we could find some used jeans. Tanzania is warm – hot even – and we were headed to winter in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Markets are similar in most of the countries we’ve traversed. Small tents made of sticks and feed-bags are slapped together, and piles of goods are shoved under them in no apparent order. People sell tomatoes along side underwear, and suitcases near the plastic straws. Why not? Lately, most of the new products are from China. But interspersed among small cheap plastic bowels and pink plastic back-packs are stacks of used clothing.

You can often get used jeans for a few dollars at the market. It used to be that most of the used clothing came from the US. Some of the items were donated directly through churches and NGOs, and others were things that didn’t sell at Goodwill – and often still had the Goodwill tags on them. Not anymore. It’s now rare to find US clothing. Everything is imported from China. And let me tell you in case you didn’t know, Chinese women don’t have butts, or thighs, or hips – not American style butts, or thighs, or hips, anyway. Now imagine trying on these itty-bitty pairs of jeans in the middle of an African market. The Zambian women hold up a piece of fabric to create a bit of privacy, but dressing rooms are unheard of. Struggling in the dirt behind the fabric, we tried to squeeze into miniature jeans. Maria and I couldn’t get most of the jeans past our calves. The Zambian ladies laughed as we explained our American butts, hips, and thighs. They don’t wear jeans – most of them only wear skirts or skirts fashioned by a piece of fabric wrapped around them. Eventually, we found one pair of American jeans – and they fit Maria. The day was a success. We could leave for Zimbabwe.

Having only spent a day in Zambia, we didn’t really have a chance to connect with the country. I know that there has been movement toward establishment of a naturopathic program in Zambia, and I hope one of our global health community will eventually spend some time there to establish it. We heard from locals and other tourists that there are some great game parks in Zambia, but didn’t really have time to explore. In one of our future trips, we definitely hope to see Victoria Falls which is on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

I think I’ll leave Zimbabwe for it’s own letter and stop here.

Sending love from Zimbabwe…