One year in the last century, completely out of the blue, we got lions for Christmas! For some odd reason I had completely forgotten about this particular, shall we say, slightly different holiday experience when I wrote about the holidays we have celebrated in various corners of this earth. But last night I saw this funny lion ornament my hubby had put in the tree, and it all came back to me.
It all came about entirely without planning on my part. Saying that it came out of the blue might actually not be quite truthful. That particular year it was very difficult to find blue skies where we lived, in Stockholm, Sweden. It was all grey drizzle, ice and snow starting from mid November.
So one day I get this call from a reputable development agency. They asked if I was interested in doing an urgent evaluation of a heath care project in Zimbabwe the following month. December. That was interesting. I had a regular job and so did my hubby. But the thought of doing something truly worthwhile in a warm place – and as a bonus being able to skip all holiday stress, was intriguing. So I braved myself and asked my employer for a month of unpaid leave starting the second week of December. It wouldn’t hurt asking, I hoped. To my total surprise my employer agreed! And so did my hubby’s employer. It must have been the good cause that persuaded them – or was it simply the good old times?
So one snowy morning in early December we were on our way to London and further to Harare, where we established our home for the holidays in a small hotel room. I worked every weekday, and sometimes until late at night, but on the weekends and holidays we were able to explore the sights together.
Our first weekend outing was to the impressive Chapungu Sculpture Park in the outskirts of Harare. The exhibition included hundreds of beautiful stone sculptures of people, animals and some mystical beings by contemporary Zimbabwean and other African sculptors.
We spent almost a full day there walking around, admiring the works and talking to the sculptors “in residence”, who were actually working right there in the park.
I found this stone cat truly charming but he was too fat to take home in the suitcase so I opted for much smaller sculptures from there, like this stylized stone elephant.
Unfortunately it seems that this wonderful sculpture park has not fared well through the recent times.
The next day we visited a nearby crocodile farm and a snake exhibition. I think our son will never forget his spitting cobra experience. For obvious reasons I didn’t get a picture of that fast action.
The following week my work took me out of the capital to the town of Masvingo in south-eastern Zimbabwe. As this town is close to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, we decided to spend the following weekend in a small resort at walking distance from the ruins.
Great Zimbabwe was the capital of Kingdom of Zimbabwe in iron age. It was constructed by the ancestors of today’s Shona people over more than three centuries in the 1100-1400s. It covers almost 1800 acres and may have been inhabited by up to 18,000 people in its heyday.
The ruins are impressive, constructed completely of stone – without mortar. I was truly fascinated by them. Walking there I could still sense some of the lively energy that once inhabited this walled city. It was a very interesting pre-Christmas weekend.
Christmas fell on the following weekend. We spent the Christmas eve and day quietly. Took long walks in the city, stayed at the pool and did all our dining in the hotel’s excellent restaurants. No cooking or hassle. No tree, just a fresh flower arrangement that the hotel had kindly provided for its Christmas guests.
Then we watched the mid-night mass on TV and it brought some additional Christmas spirit to our holiday. Our son got a couple of small presents Santa had bought for him at Heathrow. He was happily playing with his new remote-controlled car on the pool deck and in the hotel room. I’m sure he sneaked it into the hotel corridor as well – for a quick speed test.
On Boxing Day we took a drive out of the city to a small wildlife sanctuary. It was not a real safari, of course, as the lions were in a large enclosure, separated from other wildlife.
But we could observe them at a close range as long as we wanted, like this huge male taking a nap in the afternoon sun. And then, during a game drive, we saw many species of antelopes, zebras, ostrich and hyenas.
Even after having lions for Christmas, our son’s absolute favorite was this old tortoise. He was huge and over 250 years old!
For our last weekend outing before returning home and to work, we drove to Lake Kariba in northern Zimbabwe to celebrate the New Year. I believe Lake Kariba is still the world’s largest manmade lake.
It covers 2,150 sq miles (5,580 sq kilometers) and was formed when one of the world’s largest dams, the Kariba dam, was built in Zambezi River on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in late 1950s. The lake has quite a dramatic history in terms of displacement and resettlement of about 57,000 people and the famous 1960-61 rescue of thousands of large wild animals and numerous small species from the rising waters of the lake. In many parts of the lake, one could still see the dead trees sticking up out of the water.
We stayed at the then very fresh Caribbea Bay resort situated right on the lake Kariba shores. In addition to resting and swimming in the pools, we did some wonderful excursions on the lake by boat to see the spectacular sunsets. We saw some wildlife too, like hippos, crocs and a large variety of birds.
We did not have the time to visit Victoria Falls, but you can find a post about that beautiful spot on earth here.
All in all, this was a wonderful holiday season. It was somewhat work filled for me, but also offered relaxation and some very interesting experiences for our little family. We did return to work, kindergarten and our daily routines thoroughly refreshed after 12+ days of Christmas. The lion in the tree is a good reminder.
I will take a small break from blogging and editing my book to spend some quality time with family. It’s been a great year for me with so many new friendships formed in the blogging community from all corners of the world. Thank you everyone!
I wish you all a wonderful Holiday Season. – Tiny