Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

The Beautiful Diversity of Being. Perspectives and (Analog) Nostalgia.

It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky.  And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.

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Traditional dancers in Zimbabwe early 1990s

If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.

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An elephant family crossing the Luangwa river, Zambia,  late 1980s

If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike. 

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Luangwa River, Zambia,  late 1980s

Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.

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Giraffe in Kenya early 1990s

These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.

Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.

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Fresh from the plane. Our first day in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) late 1980s

I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.

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Attending a traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia in 1990
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Performing Lingala songs in Kampala, Uganda mid 1990s

Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.

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A young dancer in Livingstone, Zambia, late 1980s

What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.

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Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being. aulikki-and-dylan-birthday-2016

Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched  my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.

On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.

 

The Smoke That Thunders

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One beautiful December morning some 25 years ago, we stepped onboard a small and very old propeller plane in Lusaka, Zambia to fly south to the Zambia/Zimbabwe border. That was the first of many trips we would do over the years to experience one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Mosi-oa-Tunya. It means the smoke that thunders – a very descriptive indigenous name given by the Tonga tribe to the falls we now know as Victoria Falls.

This worlds largest waterfall stretches one mile (1.7 km) wide and 360 f (108 m) high, producing a huge continuing curtain of falling water during the rainy season.  The main streams have also been named: Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and the Eastern Cataract. The wide basalt cliff over which the water falls into the ravine transforms the calm Zambezi river into a wild torrent with numerous dramatic gorges and true white water rapids.

We have come to visit these falls both from Zambia and Zimbabwe, both sides of the falls offer beautiful views and nice accommodations. Upon arrival, I’ve just liked to relax in the hotel gardens and listen to the ancient thunder of the falls and watch the mist raising towards the skies.

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Then it’s been time to take a walk in the two national parks protecting the falls on both sides of the border. The vegetation in the parks is lush, rainforest-like, due to the continuous natural “irrigation”. But there are nice walking paths from which one can admire the wonderous beauty of the falls from many different angles. The  thunder is on “high volume setting” when you walk close to the falls, you can really sense the enormous force of the water rushing down. And you get a natural shower completely free of charge!

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Often we have also crossed the walking bridge from Zambia to Zimbabwe side of the falls (or vice versa) to see the falls from several different perspectives.  It’s often a good time to get some lunch before walking back through the park.

The falls also change with the seasons, like everything else in nature. During the rainy season (November to April) when the Zambezi River swells, the falls are at their peak exhibiting the largest single sheet of falling water in the world. And an enormous spray display that can be seen for miles.

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Gradually during the dry season, the river stands lower and lower. And consequently, at end of the dry season the falls have much less water. To the point that some people have tried to walk over the falls – with disastrous consequences. The power of water is enormous even during the dry season – and should not be underestimated. Such daredevil acts are of course strictly forbidden.

If you want to see the falls from above there are other safer options: air safaris by helicopter or small plane, and it is even possible to glide fly over the falls. For me it has always been enough to climb to a safe place and look down into the gorge…

For those of us who want to experience extreme thrills at Victoria Falls, there is also white water rafting or kayaking on Zambezi in category 5 rapids, with the added excitement of possibly meeting a few small crocodiles en route.  Those not satisfied with the category 5 rapids can always add bungee-jumping to their itinerary!

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We did not try the ultimate adventures but preferred more family oriented, safer activities, such as visiting the wildlife parks and craft shops in the vicinity.

After walking around the falls for hours and whatever else was on our program, we usually returned to the hotel to enjoy dinner, often served with traditional music outdoors. And after dark there was always something to look forward to: colorful traditional entertainment in the form of music, ancient dances and plays featuring dramatic masks. A little bit of mystique for dessert has always tasted good to me!

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Victoria Falls is one of my favorite destinations and I hope to get an opportunity to visit there again. It is a must-see natural wonder for those traveling to Africa. I hope you enjoyed the journey and did not get too much of a soaking from the smoke that thunders.

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Déjà vu…

It’s estimated that about two-thirds of us will experience déjà vu at some point in our lives. It literally means already seen. We catch ourselves “remembering” something we actually haven’t seen or experienced before. We have the feeling of being familiar with a scene or a situation. There seem to be many types of these experiences and as many explanations – ranging from memory malfunctions and neurological aberrations in the brain to the more mystical ones. Whatever it actually is, one thing is certain: these are fairly common experiences among us earthlings. As far as I know, I’ve only experienced it once. But it was a strong experience, or rather a string of experiences in the cause of two days. They were quite interesting (to me, that is). And I can still recall them now, over twenty years later.

It was early in the morning, the sun was just rising over the small, sparsely wooded natural garden in front of our little lodge in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. I got up, made some coffee and then opened the door to sit and enjoy my coffee sitting at the doorsteps. The cool, moist air was filled with a faint, barely discernible scent of smoke from wood fire. And I felt I was at home! Everything seemed familiar, the garden, the surroundings, the scent in the air. But it couldn’t be further from the reality as we had just arrived there late the previous night from Europe through Harare – for the first time. It was a very pleasant experience, nothing dramatic about it, I just sat there sipping my coffee and thoroughly enjoyed the calm familiarity of it all. Until I had to leave for my meetings – I was there for work.

Later that same afternoon, after coming back from my meetings, we walked over to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins that were close by. Wanted to see the ancient stone city, the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, believed to have been built between the 11th and the 14th century. The ruins of this ancient city that could have accommodated as many as 18,000 people at the time, were (and still are) very impressive. Zillions of stones built into outer walls, towers and inside structures, without the help of mortar.  Walking inside, I was overcome with the same strong sense of familiarity. I was fascinated! I walked and walked among the ruins, examined the construction and the arrangement of the structures. I was not feeling like I usually did (and still do) at historic sites – curious to learn about the times gone by. What I felt now was a remarkable awareness of how this city had been. Knowing that the weekend was coming and we’d fly to Victoria Falls in the morning, I found it difficult to leave. I ended up staying long after my family had returned to the lodge, until the site was closing at sunset.

Over the weekend I was “off” and we spent the two days at the majestic falls, world’s largest water falls and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. After settling into our rooms at the historic hotel, we spent the afternoon walking the small paths in the forest opposite the falls. The thunder was deafening and the water vapor made us soaking wet. But it was an absolutely wonderful experience.

In the evening, there was an offering of after-dinner entertainment at a small arena in the woods behind the hotel gardens. A group of dancers in traditional masks and outfits performed old, customary dances describing life’s various stages. As soon as they started to perform, the sense of knowing and deep familiarity appeared again. I had seen traditional dances, costumes and masks on many occasions in other African countries before, and since, without ever experiencing this particular sense of déjà vu. Again it was a very  peaceful and enjoyable feeling. It didn’t leave me for a long time, and I can still recall it vividly.

And that’s been it. Ever since, I have not met my déjà vu again. How I could experience the extreme and warm familiarity in these for me, then, completely new environments is still a small mystery for me. Wherever they came from, these events now form a part of my real memories, on the more affable end of the spectrum. If anything, these little encounters with déjà vu have deepened my affinity to Africa.