It has been almost exactly a month since I left Africa, flying first from Johannesburg back to Dar for one last round of goodbyes, and then onwards from there.
It already feels like a dream. The first time I saw a giraffe. The way Lake Malawi glimmers as the sun sets. Touring Kigali on the back of a motorbike. Watching the world spin below me from the top of Kilimanjaro. Shivering next to a pool of boiling lava in the Congo. Drinking red wine and eating pizza and talking books at Saverios Restaurant in Dar. An afternoon with a family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The dusty red roads of Kampala. Kissing a giraffe in Nairobi. The Tanzanian line dance on my 30th birthday. Christmas in Ethiopia. Swimming in a waterfall in Madagascar. Laughing until I cried in Maputo.
These things that I know to be true. The sunset is most spectacular in Zimbabwe, the sky most beautiful in Madagascar, the water most blue off the coast of Tanzania. Maputo has the best egg tarts, Dar the best Indian food, Ethiopia the best coffee. On a good day, it takes 24 hours to drive 400 kilometres in Madagascar, 15 hours to cover the same distance in Malawi, 12 hours in Tanzania, anybody’s guess in Mozambique.
There are good people everywhere, more parts happiness than sadness. One day, a child in Goma smiled at me and gave me a piece of lava, from the volcanic eruption that destroyed his family home. I carry it in my purse. Another day, a woman sitting beside me on a long bus ride bought me some bananas, a piece of manioc, and a bag of peanuts. She didn’t speak English but she smiled at me when I thanked her. I carry this with me too.
When the picture accompanying this post was taken, I was sitting on the beach with four people I had met a day earlier, eating crabs we had marinated in garlic and tomatoes, drinking a 2M beer, and talking about tides and wind patterns and 3 am departure times. A picnic spread out on the canvas sails we had removed from the boat to use as a tablecloth. Happiness in the form of a poem.
I carry all of it with me.
I counted the stars in Madagascar. I know I am very lucky, both for the adventures and the people I have met along the way.
These are the things I have learned.
I took several precautions when I visited Victoria Falls last month. I armed myself with a big stick, I hired a security guard, and I rented a heavy-duty raincoat.
At the hostel the night before there had been lots of stories about the perils that await travellers at the falls. The most terrifying of these stories relate to baboon attacks. Apparently, the park is infested with baboons who, after being taunted and fed mercilessly by tourists, have now banded together into gangs to hunt the human population.
A few months before my visit, one of my fellow interns was robbed by a baboon. A week before my visit, a guy staying at my hostel had tried to fight off an attack and had ended up in the Livingstone Emergency Room. And the day before my visit, the baboons surrounded a woman and stole her purse. Her purse contained $5,000 in cash, or so the story goes, all of which ended up in a pool at the bottom of the falls.
So I found a big stick on the ground and practiced swatting at the trees with it a few times and satisfied myself that I could maybe handle a violent baboon. If not, the security guard would be there for back up. He was actually a tour guide; I told him I didn’t care about the tour, but that he should intervene if a group of baboons were to surround us.
Shortly after I entered the park there were more warnings about heavy water spray in the areas near the falls. “You should rent a rain jacket”, the guide said. “So your camera and your clothes don’t get wet.” So I paid $1 to rent a full length rain jacket. It was sunny and hot and I felt more than a little ridiculous. But I rationalized that at least the jacket would help protect me from baboon bites. Or maybe even scare away the baboons altogether.
Ensconced in thick plastic rain gear and armed with my stick and my guide, I set off to enjoy the natural wonder that is Victoria Falls.
The falls were mesmerizing.
I am not easily impressed by waterfalls. I am even more skeptical of waterfalls that are billed as must see attractions. But Victoria Falls is amazing. The gorge seemed to extend forever, a curtain of rain. Water was everywhere. In my ears, my hair, puddled at my feet, falling from my eyelashes. I felt small and awed.
My rain jacket flapped in the wind and I was about to pull it tighter around myself when I noticed three Zambian women ahead of me. Dressed only in their kitinge, soaking wet, they were dancing in the Zambezi rain. “Lose the raincoat”, they yelled at me. “It’s more fun this way, like you are swimming in a cloud”.
So I took off the rain jacket and stood under the rain and lost myself in the Zambezi.
But I kept a firm grip on my stick.