The World Around Us

Ending our trip in Africa with Bushfire

13-07-2013

LuggageRecovering from my flu, I was not too happy to be back in a/c for another 12 hours or so. But here we were, finding ourselves in yet another Intercape bus going back to the Beitbridge border!

With limited waiting time, we were happy that the only thing keeping us at the border was a luggage check. We dragged our suitcases inside and realized we were being waved through. Splendid show! After waiting for a mere half hour for the police checking our new passport-stamps we went off.

As soon as we arrived at Jo’burg’s bus terminal, we found our way to the mini-bus stand. Spots were available for the next one to Swaziland and we congratulated ourselves. Squeezed in (Marlowe had about one quarter only of his ass on a seat, poor guy) we tried to fall asleep in the heat for the next 8 hours. The border was a breeze and we were dropped off closely to our accommodation.

By this time we were hungry and decided to have a quick bite before heading over to the Bushfire festival. Turns out we must have found the best restaurant in Swaziland! I had luxurious barbeque meat with mango chutney (which is usually only good when in India) and Marlowe went with a steak that was so tender I am salivating just remembering the taste.

In short, if you want to be in a nice room with friendly hotel staff and an amazing restaurant with a good selection of wine, pick Mantenga Lodge!

The next day we went to Bushfire and were pleasantly surprised. Though a bit smaller we had imagined, it was well set up and allowed for some walking around. With one large stage, two smaller ones and an intimate setting at The Barn, we had plenty to see and listen too. Also imagine a Kids Zone, an Arts Fair, and dozens of food stalls; all this at the setting of House on Fire!

13-06-01-Bushfire3W

House on Fire is a unique place in Swaziland, a collaborative space for artists. The space now includes a restaurant, café, stores, and hotel accommodation. When the first performances were a huge success, the idea was born for a three-day Pan-African arts festival that not only benefits a strong arts community but also Young Heroes.

A few highlights:

While we waited for our turn to use headsets, the boys from Tonik intrigued us. Their music was live but with almost no sound. Unless you had those headsets, you could only watch them from the sidelines. It was really cool to see how the two band members interacted with one another and showed such joy playing, while listeners were quietly swaying on their cheers or seemingly lost in thought as they closed their eyes and leant backwards in their chairs while others seemed to meditate. Perseverance and patience were rewarded when we were finally able to sit down and listen to their instrumental songs. It was a joy to hear a didgeridoo in combination with the tabla rhythms, percussion and the piano. Of course, we bought the CD.

Here’s a video for an impression:

Naturally, there was some good food and some fine arts. We bought food from a group making traditional food from several African countries that supported a refugee camp. Delicious and the money goes to a good cause. The necklace I had been eyeing all day and that Marlowe bought for me, gave the mother a continued opportunity to send her child to school.

We watched some not-so-good performances like the Bomba Estereo group whose music just wasn’t our style. The Colombian band is well liked but electro and Spanish one-liners we didn’t understand didn’t compel us to dance or even wiggle our butts.  Another example was the African band Shangaan Electro. As always fascinated by traditional dancing Lisette was in awe but the music was “mwah…”

13-06-01-Bushfire4WAnd it was great bumping into few people we knew from Maputo and Swaziland!

All in all it was a fun ending of our trip in Africa. The next blog will be about the Netherlands, so watch out for the new article page.

Comments: 1

The Great and Powerful Zimbabwe

08-07-2013

zimbabwe-2

Lisette climbs the steps of great Zimbabwe. Even with the flu, she handled the not-so-easy terrain valiantly.

This post comes a little late but with happy reflections of a fantastic voyage.

After leaving Maputo, Lis and I made our way to Kruger National Park and the Bushfire Arts and Music Festival in Swaziland. Sandwiched in-between those two was our excellent visit to the Great Zimbabwe in southeast Zimbabwe. We spent the first night recuperating from the long bus ride there and were fresh the next day to explore the ruins with our guide “Always”. Here are few things we learned on the tour and in our own research.

What is Great Zimbabwe?

great-zimbabwe-map

The site in Zimbabwe.

The Great Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site located 27 kilometers southeast of Masvingo in the country of Zimbabwe. The site is unique in the region for its mortar-free stone walls and structures, iron-age technology artifacts, and size; occupying 722 hectares. From the 11th to 14th centuries it was the capital of the greatest sub-Saharan African civilization of ancient times. The civilization was created by the ancestors of the current-day Shona, the ethnic group and language that exists in the region.

What is the difference between Zimbabwe and Great Zimbabwe?

“Zimbabwe” was first and foremost a word in Shona. The word can be broken down this way:

Zi = a very large object | mba = houses | bwe = stone

rhodesia

Rhodesia in 1911.

So modern Zimbabweans used “great houses of stone” as an apt description of the site and civilization in their own language. Of course this is a modern construction and ancient Zimbabweans would have called it something else.

Though Great Zimbabwe had declined and Europeans taken over, the country of Zimbabwe had yet to exist. For the latter part of the 19th and better part of the 20th centuries, it was known as Southern Rhodesia, with Zambia being it’s namesake with the “northern” prefix. These areas were effectively (for the scope of this article) colonial nations named after and under the thumb of British mining magnate Cecil Rhodes.

By the 1960s rebel groups of Shona liberationists had started using the term “Zimbabwe” (after the site) to refer to Southern Rhodesia. Then in 1980 when their efforts to secure the nation’s independence were successful, the name stuck.

Why did they choose this name?

zimbabwe-flag

The Zimbabwe bird, seen at the left of Zimbabwe’s flag.

A ruin is a thing that has fallen apart, so why name your nation after one? Context provides clues. During the colonial years it was not known who had built the ruins and scholarly speculation ran wild. As “experts” argued back and forth, they did manage to agree on one point: it most certainly was not built by black Africans. The poem, A White Man’s Burden describes well how some thought at the time. If Zimbabweans had built the ruins they were already civilized; making enslaving them hard to defend. For whatever reason, the notion was suppressed for a long time.

The 20th century saw proper archaeological excavations at the site and the consensus now amongst experts is that Great Zimbabwe was founded by the Shona. The site now represented a powerful heritage that flew in the face of racist ideologies alive in the 1960s. In this case, “Great Stone Houses” really represents a proud legacy.

Zimbabwe stone bird replica Why is the national symbol that bird I see in the flag?

That is the Zimbabwe bird. Soapstone versions of the bird were found over the years at the site, many of which are housed at the site’s museum. Because so many of the birds were found there, the bird and nation have become synonymous for some.

Why did the Ancient Zimbabweans have so many of these stone birds?

The birds are thought to be symbols of the royal family of Great Zimbabwe. As such, they are found at the capital near Masvingo. The ones found at the site range in style and sit atop slender stone pedestals between 16 inches and a metre in height.

The bird on the right is not like the royal birds found at the site and located in their museum. I bought it as a souvenir from some local artisans.

About the site

great-zimbabwe-marlis

Lis and Marlowe in front of the Hill Complex.

Although Lisette was sick with the flu, I think I speak for her when I say that we both thoroughly enjoyed our time at the site. We spent three hours with Always, who explained the site in detail.

Overview

The site was occupied by somewhere between 11 000 and 20 000 people. The royal family, their attendants, servants, soldiers and clergy would have only been small number of these. A good portion of the area outside the capital was occupied by commoners. Because most could not afford stone houses, little is left of their neighbourhoods.

The economy of the nation was based on crops and animal husbandry. Foreign beads and other exotic artifacts indicate that inter-continental trade occurred with places as far away as China. The site proper is divided into the Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure and the Valley Enclosures.

The Hill Complex

hill-complex-view2

This shot is not from the highest point on the hill complex and the sky overcast. Even so, the view is impressive.

The Hill Complex is the highest point of the site, rising 100m over the rest of the site. It provides an amazing view of not only the Great Enclosure and Valley Enclosures but of the surrounding countryside as well. It’s highest point was used as a lookout; effective for strategic purposes. Scholars think the Hill Complex may have been the residence of the king. The path and tunnel that leads up to the first courtyard opens up through an arch only five feet high. Always speculated that this forced visitors to “bow” upon entering. Royal remains such as gold beads and ceremonial spears were found here.

hill-complex-bird

Can you see the Zimbabwe bird in this rock formation? Try looking for a beak on the top left.

The image to the right is located in another courtyard where it is believed the royals would address their subjects and hold council. Always noted how similar the rocks pictured to the right resembled the Zimbabwe bird (easiest to see with the “beak” in the top left). The King and his royal family would have been seated on the topmost tier ( collapsed at the base of the “neck”).

On the eastern side of the hill is a deep and low recess with a view of the valley. It is thought that this was the spiritual centre of the kingdom, where the King and his clergy would perform rain-making ceremonies. Six of the famous soapstone birds were found in this recess.

Near the south exit of the complex was a the closed off entrance to a tunnel. Over the years, at least two westerners had disappeared while trying to explore it. According to Always, the tunnel had several purposes and ended in a town 250 miles away! I really wanted to learn more but to no avail.

 The Great Enclosure

great-enclosure-view

The smallest trees here are twice the height of a person. This gives you an idea of the size of this place.

This is the single largest ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa. The outer wall shown here is 11 metres tall and as thick as 5 metres. An estimated million granite blocks were used in its construction.

Inside the enclosure one finds a narrow passage between two high walls. This may have served as a defensive feature to funnel would-be attackers into tight spaces where numbers count for nothing. At the end of that passageway is the conical tower and a large mound of stone. Always told us that there were once another mound on the opposite side of the tower. This phallic arrangement leads some to believe that this site was where fertility training took place. The King had many wives and they learned how to please him here.

The Valley Enclosures

conical-tower

The conical tower.

Situated between the Hill Complex and the Great Enclosure is this valley full of smaller enclosures. A great wealth of artifacts have been found here including the seventh soapstone bird that became the symbol of modern Zimbabwe. Evidence suggests that the this is where the junior wives of the King lived, with easy access to both the Hill and the Great Enclosure.

Recreated Shona Village

Lis and I had absorbed a great deal about the past. Always led us to a small fenced plateau in the landscape that is scholar’s best-guess recreation of how commoners lived in the time of the kingdom. It’s easy to see why little had remained of the commoner’s habitation. The wood and mud houses seemed to be crumbling and we were told they needed to be rebuilt every year.

shona-villageWe watched the musical performance and dancing by some local people who worked at the site. There was also some stoneware figurines near the entrance. It all felt a bit touristy but we learned a lot about the instruments they were using and tipped them for the entertainment.

By the end of the day Lis’ flu was acting up. We gave Always a fat tip for being a great guide and headed back to our accommodation. The next day we visited the site museum and bought some stone souvenirs for ourselves and loved ones from some locals just outside the park.

marlowe-always

Our guide Always shows some excavated pottery in the Hill Complex. Apparently this is enthralling to me.

Great Zimbabwe stands as my second favorite tourist experience in Africa, with Victoria Falls being first and Vilankulo a close third. Because our guide Always is local, we learned about the site from a Zimbabwean perspective with far more detail than any textbook could provide.

If you’re into archaeology or history, go there. You won’t be disappointed.

Comments: 4

A dream came true, we’re on safari!

02-07-2013

The last week in Maputo was devoted to washing dirty clothes, deciding what to leave behind and what not, working my ass off, a last minute party and packing, we were ready to travel!

Taking the early bus to Nelspruit, we knew the drill of crossing the border with South Africa well. But just that day, the border was crazier than normal and we lost our bus!

So here’s how a typical border crossing in Southern Africa works:

When you hit the border of the country you are departing, you leave the bus to enter the office. With Mozambique’s stamp, we then had to walk to South Africa’s border. Next to Beitbridge’s border crossing (SA-Zimbabwe), this was the longest line-up I’ve seen so far! Luckily, the Intercape bus hostess was able to whisk us through fairly quickly. We were told we were with the last batch and had to find the bus ourselves. “Sure, no problem” we told her confidently, as we had done this before.

Except, we couldn’t find the bus, nor could other people that were in ‘our batch’. After a little while I tried to contact the Mozambican office and someone else tried the Customer Service and we were told, “to stay put”. Finally, the bus personnel were contacted and they found us – the bus was now delayed for about one hour.

When we finally arrived in Nelspruit, we went straight to our accommodation, Old Vic Traveller’s Inn. A lovely place set in a gorgeous garden. Even better, we were upgraded to a larger hut!

We had no time to enjoy it much though because we wanted to buy a camera as we lost our Nikon SLR during the home invasion and were going to Kruger National Park tomorrow! Yet, their hospitality really stood out.

Ah, Kruger – we were so lucky to see some wild animals amazingly up close. Within minutes of arriving in the park, we saw giraffes. Not much later, the saw the butts of rhinos in the far distance. Birds were singing in the trees their morning song and we heard on the radio lions were spotted.

13-05-26-Kruger006W

13-05-26-Kruger008W

Easy to spot were the many impalas and warthogs that we had seen in Swaziland and Zimbabwe as well. Then came the first surprise: as a cheetah was following an animal in the woods, we were able to follow the cheetah for a little while. Then suddenly it came upon the road, right in front of us, and walked majestically for several minutes in open view!

13-05-26-Kruger020W

As we followed him, as quiet as a mouse except for the slight noise of the jeep’s engine, he looked at us a couple of times. I am certain he was wondering why we were on his tail and that we had just ruined his breakfast he had had in mind. Knowing the cheetah can run faster than any other land animal (up to 120km) and who has the ability to accelerate to 100km/h in three seconds, it was amazing and very rare indeed to watch him stylishly saunter about.

13-05-26-Kruger021W

From watching a graceful feline to viewing an ugly vulture up in the tree, our shocked brains took a little while in registering this extraordinary experience. After a short break with no spotted wildlife, we came upon these black and red birds (pictured below). Some research with Google told me they were Southern Ground Hornbills.

13-05-26-Kruger025W

For a while there was not much to be seen and we just enjoyed the nature and a good lunch. Shortly after we were rewarded for our patience as we saw a herd of elephants. We came fairly close so we were received with some trumpeting and flapping ears, so we didn’t stick around for too long. But the image below of the herd with the baby-elephant was totally worth it.

13-05-26-Kruger027W

13-05-26-Kruger031W

We had to drive a while to see the lions lying in a dry riverbed. As exciting as it was, it was also a bit disappointing because without binoculars you would never have seen them. Of course, for safety it was smart to be far away. But hey, we were already spoiled with following the cheetah, so expectations were high. And then, …

Then came the second most amazing sight of the day – a huge rhino was lying in the road. There was no safe way around him, so our guide revved the engine a bit to annoy it. We were rewarded with some snorting. Slowly it stood up, glanced at us one more time and unhurriedly turned around to walk away.

13-05-26-Kruger042W

13-05-26-Kruger044W

On our way out of Kruger National Park, we once more saw elephants, quite a large herd this time!

13-05-26-Kruger048W

Comments: 2

Robbed in Maputo

22-06-2013

HomeInvasion_ImageSo much happened and we’ve been in so many places since the last blog I posted, that it’ll take me a little while to catch up. But I will do my best.

Marlowe and I had some real bad luck in the last few weeks we were in Maputo. Two days before our fourth anniversary, we got robbed – yes, again! – in Mozambique’s capital. This time, it was not on the streets after midnight during a bout of feeling unjustifiably safe. This time, it wasn’t a purse snatched by a poor soul who probably had not eaten for a day or longer.

This time, it was a home invasion. When we tell people, the first response is a look of anxiety and disbelief. Then comes the question “You weren’t there, right?” And we unfortunately have to answer, “Actually, we were… But we’re fine!”

In spite of this horrible event in which we lost everything of value, we appreciate more than ever that we have each other and that we are both in good health. Nonetheless, it is an event that has left a mark and probably changed us both in ways we don’t yet realize. In conversation, we can explain what happened calmly, and relate to the extreme poverty in Mozambique that drives people to such acts. We don’t forget that we are grateful that we were not too roughly handled.

However, I cannot help but take the event personally.

First of all, three strangers forced themselves into our house. Second, they tied us up and, despite my pleading, stole my wedding ring off my fingers! Third, the realization that we had been watched, probably for several days, and that someone tipped them off that we were good targets.

Afterwards, we were well taken care of by VSO Mozambique and were in shock for a couple of days. The police weren’t that helpful either. Nevertheless, both Marlowe and I wished to end our time in Maputo pleasantly and worked hard to finish our projects on time.

We also wanted to do a bit of our usual traveling before heading home and tried to end on a high note. And so we did! Soon you’ll be able to read about safaris, ancient civilizations and music festivals. And before we left Maputo for good, friends threw us a party that was ever so nice.

Even now, a month later and in the safe streets of Toronto during a pleasant and sunny afternoon, I keep glancing around me. It makes me nervous to make a call out in the open and prefer to have nothing of value with me. What is more important to reiterate here, is that friends and family have been welcoming, supportive and attentive. It makes the transition to our “normal” lives, so much easier!

Comments: 3

Why I believe in international volunteering

23-05-2013

image volunteeringI wrote this blog post last week, before some events changed our stay in Mozambique drastically. Because I continue to believe international volunteering can and does make a difference, I wanted to share this blog post with you nonetheless. The events of last week are described in my next post.

Like I said a while ago in my blog article about changes, my work place and pace changed. Since March I have been working at the VSO Office. First, I was part of an exciting internal project that gave me opportunity to work with Ineke, who came specifically for this to Mozambique, as evaluator.

In this capacity as independent evaluators, we spoke to many stakeholders using a variety of research tools. It was satisfying to speak to staff, volunteers, partner organizations and beneficiaries. As a volunteer, I have had the opportunity in India to work with passionate ad dedicated colleagues towards improving people’s lives. This was a good opportunity for me to see the ripple effect of international volunteering again, but from a different angle and with a different focus (partnership development).

Second, I have been steadily working with staff on a couple of manuals that required updating as well as providing support for their administrative system. As always, this requires some change management and will take longer than I actually have the chance of being actively part of. I am certain of its success though for we have a couple of real champions at work.

Working at the office in support of international volunteers is such a different experience than being a volunteer myself. In combination with the work as volunteer representative in India and last month as evaluator, this work is giving me an encompassing and invaluable experience. No kidding, I have seen the 360 degree view of international volunteering!

Though it has been clear from the start, in 2006, that there are immense challenges to volunteering overseas, I believe in this particular form of sustainable development.

Why? Simple, because this experience helps people open up their eyes and view more of their world than they did before. I am not talking about volunteers only, indeed I am also speaking of people that work with volunteers – at the volunteer agency and at the partner organization as well as family, friends and other social circles of volunteers.

I am fond of saying “volunteers provide a peek into another world and this facilitates a wider understanding and celebration of diversity”. To me, respecting diversity is respecting humanity. Respect is the foundation for supporting neighbours – those across the street and across the world – and work towards peace, dignity and prosperity.

All the little things volunteers do have a greater impact than they realize at that very moment. A volunteer may inspire a friend to volunteer as well, a family member may support the same cause with deeper understanding. A staff member may aspire to grow further and study, a community member realizes immigrants face a multitude of issues, etc.

And that is what I appreciate so much; not only are you helping in a small way to improve lives, others are also in a small way working towards this goal. If we all work together, it seems plausible we can eradicate poverty and war. It is then no longer a dream; (international) volunteers are living the dream!

So come on, don’t you want to be part of the dream?

Comments: 4

South Africa’s Joburg

13-05-2013

So, there’s not going to be much information in this category, South Africa, of our blog. We barely went to the country and during our extremely short fling we didn’t fell in love with it. Nature seems to be stunning, but we haven’t had the chance to view it as of yet. Realizing it sometimes takes a long(er) time to warm up to a place, we advice the reader to take our feelings with a grain of salt.

That being said, let’s have a quick look at the quick peek we took of Johannesburg (often times called Jo’burg).

Lesson #1: Don’t stick around Park Station (Johannesburg’s bus station) if you don’t have to. The area is considered dangerous with, amongst others, daylight muggings and we felt intimidated. The station itself has a smart layout and helpful staff. The variety of shops and restaurants make it easy to deal with any, usually boring, layovers you may experience.

Lesson #2: The Museum Africa is worth going to. Not the best museum ever, but chosen by us for its proximity to the bus station and a shopping mall. Once there, we realized a so-called market theatre complex was around the corner and that no shopping mall was known to be around. Thanks, Lonely Planet!

Lesson #3: Mini-buses are considered a “no no” if you are a white person. We were warned by one of our co-travelers of else we would have tried to take the South African variant to the Mozambican chapa. What a shame, taking the chapa has been part of my experience of ‘really being in Mozambique’. Just like using an auto-rickshaw was in India, jeepneys in the Philippines and cyclo in Vietnam. I always felt that to further understand how a country functions, it helps to live partially like the majority of the population.

Lesson #4: Do go to Jazz café Nikki’s Oasis! It is diagonally across the Museum Africa. It’s a gritty looking place from the outside, but cozy and friendly inside with a good food for a reasonable price.

That’s it, folks!

Comments: 0

Riding through Botswana

01-05-2013

After our fantastic time in Victoria Falls, we now face the travel back to Maputo. If it is anything like our trip coming to Zimbabwe, we’re going to have a hell of a time (especially given the fact that we barely had time to recover)!

13-03-10-Victoria-Falls007W

We leave on time in the morning to go to the border of Zimbabwe and Botswana. It’s an easy ride in the taxi, with lots of baboons that are sitting and lying on the road for some warmth. Regularly we have to stop and wait till one of them is finally willing to move a few steps to the side to let us by. As soon as we’ve passed, the baboon will go back to its original spot.

13-03-10-Victoria-Falls008W

We pass the border in about ten seconds, and go to the bus station – oh no… The bus to Francistown has just left! We’re told to try to catch it at another spot where it’s uploading passengers. The taxi driver is kind and brings us there for no additional fee and we’re lucky.

Just on time we hop on the bus, realizing it is time for breakfast but with no means (we could not exchange dollars for pula’s in Zimbabwe). During the next break, we hope the shop will take the dollars or rands, but no – the lady kindly waves us away.

One member of the bus crew takes pity and buys us what we need (water!, cookies) and we promise to pay him back as soon as we find a banking machine. Honestly, we’re impressed; this kind of nice behaviour is unknown to us in Mozambique.

francistown

Bus station at Francistown.

It’s a long haul to Francistown but we saw a herd of elephants right beside the road! If it weren’t for Tim, we never would’ve seen them. Not much else happened on the road, so I read up a little about the country.

Botswana is independent since 1966 and is huge (that is, considered from a Dutch perspective), landlocked and empty. Its size is over 600,000 kilometers, the Netherlands being 41 and a half thousand square kilometers vs. Canada’s roughly 9 million km².

While the Netherlands has nearly 17 million people, Canada 35 million, Botswana has not even two million people! This translates to less than 3 people per km². With most of the country being the Kalahari Desert, this should be unsurprising.

It is considered one of the few ‘real democracies’ in Southern Africa. As a consequence, the country has had a stable history with a stable increase in standard of living. Botswana’s largest sector is mining (hello diamonds!) including copper and minerals. The second largest sector is tourism, especially in the Okavango Delta up north, due to its wildlife.

The short stopover in Francistown told us that most people speak English (we thought it might be a fluke that people spoke English on the bus). Turns out, it is the official language in business with the other official language being Setswana. Both languages are used as a “national unifier”.

Francistown has 120,000 people and is the second largest city (the biggest being Gaborone). This old gold mining town is named after Daniel Francis in 1867. From here we take the (slightly less comfortable) bus to Gabs. We were totally in for a shock – such a modern city with fantastic health care and wonderful infrastructure.

The Mall.

The Mall.

We realize 36 hours in the city doesn’t count for much and is not representative of the poverty in the rest of the country, yet we fell in love with Gaborone and Botswana. Though not fond of South Africa, we appreciate the capital being close to the border for a comfortable start of traveling.

Gaborone became the capital after independence because it has no tribal affiliation and is close to fresh water. The city centre is “The Mall”, a strip of commercial venue with government and international development offices nearby.

In the evening we went to Bull & Bush Pub for a drink and great dinner. We couldn’t believe it was our last night before having to go back to Mozambique via South Africa and saying goodbye to Tim.

Comments: 0

Wet Victoria Falls

27-04-2013

More than a month ago, Marlowe and I went to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe with fellow Canadians Tim and Chris. The trip from Mozambique took about 36 hours by bus and train so by the time we got to Vic Falls we were beat. Nevertheless, we did so many things that we ended up seeing the falls only on the very last day we were there!

In the morning we (excluding Chris) went horseback riding. When I told my parents afterwards in our weekly Skype call they started laughing. “But you don’t know how to!” my mother exclaimed. Which is correct, and to be completely honest, I was a little scared. Every time the horse did something weird or moved differently, a little squawk came out of me.

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls_3Pix

Luckily, the owner of the “safari on horseback” realized this immediately and made sure my horse was guided and all I needed to do was sit on its back. That I could do! We saw lots of impala, a young elephant running away, a surprised warthog, a big black bull, birds and monkeys. But mostly we saw green grass and low bushes with thorns.

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls_2Pix1

Only afterwards did I realize I was going to feel my butt and legs for a day or so. Gladly we stretched our legs and walked over to Victoria Falls. The first sight of these wide falls took my breath away. Only to realize a couple of minutes later there was much more to see. We walked for several kilometers to make sure we saw everything.

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls057W

There was no escaping the mist that felt more like rain at certain parts of the trail. In wintertime the falls carry more water so the falls are much bigger. The downside is that the thick mist obscures your sight at certain lookout points. It is no wonder then that the original name is Mosi-oa-Tunya meaning “smoke that thunders”.

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls_2Pix2

Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders, meaning I have officially seen two now because I visited the Great Barrier Reef briefly. (To be more accurate, I’ve been in the area as I’m not much of a snorkeler and no diver at all.) The falls are the largest known due to a combination of its height and width.

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls_2Pix3

At Niagara Falls in 2009, I took the chance to go in a helicopter flight and the view (and as such the pictures) was amazing. This time, we chose not to fly and our experience is quite different. If you have the money, fly! We also chose not to go to the Zambia border to see Victoria Falls from their sight. That was a good call, the border agency only gave the three Canadians a single entry visa for a decent price, so to go through that again would, in my opinion, be a waste of money.

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls072W

Comments: 0

Let’s go Boma-ing!

14-04-2013

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls079WSix weeks after returning from amazing Victoria Falls, I continue reflecting on my shared experience with Marlowe and friends Chris and Tim. I’ll resume teasing and nót show the pictures of the falls but talk about The Boma.

“Talk about what?” I hear you think.. Let me introduce the concept of Boma to you. Imagine a fantastic setting (Victoria Falls Safari Lodge) with yummy game and ‘traditional’ dancing with some surprising elements.

Upon arrival we were each given a customary cloth to wear during the evening. The mood was set; we were ready for commercialized Zimbabwean culture & food!

13-03-09-Boma-TwoPix

After a delicious appetizer (including crocodile), we were invited to use the buffet and try out kudu (antelope), beef, warthog, boerwors, guinea fowl and more. Delicious fish and goat was roasting and fresh salads were readily available.

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls080W

We all had ear-to-ear smiles on our faces for it was só good! My favourite was the warthog steak. Yum! To spice up the place a little, dancing and singing followed. It was then that Chris and Tim wanted to go local, be brave and show their manhood with trying out a traditional dish in Zimbabwe. Marlowe and I politely declined.

Holding my camera as a weapon in front of me, I followed the men to the very table I gave a wide berth earlier in the evening, with the “Mopani Worm Dish”. Africans eat many types of insects, and the most widespread one is the Mopani worm. This is a caterpillar –hanging in Mopane trees–of the emperor moth and is highly nutritious and a good source of protein.

13-03-09-Boma-Tim-TwoPix

The dark greyish looking fried worm did not look appetizing, but both men went ahead. (Though I think I detected some sweat beads and nervous breathing..) Tim chose to go first.

Anxiously he tried to find a “redeeming flavour” in this dish as he said afterwards. According to any psychologist, people looking out of the corner of their eyes are stimulating the creative part of their brain. Clearly, Tim was searching and searching!

Candidate number two, Chris, also bravely accepted his Mopani worm. I’m not sure if I was ever so rude before and burst out in laughter with someone disliking his or her food as I did then. The pictures below tell the story of Chris’ fling with the Mopani worm!

13-03-09-Boma-Chris-FivePix

While the boys recuperated, I dug into what I call “Hemelse Modder”. When I was a child, my mom made the best dessert ever: homemade chocolate mousse that Dutch folks endearingly call Heavenly Mud (it sounds so much better in Dutch!). I never tasted it anywhere else and have not had it in many a year, until here in Zimbabwe. Who would have thought?

13-03-09-Victoria-Falls107W

So when you are in Victoria Falls and feel like a funny and yummy evening out, go Boma! My next blog post will finally share nature’s beauty with you. I also wrote about getting to Victoria Falls and its hippos!

Comments: 1

Cabbage Rolls… That’s Right, I Said Cabbage Rolls

27-03-2013

Cabbage rollsFor Lisette’s birthday, I decided to be a little bolder in the kitchen and try to make a childhood favorite of mine: Hungarian cabbage rolls. I can honestly say that only one other time (when I first made Hungarian kifli) did I achieve a greater deal of satisfaction from cooking. The satisfaction comes from finally being able to make the thing you loved growing up well enough to remind you of being a kid (and there have been many failures).

We are fortunate enough to live in a big city like Maputo, where you can get most fancy ingredients without too much trouble. Unlike my wife, I am going to share the recipe here:

CABBAGE ROLLS A LA PEGGY
(My mom, we’re part Hungarian)

Ingredients

  • 1 large head of cabbage
  • 1 and a half to 2 lbs. ground pork, beef or whatever ground meat you want to use. You can use it raw or browned, up to you
  • 1 cup of rice (preferably basmati washed and parboiled for about 2 minutes then drained)
  • 2 medium size onions (chopped)
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley fresh or dried
  • 1 egg
  • 5 cans tomato soup (campbell is best)
  • 1 large can of tomato juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 beef bouillon cubes or 3-4 tbsps. of Bovril for flavour.  Be careful not to over salt although cabbage does tend to soak up the salt.
  • You can spice it up if you like with some cayenne pepper or chilies.

Directions

  1. Fill a stockpot with water, core your cabbage and drop it in the pot of boiling water. Gently simmer to let the cabbage wilt in the water so that it’s easier to peel off the leaves and for rolling.
  2. In a saucepan caramelize the onions and garlic.
  3. In a large bowl mix together the meat, drained cooled rice, onion and garlic mixture, parsley and egg, and your spices. Mix thoroughly.
  4. When the leaves have cooled a bit, take the a handful of the meat mixture, put it in the leaf and roll (not too tightly) to the edge and tuck in the ends.
  5. Repeat this till all the leaves and filling are used.  If you have meat mixture left you can stuff a green pepper or just put it in with the rolls and cook .
  6. If you have left over outer cabbage leaves you can line the casserole dish with them. Some people like a lot of cabbage.
  7. Cover the rolls with tomato soup, juice, beef broth and a couple of cups of the cabbage water.
  8. Put in oven at 350 degrees and cook for about two and a half to three hours.  You can stir them carefully once in a while.

A cucumber salad makes a great side. Cucumber shaved in slices in vinegar and water, salt and a little cayenne. A glass or two of wine, some crusty bread with butter and sour cream for the roll sauce if you like. All part of the total dish.

Comments: 5