Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lion’s Head and Table Mountain

Lion’s Head and Table Mountain

Cape Town is a beautiful city with the ocean on one side, mountains on the other and arts, culture and excellent food in the middle.  This makes it the “best of all possible worlds” in many respects.  The biggest, and most famous of the mountains is called “Table Mountain” – so named because of the flat top.  The extensive clouds that cover it are sometimes referred to as the “tablecloth” although there is also a legend about a pirate smoking his pipe up there. IMG_0129

Lion’s Head is a monadnock, and a very popular hike.  It is right next to “Signal Hill” which is sometimes called “Lion’s Rump” and when seen from the water, you can how the two hills resemble a resting lion – his head to the right and the rest of him stretched out behind.


I had decided that I wanted to climb Lion’s Head – supposedly not that difficult.  I had been advised not to hike alone, so I engaged a guide – a very nice young woman named Jo, who had lived in Cape Town all her life.  We started out at about 8:00am…it was a beautifully sunny day.

IMG_0136 IMG_0135

IMG_0134 SA-premier-vineyard2


The path was not hard, but much steeper than I had anticipated….and I realised that it had been well over a year since I had done any real climbing.  It was frustrating realising how out-of-shape I had become.  But I kept going, anyway!

IMG_0138 IMG_0139 IMG_0140

The trail wound around the mountain, so you could get views from all sides.  It was really spectacular.

IMG_0143 IMG_0146 IMG_0147 IMG_0145


About two-thirds of the way up, as the trail became a little more rocky and a lot steeper, I began to feel queasy…not like myself at all.  At first I thought it was just because I was hot, tired and out of shape.  And then I realised, with mounting dismay, that the burrito I had had for supper last night (at a somewhat dodgy Mexican place in town) was – shall we say – making itself known.

Oh, dear.

I mentioned this to Jo and she said she knew exactly which Mexican place it was and shook her head  in sympathy!  By this time, I was frantically looking for a bush…and praying that I did not disgrace myself on my first visit to Lion’s Head!

Meantime, we were coming up to the last part of the hike – which involves chains and ladders bolted into the side of the rock.  (These are from another website, but they give you a general idea…)

Ladder lions_head_chains_13


I (wisely) decided to forgo the summit this time.  We sat and rested on a bench near the turn to the ladders.  Jo produced a banana, some energy gels and then – miraculously – a couple of Imodium A-D.   And we headed back down…slowly and carefully.


(My ever-patient guide, Jo)

IMG_0149 IMG_0150


I was sorry not to get to the top, but it was still a great hike – and after some more fluids and rest, I felt more like myself again and ready for the rest of my time in Cape Town!

I had been tempted to hike Table Mountain…but that would have been a full-day hike.  So I decided to take the cable car up, instead.  This was one of the stops on the “hop-on, hop-off” bus tour. The cable car ride is very quick – less than 5 minutes – and the interior of the car rotates so everyone gets a view.  One of the hiking trails goes directly under the cable car.

IMG_0261 IMG_0256

IMG_0220 IMG_0219 IMG_0218 IMG_0217 IMG_0216 IMG_0215



The top of Table Mountain had a gift shop, a pretty decent cafe, and many trails and walks going off in all directions.  The tables in the cafe had descriptive tops, with facts about Table Mountain.

IMG_0221 IMG_0222 IMG_0223 IMG_0226

There was also wildlife…including birds that were bold as brass as they tried to sample your lunch…


And “dassies” – which look like kind of a cross between a hedgehog and a hamster.  They are known as the “rock hyrax” and their closest living relative is the elephant!  They were very friendly and not afraid of humans at all.  They hung out on the rocks, foraging for food and waiting to see if any of the tourists dropped a morsel.

IMG_0236 IMG_0234



The views were amazing.  You could see Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, of course and the entire city spread out in front of you.  In addition, you could see the range of mountains behind Table Mountain, stretching all the way to Cape Point.  Part of this range is known as “The 12 Apostles” and they are very popular with hikers.  (No one knows why they are called “The 12 Apostles” and it is even stranger since there are actually 17 of them!)

IMG_0238 IMG_0240 IMG_0242 IMG_0244 IMG_0245 IMG_0250 IMG_0251

This is a view of “The 12 Apostles” from the bottom


Lots of beautiful flowers and other flora in the rocks.  And locks…padlocks on the view-point fences.  Apparently this is a tradition on the tops of other mountains, too.

IMG_0249 IMG_0247 IMG_0246 IMG_0252 IMG_0253 IMG_0255 IMG_0256


I loved the mountains of Cape Town and really hope to return to do some serious hiking in the not-too-distant future!


Jo’burg to Cape Town via the Premiere Classe Train

Jo’burg to Cape Town via the Premiere Classe Train

2014-03-13 13.01.20

I love train travel.  It seems to me a much more civilised mode of transportation than a plane, where you are jammed into a seat with no legroom and no way to move around, stretch, chat, grab a bite to eat and maybe meet your fellow passengers.

There is a wonderful website called “The Man in Seat 61” which details how to travel all over the world without ever setting foot in an airplane.   It is a terrific resource for anyone who likes train travel…I used it when I traveled from Amsterdam to London.  (Passenger train ride, over-night ferry to another waiting train and right into St Pancreas Station!)  It also describes how to take “great train journeys world wide” including the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Orient Express and the “Blue Train” from Jo’burg to Cape Town, which is the journey I took.

Well, I didn’t take the actual “Blue Train” (it costs almost $1,000 one way!) but I took that same journey – same scenery, same size train cars, same full-meal service – but less than a quarter of the price.  There is also an even cheaper option, called the “Tourist Class” train.  However, I decided to treat myself a little and go with the “Premier Classe.”   I was not disappointed.

For overnight train travel, the important thing to remember is that the journey is the thing…as much as the “getting there.”  The Premier Classe train is like a little hotel on wheels, with all expenses paid.  No traffic, no hassles, plenty of room to stretch your legs, a fully-stocked bar car, delicious meals and big windows in the lounge to look at the scenery.

We started out in the Premiere Classe Lounge, with complementary coffee and tea and a light lunch.  I got there early and was welcomed warmly, my bag tagged and my boarding pass issued.  It was fun talking with the other passengers as they arrived.  There were people from all over the world and some locals who had lived in Jo’burg or Cape Town all their lives and simply decided to take a train ride.

2014-03-13 12.30.13

IMG_0061 2014-03-13 13.01.29 IMG_0062

IMG_0063 2

The porters took our bags and delivered them to our private “rooms” on the train and then we were allowed to board.  The train was bright purple on the outside…which pleased me.



All Premier Classe passengers get a private sleeper. Solo travellers get a “coupé” with one lower berth and couples get a compartment with two lower berths. Each compartment has a washbasin, towels, soap, shampoo, shower gel, mineral water and slippers!  There was a toilet at the end of each car and a shower just along the corridor.  The windows opened for plenty of fresh air.  I found my compartment, with my bag placed neatly inside.




We were all invited to the dining car for complimentary champagne and an assortment of snacks.

IMG_0071 IMG_0070

As we were all chatting, we suddenly realised that the train had started to move.  We were pulling out of Jo’burg, passing some of the other (less classy) trains and leaving the city behind.

IMG_0072 IMG_0073 IMG_0075


There was a full kitchen in between the dining car and my car, and the chefs were already working to prepare dinner.  After about an hour, formal “tea” was served, with delicious chocolate cake.



The city scenes gave way to shanty-towns, fields and farms.

IMG_0077 IMG_0078 IMG_0079 IMG_0080 IMG_0087 IMG_0088

I was asked if I would mind having dinner at the “second seating” and of course that was fine.  I made my way to the lounge for a glass of wine and discovered that I had to purchase it by the bottle.  Somehow, I made do.  (There was an excellent wine list – South Africa is known for its fine wine!)


I chatted with the other passengers who were also “second seating” and watched the sun set.


Finally we were called to dinner – a five-course gourmet meal.

IMG_0095 IMG_0096 IMG_0097

There was some kind of butternut soup, a fish course, a salad, roasted vegetables, steak and tira misu for dessert…which I usually don’t like, but this was delicious.  And then they came around with a cheese tray.  By the time I was finished, it was close to 10:00pm and I was ready for bed. When I got back to my compartment, it had all been made up into a lovely bed, with a comfy duvet and fluffy pillows.  You can see the little sink in the corner, with the night-table folded up.



I washed up and hit the hay, the train rumbling through the night.  I had no trouble falling asleep, but I did have a funny moment when I woke in the middle of the night.  I wanted to go use the toilet and went to open the door; but it wouldn’t open!  It seemed like it was locked!  I jiggled the handle and pushed harder, but it was stuck tight!  Maybe they locked us in our compartments at night?  Maybe there was a call button or something!  How could I get out of this room?

Of course, when I woke up all the way, I realised that the door was meant to SLIDE open…as I had slid it closed to go to bed.

In the morning, the sun streamed through the window and the scenery had changed.  Now there were mountains in the distance.

IMG_0100 IMG_0102 IMG_0103 IMG_0104 IMG_0105 IMG_0106


I went to get coffee in the dining car and here experienced my only disappointment with the trip.

Instant coffee.  

Alas.  I made do with tea, and resolved to write the owner of the train and suggest that he serve bona-fide brew.  (I did write him and got a very nice response back!)

Breakfast was eggs, bacon, sausage, beans toast, juice and grilled tomatoes.  A proper “English breakfast” in other words.

Now we began to see some of the vineyards of the area and smaller towns on the outskirts.

IMG_0107 IMG_0108 IMG_0110 IMG_0116 IMG_0117 IMG_0119SA-premier-vineyard2

At lunch, I was seated with another solo passenger, and we split a bottle of very nice white wine.  He was an older gentleman who had lived in South Africa all his life and it was very interesting to talk to him about the changes over the past 30 years.

Finally, we began to see the outskirts of Cape Town.  We passed several little buildings that looked like tiny forts – I was told that they had been built by the British, to protect their lands.



And then we could see Table Mountain and Lion’s Head – Cape Town’s famous mountains…all covered in clouds.

IMG_0121 IMG_0123 IMG_0129


It was wonderful hearing the train slow down and finally stop…after 27 hours.  The porters came and got our bags and brought them into the lounge area at the station.  One of the staff at the station called me a taxi and I was whisked to my B & B up on the side of “Signal Hill” t0 start my adventure in Cape Town.





White-water rafting on the Mighty Zambezi.

White-water rafting on the Mighty Zambezi.


The last day of my vacation was in Livingstone.  I had already seen the falls the day before and wanted to do something special on my last day.  My first choice was going to be an all-day safari in Chobe, Botswana…but at the last minute, that fell through.  The tour company suggested that for special price, I could do rafting in the morning and a river cruise in the evening.  So, I thought…why not?  I was a good swimmer, I liked the water and I had never been white-water rafting.  I would give it a go!

(Yes, I am aware that I am blogging out of order.  I did lots of interesting and exciting things on my vacation…and will get to them all in due time.  But this is fresh in my mind!  And a good story…)

I was picked up at my hotel at 8:00am and taken to where the rafting “activity” started.  There were 14 of us in the group, some singles, some couples, a few small groups traveling together.  We were fitted for life-jackets and helmets and informed that because of the “high water” we would be starting at Rapids # 14 instead of #1.  The first 13 were just too high right now.  This also meant that instead of walking down a nicely graded flight of stairs, we would be walking down what amounted to a steep, rocky wash down the gorge.

I was wearing flip-flops.  But they were TEVA flip-flops and I had already paid.  (Note:  I had asked what I needed to wear/bring and was not told about any special foot-wear.  Very annoying, especially since I am a stickler for the right shoes!)

Anyway.  I made it down the gorge without falling, twisting my ankle or loosing my shoe.  I did most of it by holding onto the shoulder of one of the guides as we picked our way down.  I was not the only one who had trouble…and we were all sweating buckets by the time we finally got to the put-in.  We could see the rafts all inflated – each raft holds 8 people; plus there was a “safety boat” and two little tiny kayaks (“trick kayaks” they called them) that would accompany us.  In addition, they had guys taking pictures and videos all along the way.  We were given some instructions about what to do if the boat capsized and told not to panic if it happened.


We loaded into our boats and got some instructions on how to paddle.  Basically, forward or back…and sometimes one side would do one and the other side the other.  Also – HARD! That meant paddle faster.  And finally “GET DOWN!”  That meant put your paddle sideways, sit at the bottom of the boat and hang on to the rope.  Our “captain” was named Melvin.  So we were “Team Melvin.”  Go, team.


We all were nervous, but smiling as we departed.

IMG_0541 IMG_0542 IMG_0545

We paddled as instructed and soon hit the first real rapids.  We shouted and screamed and paddled and “got down” and got through it without incident.  This was fun!

IMG_0547 IMG_0596 IMG_0601 IMG_0603

A few more rapids and we all felt like we were getting the hang of it.  But then…we came to “The Terminator.”  And…well…

IMG_0548 IMG_0605 IMG_0606

IMG_0607 IMG_0608 IMG_0609

IMG_0610 IMG_0611

It was absolutely terrifying.  I completely forgot all the stuff about not panicking, and panicked.  I knew the life jacket would hold me up, but my helmet strap felt like it was choking me and the water was swirling around me like a washing machine.  I could hear myself calling for help…and I wasn’t the only one.  Of course, that meant I swallowed water, choked more and panicked more.  I could hear Melvin telling us to grab the ropes on the side of the boat, but I couldn’t get a hold.  Finally, I grabbed onto something…and Melvin pulled me up onto the bottom of the capsized boat, telling me not to panic, it was okay.  In the last picture, you can see him reaching over the side to pull me up.

IMG_0613 IMG_0614 IMG_0618 IMG_0619 IMG_0620

The water was still swirling and we still had to right the boat.  I had to get back in the water again and we all had to pull from one side to flip the boat back over.  And we did it!  Only…now I was under the boat.  This time, I did keep my head and managed to swim under and out…but the boat was being swept away from me.  Some people had managed to get back in and some people were still floating around in the rapids.  I was pushed along towards the other boat (which had also capsized) and someone stuck a paddle at me – I grabbed it and got pulled into the boat.  By this time, I was really shaken up and my head was pounding (I think a stray paddle had hit my helmet.)  I knew I wasn’t really hurt…but I was shaking so hard I couldn’t find my balance.

Oh, and my pants were falling off.

Everyone was getting organized back into their boats and I got into mine – but I was obviously not 100%.  People were very kind and a bit concerned and I heard Melvin ask, “Do you want to go in the safety boat?”  At first I thought I would stick it out, but he asked a second time and  I heard my little inner voice say, “Don’t be an idiot.”  (Later a couple of people told me I was white as a sheet.) So my boat took off with one less passenger…


And I went in the safety boat.


The safety boat was a raft with a wooden seat strapped into it and a huge, strapping Zambian (named Roger!) to stabilize it with two gigantic wooden oars.  At first I was still so shaken that all I wanted to do was sit in the back…but after a little while, Roger gently encouraged me to sit up front and enjoy the ride.  So I did.  The scenery was absolutely breathtaking…the Zambezi is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The gorge is deep with stunning cliffs on either side.


There were a couple more fancy rapids which made me glad I had opted for the “safety boat” but none of the boats capsized again.  When we finally made it to the docking point, everyone cheered.  We divested ourselves of our helmets and life-jackets and headed for the cable car which took us to the top of the gorge again.

IMG_0661 IMG_0717IMG_0718

And you know what?  I think I’d do it again.  And try not to panic if the boat capsized…at least, not as much.



Johannesburg….sort of!


I started my long-awaited March break with a plane ride to Johannesburg. I was going to be taking the “premiere class” sleeper train all the way to Cape Town and I figured I’d get there a day early, check into my hotel and then see a bit of Johannesburg. I thought maybe I’d do the open-top city bus tour, stopping off at the Apartheid Museum and perhaps see if there was anything on at the symphony or find a local place where there was live music.

Well. None of that happened, sorry to say. So this post may not be all that interesting…but it will serve to document the first part of my journey and be sort of an introduction to the rest of the trip!

The plane to Jo’burg was small, but comfortable and we were served a light breakfast on board. When we landed, I grabbed my brand new bright purple wheelie bag and went to find the Gautrain, which would take me to Sandton…a suburb of Johannesburg where I had booked my hotel.

About Sandton. Originally, I had booked a hotel right near the train station. I figured that way I could see more of the city, easily catch the hop-on, hop-off bus and be close to where I needed to be for my train trip the next day.

However, more than one person warned me about central Jo’burg in general and the area around the train station in particular. So I listened…and booked a hotel in Sandton, which was suppose to be a “nicer” area. I booked a place right near the shopping district and within walking distance of the Gautrain station. I figured it might be a little more inconvenient, but I wanted to be safe.

Then the hotel I booked emailed me and said that the branch of the hotel I had booked was closing, but they could book me at a sister site, just up the road. So I went with it. In hindsight, this was a mistake and I should have stuck with the place near the train station…especially if I wanted to see any of the city! But…I digress.

The Gautrain (pronounced “howtrain”) is a brand spanking new public transportation system, easily navigated, extremely safe and very reasonably priced. I got my rechargeable ticket, boarded the train and was at the Sandton station within 20 minutes. Then the fun began. My hotel was supposed to provide free pick-up and drop-off to the train station and I had been instructed to call them when I arrived and they would send the shuttle get me.

So I called, but the woman on the other end of the line seemed a bit confused about what I wanted and her accent was very difficult to understand. It sounded like she was telling me to wait at the “tea cup.” At first I thought that perhaps this was the name of a cafe…but finally realized that she was saying “pick up.” I told her that I would wait there and described my purple suitcase and bright white hair.

25 minutes later, I was still waiting and getting a bit annoyed. A woman in a small silver car, who was there to pick up someone else, saw me and asked where I was going. When I told her, she said that she thought it was just up the street. I called the hotel again and the hotel lady seemed just as confused as before…I told her never mind, I would take a cab.

When the silver car woman heard this, she said, “Oh don’t take a cab, they are so expensive, why don’t you let me drop you off?” At this point, the people she was waiting for showed up…an American couple originally from Orlando who had just flown in from Hong Kong. We all piled into the little silver car and Rivita (that was her name) drove me to my hotel, which was NOT “just up the street,” NOT anywhere near the center, but almost 2 miles up the road and near absolutely nothing. Rivita actually called the hotel twice to ask them exactly where they were located…and the lady at the hotel was equally unhelpful both times. We finally found it and I thanked her (and the Orlando couple) profusely.

(I was extremely grateful for this kindness…I promised to “pay it forward.” Who knows how long I would have had to wait for a ride from the hotel!)

When I walked into the hotel, there were drop cloths and ladders everywhere. They were doing a major renovation in the lobby. The place smelled of fresh paint and wallpaper paste. Luckily, my room was ready, even though I was early. I dropped my bags and went to the restaurant (a quasi-Italian joint called “PapaChino’s”) for some lunch; I was starved. I had a passably good lamb pita and a killer mojito.

I still had the idea of maybe going into the city and getting the tour bus….but by then it was 2:00pm. By the time I got there, it would be closer to 3:00pm and bus only ran until 5:00. Besides, I was kinda tired and this was my vacation.

So I took a 3-hour nap instead.

When I got up, I realized that sight-seeing in Jo’burg probably was not going to happen this trip. So I spent the evening curled up in a chair overlooking the garden and pool, reading and having a glass of wine. The next morning, I was pleasantly surprised when the (included) breakfast buffet was one of the best I have ever seen and the coffee was freshly brewed. Getting a ride back to the train station proved to be much easier than I had anticipated.

And now….I am sitting in the premiere class lounge, enjoying complimentary tea and biscuits with the other passengers, while we wait to board our train to Cape Town!

A weekend in Choma

A weekend in Choma

Choma is a small, friendly town located about 4 hours south of Lusaka, on the main bus line to Livingstone.  I thought it would make a fun weekend excursion and I was not disappointed.   This is still the rainy season and most places are under-occupied and have special rates for residents.  I did a bit of googling and discovered the Masuku Lodge, about 20 km off the main road.  It is located inside the Nkanga River Conservation Areas and is one of the area’s top places for bird-watching.  Over 400 species of bird have been sighted here, including Chaplin’s barbet, Zambia’s only endemic bird.

I got to Lusaka’s main bus station in plenty of time to get my ticket.  Unlike the first time, when I was there as a new traveler in Zambia, I had a better idea of what to expect and felt more comfortable looking around.  There is a central, covered area which functions as a market.  The various bus lines have their ticket booths around the edges.  Buying a bus ticket can be an adventure in and of itself.  On some of the bigger bus lines (like Mazhandu, the one I used) you can call ahead one day before to reserve a ticket.  But on most of the buses, you need to show up in person on the day.   (Buying a ticket online is unheard of here.  Most people who take the bus don’t have regular access to a computer.)

2014-02-28 13.02.48 2014-02-28 13.03.06 2014-02-28 13.02.20 2014-02-28 13.02.11

What is curious is how ticket sales are handled.  As I walked around the market, representatives from the different bus lines would approach me.  (Note that “madam” is pronounced here with the accent on the second syllable.  “meh-DAM.”)”Madam!  Madam!  You would like a ticket to Kpari Mposhi?”  “Madam, where are you going?  We have bus to Livingstone!”   “Madam, you would like to go to Ndola today?  Very nice bus!”

It was as if they assumed that I had packed my bag and gone to the bus station on a whim with no plan and no idea of where I wanted to go!  The place was bustling with chaotic activity.  In addition to the market stalls, there were folks walking around holding merchandise for sale – watches, stockings, hats, clothespins, snacks, radios…almost anything you could think of.  Some were more aggressive than others – I watched as the clothespin seller shoved his wares literally under the nose of several seated women who were dozing off as they waited for their bus.  Most simply shook their heads at him, but one woman glared at him until he backed away.

(This picture shows the stairs used to attached over-size luggage to the top of a bus…not all have compartments underneath!)
2014-02-28 13.07.54

Finally, our bus arrived, everyone found their (assigned) seat and we drove off.  There was the inevitable gospel music playing and this time we had a real live preacher on board, who read scripture and walked up and down the aisle talking and praying for the first 30 minutes of the journey.  I was very glad for my Bose noise-canceling headphones!


The bus ride took about 5 hours, with a couple of stops and a bathroom/food break.  When I alighted in Choma, Dorie from Mazuku Lodge was waiting for me.  She was a small, bubbly woman with great stories to tell, having lived in Zambia her entire life.  We drove down a well-graded dirt road, and then a less-well-graded one and then one that looked almost like a foot path.  We passed through several gates and then suddenly, there was the lodge, warm and bright against the night-time rain.  Dorie’s partner Rory came out to meet us with an umbrella and handed me a glass of wine as we entered the living room.  I felt very welcomed.

IMG_0004 IMG_0005 IMG_0002

The lodge and surrounding areas had been carved out of the bush.  There are six little chalets, roundavels with ensuite baths and a large main building which a beautiful dining room and large living area, complete with a fireplace and WiFi and even a TV with plenty of DVDs, should you want them.  Each chalet has a porch and there was a big garden area for sitting outside the main house.  The hot water for the chalets is heated by a large brick stove with pipes to the rooms. The lodge looks over the lake formed by the Ross Hot Springs Dam on the Nkanga River and there are birds of all kinds to be seen and heard.

IMG_0003 IMG_0028IMG_0009 IMG_0008 IMG_0006IMG_0005 IMG_0050 IMG_0012

I was served a delicious dinner with a first course of butternut squash soup and then roast chicken, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, carrots and string beans, and home-baked bread.  Dessert was fresh carrot cake with warm custard.  Rory (who is the birder of the couple) was able to give me some ideas of where to walk and what I might see.  He was leaving the next morning to do a month-long training and exam course for the guides that are so incredibly informative in the national parks.  I was the only guest at the lodge for the weekend and it was a perfect retreat.

There were miles of dirt road trails to explore.  Because of the tall grass, not much game was evident (or should I say, visible!  It is possible I walked with feet of a zebra or impala and just didn’t see it!) but I saw plenty of fresh footprints. The countryside was green and fresh and the bird song was everywhere.  It was lovely to just be able to walk for miles in the Zambian air.

IMG_0011 IMG_0017 IMG_0018 IMG_0019 IMG_0022 IMG_0023 IMG_0024 IMG_0032 IMG_0042 IMG_0033

I saw some interesting insects…some kind of worms, a pill bug, some army ants (marching in formation) and also many beautiful wildflowers.

IMG_0039 IMG_0031 IMG_0013

IMG_0014 IMG_0021 IMG_0016 IMG_0015 IMG_0025 IMG_0026 IMG_0043 IMG_0040IMG_0020

For some of my walks, I was accompanied by Jackal and Heidi, Dorie’s two affable black labs.

IMG_0045 IMG_0046

When I wasn’t walking, I spent my time sitting in the garden, reading or just – well – sitting! 

IMG_0035 IMG_0037IMG_0010

All too soon, it was Sunday afternoon – time to head back to Choma and get my bus back home.  The Choma “bus station” is next to a fast-food place and awash with street vendors.  I think at least five different people asked me if I wanted to buy bananas.  I declined – politely – each time.

IMG_0055 IMG_0054 IMG_0053 IMG_0052 IMG_0051

I plan to return to Masuku Lodge next August, during the dry season when game is more visible and also to take part in one of Rory’s “Bird Safaris.”  But I loved spending time there during the quiet season.  A wonderful, peaceful weekend…







Courtesy, customs and kindness


Zambians are noted for their friendliness and courtesy.  There are certain customs that need to be learned when speaking with the locals if one wants to avoid appearing rude or boorish.

When starting a conversation, no matter how urgent the matter, it is expected that you will first greet the person and ask after their health and family.  For instance, when speaking to the maintenance man, you would first say, “Hello, Mtwalo!  How are you today?  Is your sore throat better?  And how is your wife feeling?”  Then, after he had exchanged similar pleasantries with you, you could say, “My hot water pipe burst and my bathroom is flooded.  Do you think you could come take a look at it?”

This holds true even in emails.  You never just dive right into the conversation, but start off with “Hello!  I hope you are well today!”

There are also certain phrases and colloquialisms to be learned here.  You don’t “arrange” for things – you “organise” them.  When I need a ride to the bus station, I ask the person in charge if she will “organise it” for me.  When I was on a game drive and said that I would love to see a black mamba snake, my guide said he would “Organise a snake for me.”

“Only” is used as a modifier. When asking the price for goods or services (a taxi ride, a car repair, a box of mangos) the price is given followed by “only.”
“How much are you asking for half dozen avocados?”  “50 kwacha only, madam.”
I am not sure if this is meant to show how cheap something is (as in “ONLY 50 kwacha”) or to reassure you that there will be no hidden fees involved (as in 50 kwacha, including tax and delivery)

Then there is the phrase “just now” as in “I am leaving for the store just now.”  This does not mean, as one would assume, that leaving for the store is happening as we speak.  It means “I may be leaving for the store within an hour or so” or even “I am thinking about leaving for the store at some point today.”  If you want to be immediate, you would say “now now.”   Time tends to be a bit more relaxed in Zambia anyway.

Last weekend, I unexpectedly bumped into someone who had been very kind to me in a time of great stress.  You may remember my driving mishap, only three days after I bought my car.   I had turned the wrong way onto to a divided highway and hit another car head-on.  Luckily, both of us braked and no one was injured.  However, I was frightened and a bit dazed and the Zambian man whose car I had damaged was ranting and raving and carrying on about how I was going to buy his car right this minute and he would make sure of it. I was standing there by my wrecked car, with tears running down my face.  There I was, a white woman – an obvious foreigner in a strange African country being sworn at by a very angry man while a small and curious crowd gathered.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, another Zambian man stopped his car and got out.  He came up to me and gently took me by the arm and led me a little bit away from the scene and over to the side of the road.  “Now, madam,” he said to me.  “First of all, are you all right?”  When I nodded yes, he continued, “Well, now that’s good.  You are not hurt, that is the most important thing.”  He glanced over to where the other man was still fuming.  “Do not speak to him.  The police will be here soon to take a report.  Do you have anyone you can call?”  I nodded again and got out my phone to call the head of security at the school.  My rescuer smiled encouragingly.  “It was an accident.  No one has been hurt.  It will all be sorted out.”

And it was.  And though I thanked him at the time, and he even gave me his card, I misplaced it and never got to really tell him how much his kind gesture meant to me.  And then, as I was coming out of Game (a Walmart for Zambians) last weekend, I heard “Hey, I know you!” and saw him gesturing at me.  “I remember you,” he said.  “You were in an accident up on Independence Avenue.” And he smiled that very nice smile.  I admit that I got a little teary as I told him that I had thought about him so many times and wanted to thank him for coming to my rescue.  “It was nothing at all,” he responded, as I gave him a huge hug.  He asked if I had gotten it all sorted out finally, and I told him I had and he walked away with a wave and another smile.  “It was nothing,” he said again.

But it was something.  It was kindness;  kindness to a total stranger with nothing expected in return.

And that chance meeting reminded me once again of an incident that I wish I could forget.  A time when I was not kind.  A time when it would have cost me nothing to show kindness and…I didn’t.

It was a few years ago and I had gone into Boston to meet up with some friends and see a show.  I remember that I was tired and a bit cranky after a full day of work and had gone into a local burger place for a bite to eat.  All I wanted was to sit undisturbed for a little while.  I had my food and a cup of coffee and had just sat down when I looked up to see a woman standing right in front of my table.  She had long, unkempt hair and was wearing a nondescript cloth coat and what seemed to be slippers on her feet.  She looked at me and said, “Hello, how are you this afternoon?”  I assumed she was homeless and begging and I was annoyed at being disturbed inside a restaurant when all I wanted to do was be left in peace.  So I said, “I don’t think you’re allowed to beg in here.”  The woman blinked and then said, with some emphasis, “Well, I am not begging.  I am selling.”  It was then that I noticed that she was holding some beaded necklaces in one hand.  Maybe she had made them.  But all I could think about was my desire to just be left in piece, so I responded, quite sharply, “Well, I don’t think you’re allowed to sell in here, either.”

She blinked again, obviously startled and hurt. As she backed away from me she said, “That is so mean…  Why don’t you…you….go and take a nap, you witch.”  And she left the store.

And left me alone.  And left me feeling horribly, horribly ashamed at what I had done.

How much would it have cost me to speak kindly to her?  To answer her timid “How are you?” with a polite “Fine, thanks.”  To look at her necklaces before declining?  Maybe to even buy a necklace, for God’s sake.  To treat her like a human being who needed help, instead of like an intrusion into my oh-so-important life.  To just show some common courtesy. 

I can never take that lack of kindness back.  I can never find that woman and apologize.  I can never make it right.  I think unkindness to a stranger is even worse than being unkind to someone you know.  You know you will see a friend or a relative again; you’ll have a chance to say you’re sorry, to explain how you were having a bad day, to admit you were being an ass.  To ask forgiveness.

But you don’t get a second chance to be kind to a stranger.

Somehow, I think that’s an important thing to remember.