It’s been somewhat frustrating to be on a continent as fascinating as Africa and be confined to a hotel/office all day. Yes, I know I’m here for work. And the work is fascinating. I’m utterly thankful that I have a job where I love both the mission of the organization and the people I work with. But still…
Due to the unfortunate/fortunate cancellation of several meetings, on Wednesday afternoon we discovered our Thursday schedule was completely free. The hotel manager walked past our lunch table; I stopped him.
“Is it possible to go to Victoria Falls tomorrow?”
“Why, of course. I’ll have my secretary check transport for you. When would you like to return?”
He looked at me incredulously. “You realize it’s 500 km each way.”
“Yes. But I only have one day. Is it possible to either fly there and fly back in one day or hire a car?”
He chuckled. “I’ll get back to you.”
The reservations were made. Edgar was to pick me up at the hotel at 5 am. We would drive the 4 ½ or 5 hours there, spend several hours at the Falls, then return, hopefully off of the roads before night fell.
At 5:15 I was in the lobby with only the night guards. I called Edgar on his cell phone. He said, “Oh, yes, I’ll be right there.”
Wanting to confirm we were spending the day together, I asked, “Did Chris ask you about going to Livingstone today?”
“Oh, yes, right there.”
Several minutes later an elderly man appeared.
“Edgar?” I asked hopefully. He shook his head. I sat back down as he asked the front desk clerk for Room 205. I approached him again.
“I’m Lori. From room 205.”
“Oh, you asked for Edgar.”
“Yes. Are you Edgar?”
“No, Edgar is on another assignment. I’ll take you to my house where another driver will fetch you.”
I pondered this. It just didn’t feel right. But I also really wanted to go to Victoria Falls.
“He’s on another assignment.”
“But just yesterday he confirmed this trip.”
“Yes. He’s on another assignment. It’s okay, come with me. I’ll take you to my house.”
I stood there, weighing my options. The hotel desk clerk said, “I think you do not feel safe. I will write down the license plate number.”
I thought about this. Okay, so if I were abducted, they could look for the license of the rental car, by that time probably rented to a couple from Australia. It just didn’t feel right. But maybe this was the way business was done in Zambia. Maybe I just needed to go with the flow.
I got in the car with not-Edgar. He drove me to the outskirts of town. We arrived at his house and he hopped out of the car to open the ever-present gates that surround every home, every building. “Have you had your coffee?” he asked.
“No, I’m fine.”
“Oh, come in. Have some coffee.”
“No, I’m fine.” Even as I said the words, I thought, “Hell, this is like hitting a 13 in Blackjack when the dealer’s showing an 8. You’re all in. You don’t stop until you have a winning hand. I might as well make the best of this.” As I was getting ready to tell not-Edgar that yes, I would have a cup of coffee, a taxi arrived and a man jumped out and approached the gates quickly. “Ah, your driver is here.”
Words were spoken, cash exchanged. The driver entered the car. “I am Joseph,” and with that we were off.
The first few kilometers were in silence. I didn’t know which direction we were supposed to be going. My mind often races to the worst case scenario. Hm. If this was a plot to abduct me, I should be proactive. Supposedly it’s harder for a kidnapper to hurt a kidnappee if a personal bond has been established.
“So, have you done this drive before?” Joseph explained, yes, many times, but this was the first time this year. I began inquiring after his family, what I’ve noticed is the common and expected thing to do here. “I am a widower for three years now. My wife, she was carrying our fourth child and it died inside her. She went to the hospital to have the dead baby delivered, it did not work, she bled to death.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“It’s hard, you know, to find someone like your wife, someone to spend the time with.”
Silence filled the car.
Hm. What question should follow the story of how you became a widower? His question broke the silence, “Miss Lori, are you married?” When I replied no, he exclaimed, “Oh! You are a bachelor like me. You move to Zambia and take care of my children.”
Hm. Not sure how to respond to that one either.
I steered the conversation to more innocuous topics: weather, the drive, sports. As soon as we left the capital city of Lusaka, we were in the country. Greenness surrounded us. Trees, grass, fields of maize, infinite beautiful green pressing up against an increasingly bright blue sky. The only other traffic on the road was people walking to work and/or school, an occasional bicyclist. Small round huts with thatched roofs occasionally peeked out from the roadside.
After passing through a few small towns, a few smaller villages, and 500 kilometers of open road, we arrived to Livingstone. We walked the narrow path from the parking lot to the entrance of Victoria Falls. I’d seen pictures of the Falls at the hotel; I’d heard about them; nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience.
I turned to Joseph, “What’s that noise?” He laughed. “We are here.” A thunderous roar greeted us. I turned the corner of the trail, and there, through the trees, were the Falls. I stood awestruck. Unbelievable amounts of water cascaded, no crashed, into a steep ravine. The torrents hit the bottom of the chasm with such massive force that the water then sprayed back up to nearly the top of the drop. I stood there, my mouth agape.
After several minutes, we continued along the trail, getting closer and closer to the edge of the ravine where the Falls fell. As we got closer the mist became thicker and heavier, until we were standing in a virtual downpour. I laughed as the water pelted me, drenching my not-waterproof jacket, my not-waterproof pants, and my not-waterproof t-shirt. I stood at the edge of the ravine, mesmerized by the Falls and the absolute magnitude of them. The roar, the wetness, the expanse, the smell of the air purified by such massive amounts of water. We navigated each trail, stopping to admire the Falls from every vantage point. At each location, I couldn’t pull myself away from the view – the beauty and true awesomeness was hypnotizing. Words escaped me; each view was met by squeals, gasps, clapping, or sighs.
After several hours of meandering from view point to view point, we made our way upwards to the River Trail. Suddenly we were before the Falls, walking alongside an incredibly calm, gently flowing Zambezi River. This was what turned into the Falls a mere meters away? No fences prevented us from dangling our feet in the river, though there was a rock with childlike letters proclaiming “No bathing. No washing.” We sat on the hot stones of the riverbank, relishing the warmness of the sun as it slowly dried our drenched clothes. I lay back, watching the fat, unnaturally white puffy clouds drift over the calm river. My eyes grew heavier and heavier listening to the calming sounds of water passing over random rocks in the river.
I suddenly woke up, almost dry. Joseph still sat beside me, watching the pattern of the river as it crept toward the edge of the Falls. I yawned, then stretched. I knew we needed to go back to the car. I knew we had a five hour drive and had been warned not to be on the roads after dark. I knew I didn’t want to leave this peaceful place.