Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Zambia Re-cap

Oh, I had a lovely time here in Zambia.  I really do not want to go back to Ethiopia. Okay, maybe I just want to delay it a bit.  I do want to be back for my second camp, and all the projects I hope to do next year.

Christine and I spend most of our time in Livingstone.  It's a cute, flat town (never saw anything more than 2 stories aside from an Autoworld) with lots of dining options and while the scenery is very different from Queenstown I couldn't help but be reminded of it. Most of the tourists are young people, there were a lot of grad students in the country/neighboring ones taking a break from masters/phd research, and so much of the activities were geared towards young people.  But that didn't stop an elderly Chinese man I met.  The sole reason he came to Livingstone was to bungee jump and white water raft.

We took a wonderful bus ride down from Lusaka. Plush seats, free newspapers, drinks, snacks.  Nothing like Ethiopia.  Of course, music was still played the entire trip. But in Ethiopia it is blaring local music, Zambians play Christian spirituals at a comfortable level.

We spent the first day exploring Victoria Falls. It's in a small park area, but the paths cover a lot of ground.  Up close, the spray is so intense it's hard to see the Falls.  It's always raining, and now Zambia is approaching dry season so the Falls aren't even at their full strength.  Still, there is so much spray the opposite side of the gorge that the water falls into is always getting rained on and a mini rainforest has sprung up.  And then up you go to the top of the next gorge (where the Falls used drop) and it's all dry.  It's interesting seeing such extremes so close to each other.

Day two we went on a game drive aka rode in a jeep through a national park to look at animals.  While it might have been more interesting and special to actually tracking animals on foot, we would not have seen all that we did. Giraffes, zebras, water buffalo, water bucks, impala, wildebeest. It was like being in Lion King. We were lucky enough to see elephants. They only come around during the dry season, because otherwise it's just too muddy and they get stuck in it. This guy here decided to mock charge us, which I think is the elephant equivalent of a cat hissing and puffing up. But much more startling. Christine squeaked.

The next day, I went off on my own to do a little white water rafting.  Didn't quite realize what I was getting into. Only after we were at the river did I learn that much of the Zambezi is level four and five rapids.  And I had no idea capsizing was so scary.

I was a little nervous when before we set off our guide went through commands and one of them was 'hold on'.  You essentially put your oar along the rope on the edge of the inflatable raft and hold both together with your hands.  How often were we going to use that?

As it turns out, on the second rapid.  Chongo shouted hold on, and boy did I do so.  Maybe too much.  The boat hit a wave wrong, and over we went.  It flipped right side over left, me being on the left, and since I held on to the rope the whole time I went under quickly.  When it happens, it happens so fast you don't have the time to suck in a lungful of air. First you holding on with a death grip, and then you're under the boat and you can't see and you wonder where are the rocks how can I avoid them I dropped my paddle oh my god the air pocket they said would be here isn't because the water is too choppy!  I'm so glad they covered what to do if you get knocked out or if the boat flips. 

I found the edge of the raft, pulled myself  out from under it, grabbed a lungful of air while trying to be in an upside bug position - feet up to use as shock absorbers, balance with arms (but no way was I letting go of that rope), and head pointing upstream to make it easier to breath.  But it wasn't working, the water kept splashing into my face can't get a good breath omg something is pulling at my leg it sucked off my shoe Christine's Keen sandal that I was borrowing I'm in the middle of rapid and why is Chongo on top of the boat? Why is he pulling that rope? He's gonna right it? I have to let go of the rope?! No, just take a deep breath and I'll automatically move with it, my arms twist but my head's above water and no more waves in my face and I'm pretty sure I'm settling down but I just want out of the water into the boat and why can't I stop my mini tremors?

 (As Chongo explained later, when were were sitting in a calm patch with only three paddles while the three kayak guides on the trip searched for our paddles, just after we flipped we the front part of the raft went over a whirlpool and was sucked down for bit.)

Of all the things that experience reminded me of, it was when I thought I accidentally killed someone working as a horse carriage tour driver on Mackinac Island. My carriage had no breaks, they went out on the trip, and the horses were skittish and couldn't keep still as a result. An old lady tried to get on the carriage after getting out at a scenic outlook, the horses moved, she fell back, hit her head on the carriage parked next to me and went down.  She wasn't moving. And my boss just sent me back to the barn to get a new carriage, not even a new team, and barn staff on bikes and the ambulance went speeding past me on the way to the barn and I spent the whole day on edge and nervous and trembling and no one told me she was okay until my last run even though this happened on my first of that day.

Panic attacks, I realized then, because obviously falling into a rapid is a different experience than thinking you killed someone. Having a panic attack, even a mini one, while floating in the middle of a level four rapid is not very helpful or smart. It's rather dangerous. 

Not the one we flipped on, but looking at the pictures I don't know why we didn't.

It probably took me another three or four rapids to calm down, to realize that not every rapid meant a flip and if you aimed the raft correctly they could be fun.  But when Chongo gave the raft the option of flipping on purpose, I said no. As did the other girls, I'm so pleased. Our raft only flipped once the entire trip, others two or three times. And for others, people fell out more than once.

I'm glad I did it, but I don't think I'll be doing it again any time soon. 

Christine and I had spa appointments that night, massages and pedicures.  I felt like I earned them.

We spent our next, and last day, visiting the museum. Not impressive by American standards, but it is by Ethiopian.  It essentially highlighted how unique Ethiopia is.  There are no true tribal religions or practices, and the meanings behind several traditional items aren't known.  There is also very little to find about the history of Ethiopia, be it culture or policy. Part of that is the Derg and it's oppressive state, but I wonder how much colonialism has to do with that. Ethiopia was only occupied for five years by Italians, but fought them off.  Most of the early explores to Zambia wrote about what they saw, the life styles and the cultures that were around during the 1800s, preserving them.  Nothing like that happened in Ethiopia.  The museum of natural history is pretty much a place of relics from the old rulers, art, a fake Lucy and exhibit on human evolution, and how the climate of Africa as a whole shifted over time.  Maybe all the missing information stuff is just written in Amharic. I have no idea.

In the evening, we went on a booze cruise. Twas my first, and not really what I expected. While the bar tenders were friendly and the drinks were free, there were a lot of families on the boat with kids and the only single guys looked to be in there late 30s. They were also rather fond of smoking in our faces.  Apparently, the company the hostel booked us with advertised it as both a booze cruise and a sunset cruise, but oh well. Food, drinks, and watching hippos play in the river was nice and relaxing, just what my still sore from rafting body needed.

I spent some time overhearing, okay, eavesdropping on a couple of girls a bit older than us simply because I was interested in their conversation about medial aid abroad.  Throughout our trip, I tried to image what it would be like for someone to overhear the conversations Christine and I had.  How amazed we were at the signs telling tourists to not give food or money to the street children, how much more friendly the Zambian culture is, what the political repression of our respective Ethiopian regions by Addis is.  If they would fell like I did listening into those public health grads whose conversation we eventually joined,  they'd feel like they had just stumbled upon interesting, smart people.

Which is kinda weird.  I remember meeting world travelers before and thinking, that person was so interesting! and now I think I've become one of those people.  But I still meet people so much cooler than me all the time in the hostels.  Today I met a RPCV couple who met while serving in Guatemala and just finished a Habitat for Humanity trip in Mali with their kids. And a Berkley PHD student doing research for a project on the African laws about conservation for the past 50 years.   I guess the world is just full of cool people full of cool stories and I love learning all of them.  I think that's part of why I'm a writer.

I fly back to Addis tomorrow, and I'm rather sad about it. But I know I should, I need, to go back.  I'm almost at the halfway point of my 27 month service here and the first half went by fast. The second half will go just as quickly.

Oh Zambia, I will miss you. So glad Christine and I didn't go to Tanzania like so many other Ethiopian PCVs.


J.R. Johnson said...

What a great adventure! Glad to hear you survived the near drowning incident.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Sounds like an awesome trip. How amazing to see so many animals. And the massage seems totally deserved after getting tipped out of the raft. Glad you were okay.

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