Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

Hope Wrapped in Plastic

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At this moment, my writing studio has been overrun by men in hi-viz construction garb who are installing supports in the apartment above ours to earthquake proof the building. Or, more precisely, to fix a bad earthquake proofing that happened a few years ago. It’s frustrating when you live in 900 square feet and are told you have to move all of your earthly possessions five feet from the south wall and five feet from the west wall. And when you are booklovers, it is possibly worse.

 

I spent last weekend moving the hundreds of books I own and love and the hundreds more I own and have never read. They are now in unreachable piles, covered by a plastic tarp, while sawing and hammering make them jump.

 

When will this fresh hell be done?

 

Oh, they can’t tell us. It could be by the end of the week or it could be in two months. It just depends on how the work goes in the apartment above. And based on a conversation I overheard (while eavesdropping and peering out the peephole), there is some worrisome shaking in the apartment above or below, so it’s possible that when I get back tonight all of our belongings will be living in the apartment underneath ours.

 

Added fun: we can’t be in the apartment from 9 to 5, which would be fine if I didn’t work from home, but I do, and so it’s hard not to feel put-upon and a little homeless. And in case you are wondering, no, no we don’t get a reduction in rent for our inconvenience. We’re getting a “gift certificate” for our trouble, which we’re pretty sure will be a $10 card to Starbucks, and neither of us drinks coffee. When we complained about this injustice, we were sent a copy of the contract we signed years ago at which point we agreed easily to this arrangement because we were imagining “maintenance” as “person in your apartment for twenty minutes trying to fix leaky pipe” not “gang of workers cranking up your heat and reducing your square footage while you are cast outside.”

 

There are worse things in the world, and we both recognize that people who live in their own houses also occasionally have to put up with tarps and construction dust and strange men peeing in their toilets. A friend of mine just found out part of her house is sinking and will have to be jacked up, for instance.

 

But when you rent, it feels a little like you don’t have control over your life. You realize this space you call home isn’t really yours at all, and the owners could boot you out on a whim in order to raze the building to erect a 30-story condo on the site.

 

When I first got out of college, I had a job I loathed at a public library. I thought I’d love it, because books, but instead, every morning when I shut the door on the free world and trudged to the front desk, a little part of me died inside. Patrons yelled at me when they couldn’t get their hands on the latest John Grisham book immediately, books were returned smelling foul (and forever changed how I feel about getting books out of the public library, hence the large collection of books I had to move from my south and west walls this weekend), and it was mind-numbingly boring because we weren’t allowed to read at the front desk during slow periods. Because it wouldn’t look “professional.” In a library. Reading. In a library.

 

Also, my immediate supervisor had some mental health issues that unfortunately took their toll on us as well as her. We were sympathetic to her condition, but when her chemistry was off-kilter, we all suffered. On her best days, she was a control freak, but it was magnified a thousand fold when she was not. The worst day I remember was an early morning staff meeting she’d called to tell us about her new policy on vacation days. We could ask for them, we could be granted them, but if there was a staffing emergency, we could be called in and must immediately abandon our free-time plans. Like we were ER nurses. We could be at the airport ready to fly off to Bora Bora, and if there was a need at the circulation desk, too bad.

 

We were outraged but also felt powerless. Jobs were not easy to come by right then, most of us were at the library because we were uniquely unqualified for other types of non-bookish work. We whined and kvetched and slammed books onto the re-shelving carts, but mostly what we felt was that we had no control over our own lives. We were at the mercy of the forces of the universe and our micro-managing boss with the super tight penmanship.

 

Not long after this incident, I decided to go to graduate school. My mother was worried that I was giving up a job with a paycheck for not-a-job-and-debt, but I knew if I spent much more time in that place, bad things would happen to my head and my heart.

 

So that’s where Z and I are right now. We’d like to flounce off and announce Cartman style, “Screw you guys! We’re going home!” Except this is home and by the time we might find another one we can afford in America’s 3rd most expensive city, the flounce will have lost its dramatic effect.

 

Also, in light of world events, what we have going on here is a hangnail. So I’ll just stop whining now. At least about that.

 

Here’s something else that is concerning.

 

Though I’d vowed never to take another stupid online quiz like “What Hogwart’s House Do You Belong In?” or “What’s Your Power Animal?” (I can answer both of these with no test: Ravenclaw and Indiana Box Turtle), a former student posted a link to the “What Murderous Villain Are You?” quiz, and I was drawn to it for reasons I can’t explain. The quiz itself seemed to be a semi-legit personality test with thoughtful questions and I gave thoughtful answers, and so I was fully expecting to discover I am most like some socialist/communist folk-hero-turned-bad-by-power-and-greed. Somehow, that seemed a tolerable sort of “murderous villain” to be—one who had originally imagined a world where people were equal and working together for the greater good before the corruption and mass executions and full-time-wearing-of-fatigues commenced. I could rationalize that this would not be a bad comparison. I could imagine a world in which given the chance to be a dictator, I’d be a benevolent one.

 

But then I pressed “send” and the computer spun its little wheel for several seconds before giving me my result.

 

 

Hitler.

 

Granted, there was no way I was going to “win” this game. Even if I’d given Mother- Theresa-style answers on every question, I was still going to end up with a murderous villain dopplegänger.

 

But Hitler? You don’t really get worse than that one. It’s not a piece of party trivia you can pull out, like announcing to people you just met that you and Richard Nixon are both Capricorns or that the wife of Jim Jones—the Kool-Aid-making lunatic who killed his followers in Guyana in the 1970s—was from your home town. If you have any connections to Hitler, you keep them to yourself. (Unless, of course, you don’t, but that’s a whole other faction of humanity I don’t particularly want to identify with, thanks.)

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And look at that chart. Just look. According to the experts at Individual Differences Research Labs, I’m only slightly more warm-hearted than Hitler. I never imagined him any amount of warm-hearted, did you? And I’m more brooding. In fact, I’m off the charts with the brooding.

 

Oh dear. I’ve got to go brood about this.

 

I was so disturbed by the results of this test that I took another one at IDR Labs based on the Big 5 personality test that not only tells you your personality but also shows you which president you most align with. On this test, I got Thomas Jefferson, which I was okay with. Yes, he made some dubious moral choices, but it was a different time, I told myself (my white self). He loved books, he was a Renaissance man, I could picture myself easily living at Monticello with him and being happy while he tinkered in the other room with his inventions.

 

But according to the breakdown of this test, Thomas Jefferson was more conscientious than I am and he had slaves. Human people he actually owned (to say nothing of Sally Hemmings, who wasn’t free to say “no”). How? How was he more conscientious than I am? Me, who is not complaining to the building manager about our current living conditions because I know it isn’t her fault, she just works here.

 

You might want to take this opportunity to consider whether you want to keep reading a blog written by a woman who has similar psychological make-up to Hitler and America’s most famous presidential slave owner. (See how conscientious I am, warning you off?)

 

Speaking of dictators and people with poorly-functioning moral compasses….

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Photo credit: _The Telegraph_

 

 

If you’d asked me in 1982 what the likelihood was that I’d marry a man whose home country was in the midst of a not-a-coup coup, I’d have laughed in your face. The odds of  even meeting someone whose home country is coup-inclined in Richmond, Indiana, are not high. And yet there I was two weeks ago, watching social media with a weird mixture of hope and concern for our people in Zimbabwe (and for Z who would soon be headed to Zimbabwe for the holidays) and watching Z watching the remarkable news from Harare as it unfolded.

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That’s not just a car ride to Cincinnati.

Also, I have to tell you, until you are married to someone whose home country is on the verge of a bloodless revolution, you have no idea how truly tedious and self-absorbed the U.S. news outlets are. We were searching frantically for any information from a trusted news source, but instead they were re-hashing various sex scandals in U.S. politics over and over and completely unaware or uninterested that the world had shifted on its axis south of the equator and across the Atlantic. We finally gave up and relied exclusively on social media and texts from friends and family “on the ground.”

 

I loved the look on Z’s face while he watched fellow Zimbabweans in the streets of Harare as they draped themselves in flags and danced and sang. He was leaning forward towards the screen with a smile, clicking between different sites to see what the latest was. Shaking his head in disbelief.

 

If he could have teleported to Zim, I’d have been sitting on the sofa by myself. But the truth is, I wanted to teleport with him. I wanted to see in the flesh those people  draped in flags, dancing in the street, hugging each other regardless of race or political affiliation. It was heady.

 

It has been a weird year for me. For us. We’d never protested before in our lives, and yet for the last 12 months we’ve been more politically active than the all the other years of our lives combined—we’ve marched, spoken up, altered behavior, discussed things we never imagined needing to discuss like what we might  do if Z isn’t allowed to live in America anymore, and so on. Z does it because he says he’s not letting what happened in his home country happen in his adopted one. I do it because I believe in the idea of America, and right now, America is falling short of its own idea of itself. But also, we both do it because this is the only control we have: what we do with our own bodies, our own behavior, our own vote (or at least my vote since Z is not yet eligible).

 

What a weird sort of synchronicity that our year of protest wrapped up with a march we were too far away to participate in, so we had to just sit on the sofa and watch. Z dragged out his Zimbabwean flag and hung it in our front window, and that night we had friends over and he cooked a traditional Zimbabwean meal (Huku ne Dovi, sadza, muriwo and also garlic rosemary chicken for me because I am picky and not that adventurous), and we warmed ourselves with hope for better tomorrows everywhere.

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Flashback Friday: The Wages of Sin

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[I’m annoyed with Paris Hilton because of her plane crashing terror stunt, and so this seemed a timely flashback.]

 

Saturday, June 09, 2007

 

Lord, I am heartily sorry.

I have been shamed. Not more than twenty minutes ago, I was clutching a book to my chest and having a cry because the book in question seemed so good and true. The shame part comes in because I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks publicly decrying the author as superior and unkind to her townsfolk and completely unable to string together a satisfying non-fiction narrative. And this after five years of being more silently contemptuous of her, in no small part because she was writing about Indiana during my era and she had the gall to have a nickname too close to one I had.

Also, I once went to a workshop she led and was annoyed beyond repair by the way people gushed over her when she was a mediocre teacher at best. So talented, so clever, so unique, they said. Bleh. I began to loathe her. I began to feel she had stolen away some title I deserved. The fact that I have not written a memoir of my Indiana girlhood for critics and readers to gush over did not alter my sense of injustice. The fact that I loved her fiction did not strike me as being a contradiction when I would curl my lip if someone dared mention the name Zippy to me.

So anyhow, I was fairly surprised when I slammed shut She Got Up Off the Couch and promptly burst into tears. All I can figure is Haven Kimmel got something right—some alchemy of description of a blizzardy Hoosier winter or growing up in the 70s or loving common items shrunk down to miniature size—that made my heart shift positions and not turn so bitterly against her.

I feel much better now that I have confessed that sin.

Other things that have been disturbing me today: I think Paris Hilton is robbing me of quality time with Z.

Since Z, I have a laundry list in my head of things to tick off until I see him again. In fact, when he was here last month, healing me of terminal hypochondria, I even happily ticked off his departure because I knew that meant I would see him all the sooner.

My shrink would say, “Why do you think you are this powerful—to speed up time?” and I’m not sure why except that my maternal grandmother soundly chastised me once for
wishing away my life, something I should never do, even if it was for a truly good thing, such as I wish summer vacation were here. (That one, I still contend, is not bad because life in the confines of the public school system was not worth living.) My grandmother’s belief that I had the power to fast-forward thru my life must have made an impression, because I do. I do honestly believe that when I see Z on Tuesday morning at the airport, it will be in no small part because I thought so long and hard on how to get through the minutes more quickly until I could see him again.

But then there is this: not only have I been wishing away my life, but it occurs to me, I’ve also been, with my desire for speedier clocks and quicker reunions, wishing away other people’s lives—Z’s, my mother’s, my aunt who dreads the passing of time because it removes her further from her recently departed husband, my other aunt who is now—with no thanks to me—down to about nine thousand heart ticks of her own—and so on and so forth. I’m pretty sure this makes me a selfish, bad person.

And the wages of such a sin is this: this flagrant speeding up of time that I have caused means that at the end of those paltry few days I’ll have in Seattle with Z, he flies off to Zimbabwe for…oh, I keep hoping there will be some papal dispensation that will make this untrue!…two months. No nightly phone calls; no reliable, multiple-times-a-day e-mails; no possibility of a mid-way weekend meeting place if the Travelocity deals are superior. Just me, my suitcase of abandonment issues and the void sprinkled with occasional emails when he has electrical power and occasional phone calls when I can manage to punch in the international codes correctly and the phones on his end are actually working, and daily news reports of how things in his homeland have slid so far past “pear-shaped” that they aren’t even in the fruit category anymore. That’s what I have to look forward to for not taking heed when Grandma told me to stop wishing.

No. I must require of myself and insist that others—including Paris Hilton who is no doubt in a hurry to get out of the L.A. County jail—QUIT WISHING THE DAYS AWAY. I believe if we are all united on this front time can be slowed to a crawl and Z will never leave my shores for his native ones. I’m not sure what the pay off will be for Paris or how she can be convinced to cooperate, but I’m working on it. Her money, power, and connections give her an unfair advantage in persuading the earth to rotate a bit faster, so I’m hoping she’ll see reason & find peace in her current unfortunate circumstances.

Flashback Friday: Our Bold Lies, Our Selves

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Now that you know the improbability of the fairy tale coming true, I thought you deserved a peek into darker days seven months before Z had his love epiphany.

Monday, March 13, 2006

It’s March. It’s hot. I hate summer, and today has been a painful reminder that we’re heading straight for the inferno. Kamikaze flies are buzzing around my lamp because I opened a non-screened window in hopes of catching a breeze. I’m thirsty and feel like I should sleep in mosquito netting tonight and go on safari.

A while ago I had a thing for an African guy I know. A friend. In my deluded, lovestruck state, I actually thought for the right man (and he seemed like the right man) I would be impervious to heat, to bugs, to dictators, to poverty, to eating crocodile. This is why women haven’t ruled the world for a few millennia: if a man is involved we believe the most ridiculous crap, and most of it is our own fabrication. This guy wasn’t hinting I should come home with him where we could make a home at the foot of the Ngong Hills with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Mostly, he wanted someone to go to movies with, someone to play miniature golf with, someone to drive him to the airport for his 20 hour flight home twice a year. I’m the one who filled in all the blanks.

No. It wasn’t any sweet nothings he whispered to me that made me imagine this Daktari-style future. It was all me. And yeah, I wanted him (he smelled good, he was funny, and I loved the way he said ‘banana’), but it is  possible that I also wanted to believe I am the kind of person who doesn’t require air conditioning and porcelain. A person who could say at cocktail parties, “Oh, yes. That’s when I lived in Zimbabwe.” But I’m not. I’m me. I need several months of cold weather to get me through July and August. I need a suitcase with wheels. I don’t really want to drink out of a canteen.

So I kind of know who I am, but what I wonder is this: who ARE those people we imagine ourselves capable of being? What’s the line between having a goal/overcoming personal obstacles and just completely deluding yourself? I’ve never really wanted to be a self-deluder, yet the evidence indicates that perhaps that’s exactly what I am. Perhaps that is the only way we are able to live with ourselves. I could admit–at nearly 40–that I’m never going to join the Peace Corp, yet I like the idea that I might. I might quit my job and join the Peace Corp. I might become a foreign correspondent. Or maybe one of those people who cashes it all in and lives on a sailboat.

This is how fairy tales (and heat) addle our brains.

A Sort of Fairy Tale

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Zebra wedding cake topper.

December 12, 2009

 

Today is our fourth anniversary, and as you may have heard, Z and I are in different time zones and on different continents. I fully expected to be in a full-tilt fit of melancholia with a side order of pout as soon as the clock struck December 12th, but it turns out, it’s not happening.

 

Here’s the thing: we shouldn’t be together.  At all. If I wrote a book about my life (Oh, wait! I am!) and you were introduced to a character called, say, “The Reluctant Girl Scout”, and a character called “Z”, you would say to yourself, Who is this writer kidding? This would never happen. It’s just not believable!

It isn’t believable. It’s a fairy tale. Highly improbable.

1)   There is the improbability of geography. How many Zimbabweans did I meet before Z? Zero. People in Richmond, Indiana, do not meet people from Zimbabwe as a matter of course. Often people in Richmond, Indiana, aren’t even sure where Zimbabwe is or that it is a country. (There is a water slide at Holiday World in Southern Indiana called “Zoombabwe” and that’s about as close as we get.) Statistically, since Z came to college in America and stayed through two graduate degrees, there was a high probability that he might end up married to an American. But me? I haven’t crunched the numbers because I’m not that strong a mathematician, but I think the chances that I– a person who had mostly lived in Richmond and traveled primarily to Ireland and Indianapolis–would marry a Zimbabwean are about .00000000001%.

2)   There is the improbability of time. What are the odds that a visiting professor position in Z’s discipline would open up at the teeny university where I had just been hired full-time six months before? (Sub improbability: what are the odds that at this university, his discipline, which is often considered a social science, would be housed instead with the humanities, where I was, so we could sit next to each other at faculty meetings for the next two years, bonding via the series of disgusted looks we would flash at each other whenever our senior most colleague started clipping his nails in the midst of budget debates?) You’ll have to do the calculations on that one yourself, but I’m telling you, the odds are not high.

3)   There is the improbability of Z finding a cyber café with electricity (there are a lot of Zesa cuts in Zimbabwe) and then finding the ad for the position at my teeny university (not to mention the improbability that he would be hired via a phone interview alone).

4)   There is the improbability of me, an introvert, going to the beginning-of-the- year faculty party where I would have my first conversation with him and make the improbable proclamation to a friend that I was going to marry him. (I didn’t even believe in marriage at this point in my life. I thought marriage is where love went to die.)

5)   There is the probability of Z’s policies working against us. Z did not believe in dating co-workers (he says), so we were never going to happen. I did not know this, nor did I know that when Z has a policy, he sticks with it. (The only policy I’ve ever known him to break was his “I do not go to Starbuck’s” policy, which is hard to do in Seattle.  He let this policy lapse in 2009 when he was out with Z-ma  and she needed the loo.) The whole time we worked together, we never dated. Instead we had “outings”. The closest we ever got physically was when our heads bumped up against each others one night when I was helping him put together his new Kathy Ireland stationary bicycle.

6)   Z just wasn’t into me. We were friends. I was delusional. The end.

7)   I am not a tenacious person. If I have a goal and am met with opposition, I often just change my goal instead of fighting to meet it. Yet when Z left town for Zimbabwe after his job ended, instead of rationally assuming I would never see him again, I became uncharacteristically cunning. I suggested he store his belongings in my attic, thus ensuring at least one more meeting.

8)   The final, most outstanding improbability is that after five years of pining for a man who was only ever going to be my friend I was ready to admit defeat …just as he had an epiphany of his own.

 

 

So yes, we aren’t together today. Instead, we are in our respective countries looking at photos on our respective computers of our American-Zimbabwean wedding with the zebra cake topper and the fire in the fire place and the Christmas trees and the kissing ball and the hula hoops and the Scottie dog and my blue suede shoes and his rented tux that was so big it required safety pins and made him look like William Howard Taft.

 

We could be sad, but in the face of such dire statistics, wouldn’t that just be greedy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue(ish) Christmas

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Z just called from the airport, ready to board his flight for the other side of the planet.  As soon as we hung up, I burst into tears. I hate these Dark Side of the Moon hours, when we can’t communicate because one of us is in transit. Astronauts’ spouses have my sympathy, especially those wives and husbands of astronauts who did boldly go before it was possible to tweet from space.

 

No matter how many times I check Flight Aware and know he’s on that plane watching some Owen Wilson movie, it is not the same as getting an email from him or hearing his voice.

 

Prepare for some whining in the next twenty-three days. I apologize in advance, but because Z-ma has been suffering with vertigo, Z and I decided that though we were loathe to spend the holidays apart—not just Christmas, mind you, but our fourth anniversary as well—we’d feel better if he headed to Zimbabwe to help her out while he’s on break from classes. Because I have an allergic reaction to the thought of being in Seattle without him, I boarded the next available flight to Indiana two days ago, and here I will remain until New Year’s Eve. If Providence, weather patterns, and flight times agree with us, Z and I will be reunited just in time to see 2014 in together.

 

This is the time of year when I am torn between being delighted to be in Seattle, gearing up for the Christmas traditions of the city—the Christmas ships, the tree on top of the Space Needle, the tree lighting and carousel at Westlake Center, the scheduled “snowfall” at Pacific Place Center, the illuminated fruit atop Pike Market—and feeling a little bit envious (and maybe a little angry?) at the people who live in our city amongst family and life-long friends. Of course I don’t actually know any of these people—these native Seattle-ites with a rich web of their own tribe—but when I go past certain houses in neighborhoods with driveways and where wreaths are on the doors, I imagine entire multi-generational scenarios for them that would probably even make the Waltons envious. Or nauseous.

 

So, though I will be missing Z, I will not have to be hating on complete strangers in Washington just because their imagined holiday lives are more glorious than my own. Instead, I can partially live the dream in my beloved Midwest, where I have already been greeted with snow. No one here will think less of me if I wear a holiday-themed sweatshirt or my Santa troll earrings, which is an added bonus.

 

Because I’m not in Zimbabwe to see that it isn’t true, I can even imagine Skampy (and possibly a zebra or two) wearing a Santa hat at a jaunty angle to usher in the season.

 

But still, I promise you, there occasionally will be whining, gnashing of teeth, renting of cloth. I am heartily sorry.

A Little Cup of Zim

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Sometimes on weekends Z and I get this awesome $9.99-a-day car rental from Enterprise because we’re “preferred customers.” The only time this is useful is in the winter when the tourists have gone away and there is a surplus of cars or when we are at the airport rental facility where we can zip into the preferred customer lane and by-pass the line of people, who are generally looking at us as if they hate us. (If I’m dressed well and can pretend I’m someone important, it bothers me less, but when I look like a hobo, I feel guilty because normally I’m just one of the poor slobs waiting in a tedious line right along with everyone else.) In fact, this summer right before we left for Zimbabwe, being a preferred customer was not helpful at all. We tried to return a car to a different location the day before we left to make our schedule a little less tight, and the preferred customer customer service representative basically said, “tough luck” and then had the nerve to ask, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” seemingly oblivious to the fact that he hadn’t helped me at all. Normally, I’m so sweet and placating to service people that I make myself nauseous, but because I was stressed out from packing, I had no sweetness to give this person in a call center in Dubuque who was not sympathetic to my plight. So I said very sharply, “Well, the time to help me would have been now, and you can’t seem to do that.” The thing about a cell phone is that it is not so satisfying to hang up as a phone with a cradle, where you can take out your frustration on a safe, inanimate object.

Remind me why I’m telling you this story? See, I just got all annoyed again and lost my train of thought. Okay. I think I’ve got it.

So Saturday we had a rental car simply because it was cheap, I had a baby shower to go to, and the whale bathtub that the impending baby was getting as a present from us would have been a pain to tote on the bus. After the shower was over, Z picked me up and we were both pleased that I’d scored a jar of peanut m&ms as a game prize and a jar of homemade jam from one of the hostesses, but we couldn’t figure out how to celebrate my winnings. We made no plans for the car beyond the drive to the shower. We weren’t ready for the day to be over, but driving around aimlessly seemed pointless. Fortunately, as we got closer to home (exclaiming over every red, orange, or yellow tree we zipped past), Z remembered that there was a South African tea shop that he’d been wanting to check out in Queen Anne.

We couldn’t remember the name of it or where it was exactly, and my semi-smart phone was dead, so we were flying blind. I vaguely remembered that the front of the building where it is was “kind of roundy” and Z was fairly certain that it was upper Queen Anne at the top of the hill. So we drove and went ahead and parked in the area where we thought it might be, and we were about to cry uncle and go to Chocolopolis, which looked promising. And then I spied the South African flags. Above it was this sign, with what might be the world’s most charming business logo.

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It’s worth noting here that I am about to commit one of the sins that Z hates. I am about to talk about being reminded of Zimbabwe and tasting the flavors of Zimbabwe and feeling a little like we were home in Zimbabwe. As if Zimbabwe and South Africa are the same country. They are not. They have their own cultures and customs and foods, but some of these things have been adopted or shared so for our purposes, let’s pretend they’re second cousins anyhow.  (And word to the wise, if you ever talk to Z in person, be sure to let him know how clever you are and that you recognize there is no country called Africa, that you fully recognize it as a continent containing diverse sets of people. He’ll think highly of you for making that distinction!)

In a land of coffee houses and no southern African food, Cederberg Tea House was a real treat for us to stumble upon. Rick often misses the tastes of his “real” home and goodness knows, if it’s not Pop-tart Surprise, I can’t duplicate it.  The shop was inviting. There was a good bunch of tables and chairs, plus the requisite sofa and overstuffed chairs by a fireplace. Photos of African animals lined the walls, and there were even two stands that displayed various specialty items that I’d been looking at with some regularity with Z-ma in Harare. (Who doesn’t want Eat-sum-more cookies?) My favorite thing there though was a collection of Origami African animals that had been folded out of animal print paper. Adorable.

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The South African woman who runs the shop with her parents and her husband greeted us warmly even though it was close to closing time.  She recognized Z’s accent and so they talked briefly about home while I peered in the case at the koeksisters and melkterts. We ordered a pot of black  tea and then listened as other customers came in and the woman explained to them the variety of teas they had and their special concoction that makes a sort of tea espresso.
Our pot of tea came in a groovy pot on a contemporary tray. A delicious butter cookie each rested on the doilies under our very modern cups. In addition, we’d each ordered a koeksister.

The verdict? Delicious. The tea was good. We personally think Z-ma’s koeksisters are more delicious and certainly we appreciate that she presents ours to us in a plastic tub filled with multiples of the little syrup-soaked pastry twists, but these at Cederberg Tea House were a very, very close second, so we were not complaining.

We stayed longer than we meant to, making comparisons and reminiscing about our time in Zimbabwe last month. We studied the menu to see what we might get next time (sandwiches!).  It was a bit of unexpected fun that our rental car drove us to this weekend, and I think it may get put on the “things our guests should experience” rotation, since most of them might not have a chance to go to southern Africa. You really shouldn’t have to live your life not knowing what koeksisters taste like.

P.S. You should visit their website and read on their blog about the contest for their sign and how it went missing: http://cederbergteahouse.com/

The Seen and the Unseen

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When we head to Lake Chivero, a national park outside of Harare that has been a favorite spot of Z’s family for decades, I have high hopes of seeing a rhino, despite the fact that none showed themselves when we visited on my first trip two and a half years ago. Then, it was the height of summer and everything was green and overgrown, so I left without “rhinoceros” ticked off my list but was sure I’d see one if we returned sometime in winter when the landscape is more barren, like it is now.

Rhinos look a lot more like rocks than you might imagine. I think I’ve spotted about fifteen within the first ten minutes of our bumpy game drive into the heart of the park. I haven’t. What I see is only a few big roundy, rhino-shaped rocks. So much for my new prescription sunglasses.

When you grow up in a land where Holsteins are easily spotted as they stand in pasture against the razor edge of a skyline, it’s a shock to realize how animals in their natural habitats blend in so seamlessly. You’d think, for instance, that a zebra would be the easiest creature to see because of its black and white stripes, or a giraffe because of its long neck, but it turns out the patterns and shapes their coats and bodies make are better camouflage than Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak. On the last trip, I had trouble seeing the animals at first. On this trip, I see them everywhere, only most of the time there is nothing there. At one point, I am even convinced I’ve seen one of Z and Z-ma’s beloved rock rabbits (Google it—they are more meerkat/tiny elephant than rabbit), even though they haven’t been in the park for years.

Fortunately, a giraffe has the good grace to stand in the middle of the road in plain sight, and this gets the game-sighting party started.

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Before long, we’ve seen about twelve giraffe, several zebra including a baby that was suckling, and a variety of buck.  (I’m never excited about buck since there are approximately two deer to every one resident of Indiana, but Z’s family gets as excited about “lesser” animals as they do the Big Five, and their lack of favoritism is a quality I love about them). And then a rock moves. And the rock has a horn. And another rock with a horn. And another.

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When I was a kid, I had an alphabet pop-up book, which I now realize wouldn’t have been so engaging without the animals of Africa to illustrate the different letters. I was never a fan of the “R” because a rhinoceros popped out of the center of the book aggressively, its horn pointed right at me. Last time we were here, I must have had this image in my head, because while we were picnic-ing, I saw a rhino headed straight towards us, only to realize after my heart had amped up to 800 beats per minute that it was a game warden on a bicycle with a gun slung over his shoulder. (This is why I have new prescription sunglasses.)

While I am happy to see these rhinos (a different type has recently gone extinct because of poaching, and given the stupidity and greed of some humans, I realize how lucky I am to witness these in their natural habitat), I’d be lying if I told you I am disappointed that mostly we see the backsides of them, lumbering away from us through the tall, dry grass.

Before we leave today, we will also have added a couple of anxious looking warthogs to our list, as well as a bush pig, which I’m assured are usually hard to see. The warthogs are one of my favorites. Their tails remind me of the teasel weed that my mother used to have stuffed into a pitcher for decorative purposes, and that’s what I see first before I realize an animal is attached. We look at each other for a moment, this particular warthog and I, and then it goes skittering into the bush. We see it running parallel to the car as we drive, like it’s hoping to keep tabs on us and won’t feel safe until we’re nothing but a cloud of dust.

But before we see the warthog, we make our way to Bushman’s Point, our picnic destination. We are disappointed to see other people already there, so we situate ourselves in a less perfect picnic spot next to a thatched information kiosk highlighting the animals that are in the park and could, if they want, interrupt our lunch. Z has regaled me with tales of his niece’s birthday party here when she was little and how a monkey snatched her baby brother’s bottle. I’m keenly aware that there is no security fence between us and the animals we’ve seen on the drive, and I won’t even let myself think about how you can’t really create a snake-free zone so near a lake.

Z suggests that I join him on the wall of the kiosk instead of sitting on the ground. It would be a good vantage from which to eat my cheese sandwich, except for the part where I am incapable of hurling myself onto the wall, nor am I able to climb up and on to it. It seems like it should be such an easy thing to do, but it is high and I am not athletic. (I instantly feel the failure of every elementary school gym class when the teacher would decide it was “pole” day and we needed to try to climb this slick, wooden pole that hung from the ceiling of the gymnasium to demonstrate our worth. Mostly it was an exercise in mortification because I could never get myself any higher than wherever I first placed my hands, meanwhile classmates were shinnying up to the rafters, at which point I would try to make myself feel better with the knowledge that I usually scored higher on math and spelling tests than the best pole climbers. And then I’d worry that one of my classmates would fall.)

Finally, I flopped myself onto the tarp with a sigh, and then the flies came. They couldn’t have had less interest in Z or Z-ma, but they were trying to fly up my nose and into my mouth. I flapped my hat at them, furiously, and realized how I looked like a caricature of an American tourist in Africa, fussing about a few pesky flies. In my defense, they were so annoying and persistent, and I was relatively certain that just before trying to crawl into my mouth they’d probably been sitting on the giant rhino poo we’d seen on the road. If we weren’t on a sort of pilgrimage, I would hop in the truck, rolled up the windows, and demand that we drive away from the rigors of high kiosk walls and overly extroverted flies.

The truth is, though, I love this spot for a lot of reasons and so don’t want to leave. It’s a beautiful. Huge rocks balance on each other in impossible contortions, there’s a lovely tree canopy, and the lake is in the background. While the rest of the park looks dry and brown at the moment, the area around the lake is verdant. When you see water in Zimbabwe—especially in the dry season like now—it feels kind of holy. This place especially so because of the San (or bushman) paintings on some of the rocks near the water, and because Z’s father’s ashes were scattered on the lake fifteen years ago, three years before I met Z. His family has made regular trips here  to celebrate his life, which to my mind is a lot less depressing than going to a cemetery because the place is alive.

The walk to the water is rocky and worn. Chipped stone steps and pathways leave me lumbering like a bear, and huffing and puffing like an asthmatic, which I wouldn’t feel so bad about if Z-ma, who has almost three decades on me, weren’t navigating the path better than I am. We stop when we are almost at the water and Z tosses some rose petals on the wind near a tree where his aunt’s ashes were scattered a few years ago. Z-ma says hello to her younger sister, using a pet name, and we move on.

We stop next at the San paintings in a recess in the rocks. They’re behind a fence, but close enough that I could touch them if wanted to. When I see the reddish pigment on the canvas of the rock, I have a lot of questions about who they were and the meaning of life and what I would have done if I’d been born a hunter-gatherer, since I can’t handle the insects, rough terrain, lack of indoor plumbing, or, let’s face it, lack of indoors period. Looking at the paintings, I feel the way I did when I first saw Stonehenge or Poulnabrone dolmen in Ireland, which is to say, I can’t take it in in any sort of satisfactory way.  It is too huge a thing to contemplate.

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Finally, we move on to the cement jetty, where Z and Z-ma cast their petals onto the water, and I stand back, wondering what the appropriate way is to mourn or offer homage to a man I’ve never known.  Though I don’t feel it here, when I am back at Z-ma’s, I’m very aware of Z-dad’s absence and what I’ve missed out on by nature of having come to the family too late to meet him.  At the house, I look at his rose bushes, the structures that used to encompass an aviary, the now irretrievably empty pool where two proud-looking lions used to spit streams of water. At night when we watch the one channel of TV that Z-ma manages to get, Z sits in his dad’s old chair, and I can imagine his father sitting there, even though my vision of him is only a guess, based on what I’ve seen in photos and what I’ve sussed out by watching Z and his brother: how they speak, the way they hold themselves, their strong senses of self.

It’s another mystery I can’t solve, and so after a few moments, I get distracted by lizards, sunning themselves on the rocks.

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Tea with Skampy

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Mac, a Scottish Terrier I love back in the U.S., has been feeling under the weather, so today, I’m introducing you to my other favorite dog in the world, Skampy. I’m convinced he and Mac would be great friends if they didn’t live half a world away from each other. They’ve got some shared terrier genes, and tonight while Skampy was on his nightly patrol of Z-ma’s yard, his voice was the same timbre as Mac’s, and it sounds like it comes from a creature larger and fiercer than someone of his size and regular tail waggings.

One of the first things I had to learn  is that he might look clean but he’s covered with Africa, and one of his goals in life is to make sure that you never leave his company without an orange splodge on your leg. The first time I met him, he leaped up on me and left two paw prints on my shirt.

The second thing I had to learn last time I was here is that he is not an American dog. I’d happily brought him one of those big red rubber Kongs that you put treats inside to keep a curious mind occupied. Because American dogs are bored, what with so few of them having gainful employment, Kongs are great ways to pass time. The Kong confused Zimbabwean Skampy. He licked it but couldn’t figure out how to get the treat out of it even when it was rubbed in bacon grease. Ultimately, the two of us were frustrated by the endeavor.  I assumed this was a failure on his part, that clearly he wasn’t all that bright, but then Z-ma pointed out that Skampy has real work to do and can’t be bothered with such frivolities like trying to get a treat out of some magician’s trick of a dog toy.

Skampy does work hard. All night long. He barks and barks, both to alert people on the other side of Z-ma’s high grass-and-wire fence that he’s around and will eat them alive and to converse with other neighbor dogs.  (My best guess is that they are thinking of unionizing, based on the intensity of the barking.) As my brother-in-law mentioned yesterday, in Zimbabwe, you need a high wall and a guard dog as a first alert against would-be thieves. Though we suspect Skampy would just lick and dance for intruders, it is nice to know he’s out there, making the rounds.

Unfortunately Skampy and the rooster next door seem to have worked out some sort of agreement wherein Skampy doesn’t stop barking until it’s time for the rooster to crow, so there isn’t a lot of silence here when you want to sleep. During the day, he spends a lot of time in his dog house with his forehead pressed to the cool stones beneath it, as if he’s nursing a hangover. One morning I gave him a piece of bacon and he didn’t even have the energy to lift his head and get it from me. He just stuck is tongue out and “caught” the bacon like a frog would a fly.

One of my favorite times of day here is teatime. Around 4 p.m., Z-ma loads up a silver tray with a teapot covered in a red and white tea cozy, a sugar bowl, some milk, a little container with biscuits (human cookies) and a cup of treats (dog biscuits), as well as several pieces of dry bread and a jar of peanut butter, because Dog can not live on Milk Bone alone.  We humans sip tea (Coke for me, because I don’t understand hot drinks in a warm climate) and Skampy eats treats. If he finds the treat particularly enviable, he carries it away from us and eats it at a safe distance from us, wary that we’ll decide to take it back.  Despite this being on the verge of peek mosquito feasting, I love this time of day, watching the light hit the orchids and succulents in the yard in that slanty way that gives things new life. We sip our drinks and talk about nothing important, interrupting each other to tell the dog what a good boy he is for sitting patiently to wait for his next piece of peanut butter bread.

Despite the way my brain tries to categorize stuff and the failure of my words, I’m really not trying to ascertain how one place is superior or inferior to another. I want to understand Z’s Zimbabwe, and at tea, I feel closest to “getting” this different kind of life in this different kind of place. I could decide every day between now and Thanksgiving in Seattle that I’ll have tea at 4 p.m., but it wouldn’t be the same. It isn’t my ritual. Yet when I’m there—despite the Coke I’m drinking—it feels like a practice I wish I could make mine—this delighting in simple pleasures. Unfortunately, I think trying to force it here would just end up seeming wrong—kind of like the little gum-sized squares of turf incense I bought once to try to duplicate the smell of Ireland.

There were a dicey few minutes one day when Skampy seemed to have gotten one of the small dog treats we’d brought him stuck in his mouth, so he walked hurriedly around the yard with a worried expression on his face, mouth propped open unnaturally. Z tried to help, but Skampy assumed Z was after his treat, so ran away. Just as Z-ma was prepared to call the vet to solve the problem, Skampy worked out a solution while hiding in the bunker he’s dug for himself just under the lounge window. He popped out a few minutes later, tail wagging, ready for another treat and none the worse for wear. But most days, there was no tea drama. And then, when the mozzies start buzzing around me—most prized guest at their dinner table—we pack up the tray, pat Skampy on the head, and shut ourselves into the house, locking doors, pulling curtains, and preparing for the evening.

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Dog addendum #1): Yesterday, I discovered that Skampy has a sort of McDonald’s drive-thru window. At certain times of the day, he sits in front of the little kitchen window, barks his order, and Z-ma throws out some bit of dry toast or treat. Apparently he also does this if he smells cooking that he finds particularly appealing.

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Dog addendum #2): I find it ironic that the first dog of my life was my maternal grandparents’ Rhodesian Ridgeback, Wrinkles. (Zimbabwe used to be Rhodesia, so see, there was always a prominent Zimbabwean in my life. Z just doesn’t have a tail like a whip.) I remember my mother explaining that Wrinkles was a lion hunting dog, and I thought that sounded made up because lions only existed at zoos. Also, while I’m cataloging the misinformation about the breed that I had as a kid, I assumed it was called a Ridgeback because it stood on the back of a hill or ridge in order to leap on top of a lion. I had no idea that these dogs have a line down the middle of their backs that form a sort of ridge. Skampy has a lot of terrier in him, but since he was a rescue, it’s hard to know what’s mixed up in his gene pool. Personally, I think there’s a little Ridgeback despite his overt terrier characteristics because he has this little tuft of fur that runs the length of his spine and isn’t like the rest of his coat. It’s almost like a little backbone toupee made of a bird nest.

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[Dog Addendum #3): Mac the Scottish Terrier is on TOP of the weather now since his test results came back and gave him a clean bill of health. Skampy was definitely the beneficiary of my fears for Mac’s health, as he got extra treats and tum rubs while I tried to send good dog karma Mac’s way.]

Xanax Safari (Part Seven)

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Dear American readers, here are some things you should know about a road trip in Zimbabwe before you set out:

  • There is not a McDonald’s, truck stop, or rest stop every 25 miles, so you might want to go easy on the liquid intake.
  • Carry your own toilet paper (“loo roll”) because when you do find a place to use, the facilities might look like something from the backside of a U.S. National Park that the rangers haven’t cleaned up or restocked lately.
  • Don’t assume that a clean restroom means there will be running water. I’m still not sure what the protocol is for this situation, but my preference, upon discovering a toilet will not flush after I’ve used it, is to leave as quickly as possible with my head held high and my travel-size hand sanitizer clutched in my hand.
  • Sometimes a baobab tree is as good as it’s going to get. Try to situate yourself away from any oncoming traffic and check the area for wild animals.

This was our first stop on the drive back to Z’s hometown after leaving Kariba:

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This is known as “the Big Tree” because it is big and everything around it is small and scrubby and offers no real cover from passing traffic.

I can’t tell you how badly I needed to go, but I crossed my legs and prayed that Makuti and its dodgy but serviceable loos would appear on the horizon sooner than I knew possible, while my braver companions made use of these more natural facilities.

On the list of things we won’t speak of: the amount of loo paper surrounding its base. It’s a popular spot.

Road trips in Zimbabwe are different than they are in the U.S. Though I first read the motto “the journey is the destination” in a book about Africa (Dan Eldon’s illustrated journals, which are not to be missed), it is a road trip motto that I am more comfortable with in an American context, where there is a seemingly endless supply of pecan logs from Stuckey’s, giant balls of twine, and outlet shopping. Here, you climb in the car with a cooler at your feet full of cheese sandwiches and Cokes, and you drive and drive and drive until you get where you are going.

On the drive home, we reversed through the landscape that had haunted me on the way up. Even more of it seemed to have burned up while we’d been enjoying Kariba. Eventually we made it to a place called Lion’s Den. This is the name of an actual town and not a restaurant or a game park, like I thought, though what is there mostly is a good restroom (sorry the water isn’t working), a place to buy good biltong (like beef jerky—a family favorite that I skip because it isn’t “jerky” enough), and a great gravel parking lot for the brother-in-law to change a flat tire he didn’t know he had until he got a hankering for biltong.

On the drive we’d gone through three police roadblocks, where we were waved through in our vehicle, but the brother-in-law was pulled over because there was something irresistible about the fishing boat he was towing. (The purpose of the roadblock has yet to be explained to me in a satisfactory way, but because I was raised during the Cold War with stories of Checkpoint Charlie, my posture always improves when we approach one.) Later, on a nearly deserted road, we passed a policeman with a radar gun. Again, not entirely sure what the purpose of that was, since we were the only car on the road and it wasn’t a road you could go particularly fast on because of potholes, not to mention the rogue cows and goats, who roam about freely.

We drove through Murombedzi, which I was told is a “Growth Point.” I had big expectations. Something that had grown out of control, perhaps, but instead, what I saw was a few shops, a bottle store, a grain depot, ZimPost, some more goats, and a jacaranda tree that was beginning to bloom. It turns out “Growth Points” were really just places in rural areas in the 1980s that got designated as such so rural people wouldn’t have to travel to larger towns for needed services. Interesting.

About an hour from Z’s hometown, the trip was starting to feel unbearably long. I’d lost the ability to ohh and ahhh at balancing rocks (so cool) or the roundy, thatch-roofed huts (exactly how you want places in Africa to look), or even the joy of uncontained livestock leaping in front of your vehicle.  So I suggested we play the alphabet game. You know the one, where you find an “A” on a billboard and then move on to a road sign with a “B” on it. When you get to “Q” you pray for a Quick Lube or a Quality Inn.

It turns out you can’t really play the alphabet game on a rural Zimbabwean road. We made it to “D.”

Perhaps the best thing about a long road trip—aside from the joy of good plumbing—here or there, is that if the journey is long enough, you are so happy to arrive home that you forget how sad you were to leave whatever hunk of paradise you just left.

Xanax Safari (Part One)

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Since this is my second trip to Zimbabwe, I had minimal anxiety other than concerns about whether I’d packed enough reading material. We arrived in Harare at night, I got my visa after a short wait, we were greeted by Z’s mother and brother, our suitcases were all accounted for, and because people who were apparently going to be doing big game hunting were in front of us at customs with all of their equipment, we easily breezed through the line and didn’t have to justify the various dog treats we’d brought Skampy that may or may not have been made of meat by-products (a customs no-no, apparently). For two days, I was pleased with myself and my adaptability, and how genuinely happy I was to be with Z’s people and staying in his boyhood home. Yay me.

Back when I was in love with Z and he thought we were just friends, he’d told me a lot about trips to Lake Kariba, the massive human-made lake and reservoir on the border with Zambia. It’s a favorite spot of his family’s, and given the lack of power cuts since my arrival, I’m grateful for the hydro-electric power it provides too. This morning when we loaded the truck and headed northwest, meeting Z’s brother, sister-in-law, and nephew on the road and driving towards a five day holiday there, three of which would be spent on a houseboat, I was excited.

The drive up was a long six hours. The main roads are “good” and by “good” you should imagine an American country road in terms of narrowness and random potholes, and this one is heavily trafficked by long-haul trucks moving goods from Zambia to Zimbabwe and South Africa and back. (This was nothing compared to the bush road we took into Kariba National Park once we arrived, which I do not recommend with a full bladder.) The last time I was in Zimbabwe it was summer, and though Z-ma had warned me before I arrived that the country is very brown now, I wasn’t really prepared for how dead everything looked on the drive to Kariba, particularly the burned up stretches of land where there had been veldt fires. Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up” that was on a continuous loop when I was in college started playing in my head and threatened to put a damper on the adventure buzz. Zimbabwe was beginning to feel hostile towards human habitation.

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What helped, however, was arriving at the holiday home where we’d be for the first and last nights at Wild Heritage. It was a beautiful, two-story house with a huge second story thatched verandah off of our Africhilled bedroom that overlooked the lake and the lush flood plane. When we arrived, there were about fifteen hippo grazing peacefully in the grassy expanse.  Because I’d been told that more people are killed by hippo than any other animal in Africa (not counting mosquitos), I was surprised to see people walking in what seemed to be close proximity. It was very serene, though one baby hippo chased away four zebra that he thought got too close to his patch of grass. It was like something Disney had imagineered just for its guests in terms of how amazing it was to see so many animals all at once: hippo, zebra, buffalo, monkeys, baboons, crocodile.

My new favorite sound: hippo voices. Google it. I can’t even describe it. I was more than a little annoyed when some folks who wanted to fish there shouted voetsak (“buzz off”) and the whole group of hippo went scattering.

Seeing elephants was my primary goal for the trip, and Z-ma had had her prayer group on the case, asking God for an elephant sighting for her American daughter-in-law. We hadn’t been there an hour before I saw my first elephant. I was quite pleased to have been the first to have seen it and to have seen it without binoculars. This probably seems like a no brainer—elephants should be the easiest things to spot on the landscape because of their size, right? Well, you’d be surprised. They move so gracefully and with undetected speed, that one minute there is nothing, and then suddenly, this grey mass appears, flapping its ears and noshing on leaves. Just as quickly, it disappears.

Not long after the first sighting, my brother-in-law came and got me because there was an elephant going through the dustbin of the house next door. He is kind of like a cross between Crocodile Dundee and Indiana Jones (my brother-in-law, not the elephant), which I mean as compliment, though how could that ever be anything but a compliment? That is: if you find yourself standing fifteen feet away from a wild animal the size of an elephant, you want someone like him there, telling you confidently that it’s fine, the elephant won’t be charging you, and even if it did, you’d be safe because elephants have horrible eyesight and your white shirt blends in nicely with the truck you’re standing next to. Plus, he has this really low, soothing, animal-talking voice. The elephant soon grew bored with the dustbin and moved on to a decorative tree before sauntering off towards the water, as if it were perfectly normal to be hanging out in a holiday home community with humans. Here’s hoping someone encourages the elephant that such behavior is not in its best interest. (We won’t speak of what happened to the last Dustbin, who got too friendly with the humans.)

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After the sun went down, something ugly happened in my brain, and I got anxious thinking about the next day’s adventure on the houseboat. My fears included but were not limited to: will eight people (six of us and two crew) want to kill each other when staying on a houseboat? will a roving gang of hippos capsize our boat? will a crocodile come aboard and gobble one of us up? will I have a heat stroke? will I get bitten by a malaria-infested mosquito, whose strain of malaria won’t be contained by the anti-malarial drugs I’m taking?

Most importantly, I worried that Z would look at me and realize what a terrible mistake he made three and a half years ago, hitching his wagon to my big, pasty creature-comfort-loving American star.

On the drive up, Z-ma had regaled me with the myth of Nyaminyami, the Zambezi river god who was none too happy when the dam was built and separated him from his other half and thus wreaked havoc while the dam was being built and, it is said, will eventually destroy the dam. And also, why exactly did my brother-in-law think it was a good idea to pack that giant machete and big cudgel? Who or what was he planning to need these things for?

Z assured me that I didn’t need to worry about any of these things, but Z is an optimist and while he is safety conscious, he has more faith in the goodwill of other people and nature than I do. So I took a Xanax and then, before it took affect, worried that there’d be some emergency in the middle of the night and I wouldn’t be able to protect myself against the elephant stampede or hippo invasion. The voices in my head kept saying, I don’t belong here. I can’t ever come back to Kariba. Then it cooled down and eventually the voices quieted. We spent the evening playing Tenzi on the verandah, and I didn’t really want to be any other place on the planet.

Basically, what I’m trying to establish here is that I have very bi-polar reactions to Zimbabwe. One minute I distrust it and can’t understand why God even bothered with Africa at all because it seems broken beyond repair and has caused strife for people I love, and then the next minute we’re bouncing down the road and my hair is flapping in the wind and Z’s hands are firmly on the steering wheel and I think, Hell yeah, this is my life and it’s so good. How lucky am I? and then, Oh, a monkey not in a cage—look at that! I’m still trying to operate under the assumption that one day Zimbabwe’s wonderfulness will stick with me without the mood swings.  Why else would God have put all the most amazingly unique animals on the planet right here in this one spot? There’s nothing on any other continent that compares to an elephant or a giraffe or a hippo. (Well, I suppose the Indian subcontinent has elephants, but it’s just a subcontinent and those elephants are smaller and more subservient. Not that it’s a contest).