NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 19 – I recently visited Zimbabwe, which has lately been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Among other things, Zimbabwe holds the record for the highest inflation rate in the world at three million percent. With no jobs and food on the supermarket shelves, majority of its people were suffering and miserable.
But besides all the negative aspects of Zimbabwe, I got to see the positive side of it. Although I did not have any preconceived idea of what the Southern African country would look like, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. From the moment I landed at the Harare International Airport, I could tell that this was once a vibrant city that had a promising future. The airport, though deserted at that ungodly hour (1am), was not only significantly big but also sparkling clean.
On our way to the hotel in the city centre, which is about 25 kilometres from the airport, I couldn’t help but notice that the roads are wide and were once of good quality. Despite the fact that years of neglect have started to take a toll on the country’s infrastructure, there was no mistaking that they were once a sight to behold.
Anyway back to the airport – again – and this time together with two other journalists from Uganda, we were on our way to beautiful Victoria Falls Town. Despite the low temperatures, I still wanted to look around and maybe compare what Harare had to offer and how different it is from Nairobi. A 45-minute delay for our flight to the town meant that we had to endure the winter temperatures at the airport and believe me it was not funny. Although I gathered that it was about 16 degrees, it felt like 10 to me. (Thank God I had the sense to carry my heavy duty socks) Without feeling the slightest tinge of shame, I pulled them out my bag and wore them.
Finally, everything was sorted and 50 minutes later, we were airborne for a three hour flight to the Falls, which lies West of Harare. it took so long because some people were disembarking in Bulawayo to the South, which we later learnt is home to majority of white Zimbabweans.
At this juncture, I should mention that there were a couple of Members of Parliament, ambassadors and other Very Important People who were travelling with us to the 13th COMESA Summit. When we finally landed at Victoria Falls Airport, the VIPs (Very Inconveniencing persons) were welcomed the African way. There were traditional dancers and the annoying security detail but eventually, we were on our way to the elegant Elephant Hills where the conference was being held.
If we thought security was tight at the airport, then we had another think coming. Presidents from 19 member states of COMESA had been invited but although only nine showed up, their safety was the details’ top most priority and nothing was left to chance. We got our accreditation and soon we were off to look for accommodation. Zimbabwe has not hosted an event of such magnitude as the COMESA Summit for such a long time and one could tell that it was overwhelming to everybody from the cooks, the guards, the drivers and hotels and lodges. It was however Godsend for the latter who went for the kill and took the opportunity to hike their charges to cater for the hundreds of delegates in town.
You have to remember that when Zimbabwe was once a vibrant country, it used to receive a lot of tourists and many people must have made a living from providing meals and shelters to those visitors. This was evidenced by the number of hotels and lodges in the area, which in itself is within a game park. In the last few days, the owners must have laughed all the way to the banks because most of their facilities were fully booked despite some having such outrageous charges as $258 per night, (Zimbabwe officially started using US dollars, South African rand and the British pounds as the official currencies this year).
Fast forward to Monday when the summit ended and it was time for at least most of the VIPs to go home and as one local put it ‘it is time we had our town back’. This goes to show that Vic Falls Town as it’s known to the locals is a sleepy town or has been when the country was in turmoil. For us though, this meant that we could get to lift the veil behind the town and see what was beneath it.
My colleagues and I just wanted to see the beautiful falls and so we hired a taxi from our hotel and off we went. Outside the park there are small shops selling umbrellas and raincoats and for a moment, I wondered what those items were for. It wasn’t long until I had an idea. I saw some whites who were very wet and my first thought was ‘white people are such daredevils. I mean who would dare swim in a falls whose thunderous sound I can hear from here?’ I wondered.
As you approach the main gate, there are some welcoming remarks that are carved in stone the shape of Zimbabwe. On it are the words, ‘Welcome to Mosi-oa- Tunya Victoria Falls Zimbabwe.’ ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ means the ‘Storm that thunders’ which precisely describes the Falls. At the gate, you have to pay some charges and the soldiers manning it asked for $50. Why, I secretly wondered? One of them must have seen the baffled look on my face and asked us where we were from. Uganda and Kenya, we replied in unison. To which we were told residents from any of the 19 COMESA member states down pay $10.
Now the Victoria Falls Park is very serene and the moment you step in there, you experience some sort of transformation. About 300 metres from the viewing sites of the falls, one can hear the thunderous yet calming sound of the mighty falls.
We almost ran to where we could have a nice view of the falls but the beautiful green vegetation, smartly tarmacked pathways caught our attention and we were willing to wait for just a few more minutes so we could enjoy the scene. When we got to one of the first viewing points, nothing had prepared me for what I saw. What a magnificent sight! Millions and millions of litres of water falling vertically and in unison to join the Zambezi River downhill! From what I could see, there were three falls, all different in sizes and being the woman I am, I decided the one right directly in from of me was the ‘Mother Fall’, in the middle which was very small in size was the ‘Baby Fall’ as it also looks like it squeezed its way to join the others and the other end and mightier one was the ‘Father Fall’.
‘Wikipedia’ offers a more geographical explanation saying the falls are formed as the full width of the river plummets in a single vertical drop into a transverse chasm 1708 metres wide, carved by its waters along a fracture zone in the basalt plateau.
At that very instant, I totally understood what the raincoats were for. It literally rains in the park (at least a few feet near the falls. I figured that it’s probably the speed at which the water on the gorge hit the river below causing the water to splash and in a magnificent way.
From the moment I saw the ‘three falls’, I was overwhelmed and all I wanted to do was to take photos and scream at such beauty. And scream I did and luckily for me, no one was throwing ugly glances at me. The falls elicit different emotions in different people and so I eventually did understand one guy who out of nowhere and without warning planted a ‘wet one’ on my lips. Different emotions in different people! Well I did let than one pass. And my attention was once again on the falls. I took so many photos and then I remembered Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe’s remarks when he said that ‘God himself took time to curve the falls’ and that it is a place for lovers and visionaries; that’s when I knew that honestly, he was not exaggerating!
After taking in what my eyes and camera could, it was time to see other parts of the park, albeit reluctantly. On the left side was a statue of David Livingstone, the man who supposedly discovered the Falls in Nyasaland and Rhodesia. Although it didn’t excite me, I still took a photo in front of it anyway with my hands up in the air.
It was getting dark and I thought that I had seen what I came to Victoria Falls to see. I did get value for my $10, but it was time to go. As I left, I told God of my desire to go back someday and relieve or maybe make fresh memories out of the ‘Mosi oa Tunya’.
After the excitement of the Falls, it was time to check out the nightlife in the town. Unfortunately there wasn’t much variety since the town just like other parts of Zimbabwe had been negatively impacted by the political crisis.
However, there was good music and some liquor brands that I have never heard of in one of the lodge’s bars, ‘Shoestring Bar’ which allows patrons who are not guests at the hotels to party there. Anyway, with a company of about 10 people most of whom I met during the summit, we proceeded to enjoy ourselves until 2am. It was time to go back to the hotels because all of us had a plane to catch the next day.
As usual, I felt bad about leaving the town but I was grateful that I got to see with my eyes why the Falls is one of the eight wonders of the world and the feelings it awakens in you.
Thank you Victoria Falls for you hospitality. I will be back…