When most of us think of Africa, we think of the wild animals. The Big Five–lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, rhinoceros. The Small Five–lion ant, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, buffalo weaver bird, and rhinoceros beetle. The birds. And these aspects of Africa are amazing and awe-inspiring, without a doubt. There is something humbling about being in the presence of wildness.
But we found that the greatest gift of Africa is her people. Wherever we went–the cities, the camps, the markets, the village and school we visited, we were welcomed with kindness, warmth, openness, acceptance, and genuineness. Not to mention singing, dancing, drumming, and general exuberance. Being in their presence was nothing short of sheer joy.
On the first day of our journey into the bush, we arrived at the Victoria Falls airport to be greeted by native dancers, singing and drumming and inviting us into the dance to join them.
Each time we drove into camp, the staff welcomed us with rhythm, song, and ululation. At the end of our time at each camp we gathered around the fire for the boma, the traditional tribal dinner under the stars, followed by music, dance, and the sharing of our two cultures. It was truly magical, and deeply moving.
In addition to making us feel welcome and taking care of our physical needs, the camp staff opened their lives to us and shared many fascinating details about their culture and life experience. Many times our beliefs, customs, and traditions were vastly different, and yet their transparency gave us the opportunity to expand our view of Life, and to challenge our preconceived notions of right and wrong, primitive and civilized.
We learned about the complexities of polygamous marriage; about courting and wedding customs vastly different from our own; about dowries and negotiations between families to seal a marriage. We learned about the responsibilities of extended family, both living and ancestral; about respect for elders and the importance of holding modern and traditional ideas in balance. We discussed controversial issues like poverty and poaching and care for the earth. We learned, we struggled, we grew.
In the village, we experienced a bit of what daily life is like on a small family homestead, where there is one water tap and one privy; where the women work from 4:00 a.m. to midnight, where there is a single kitchen (where men are not allowed), an outdoor sink for washing dishes, a gathering room, storage room for grains, and several sleeping huts. The buildings, created of termite mud with thatched roofs, are round in shape, so that spirits and snakes will find no corners in which to hide.
With the villagers, we shared tea and a couple of African delicacies: Mopane worms (a large caterpillar) and tiny Quelea birds, which are fried and eaten whole. Together we chuckled at our hesitancy to try these new treats. But those of us willing to eat them with grace were rewarded with a certificate signed and presented by the chief of the village. A rite of passage.
In addition to the village, we also visited St. Mary’s Primary School. This is a school supported in part by the Grand Circle Foundation, the parent company of Overseas Adventure Travel–a foundation dedicated to giving back to the communities in which we travel. We were greeted by the smiling faces of happy children, singing and dancing to welcome us. We mingled with them and heard about their lives and about their dreams for the future.
But what is a visit with children without play? One of our group brought balsa wood gliders and taught the children how to assemble and fly them. We ended our time with them by all going outdoors to set the planes soaring, amid shouts of joy and laughter–both theirs and ours.
Perhaps the deepest relationship we established during our time in Africa was with our trip leader, Bryson. His knowledge of the bush, and of African culture and society, was vast, but what impressed us most was his heart. He shared with us both the joys and the struggles of life in Africa, the triumphs and the tragedies. Bryson is a man whose life is committed to the way of respect, compassion, and peace. His gentleness, humor, and radiating love made an impact on us that time will never erase. We are proud to call him our friend.
Trying to capture the spirit of Africa in these brief posts is like taking a photograph of the mountains. You can never fully grasp the multi-layered depth and breadth and height from a mere picture. It’s so much more than can be expressed in words or photos. It’s a journey to the source, and for us it felt like coming home.
Perhaps this picture best sums up our trip: Despite all the ways we may be different…
we are one.