Growing up in the tight knit community of Victoria Falls gives a whole new meaning to the term “extended family”. The awkward progression through my teenage years was highlighted by a mirage of poor decisions, sloppy kisses, embarrassing hairstyles, and failed acts of rebellion. The situation is only made more strenuous when you have a gang of dads to introduce boyfriends to, and a gaggle of mothers who (rightfully) critic every frayed denim skirt and stroke of luminous eye shadow. However, these extensive extensions to my family of five have also been a huge blessing. They have been around to celebrate my successes, and lend humour to situations that felt like they would end my fragile, fifteen year old world. The decision to study at Rhodes opened my life to a host of weird and wonderful people, but spending the Easter weekend camping on Kandahar with my real day one’s left me with a warm heart and aching ribs.
First and foremost, let me set the scene for you. We have just experienced the rainy season of June, and the water levels of the Zambezi River are at an all-time high. Indigenous trees decorate the river bank with a multitude of the most vibrant shades of green. Our small boat is packed to capacity with camping equipment and cooler boxes, bags of biltong and bottles of sunscreen pass from one set of hand to another, and the gentle spritz of water as we zip along cools everyone down. My dad and younger brother went ahead to the campsite that morning to set up our tents. I have strong intentions to get there, pour myself a G&T, plonk down in the cool water and wait for the arrival of the Easter bunny. However, when the island is teeming with ten hyperactive, chocolate marshmallow fuelled children, plans have a way of altering themselves.
Here is a new scene. A razor sharp machete head is thrust into the air, before plunging into the trunk of a fallen tree. A manic child with long blonde hair and a very pretty pink T-Shirt wields this menacing weapon. She takes a short break in the demolishment of the fire wood/splinters to wave in our direction. I lift my arm to return the wave and then quickly snatch it back to my chest as a rock hard date, still encased in its furry shell comes whizzing past at lightning speed.
Two young boys come crashing through a wall of thorn bushes to retrieve their impromptu cricket ball and also call out a polite greeting. I cast my eyes around wildly for an adult, and am flooded for relief when I see someone a few meters away. Thinking that she must be rummaging for some more ice, or perhaps a cheese platter, I quickly make my way over. As I get closer, I realise that there is no alcohol or calorie laden treat, rather a little boy. As he was lying down, I assumed he must be serenely taking a little nap. Upon closer inspection, I found that he had actually been wrestled to the ground by a distraught mother, who was frantically examining his balloon sized hand. His other arm was stretched high above his head, clutching a hissing, squirming olive grass snake.
Despite the fact that this snake had bitten him, causing blinding headaches and a mutated hand, the little boy stubbornly declared that this was his new pet that he loved, and it would be returning home with them. It was in that moment, that I truly felt that I was home.
These few incidents set the tone for one of the best Easter weekends I have ever experienced.
I fell asleep that night under a blanket of stars, with the crack and pop of the fire to lull me to sleep. The rhythmic lapping of the water against the river bank soothed my soul, and the natural beauty that surrounded me coloured my dreams. Zimbabwe may not be perfect, but it will always be home.