Remember when you had to learn french and your pronunciation was so shit, people wondered if you were speaking Klingon? Whilst Klingon is Star Trek fiction and sounds like you are chocking on your mouth wash, here I am standing in Namibias bush, trying to remember how to tell this guide my allocated number in his native tongue. He would use numbers to address us and counted through our group. I got the lucky number 13. If only I had a clue what to do with my mouth now. I know it involved a couple funny words followed by those clicks. Just impossible… I freeze and rather not say anything, before I embarrass myself completely. What’s a click you ask? If you recall watching “The gods must be crazy”, you’ll remember; it’s that clicking sound the indigenous make with their tongue while speaking.
Bushmen use them, but even in Zulu and other languages native to the African continent, you hear the odd clicking every once and so often. My logopedist already gave up on me after trying to teach me the Spanish ‘r’. So I am not even going to bother. My guide was probably thinking the same thing and just repeated this unpronuncable word, knowing that I will never get it (and I wouldn’t be the first, nor the only one in my group).
It’s been a while since we visited the ancient rock paintings of Bushmans Paradise cave close to Namibias famous Spitzkoppe, yet I still can’t help but to think about the locals there and the definition of progress. For thousands of years these tribes were living the nomadic lifestyle, roaming hundreds of Kilometers, hunting and gathering. Now the government has privatised most of the country’s territory. By consequence, these tribes are depending on the landlords’ (which of course are mainly white) goodwill to establish their little communities within their perimeters, usually ranches. Of course hunting and gathering are not an option anymore. So what do you do to survive, when you’re a relic of the past, with no modernly acceptable skills, holding on dearly on your traditions and culture?
You prostitute yourself in tourism, figuratively I have to add (unfortunate, that I actually have to add this). Ranch-owners offer the “real bushmen experience” and gladly take the communities in, so they can sell them out to the many tourists who stop by on overland busses. To make enough money for food, which they now are forced to purchase, these communities jump through all the hoops; from dancing their traditional dances, to selling traditional jewelry. But here comes the really disturbing part: as money has no real meaning to them and saving is a concept they don’t know of, any extra cash will be spend on alcohol. Which in return leads to obvious and well known problems, most noteably in aboriginal communities of Australia. While yougnsters might be tempted to run towards the future, accept a globalized and more open and modern world (I use the word modern in the most innocent way), conservative elderly will try to hold on to their traditions for as long as they possibly can. This way of life will eventually lead to their extinction. Social Darwinism as its worst.
What do you do as a tourist? It is Sophie’s choice all over again: you want to help them survive the day, but you are ultimately killing their way of life on the long run. You don’t want them to put on a show for you, but you came all the way here to get the authentic experience.
My overland trip climaxed at the Victoria Falls, one of the worlds largest waterfalls, separating Zambia from Zimbabwe. The ladder, currently and still under fierce absolutistic regime, has the bigger piece of the tasty cake that this spectacular sight is – reason enough for everyone to stay on this side and face the countless salesmen on the streets, who are just dying to sell their 10 billion Dollar bills of local currency for just about five US. What a great deal. “Sir! You want to be a billionaire?”. Sure, but last time I checked a billionaire could actually afford a simple ham sandwich. I cannot recall ever having spend 14 Dollars on a sandwich. Neither in Switzerland, nor in Norway. This city would strip me naked and spit me down the falls in no time if I didn’t pay attention. A 12-13 minute helicopter flight (I love how specific their offer is)? 250 Dollars (about 291 gazillion bucks). Of course you can also chose one of the many other activities offered here: walking with tame – which essentially means drugged – lions or riding the elephants. Basically the worst parts of the bible – from an eco touristic point of view. I heard the next big thing is going to be surfing a whale down the waterfall or use it as a raft. Get me out of here, quick!
Their local currency is going down the drain and with it most people’s perspective, sense of stability or safety. Everyone here is at their dictator’s mercy and the worse ones usually live the longest: after almost 40 years in control, this 92 year old and his entourage still manage to create problems and confusion all over the country. God knows what happens if Mugabe eventually dies. In 20 years or so.
I negociated a deal to cross over to the light, to Zambia, but it turns out the driver who should have picked me up on the other side of Zimbabwean immigration just left without me. I hadn’t payed him yet, so no big deal. Some other taxi drivers gladly offer to take me. “How friendly”, I think. Since I was headed to the airport and in a hurry I felt relieved – just until it turns out they don’t go there and merely taxi between the two border posts. “Only for five dollars”. It’s 700 meters of walking, so I declined “respectfully” and walked away. Taxi drivers all over the world must follow the same podcast on how to rip off their customers… Not today!
So many stories can be told about these two countries within those 700 meters. I know this, because it just so happens that I meet Bruno (name changed to protect his identity. Mugabe has his little birds everywhere. Nah just kidding, I simply forgot…). This genuinely friendly man with two nationalities has worked in Zimbabwe tourism for over 60 years and knows all about the regime and the country’s history. He walks me to immigration on the other side of the bridge and gets me pass the two very confused looking, heavily armed soldiers. They would have loved to ask me some questions, but Bruno, who knows every man and women here since they were kids, just waves me through and sais “my friend here needs to get to the airport quickly”. Helas. Thank you Bruno. I am happy to be at the airport now and the flight only has two hours delay. Cape Town, here I come!
Back in South Africa, I don’t waste a second to get proper food into my system again. It’s all so healthy as fuck, if it wasn’t for all that delicious meat, I wouldn’t usually touch it. After a very successful and sunny Junetoberfest at my friends house, where traditional sausages and beer make me miss Munich big time, the weather gods finally make up for Cape Towns draught of a century and delivers: a raging storm for several days, unfortunately causing multiple casualties. I usually love storms, but this one really messes up my plans to drive up the garden route. I decide to stay and enjoy the perks of the city, dining and wining, going to the cinema and hanging out inside until I make my way up east: destination Port St. Johns. The Wild Coast. I need another blog post to tell you all about that one. Because that one… is a bloody good one!