I have gotten off the train on a very different landscape. Right now, I am a teacher without a classroom, and while I am on a continent where many come to save the world, I do not want to be anyone’s savior. In fact, when people have asked me what I was coming here to do, I have found myself floundering for an explanation. Honestly, I don’t want to “do” much except keep my eyes open and soak in the world I have been hearing about for years. On my last day of school in January a student asked me why I was taking this trip. I told him I simply wanted to learn more about Africa. He replied, “Well, that’s good because Africa is no vacation.” And yet, that’s exactly how this trip has started out. I am staying with my very accomplished niece Bethany who works as the Director of Research Operations at CIDRZ, Center for Infectious Disease Research Zambia, her expat husband Jason and their young children Calla and Everett. My sister was coming here to visit them, and I decided to start my adventure by tagging along. Together we are being shown the wonders of Zambia by family who live here.
Bethany and Jason stuffed me in the jump-seat of their 1996 Toyota Landcruiser, and we set out for Livingston, Zambia. It was an eight-hour trip over bumpy terrain, police checkpoints, and amazingly well-behaved children, and every minute of it was worth it. On the way down, my eyes were glued to the scenes flashing before me. The road to Victoria Falls is filled with paths I want to walk down and explore.
Yet, I am very conscious that I am a white woman who does not know this culture. While I have been listening to stories of this continent for years, I know nothing about real life here. Now that I’m here, all I want to do is listen, observe, and ask questions.
I had no idea I would be coming face to face with majesty on my first weekend here. Arriving at the entrance to Mosi-Oa-Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders) National Park is without fanfare. There are not many signs. You just walk down a path, and there, right there between the trees you get your first glimpse.
A canopy of majesty envelopes me. My throat closes up, and tears come to my eyes. I feel as if I am walking through the middle of God. I remember this feeling of overwhelming beauty at least twice before. The first time was standing in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston with my beloved playgroup friends, and then years later in France at Sainte Chapelle when the combination of the beauty from the stained glass windows and the haunting of a string quartet stopped me cold. Both times I felt the power of something much, much larger than myself. It surrounds me on all sides and I am suddenly caught. I cannot move. My senses are overloaded by beauty. On the day I was at Victoria Falls, the sounds penetrated as deeply as the vision before me. There was a mad, mad rush of water frantically, frantically getting to the edge and then plummeting in a dissonance of watery static. Bethany and Jason tell me that when you come during other seasons at some spots the water is reduced to a trickle, and that you can walk in places where the day I visited you would have been swallowed alive. It is hard to imagine anything beyond this power. I walk on and see more of the wonders of the falls; I do not want to leave this beauty.
But then there are the animals…..
There is more to see. It is time to move on and find one of those paths to walk down.