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Zimbabwe – eish

The yellow ball of the sun is just visible behind the high-rises and granite peaks of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It will soon disappear and leave the city in the dark, when it seems to come alive, but my mind is elsewhere. It has not yet left Africa. Its rivers, people, coastline, its rhythm. I left just a few days ago, but this feeling will persist. Watching a sunset over Rio’s white sand beaches while my mind turns with stories from my last four months in central and southern Africa confirms this to me.

It opens with the most recent trip in Zimbabwe, where we arrived just after Africa’s oldest leader celebrated his 88th birthday. Yep, old Bob Mugabe is reportedly “fit as a fiddle” and apparently still hosting lavish birthday parties to commemorate not only another year alive, but another year in power, this one marking his 32nd. Here’s hoping he waits to cash all those US aid checks until after April 17 when the US gov’t is expecting a whole bunch of money to come in, unless they’re as caught off guard as I was about the fact that tax day is not on April 15 this year.

It continues with someone waking me up; I hear an excited voice and open my eyes to a small fire flickering light on the walls and dark faces and filling all but the lowest two feet with zesty smoke. “The river is over the bridge!” Tired and incredulous, I don’t believe a single word. I saw the Gareizi river two hours ago and it was more than two meters under the bridge and about 300 cfs. There is a little movement, and less haste. Then above us there is a thundering on the metal roof, so loud it trembles, as if gravel is dumping from the sky.

It was still raining when Ben Stookesberry came back and confirmed; over the bridge. When we put on the river in the morning it was half the flow of the night before, a flow we knew was still too high, but one we were comfortable with knowing there were no major gorges downstream. We portaged most of the gradient, but knew it all the better for the second lap that proved to be almost the perfect flow. California-esque granite slides closed out the run and brought us back for a third hot-lap. Between Gareizi laps we took time to make a first descent on a small, steep tributary, and do a run on the Pungwe river just to the south.

We were climbing down the side of the 200 meter segmented falls and elation grew as we paddled right in the middle of the falls, running a slide below a 20 meter step and above a 100 meter step. Eish! Don’t miss the eddy. Into the Pungwe gorge and around, through, and over siphons we paddled until just before dark, resigning ourselves to an unplanned night out on the river. It has to happen sometime, right? Why not with a banana and maize plantation and a welcoming family offering tea and blankets? In the morning we said goodbye to Kenneth, the man of the house, as he was departing for the same place as us, a bustling hydro development a few km downstream


Everywhere it’s like this, gracious hospitality amidst few resources, hydro development, and amazing rivers, I get lost and mixed up in my memory. I had no idea where this place was or that it even existed! Then there are so many of these places, our world is made up of them. Millions with distinct names and people and stories, and traveling around and through some it’s impossible to commit them all to memory. Really my mind is awash with them and often disconnects a name with a place or view or river. A rapid on the Dibang gets placed in Brazil instead of India, a sunset from Cape Town in Uganda instead of South Africa where it actually was. Everything gets a little blurred, but in this I think there is great beauty, a perceived oneness of the world in my slightly tangled memory.

The sun is down, headlights are illuminating the beach and I’m starting to get used to the idea of a busy modern life again. Western time is making itself known with emails and phone calls starting to come, breaking me out of the subjective, elastic concept of time I’d grown used to in Africa. Newton’s time is absolute, ironclad, going ahead without relation to anything except itself, but time to the African man is malleable. He can influence its course, even create it with the action of an event. It seems like river time to me, you move along in its course, but whether or not some event happens, like running a big rapid, depends on you alone. Now I’m looking forward to getting back to a wet California, if only I could make sure time will not go on without me.