From Zambia to South Africa: Rivers to Dust

An elephant in Africa. Photo by Finnur Magnusson
An elephant in Africa. Photo by Flickr/Finnur Magnusson

“They did this?” asks Kathy.

I almost think I can detect some signs of blushing around the back of our guide’s neck and ears.  “People stayed here,” he says, “and some of the elephants became angry.” According to Zulu, elephants in the area do not like it when they encounter humans having sex. “I am sorry to tell you this,” he says.

Since elephant herds are common along the banks of the river, we waste little time before asking others about this back at the lodge. “That’s the first I’ve heard of this,” says a staff member, scratching his head. “But maybe they have a point. I don’t like to be around when pachyderms are mating.”

Although it is afternoon and the sky is a dark brown on one side of the Zambezi, we load up a dugout canoe and are paddled upriver by a sweating, grunting guide. Crocodiles slink around near the banks and islands, and every log or rock we pass looks like it might be ready to bite.  During the wobbly ride Kathy notices that there are no life jackets on board.

A crash of thunder welcomes us ashore near Mushekwa Village, a cluster of thatched-roof huts where locals keep to the region’s traditional ways. “Greetings,” says a woman who is introduced to us as Edith. She is one of the village elders and speaks excellent English. “How many days did it take for you to travel here?” she asks on learning that we live in America.

Edith escorts us around, putting special emphasis on trees that are used for medicines and for making soap. She shows us some chicken coops that are perfect miniature versions of the huts where villagers reside. “We are a Roman Catholic village,” she notes although the question had not come up.

Suddenly there is a spattering and then a waterfall of rain. Red clay pathways dissolve almost immediately into blood-colored rivulets of mud. Edith leads us carefully into her tiny, circular kitchen and stokes up the charcoal fire.

Shouts can be heard along with some singing in-between blasts of thunder. Edith claps her hands. She smiles. Through the open doorway, we catch glimpses of villagers who are leaping.  Boys are spinning in the shifting winds and sliding on the slippery ground.

“The rains have come,” says Edith.  “When it is wet, Mushekwa is glad.”

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