Zimbabwe Village and an Elephant

6:00am, “Wakey wakey”, Thabani goes from tent to tent rousing us all. We can hear him coming down the row, everyone was already awakened by the birds. Don and Maureen in the tent after ours are asleep and Thabani needs to climb up their porch and knock. 

Breakfast, then we loaded into the safari vehicles for the long ride to the park gate where we transferred to a bus for the ride past the coal mine to the road.

First stop, a secondary school that OAT, the tour company, supports. The head teacher spent about 15 minutes explaining the public school system. Everyone is entitled to elementary and four years of secondary school. If they do well on their exams, they can go on to two more years. College starts after that.

Then we met a history classroom. Maria and I sat at a table with three boys, two were 16 and one was 15. Fifteen year old liked English class best and wants to be a pilot. One 16 year old wants to be a mechanic and the third guy is a musician. He was wearing a mask, so hard to understand. Zimbabwe is still Covid-cautious, they locked down the country hard and vaccinated everyone, so their numbers were very low. Also they have a small population for their land size and people spend a lot of time outdoors, unlike their dense, urban neighbor South Africa.

Then off to a shabby market, 5 identical shops in little shacks in a row. Trip Leader Berv gave us money and a shopping list in the local language. We went into the little shops and bought food staples, soap, household essentials. Most people just handed the list to the shop keeper who gathered the items. We had two items, so we bought our 10kg bag of corn meal at one store, and some bags of soy nuggets at another. Having fulfilled our assignment, and liking the first store better, we went back and bought a bag of flour and another of sugar.

Then we drove several hundred yards further to a little village. The headman greeted us and the rest of the village came out. We greeted each person and shook their hand, it was like a wedding reception line.

They showed us around their village. The livestock pen where they keep young sheep and goats. The adults can be let loose to browse on their own, but the baboons will eat the young guys, so they have to stay behind and eat acacia pods. Last week in Namibia, we saw people collecting acacia pods to sell as livestock feed. Then to the kitchen, outdoors, surrounded by a 3 foot high, 15 foot diameter round wall which serves as a wind break. They cook over mopani wood fires as this wood is not too smoky when it burns. Next, the indoor kitchen, used when it rains. It was hot outside, but the kitchen was cool even with 14 of us. 

They served us a meal of millet polenta, shredded pumpkin leaves and mopani worms.  We introduced ourselves to each other, my name is Bruce Ishikawa, I am  69 years old, I have two children… After going around the twenty or so people in the room, we all knew each other a lot better. Lively questions and answers, lots of laughter, everyone enjoyed the lunch. As we were getting ready to leave, Berv presented the large pile of food staples that was our gift to the village. They broke into song and dance, ululating and clapping, it was a great send-off.

Back past the coal mine for siesta. One of the jeeps needed a spring replaced, no surprise given the rough bush tracks we’re driving on. We frequently have to hang on as the vehicle clamps over piles of rocks laid over a dry river bed. They did this repair over lunch break and at 5 we left for an evening game drive. 

Very soon after we departed, we encountered two elephants, a mother and her six year old child, feeding very near the road. We stopped and watched as she used her tusk to rip enough bark off a tree until she could get a grip with her trunk, which she used to tear a big strip of bark off. Into her mouth, chew chew. After a few minutes, they crossed the road and started in on another tree. Thibani started the engine and pulled the vehicle right in front of her. She stood facing us about 15 feet away. Maria and I were in the back seat, aligned with her. I looked her right in the eyes and gave her the kitty blink which means everything is irie. She blinked back! It turns out Maria was blinking her too! After a few minutes of checking us out, she decided we were cool, and went back to feeding. We sat for about a half hour watching her destroy the tree.

Junior was right behind her and as mom relaxed, (s)he came around eating up scraps that mom dropped. At one point, little reached for a piece that mom was holding and Mom jerked it away, go get one yourself, don’t be lazy!

The best moment of the trip so far.

On the way back to camp, Thabani stopped the jeep to show us poop from an old elephant. We learned something new.