Dr. Livingstone, I Presume!
The town of Livingstone, Zambia was invented by David Livingstone. Victoria Falls is so called, because Dr. Livingstone discovered the falls and named it for the Empress of all the World, Her Majesty Queen Victoria, in 1855.
Turns out this natural wonder of Africa existed for about 150 million years before Europeans got there.
The people who lived in what is now “Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia” had been seeing the falls for years. Many, many years. (Not 150 million).
Local names for the falls are “Mosi-oa-Tunya” in Lozi and “ Shungu Namtitima“ in Toka Leya. Both meaning “The Smoke that Thunders.” I think The Smoke that Thunders is far more poetic and accurate than naming it for the person behind the massacres of people all over this continent (and the world). Africa is still recovering from the scars colonialism has left and there are still plenty of people exploiting the place for resources to this day.
But most people refer to the waterfall as Victoria Falls. The town next to the falls on the Zimbabwe side is called “Victoria Falls.” At least on a map. It can’t be escaped.
The Victoria Falls area on either side of the Zambezi River, whether Zambia or Zimbabwe, is a tourist nest for people from all over the world. There are many activities for thrill-seekers in addition to just viewing the colossal chutes. You could take a sunset booze cruise through a gorge, white-water raft, fly over the falls in a helicopter or airplane, hang glide over the falls, bungee jump off of the bridge, swim near certain parts when the water is low, zipline across one of the gorges, or many more things. So many things. All mostly priced above $150. For one person.
It is definitely a magnificent site for recreational activities. It can’t be denied that the views are unparalleled. But man, just existing there cost me too much money. And ate up all of my ability to live in a “tourist box.”
What I liked about Livingstone, though, was that it was not too hard for me to find the parts of town that weren’t catering to tourists. Just walking down the road led me to the market and mini-bus station. I felt really comfortable walking around…until I got called out a few times because I stuck out like a sore thumb. It’s true, I don’t look like I should belong. And who’s to say that I should? But it really does feel nice to be surrounded by people living their normal day to day lives instead of in a tourist zoo.
Once the ice was broken and I was chatting with everyone I met, the “tourist” force-field around me seemed to melt away.
Livingstone is about 10 kilometers from the falls. There are a bunch of taxi drivers loitering nearby because it is also at the border. They expect to get about $10 a ride. When I arrived in the country, I was proud of myself for getting it for $5, though I am sure it was still too much.
Just parallel to the road leaving the falls, there is another road, completely hidden if you aren’t looking for it. On this road there is another world. There are local Zambians selling snacks for only a few kwachas. They are not there for tourists. They are there for Zambian people, who also move around and use the area, transporting goods to and from their homes.
I was tipped off by someone that there were local mini-buses heading from the border/falls to town “but they would be slow and uncomfortable.” As I walked through a dirt path to reach this mystical minibus station, almost everyone I passed asked where I was going. When I said to the minibuses, I got a lot of confused looks, but they pointed down the road as if to say “carry on.”
When I arrived at the mini-bus station, I asked if I could grab a ride to town when it was ready to leave. The driver was very kind and said, “sure, you can sit next to me, but we have to wait for the car to fill and that might be a while.” It would be 5 kwatchas, or about 50 cents. A fraction of the taxi price.
I told him that I didn’t mind waiting. I walked over to one of the snack stands and asked the woman there what she had cooked. There were beans, potatoes, stewed meats, rice and nshima, the Zambian staple made from maize. I asked for the prices and they were also exponentially cheaper than anything from the center of town or the park by the falls. And it all looked good. I got some beans and rice and tried some nshima.
At first all of the men sitting at the snack stand looked at me like I was very odd, but we quickly got to talking. As they ate the nshima by scooping it up with their hands and mixing it with a side dish, they told me a few words in their language, Nyanja. They even gave me a name “Mutinta” which means girl born among men (I think?).
I really enjoyed hanging out at the bus rank, chatting with people who lived in the area. I even told them a bit about Madagascar and America. Of course they had questions about Trump… those are always fun.
The thing is, I am perceived a certain way here. I look like a tourist or an African of European descent no matter what. I look like I am probably going to be uncomfortable with things. I look like I am probably not going to be respectful to people. In addition, in many cultures, it is pretty weird for a woman to be alone, traveling all of the way across the world. Race is complicated in Africa. Wherever I go, I want to be sure that I am respecting the people and environment around me. But it is complicated. I know that I look like the aggressors from history. I do not blame people if they do not expect good things from me because of the way I look. But it makes me sad that things are this way.
I know sitting at a snack stand at a minibus rank is no monumental feat. But it was far more enjoyable than feeling confined to a museum and separated from the real world. It was the highlight of my time in Zambia for sure (yes I know I was only there for a short time). The men were helpful and kind! They told me how to get to Botswana using public transportation.
When the mini-bus was finally filled up, the driver showed me places around town that might be useful and even offered to drive me out of his way, but I wanted to walk a bit so I declined.
The bus may have been a slower option, but if there is anything I am sure of right now, I am not in a rush. There is nothing wrong with taking the slower option. And the mini-bus was not uncomfortable in the least, though I wish I was sitting in the back with everyone else instead of the front.
So I am not sure where I am going with this post. I have decided to just write what has been on my mind.
Who is to say how long the Smoke the Thunders has really existed? 1855? The Jurassic period?
Maybe it has only existed since 1989 when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site? We all know, nothing really matters until it is validated or famous.