Sunday, July 31, 2016

Zimbabwe Falls

Victoria Falls is an odd village. It purely exists to process the many tourists that come through to admire the Victoria Falls, one of the seven worldwonders. Consequence is that it mainly consists of hotels, hostels, lodges, restaurants, souvenir shops and a supermarket where the locals do not shop. Everybody tries to sell you something, but once you get passed that point, people are actually friendly and happy to have a chat.
 The economy of Zimbabwe was in such dire straits that they had to print notes with numbers going into the trillions, so they switched to American dollars. This means that tourist prices are inflated and it makes a visit not cheap at all. Obviously this is acceptable for a few days, for the locals it is still a fight to stay above the poverty line.
Oscar, one of the guides I get talking to on several occasions, tells me he has to find clients to go on bungy jumps, to take helicopter rides or to go on zip lines. He gets paid a commission, based on a contract of two months. This means he never knows when he will or won't have a job and in low tourist season he barely earns anything. Five days a month he gets time off, so he can spend this with his family who live elsewhere (this story came with pictures). I ask another lady in a store how come she has a South African accent. She tells me she went to a private school and this is the accent of people who go to private schools. She sees no future in Zimbabwe and would love to send her children to an English boarding school, if possible. An old man at the market tells me life is no good, because the Shona have killed so many Ndebele (different tribes, most people seem to speak both languages however) and he wishes that more white men would come to open businesses. In fact, when walking around the next day to a restaurant that offers traditional dancing and singing (very touristy, but tastefully done) I get a lift from a middleaged white man, Zimbabwean, so I ask him if he owns the lodges, 'Yes, I am the general manager'. My buddy asks me how I know. White local people have got the capital to invest and run businesses and can employ the locals for a minimal wage, who just cannot close the gap between them. Zimbabwe has a longer history of tensions between white landowners/farmers and other locals demanding their land (back). I won't go into that here, but Britain played a key role into that and you would be familiar with the name Mugabe.

If you don't want to spend tons of money on the activities, there is actually little to do, once you have done your two hours visit to the magnificent waterfalls. I meet another solo-travellers, Shasa, who happens to be a fellow Dutch (Flemish) speaker and he has been here a good few days, so knows his way around. We take walks through a surrounding village (where the poverty is visible) and briefly step over to the Zambian side. He is great company and a real gentleman. This is in contrast to the people I meet in the second part of my adventure. The dreaded travelgroup...

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