Moving On & Finding Home

AtHomeInTheWorld_CVR_500I’ve written before about this tension I always feel as a TCK between trying to be content where I am, and at the same time missing the place or the culture that I am without.

I read books about the spiritual discipline of rootedness, of staying in one place and getting connected even though it isn’t perfect (heck, I’ve even written about that!) … but it’s still always a struggle. I live in rented apartments and I get itchy and long to paint the wall, to pick out my own dishes, and not just use ones from Goodwill (because why invest?) I get tired of feeling like there’s no place that’s really mine. I want to build a nest. I want to borrow sugar from my neighbor.

But the other part of me wants to travel the world and live out of a backpack, and never settle anywhere. The thought of getting a mortgage makes me feel like I’m signing a death notice (even though I know you can always sell a house). As I accumulate stuff I am mentally thinking, “Will this fit in a suitcase?”

So I loved getting to read Tsh’s new book At Home in the World, where she wrestles with some of these same ideas. Tsh’s book is all about their family adventure of traveling around the world in a year. They go to China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Morocco, France, Italy, Croatia, Kosovo, Turkey, Germany and England…. all with three kids, all with one backpack each. Continue reading

Flamingos, the President, and AK47s (Botswana and Joburg).

This is part 3 of the road trip of a life time: from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, through Botswana to Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, then across the bridge to Livingstone, Zambia and back again. If you like that social justice stuff, check back later. If you like travel, stay tuned. Part 1 is here (Vic Falls) and Part 2 is here (Livingstone).


Botswana was very open. And flat. In the Number One ladies’ detective agency, there is a line where she says, “You can walk for a very long time in Botswana and still not be anywhere.” This is true. There are less than 2 million people. But it’s beautiful. There are termite mounds, and donkeys, and warthogs. We saw a herd of 18 elephants, just on the side of the road, taking a bath in a lake.

Flat, golden pans in Botswana.

Flat, golden pans in Botswana.

We stopped at Nata near the Makgadikgadi pans, huge flat areas, salty from the sediment of lakes that dried up. Some parts are completely grassy, some are open, dry, white, salty sand, and some still have a thin layer of water. We saw some birds walking on the water, only to realize they were stepping in puddles so smooth and still they looked like a lake. We saw hundreds of flamingos in the bird sanctuary that evening. Every thing felt open, and free, and big. I love the rolling green hills of the Midlands, but being somewhere wide and flat and people-less helped my soul expand a bit.

The president's camp

The president’s camp

The president of Botswana was also camping out (we have good taste) but we tried two different ways to meet him and both failed (one was the ignorant tourist approach, but his guards played the “ignorant guard” back, and acted as if they were just there for a fishing trip. With AK47s. You know. That’s how we roll. Then we tried the flat out and ask approach a bit later, but were told when the president was in camp, he didn’t want to be disturbed. If we saw him out and about, that was another matter).

After Botswana we stopped in Joburg to visit the Apartheid Museum. Every. South African. Should see this. It was a work of art. From the moment you approach, it’s concrete block structure feels like a prison. On your ticket, you’re randomly assigned “white” or “non-white” and you can only enter through your specific door, separating up the group (kind of traumatic). Then you’re taken through displays showing the build up to apartheid, life under apartheid, and then finally freedom.

There are some parts you don’t forget:

Walking into a room dedicated to those who lost their lives in detention (you could be detained without trial for over 180 days)- a stark grey room, with solitary confinement cells on one side, a long list of names of those who lost their lives at the back, and a noose hanging from the ceiling for each one.


from apartheid museum website

Walking past an armored vehicle, through a dark room with huge screens showing the violence of the 90’s (the Afrikaaner right-wing resistance, the ANC and IFP battles, the protests), and into a small narrow room where you could listen/watch interviews of people who were present at the negotiations for our first election. The room has memos from the negotiations, our constitution draft, crossed and marked with ballpoint comments, but through huge glass window  you can still see the massive screens showing footage of the violence that was happening outside these talks.

Staring at a display of AK47s that were turned in at Mandela’s request to throw our weapons into the sea, now decommissioned, broken down into bits.

from the apartheid museum website

from the apartheid museum website

Walking down a corridor and seeing photos of that first election day: A white guy standing by a NP sign in an ANC shirt, an IEC official visiting someone in the hospital so they can cast their vote, lines and lines of people snaking across the grass…

Then walking into the final room, where the pillars of our constitution are standing, and seeing the preamble to our constitution, and seeing how far we’ve come


from the apartheid museum website


We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to —

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

We’re heading home. Victoria Falls is still ringing in my ears, I’m thinking about those broken down AK47s, and the line from Handel’s Hallelujah chorus is playing as we drive through the waves of golden grass:

The Kingdom of this world

has become,

the kingdom of our God,

and of his Christ!

And hoping, hoping, for that moment when the whole world will stand at the edge of Victoria falls, and throw their AK47s down, down, 3kms below and watch them splash like tiny little pebbles, and then get caught up in the terrible awe, and joy, and celebration of the smoke that thunders around the glorious throne of God.



Mr Brian the taxi driver, and other Zambian Adventures.

Part two in the series on the road trip from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, through Botswana to Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, then across the bridge to Livingstone, Zambia and back again. If you like that social justice stuff, check back later. If you like travel, stay tuned. Part 1 about Vic Falls is here. 

We knew there was the town of Livingstone on the other side of the bridge. We stood for a while in what we were told was Zim-Zam, the bridge that crosses the Zambezi, the no-man-land (where you don’t need a visa, and you can bungee jump for a mere $150, and you can see glimpses of the 110-year-old Victoria Falls Hotel where we’d had high tea the day before). 

One foot in Zimbabwe, one foot in Zambia

One foot in Zimbabwe, one foot in Zambia

And then we crossed into Zambia, and realized that Livingstone was a good 12km hike away, through wild areas where there are elephants, and yes, we would need a taxi. (It’s really lack of planning, but we like to say “adventure”). Mr. Brian was our taxi driver. He ushered us into taxis, then told us stories on the way into town about how he’s from the village just next to Livingstone, and his grandfather is the chief and it is his great grandfather who met with David Livingstone during the rain festival, because he was curious to see a white man. Stories that were great stories, and were still great stories, even if he was making them up on the spot to impress tourists. Mr. Brian used to be a rafting guide on the Zambezi, but he is taking a break as a taxi driver, because being a river guide was too exhausting. “You’re responsible for all those tourists, you have to get them through alive. And there are two rapids that are the worst. One is called, “Welcome to heaven” on our language. So being a taxi driver is much more peaceful. You just need some peace in your life sometimes,” he explains. 

Mr. Brian pointed out the local market, the Livingstone museum, and was going to drop us in tourist-town, when the group asked to rather be dropped at the local market. When we got to the local market, we decided to take up Mr. Brian’s offer of being our personal taxi driver for the day. I got to be part of the negotiating team for that one. It was fun. I LOVE being somewhere that’s not just a hard, cold bureaucracy, but if you can make a friend, and talk fast, anything can happen. 

And then, as the many independently minded Americans were trying to determine if we should stay as a group, or split up, and who wanted to go where first, Mr. Brian stepped into our huddle and announced, “I can see that you are not from here. You don’t know anything. I am a local. Here is what I will do. I will sacrifice myself for you for this day, and show you around our market and Livingstone.” And he did. (Maybe being a taxi driver isn’t any more peaceful than taking tourists alive down the Zambezi).

The location of the debate about which way we would go first in the market, after which Mr. Brian sacrificed himself for us.

The location of the debate about which way we would go first in the market, after which Mr. Brian sacrificed himself for us.

We walked through the market where ladies waited with piles of dried fish, or beans. We got fried bread dough (called amagwenya in isiZulu, I can’t remember what they called it there), and Ann got a hair wash and dry (and curl!) from a hair dresser, while the boys watched carpenters making furniture. The manager of the market came by to see how we were doing, and tell us to guard our purses. I bought some batik fabric, and then decided to wear it rather than carry it, because I was in my shorts and felt quite keenly that I was the only woman in the entire market with her knees showing. This delighted the ladies, who helped me tie it on, and said I looked like a real Zambian now. I got several compliments on it throughout the day (and I caught one lady taking photo of me with her phone, haha, nothing like a white person trying to hide out as a Zambian). Mr. Brian gave me a name in his home language when we left the market, which I can no longer remember, but it meant “the social one”. 

We then went to get some Zambian food at a fast food place in Livingstone. It was fun being in another African country and seeing what is similar and what is different. There, they eat corn meal like we do in South Africa, but they eat it from a shared bowl, and form it into balls to dip it in the soup/curry. In South Africa, we usually eat it with spoons. The fast food place had outdoor buckets to wash your hands before eating. 


Then we went to the Livingstone Museum. There was a lot of natural history (stuffed animals), an anthropology section where you could see what a traditional village was like, and then a David Livingstone room where we saw his medicine box, and some original letters. There was a group practicing dance for a government educational meeting. Very cool seeing how different Zambian dance is to Zulu dancing.

David’s mom had the name and contact number of a Zambian pastor in Livingstone, and Mr. Brian arranged for him to meet us after the museum. That was a definite highlight. 

When we left to walk back across the bridge, Mr. Brian told us we needed to come back so he could take us on a cultural tour of his village (where all of us ladies could learn how to cook real Zambian food all day), and where we could meet his grandparents. He gave us his number. So if you’re planning a trip to Livingstone and want a great guide, let me know, I’ll set you up with Mr. Brian. 🙂 

The family and Mr. Brian (blue shirt) after a fun day.

The family and Mr. Brian (blue shirt) after a fun day.


The Smoke that Thunders (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe)

newsmopkeThe blog has been pretty silent because I’ve been on the road trip of a life time: From Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, through Botswana to Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, then across the bridge to Livingstone, Zambia and back again. If you like that social justice stuff, check back later. If you like travel, stay tuned…

You can hear it before you see it. It reminded me of when I’ve stayed in a beach house, the kind where the sea is just a few steps outside your door, and you’re lulled to sleep every night by the rushing slosh of waves. But it isn’t the sea. We’re in the middle of an open plain, flat as far as the eye can see. There is no ocean. The sound is the sound of the Zambezi river throwing itself over a cliff again and again and again and plummeting to the bottom almost three thousand meters below.  6 million cubic feet of water (we were there at high water level) falling off a cliff thunders so loudly you can hear it many kilometers away. We fell asleep every night listening to that thunder. 

And you can see it– not the falls, but the spray from the falls–smoking up and hovering over the town. Mosi oa tunya. The Smoke that Thunders. 

Us at Victoria Falls hotel, where we had high tea-- you can see the smoke from the falls, even much further away than this.

Us at Victoria Falls hotel, where we had high tea– you can see the smoke from the falls, even much further away than this.

We went to see it in early July, when the water level is highest. We wore rain jackets, and hoped for a good view of the falls. There were a few good view points of the early bits of the falls. But when we get closer to the main falls, we had to wait for a change in the breeze to blow the spray in another direction so we could get a view, there was so much spray. That just made the glimpses we got even more special. (And it means we’ll have to go back). 

Gotta love David's hair. You can just make out the falls in this picture, because the breeze blew some spray the right direction.

Gotta love David’s hair. You can just make out the falls in this picture, because the breeze blew some spray the right direction.

There are no railings. Just slippery pathways and small acacia fences. There are bushes and trees so for the most part you don’t feel like you’ll fall off. We saw a photo of Queen Elizabeth visiting in the 1950s when there weren’t even little acacia fences. Just British pompousness in the form of a sign forbidding people to pass. (Never mind you’ll plummet to your death by stepping off the path. “Common sense will not keep the natives away. We must have a sign.”)

queen elizabeth

The sign says: “Danger, it is forbidden to pass this notice.” If only they had added the word “strictly” it would be just perfect.

Rainbow Falls, right towards the end, has a view point with no fences. It’s marked as a “danger point” on the maps. It’s just a pile of rocks, with the spray of the falls bucketing down in torrents. Some of our party decided to skip that point, but David and I went. It was like standing outside in a rain storm, the water was thudding down on us so hard. But when we climbed the rock and looked behind us, there was the biggest rainbow we had ever seen. It was so bright it looked like it was  solid. 

Standing by ourselves at danger point number 15, being drenched by the spray of Victoria Falls (the spray that shoots up 60 feet into the air then falls down in sheets like rain), it was like coming face to face with the heart of Africa, the heart that pounds life into the arteries that carry life in thin strands across the dry land. Being drenched in rain and wrapped  in rainbows, hundreds of rainbows, was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

I was reminded later by David as we lay awake that night talking about it of Baba Amos who goes to my parents church. He is Zambian. He told David that his favorite thing to do in the world was to visit Victoria falls. He lived many hours away from the falls, but he would travel there by bus, and by taxi and by foot, and pray for all the villages he passed through, pray for people he saw, pray for his country, pray for Africa. And at the end of his journey he would arrive at the Smoke that Thunders. 

John talks about the temple of heaven being filled with the smoke of the glory of God, about rainbows encircling his throne. I think I know what he means. 


For you curious people, a map of the Victoria Falls Zimbabwe side, you can click the photo to enlarge it: 

The rainbow on the map is the rainbow we saw in real life!

The rainbow on the map is the rainbow we saw in real life!