Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dreams of the falls

Water recklessly rushing forward, with no allowance for cautious behaviour yet complete with reckless abandon, drifts amongst rocks and inlets downwards into the river below. How many litres for how many thousands of years have followed this path to the river? Mist rises above the craggy outlets and weathered cliff face spraying all the onlookers and aged trees. Plants are lush shades of green, a complete contrast to the wheat dry foliage of the highways. Water flows perpetually over the horizon as far as the eye can see - running as if it were chased by death its self. Falls carry soothing sounds; the fall's fanfare is composed of an unimposing, yet consistent, flow and splash - sounds which have flowed through the air for eons. With no end in sight, ever perpetuated, the water flows. A river falls over a rough precipice, a cliff clothed in falling water, just as it did ten thousand years ago and just like it will for many tomorrows yet to be conceived or dreamed about by human minds. Amidst the falls dance rainbows - colours streaking between the falls and the cliffs. Profound water color paintings amidst a backdrop of life and flying water.

Plumes of mist overtake the pathways; the yellow and green rain ponchos, which are available at the tourist stop, are draped over many of the passersby - some equipped with backpacks and cameras, others wearing nothing but a t shirt jeans and sandals. Drops of water land on the lenses of cameras obscuring attempts to capture the majestic falls and all their glory. Photographs and faces are both speckled with water. How much water erupts and cascades through the air during the rainy season? Do these experiences within the heart of the Cold Season compare?

The cluttered pathway down the side of the cliffs into a lush almost tropical canopy of growth and green is considerably more dry than the paths above. Hiking through mini falls and rapids, boulders, tree covered paths, and baboon nests is an experience that wont soon be forgotten. Signs of 'civilization' lay claim to the horizon above - steel arches and railroad paths. Screams in the air of jumpers who fall only to rise up again, and fall, and rise, and fall. Yo-yo perpetuity broken by the elastic limits of the chord - jumpers return to the top. Rocks carved since before man walked the earth line the ground bearing signs of the rise and fall of water. Slick and slippery - all dust has been washed away by mist, rain, or encroaching water levels. The exposed cliff face towers above; if the falls are nature's aqueducts then surely these are its walls.

Leaving something behind - a friend to watch the flow of water as time flows by. Will it be the rains or rising waves which consume her?

The Smoke That Thunders.

... also called Victoria Falls. Just why falls in this land should be named after some monarch is nonsensical to me (reminds me of Denali in Alaska). Amongst the inspiration and awe of visiting the falls there are also feelings of guilt. Why do I get to go see the falls while so many of my Zambian friends are unable to appreciate them? Even nice tracts of land near the falls are owned by foreign hotel chains - resorts styled after the west for westerners to come and experience "Zambia". I didn't know that Zambia was characterized by Western Cuisine. Regardless, my thoughts on tourism from 2005 are similar to the ones inhabiting my mind today. Resorts have no place in the world. To think the lush beaches of Mexico (I worked in Tijuana for a week in 2005 and heard some truly disturbing stories about resorts. Then again I never cared for the notion of resort), or to a lesser extent the Smoke that Thunders are unavailable to the locals of countries because of money, while foreigners can drink in all the beauty is unsettling. In the case of resorts in Mexico beautiful land is occupied by companies for foreigners to come and... be North American at (including all the binge drinking and none of the unemployment). While the Smoke that Thunders is open to Zambians for a cheaper rate than foreigners it is the travel that makes them unobservable. To think that I participated (although having only ate a meal at a hotel) in all this tourism makes me feel as though I have abandoned a large part of the values that make me who I am. Was it right to go and see the falls, or on principle should I have avoided the JF reunion entirely out of respect for my Zambian friends who have never seen the falls and likely will not? Was this not just a parachute out of the adversity of development and poverty? As written before - how can anyone integrate if there is always the ability to eject and decompress for a few days?

I have yet to meet someone in Ndola who has seen the falls - that isn't to say that no one in Copperbelt has, but the numbers seem to be few. Many families in Zambia cannot afford to hop a bus and ride across the country on a whim to see the falls. Or even jump on a bus to see friends or family, to attend funerals, or to visit new areas. In Twapia I met a diesel salesman, he told me his wish would be to travel "Zambia" - "I want to see Southern Province, my brother is there in Livingstone". It cost me a grand total of twenty four Canadian dollars to travel to Livingstone from Ndola. This price is unaffordable to many. Twenty four dollars, a trip to see a brother... And nothing.

"I am so glad you have seen our falls" says my host father. I only wish I could have taken him with me. Many Zambians wish to see other horizons, many who I have met have their own story of the places they wish to visit some day. In their souls is an insatiable learning to see the world, not even the world but their country, their homeland, and all its beauty and all its horror; in their hearts live dreams of the falls.

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