Monday, August 26, 2013

Post-Election Trip to South Africa and Swaziland

Well, Zimbabwe's elections are over.  Thankfully, the polls were peaceful, although the credibility of the results is in question due to allegations of voting fraud.  Nikki and I worked some long hours keeping up to speed, and I had the opportunity observe the voting.  Mugabe's presidential inauguration took place last Thursday, so now we are waiting to see what initial steps his government takes; the next few months should prove interesting.

We were definitely ready for a vacation after the election so we decided to take advantage of some local holidays and fly down to South Africa for the weekend.  We've grown quite accustomed to the potholes and non-functional robots (traffic lights) in Zim, so driving in South Africa was a pleasant surprise.  Despite a couple of wrong turns, an unintended detour down a rural dirt road, and accidentally ending up in the middle of a township, we fared pretty well on the byways of the RSA.

We started out with a tour of Blyde River Canyon, incidentally the 3rd largest canyon in the world (who knew?). We checked out some amazing vistas and waterfalls, and sampled some local cuisine.  Apparently, "pap" is South African sadza (a corn-based thick mush-like standard). Then it was on to the wildlife of Kruger, where one can explore the park on well-maintained roads from the comfort of your private vehicle.  For us, the park's world-renown reputation proved accurate – we saw the "big five" (elephants, buffalo, lion, rhino, and leopard) on our first afternoon.  Each was a unique experience, with the elephants fighting, the lions devouring a giraffe kill, and Nikki having what she claims to be a "moment" with the leopard. Ok, the cat did come right up to the road and pose for her…. The amazing-ness continued on the second day when we happened upon a couple of cheetah, a pack of painted dogs, and a baby rhino. It doesn't get any better than that.  In true form, Nikki also sought out some incredible animal interactions outside the park, finding time to pet a cheetah and kiss a hippo.

Kruger wasn't too far from the Kingdom of Swaziland, which we visited for some relaxation, cultural tourism, and shopping.  We started out with a leisurely hike to some 4000 year old cave paintings in a rural valley overlooking a beautiful river (Ryo was clearly impressed!).  Next we loaded up on handicrafts (xmas presents!), the majority of which supported programs for women, youth, and disadvantaged groups.  Finally, we toured a traditional-style village, saw a pretty incredible dance performance, and enjoyed sundowners in the picturesque Ezulwini valley.

Our trip to South Africa and Swaziland was definitely a highlight of the past few weeks, but we've been having fun at home too.  Barbeques, brunches, and other social events seem to occupy many of our weekends, and we are both working to exercise as regularly as possible. Ryo is making friends too, and has had a couple of play-dates with a Zimbabwean hapa baby. Still only two teeth, but that's not stopping baby Ryo from gumming her way through a wide range of fruits and veggies.  Talking, walking, and competitive sports are surely just around the corner.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mana and More

Ryo is growing so quickly!  It's been fun to see all of her development milestones.  The latest news is that she is on the verge of crawling (time for home baby-proofing!).  She's still got just two teeth, but is well on her way with solid foods, including lentils, squash, carrots, cauliflower, peas, bananas, pears, and apples… she hasn't refused anything yet (just like daddy).  We'll wait a while until we introduce Mopani worms and Quela birds, of course.  She hasn't mastered any actual words yet, but from the sound of it, she's going to be a big talker.

We've continued our exploration of Zim's natural wonders, visiting sites both close to town and farther afield.  One sunny Saturday, we drove about forty-five minutes from our house to Lake Chivero with our friend Greg for some game viewing and a picnic lunch.  We mostly had the place to ourselves, and had a blast driving around the park to see ostrich, various plains game, and even five white rhinos!  In true Zim style, we grilled up some meat on the lakeside, not far from some incredible rock paintings.

Our best recent trip was to Mana Pools, several hours north of Harare on the border with Zambia.  We stayed in a beautiful lodge located on the shores of the Zambezi River, which was filled with hippos and crocodiles.  After a hearty meal in the al fresco dining area and bathing under the stars, we went to bed to the sound of grunting hippos, and woke to a scene of grazing elephants and warthogs outside the huge windows of our room in the morning.  We saw plenty of animals in fact – by boat (I caught my first tigerfish!), on walking safaris, and driving around during the day and at night.  One evening, our fantastic guide, Caz, knocked on our door with an urgent message – a leopard had been spotted in a nearby tree with an adult impala that she had killed – great photo opportunity!  Equally amazing was our rare sighting of an African pangolin, which is critically endangered and very cute.  

Work has been busy these days, especially with the upcoming elections, but Nikki and I are both getting some interesting opportunities.  Nikki was recently featured on TV, speaking about the representation of women in tertiary education on Good Morning Zimbabwe.  I've been traveling a fair amount, and just returned from a site visit to rural Zimbabwe where we landed on a dirt runway in the middle of nowhere.  A few weeks ago, Nikki and I hosted a group of government officials, NGOs, and tourism operators at our house for tea to discuss issues surrounding wildlife conservation.  It's all been a lot of work, but rewarding and unique too.  The next few weeks are sure to prove exciting, as everyone is curious to see how the July 31 elections go.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Road Trips! And Some Fun In Town

It's been two more months of fun and excitement in Zimbabwe.  With the addition of a 2001 Toyota Prado to the Fox fleet, we've been afforded the ability to explore more of what the country has to offer.  At 12 years old, the car still has plenty of steam (metaphor only – it runs on petrol) and a plethora of random gadgets which have earned her the name "robo-car."  

Robo-car's maiden voyage (with us) was to Great Zimbabwe.  We explored the stunning ancient ruins with our friend Greg, where we took in scenic views and were mobbed by students from a local college who wanted to get pictures with the foreigners (Ryo was a major draw).  We retired to our over-the-top kitsch (but awesome) hotel, where he had sundowners overlooking the countryside. The next day, we stopped off at a drive-your-self game reserve (what a concept!) on the way home. So cool!

We've also hit up the Eastern Highlands again (Bvumba and Nyanga) and have taken advantage of robo-car's high clearance/4-wheel drive to get off the beaten path. The area has some amazing waterfalls, including the second highest in Africa – Mtarazi Falls. Ryo enjoyed the scenery from the comfort of a baby backpack that we got on craigslist in DC for $35. Well worth the money and I have a feeling it's going to get plenty of use.  While taking a break from hiking and checking out the botanical gardens, we enjoyed tea and incredible desserts from an artist named Tony in Bvumba while sitting in a lovely English-style cottage overlooking an orchard.  In the evenings, we got cozy next to roaring fires (it's cold in the winter here!) and had fun candlelit dinners in two lodges where we were the only guests.

There's also been some fun travel for work.  I made my way to the Save Valley, where I was able to see some of the incredible scenery and wildlife at Hammond Ranch.  One evening while standing on the top of a rock pile (kopje), I snapped the above shot of a baobab while the sun was going down. Nikki and I also took a trip to Victoria Falls to support the Ambassador on his visit to the area.  Although we were running around working, we did get a chance to enjoy some of the local sites, including an event at the Victoria Falls Hotel and a river cruise.  We got to stay at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which is one of the best hotels I've ever been to, and had dinner at their Boma Restaurant, where I joined in the entertainment.

It's been busy around town too.  Our friends Thando and Truthness were married and we were fortunate to be able to attend (our first wedding in Africa!).  There was also the Harare International Festival of the Arts – which was amazing.  We went to as much of the multi-day event as we could, checking out spoken word, music, and dance performances.  The Embassy supported the performance of a New York gospel group, which was fantastic, and we also loved the opportunity to see Mokoomba again.

In other news, Ryo is growing fast!  She now has two teeth (bottom incisors) and has started eating solid foods.  She eats anything (must be my child!) and so far has tried carrots, pears, bananas, squash, and rice cereal.  She's not crawling yet, but can sit up on her own and rolls from front to back and vice versa (an ambi-roller!).

So things are great and we've very much settled in.  Looking forward to the next few months and hopefully a trip to some of the neighboring countries.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Two months in and trip to Nyanga

Things are coming together in Zim. We've got all of our belongings and put some pictures up on the wall. We're doing a fair amount of cooking and enjoying the opportunity to introduce Ryo to the water in our pool. We've got a car finally – the Toyota Funcargo – so have been doing some more exploring (our bigger car is still in South Africa, awaiting shipment to Harare). We've been enjoying our friends and getting out to the odd barbeque ("braai") and social event occasionally. We're even getting used to our limited teleconnectivity, with our internet at home functioning an average of three days at a time – good thing we brought a ton of books!

I've finally started work and am loving it. I get to cover a huge range of environmental and development issues – from wildlife poaching to corporate social responsibility to developing a technology hub in Harare – which perfectly matches my generalist tendencies and broad interests. Nikki and I have even been able to collaborate on a number of projects, merging the public diplomacy and economic perspectives. What a fantastic opportunity! Nikki is working hard and is generally very busy. Although her office building is not the best (i.e. sporadic elevator functionality, frequent blackouts, limited workspace, and a HVAC system literally based on a termite mound – no, seriously), she has enjoyed meeting some incredibly bright and motivated Zimbabweans.

Ryo is growing like a weed and is in the 90th percentile for height (and 20th percentile for head size – ahem, suppose that's my fault). She is babbling all the time (mamama, baba, and "wet razzes"), drooling a lot, and just starting to develop fine motor skills. She's sleeping 6 or 7 hours in a row, so we're able to get a decent night's sleep (although the 3AM feeding/diaper change can be quire painful). It's only a matter of time before she goes mobile, so it's a good thing that she and Hina are getting along!

Last weekend, we took our first overnight trip out of town. We visited the Nyanga area, in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands, which reminds me a lot of Yosemite. Our inn was nestled into a hillside, overlooking a huge granite mountain rising from the high plain in stunning form. We did an afternoon drive around a private game reserve, an early morning hike to the top of a local peak, and a visit to ancient cave paintings. We even got some local culture at a weekend fair/barbeque where we enjoyed Castle beer and boerewors. Mostly, we did a lot of relaxing. Our little, low-clearance car performed great, despite the prevalence of rutted, dirt roads in the area, and next time we'll be able to delve deeper into the countryside with the assistance of a 4x4. I'm sure this is just the first of many great weekend adventures!!