Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Some tourism

I'm reading "African Laughter," by Doris Lessing, an account by Lessing of a series of visits back to her homeland between '85 and '92 -- a very engaging read in these times, sometimes very sad in its early naivety about Mugabe, sometimes disturbingly accurate in its predictions, all of it uncannily recognizable in Zimbabwe 2008. Especially disturbing are the white Zimbabweans one meets, still nostalgic for colonial rule in the same way as Lessing's contemporaries.

I crawled inside a hollow baobab tree in the countryside the other day. I didn't notice any creepy crawlies inside the baobab tree -- just dust, dust, dust, dust, dust, inches thick. The pictures from inside the tree are generally long exposures, because the flash just bounced off of particles of dust -- I can show you when I get home. I have a great picture of Louise's 82-year-old grandmother crawling into the tree through all the dust, with admirable intrepidity. And yes, the baobab trees are from Le Petit Prince. I picked up a baobab fruit (a source of cream of tartar) as a souvenir -- it's oblong, as hard as a coconut, but with soft green velvet all over the outside. There was a rock ledge near the big baobab, where baboons use rocks to smash open the hard fruits and eat the seeds inside. We did find some hyena dung nearby, though -- white, dry, and full of hair like an owl pellet, because they eat bones and hair and greedily digest the rest.

At Kariba Dam there's a statue of a river god: when the dam was built and that portion of the valley flooded, the Tonga tribe (fishermen) were forcibly relocated to miserable, unfarmable areas where they were told to abandon their ways and learn to farm. With, as one would expect, terrible results. The holding wall built to contain the river while the main dam was built was tall enough to contain a 1000-year flood (the largest flood predicted for a 1000-year period, given the probabilities), but shortly after came a 1 million-year flood, overwhelming the holding wall and ruining the construction. The Tonga concluded that Nyami Nyami was angry at the attempt to contain him, and that the project was doomed -- but it went ahead, as these things do, and they remain displaced.

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