Waiting for Change

by Sara Didiza (South Africa)

I didn't expect to find Zimbabwe


I’m standing near the edge of the largest waterfall on earth and I am going to jump. No bungee rope. No safety cables. No life-vest; though that wouldn’t help me much given the 354ft drop to the canyon below. I can feel the sound of the thundering smoke through my feet. My toes cling to the slippery, sweating mounds of basalt framing the Devil’s Pool. To my right, the agitated brown waters of the Zambezi River push and shove, pant and hiss, and try to shake off the persistent, pounding, presence of the midday sun overhead as they hurl themselves desperately over the edge of the Victoria Falls. Nicknamed ‘suicide month’, October is the hottest month of the year in Zimbabwe. Heat can make a person do crazy things. There is a certain bravery that comes when your spirit is chaffing up against your skin, restless in the waiting. Waiting for relief. Waiting for change. We’ve been waiting for nearly forty years. At midnight on the 18th of April 1980 there was a thunderous outbreak of applause that echoed across Rufaro Stadium as the flag of a newly independent Zimbabwe unfurled and billowed in the breeze. It was a different season then. In the early hours of that first Independence Day Bob Marley and the Wailers serenaded the crowds. An air of expectation buoyed the collective spirit. Opportunity stood sheaved like swollen mealies waiting in the fields for all to harvest in the morning. But not this morning. As we made our approach to Victoria Falls the farrow fields stared vacantly up at me in a patchwork hue of green that gave way to the familiar burnt biscuit beige of the Savannah. My throat caught; it was like seeing an old friend. I strained to see if I could recognize her. If she would recognize me as the woman I am now. Was I much changed from the girl who was forced to leave her? I had not seen my Motherland in ten years. “Sara!” Through the throng of vendors lifting their carved and beaded wares, the ladies with babies wrapped in blankets on their backs and brightly printed tablecloths in their arms, my ‘other mother’, as I call her, waved to me. “Come and see this,” she said pointing out a collection of Zimbabwean coins and notes laid out for sale. We had not been home together since these were last in use. Not since the economic collapse. I read the notes aloud: one billion dollars; fifty billion dollars; one hundred trillion dollars. “When will things change?” There was nervous laughter and the shaking of heads. We passed around knowing looks. It had been two years since the Summer that marched the masses at boiling point on to the streets to oust the only President I had had my whole life. Still, nothing had really changed. A rumble without rain. Lured by an offer to swim to the edge of the giant waterfall, my Aunt and I made our way by taxi through the border post to Zambia and on to Livingstone Island, trying to bridge the lost years by laying down question on question. Have you heard from Margaret? How are they surviving here? Is there still no water at the house? Have you…the question cut short. A gasp. And then another, as plumes of white spray and a double-barreled rainbow came into view. Snug around the muscular sides of the gorge the rain-forest fit like a Parka jacket zipped up the middle with the beaten bronze Zambezi river. The river downstream, with white pompom crests, proceeds triumphantly onward as it has for thousands of years. Standing here, I trace the canyon from out under my feet and back around the bend to that first viewing point. Giddy with fear and excitement, I leap in. Cool relief sweeps over me. I surface to the roar and rumble of the waterfall as I'm pushed to the exposed lip edge of the rock pool, a natural barrier. This is the only time of year one can swim in the Devil’s pool before the season changes, the rains come, and the waters rise. I find hope in this: change is inevitable.