According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Ikea foundation is committing $4.5 million into a new project that provides easy-to-assemble, flat-pack houses for migrant populations. Ikea’s new “Refugee Shelter,” has solar technology and aims to put a real roof over refugees’ heads.
I can only applaud Ikea’s humanitarian efforts and brilliant thinking. Creating an easy to transport and set up design incorporating solar power truly is brilliant in my opinion.
No one should be subjected to living in a tent for an average of 10 to 12 years while they are waiting to return to their home or move onto a new life. Ikea’s design will give them four walls, a ceiling that will allow an adult to stand up and solar power allowing them to have access to light and the ability to prepare a meal. This means dignity for families who have left everything behind.
This initiative makes me a happy supporter and customer of Ikea, how about you?
Remember the fabric that I was given for my enthusiastic participation at the wedding in Zimbabwe?
Well, Buche’s daughter, Nancy who is an amazing seamstress created me the most beautiful traditional African dress! So my transformation to an African woman continues..now I will have to find another wedding or special event to go to so that I get to wear it!
Well here is the concrete proof that I got as up close and personal with an actual lion as possible! I am truly thankful to the guides who accompanied us on the bush walk with the lions. At the start of our walk they happily took possession of our cameras and clicked away throughout the walk capturing photos that are truly once in a life time. And in my case, proof that I lived out my dream which I needed to show to Lawrence, Mr. Dingwa and Buche to actually prove that I did what I said I was going to do!
We headed out on the Lion Bush Walk at about 4:30 pm and after walking into the game park a little distance were joined by our two lion companions, one year old brother and sister.
Lions are legendary nocturnal creatures who spend the better part of the day sleeping and resting up for their night hunting activities. Like most inhabitants of Africa they seem to mind the heat and spend the daylight hours in lazy mode. This tendency to nap was extremely obvious with this pair. As the sun was still shining hot and brightly it took a while for my new friends to manage to much else rather than take rest breaks.
Once they joined us, the guides gave us ample opportunity to meet and greet while they took photos for us. I have to warn you at this point that I am lucky enough to have a significant number of photos which I am going to include here. This was a dream come true for me and these pictures are priceless so I am eager and proud to show them off. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Our initial meet and greet:
We were told that lions do this when it is hot to regulate their body temperature but I think that this guy just wanted to capture my heart.
Guess who couldn’t resist a rub???? with the guides permission although it was obvious that no one had ever asked to do this before, I wonder why not?
Who gets to rub the tummy of a year old lion????????? ME
I told they liked to nap
We didn’t make it very far when it was time for another rest!
Until it is nap time again!
Fortunately the sun was quickly going down so natural instincts started to kick in and we were off and running, well sort of :
As darkness fell my two friends natural instincts certainly became apparent and it was soon time for us to part company before I became supper.
All I can say is that as you can tell by the pictures that I had a once in a life time opportunity and I don’t know anyone else who got to spend such quality time with these amazing creatures. Who knows since I have been invited back to Lawrence’s parents I just may get an chance to go exploring the bush with my new sweetie when he is even bigger and more mature…now that could be fun as well as dangerous.
My lion adventures started with the educational tour of the Lion breeding program at Antelope Park. The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) is one of the world’s leading conservation programs to help save the African lion from extinction. This program is dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of sound conservation and management plans for the African lion. It takes a responsible development approach to saving and revitalizing the species while also providing substantial social, cultural, ecological and economic benefits.
The program’s primary focus is the breeding of lions and a four stage release program that acclimatizes the lions through 4 stages to the ultimate goal of release back into the wild. The lions for the initial breeding program produce cubs that are removed from their mothers at the age of three weeks old. The purpose of this is so the cubs are brought up to respect their human handlers. It is this fact that made my walk in the bush with them possible but more about that later.
The program also does research into the effects of FIV (feline Immuno Deficiency Virus, the equivalent of HIV in lions). During my tour I was told that the program had successfully produced FIV-free cubs born from lions who are both infected with FIV. While there is no known cure for FIV research for treatment and prevention is on-going at Antelope Park through the ALERT program.
My educational tour included the opportunity to get as up close and personal with adult lions as you can get. I am happy to admit that while visiting the adult lions enclosures, I was the only one who held my ground at fence, not running quickly away when a somewhat cranky male lion sought to assert his authority.
This picture was taken just before Poppa Lion decided to rush the fence to assert his dominance. Let’s just say that I was close enough to him to smell his rather stinky breathe but loved every moment of it.
Following my personal tour of the adult facilities, it was back to the main center where I had to participate in a twenty minute lecture before heading out on the Lion Bush Walk.
The lecture included more information on the release program which is comprised of four stages as I mentioned. The first phase is the breeding program and removal of cubs from their mothers at three weeks old. The next stage is introducing the lion cubs to the bush and hunting environment. Once they are about six months old they are ready to be taken out into the bush twice a day for the development of their hunting instincts. These are the lions that participate in the bush walks with humans up until they are about 18 to 20 months old.
The purpose of the bush walks are for them to gain exposure, confidence and killer instincts so that they can make their own kills for food rather than be dependent on feeding by their human handlers. The bush walk takes place in an actual Savannah that is inhibited by all of the game that one would normally encounter. Here the lions have the opportunity to learn and practice their natural killer instincts…the guides are along to ensure that the accompanying humans don’t become the prey!
Once these lion cubs mature and become proficient hunters they are then released into Stage 3 of the program. This involves moving them to a new enclosure where they will no longer have any contact with humans. The enclosure is large and contains a variety of species so that the lions can continue to hone their hunting skills. This program is extremely expensive as we were told that a single zebra or wildebeest costs approximately $1,000 dollars and the lions often kill at the rate of one or two per day.
As the lions mature and mate new offspring enter the cycle which have no human exposure. As the hunting skill level increases, other natural predators and scavengers are introduced to the environment to provide competition to the lions. The goal is to make them totally self-sufficient within an environment that replicates the wild. Cubs who grow up and mature in this stage will then be ready to be released into the wild ensuring that this species will no longer face possible extinction.
The program will take many years to complete even one full cycle and release program and as I mentioned extremely costly to undertake. However, it is the African lions best chance at survival in their native environment.
In preparation for the bush walk we were given the following instructions:
Never get too low to the ground with the lions. You need to keep your eye level above theirs in order to establish dominance.
Never stray or wander away from the group as you will find yourself being stalked as prey!
Always carry a large stick which can be used to distract the lions if they are attacking one of the humans on the bush walk!
If the lion jumps on you don’t panic, the guides are trained to get them off of you but be prepared to suffer some heavy gashes from their paws or jaws!
Never run from a lion cause that just makes it fun for them to take you down!
Antelope Park is on the outskirts of Gweru and my friend Lawrence surprisingly enough had never been there. He was eagerly looking forward to the time we spent there, however, he was truly not looking forward to accompanying me on the Lion bush walk for several reasons. One he is truly terrified of lions. Two, he was terrified of what I would try to do with the lions. Three, he didn’t want to be held accountable for my untimely demise at the paws and jaws of a lion in Zimbabwe.
So fortunately we were accompanied by his girlfriend, Chenai for the afternoon and evening outing.
Antelope Park http://www.antelopepark.co.zw/ offers a vast range of activities as well as accommodations for those who wish to stay on site. The activities ranges from: Walk With Lions; Research Trip; Lion Feeding; Cub Viewing; Cub Feeding; Night ; Elephant Ride/Lunar Elephant Ride; Elephant Training; Horse Ride; Lunar Horse Game Viewing ; Game Drive; Bush Walk; Bird Viewing ; Snake Induction; Canoeing; Boat Cruise Sunset/Sunrise; and Fishing trip.
I had only a one track mind and it was all about the lions, whereas my two Zimbabwean friends had no desire to go anywhere near the object of my attentions. So once we were given our own personal guide for the day and some vigorous discussions we decided on our activities. With hearty reassurance from our guide that it was not necessary for Lawrence to actually accompany me on my lion bush walk to take pictures as my guides were willing and eager to take on that task, Lawrence was saved.
Plans were made for me to do the Lion Educational tour and Bush Walk with Lions, while Lawrence and Chenai would do the Horse Game viewing. This was going to be a huge adventure for Lawrence as he had never ridden a horse before in his life. Chenai had some horseback riding experience and like me was very excited that Lawrence was willing to give it a try.
Lawrence and I have had numerous discussions about me teaching him how to ride a horse as you often see horses around Gaborone. I grew up on a farm and riding a horse, as well as cows and bulls, was a common activity for me. I was all for Lawrence having his very own adventure!
Once decisions were made we quickly moved to the horse riding center as the next outing was fast approaching. I got to accompany Lawrence and Chenai as they prepared for their ride.
With the two kids mounted and ready to go, I gave Lawrence some riding tips to help him stay in the mount position which apparently served him well once they were underway. I instructed him on how to not to place his full foot in the stirrups so that he could kick free if in danger of being thrown; how to use the stirrups and his thighs to move with the motion of the horse and how to get the horse to move faster if he got brave enough.
Well reports after the fact indicated that Lawrence did an excellent job and in fact even changed horse’s mid-way through the ride with one of the guides as his was too slow and uncooperative making him use my riding tip for preventing being thrown. I am very proud of him tackling this adventure.
As for my Antelope Park adventures, my guide and I set out for the Lion Educational tour as soon as the horses left the enclosure.
Sunday morning I was extra eager to be up and about as the day’s activities including my visit to Antelope Park and my bush walk with lions. Truly a dream come true for me.
It was a relaxing morning spent outside in the front yard as the men of the Dingwa clan spent several hours cleaning their respective vehicles. Not unlike North American men, African men will also spend hours washing, buffing and shining their prized possessions – their vehicles, including cleaning and polishing their tires. Now this activity baffles me, especially here in dusty Sub-Sahara Africa for as soon as you leave the yard you are driving in dust and all visible signs of your efforts are obliterated. Oh well, men will be men.
I had a wonderful morning sitting the front yard watching the men work so hard physically, including Tim who was cleaning Granpa’s car and visiting with Mr. Dingwa. However, this visit started to take a turn for the worst when he found out what my intentions were for my visit to Antelope Park. He was utterly shocked that I would even contemplate trying to touch a lion, let alone snuggle it. While he heartily endorsed my visit to the beautiful Antelope Park, he did not want me to go any where near the lions.
Things escalated when a rather heated and tense discussion in Shona took place between Lawerence and his father which concluded with his father saying in English that Lawrence had informed him that it was absolutely useless to tell me what I could or couldn’t do when it comes to my lion adventure. Now I could understand Mr. Dingwa’s fear. All Africans have a very healthy fear and respect for the king of beasts who have roamed free in their areas and are known for their ability to kill. As my host, Mr. Dingwa felt very responsible for my safety and well being. But like the rest of the Dingwa males he had to accept the fact that there was absolutely no dissuading me on my plans to get as up close and personal with a lion as I possibly could.
And as this was my only offence all weekend – Lawrence had not had to give me an electrical shock once as I was on my very best behavior – Mr. Dingwa finally accepted but did not condone my plans for adventure that afternoon. Quite frankly no one could ever talk me out of this dream, not even Buche for who I have the greatest respect. I was snuggling a lion even if it killed me 🙂
After a very long and full day attending the wedding in Masvingo and visiting Great Zimbabwe it was after 9 pm before I arrived back at the Dingwa household. I was welcomed with open arms and it seems that my arrival had been patiently waited for many several of the household occupants. First of all, Mr. T (Tim) would not go to bed until he saw me and had a chance to hang out. And Mrs Dingwa and Yolanda had a special meal ready to prepare for me.
During our visit the night before, Mrs Dingwa asked me many questions about Canada, my life there and what I enjoyed eating. I had casually mentioned that I missed seafood the most as it is not plentiful here in Botswana. I also told them that I really enjoyed brown rice. So guess what was prepared for me to eat that night at 9:30? Yes, seafood and brown rice.
I swear that I gained at least 5 kilos while staying with the Dingwas! I feel like I did nothing more than eat which is an important part of African culture. In fact, here it is one of the primary ways of extending hospitality and it is incredibly rude to not eat or clean your plate! So for my visit I was a good guest and ate everything that was put in front of me except as a small eater I did commit the unpardonably offence of not always cleaning my plate. It was rather funny at times as both Mrs Dingwa and Yolanda would sound just like my mother telling me to finish my food 🙂
They were able to forgive however after I made Lawrence explain to them that when ever we dined together he always finishing my food for me! So at least they knew that I was willing to try all of the Zimbabwean dishes including Kapenta, a tiny dried fish that is served whole fried with onions and tomatoes. They are eaten with traditional staple meal called Isitshwala/sadza.
Interestingly enough when I described some of my favorite foods there was almost complete agreement among the Dingwas’ that they rather not try them. But I suspect if they visit Canada they will show the same respect for trying new foods as I did.
After being so thoroughly spoiled with meals being prepared for me even when I arrived home late, I think I need to find someone to cook for me more often 🙂
So between being the perfect wedding guest and wanting to literally disappear, my hostess’ gave me a reprieve from the wedding festivities and took me to visit the World Heritage Site, Great Zimbabwe. This site was about twenty minutes away from Peter’s Lodge where the wedding and reception took place.
Great Zimbabwe is an immense site of ruins purported to be the capital of the Queen of Sheba and the site of Bantu/Shona civilization beginning in the 11th century (before the colonization of Africa). Here is the link to UNESCO website where you can read more about this site from a factual and historical point of view: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364
It is truly a breath taking site to see and visit. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to see it during my whirlwind visit to Zimbabwe. The actual site is vast and comprised of many different areas to explore and visit. Because we (3 car loads of wedding participants in all) arrived mid-afternoon with sunset at shortly after 5:30 we focused our attention on roaming the ruins rather than inside in the museum. We made an interesting viewing party I am sure as we were all dressed for attending a wedding not visiting ancient ruins. But nobody could say that we weren’t willing and having a blast. In fact, it was rather nice that so many members of Chenai’s extended family chose to join me in visiting the site.
Members of our party were munching on apples as we were exiting our vehicles which made our welcoming party all the more welcoming. While the adults were laughing, unfortunately some of the younger members of our group were more than a little frightened as these monkeys were rather bold in their attempts to steal our apples.
We all agreed that we weren’t interested in attempting to climb this hill in order to see where the security forces of this civilization were posted so that they could watch for threats and protect the vast population that lived in this royal city.
Instead we continued along the path that would bring us to The Great Enclosure and Valley Ruins.
According to the UNESCO literature “The Valley Ruins are a series of living ensembles scattered throughout the valley which date to the 19th century. Each ensemble has similar characteristics: many constructions are in brick (huts, indoor flooring and benches, holders for recipients, basins, etc.) and dry stone masonry walls provide insulation for each ensemble. Resembling later developments of the Stone Age, the building work was carried out to a high standard of craftsmanship, incorporating an impressive display of chevron and chequered wall decorations.”
“The Great Enclosure, which has the form of an ellipsis, is located to the south of the hills and dates to the 14th century. It was built of cut granite blocks, laid in regular courses, and contains a series of daga-hut living quarters, a community area, and a narrow passage leading to a high conical tower. The bricks (daga) were made from a mixture of granitic sand and clay. Huts were built within the stone enclosure walls; inside each community area other walls mark off each family’s area, generally comprising a kitchen, two living huts and a court.”
We had been lured to exploring the Great Enclosure first as we had heard drums and singing as we walked. Of course, with that promise we just had to head straight there. Once we made it up the steep incline we were welcomed with a traditional performance and we were all encouraged to participate which we did. Everyone in our party danced, donned traditional clothing or head gear and actively participated in the dance of course.
The belt of tails that Chenai was wearing in this picture had originally started out on my waist because you guessed it, I was one of the first ones co-opted to join the dance. Yes, there is video but happily I don’t have a copy and it hasn’t emerged on Youtube yet!
Following our dance party in this ancient site we moved on to explore the rest of the ruins in our finery.
It was so incredible to visit this site and walk the land that was the site of such a vast and important civilization in the history of not only Zimbabwe but Africa. This site is unique in Africa and I felt so privileged to visit it. It is definitely worth a visit even when dressed for a wedding!
As soon as Chenia and her mother finished in the Masvingo police station getting a police report on the accident filed we quickly set off again to make it to the wedding.
This was an outdoor Zimbabwean Roman Catholic ceremony which was taking place in the lovely gardens of Peter’s Lodge.
As the wedding was already in progress when we arrived, we quickly were given seats so that we could watch the final twenty minutes or so of the ceremony.
While the bridal party left the site for a while to have pictures taken, the rest of us moved to the lawn where the reception tent was set up and I was continued to be introduced to all of the many family members, who seemed delighted that I was joining the festivities.
I have to admit that the dining part of the reception was a little overwhelming for me. Or should I say, the buffet line was. Our table was right next to the Elders table and of course they proceeded everyone into the buffet line. I was escorted up following the elders by another one of the Aunts of the bride who was sitting on my right. She took masterful control of me (yes, I know an impossible task) and was determined that I have the best treatment possible at this wedding. So into the buffet line up we got along with her 7 year old granddaughter.
Well, the line up was positively claustrophobic for me as everyone was rushing to get into line behind the Elders and there was absolutely no room to even breath. My chaperon had a tight grip on me and was determined to not only keep me in front of her in the line up but to also not lose an inch of ground to anyone else. So I was pushed, prodded, stepped on and feeling ready to jump out of line but knew that I couldn’t as it would offend. Luckily once we got up to the plates and buffet tables one of the Elder’s happily stood a side to let me in line ahead of him. With my meal secured I was able to retreat back to the safety of our table and enjoy the excellent food with Chenia’s family.
Mrs Hwehwe is a great “Gogo” (grandmother in Shona) and she is Gogo to both of the little girls in the picture in white dresses. The slightly older one just visible to the left of the picture gave me a new party trick to try out at the next formal event that I go to. As we were sitting eating our meal, which contained rice, I looked up at one point to respond to someone across the table from me. While looking up I noticed that the young lady in a beautiful white formal dress had her spoon down her top digging out rice from her chest area. I was totally in awe and can’t wait to practice that technique myself 🙂
Now I am sure that you are all on pins and needles waiting to hear about my most embarrassing moment. Well, I am definitely getting to the moment and it isn’t sticking a large spoon down my chest in search of food.
Following our meal the DJ started to play music and Chenia’s mom and aunt had promised to show me how to dance traditional African style. So up we got to boogie off our amazing meal. The tradition at weddings here is that the bridal party enters the reception dancing and are led in by a dancing female contingent. So here I was smack dab in the front of the tent and bridal walkway dancing away to the delight of those accompanying me. I know, I have no shame. But the worse was yet to come. Apparently my dancing antics where preventing the bridal party from making their grand entrance. It took the DJ several tries to drown out the antics of my own personal dance party to get us to move out of the way. Oh dear, but this still not the worst!
So my dance team made way and up the aisle came the bridal party
The women who lead the bridal party in to the reception, not only dance, they do this wonderful sound that is hard to describe but the instant you hear it you know that it is a celebratory sound. It is what really distinguishes weddings here as African. And this sound is what really ended up being my most mortifying moment at this wedding.
I know, holding the bridal party’s grand entrance up just wasn’t enough for me. It is truly a wonder that the bride didn’t have me forcibly removed from the premise. I guess the fact that her Aunts were the ones responsible for my behavior saved me.
So here is the description of my single most mortifying moment ever!!!!
Following the formalities of the reception there was more dancing. Of course twinkle toes just can’t get enough and Mrs. Hwehwe and her sisters/sister-in laws couldn’t wait to get me back on the dance floor. And back on the dance floor (grass) we went. I guess you could say that I truly got into the moment and was obliviously dancing away attempting to incorporate the traditional dance moves that I had been taught earlier. Somethings require your full concentration.
The next thing I know the reception had ground to halt and I am being fully surrounded in a full circle by virtually everyone in attendance. The women are making their celebratory noise, the men are clapping and shouting and there must have been a dozen camera phones out and filming a white girl who can’t dance! I truly just wanted to disappear in that moment!!!! But again, all of the cultural training I have been getting obviously is taking effect. I remained in the middle of the dance circle with my other partners in crime and prayed for the song to end. Which it eventually did but I was prevented from leaving the dance floor when I wanted to….
Yes, there are videos of this. Me in utter embarrassment. No, I don’t have a copy yet but I am living in fear of a version showing up anytime on YouTube. Chenia has video of it but I have yet not received a copy from her. I am not sure that I want to see it! Nor am I sure what I will do with it if I do get a copy.
Yet somehow throughout all of my outrageous behavior, the bride didn’t hold my offences against me and actually thanked me for coming to her wedding. That is true class. And her aunts. They were utterly delighted with me and my behavior. Apparently so was the majority of the attendees. They were thrilled that I came and participated so enthusiastically. They were still talking about it the next day I was told. I was even given a gift by the family of 3 meters of traditional material so that I can have a traditional dress made to attend other events. And yes, I was invited back!
Buche’s daughter, who is an expert seamstress is currently whipping up my new dress for me. I will be sure to show you a picture of it. However, after this escape I have sworn that I am never attending another wedding here in Sub-Sahara Africa, ever! Lawrence’s response to that was two-fold:
He and I are invited to another wedding here in Botswana in July and he determined to make me attend with him
He says that I have to come to his wedding.
Perhaps by then I will be over my mortification. Who knows? Not having the incriminating videos going viral on YouTube will help 🙂
My good friend Lawrence had decided that he wanted the two non-family females in his life to spend time together and bond so my Saturday entertainments in Zimbabwe were entrusted to Lawrence’s Zimbabwean girlfriend, Chenia.
So into her capable hands I was entrusted and the day’s activities were to include her cousin’s wedding ceremony, reception and a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Great Zimbabwe. Accompanying us for the day would be her mother, Mrs. Hwehwe and two of her other beautiful daughters, Anesu & Kuda. In order to accommodate all of us passengers Lawrence also graciously allow us his lovely car to travel in.
Having been told to be ready to leave for the day by 7:00 am as we were travelling to Masvingo for the wedding I was up bright and early at 6:00 am to bath in my cold water and get dressed. The early departure was necessitated by the fact that it is an approximately 3 hour drive from Gweru to Masvingo and the wedding was scheduled to begin at 10 am.
One of the other cultural adjustments that I have had to make here in Africa is the flexibility in time. I try to be an extremely punctual person although ask poor Buche about the time that I left him waiting for me in the BONASO parking lot for 45 minutes because I simply was so busy that I had no idea what time it was. So generally I attempt to be ready in advance of when I need to be. However here in Africa when someone says they are picking you up at a certain time, that time can have flexibility of anywhere from 1/2 to hours later. You learn to take it in stride, trust me.
All of this to say, I was ready for the appointed time however our actual departure first from the Dingwa home and then from Gweru itself was slightly later than scheduled. Once on the road with Chenia driving her mother and sisters were kind and attentive pointing out landmarks and interesting sites, relating history or local culture and asking questions about me and life in Canada. All in all it was a very pleasant drive and uneventful until we reached Masvingo.
Entering Masvingo it was necessary to gas up and grab some juice & water from a nearby shop. Following our stop, Chenia headed out of Masvingo for the wedding site, which ironically was named “Peter’s Lodge” located about a 30 minute drive past Masvingo on the way to Great Zimbabwe. Masvingo is a good sized city and there was a far amount of traffic entering and exiting the city on this Saturday morning. Unfortunately on our way out of the city we were involved in a minor fender bender leaving poor Lawrence’s lovely Mercedes front end rather sorry looking. Luckily other than damage to Lawrence’s car there were no other repercussions of the accidents other than I got to visit the Masvingo Police Station! and we ended up being significantly late for the wedding only arriving in time for the last twenty minutes of the actual ceremony.