A few days ago I had coffee with a friend who had just returned from a trip to Africa – the same trip my husband and I took in September of 2013: OAT’s Ultimate Safari. Her comments reminded me how much I enjoyed that tour and I went back to the essays I wrote about the trip. I’m posting three of my favorites.
Love Tales of Africa
Our guide Wallace sat at one end of the long table, beautiful with clean white linens and fresh greens in vases, and Rania (rhymes with Tanya), the young, single woman who managed this dry, dusty bush camp, sat at the other. The conversation veered toward relationships and marriage. Wallace shared that here in Africa where he could have as many wives as he wanted, he had only one, who was at home in Harare with his two sons. His wife, he said, had made it clear that if his home included more than one wife, she wouldn’t be among them, and Wallace was OK with that. To me, theirs sounded like a mutually respectful and modern marriage.
Then Wallace shared his belief in potions. “If I come home from being on the road, and I see that the gecko on the wall has no tail, I know that my wife has prepared a love potion for me.” Rania laughed from the other end of the dinner table. As an educated, professional woman raised in the city and now supervising an all-male staff at the camp, she didn’t hold stock in such tales. But Wallace had grown up in a village of 200 people, all of them related, and he knew the truth about love in the countryside. Our group was silent, absorbing it all.
Wallace went on to tell us how he could control his marital relationship. If he felt his wife was fooling around with other men, or even thinking of it, then he would “lock” her in this manner: he would leave an open padlock on a table nearby, then ask her to hand it to him. Then he would close it in front of her. She would then be “locked” and not able to fool around any more. We were amused at that bit of information but Rania laughed the loudest, shaking her head, “Love potions? Locks? That’s ridiculous!”
“It’s true,” Wallace defended his position, adding, “a pocketknife would work just as well.”
Wallace may have had reasons for concern, being on the road for weeks at a time. He could communicate regularly with his wife and two sons by cell phone, but would spend 13 hours on a bus to reach his Harare home when our tour ended in Victoria Falls. He and his family had lived in Victoria Falls but recently moved to be closer to his parents and their village near the capital. Although he led tours all over southern Africa, Wallace hadn’t strayed far from the village traditions. He told us that he had paid a bride price of seven cows for his wife, negotiated down by his family from the initial bride-family request of ten cows, and he was proud of a two-bedroom home he and his wife were building in the village. But most of the time they lived in the city and he also shared that he and his wife, like parents everywhere, tried to limit the time their kids were on the internet. Balancing between the two worlds, Wallace knew that his was a transitional generation. He admitted that his boys were unlikely to want to live in the village or even have a home there, but Wallace was making sure that he would have cows ready if his two sons were asked to pay a bride-price. Their lives were a strange mix of tribal beliefs jumbled up with modern technology and jobs. Love potions and locking mechanisms mixed easily with computers and cell phones in their arsenal of tools for daily living.
I’m not sure whether Wallace considered as true the tale he told us on a game drive one day, but I think he probably made sure his sons abided by it. It was the myth of the sausage tree, my favorite of all the stories we heard. The tree produces elongated fruits that resemble hanging sausages and is quite common in Africa, its seeds spread far and wide in the dung of elephants, giraffes, baboons and hippopotamuses that like to eat the pulpy fruit. Wallace told us how, to this day, a pubescent boy must climb up the sausage tree and identify a young fruit to claim as his own. Sometimes the boy will mark the young green sausage fruit with his initials, so he doesn’t lose track of which one is his. He must visit his fruit often, and when it is a size that he desires for his own “manhood,” as Wallace termed it, then he should cut it down. Otherwise, if it is left unattended, it will grow too long and heavy and will fall off the tree, and the boy certainly wouldn’t want that to happen to his “manhood.” The boy must also keep the exact location of his sausage a secret. Otherwise, an enemy might climb the tree and cut down the fruit when it is still quite small. Wallace said something about girls, too – I think maybe that girls liked assurances that their boyfriends were attending their sausages.
It all made perfect sense to me at the time – there, in Zimbabwe.
(Date of travel: Sept. 2013)