Thursday was one of the hardest days of my life. To back that statement up, five weeks ago I said goodbye to Karry at Victoria Falls airport as I flew back to the UK. On Sunday last week, I gave away Amelia, a Mexican Red Knee tarantula that I have had for eight years since she was just a hatchling. Wednesday I gave away Pippin, an African Pygmy hedgehog I’ve had for two and a half years. Over the last two weeks I’ve had to condense everything that was important to me into two twenty three kilogram suitcases and eight kilos of hand luggage. I had to say farewell to my sister, my five year old nephew and three year old niece. I had my grandmother sobbing into my shoulder, terrified that she’d never see me again – that she will die before I come back to visit. It was a lovely evening with the family and cake on Tuesday night but still very difficult to say farewell.
At 9.00 on Thursday morning, my Mother, my stepfather Andy, and I left the house for the two hour drive to London Heathrow Airport. We stopped on route for a sausage bap and drink, hit a little traffic on the M25 motorway, and arrived at Heathrow shortly after 1130 where I made my way to the Egyptair check-in, where I was pleasantly surprised that both my cases were within the weight allowance. There was some confusion as to whether or not I had to pay extra for the third flight of the trip (as South African Airways normally only give one case as standard allowance, but my documentation showed two so they quickly got that sorted). There was also some confusion as to whether or not I will be allowed a visa into Zimbabwe as I didn’t have return flights booked. Of course I don’t have return flights booked, I’m intending to stay – so they made me sign an idemnity form that Egyptair aren’t responsible if I’m denied entry. I’ll be honest, it was still a gnawing concern at the back of my mind the whole journey but I was certain I’ve never been asked to prove that I have return flights before, and when I explain why I’m here, that I’m applying for permanent residency, I’m sure they’ll let me through. I hoped.
But all of these worries and trials paled in comparison to the ardour of saying farewell to a mother in tears. My mother and I certainly have our differences and arguments have been commonplace since I returned to live with them in Deal after a trying year in Blackpool that left me a hollow shell of the man I had once been after my engagement collapsed. Despite these arguments, we’ve always been close, and to see her in tears gouged deep into my heart, and the two steps to disappear behind the screen to the security queue were the hardest I’ve taken in my life. The only solace I had was that I will make this work in Zimbabwe, and that I’m coming home to the love of my life, Karry. Still, it’s impossible for me to explain the hurt of seeing my mother in tears, so worried about it all. That is a sight I will never forget and, should I ever experience any hardships in Zimbabwe, that memory will steel me to making it work. I will not let her down.
After a short wait at London Heathrow Terminal 2, I made my way to my gate, relaxed for a while and let Kazz console me. We will be going back to visit. Together. The flight was delayed by about half an hour, but we swiftly boarded, I stowed my luggage and sat down to watch, first of all, Ratchet and Clank, a film I’ve wanted to watch for quite a while, and was pleasantly surprised. It was very enjoyable, even though my headphones (being single pin) only worked for the left ear, and the double pin headphones they gave us were atrocious. After a basic meal, I watched XMen Apocalypse, a film that has all of the explosions and lacking story one would expect from a Fox Summer Blockbuster. I was disappointed.
Shortly after the plane landed in Cairo, I contacted Karry and other family to let them know I had arrived, then located a smoking room to vape in for a while. Sadly, the internet connection failed to hold out, and thus I have been unable to leave Karry our usual Goodnight Wattsapp message. It wasn’t long then before the gate opened and I went through security. This was an unusual experience as men and women are separated due to Egyptian law for searching. This meant, as no female staff were yet present, that all the men were sent through first, much to the chagrin of the ever growing line of women. My search took a while as I kept forgetting to put certain objects into the scanner, and had to prove that my vape was, in fact, a vape. I barely sat down before they opened the plane for boarding.
The flight from Cairo to Johannesburg O R Tambo International was without hitch. In fact, partly thanks due to Malcolm and his wife, a lovely South African couple, it was quite enjoyable. They were both very friendly and chatty, asking questions about England and my forthcoming life in Zimbabwe, whilst talking about life in South Africa and their recent tour of Israel and Egypt. The conversation even remained enjoyable when Malcolm began quizzing me on my sporting preferences, what sports I follow (none), which teams I support (also none), and the general state of sport (like me, he believes it’s become overly money orientated). We chatted and laughed together until dinner was served, then, with an apology in case I snored, I fell asleep.
Looking back now I realise how emotionally draining the run-up to all this has been. I have never been one to sleep on flights but, after a brief war with the gentleman behind me (who was forcefully holding my seat up to stop me reclining), I leant back, and closed my eyes. I only awoke when the lights came on again to an announcement that breakfast was about to be served, two hours prior to landing.
I bade farewell to Malcolm and his wife, who both wished me luck in life, then made my way through O R Tambo to the Departure Terminal. There, I changed up my money to USD and headed upstairs to the Premiere Lounge ($25/365R) where I relaxed with a drink and wifi. I spoke to Karry, Mum and Andy over Wattsapp. Still a little worried about the Visa situation, I booked a cheap flight from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg on the 25th January, just to be safe. If it’s not required, then I can always cancel the flight for a refund.
Failsafe flight booked and bladder drained, I then made my way to the gate to board my flight. Apparently, Stuart, the buyer from SAGA with whom I travelled back in June, and a team of SAGA staff for a photo shoot at Victoria Falls were on the same flight but I could not spot Stuart or any faces I recognised from SAGA, neither on the flight nor during the immigration checks. Immigration gave me 30 days with the option of applying for an extension if required – Karry and I will be headed into town on Monday to sort out as much of the paperwork as possible for my residency permit. Having made it all the way here, I am not about to have to leave again if I can at all help it.
After having one of my cases searched, I made my way out into the main terminal building where I was tackled nearly off my feet by Karry. She looked so beautiful and it felt so amazing to have her back in my arms. I didn’t want to put her down. After much kissing and hugging, we got into The Boss (Karry’s truck) and drove into town. Immediately it felt like a homecoming, admittedly still as if within a dream. The blazing heat (climbing up into the 40s), the dusty roads and mopane and acacia scrubland stretching out felt so familiar yet so alien at once.
Parking up outside OKs, we waited for Lovemore to drop off some of Karry’s commission money then went and bought a couple of Sprites and other supplies, paid a couple of gentlemen a dollar each for watching the car. There we met Michael, a young lad selling cleaning products. His sales pitch was excellent, funny and friendly, so Karry ended up buying some (gracious knows that her car needs cleaning near constantly with the dirt roads she has to drive on to get back to the Lodge) before heading around to Liquorama to see Minau and to buy some whiskey for Chris.
Whiskey in hand, we left Minau to her work then hopped back in the car to Gorges Lodge. On arrival, we were greeted by Debbie, who tossed me an orange she had been massaging. I can’t believe I’d never thought of it, but she massages the orange to squeeze the flesh into juice, then cuts a hole in the top, drinks the juice, then turns the orange inside out to eat the remaining flesh. It’s delicious. We came back to the room to relax and unwind before getting ready for Halloween.
Karry was to go as an Ice Queen originally, so her mum began doing her makeup. Debbie is a costume makeup wizard – some of the designs she’s done on Karry over the years are spectacular, and tonight was no exception. A frosting of blue makeup and glitter later, and Karry was almost ready. With no stick (or sceptre) however, Karry felt the costume incomplete, thus we sprayed her ‘dark angel’ wings white, and she became an angel for the night instead. I had very little to wear as I only had the few items of clothing I’d brought with me, so I donned some dark jeans, a button up shirt, a face-covering neckwrap, and a cowboy hat, and went as an approximation of a highwayman or Van Helsing or something.
Eventually, after a few photos, we made our way into town to meet up with Jamie and Levi (and Jordi was there too). Jamie was to be a Corpse Bride, and Levi wanted to go as a skeleton, so Karry got to work with her makeup magic whilst the rest of us played Kings and drank, probably a little too much, but it was a numerous night.
Eventually, the group made our way down to Shoestrings, a bar on the edge of town that was throwing a Halloween party. There I was introduced to what felt like half of the town, but we didn’t tarry long, both Karry and I were tired and fairly unimpressed with the music, so we made our farewells and drove back to Gorges. Sadly, the night was so hot that both of us had trouble sleeping.
The next day, therefore, was a lazy one spent mainly watching films and Karry sleeping on my lap. I spotted many different bugs and tried to take photos and identify many of them.
We spent the evening chatting with Debbie before dragging a large fan back to the room and trying to get a good night’s sleep.
Sadly, it was not to be. Even with the fridge unplugged and fans blowing air out the open door, we still both ended up roasting so we need to make a plan for tonight.
Today, Karry is out guiding some guests around the falls, so I’ve had the day at leisure. After showering, I finished off some forms and letters for my residency permit, then decided to take a walk and get some photos for my family, especially my nephew who is, apparently, quite fond of me and enthralled that Uncle Ben is now living in Africa. Then Debbie suggested that I take a walk down to the main lodge for some food (a lovely Greek salad had been prepared) and to take a swim.
So here I am, sat up to my shoulders in cool water, tapping away on my phone, watching monkeys playing in the trees. There’s still a lot to do to make this stay permanent, but since there’s nothing I can do currently, I’m taking some time to adapt to the heat and to write and message my family back in the UK.
This, dear reader, is where the story will truly begin.