Browsing Tag


Pop-Up Travel: A Beautiful Church in Zimbabwe

Last November I visited Zimbabwe with Ray‘s family. During that trip, while driving back to Harare after our holiday in Nyanga, we turned off the A14 highway at a small sign for St. Faith’s High School. We were in a Zimbabwean province called Manicaland, a few minutes east of a town called Rusape.

We drove for a few kilometers down a bumpy dirt road, sweating in the mid-day heat. Eventually, right in the middle of the bush — in the middle of nowhere, really — we came upon one of the prettiest churches that I’ve ever seen.

St. Faiths outside2

St. Faith’s Church in Rusape, Zimbabwe.

We stopped to visit St. Faith’s — an Anglican church and mission school — for old time’s sake. Ray’s family has a history there. It’s a complicated story but here’s a brief recap:

A couple of decades ago Ray’s dad, Tim (who is a historian), visited St. Faith’s as a favor for a colleague. He was looking for a sculptor named Job Kekana. Kekana, who was South African but moved to Zimbabwe in the 1940s to work for a nun named Sister Pauline, had a workshop at St. Faith’s. Kekana specialized in religious woodcarvings and his work appears in churches all over the world. * (Read more about Job Kekana.)

Tim became friends with Job Kekana and visited him at St. Faith’s a few times over the years. Tim and Diana, Ray’s mom, also commissioned Kekana to carve a few sculptures for them. Kekana died in 1995.

Kekana carvings

Job Kekana sculptures in Ray’s parents’ living room.

Anyway, back to St. Faith’s. I’ve never seen anything quite like this church. It’s so huge and so remote — it seems to defy logic. Apparently the church was built in 1907 and I’m amazed that it has remained standing for more than 100 years. It’s made completely of wood, mud bricks, and thatch.

St Faiths outside1

Another view of the outside of St. Faith’s. I can’t figure out how it hasn’t burned down, or if it has burned down, why it doesn’t just burn down over and over again. It has a massive thatched roof and I didn’t see a lightning rod.

Inside St. Faiths2

Inside the nave of the church.

Inside St. Faiths1

I don’t know enough about the architecture of churches (or architecture in general) to accurately describe this picture. I know it’s beautiful though.

Station of Cross1

A carving of one of the 14 Stations of the Cross. I did some research into these carvings and it seems they weren’t actually carved by Job Kekana, but by another St. Faith’s sculptor named David Chituku.

I wish we’d had more time at St. Faith’s. Other than a friendly secondary school student who walked past and said hello to us, we didn’t have the chance to speak to anyone who lives or works there. I could have spent hours walking around inside and outside the church, taking photos. But we were in the middle of a long, hot car journey and it just wasn’t possible.

Inside St. Faiths4

Maybe I’ll make it back someday.

*Thanks to Tim for lending me a book called The Prophetic Nun, by Guy Butler, which provided some interesting background about Job Kekana and St. Faith’s. Also, today is Tim’s birthday. Happy birthday Tim!

A Story About Milkshakes

As I said in my previous post, I spent about a week in Zimbabwe with my boyfriend’s family last month. Ray‘s mother grew up in Zimbabwe and Ray visited often when he was a kid. We took many trips down memory lane during our visit, which I found interesting as a newcomer to the family (and the country).

Family shot crazy

Ray’s family at the holiday home they rented in Nyanga. They flew in from all over the world to celebrate Granny’s 90th birthday. Fun bunch.

The time we spent in Nyanga, a mountainous area on Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique, was particularly filled with reminiscing. Ray’s family used to go to Nyanga often on holiday, and we spent much of our visit going back to places that everyone remembered fondly from the past.

Before we even arrived in Nyanga, during the five-hour drive from Harare in Granny’s ancient Mazda 323, Ray started talking about milkshakes. Back in the day there was a Nyanga dairy farm where you could watch the cows being milked and buy cream from a little window next to the milking room. There was a tea room on the premises selling ice cream, scones, and milkshakes.

“They’re the best milkshakes in the entire world,” said Ray dreamily. “I was never allowed to have two.”

“You can order two this time,” said Diana, Ray’s mom.

“If the dairy is still there,” said Tim, Ray’s dad.

We tried not to get our hopes up too much. A lot has changed in Zimbabwe over the last 20 years.

On our first morning in Nyanga we went to the Troutbeck Inn, the only big resort in the area, and asked about the dairy farm. “It’s still there,” the concierge told us.

We drove a few miles up the potholed road and turned left after the second bridge onto an unmarked driveway, as the concierge had instructed us. We rounded a bend on the dirt road, and there it was.

Dairy sign

There’s something magical about rediscovering a happy memory from the past.

We pulled into the farmyard and saw the tea room — a small shed with a few picnic tables — to our right. It looked deserted. A woman named Thoko came to the gate of the farmhouse, trailed by a multicolored pack of labradors, and greeted us.

“Is the tea room open?” Diana asked.

“Yaaaays,” Thoko drawled, in that gentle Zimbabwean way. “But there’s no ZESA so we cannot warm the scones.” (ZESA stands for Zimbabwean Electricity Supply Authority. Zimbabwean electricity is off more than it’s on.)

“Do you still sell milkshakes?”

Thoko smiled. “Yaaays.”

We released a collective sigh of joy.

Tea room

The tea room.

Thoko taking order

Thoko prepares to take our order.

We took a quick stroll around while we waited.

Milking room

The milking room. We arrived too late to see the cows being milked.

Dairy dog

A member of the dairy farm’s pack of chubby labradors. There was one yellow, one black, and one chocolate. I’ve forgotten their names.

Thoko spread a blue-checked cloth on our table. Soon, milkshakes were served. I had chocolate, Ray had strawberry, and Diana and Tim had vanilla.

Serving milkshakes

Milkshakes, cheesecake, and (unheated) homemade scones with berry jam. All delicious.

The Nyamoro farmer, Debbie Nethersoll, came to greet us and sat down for a chat. Debbie has lived on the farm for most of her life; her parents started the farm more than 40 years ago.

I was enthralled by Debbie’s story. She grew up on the farm during the bush war in the 1970s, basically right in the middle of a war zone. After taking over the farm from her parents, Debbie worked through the Zimbabwean land reform movement in which many white Zimbabweans lost their farms. The farm survived the land reforms, but Debbie’s marriage did not. Her children have all grown up and moved away.

For the last seven years, Debbie has managed the farm alone with her 35-member staff (and about 110 cows). These days, the farm’s biggest business is selling a product called lacto — fermented milk that South Africans call amasi — to the local community. (The farm also grows flowers, seed potatoes, and a few other things.) Debbie feels that this direct link between her dairy and the people who live around it has helped to her to hold onto the farm.

Milkshake and scones


Was it the best milkshake I’ve ever had? I’m not sure. Was it the best milkshake experience I’ve ever had? Definitely.

(In the end, Ray could only manage one milkshake. He made apologies to his seven-year-old self.)


Debbie holding some milk that Diana bought from her, and a couple of homegrown arum lilies for Granny.

The best part of the visit actually came after the milkshakes, when Debbie took us to visit the calves.

Calves in field

I’ve never petted a calf before. They’re quite friendly.


Calf and Ray

This guy loved the taste of Ray’s hand and didn’t want him to leave.

The Nyamoro Dairy is on the A14 (also called Nyanga Road), about 12 kilometers north of Troutbeck Inn. After you pass Troutbeck, you’ll cross two bridges. Turn left on the unmarked road directly after the second bridge and the dairy is about one kilometer up that road.

If you find yourself in Nyanga, please stop into Nyamoro Dairy for a milkshake and a calf kiss. For me, experiences like this are what make travel worthwhile.

Calf nose

I Climbed the Highest Mountain in Zimbabwe

Apologies for the lag in posting lately. My trip to Zimbabwe was a month ago and I’m just writing about it now.

Last month I traveled to Zim with Ray‘s family to celebrate his grandmother’s 90th birthday. We spent a couple of days in Harare (the capital) and then four days in Nyanga, in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands. The whole family stayed together in Nyanga, in a rambling mountain holiday house.

Nyanga is a magical place. I’ll have more to say about the area as a whole in a future post.

Nyangani vista2

Nyanga National Park.

But first let me tell you about one of the highlights of the trip — climbing Mount Nyangani, the highest mountain in Zimbabwe. I’m pretty sure I’ve never climbed the highest mountain in any country before so this was a pretty big deal. It wasn’t all that hard, either. And of course the views were amazing.

Nyangani sign

Mount Nyangani is the highest mountain in Zimbabwe at 2592 meters (8504 feet) above sea level. The mountain is inside Nyanga National Park. The sign above states that Mount Nyangani is spiritually important to many Zimbabweans and tourists are asked to respect traditional beliefs. Among other things, you should point at objects with a clenched fist, rather than a finger, and “maintain a poker face” if you are privileged enough to observe spiritual phenomena such as “trees with breasts”, “smouldering clay pots and caves”, or “granite boulders shaped like a grave”. Unfortunately I didn’t see any of those things.

The climb is somewhat strenuous but certainly no Everest — we made it to the top in less than two hours.

Nyangani foothills2

A little less than halfway up.

Nyangani hikers

My climbing partners: Ray, Ray’s Uncle Chris, Ray’s cousin Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend Ben.

Nyangani foothills

View from the back side of the mountain.

Ray on rock

Believe it or not, Ray is afraid of heights.
 Nyangani tree

Nice tree.


We saw some beautiful wildflowers during the climb.


The protea trees were in full bloom.

We were only marginally tired by the time we reached the top. It’s a pretty easy hike for a relatively fit person. The steepest climbs are at the beginning.

Ben on top

Ben relaxes near the summit.

Nyangani mist

Apparently it’s almost always misty at the top, even in the middle of the day. For some perspective on how high we were, check out how tiny that road looks in the bottom-right corner.

Some notes for anyone planning to climb Mount Nyangani:

1) The mountain in inside Nyanga National Park and you have to pay an entry fee to get in. The price of admission varies according to your nationality. I managed to pass as a South African and I think I paid $8 (admission is higher for Americans and Europeans). There are lots of other cool things to see in the park, which I plan to discuss in a future post.

2) Technically tourists are not supposed to climb Mount Nyangani alone, but rather with a guide from the park. A solo climber disappeared on the mountain several months ago so the park is being extra careful. We were unaware of this though, and when we arrived at 7:30 a.m. the entrance to the park was open and no one was there. So we managed to slip in and climb the mountain on our own. The park rangers weren’t happy with us though.

3) I almost forgot the most important point. The roads in Nyanga are extremely rough and it would be very difficult to reach Nyangani in a regular car. A 4×4 is highly recommended.

More Nyanga stories to come.

Heather Ray at top

Ray and I atop Mount Nyangani. (Photo: Sarah Charnaud)

PS: The comment section on the blog is finally working again. And in fact it works even better than before. So please comment away — I’ve missed all your feedback.

From the Melville Cat: Yes, I’m Still Here. 2Summers Is Too.

*Sketch by Fiver Löcker.

Greetings, friends. It’s the Melville Cat. It’s been such a long time since I’ve posted; many of you might not even know who I am. Others may have feared I went away. Not to worry though — I’ve been here all along. I’ve just been very busy and haven’t had a chance to write.

Here are some images illustrating what I’ve been up to over the last several months:

TMC sleeping

Sleeping on the porch.

TMC on bed

Sleeping on a bed on the porch.


Laying sullenly on the bed as Heather packs for a trip. I do this often, as Heather travels often and it displeases me greatly. Despite my valiant efforts to make her feel guilty, she continues to travel. Hmph.

Conehead in garden

Sitting in the garden with a blasted cone on my head. I also do this often, as I like to fight with other cats and injure myself while Heather is away.

As I said, I’ve been busy. Heather has been busy too, which is why she asked me to write this post. She wants me to explain to you why she hasn’t blogged for so long.

Last week Heather was in Zimbabwe, a fact that I’m well aware of. Lucky took good care of me while Heather was gone but I was still quite angry with her. I didn’t get into any cat fights, but I did contract an unpleasant rash around my ears during Heather’s absence. The rash cost me an unpleasant visit to that horrid place called the vet, and it cost Heather R635 (about $60). Fortunately I avoided the blasted cone and the rash has healed.

Anyway, Heather enjoyed her time in Zimbabwe but there was no internet so she couldn’t blog. Here are some photos that she wants me to show you.

Heather and Ray on mountain_edited-1

Heather and her new gentleman friend Ray atop Mount Nyangani, the highest mountain in Zimbabwe. I personally don’t see why this is significant but I’m sure Heather will tell you all about it. (Photo: Sarah Charnaud)

Nyanga sunset

Sunset in Nyanga, Zimbabwe. Heather loves African sunsets, as I’m sure you know.

Ray in Nyanga

Ray stands on a rock in Nyanga. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Ray at first — he is tall and takes up an excessive amount of space on my furniture. But I must confess that I have grown fond of him. 

Heather returned from Zimbabwe a few days ago, but she says she has been having problems with internet and power outages. This is hardly my concern. I care nothing for internet or electricity, as long as I receive a saucer of milk each morning.

Apparently there are also some challenges with this blog, which is being “migrated” somewhere. I find this issue fairly uninteresting, but Heather asked me to tell you. My only concern was about the posts I’ve written and all the beautiful photographs of me that appear on this blog. But Heather assures me everything is safe and my fans will be able to access my content both during and after the migration. So, whatever.

Lastly, Heather also informed me this evening that she is going on another trip tomorrow. Just a weekend visit to the Eastern Free State, but nonetheless she is abandoning me again and won’t be able to blog until she returns. Hmph.

TMC in cone

This is my angry face.

There you have it. A long-awaited update from me and my human. Until next time.

Here, There and Everywhere

Three weeks ago, I was here:

Jumping small

I still can’t believe that I jumped off this bridge. Still need to write a full post about it. (Photo by Mark Jackson)

Last week and the week before that, I was there:

Late afternoon baobab small

One of countless beautiful baobab trees that I saw in rural Zimbabwe. This tree is in Mount Darwin district close to the Mozambican border.

Dancing in Chiveso small

Women singing about prevention of HIV in Chiveso Village, near the town of Bindura in Zimbabwe. See my shadow?

This week, I’m here:

The tunnel

Back in Joburg, exploring secret tunnels and looking at graffiti. I’ve been doing a lot of this lately.

Norwood graf wall

Some above-ground graffiti. There’s my shadow again, and Bias‘ shadow. Bias painted the piece on the right.

In two days I’m leaving for another exciting destination, a part of Africa I’ve never been to before. I’ll keep it a secret for now.

I’m tired and don’t know whether I’m coming or going at the moment. But this has been and continues to be one of the best months of my life.

In other news, I have another SandtonPlaces book launch tonight, at Skoobs Theatre of Books in Montecasino at 7 p.m. Come give us a shout if you can.

20140625 Sandton Places 256

The authors of SandtonPlaces: Gerald Garner (right), Brian Unsted (center), and me. (Photo courtesy of Brian Unsted)

Also, I still have limited-edition prints for sale — three of the ten are left. Let me know if you’re interested.

That’s all for now — much more to come after I’m back from my next trip in early August.

Around Zimbabwe in 14 Days: Snaps From the Road

I’m in Zimbabwe, halfway through a two-week photography and writing assignment for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). I’m traveling all over the country — from the capital city of Harare to some of the country’s most remote rural villages and back again — documenting success stories in pediatric HIV and AIDS prevention. The photos and stories that I’m compiling will eventually be published in a book.


I can’t show you the actual pictures that I’m taking for EGPAF. But I’m sneaking this one in because it’s one of my favorites. I’ve forgotten this three-year-old girl’s name — I’ve met too many people this week. Her mother is Brenda, a community health worker I interviewed in Dete Village in Mashonaland West province.

There is nothing I enjoy more than traveling to remote, beautiful places in interesting parts of the world, talking to interesting people and taking their photos. And there is no better place to do this than Zimbabwe. I hate to sound cliché but this week I have been struck again and again by how kind, open, intelligent, and welcoming people are in this country. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here doing this work.

I’m exhausted though, and I still have another week to go. Fortunately I’ve had the whole weekend to hole up in a hotel in Harare and rest. I feel like I should be out exploring the city but I am just too tired.

Crowne Plaza

The Crowne Plaza-Monomotapa Hotel, my base of operations in Harare. This hotel has seen better days (it’s no secret that economic times are tough in Harare and the rest of Zimbabwe), but it’s still pretty great and the service is exceptionally friendly. 

Sunrise Harare

Early-morning view of downtown Harare from my 14th-floor room at the Crowne Plaza. There is a big park next door and I can hear tons of birdsong at sunrise. The park is filled with church music on Sundays.

Here is a random collection of cool things I’ve seen and done this week, accompanied by a random collection of iPhone photos.

1) Arriving in a tiny village called Chikato in Midlands province, near the town of Gweru, and being welcomed by the amazing Makonto family and members of their community. There was much singing and dancing and photo-shooting. (The Makontos and their friends took nearly as many photos of me as I took of them.) I had my first home-cooked Zimbabwean meal with the Makontos: roasted ground nuts, fried road-runner (local chicken), sadza (maize-meal porridge), and yummy wild green vegetables cooked in creamy sauce.

Heather at Makontos

Group photo at the Makonto homestead. On the far right is Sitshengisiwe, my awesome EGPAF guide, fixer, and friend for these two weeks. Photo by Stuart Gochi, our equally awesome EGPAF driver.

2) Catching a couple of stunning sunsets on the road in and out of Gweru.

Kadoma sunset

Shot in Kadoma, between Gweru and Harare, while waiting 30 minutes at one of many unbearably long road-work stops. If you’re planning to drive between Harare and Gweru anytime soon, note that it always takes twice as long as anticipated due to road construction.

3) Passing a lady walking along the highway with a television balanced on her head. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of that.

4) Meeting Mabel, a volunteer “peer facilitator” (kind of like a community health worker) in Dete Village, and taking photos of her and her gorgeous family. I’m so impressed by the work that Mabel and her colleagues are doing in their communities, motivating women to attend antenatal clinics during their pregnancies, test for HIV, immunize their children, etc.

MabelMabel in her home in Dete Village. Dete was the most remote place we visited last week. It’s about 50 kilometers — on rough mountain roads — from the small town of Karoi, which is about 80 kilometers from where we were staying in the slightly larger town of Chinhoyi.

5) Buying the tiniest, tastiest bananas on earth from friendly vendors in Dete.

Vendors in Dete

Bananas are R5 ($.50) for a bunch of 15. Each tiny banana can be eaten in two or three bites.

6) Having an enlightening conversation with Johnson, a 12-year-old boy in Chundu Village. Johnson was eager to practice his English with me. He asked where I’m from and I said America. His face lit up. “I am a black American,” he told me.

Boys in ChunduJohnson is the boy on the right.

7) Encountering more gobbling, cheaping, tail-wagging, mooing, braying domesticated animals than I’ve ever seen in a single week.

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Gobbling guinea fowl.

Chundu puppy

This puppy belongs to Maggie, a mother of six in Chundu Village. He follows her everywhere.

8) Chatting with Magdalene, the cheerful Zimbabwean art vendor, next to Avondale Shopping Centre in Harare.

MagdaleneFrom left: Munyaradzi, Magdalene, and Sadler. 

I wandered into this outdoor shop, more of a stall really, on my lone outing out of the hotel yesterday. As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts (see here and here), Zimbabweans are known for their beautiful crafts. They are also the friendliest salespeople. I bought a few things from Magdalene and her friends even though at first they didn’t seem to have what I was looking for. But the best thing I got from them was lovely conversation. I talked about my blog and Magdalene said she is also an aspiring blogger and writer. We discussed our ideas for a while, and eventually I said goodbye.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” I said to Magdalene.

“It wasn’t a pleasure!” Magdelene shouted. “It was a blessing!”

Hopefully I’ll have time for another Zimbabwe update later this week.

And by the way: I miss you, Jozi. I really don’t like to be away from you for this long and I can’t wait to see you again next Saturday.

Vic Falls Do’s and Don’ts: Zimbabwe Edition

Read parts 1 and 2 of this series.

Livingstone, Zambia, was home base during my recent visit to Victoria Falls. But one of the great things about visiting the Falls is that they border both Zimbabwe and Zambia and it’s easy (for most people) to cross between the two countries.

My two friends — Michelle #1 and Michelle #2 — and I hopped across the Zambia border into Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (the town on the Zim side is called Victoria Falls), and spent the day there. Here are some do’s and don’ts for Zimbabwe daytrippers.

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Victoria Falls Teaser

Read parts 2 and 3 of this series.

I just got back from a quick trip to Victoria Falls and the surrounding area. I visited three countries in four days, saw some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on this continent, and took more than 2,300 photos, most of which I’ve hardly looked at yet.

I’ll be writing several posts about the trip but I’m too tired to get into it now. Here are a few photos to get things started.

Falls Zambia side

Victoria Falls from the Zambia side.

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Kruger at Ground Level, Part 2: Vegetable


1) A story about my Kruger trip has been published on Please check it out.

2) 2Summers turned one today! I wrote my first 2Summers post exactly a year ago, six weeks before moving to Jozi. If you want to know how it all started, click here.

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

On to Part 2 of my hiking adventure in the Kruger Park: the vegetable installment.

I experienced some pretty incredible (and adrenaline-inducing) animal sightings on my four-day hike through the Pafuri Triangle (see Part 1). But as I sat on the flight home and thought about it, I decided my favorite sightings in Pafuri were plants, specifically trees.

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Scouring Gabs for Mma Ramotswe

Joe’s brother Jim lives in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. I’ve been looking forward to visiting Jim as I’m a huge fan of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, which are set in Gaborone (“Gabs” for short). I started reading the series after my first trip to Africa and have been hooked ever since. I think Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s number one lady detective, is a total bad-ass.

Jim and his family are moving to Maun, a town several hours northwest of Gabs. It will be much harder to visit them after they move, so Joe and I cleared our schedules last weekend and made the four-hour drive to Gabs to say goodbye.

We had a great time visiting with Jim, his wife, and their adorable 18-month-old daughter.

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“It’s Hard Being a Zimbo”

There’s a big immigration story in South Africa this week. It’s not getting much international attention but it’s important for this country, and the story is timeless and universal in many ways.

Zimbabwe, South Africa’s neighbor to the north and once one of Africa’s most prosperous countries, has fallen on very hard times in recent years, and millions of Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa. Estimates vary, but there are between two and five million Zimbabweans here. Most of them are what American immigration officials call “undocumented.”

A few months ago the South African government announced that by December 31, all Zimbabweans (or “Zimbos”) living in South Africa must submit paperwork to become legal residents. Those who don’t comply will be deported. December 31 is tomorrow, which has created a fair amount of panic.

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An Honest Living: Holiday Edition

If you’re a regular 2Summers reader, you know by now that I’m a big fan of South African street art.

For the last few weeks, the bead guys have really stepped up their game, cranking out all kinds of holiday-themed creations and other generally cool stuff. I’ve been looking for photo ops but have discovered that photographing wire bead art is extremely difficult. It’s always displayed in the middle of a busy sidewalk, with cars parked in the background and people constantly tramping by.

Plus, when I — an American woman with a camera — convey even the slightest hint of interest in a display of bead art, I am immediately engulfed by eager salesmen shoving beaded animals in my face. It’s hard to capture anything photographically under such circumstances. This is an especially serious obstacle on 7th Street in Melville, a bead artist hotbed.

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