Africa’s Would be “Switzerland” 

Naturally I dislike comparison as it uses another as a benchmark of our own worth and as Mark Twain aptly put it, “comparison is the death of joy”. However a recent comparison in an article of Rwanda to the European nation of Switzerland got me thinking of the validity of this comparison especially since I had just returned from a trip to Rwanda. 

Many, myself included immediately think Hotel Rwanda whenever the mountainous nation is mentioned in conversation. The movie based on the brutal genocide from over two decades ago embedded a gloomy and forlorn image in the minds of many and it was hard for me to imagine anything beautiful or positive about Rwanda. 

I recently travelled to Rwanda during the World Economic Forum that took place in the nation’s capital of Kigali. I had been hearing the hype about Rwanda’s development and how it was Africa’s next big deal however I was not fully sold and couldn’t picture in my mind how a place once in ruins could have gained such acclaim in such a short space of time. I stand corrected! 


On arrival at the airport, I was greeted by a pleasant immigration officer who insisted that I was of Rwandese origin as many people in the nation bear the name Muringa. This was no surprise as I have had many East Africans mistaken me as one of their own. The visa was issued at the port of entry and was a quick process. As soon as I stepped out, I was already in awe, but I refused to be impressed (after all, most airports look good and can’t be used as an indication of the entire state of affairs of a nation). 

Kigali International Airport

As we drove out I could not believe what I was seeing. The most distinct thing about Kigali is the orderliness and cleanliness of the city. From every angle everything just looked clean.  I would later learn of a term called “Umuganda”. Umuganda can be translated as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome”.  The Goverment of Rwanda adapted traditional practices to enrich its efforts of sustainable development programs for its nation and one such is Umuganda. In the modern conxext Umuganda means community work. On the last Saturday of each month, communities come together to perform various public works and amongst them is cleaning their city. Everyone including the President participates in a day of work to uplift the community! This is such an excellent initiative which has contributed significantly to the cleanliness of the nation. 

Kigali City Hall
Kigali Central Business District
PPC/ Cimerwa Sponsored Bus Stop

Besides being one of the cleanest countries in Africa, Rwanda also ranks very high in the ease of doing business in Africa. Registering a business takes just minutes online in Rwanda and according to a World Bank report about five working days to complete all processes including acquiring tax documents, clearing name searches, registering employees with the Social Security Office and paying for trade licenses. 

Kigali Convention Centre
Kigali Convention Centre at Night
Gorillas Golf Hotel

The government of Rwanda has boosted the tourism industry as one of the country’s highest foreign currency earners. The Kigali Convention Centre is set to be complete soon and will host the Mid-July African Union Summit. The country has hosted other key events such as the recent World Economic Forum on Africa and the Africa Development Bank annual meeting in 2014. Tourists also visit Rwanda to see its mountain gorillas as well as to climb volcanoes. 

Caplaki Craft Village

The country is also focused on growing it’s arts and crafts industry by creating spaces where artists and crafts people can exhibit and sell their wares. One such place is Caplaki Craft Village in Kigali which I had the chance to visit and spent time shopping for gifts and goodies for my friends back home. 

Rwanda is a nation on the rise as showcased by the various developments across the capital. There was a lot of construction going on and from one view of the city one could see an entirely new community under construction. Vision City is the largest residential township project ever undertaken in the country. The development was established to address the rise in rural to urban migration which was now causing housing shortages. 

Private Apartment Complex in Remera
View of Vision City Development

Amongst other things Kigali boasts of a vibrant night life. There were some world class restaurants, one of my favorites being Pili Pili as well as fun night clubs. We got to enjoy a live performance by South African music outfit Micasa at People Bar. 

J-Something of Micasa
Pool Deck at Pili Pili

Given the economic success of Rwanda, it’s growing tourism industry and its high ranking in the easiest place to do business in Africa, one would see why it is easy to draw parallels between Rwanda and Switzerland. However the nations are very different and those differences are what make each nation unique. Rwanda has buried the atrocities of its past and built an admirable nation whose ethos is based on the cultural norms and values of its people. By adopting practices like Umuganda Rwanda showcases the strength and beauty of Ubuntu which we as Africans should strive for in our bid to grow and improve our own nations…

“What I’ve come to learn is that the world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion. In South Africa they have a phrase called ubuntu. Ubuntu comes out of a philosophy that says, the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me.” 

Chris Abani

Advertisements

Hostess with the Mostess!!!

It’s 2016 already 😳😱. I feel like I blinked and 2015 was already over! The new year has been off to a terrific busy start and am grateful for that! 
Recently I was featured on a short “How to” series by Mud Journal! I had so much fun shooting it! Although the sun was blazing hot, the whole crew had a good laugh and our shoot ended on an epic note with us spotting a snake and everyone running for dear life! 

Mud Journal is the brain child of Alex Gazwe who until recently was teaching film at college level! 

  
We shot on a very sunny day in BULAWAYO. The set was beautiful and serene and very outdoorsy, which speaks a lot to my interests and likes. 

  
To watch the full interview visit  Mud Journal and repost and share in your networks! 

  

 
 
📷 credit: Alex Gwaze (Mud Journal) 

 “Once again…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”
Bram Stoke 

Flawed Beauty 

A few weeks back I celebrated a birthday that has brought way closer to 30 than I would like to admit!  Birthdays normally make me feel iffy…I get into a funk and just want to cower in the darkness and really be left alone! 

This birthday was no exception. I did my very best to keep a low profile and avoid the world but my neighbors managed to get me out of the house and we enjoyed a gorgeous day outside the city in a hidden cozy location. We laughed talked and wine was had. It was a decent day and I managed to avoid all the unsolicited attention. 

My amazing friend KB gifted me with a birthday shoot a day after my birthday. Tradiotionally I am a lets get a make up artist and let’s style this shoot type of person but I wanted to keep it simple. 

It started off at a slow pace. I felt frumpy and my mind was not in shooting mode. Somewhere along the line I loosened up and we captured some beautiful images…

Here are some  

    
 
   
    
 
Shortly after seeing the images I was asked to submit a 400word story about myself. This particular image inspired my very short story… 

  

“I grew up a skinny and lanky tom boy. Naturally I was teased for my stick figure, it was something I could not change and ultimately I became a victim of my appearance. To make up for what I believed I lacked in a beautiful figure I became the class clown, always ready to make fun of myself before others did and having a smart response to all the teasing I had grown accustomed to. I grew a thick skin and accepted how I looked, it would not discount any of my other achievements in life. Right after high school I relocated to the US and the unthinkable happened…I ballooned! I went from being skinny to slightly obese. I gained so much weight in less than six months I could hardly recognize myself. I went from accepting I was a naturally thin person, to dealing with this strange being that was constantly staring back at me in the mirror. It damaged my self-esteem, I didn’t want to take pictures or be the center of attention. After having every person I knew tell me how big I had become I decided to do something about it. I went on an extreme weight loss regiment. I changed my diet, worked out constantly and it happened, I lost all the weight. In celebration of my new body I decided to enter a pageant and I WON. Modelling became my thing. I became so obsessed with being lean, having a perfectly flat tummy with no flab and no cellulite. My idea of beauty was now defined by how I looked with layers of make- up on, hair extensions and hours and hours of Photoshop. Everything just had to be perfect. Soon that too became old. No woman is perfect. The flaws we have make us who we are. In the past couple of years I have come to embrace the changes in my body, my hips have widened…I noticed cellulite the other day when I was wearing shorts, my arms will not always look sculpted and currently I don’t have a six pack. I love the woman I see in the mirror, how my clothes fit and how beautiful I feel with no make-up on. My definition of beauty is what is on the inside…happy people are beautiful people…they smile more. Every scar on my body tells a story, stories I would never want erased as they make me who I am. I hope that one day when I have a daughter I can talk to her about her self-image before the magazines define to her what beauty is. I am a flawed human being and that is perfectly fine.

I hope this short post may encourage  young women who feel they have to conform to the world’s standards of beauty. 

Thank you KB for such a thoughtful gift! 

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

Augusten Burroughs

📷 : KB Mpofu 

The Torwa Dynasty

Just 22km West of the City of Kings and Queens stands the majestic Khami Ruins. The Khami Ruins were founded around 1450 after the disappearance of the state at the Great Zimbabwe.  The ruins were the capital of Butua State founded by the Torwa Dynasty.

image

I recently visited the Ruins to assist with an engagement photoshoot. The Khami Ruins were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

image

Khami is made up of a number of terraced decorated stone ruins. The largest was the home of the King and his family comprising of three, tiered platforms with open areas in the valley occupied by the commoners.

The Cross Ruin which is nearby has a mysterious stone Dominican Cross believed to have been placed there by missionaries.

image

The Northern Platform was used to process gold.

image

The Precipice Ruin was a ritual centre that has the longest stonewall, decorated in chequer, herringbone, cord, as well as variegated stone blocks.

The nearby Passage Ruin consists of two adjoining semicircular platforms accessed by a narrow passageway. Like many of the other smaller platforms, it is likely that it was once occupied by one of the elite officials of the state.

image

The Ruins offer majestic views of the surrounding areas. From the Hill Complex one can catch a glimpse of the other ruins on the Eastern side of the Khami River.

The Torwa Dynasty is believed to have fallen around 1644 with power slipping to the Rozvi State located in the northeast.

The short drive from Bulawayo is well worth it as the Khami Ruins are not only a symbol of our Zimbabwean heritage but also a beautiful and scenic place.

The area also offers a recreational area where visitors can sit and relax and enjoy an outdoor braai while there.

image

“Every ruin gives you a clear message: Even your most durable things will turn into ruins!” -Mehmet Murat ildan

Presidential Elephants and Painted Dogs

The recent media buzz about the gruesome killing of beloved Cecil the lion, received both negative and positive views world over and moreso in Zimbabwe. It seemed surprising to most that this “darling and beloved” lion was a phenomenon they had never heard about. With this in my mind I thought I would highlight some of Hwange’s wildlife which you may or may not have heard of.

A few years back I traveled with a group of young women to the Hwange National Park in the Dete Area. While there we visited Ganda Lodge which is run by Ngamo Safaris and also had the opportunity to visit the Painted Dog Conservation The Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) is a center dedicated to the conservation of the Painted Dog (African Wild Dog).

image

The Painted Dogs are unique to Africa and are now an endangered species. Of the 7000 remaining in the wild, Zimbabwe is one of the last strongholds of the species. The centre is dedicated to educating people on the dangers facing the dogs through illegal poaching, as well as promoting wild life preservation in the area.

image

On arrival at PDC, we were given an educational tour of the Visitors Centre. The guide explained that the greatest danger to Painted Dogs is snares that are set by poachers in the hope of catching game for meat. However the dogs get caught in the snares and when poachers realize it is dogs caught in the snares they leave them to die in a brutal and inhumane way. The centre features an Intepretive Hall which walks you  through the Hwange ecosystem as well as the lives of the painted dogs.

image

Part of the work of the PDC is their Anti Poaching Program. The Poaching units patrol the area to ensure the protection of the Painted Dogs as well as remove snares that maybe set up. Once snares are removed from the area, some of the wire is reused by artisans working under the Iganyana Arts Centre to make unique crafts.

image

image

We also had the opportunity to visit the Rehabilitation Facility. At this facility dogs that have been injured and rescued, are rehabilitated before being set free into the wild.

One of the coolest attractions of the centre is its elevated safari walk. Visitors to PDC can walk on a raised gumpole walkway and view small animals. The walkway is a manageable distance and if lucky one can spot an animal or two.

image

image

PDC in addition to its centre has a Children’s Bush Camp, Conservation Clubs in schools as well as a Community Garden and other income generating projects that support the local community.

After our fun educational morning we then ventured on a game drive in the Hwange Estate. On our game ride we encountered the famous “Presidential Elephants”. The Presidential Elephants are found on the land bordering the Main Camp of the Hwange National Park. President Robert Mugabe decreed in 1990 that the 400+ elephants which roam the unfenced land should never be hunted or culled and should symbolize Zimbabwe’s commitment to responsible wildlife management.

image

We were privileged to have with us on our game drive Sharon Pincott who has worked extensively with the Presidential Elephants. During her time in Zimbabwe she individually named the elephants and formed an amazing relationship with them that they came to the car when she called them by name.

image

image

The rest of our game drive was just as educational as we learned more about the various species found on the Hwange Estate.

Our wildlife is part of our national heritage and it is our responsibility as Zimbabweans to preserve and protect our wildlife as a symbol of National Pride. I hope more people have an opportunity to visit the various game parks and reserves we have across the country!

“We have a calling: a need to be close to Nature, where she may cleanse our souls and wash away the stresses of yesterday. It is emotional recompense for the cost of living.”
Fennel Hudson

Crocs and Cages

Life is too short to live too cautiously! At times its necessary to throw caution to the wind and live a little!

Not too long ago during a visit to the magnificent Victoria Falls, I came across a fun, adrenaline pumping activity to do: Crocodile Cage Diving.

image

I had seen people before go cage diving with sharks but nothing with crocodiles. I thought this would be a fun adventure and so I signed up!

The Crocodile Cage Diving can be done at Elephant’s Walk Craft Centre in Victoria Falls town.

image

There is a big pool with about 4 fully grown Crocodiles. The participants ascend onto a platform with a metal cage and then are lowered into the pool to interact with the Crocodiles.

image

Before any of the activities, a certified diver instructed me on how to use the under water breathing apparatus. My biggest concern was being stuck underwater and being unable to breathe. However the cage has an opening at the top which ensures at any point the participants can come up if they fail to breathe or encounter any other challenge while under water

image

Once I had mastered the breathing the cage was further lowered into the water such that we were fully submerged in the water. This is when the fun really begins. You come face to face with the crocodiles which are swimming around the cage. One has to be cautious to not stick any body parts out of the cage or else you will be devoured by a crocodile

image

During the 30-40minutes we spent underwater I just played around in the cage, more fascinated that I could stay down there so long. During the dive you get to feed raw meat to the crocs and its exhilarating how they grab the meat off the stick with such vigor! When the croc swims above the cage you can rub its belly (or get your hand chewed off) I rubbed the belly and managed to keep my hand (well done to me)

After a while I was a bit bored cause nothing really was happening…besides three extra large crocs circling a cage we were in, looking like they were ready to feast on us. The dive can be done by three adults and a certified diver. I think if I had gone with more people I would have enjoyed the experience more.

image

Overall the experience was fun, different and is a definite must do when one visits the falls. Did I mention its a great way to cool off on an extremely hot day!

“Together we all live every moment
On the very brink; The razor’s edge Of ecstasy or disaster.”
Scott Hastie

From the People with a Story…

Once in a while I stumble across such awesome finds, that it would be a travesty not to share. Yesterday while doing an airport run, I discovered this yet to be opened craft shop.

image

Abantu Trading Post located on the first floor of the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Airport Terminal is a fusion of art, creativity and all round awesomeness. The concept behind this well put together shop is to provide a space for various arts and crafts people to collectively showcase and sell their goods! The store owner; a local leather specialist said he wanted to help artist who make various wares but would not ordinarily be able to afford renting out a shop space in a place like an airport.

image

Some of the crafts stocked in the store are these adorable knitted stuffed animals by Gogo Olive  Gogo Olive is a fairtrade initiative set up in the Eastern Highlands to assist local women to generate income through knitting. Some of the initiatives supported by Gogo Cares are Simukai Centre, Mutare Remand Prison, Murwira Children’s Home and Imba Children’s Home.

image

There is something for everyone at Abantu Trading Post! The collection from African Bush Camps features beautiful beadwork, handmade bathrobes and bags and jewelry from recycled magazines. African Bush Camps is a safari tour operator that is supporting community initiatives in both Zimbabwe and Botswana. In Zimbabwe they support; The Vukani Project, The Thandanani Sewing Project and Vukazenzele.

image

The store is also supporting a group from Matopos specializing in home products dubbed Sisonke Products.

image

The owner who specializes in leather products is also stocking some of their creations, made of 100% genuine leather.

image

image

The store is not only limited to stocking products from organizations but also has some handwork made by individual artists. There is a local Bulawayo artists who creates pieces from rusted metal. Some of his work is already in the store.

image

The general outlay of the store is eye catching and will definitely draw in many people. The design is well thought out. Its refreshing to see that despite our ailing economy and general difficulties there is still business people making an effort to set a standard of quality and good product offerings.

image

Kudos to the guys at Abantu Trading Post! I will definitely be popping in to pick up a gift or two on my next airport visit!

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Desmond Tutu

I think I love Zambia…

In my almost three decades on earth, its quite surprising that I had never set foot in neighboring Zambia till this past weekend! Zambia formerly known as Northern Rhodesia not only shares the same Colonial name as Zimbabwe but also a border and the magnificent Victoria Falls or to the locals Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders).

image

Crossing over from Zimbabwe to Zambia is quick and painless and one can do so by simply walking over the bridge and be in Zambia within minutes.

From the Livingstone Border post we proceeded to what would be our home for the weekend, the Royal Luvingstone just a few minutes away.

The hotel built right on the banks of the Zambezi River is MAJESTIC! I was awestruck from the moment we drove in and could not help but fall in love!

image

image

image

image

Although this was a working weekend I had the opportunity to do some fun activities!

I have seen the Victoria Falls several times from the Zimbabwean side however I had the opportunity to view the falls from the Angels Rock Pool which spills over into the falls! It was an adrenaline pumping experience. The water levels were very high and we had been advised not to attempt swimming in the pool! But what is life without some adventure?

image

image

On our way to the airport I couldn’t help but be reminded of Zimbabwe with the oh so familiar political campaign billboards! I guess those are pretty standard?

image
Could easily be a billboard in Zim

The Livingstone airport is cute and compact. It looked like there was still some work being done in it. Some of the ceilings were not complete. I wasn’t quite sure if it was being renovated or just the original construction was incomplete!

image

Considering my stay was short and sweet, i cant claim to be an expert on our neighboring nation, however I absolutely loved my weekend in Livingstone! I even made a friend Edward 🙂

image

Did I mention the sunset over the Zambezi as viewed from Zambia is second to none? Just breathtakingly inspiring!

image

Like every other wonderful journey mine had to come to an end! But one last message from the Zimbabwean and Zambian Tourism Authorities:

image

“There is a hidden message in every waterfall. It says, if you are flexible, falling will not hurt you!”-
Mehmet Murat ildan

Water Goddess…

When I was in college I had a Ghanaian friend who always teased me and called me “Mami Wata”, (a pidgin phrase used to describe a water goddess or simply a mermaid!) Last year in preparation for a Valentines Day issue I did a studio shoot with Bulawayo based photohrapher Shayne Oxden-Willows. We finished our shoot way ahead of schedule and decided to do an impromptu outdoor shoot! Shayne’s studio is just a five minute drive from the Hillside Dams and we chose that as our location.

wp6 wp5 wp3

We did the shoot in early February just after massive rains and the upper dam was at full capacity and over flowing into the lower dam. We managed to find a spot where the water flow was not as harsh and took some random images. I wore a Sari I had been gifted by a friend who had traveled to India earlier in the year. It was mostly unplanned but we managed to get some really amazing images. It was late in the day and the sun was just moments from setting!

IMG_2400

IMG_2449wp4

“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

Photo Credit: Shayne Oxden-Willows

These Streets…

If there is one thing I love is unrehearsed images…they capture candid moments, at times joyful moments and at times some really sad ones.

While goofing around with my two friends yesterday,  we managed to get some fun, natural images! They looked too great to not publish 🙂

image

image

Did I mention I have this dhuku (headwrap) thing going, I want to see how long I can wear one everyday. I will be varying the fabric prints and also the style in which I tie them! Wish me luck. You can follow my #dhukuchallenge on instagram: @thandimuringa

image

image

image

Something about the treelined streets of my neighborhood always inspires a photoshoot!

image

“If tomorrow will be the end of the world, I will spend my today by looking at the pictures of my past!”
Mehmet Murat ildan

Photo Credit: KB Mpofu