Category Archives: Travel

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. 

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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The Northern Platform was used to process gold.

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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.

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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.

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“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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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!

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“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

Taxi Etiquette 101

I have always considered myself a street smart and socially savvy progressive woman. I have traveled to a number of cosmopolitan cities and have quite easily adapted to their public transport systems. On a recent trip to Johannesburg I figured instead of laboring my brother with the task of driving me around I would try to use the public transport and travel around the city independently.

On arrival to the city I hopped on the Gautrain to Sandton which was quick, fast and painless. I already had my gold card, all i had to do was load it with cash and I was good to go. My real feel of Joburg transport only started when I hopped onto a metered taxi from the Gautrain Station to my brother’s house. When I got into the cab and let him know where I was going we agreed on a certain amount which I was happy with and off we went. Upon arrival at my brother’s house the gentleman decided my accent and my luggage warranted for me to be charged more and he raised the fare! I was so upset and after 5minutes of unproductive arguing we parted ways, he an extra R100 richer.

The Gautrain
The Gautrain

After settling in I set off to do my errands. Being already peeved by my cab experience I decided I would try out the ever popular Joburg Taxis! I inquired where I could catch one of these and walked to the stop. As far as I have experienced in Zimbabwe, there are two types of public transport operators;  kombis and ipsums. Both are very standard and if you stand on the side of the street they will stop and take you to where you are going.  The side of the street you stand on determines the final destination. Based on my neighborhood, if you stand on the left side of the street you are headed to town, if you stand on the right side you are either headed to the university or somewhere deeper within the neighborhood.

Taxi Rank

When I arrived at the stop I made the wrong assumption that any taxi that went by would stop. After standing at the stop for over 15minutes with no such luck, I observed a  man raise his index finger and point it to the sky and immediately a taxi stopped! EUREKA I thought! I must point for a taxi to stop. The next taxi that came by honked and I pointed to the sky and BOOM just like that it stopped. I figured seeing as I was not familiar with where I was going I should sit in the front seat with the driver and so I jumped into the front.

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A few minutes later other people started getting on the taxi. Each person that came in would say sabona( hello) which for me was strange. I am not used to people being friendly when they ride in public transport. After driving for about ten minutes I realized the taxi was not headed in the direction I wanted to go but was too scared to ask where it was going and just figured I would take the scenic route to my final destination. Turns out by pointing into the sky I had indicated I wanted to go to town and that’s exactly where I was being taken! (TOWN IS NOT WHERE I WANTED TO GO)

Taxi Rank

As is tradition the passengers started passing along their fares. Unbeknownst to me the person seated in the front collects all the fares and calculates the change as well! So for every fare I received I just shoved the money into the glove compartment assuming the driver would at some point count his money and work out all the change. The real drama began when people had arrived at their various destinations and wanted to disembark but had not received their change. The people started shouting and screaming for their change and I was looking at the driver thinking, “Yeah buddie do your job”. The driver then turned to me and asked me why I had not given the people their change. It was at this point that I realized the insults were directed to me. Now I had the job of trying to figure how much change each person was to get. To worsen the situation turns out the fare for the taxi is not standard as is in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe generally it does not matter where you got onto the taxi, the general kombi fare is R5.  Now it turns out some people had paid R11 some had paid R15. I just wished the earth could swallow me right at that point! Eventually we had the fare situation figured out and I finally worked up the nerve to ask the driver where the taxi was going! I then found out I was headed to town and if I wanted to get where I was originally headed I needed to ride two other taxis! At that point the pain I had endured was not worth it and I just completed my journey in a metered taxi where I didn’t have to play bus conductor and didn’t have to fear the retribution of angry taxi riders who hadn’t received their change.

However from my crazy taxi experience this is what I learned, before you ride a taxi you must:

1.  Know where you are going! 

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Joburg is too big a place to be lost and not the safest place to be lost either! Save yourself the hustle of riding around in circles by knowing your final destination

2. Learn your hand signals

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For every destination in Joburg there is a special hand signal. To avoid ending up on the wrong side of the city learn your hand signals and use them well

3. DO NOT SIT IN THE FRONT SEAT

Front Seat Taxi

Unless you enjoy calculating fares and playing bus conductor do not sit in the front seat. However avoid sitting right at the back too if you know your stop is one of the first ones. People generally do not like standing up and getting out of the taxi to let that one person seated right at the back out.

4. Be polite but STERN

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Speak when spoken to and respond to all greetings. However do not be too friendly! Your friendliness might be mistaken for weakness and that makes you an easy target for thieves and pick pockets at the taxi ranks.

5. Know the Taxi Lingo

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It is essential to know your taxi lingo lest you stick out like a sore thumb. It is not ok to yell: “I wanna get off here”, when you want to disembark. Terms like: After Robot, short left are quite nifty when indicating you would like to get off the taxi!

6. Always have a PLAN B!

Taxi-Rank

Nowadays there is an app for everything! Find an app for taxis 🙂

Consider yourself schooled! You are now ready to ride a taxi in the bustling streets of Johannesburg. Remember if all else fails: stick to the Gautrain and metered taxis! Happy Travelling 🙂

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ernest Hemingway