After taming the beasts at the border we make our long awaited arrival into Victoria Falls; long awaited by us, not the population of this bustling town I’m sad to say. Parking the car and dashing out into the world after a flash-in-the-pan storm we charge out of the hostel in a heady humidity full of the smells of rain and earth. Immediately it’s clear that Botswana and Zimbabwe are very different countries. Barely a foot outside the door we’re launched upon by guys trying to sell the famed former Zim currency, bills of ZWD50,000,000,000 and apparently ‘no thanks’ is not an appropriate answer. The Zimbabwe financial meltdown is well known, these huge notes an obvious link to the farcical running of this country and the desperate situations these guys are no doubt in. Ironically they’re using the symbol of their plights cause to attempt to pull themselves up from the mess of that currency. Zeal they have, style they do not, we’ve been to Havana and that fortification leaves these poor fella’s in the dust.
We carry on through the town brushing off would be salesmen like groupies at a Bieber concert, where Botswana was a sea of that African smiles not the same can be immediately said for Zim. It’s easy to shrug off the people themselves but not quite so easy to shrug off the social reality that clings to your skin long after the people have been lost to sight, visual or moral. Out of mind, out of sight; not at all. The truth remains that relatively speaking, we are filthy rich so it’s with a shameful selfishness that we ignore the desperate sales approach; a shade of guilt lingers with us for our privileged good fortune. In our circumstances we can’t opt to carry heavy ornaments or carvings and the notes are just not an interest. But we know full well that the offerings aren’t the point, this has nothing to do with procuring a souvenir and everything to do with social conscience.
Walking streets of less fortunate people it’s impossible to avoid the imbalance of a rolled dice played out on a social scale; and yes, be it Peru, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, PNG or anywhere else it’s dumb luck pure and simple. There’s cases of all degrees but en masse it has nothing to do with work ethic, honest disposition or anything else, we’re just lucky to be born who we are, where we were and in the right time; not everyone is so fortunate. So why don’t we share? Are we just heartless, completely delusional? I’d like to think not, nor do we hide behind the reasonable but ultimately shaky ‘we don’t want to encourage this behaviour’ argument. For us this debate has one answer, after the 80th person the first day it’s just overwhelming. We realise we can’t help the whole world and the rush tactics that are effectively bullying are simply confronting. So we’re left with hopefuls in our wake and hopefully our wake of payments to local industry are our personal pass-out.
So as one does in this exhausting environment we head back to the hostel sadly kept at arms length from local interaction, the universal highlight of any travel experience. Crowded around a table of chain smoking social alcoholics with a collective IQ of an elephant fart we attempt to get on board with the benign talk-yourself-up conversation that seems the only gear on offer. Welcome to hostel urchins. They’re a rare type this lot, drifting aimlessly between shabby hostels their currency is a shared terror in adoption any form of responsibility, often living and existing in crap conditions in the desperate need to avoid responsibility in the guise of being ‘living free’ and ‘being a global citizen’. Disclaimer here: the vast majority of hostel staying travellers we’ve met have been intelligent, charming and thoroughly interesting, for all those people out there, I trust you also know the type.
Ironically while paddling in the shallow end of the traveller gene pool we do come across a guy, an Aussie none less, who has been arrested in town twice due to a bogus hawker. Offering to sell a wooden rhino he was accused of taking the hawkers money and the notoriously corrupt police were right in on the act, arresting and locking him up; An unsubstantiated story that sadly seems so true to us. This does in retrospect back up our hard line stance in these interactions whether it makes us feel better about it or not. Are these people corrupt and unethical; very possibly some; do they remain the unfortunate ones on the crap side of birth-roulette: indeed. Traveller conundrum yet to be solved and this one probably never will.
So we come full circle, we’re given an blinding social insight from those we would least expect on a community we so desperately want to see differently, indeed we want to see in whatever way as real as possible. To us it’s a bad-apple script of small percentages casting impressions, the truth remains that without opportunity that very human resilience and resourcefulness comes to the fore. So is it a neat case of better and worse off? A truly flat playing field for all a bit too idealistic? No doubt but the stab to the conscience remains none the less. We’re a far more amazing creature than we often give ourselves credit for and it’s the case in every ‘poor’ country we’ve ever been in, people will shave off the upper layers of ethics in the face of need.Moral corruption? I’d just call it adaptation, we are proud of this resilience and adaptation, maybe we just don’t like the outcomes.