12th December 2011
11.12.2011 - 12.12.2011 27 °C
Benjamin Mibende had visited the Livingstone Museum yesterday morning. He had been present as we entered, in actual fact we had probably walked past him. Yesterdays sleuth pursuit had resulted in a phone number. By the time we had found a way of dialling it, only to find it didn’t work, the museum had closed.
The following morning, a nice receptionist informed us that Mr Mibende had indeed visited again that morning, not thirty minutes ago. We were close. The receptionist had the same number for him, but with her phone the number dialled. It rang. And it rang out. Our timetable loosely said that we would be in Zimbabwe by evening. We’d already put our border crossing off by a whole day to chase Benjamin and, on our broader time table, we’d overstayed Livingstone already. The receptionist gave it one more go; “It’s ringing.” Seconds passed as the phone rang, just as we lost hope, there came an answer. A short conversation later and we were informed Mr Mibende would be here in ten minutes.
Benjamin Mibende is a fascinating man. It was he who had organised the layout of the exhibitions in the museum, it was him that put those exhibitions together to start with, and drawing was how he relaxed. We spoke for half an hour as he talked about the meanings behind his work. He talked about his work to reduce deforestation in Zambia and repeated his maxim that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Our mission was accomplished. First he had to nip home to get the prints we so keenly wanted. When he returned the deal was done.
With that we turned tail and made for the Victoria Falls Bridge; our way across the Zambezi, out of Zambia and into Zimbabwe. But first we had a few spare Kwacha to get rid of, the market was two hundred metres from the border is there such a thing as too much tat?
As we pulled in to the market we were being watched. We’d seen him before. At least if we’d not laid our eyes directly on him, he must have been watching us when we first visited the market one week ago. He was watching us now. We had no idea of his existence. At least, his existence was not yet significantly different to any other in the market. His little plump belly and his skin, the colour of teak, somehow made the rolls of fat that hid his neck acceptable. We wandered the stalls a hundred metres away. Still, he was watching us.
As we wandered the market, we were tired. The previous night had involved little sleep, in part due to the weather and in part due to the continuing party in the bar from which we’d retired. Laura spoke politely with each man in trn as he came rushing to shake hands, make introductions, work out where we were from, sit us down and begin negotiating; whether we wanted anything or not. But as the hounding began I was rapidly becoming belligerent. I was approached by a guy trying to sell me Nyami-Nyami necklaces. (A mythical Zambezi dwelling dragon that eats people now idolised by a small carving on a necklace and sold fervently to all tourists.) I asked how much, taking care to tell him not to take the piss. He suggested the equivalent of nine dollars. It was worth between one and two. I carefully told him that he’d lost his chance to do business. He was acting silly and taking me for stupid. The necklace was worth one or two dollars depending on how hard I was willing to barter. I told him he’d sell more if he started reasonably and valued his product. He wasn’t a happy bunny, ‘silly’ was a grave insult. I didn’t quite realise that I’d just angered most of the stall holders within a twenty five metre radius. To be fair, I’d lost my humour and had stopped playing the bartering game. But he had to know that at least one white guy gets pissed off when told fifty pence is worth four pounds fifty.
Across the market, behind the hanging curios, he stood silently, still watching. His height was unremarkable but he probably still weighed at least seventy kilograms, maybe even eighty. He must have seen me arguing with my stall holder. But he hadn’t moved.
It was ten minutes later that we came face to face. I was looking at a walking stick when Joseph, the gent looking after the stall, introduced our mysterious and stranded observer to Laura. His name was also Joseph, and he was for sale. How could we even think of paying for him, we wouldn’t have enough money and how would we get him into Zimbabwe, even with Redvers we might struggle, hiding him fully would be impossible. We laughed, sadly, before apologising and continuing. But our minds couldn’t settle. Joseph was stuck there and we had done nothing. We had to do something. Anything was better than smiling and pretending he didn’t exist. Joseph Snr had wanted a thousand dollars for him. We didn’t have that sort of money. What could we get him down to? What could we afford? How big a burden would he be? We thought a while before going back and asking for a quiet word with Joseph Snr. The bartering began. We bartered hard, we had to.
Joseph Junior was silent for the duration, he was fifty yards away and had no idea his future was being bartered for. Finally we found a price. We handed the money to Joseph Senior and he turned to his cronies instructing them to bring Joseph to the car. It took four men to drag him out and hoist him inside Redvers. As we saw the eighty kilogram solid teak hippo nestle in the back of Redvers we burst out laughing. Myself, Laura, Redvers and Colin (sat phone) had a new friend, Joseph Junior. He’s too big for us to lift between us, he occupies most of the back of the car and he’s been rescued. He’s coming home at all costs. I’ve never seen a wooden hippo so big.
Laura drove sedately over the Vic Falls bridge; it was a cinematic moment and a bridge you can’t drive over quickly. Whilst I took pictures I tripped on the railway lines making a huge thud as I landed camera first, followed by elbows and somehow, arse. Smooth Beamish, smooth. Women cried out ‘Sorry!’ as if they were responsible. I dusted myself off, smearing the blood on my arm and then legged it after Redvers. That was how we entered Zimbabwe.