Most nights I am the only guest. I sit in an empty dining room. Every night the menu is brought to my table, but it only takes me one night to learn exactly what is available and what is not. I really want some soup. How hard is it to make soup? One night I succeed in ordering a cheese sandwich. It is not on the menu, but it exists in the computer system. I am charged 80 MT, or about $3. With a beer and a cabbage salad I feel satisfied.
Guests come and go- arriving before dusk and departing shortly after dawn. One night a lively German tour group arrives followed by an English family. The place is hopping. The Germans are on a 21-day driving tour beginning in Zimbabwe and traveling through Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Their trip will end in Kruger National Park in South Africa. I wonder if they ever have time to get off the bus. One of their tour guides tries to pick me up. It’s fun to have people to talk with, but I wish them good luck in three languages and say good night. One night I sit at the bar and tell the bartender that it is part of his job to talk with the guests. He laughs and plays along as all good bartenders do. When my food arrives, however, I am sent to my table. Another night I help out some fellow travelers by giving them 5 MT. They are extremely grateful and thank me, but then head to their own table. The next morning as I am waiting to be picked up one of them approaches and begins to chat. He is surprised that I’m from the United States and suddenly wants to talk about the upcoming elections. He regrets not talking with me the night before.
Most nights I fall asleep under my mosquito net with a book. Unfamiliar animal calls cause me to stir. I wake up just before dawn to familiar rooster calls from across the valley. I water the plants outside my house, sit on the front stoop and watch the mist rise. One morning someone is plowing along the river.
I ask the lodge managers when the water will rise and if he has a chance of getting a harvest. No chance I’m told. The water will begin to rise in October and by late November his fields will be completely covered. It makes great fishing for the tourists. Apparently the bass hang out in the flooded corn and and sweet potatoes getting fat and lazy. Yet at this time I year the local fisherman need to work and herd fish into their nets by slapping the water.
At 6 I walk to the main lodge to see if I can find my breakfast. Some days I’m immediately successful, others I’m not. I’ve bought yogurt, granola, cheese and juice which is locked away in the kitchen every night as white toast and marmalade doesn’t last when I won’t eat again until 7 or 8 at night.
I’ve given up asking for a pot to make cowboy coffee and instead drink the provided Ricoffee (instant coffee made with Chicory). The first day I was served sweetened condensed milk. I asked for fresh and it’s been out every morning since. I’m thankful. Sometimes I have to wait for someone to bring the key to open the kitchen. While waiting I drink my coffee, watch the bartender measure and count his stock. Once I tease him and say I know the count- one beer less than yesterday. No one else was here. He laughs. I talk to Rambo, the avocado-eating-scavenging young lodge cat. Sometimes I let him sit on my lap while I wait. I have to watch him as he is quick and will stick his entire head in my juice (or beer) before I can react. Sometimes I’m lucky and there is no waiting my plastic bags containing my special breakfast items are waiting for me at “my” table.
After breakfast I walk back to my “house” and prepare for the day. “Bom dia, tudo bem?”, I call, hoping for a conversation, but only getting a friendly greeting in return. I do the same when I return in the evening. Eventually my efforts pay off. I meet the head chef and ask him if he could possibly prepare a soup for me on the weekend. We speak in English. He is from Zimbabwe. I finally get my soup.