October has been exceptionally dry. A local idiom designates the suffering of animals, vegetation, and people during the ‘suicide month’. The midlands has no other water to offer than the occasional small creeks, gradually stagnating under the road bridges between the small townships. In the far west end of the Matabeleland district, the mighty Victoria Falls never fails to amaze its local and international visitors, although it will be months of heavy showers before the falls peak in power and volume. Yet, as November goes into December, the rains are still awaited. It is no wonder that the wild life as well as the locals are seeking refuge in the northwest during the holiday season, traveling from afar to reach the big blue Lake Kariba, which is stretching 223 kilometers along the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Given birth by the construction of the great Kariba Dam, the artificial lake is the largest in the world. A mountainous landscape frames an otherwise seemingly infinite pool inhabited by crocodiles, shoals of fish, and hippos. Its shores bring life to the surrounding national parks, a prime location for herds of elephants to take an afternoon stroll along the shorelines. From the deceased branches of the naked skeleton trees, varieties of birds are keeping a careful eye on the local anglers who spend the day on the lake sardine trawling. Local tourists, and the occasional international visitor, usually enjoy game viewing and a delicious braai from one of the luxurious houseboats for a couple of days, awaiting the stunning sunsets or a sight of one of the ‘Big Five’ from the deck.
Kariba is also the name of a small settlement located at the shore of the lake, which was established to accommodate the construction workers in the 1950s. The town has long been the home to the Tonga clans, and now the current residents carry on the legacy of its original settlers, telling their kids and their visitors the stories about the two-toed tribe and the River God, Nyaminyami.
Despite the captivating history and stunning beauty, Mashonaland is a district where the young population is facing numerous challenges concerning their sexual and reproductive health. In this area, almost 5 percent of the young women are married before the age of 15, of whom a striking percentage have already given birth to their first child. Child marriages are common in Zimbabwe’s rural communities, in which tradition and spirituality are of great importance and often become influential drivers in making decisions regarding a young woman’s future. Many young girls aspire to become a mother at some point in their life. However, being married off early in life includes a lot of risk to a girl’s sexual and reproductive health. In the rural areas in particular, it is not unusual for a man to have multiple partners, to whom he may have a marital or purely sexual relationship. This increases the risk of getting infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and passing on the virus to more people. While appreciating the wonders of Zimbabwe and taking some time off to relax and escape our own worries and uncertainties, we are not to forget those who are at great risk and need protection. I say we let the Big Blue, in which we tend to only look for our own reflection, be the reminder of the responsibility we carry with us as residents or visitors of this beautiful and bountiful country.
Helene Josephine Duun Tolstrup
International Medical Cooperation Committee