At the end of a hard year, Judith Meyer decided to say ‘yes!’ to travel and lazy days of rest and relaxation.

I woke  up  one  morning  after  two   years   of    working   day   in   and   day   out,   trying   to   get  a  startup  off   the  ground single-handedly,   with   what is   called   chronic   fatigue.   I   was drained  emotionally,  physically  and spiritually. In laymen’s terms – I was tired, fam. Clicking through countless YouTube    motivational    videos,    I    came  across  Shonda  Rhimes’  TED talk about her year of  saying ‘yes’ to everything after losing her mojo. I was worn out. I needed a vacation, but I was stuck between two thoughts: “I’ve worked  so  hard,  a  week  off   couldn’t  hurt”  and  “Every cent should be reinvested back into your business; soldier on.”  Re-evaluating  my  entire  existence  one  morning,  I read  this  quote  by  Shonda:  “We  have  all  devalued  our personal lives; I am taking my life back. I say ‘yes’ to less work and more play.” Something clicked. If  Shonda with her  badass  self   was  saying  yes  to  more  play,  why  was  I being so hard on myself ? I made the decision to take a much-needed  vacation to  the  Victoria  Falls.  I wanted  more  out  of   it  than  just  a  vacation;  I needed  to  learn  to  live  again.

 


Victoria Falls Waterfall - Zambia

 

The only preparation I did for my trip was learning how to say “hello,” “how much?”,“too expensive” and “thank you”. I packed light, took my passport and camera, and headed  off   to  create  new  memories  ahead  of   the  new year.  I  arrived  in  Livingstone,  Zambia,  looking  for  fun things to do. I had the options of  walking with lions or cheetahs (I’m not that daring); walking around Victoria Falls National Park (too tired); going bungee jumping (hell would have to freeze over twice), or doing a guided tour of  the Victoria Falls and swimming in the Devil’s Pool, which sounded perfect, so I opted in. If  you’ve never been to the Victoria Falls, it should really be on your bucket list. The majestic falls amazed me. The force of  the water hitting the ground is so tremendous that it creates a cloud of  white mist that rises back up to the surface. A rainbow pierces  through  the  mist  in  a  flamboyant  display  of  colours. I felt like I could sit there the entire day and just watch the water... I  was  the  only  woman  in  a  group  with  three  guys  from  Australia, along with our Zimbabwean lifeguard. Before taking us into the Devil’s Pool, the lifeguard issued a disclaimer (with a  deep  Zimbabwean  accent),  which  stated  that  because  of   high tide, no one who couldn’t swim was allowed in the pool. He then asked if  any of  us couldn’t swim. Everyone turned to look  at  me!  I  maintained  my  composure,  and  also  turned  to  help them find this person who had the audacity to come to the Devil’s Pool not knowing how to swim.

 


In The Devil's Pool with the Aussie tourists

 


During high tide it gets a little tricky to reach the Devil's Pool,
which is why our Zimbabwean lifeguard only allowed people
who could swim to make the crossing.

 

We made our way over slippery rocks to the pool in single fi le  as  the  water  level  rose  to  my  waist.  I  started  to  feel  the force  of   the  current  swaying  me.  We  were  led  deeper  into  the  river  and  everyone  else  began  to  swim.  I  calculated  the  distance from where I stood to the edge of  the waterfall and the speed of  the current to see how quickly I would be swept away before the lifeguard could come save me. Standing there, I hadn’t realised everyone had already swum to  the  pool  and  was  waiting  for  me.  “Is  there  a  problem?”  I  could  hear  the  lifeguard  ask.  “No  problem,  I’m  used  to  swimming  pools,  but  have  never  had  to  swim  against  such  a  violent current before,” I responded, feeling the collective eye roll  of   the  group.  Just  swim  diagonally,  they  said.  It  will  be  easy,  they  said.  I  started  swimming,  but  could  feel  my  body  going in the wrong direction and knew that I was heading to the edge. I was gripped with immense fear that squeezed my chest,  which  made  it  feel  like  I  was  already  drowning. 

This  made me lose all coordination and I waged war with the water until I felt a hand grip my arm. The lifeguard saved me and swam with me on his back until we got to the Devil’s Pool. The  pool  itself   was  calm  compared  to  the  raging  river  around it – the ultimate infinity pool. But the fish inside the pool nibbled on my feet and skin and I had enough excitement for  the  day  without  thinking  that  I  was  now  an  extra  in  the  movie  Piranha.  While  waiting  for  everyone  to  finish  getting  their  pictures taken  in  the  pool,  one  of   the  Aussies  said  that  he’d  never  met  an  African who knew how to swim. I was too exhausted to fight back and  had  to  save  my  energy  for  the  swim  back.  I  just  wanted  to  be  on  land,  so  much  so  that  I  didn’t  even  realise  that  I  had  started  swimming  against  the  current.  This  time  successfully  –  I  reached  the other side unassisted and wondered what possessed me to panic in the first place (embarrassing myself  and setting my people back 10 000 years in the process).

After  I  returned  to  my  hotel  room  to  rest  before  deciding  where  to  party  for  New  Year’s  Eve,  I  realised  that  $200  had  been  stolen  from  my  wallet  while  I  was  trying  not  to  drown.  I’m sure you’ve all been told never to carry around large amounts of  cash, right? Me too. It was a rookie mistake. My spending money for the entire trip – gone. I thought if  I carried cash, I’d be less inclined to go over my budget than I would if  I swiped willy-nilly. Needless to say, I felt defeated. Instead of  wallowing alone in self-pity, I decided to just take the final loss of  the year and moved on. Livingstone is a very small town, and apart from activities at the  falls,  you  can  walk  around  the  entire  town  in  a  day,  just  taking  in the atmosphere and visiting the local museum and craft markets, which is exactly what I did.

 

I spoilt    myself     and    bought    some    beautifully     patterned     African     fabrics     (chitenge),    handmade    accessories    and    souvenirs  for  my  family.  The  town  was  full  of   US  Peace  Corps  volunteers,  Canadian  and Brazilian tourists (all young people my age)  and  backpackers  from  Europe,  so  the  vibe  was  festive  ahead  of   the  New  Year’s  Eve celebrations. Already  $200  in  the  red,  I  had  to  eat  the  cheapest  food  available,  which  I  found  at  a  street  café  (shebeen).  Under  normal  circumstances,  I’d  never  enter  a  shebeen  or eat street food, but I had to embrace my new normal. I indulged in the local cuisine: nshima, a dish of  maize meal, and kapenta fish  with  a  side  of   cabbage  –  a  proper struggle meal. The portions were so generous that I had to  unzip  my  pants  a  little.  The  meals  left  me  more  than  satisfied  –  as  did  my decision   to   free   myself    from  the  mundane.  It  was  nothing  but  fi reworks  as  I drank with Americans and partied  with  locals.  I  was  saying  ‘yes!’  to  everything.  I let go and found my hum. I  was living again.

 


Chitenge - Beautifully patterned African fabrics.

 

Words: Judith Meyer
Images: Supplied, Getty Images