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