It was the last morning of our stay in Namibia, the second stop in Overseas Adventure Travel‘s fabulous five-week tour, Out of Africa. We gathered in the lodge after breakfast for a lecture on women’s lives. Priscilla talked to us about education, marriage, childbirth, work. She called me forward to demonstrate the woman’s traditional garment, a sarong that she could wrap around her waist like a skirt , or drape around her shoulders as a shawl, or wrap around her body as a baby carrier. Her sarong was black and white, with a print of giraffes. Then it was time to leave. The staff of the Lianshulu Bush Lodge sang a farewell, and we boarded the passenger boat that would take us down the Kwando River to our landing in Botswana. At the same time, the staff loaded our bags on a much faster boat, Priscilla at the helm with the giraffe sarong wrapped around her shoulders. Their boat raced ahead of us to get our bags unloaded before we arrived. When we reached the Botswana checkpoint, Priscilla told me that the wind had blown her shawl away, and it was lost in the river. I asked her how much it had cost, and she said $7. I thought at the time, I wish I could buy her a new length of cotton, but of course there was no place to shop on that isolated river bank.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta was our next stop, and then Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. No place anywhere to buy a new sarong. Our last stop in this first half of the trip was the city of Victoria Falls. We stayed in a real hotel, not a camp, but around the corner was an enormous crafts market. There is little work in Zimbabwe beyond tourism; very hungry people begged us to buy their wood carvings, their beadwork, their baskets, but I was already loaded down with crafts of three countries. Finally I saw what I was looking for: on a raised platform I saw heaps and piles of fabric. As I approached the women unfolded their wares and held them up for me, bright prints in every color you can imagine, but I was firm. “I want giraffes,” I kept repeating, “I want giraffes.” I didn’t hope to find black and white giraffes, I thought any giraffe print would do, but then I saw it! The very same black and white print that Priscilla and I had worn in Namibia. The negotiations began. This kind of back-and-forth bargaining is customary in many countries, but I hate it. Still I know it is expected. The seller started with an exorbitant price, $12. (Zimbabwe’s money system is non-existent. All commerce is done in US dollars or South African rand.) I countered with $4. She came down and I went up. We were at $7 and I thought she would come down to $6, but then I remembered what Priscilla had told me and I decided that $7 was the right price to pay.
Back at the hotel, I had Don take a picture of me modeling the new sarong. I asked our guide, Abiot, if he would take a new sarong to Priscilla if I bought one, and he said he would be going back to Lianshulu Bush Lodge on his next trip and would be happy to take it. “I knew you would say that!” I told him. “I already bought it!” That was on October 30. On December 2 I had an email from Nadja, the other manager of the lodge. “Priscilla has asked me to reply on her behalf. She has just received the letter and Sarong you sent for her with Abiot. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and she cannot begin to express how much she appreciates it!”