Our trip to Zambia was a short one. It began mid-morning at the Victoria Falls Train Station. We were all excited because this was the only train ride we'd scheduled and it was old-fashioned and quaint. I was thrilled that it was a series of beautiful cars outfitted to provide us with interesting food -- all the way there and back. I was equally thrilled by the steam engine. I hadn't ridden on a train like that since 1970 and my ride to Obama, Japan.
Our Zimbabwean guides posed under an umbrella to send us on our way.
We had no sooner left the station than we were provided with coffee and juice. It wasn't long before we crossed into Zambia. As we slowly rolled out into the countryside, we saw a group of boys sitting under a tree. When they saw us, they jumped to their feet and raced to the train.
I turned to the porter. "Who are they?"
"Just poor children, ma'am."
"What do they want?"
"They carve little animals that they hope to sell."
The boys had a conversation through the window with a tourist a few seats in front of us.
"Nah, get out of here," the tourist said. "I don't need your trash."
I leaned out the window as the long-legged boy jogged alongside holding a carved-wooden hippo.
"Would you like to buy this?" He held it up when he saw me.
I looked into my wallet. All I had in cash was an American twenty-dollar bill. The train was beginning to gain speed. I looked into the boy's eyes. Something in them was inherently sweet. Tall as he was, I realized he couldn't be older than eleven or twelve. I looked at the porter. He shook his head. "No, too much."
It was all I had and it wouldn't be long before the boy wouldn't be able to keep up with us. I handed him the money. His eyes grew bigger. "No, no, no," he said and tried to give it back to me.
"I want the hippo!" I smiled at him.
He dropped back a bit and called to one of the other fellows.
I turned to Johnny. "Look at them. They aren't even out of breath yet."
The train was going faster.
I reached out and he gave me the hippo and a giraffe with hinged knees. "Oh, look at this," I said when I realized it. "He gave me two."
I stuck my head out the window as we left the boys behind. "Thank you!"
He grinned and waved.
I leaned back in my seat and examined my treasure.
"You need to bargain with them," the tourist who had turned down the boy's toys earlier said. "They don't respect you and will cheat you if you don't."
His wife glared at him.
I put the toys into my purse. I thought I'd gotten a great deal and maybe that young man would be able to buy himself or his family something special with his unexpected windfall.
Our porter smiled at me as he poured me more coffee. "He is a lucky boy."
I still have those toys. They sit on the mantel over our fireplace. I think I was the one who got the great deal. Every time I see them, I wonder about the boy who made them. He is a man now. Hopefully with many wives and children.
It was a short leisurely trip when you consider how far we'd come. We didn't see many animals but the scenery was wonderful. So was our brunch.
The train ride was to Livingstone where the train turned around. Wikipedia tells me that while Livingstone was the capital of Zambia when we visited the train station, it no longer is. It's only 6 Kilometers from the Zambesi River -- hence the slow pace of our trip.
We only had a few minutes there -- long enough to chat with the engineer who agreed to let me sit in his seat for a few moment while Johnny took my picture. However, as soon as we got the picture and I pulled the chain to blow the horn, I realized that several other folks decided it would be cool too...and they were waiting for me to get out. We all laughed and we helped take pictures of several other tourists.
Our engineer was kind enough to let me crawl into his seat and blow the horn. I had planned on convincing him to let me drive part way back but the crowd of guys behind me made that not very practical. Still it seemed like it would have been fun.
Retracing our route back to Victoria Falls Station was a lot faster than our slow chug to get to Zambia. Still it was one of my favorite adventures...reminding me of the old movies about travel in Africa.