I have always wondered what a typical day feels like. Having a routine, knowing just where you’re going to be and roughly what you have to do for the day seem oddly comforting to me at times – especially when I am hanging off the side of a kopje (steep sided rocky hill) in the Matobo Hills or wandering amongst herds of wild animals in Hwange or watching a spectacular sunset, the light sinking into the mighty Zambezi river. On the other hand, why aim for typical? And how to define typical? After living almost my whole life in Zimbabwe, a country with a particularly turbulent recent past, my standards are very skewed when compared to other parts of the world. We’ve had crazy hyper-inflation, severe political violence, massive urban clearances, deteriorating infrastructure, food shortages and famine, and perhaps worst of all, a flood of emigrants that saw the best and brightest leave Zimbabwe for apparently greener pastures. I chose to stay and see it through for a variety of reasons, not least because of my choice of careers. First and foremost, I am an archaeologist. And I consider Zimbabwe to be the most interesting and exciting place to do what I do.
I have always been told it is an odd choice for someone who grew up on a farm and in the wilds of southern Africa. I often patiently explain that I love the study of the past, especially learning about how people lived in the past. Questions constantly burn in my mind – what did they look like? What and how did they eat? How did they live, love, laugh and die? And why? My curiosity could only be slaked by education and it has been a never ending journey, one that has been immensely rewarding and still holds great promise for the future. I took my first degree at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare and followed that with a degree at University College London. Once I had graduated, I couldn’t imagine doing anything different with my life except learning about the different cultures and histories of the peoples who created modern Zimbabwe. Shiny degree certificate in hand, I headed home to try and find employment in the archaeo-historical field. It was very difficult because the universities and museums (the only places of secure employment) were all but bankrupt and struggling to pay the people they had already. I eventually took a job as a lecturer in archaeology at one of the newer universities on a part-time contract basis, teaching a few courses for a couple of years. Of course, I needed something else to fill my time (and my bank account) and this is where things made a drastic turn. I was approached to act as a tour-guide for a company to look after a particular group interested in the history and culture of southern Zimbabwe. Thinking it was a one-off deal I agreed. I have never looked back.
Coming from an academic background, I have to admit that I was rather disdainful of the idea of guiding; venturing from the lofty ivory tower to associate with the “general public” seemed a come down. I was completely wrong. Tour guiding is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had and it allows me to combine my love of teaching, learning about the past and sharing my knowledge with so many people from all over the world. It has the added advantage of providing a perfect excuse to venture into many exotic locations in southern Africa although I keep returning home – especially to my spiritual sanctuary, the Matobo Hills. Guiding is tough work – I often have 18-hour days for weeks at a time – never see my home or family for those same weeks – and I am expected to fill a variety of roles. Raconteur, mechanic, photographer, gunsmith, medic (thankfully not too often), tracker, historian and socialite – my job is to inform, entertain, advise, look after and protect my guests as we travel around Zimbabwe.
I consider myself fortunate because I have been able to create a niche for myself, focusing on the history, anthropology and archaeology of Zimbabwe. Rock art, the Zimbabwe Culture and the 19th century history of the Matabele people are my passions and I continue to publish regularly on these and other topics. As a direct consequence of my growing involvement with the world of tourism, I find I am writing more and more for the so-called “popular audience” in attempt to share my academic knowledge with more people in different fora. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I find that questions asked by guests stimulate my research and often open up whole new areas of intellectual exploration; one of the real benefits is interacting with so many different cultures with different viewpoints and interests – I get to see things anew all the time.