Taking the dive

The bridge over the Zambezi at Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls), completed in 1905.

The break of our dawn came just a little later today, the morning of the 28th of May. Compared to rising before the sun on safari, the group took a few more moments to convalesce today before catching a taxi, onward to new adventures. Exhaustion is present always, but the few extra minutes made a difference for many of us. Although we knew the tempo would be fast here, the expectation was more on par with a foxtrot, but we have been met instead with an outright quickstep! However, I think there would be agreement that our choreography is coming together and the group is finding its frame. Fortunately, we are a party that laughs off the toe stepping that inevitably happens when learning any new discipline.

The rhythm continued as it has and today brought forth a new challenge, a new adventure along the path of discovery. Most of us threw our self preservation instinct to the wind and took on what the entirety of the tourism industry here in Livingstone buzzes about: Victoria falls, and more specifically, its infamous bridge, where mettle is tested in front of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. (It’s all harnessed, trained and frankly very safe, but it doesn’t sound as impressive to say that, so I’ll stay with my ambiguous introduction.) Long story short, there’s an offering for 111 meter high bungee jumping, bridge swinging and ziplining with a view that can’t be put into words, and the enthusiasm (as well as the anxiety) was tangible.

First, though, a border crossing; this Victoria Falls bridge serves as a border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and even for a short, thrill seeking excursion one requires a quick check through at the border. I’ve found quickly that border crossings here differ significantly from what I’ve encountered at home; rather than a formal, security-heavy affair, the border was an intriguing blending of commerce, tourism and local life in a state of cheerful entropy. As usual, we stood out like a sore thumb, with boisterous excitement and plenty of unwarranted TikTok dances. (Although does it need to be warranted? Dance like no one’s watching… right?) In the immigration lobby’s window, one could watch dozens of commercial transit vehicles awaiting their check in, souvenir salesmen and a tall, poised woman strutting by with a basket of fruit balanced delicately. The souvenir salesmen were offering “fifty billion” bills on the Zimbabwe side, with a wink that for just 5 USD, I could be a billionaire. The temptation was real to purchase one and just see how many people at home I could convince that it was authentic, and that inflation was real.

At any rate, the clearance itself was quick, and we weren’t regarded with much suspicion. I’m not sure if all of our passports were even checked. I imagine the turnover rate of excited, squealing tourists must be outrageous and I suppose it was a case of seen one, seem ’em all. And so, it was onward and… downward, I suppose, off to the bridge jumping outpost.

The wait felt like hours, although it was likely not more than 20-some minutes. We signed our last wishes, aka insurance waivers, chose our activities, paid and stepped out onto the bridge to get harnessed up.

The majority of the group opted for ziplining, and who could blame them? It was a stunning setup in which adventurers began on the towering edge of the ravine overlooking the valley and ended their ride on the bridge, where a trusty guide would wait to retrieve and tug us in the last little bit to the receiving ledge. Then, there was the bridge swing, which was essentially stepping straight off the platform in tandem and experiencing a massive rope swing like many of us would use as children to catapult into creeks and streams–although luckily, that wasn’t the ending for our tandem swing girls today. Clare and Sierra made it look gracefully easy.

Stepping onto the bridge was an exhilarating feeling in itself. In hind sight, I realize it was almost as jolting as the jumps that followed. For that first step onto the border bridge was the first iteration of literally facing fear: laying eyes on the thunderous falls that crashed beyond and caressed students with a gentle mist that so contrasted the sheer force of its cascading water. That mist was so refreshing on the breeze but on the same breath, it was somehow a distant warning, a threat, a promise that below the bridge where we walked and would soon step off of, the river indeed flowed and the waters crashed.

And yet, we did it. Grace E., Maddie and I opted for the good old fashioned bungee jump, which we found out on the fly had to be done barefoot. That was an experience that will forever make my heart flutter. Before jumping, you’re strapped up and guided to a grated platform. Grated is relative, in that it was built in a way that you could see directly below you. Somehow, the moment this all became real was the instant where they told me, I couldn’t just stand on the edge and wait to jump. I had to hang my toes over the edge. Soon, the front half of my feet were no longer on the grate, and only my heels kept me in safety. Before I knew it, though, it was 3, 2, 1, bungee. There was no backing out now.

Free fall, despite being the most literal iteration of falling victim to gravity, is somehow the most weightless feeling in the world, and the view of every angle of that glorious place made every hesitation, every worry melt like hoarfrost as the sun rises. However could this have been intimidating? This beautiful, stunning perspective that so few will ever enjoy, of one of God’s greatest gifts: the majestic world we live in.

At the time of writing, I’m sitting in a lovely restaurant, the Golden Leaf, which was our rendezvous with our wonderful pilots who will soon carry us upon their trusted birds of steel, off to Zambezi. Somehow, the entire experience is hitting me most now, as evening has fallen and my hot curry is simmering before me. My thoughts have wandered and brought me to the conclusion that this experience, commercialized and tourist centered, was somehow under the surface a deeply connected, nearly spiritual metaphor that has told the story of us thirteen college girls here in Zambia. We arrived at this border not knowing what to expect, with not much but rucksacks and apprehension. Our instructors have carefully wrapped us up in our harnesses of reflection, fellowship and trust in our fellow adventures. We have staggered across the platform of uncertainty, hung our toes over the edge of the decision to make the memories and relationships of a lifetime, and then, we jumped. And now that the initial shock has worn away, we are left with the core of the experience–a wonderful, beautiful view that we are privileged to live through together; a first person, rare opportunity to be vulnerable and become one with one of the most indescribably breath taking, multifaceted and richly developed cultures anywhere in the world. We took the dive, and what an incredible place we have found beyond the apprehension, beyond the inhibitions. Onward, and now, upward, to Zambezi early tomorrow.


I stood at the edge of the falls today
and the breath, it left my chest
My brain it told me, step away
But my heart knew what was best

For when you’re unsure is the moment you know
That its time for free fall, time to let go
For fear controls only those who are afraid
And regrets preys on those who never jumped but stayed

So friends I urge you onward,
Take the dive while you’re stil able
For the harness catches you every time
And impossible is merely a label

Own each moment firm and true
For regret is so unforgiving-
Go not to your grave one day knowing
That you’ve died without ever living

Genesis Middlebos, ’26

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6 Responses to Taking the dive

  1. Jazmine Newson says:

    Thank you for your meaningful reflection. As a recently graduated Zag, the idea of taking the jump into uncertainty, joy, and adventure is so poignant. I am glad that some of the initial whirlwind has worn off as you prepare to settle in to the community, family, and “routine” of Zambezi. Cherish every single day in Zambia. There is nothing more valuable than entering this experience with an open mind and heart. Focusing on my purposes for being in Zambia, to learn and to connect, helped to contextualize even the hardest, most homesick days.

    Jeff- I miss your snarky sense of humor and have never seen pizza the same since grad haha

    ZamZags, I am wishing you a safe flight and warm welcome <3

    Wishing you all the best,
    Jazmine Newson
    Zambia 2022

    • Audrey Buller says:

      What an outstanding reflection, Genesis! You captured the complex experience of bungee jumping amidst a tourist background on a study abroad experience meant to move away from that and into an eye-level encounter with others. Wowza! Thanks for sharing—it really brings me back to my time there, and like Jazmine, helps me think about life post-grad.

      Maddie and Grace E.—eek! You did the bungee jump!! There’s something remarkable about dangling in front of Victoria Falls 🙂

      Jeff—please tell Mama Katendi and Mama Violet hello from me!

      That’s it for now, folks! Safe travels into Zambezi
      Audrey Buller (by now you probably know I’m ZamFam ‘22

  2. Elizabeth ford says:

    Omg Maddie!!! How brave of you! Can’t wait to hear your experience!
    Continue to live your dream!

    Love you!
    Mom and dad

  3. Virginia Ehler says:

    What a great analogy in your writing and in your beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing.
    My heart was racing just reading this. I would rather jump 3 inches up than 111 meters down. No Way! lol
    I could barely watch the video that Grace E. sent to me.
    But . . . when it’s all done and said, you all have an experience that most people do not have. “Go For It.” I will shout . . . from my 3 inches off the ground.

  4. Andie Rosenwald says:

    Genesis – You are such a talented writer! Your imagery took me right back to zip lining over the falls last year, thank you for bringing me back to that heart-skipping feeling of being alive.

    Though Zambezi won’t be quite so physically dangerous, I hope you all continue to seek out experiences that truly make you feel alive. Remember the reasons why you chose to come all this way.

    Good luck on your flights tomorrow, wishing for smooth skies and working air conditioners!

    Kisu mwane,
    Andie Rosenwald
    ZamFam 22

  5. Emily Bundy says:

    Genesis, thank you for your beautiful reflection! Your words bring me right back to the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe where I was terrified despite just being the group photographer! It has been wonderful to read all of your meaningful reflections over the past several days, you are all diving into the uncertain and uncomfortable with curiosity and eagerness to accept the challenge and opportunities. Enjoy your journey tomorrow! Arriving in Zambezi for the first time was truly one of the most poignant moments from the journey for me- such a special place <3

    Kisu Mwane,
    Emily Bundy
    ZamFam 22

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