Monday, March 5, 2012

The Falls & The Flying

I’m not really an extreme sports kind of girl. To be honest, I’m not really a most sports kind of girl. Because of this, it’s hasn’t been too hard to turn down the various adrenaline-pumped activities offered at Victoria Falls. Except for one.

When I was in Bali, and had the good fortune of meeting my fellow fellow, Sara Bates, she told me that when she was in Zambia she had gone mircolighting above the falls and it was one of the most amazing experiences she’d ever had.

This means I had about six months to think about it. Perhaps “obsess over it”, would be more accurate. It is a ludicrously expensive activity and I am squeamish about safety precautions, particularly after the news that one young woman was bungee jumping at Victoria Falls a few months ago when the cord snapped.

But I really wanted to. Not so much because I had to see the falls from that perspective, but more because I wanted to be the kind of person who would. I wanted to be fearless.

I signed up, alone, and they sent a car to the hostel for me. I turned my nerves into incessant and incoherent chatter to the poor Zambian driver taking me there. I think by the end of the conversation I had promised him I’d move to Zambia at the end of this summer. I’m not quite sure how we ended up there because the entire time I was paying more attention to my churning stomach.

I saw the sign for microlighting and the car turned and my hands started shaking. I asked myself why in the world I had agreed to pay so much money for fifteen minutes that would probably feel more like torture than fun.

They made me read a sign about how propellers are dangerous, put a helmet on my head, and strapped me in.

And suddenly the shaking stopped. It stopped because there is a strange kind of liberation that comes with knowing you will go through with something, simply because you have no other choice. I have stopped worrying about this year away from everyone and everything I know, in part because I don’t have a choice. There is a loss of control that brings a strange kind of comfort.

All I could do was sit back and (quite literally) enjoy the ride.

I took a deep breath and we took off, and then there was this.

I was their last flight of the day and the sun was hanging low. I could see everything. I saw the falls, I saw the gorges. We flew over trees and birds and cars and water. We saw hippos and wildebeests and wild boars and elephants in the grass. At one point, he turned the plane around and we dove through a gust of spray.

For a few seconds, there was only white, and the feeling of warm water on my arms and my neck.

It felt like I was in a cloud.

I almost cried because of how beautiful everything was. How simple. How amazing this world is---a world that is growing smaller every day I spend away.

I have taken a lot of airplanes this year, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to flying.

I haven’t stopped smiling since we took off.


  1. Captain Nell
    You Soar!

    Two vibrant thoughts come to mind. The first is that you bring up for many of us a time in our life when we set sail, took a physical and emotional risk, and stretched our boundaries. We may not have experienced microlighting; nonetheless, many of us had an event that initiated anxiety, fear, exhilaration, and pride. Like names you spark many stories to remember and tell.

    The second thought is of course honoring you and your accomplishment. So often it is easy to play it safe- yet here you challenge yourself to discover more of your many colors. We are proud of you. BRAVO!

    Keep flying across nations(metaphorically or not)


  2. Thanks so much, Jonathan. I think discovering more of my colors is quite an excellent way to describe this year. It has been exhilarating.

    I'm honored you're reading and will be thinking of you all come April when I'm in London for a few days en route from Zambia to Ireland. I'm sure the memories of 4 year-old Rayona, 6 year-old Amira and me traipsing through the Tate Modern and Globe Theater will all come rushing back. (Can you believe that was SEVEN years ago?)

    Give my love to everyone at home! Here's hoping it's a short VT mud season for you.