On a pleasant summer day back in 2006, Harrison Lowman was brutalized by the harsh mistress known as the Zambezi River.
He and his family were on Safari in southern Africa. They spent many of their afternoons camped out under the blistering sun, waiting to catch a glimpse of one of the beasts that roam the veldt. It could get frustrating, Harry said. There was never any guarantee that they would see anything.
So they decided to try something different – white water rafting. On the morning of their excursion, 80 vacationers piled into a series of white school buses leaving the resort. They passed groupings of thatch-roofed houses as they rode through the Zambian countryside clutching life vests and helmets in their laps.
The buses came to a stop in the middle of the forest. After a quick lesson on how to paddle and “holding on tight,” they started down towards the rushing water. Where the Zambezi cuts through the landscape, it leaves two shear cliffs on either side more than 100 feet high. The winding path was enough to make those in flimsy footwear a little uneasy.
At the parts of the river too rough for tourists, the raft’ers would stand at the edge and watch each guide steer their 10-person raft through the rapids themselves.
“Our guide would always go first,” Harry said. “He was fearless.” When he went down these parts of the river, he stood up on the raft and let his dreadlocks and beads shake freely while the other guides kept their helmets tightly fastened. He was a short black man with bloodshot eyes, big blue lips and a thick Jamaican-sounding accent.
“I’m gwan keep ya safe Mamma, don’t ya worry boot it!” he would tell Harry’s mom, Lisa. Whenever they hit a big wave, the guide would grip her lifejacket to make sure she stayed in the raft. Everyone else would have to reach for the frayed rope that ran along the side to hang on. Harry didn’t.
They went over a drop in the rapids that bumped him out of the raft. Instead of grabbing the rope, Harry grabbed his younger brother. Both of them ended up in the churning waters.
“It’s so crazy the way your body feels when you hit that water,” he said. While Harry’s brother was pulled right back into the boat, he was sucked underneath it. The crisscross of currents pulled him down to the bottom, tossing him around like a doll in a washing machine.
After he got free of the currents, his mom grabbed hold of him before his dad and the guide were able to pull him up from the water. “It was totally blown off, I don’t think people realize that I fucking thought I was going to die. They were just like, ‘okay, he’s back in the boat, let’s keep going.’”
At the foot of the rapids were gentler waters and a chance to enjoy the scenery. Afterwards they all piled back into the bus where they got drunk on cheap African beer. Harry was 15.