In Depth Interview

In Depth Interview in Oog Voor Afrika magazine, 2014

A Love Declaration to Zimbabwe

Her popular restaurant in Utrecht (The Netherlands) was usually booked months in advance, but one day Marleen Post decided that it was enough and sold her business. Freed of the daily pressures she wanted to follow her heart and become a photographer. Then she met Brian Sabeta in Victoria Falls. Together they are now running Sable Sands, an eco lodge in the middle of the bush, bordering Hwange National Park. This is a story of a special life in words and images.

With the comfortable Pathfinder bus the journey from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park takes just around two hours. At the bus stop Marleen Post is welcoming me with a big smile. We drive into the Dete Vlei, along a road which leads to the lodge she and her husband Brian may call their own since 2012. The drive through the green valley is already a safari. Proudly Marleen points out the nest of two secretary birds. A bit further on, a group of elephants is blocking the road. Marleen: “Of course our guests come to us for the safaris, but sometimes the view from the lodge itself already offers a great wildlife experience. Animals from Hwange National Park like coming to the Vlei. We often see elephants and buffalos. A while ago three cheetahs passed in front of the lodge, and very recently we had a lion kill right outside one of our chalets on the vlei.”

 

The Dete Vlei is a peaceful oasis, a world away from the hectic pace of modern life, a sanctuary all by itself. Sable Sands is hidden in the shade of the forest which encloses the vlei. The heart of the lodge is the restaurant, located in a large clearing. This is where guests meet for breakfast and later on reminisce about their safari adventures. The staff members who call the neighboring villages home are tending to the guests with a big smile. Marleen and Brian are passionate hosts, ever ready to share their knowledge and give advice. The meals are proof of Marleen’s commitment to fabulous food.

While the guests are enjoying their game drives, two adorable children are playing in the open space by the restaurant. Thandeka and Khaya have found a home with Marleen and Brian. Time to return to the beginnings of this adventure.

 

A NEW LIFE

In 2004 Marleen sells her restaurant after running it for eleven years. Now the world is at her feet. Time to follow her life-long passion for photography. In the United States she visits her best friend, and on her first day receives a message in a fortune cookie in a sushi restaurant: You are heading for a land of sunshine, your future is open. “I stuck it in my wallet and forgot about it. The next time I noticed it was three months later, during a cold and wet winter in the States. I looked at it and thought ‘shit, I am on the wrong side of the world.’ Within two days I bought a ticket to Mozambique. Before the plane touched down, I wrote into my travel diary that I would stay here for the rest of my life, and within hours of landing in this different world, I felt I was right. The colors, the smells, the culture – it was all so incredibly beautiful and new to me.
In Mozambique I worked in a children’s home for a while, I was hungry for new impressions and experiences. Through this project I travelled to Zimbabwe. I wanted to visit for a few weeks, but I was immediately touched by the passion of the people of Zimbabwe for their country and by its ultimate beauty. One great advantage of Zimbabwe is that everyone speaks English. This makes for easy communication, and while Mozambique’s stunning coastline may be a photographer’s dream, I lost my heart to the people of Zimbabwe. Everyone is so friendly here. I felt so welcome.”

IN LOVE IN VICTORIA FALLS

Marleen became marketing manager for a tour operator in the adventure capital Victoria Falls via a photo and video project she worked on for schools near Victoria Falls with the mighty falls as her backdrop. Her future was open, remember?
Then along comes New Year’s Eve. Coming from Harare, Brian Sabeta is enjoying a few days off in Victoria Falls. He is ‘in between jobs’ after finishing his hotel management program. “New Year’s Eve is a time for reflection. Time to look back on the past year and to focus on the year ahead.”
Through a mutual friend he meets Marleen. There is the infamous spark, and the short break he had planned turns into two weeks. “Life has a way to fill up the gaps one may feel. Marleen’s gift to fill moments with so much warmth, energy and positivity drew me in. Plus she is very spontaneous.”
Marleen: “With Brian you can go deep. He doesn’t judge, with him I can talk forever.”
Within a very short time the decision is made: They want to share more. “Once something so special feels so good, you just have to follow it.” They dive into a hectic year of travelling between Victoria Falls and Harare. Marleen doesn’t want to live the big city life and Brian doesn’t see Victoria Falls as his destination. But love prevails. They get married in 2008.

 

LIFE IN THE BUSH

Looking for a future together, they receive a job offer as managing couple for Sikumi Tree Lodge, far away from the urban world, in the peaceful Dete Vlei. They visit and end up staying. Marlen: “We were thrown in at the deep end. We didn’t even get a chance to pack our stuff in Victoria Falls. We ended up working in Sikumi for 2.5 years, but we had actually fallen in love with the neighboring Sable Valley Lodge.”
The “Grand Dame” of the Dete Vlei was completely dilapidated and hadn’t been operational for a long time. Meanwhile Marleen and Brian turned Sikumi into an award-winning success; its sudden closure came as very bad news.
Marleen: “We only heard about the closure ten days before it happened. We did, however, get the chance to buy some inventory, and fortunately we had applied to lease Sable Valley. But of course we did not know if we would come out as the winning couple nor if the new deal would work out financially. So purchasing lodge inventory was a big risk.”

But like before in both of their lives, everything turned out well, and together with friends and investors Brian and Marleen became managing partners of their Sable Valley Lodge which they renamed Sable Sands.
From day one Sable Sands has been their love child, and it shows. They run it with care and passion for nature; staff members are recruited from neighboring villages; guests are treated with the utmost dedication and attention – the same way they treat each other. Brian: “This place offers the sounds of nature and the chance to find that true inner peace and tranquility.”

CHILDREN OF THE SUN

Besides the love for the lodge, there is enough space in the hearts of Brian and Marleen for giving two children a loving home. Marleen: “Some guests told us that there was a home urgently looking for parents who wanted to adopt. We had always wanted children and decided to visit – never mind the unfavorable point in time, as we were still building up the lodge. We didn’t even have a house for ourselves yet, but from the time when I was twelve, I had had the deepest desire to adopt a child. So wasn’t this the right moment? A month and a half later we had two.”

 

Brian: “We were introduced to a few children. A heart-breaking experience: How can you choose only one?  In that situation we both realized that raising a child without siblings, always surrounded by guests, might not be the best thing to do. That is how we came home with Thandeka and Khaya.”

Marleen: “Brian is Shona, but we live in the Matabeleland Province. Khaya and Thandeka were found in its capital Bulawayo, so we chose meaningful traditional names which could point to their roots and also gave them an internationally accepted name in case they would want to move elsewhere in the world. Thandeka means ‘The Loved One’. Her second name is Zola which means ‘Earth’ and ‘Strength’. She is a brave girl and we love her. Khaya means ‘Home’ and we will always give him that home. His second name is Ayanda, the promise that there is ‘More to Come’.
Brian: “That promise reflects in his eyes. He is a fighter.”

If I have to describe Sable Sands, I think about the impressive surroundings, the unexpected meetings with special people, about lions who visit the lodge and the heart made of pebbles that I find on the day of my departure: ‘Thank you.’
Love is all around if you are lucky enough to have stayed in this peaceful lodge …

Marjolein Westerterp
Oog voor Afrika Magazine

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