THE RAIN MUST FALL

Heat pulsates around my head, thrumming incessantly within my senses.

Pale yellow, shrivelled and brittle grass crunches beneath my feet as a whisper of wind blows the sand, as fine as dust, before me. On the horizon heat waves distort the view.Leafless trees appear to sway and dance in the haze.

I squint my eyes against the relentless brilliance of the burning sun.

All is quiet and still, but the tension grows. There’s a longing for release from this arid, almost desolate moonscape.

Eager, gluttonous vultures circle the skies drawn to the smell of death. Another victim lies desiccated at the side  of a waterless waterhole.

Suddenly, on the far horizon  appear rolling grey clouds, turning black and ominous before my eyes. Lightning splits the moody sky in a display of electric power and the glorious rumble of thunder assails my ears and resonates over the land.

Oh come, come.   Don’t stop now. Come closer please, and pour your  life-regenerating relief over this parched innocent earth.

I hold my breath until it hurts, then  raindrops begin to fall, slow at first, the sand pitted with each wide-spaced drop.

Then, at last! The wind increases, the trees buckle and bow down against its force, and  the downpour begins. The thunder, the lightning, the saturation of the soil and the smell of the wet land wafts on the air in sweetness as it embraces and drinks in the offer of renewed life with all its being.

The unbearable heat has broken  and I stand  shivering and soaked and dripping , feeling reborn, allowing the hard,  merciless raindrops to stingingly smite my skin, filled with joy knowing that nature does not fail its children..

 

 

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Bazaruto – A Poem

We lived for just over two years on Bazaruto Island, Mocambique, and memories of my time there inspired me to write this poem.

This Island

by Dendy MacToodle

This island, my home, cocooned in soft waters that caress its sands in time to the moon’s demands.

Palms, played by the wind, whisper their playful secrets.

Soft, sweet flower perfume drifts through my senses evoking mystic, evasive memories of a time I have surely once known.

Ah!  But when and where, and who was I?

The patterns elude my seeking mind.

But look, flamingos aflame now take flight and  even the sun’s brilliance is dulled as wings beat in rhythmic silhouette across its golden face.

A dhow glides by on oily, becalmed sea, and the wise and wizened sailor  waves his work-gnarled hand in greeting.

No beginning, no end.

Calm, at peace and one with the rhythm of life,  knowing he has always been and always will be.

Oh, that I would accept life’s offerings, content to be at one with the Eternal Whole.

But heart beats and yearns, mind seeks to know, restless as the wind that blows the stinging sand into my face.

Shifting sands, shifting moods.

Scudding clouds now obscure the weakening radiance of the sun, chased by the wind they move ever on. Warmth returns and sets aglow my sundrenched,  scented skin.

Dimmer, and cooler the life-giving light slips easily into the sea. Chill hits the air as darkness falls and nightjar calls.

Moon at last assumes her place as mistress of the night. Moonlight and  starlight, eerie and  silvery-soft caress the gently cooling sand, and the glowing, undulating sea.

Moon slides slowly down across the sky.

Black velvet creeps catlike from the shadows encompassing, enveloping the Earth, folding all in its tender embrace.

The only light: the stars reflected in the rolling sea.

The only sound: the rhythmic, eternal  motions of the tide.

 

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KARIBA ANECDOTE _It’s Scary in the Bush

Once again, Peter had to conduct some tsetse trials in the bush on the edge of Lake Kariba.  This would take a few days, and so we packed up the Land Rover and, of course,  our usual camping equipment.     We arrived mid-afternoon , set up camp in the primitive rondavel (a round, thatched hut full of spider webs hanging from the rough beams, and with no door),  picked up fishing rods and went for a walk along the lake edge to do some fishing.   It was peaceful and the water was lapping gently on the sand.  We spied the odd crocodile and heard the far off trumpeting of elephants.  Having caught our supper, we returned to camp, fried the fish,  and began to prepare the camp beds for our nights sleep.  The beds were of standard design issued by the Tsetse Control department and were difficult to assemble.  It entailed bending the metal legs – four pairs for each bed, like so

camp-bed125

– until they fitted into the slots provided on the underside of the canvas mattress  (“mattress”), a loose term for a length of rigid canvas sheeting).   The problem was that each time one side of the leg was satisfactorily inserted into its slot, you then had to forcefully bend the rod to make it enter into the slot on the opposite side.  Time and again this would fail and the rod would spring out of the first slot and often just miss your face.

After grappling with the two camp beds in this way, Peter’s mood was not good, to say the least. He was quite irritated. In the meantime, I had hung up the mosquito nets and now placed them over each camp bed.  With the Tilley lamp extinguished, and the light coming from the full moon, I wriggled under my mosquito net and settled down to sleep.   Peter at the same time was  lifting his own net and attempting to get onto the bed, but he seemed to be having trouble trying to tuck it under the sleeping bag so that the odd mosquito wouldn’t get inside.  With much grunting and cursing and angry tucking in he at last, cross and muttering,  plonked his head on the pillow, and at that very moment the whole net came adrift from the beam and fell on top of his face.  There was dead silence for a moment, until I could not stop myself laughing my head off.   Even as I write this I am in stitches.  He was not amused.  I got out of my bed, re-attached his  net and at last we were able to settle to  sleep.

At some during the night I woke up suddenly.  All was quiet but I became aware of rustlings in the thatch – probably mice, or geckos – hopefully not a snake! As  I  lay listening I became aware of the distant roar of lions.  This was alarming, but I thought it was only that they had smelt the cattle in the cattle enclosure not far from our hut, and were on their way there.   These were the cows  that were used to trek through the bush with a herder with the idea of attracting tsetse flies which would be scooped up with a net, and later examined for species identification and  tested for any sign of trypanosomiasis (the organism responsible for sleeping sickness in humans and animals).   The roaring continued and I was now becoming quite alarmed as to me it seemed it was getting uncomfortably  close to the rondavel.

With Peter sleeping soundly I got up, carefully and quietly moved the camp table so that it blocked the doorless doorway, placed one of the camp chairs on top, then hauled up the tarpaulin with which we had covered part of the hut floor (there being only a sand flooring) and struggled to pile it over the chair and table thus blocking the entrance and, I hoped, deter the lions from coming in.   Feeling good about this, I eventually managed to go back to sleep.

The next morning Peter recounted that he had woken in the night needing to answer a call of nature.  Struggling out of his tighly tucked in net, he  couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw in the moonlight a huge and ominous black shape silhouetted in the doorway.  Convinced it was an elephant he decided to stay put, but realised after a while that the apparition wasn’t moving, so took courage and inspected the mound  revealing it was merely a table, a chair and a tarpaulin.   I had to explain.

 

 

PIANO LESSONS

My paternal grandfather, Roydon,  had been an amateur entertainer in his time during the early 1900s, singing, tap dancing, playing the banjo and a magic act during which he would saw his new wife, Hilda, my grandmother in half.  My father thought it would be a good idea if I followed Pop’s musical footsteps and learned to play the piano.  Soon an old  piano was delivered and placed in the spare room. I noticed a date had been carved into the woodwork, 1775 !  Hmm?  This was quite exciting and I thought it might be worth something.  Lifting the lid, I began to play Chopsticks, my only repertoire at the time.  What a row!  It sounded just as if I was playing in an old Wild West saloon bar, i.e. that hollow, out of key, honkey-tonk  noise.   A piano tuner was duly called in to sort it out and piano lessons were arranged with a private tutor, Mr. Shepherd.  I would trudge along to his house after school, be shown into a cold, gloomy  room, and the lesson would begin.  I couldn’t help but notice that he had quite a bit of dandruff on his shoulders, and that when his wife brought in a cup of tea there wasn’t one for me. Of course I had to go home and practice (practise? never have known the difference) for at least an hour every day until the following week’s session.

I returned home after the first lesson and my parents were very keen to hear my new skill.  So I played a couple of scales, but we couldn’t help but notice that the piano tuning had made no difference whatsoever!

Winter came and my parents placed an old, oil-burning heater in the room. The only difference this made  was that I was surrounded by an evil smelling fug and remained cold.   I became quite disillusioned with the whole thing, particularly with the hollow sound emanating from the piano totally distorting what should have been the wonderful Moonlight Sonata. When I played a wrong note, I would get quite angry and bang the keys hard randomly and  rapidly.  This caused my father to shout out my name in a very unfriendly and ominous  manner!  De….  n……. d……y!

Mr. Shepherd was not very impressed with my progress, but decided anyway to enter my name  for an examination with the Royal College of Music in London.

Off I went and entered the examination room to be faced by an elderly, stern-looking man.  He started off with a few questions.  I was asked how many semi-quavers are in a quaver?   Having no idea, I answered : Is it eight?    He replied, while glaring ferociously at me : “I will ask the questions here!”  This rather knocked my confidence but I was then asked to play.

A few week’s later, Mr Shepherd asked me to call round to hear the result.  He started off by saying that I had turned out to be his worst performing student ever (he was quite upset!),  I had at least passed but with a very low mark.

When my certificate eventually arrived in the post, insult was added to injury to find my name, though written in the most beautiful, fancy handwriting had been spelt quite wrong to such an extent I could hardly say the certificate was mine, “MacTwoddle.”    I have kept the certificate but it lies in a box out of sight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROSPECTING STORIES

While living in the remote Lowveld of Rhodesia at Chipinda Pools we one day came across an old prospector, Hans Bole, a Hollander who at one time, he told us,  had a tame leopard  and had a couple of photos to prove it. He would spend weeks in the bush living fairly rough while digging for calcite. Peter often accompanied him and was shown how to identify drift, i.e. the bits and pieces of minerals on the surface. Thus began Peter’s interest in prospecting and this later got us into a bit of trouble.

Chipinda Pools 2

Chipinda Pools

We heard that a company was interested in acquiring fossil wood from which they were wanting to craft ashtrays.  Peter knew where there was a large fossil forest and the people concerned asked him to provide some samples.   Knowing the law, he went to the Mining Commissioner’s office and asked under what category fossil wood would come under, and was advised that it came under the category of quartz, and the licence was duly issued.  All above board, and legal, or so he thought.  Due to work commitments, so far Peter had not had time to get out into the bush to gather any samples. At that time I was working for a company in Bulawayo and was busy at my desk one day when two officers of the law, a  policeman  and a policewoman, suddenly appeared at the reception desk, and they were asking if I worked there!   I duly went up to speak to them and was told  they wanted me to go with them to my house, as they had a search warrant  Hmmm?  Heart pounding and not knowing what as going on I had to excuse myself with my boss and accompany the two officers.  The ride to my house was conducted in total silence.  We arrived, and they then began searching the house and the garage while I stood anxiously by .  They at last told me they were looking for fossil wood, and did I have any?  I told them no, but that we had intended to as we had a valid prospecting licence.  I produced the licence and they looked it over in a puzzled manner, obviously not expecting to see such a document.   I was duly taken back to my office, and resumed my work amid many stares of suspicion, as you can imagine. I did explain it all later.    It turned out that the licence should not have been issued at all, as fossil wood came under the National Monuments and Relics Act.  The issuing Mining Commissioner had made a mistake in putting fossil wood into the category of quartz.   We heard nothing more.

Fossil wood

Two old friends we knew in Bulawayo were keen prospectors, Terry Cushing and Roy Cochrane,   They were looking for gold, and had a stamp mill way out in the bush.  They showed Peter a technique called loaming whereby  holes were dug in grid form, and then look for traces of gold by panning the soil from those holes.  Once, or if, any traces were found trenches would be dug, and large samples pushed through the stamp mills.  Out would come the gold from the other end, with luck.

After the tuition from Hans, Peter was keen to do spot of  calcite mining himself, and again applied for a prospecting licence (this time there was no mistake!) and went out into the Matibi II area, near Chipinda Pools, South East Lowveld of Rhodesia, and began searching for the tell-tale signs that could indicate calcite might be present.   Out of the blue, a man called Peter Horsbsorough contacted us.  He had been to the Mining Commissioner’s office and had seen  that we were prospecting for calcite and wanted to join in.  An interesting man, with a very plummy accent, he stayed with us overnight a couple of times, and on being asked what he would like for breakfast would answer “Oh, just a beer, please”.    Having found some calcite deposits, we dug trenches and put up the legally required notice around them stating our claim.  We had decided to call the claim Dendy Mine.    Due to work circumstances and the distance involved, we weren’t able to return to that claim for quite some time, but when we did, we were amazed to find our pegging notice had been removed and someone else’s had been put in place claiming the site.   A bit peeved, we removed that notice and put ours back in place, and set to work extending our trenches.  However, believe it or not, when we went again a few weeks later, the same thing had happened – our notice gone, and another one put in place.  Unfortunately, nothing ever came of our efforts and we eventually decided to abandon the whole exercise.

A couple of  years later, we met Clive, a man who also lived his life in the bush.  Peter and he had much in common and began discussing their interest in prospecting.  We were all stunned but delighted to learn that it had been Clive who had taken down our prospecting notices!   And he had been just as put out by us removing his notices,  wondering who on earth was this Dendy person!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snakes Alive! – Anecdotes

My husband is a keen herpetologist.  He left England for Africa aged eighteen purely because he considered there would be far more interesting snakes there. To his mother’s disapproval he had built a small snake pit in the garden and when he knew he was leaving, he donated the inmates to the nearby Bellvue Zoo in Manchester. Due to his exploits with snakes in Africa, the local people gave him a nick name, Manyoka, meaning snake man.

My first contact with his snake interest came not long after our honeymoon while we were settling in to our house on the shores of Lake Kariba, Rhodesia.  I was in the kitchen (a very hot kitchen I might add, due to there being no electricity and  having to cook on a wood-burning Dover stove. There was no ceiling to the house: one looked up onto the rafters and the corrugated iron roof, and this together with the terrific heat in that part of the country made it feel like a sauna).  However, there I was and in walked my new husband, clutching his hand, blood pouring out  all over, anguish and pain on his face. Startled and alarmed I listened with horror as he said “I’ve been bitten by a snake.  I’ve probably got only about ten minutes left.”   Shocked, I burst into tears exclaiming “Oh no!  I’ve only been married for three weeks, and now I’m gong to be a widow!”   At that, he burst out laughing saying “Don’t worry, it was only a striped sand snake, completely harmless.”   I was not amused!  The striped sand snake Psammophis subtaeniatus   is a back fanged snake and these snakes have to get a good chew on you to actually cause serious harm.

Striped sand snake: Psammophis subtaeniatus

Striped sand snake: Psammophis subtaeniatus

On early evening while still light we thought we would drive up the hill and go to the local hotel, Kariba Heights, in our open-top Series 2, short-wheel based Land Rover.  At that time I couldn’t drive.   Going round a bend, there in the road, winding it’s way laboriously across to the other side was a puff adder in imminent danger of being run over by any other vehicle.  Peter immediately slammed on brakes, leant over to the back of the vehicle and grabbed the snake stick he always carried.  (This was a long hollow tube with a loop inserted, the idea being you would place the loop over the victim’s head, pull it firmly from the bottom of the tube thus ensuring it could be picked up without any danger to yourself).     Leaving the engine running, he jumped out, placed the loop over the puff adder’s head, pulled it gently so that the noose was firmly round its neck and got back in the vehicle.  He then passed the stick, complete with dangling snake, over to me!  I gingerly moved it across to my left side and off we set again.  Round a couple more bends on our way up the winding hill, when lo and behold! there was another puff adder dicing with death moving cross the tarmac.  Again Peter jumped out. But now there was not another snake stick, and so he picked the snake up very carefully in his right hand between finger and thumb, it’s mouth firmly shut.  But now, how to drive?  This was resolved by Peter steering with his left hand, and me changing gears, at his command, with my right hand.   We were both wondering what we would do if we came across a third snake, but luckily this didn’t happen.  We arrived at the hotel and the two snakes were transferred to a sack and placed in the back of the vehicle.  Any would-be thieves hoping to snatch the sack and its contents would have had a nasty surprise.   Back home later, the snakes were released into freedom into the bush near our house at the lake edge.

Puff adder Bitis arietans

Puff adder Bitis arietans

Our adorable Miniature Schnauzer, Chunky, had two bad events with snakes.  He was bitten on the head by a puff adder. He came into the house and sat in front of me in a strange manner, trying to move his head.  I reached out to touch him and he squealed and yelped alarmingly. It was obvious he had been bitten and our gardener confirmed he had seen the snake.  We rushed Chunky off to the vet and had to leave him there. He was placed on a drip and was in a bad way.  On the way  to the vet I had been unable to touch him without him screaming out in pain.  I phoned as to his progress and a couple of days later went in to see how he was..  He was hunched up in a corner, the drip still in, but as he heard my voice he whimpered and turned round to greet me.  I was given a course of anti-biotics for him and was able to take him home.  His hair had begun to slough off and his head and chest were bald. His mouth was raw and very tender and he now seemed to be blind in one eye.  He was in a terrible state.  I fed him milk by dripping it into his mouth and at last he was able to eat small amounts of minced meat. Gradually over the days he improved, his fur re-grew and he became quite fit again.

The second incident happened when he had accompanied Peter on a walk through the bush.  Peter heard a yelp and was just in time to see Chunky in the mouth of a huge python.  Grabbing the snake he tried his best to grapple the dog from its jaws, but to no avail.  He grabbed its head, but it began to wind itself round Peter’s arms, tightening its coils all the time. In the meantime Chunky was still in its mouth yelping like mad.  Peter was now down on the ground struggling with the snake, which just would not let go.  There was a small bush nearby, and still being held by the snake’s coils he at last managed to stretch over and break off a small, spikey branch which he thrust  time and time again into the corner of the snake’s mouth.  At this, the snake at last let go and slithered off.   Picking up the traumatised Chunky, Peter carried him home.  I could not believe my eyes:   there was Peter standing at the kitchen door, covered in blood, and Chunky running towards me also covered in blood, puncture wounds and some kind of digestive slime, which had a really awful smell.  I got him into the bath, washed him thoroughly and applied anti-biotic cream deep into each and every puncture wound across his back, head and legs.  Peter, apart from being lacerated and squeezed by the snake, was exhausted.  It had taken over half an hour to get the snake off in a non-stop struggle and, being in the bush, he was getting desperate as there was no chance whatsoever anyone would have passed by to help.  But there was no way he was going to lose our beloved dog.

Python sebae

Python sebae

MOCAMBIQUE 2 – Bazaruto Island

We had had to leave Lake Tanganyika due to the constant bouts of malaria my husband was suffering, and so we returned to Zimbabwe.  It was not too long though when he again went down with another bout.  Off to the doctor and explained the frequency of his attacks while at the Lake, and was told the malaria was probably permanently lurking about in his liver and was repeatedly rearing its ugly head when he was perhaps a bit run down.  The doctor prescribed three courses of treatment to be taken consecutively.  The first, a week’s course of Chloroquine, to be followed immediately by two days of  Fansidar and then a fourteen day course of Primaquine.   We collected the prescription and treatment began.  We thought twenty three days of malaria tablets would either kill or cure him!   But cure it did, at least  as far as the debilitating, frequent occurrences were concerned.   Thereafter,in the following years he had malaria just once or twice.

With that out of the way, we took up an offer to manage a crocodile farm on Bazaruto Island, just off the coast of Mocambique. We were met at Prince Charles Airport and set off for the island in a light aircraft.  A rusting, well-used Land Rover was waiting at the airstrip to carry us to the camp site. The living quarters consisted of three large, thatched  A-frame chalets and a separate dining/kitchen area all positioned right on the beautiful beach.

The chalets and dining area

The chalets and dining area

The view from the chalets was spectacular

BAZARUTO front  beach241

a view from the chalet

views  from the chalets

Feeding the crocodiles was a major operation and was totally reliant upon the fishermen bringing in their catch. And this depended upon the tides, meaning that Peter would have to meet the dhows to fit in with the time of tides no matter what that time might be, and so there were no regular hours as such and an eye had to be kept on the dhows to monitor their progress coming in.  Then Peter had to leave and drive up the beach immediately.  It was crucial to get to the dhows quickly, a tardy arrival meant the fish would be sold out to the local islanders scrambling around the boats, and there would be no feed for the crocodiles until the next tide.

BAZARUTOdhow240        Bazaruto fish offloading082

The camp was on the sheltered side of the coast, and we could just make out Villancoulos on the horizon.  The tide this side went very far out, and in fact could hardly been seen at times.  Our grandsons came to visit just as the tide was almost up to the chalet doors and the oldest was very excited and wanting to swim right then but was told no, it was bedtime, and he could swim in the morning.  The next morning very, very early we heard wails of despair : “The sea’s gone! It’s gone!”  It took some time to persuade him not to worry, that it would be back soon!

Bazaruto  Den with boys beach078

We would sometimes drive across the island to go to the main sea and would often see dolphins close to the shore. Those of you who have read my Blog Limbikani will remember that I used his “magic” technique to get the Land Rover going again when it refused to start.  Here is a picture of that day, and that Land Rover just before that event:

Bazaruto  landrover and Den077

At one end of the island was The Spit, it was quite magical there.  Birds were abundant, in fact all over the island, and at times the sea, clouds and the sand would take on an eerie greenish hue, with the wind blowing wildly.  It was always exhilarating.  And of course, the flamingoes were magnificent.

Flamingoes at The Spit

Flamingoes at The Spit

One morning we woke to the news that a yacht, The Maraposa (Butterfly),  had become beached and so we rushed along to have a look and see what could be done.  Already it was surrounded by sightseers and people from the nearby lodge figuring out how to get the vessel to rights and on its way.

Bazaruto yacht stranded083

It was a major task, that took several days and, of course, the tide had to be high enough for it to float again.  But it was at last accomplished,  and although there was some damage the owners, who had sailed from the Cape, decided to take a chance and get on their way.  We know they made it safely because we later corresponded with them.  So it all ended well.