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..

 

 

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.

LAKE TANGANYIKA

After replying to an advert while involved in a crocodile farm in Chiredzi, in the South Eastern Lowveld of Zimbabwe, we found ourselves accepted for the position on offer and on board a plane headed for a safari and crocodile farming company based in Zambia on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. Very remote, and very beautiful, it was extremely popular with fishermen who came from all over the world.

The lodge afforded wonderful views of the lake including the magnificent mountains and one in particular, Kapembwa, thought to have magical powers.  Those passing by on boats were obliged to throw loose change into the water in order that they would not be cursed with bad luck by the spirit.

My painting of Kapembwa

My painting of Kapembwa

Our house was a large, stone building under thatch at the water’s edge, some two kilometres from the lodge itself. We would mostly have our meals at the lodge and since transport for my husband was not yet available, we were allocated the 25 seater tourist bus for our journeys to and fro. This was quite bizarre, just the two of us in this huge bus trundling through the bush twice a day.

The lake itself was quite mercurial: sometimes as smooth as glass, with not a ripple, at others dangerously rough with high waves and strong winds.  Trips across the lake were undertaken nervously (by me at least) as the experienced skippers were always on the lookout for the different winds that could suddenly whip up and there would be a quick turn-around and a rush back to the base and safety.    They were rarely wrong and we could only greatly respect their knowledge and experience.  Each kind of wind had a name: Chimbambura – a northerly wind that brought the rain.  Kaskas – a very rough and dangerous westerly wind.  When this was seen to be about to descend upon the lake a hasty retreat back to shore was in order, no messing about.   Kapata – the prevailing south-easterly wind.

Each fisherman’s catch would be gutted and de-scaled at the edge of the jetty and this meant  it was surrounded by very large crocodiles waiting to feast on this easily accessible nourishment.  Astonishingly, we sometimes saw people having a dip right there and how no one was taken was a mystery.

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At the lodge itself, the elephants would come and eat the seeds from the faiderbia albida tree growing in the centre of the large patio in front of the dining room.  They also would raid the dustbins outside the kitchen.

One night I was woken by the sound of elephants and went out onto the patio, and witnessed a strange ritual.  From there I could see many elephants walking down to the lake’s edge.  Some of them entered the lake at knee height and all began to move around in a circle, making no noise at all.  Then I saw two males peel off from the group and move away inland, past me, and head towards thick bush.  The circular movement at the lake edge continued and then I could hear the males screaming and trumpeting from within the trees.  Soon, a female from the circulating group moved away and followed the path the males had taken into the bush.   The others stopped moving in the water, and began to disperse in the opposite direction. I have presumed that the female joined the males in order to matebut I have told this event to a various people experienced with elephants but they have no idea what this might have been all about.

Zampa Elephant

Sometimes during the evening elephants would come right up to our house veranda and rub themselves on the wall.  I had tried to plant Bougainvillea and they were doing quite well, but became part of the elephants’ diet.  We had acquired two cats.  The smell of their food attracted hyenas, and we often heard them sniffing and bumping vigorously against the kitchen door trying to get in.

Apart from the mosquitoes, of course, another undesirable feature of the lake was the  chironomid midges.  Just before dusk they would arise from the lake in their millions, in great swarms almost resembling a thick mist, emitting a high pitched whining noise.  Putting on our lights attracted them into the house and despite closing all windows and doors they found their way in somehow, perhaps where the ceiling boards were not quite attached to the walls.  They would whine around our heads and at our ears and we found it almost unbearable, and certainly we were not able to sit up for long.  I eventually put up mosquito nets over the armchairs under which we could sit and read, but the only real relief was when we went to bed and put out the lights.  By morning there was no sign of them until dusk came upon us that evening.   Another irritation was the presence of tsetse flies, but fortunately these were not too common and we rarely received an attack from their piercing proboscis.

Unfortunately, my husband began to get ever more frequently occurring attacks of malaria and this was badly affecting his general health, and so we took the reluctant decision to leave Lake Tanganyika but we will always remember its magical beauty.

 

MOCAMBIQUE 1

In 1974 we had the opportunity to run a cattle and sugar cane farm near Dondo, Sofala, Mozambique. At the time, there was fighting occurring in the country between two factions, Frelimo,and Renamo.  However, even knowing the precarious and potentially dangerous situation we decided to chance our luck and moved into the large, isolated, air-conditioned house on the banks of the Pungue river, just off the main road to Beira, taking with us our Wolfhound, Mr. Murphy.  Our daughter was nearby across the border at a small boarding school in the Eastern Districts of Rhodesia, and it would be convenient to visit  her there.

Mr Murphy with our daughter

Mr Murphy with our daughter

There was a telephone in the house.  Unlike any telephone I have encountered.  It looked normal, but it had no number, and  no dialling tone.  Our “number” was “The English on the Pungue” ! When we wanted to make a call we would pick up the phone, there would be total silence, and so we had no idea if it was free or engaged. We then had to say “Sta”  and if no one replied we had to turn the handle a few times frantically and wait and wait and wait, but saying sta every few moments.  At last someone would answer (that is if the line wasn’t engaged).  My Portuguese being fairly rudimentary I would look up in my book what I needed to say beforehand, but then the operator would reply in Portuguese of course, and I would have no idea what she was saying!  Our daughter attempted to telephone us from school. She had to get hold of the telephone exchange in Rhodesia, they would ask her what number she wanted and, of course, she would say “The English on the Pungue”  – there was much disbelief and amazement, but she did manage to persuade them and managed to get through to us.

We would often visit the Seaman’s Mission in Beira and would take our Wolfhound, Mr Murphy, with us in the back of the pickup.  All along the road  we would encounter road blocks manned by police and Frelimo and we would be stopped and searched.  Very often there would be hopefuls standing around and the officials would ask us to give lifts to one or two.  This was hard to refuse, but we would point to the back of the pickup and say, yes, hop on.  Usually, on seeing the very large dog they would decide not to join us.  I must say though that Mr Murphy, like most Wolfhounds, was the most gentle and mild creature.  It was merely his size that was daunting to the would-be travellers.

Shopping was interesting.  I was told about a butcher who would sell us a few cuts of beef and so off we went to put in an order.  We were always used to buying T-bone steaks, fillets, roasts, mince, sirloin and so on.  After much sign language and halting Portuguese I managed to tell the butcher what I wanted, and said we would call back in a couple of days to collect, and so would he keep it all in the deep freeze.  We called back two days later.  Two of the butcher’s assistants came to the vehicle struggling under the weight of a huge plastic bag, all frozen solid.   Happily, we went home and offloaded it onto the kitchen table.  I opened it up expecting to take out each cut of meat in its own individual plastic bag.  But no.  The whole order, every cut, was lumped together in one, solid, mixed up frozen  mass.  Nothing dividing the different cuts from each other, not in separate plastic bags.  We had to allow it all to defrost overnight before we could pack it up again and put in our deep freezer.

The shops in Beira were quite depleted.  There was little on the shelves and the meat counters seemed quite deadly, with most of it looking green and quite smelly.  There had been a restriction put on the amount of alcohol you were allowed to buy, that is one beer per customer!    To arrange a party, or just to have a few drinks at home, meant you had to  go to several stores buying one beer from each place, and each person you were with buying his or her one beer, but paying for it separately .

Another shortage was cash, particularly silver coins.  These apparently were being  hoarded and then melted down by enterprising people, who then formed it into earrings, necklaces and the like for sale.  And so, when paying at the counter in a shop they would have no change.  You would pass over your note, and be given a fistful of chewing gum instead of coins.

We would occasionally go across the border to visit our daughter at school and there were always road blocks where we would be searched. Usually there would be a couple of policemen, immaculately dressed complete with pure white gloves, and at least one or two Frelimo soldiers.  They would be scruffy and usually wearing a motley selection of hats, for instance baby bonnets complete with frills and ribbons. And all heavily armed with their AK rifles, bayonets fixed, hand grenades on their belts.   They were usually always polite but you never knew.   Peter was an avid snake fundi (expert) and collector for the Bulawayo and Umtali Museums and he had the brainwave to take a couple of live samples with us on one trip, the idea being that the men at the road blocks would see the snakes, drop back in horror and allow us through straight away.  This, however, had the exact opposite effect.  They were surprised, intrigued, amused, afraid, but then proceeded to call across to all their mates to come and see the snakes in the penga murungu’s car (mad White man).     And, of course, Peter then became engaged in conversations about the snakes and why they were in the vehicle.  It turned out to be our longest stop at a road block!  Another time we were invited by the very polite and immaculate policeman to search our own suitcase!  He had no gloves, and he said his hands were dirty.  And so we went through the charade of opening our suitcase and turning a few items over, and pushing them to one side as he looked on.   Needless to say, there was nothing in them that should not have been. Well, we didn’t find anything.

My parents were going on holiday to England and offered to take our daughter, then aged eleven, and so we arranged her flight from Beira to Johannesburg with the airline making a chaperone available to travel with her until she reached Johannesburg there to be met by my parents.  The three would then continue on to London. She was due to fly out on the Monday and on the Sunday afternoon we were relaxing, playing scrabble, when we suddenly heard machine gun fire.  Then explosions.  We sat tight for a while and when it seemed to have died down Peter went outside to see what was going on.  It turned out that some members of the Portuguese army were shooting into the dam and and thrown hand grenades into the water to kill the fish which they then gathered up and took away.  We were quite relieved, having thought the war had come to our doorstep.

The next morning we drove into Beira and saw Carol off onto the plane with the chaperone ready and waiting to take care of her during the flight.  Arriving safely in Johannesburg, she was met by her grandparents who later that day boarded the plane to London to meet family members and for Carol to see snow for the first time in her life.  She was returned safely to us a few weeks later.

One day we all decided to go to the beach at Rio Maria, north of Beira. We parked the car behind some sand dunes and Peter and Carol headed off over the dunes to have a swim while I sat reading in the shade.   They seemed to be gone quite a while and I could hear shouting, and then suddenly over the dunes came Carol with Peter who was in some distress.  He was coughing and vomiting badly with Carol trying to support him.  He had been dragged into the sea by a treacherous current and had had to shout at Carol not to try to go in to help him knowing she would have been dragged under.  He had at last managed to get back onto the beach. He was in a bad way, but we managed to get him into the car while I drove back to the house where he collapsed into bed.

It was very hot at that time of the year and I had decided Carol should move from her bedroom into our adjoining dressing room so that she could enjoy the benefits of our air conditioner providing we left our door open.  Peter gradually improved and had something to eat.  At last, with air conditioner going full blast and feeling relieved to be home we all settled down to sleep.

It wasn’t long before I heard voices.  Peter was asleep.  I got up and without putting on  the lights, peered through the curtains and saw a group of six Frelimo soldiers outside in the garden.   I quickly went over to Peter and woke him, whispering  to him what was happening.  After the trauma of the afternoon this was the last thing we needed. The next minute there was urgent and imperative knocking and shouting at the front door.  We had no choice but go and see what they wanted.  As Peter went to the front door, I quickly got dressed, not wanting to be in night clothes when they came in.  I could hear them talking as they came into the house and this continued for some time.  Eventually they came into the bedroom demanding to see our passports and wanting to search the wardrobes for weapons.  There were weapons there but they belonged to the man from whom we had leased the farm and were stacked at the very back of one of the cupboards.  In order to look inside they had to step over Carol lying on the mattress I had placed on the floor for her.  As one of the men stepped over her she woke  up.  She merely looked up at them grumpily, turned over and went back to sleep!

Of course, they found the rifles and took them to another room.  There they listed them onto a form and began to search the rest of the house, going through private letters  and documents which it seemed they couldn’t understand as they were all in English, and  had to keep asking us what they were all about.   At this point Peter decided it would be diplomatic  to offer them some beers while I remained in the bedroom wondering what on earth was going on.  At last the voices ceased and the front door slammed shut.  They had gone, taking the weapons with them.  It had been a tense few  hours, never knowing which way the situation would go .as they had quite obviously been drinking before they came to us,

This event quite shook us up and we made the decision to leave.   On our way back to Rhodesia we called in to see friends who were ranching at Lamago and told them what had happened and that we had decided to leave.   They persuaded us to first join them on a trip they were making to a holiday resort at Inhossoro.  We all arrived and were treated wonderfully.  Due to the unstable situation they had had very few tourists and we dined on delicious seafood and spent time on the beach all together.  At last it was time to go our separate ways.  They headed off back to their ranch to face a possible visit by Frelimo and we continued back to Rhodesia.   We never saw them again.

FARM ATTACK

Before we moved to Macheke in the north of Rhodesia (see my blog titled Limbikani)  we had taken over a farm in Mutoko. This was in 1978 in the middle of the bush war that was being led by two factions that were against White rule of what we are now politically correctly made to call freedom fighters, (but we called them terrs, being short for terrorist) by Robert  Mugabe’s Zanla (backed by Communist China), and now in charge of Zimbabwe under his ruling party ZANU(PF), and Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA (backed by Communist Russia).
Our farmhouse was heavily fortified, being totally surrounded by a roof-high wall, barbed wire strung along the top, steel doors at the back and front, and sandbags piled high at each one.  The wall produced a narrow passageway in which one could move safely without being seen .  At strategic points in the wall there were loose bricks which could be easily removed to allow a rifle to be poked through in order to shoot back at any attackers.  All outside doors had an extra, overlapping wall which was further protected by layers of sandbags at least five feet high.
Far Vista sandbags at backdoor during Hondo
There had been several farm attacks in the area and we carried our weapons with us at all times, even within the house from room to room.  Peter’s was an FN, mine an Uzi.  The terrs’ weapon of choice was the Russian-made  AK-47 (designed by Alexander Kalashnikov).
AK-47

AK-47

The rocket launchers they used were  RPG.7 
SAM 7 rocket launcher
 Because of the danger of landmines we had been allocated an armoured vehicle .  There were many kinds of these and they were given various names, our was a Kudu.  A huge, lumbering, cramped. fortified vehicle that was difficult to drive with merely a small slit for the driver to peer out of, and basic seating very hard on the posterior.  However, we felt fairly safe but had we hit a landmine we would have no doubt been injured in some way, though hopefully not killed.
Dad Mum with Kudu Far Vista
One Sunday, after a day spent at the local club, we left and drove up to our farm gate coming  to a halt in a cloud of thick dust.   We had had a good time for the past hours, relaxing and forgetting the strains of farming in the middle of a war zone, enjoying all the usual banter and jokes  with good friends and neighbours.  We were feeling quite mellow, looking forward  to a hot bath and bed before encountering all the frustrations and rigours of the following farming day.  We stopped at the gate and hooted for our Guard Force to come down to open it, but no one appeared. We light-heartedly argued as to whose turn it was to get out of our armoured vehicle and unlock and open the gate……..  and it seemed it was my turn!   I pointed to the kopje (hill) in the distance and joked that the terrs were probably watching our every move from their vantage point.  As I began to move towards the gate, at last Guard Force came running with the key letting us  through and reporting  all was quiet with no problems and so we proceeded into the house.   By this time, it was dusk and Peter went out to the garage to fire up the diesel-run generator, there being no electricity in the whole farming area.   To avoid having to go out into the dark to turn it off we had a system whereby a cord was slung from the generator, across the yard and through the vent at the top of our bedroom wall.  This cord dangled down the wall within reach of the bed and had to be pulled with some force in order to turn off the generator.  This meant of course that we had no way of putting on the electricity again unless we went out into the night.
Knowing we had an early start in the morning, and feeling fairly content , we went off to bed at about seven thirty, pulled hard at the light cord, heard the generator run down, and  fell asleep more or less as our heads hit the pillow.  It felt like we had only just drifted off when there was an almighty explosion. An  RPG rocket had been launched from somewhere in the field outside our security fence.  It had been aimed at our bedroom but fortunately for us the garage was in the way and It burst through the garage wall and we woke to the stark realisation that we were under attack.
To be woken from sleep in such a manner results in confusion and some disorientation.  The only other time I can recall such a stunning sensation was a particular night in the Gonarezhou, that most beautiful  national park in the south-east Lowveld, when we had settled down for the night as the only visitors at a rough camp on the banks of the Lundi River.  We had earlier heard lions in the distance roaring and grunting in the dry river bed but felt no threat as they were some distance away.  But later we were all woken from deep slumbers by the booming roar and grunting of a lion standing a mere five feet away from our camp beds.  The resulting scene was comical in its recall – all of us thrashing about trying frantically to discard entangled sleeping bags, some doing a version of the sack race as we tried to get under cover and into the rondavel (round house, with no windows, and just a two foot high wall – not really much protection).  Luckily the lions were not interested in us but were conversing with their mates down river.
Now we were suffering  that same disorientation and confusion.  Scrambling for the torch, finding the candles and matches, our  Wolfhounds  going berserk, getting under our feet;  Gertie, our pet goat, out in the high-walled and heavily sandbagged corridor bleating madly in panic.
Heyford Farm, Virginia, Rhodesia108
 During all this chaos, we were aware of  the sound of shouting and automatic gunfire as  Guard Force  returned fire as we raced along the passage, tripping over the madly excited dogs, and managing to get to the radio:  “Mayday, Mayday. This is Kilo 89, this is Kilo 89, we’re under attack.”
Peter grabbed his rifle and headed out of the back door to start the generator .  Bullets were flying all around . He got the lights on and  joined the  Guard Force in their counter attack.  A frightened Gertie had taken the opportunity to rush to relative safety into the house, bleating her head off.
A second rocket was then aimed at the house..  It was obvious that our bedroom had been the target of the first rocket  but fortunately the garage was between the terrs and us, and we discovered later that one of our hens, who was sitting on her eggs, remained with dedication at her post throughout, even though she became covered in dust and rubble. The bedroom window above our bed sustained one bullet hole, but the outside walls were covered in pockmarks.
We had been assured over the radio that help was on its way, but it turned out to be a good few hours before anyone arrived.   During this time Peter and Guard Force kept up the resistance in the pitch black night, and I could see the red tracer bullets hurtling against the starry sky.
We were now getting worried at the lack of backup, and got back onto the radio to find out why no one had arrived. It seemed the police response unit had in fact gone to the wrong farm, but at last they arrived at the locked security gate.  With bullets flying all around, Peter had to get to the gate to let them in,  four young policemen who got stuck into giving as good as we were getting.  The gunfire and resistance was sustained for a long time with no let up.  The noise was incredible.  Eventually the men rushed back into the house, they were dangerously low on ammunition.  Some weeks before we had been given a box full of ammo by a farmer who was leaving the district, so we dragged it out and each man took several handfuls and the shooting resumed.  It  was now getting on for eleven o’clock and after three hours continuous attack there was no let up.  We got back onto the radio requesting more backup.  We were told to  put on our roof lights as a helicopter gunship was to be deployed .  Not long after, we heard the  aircraft overhead and the booms as it fired several rockets into the compound.,
At last , and by now it was two in the morning, all was quiet and the police and Peter came back into the house exhausted and glad to get sandwiches and strong coffee.    It had been a close call as once again ammo had been  getting too low for comfort.   We then all tried to get some sleep and at first light the police team proceeded to do a follow up.  But, from the house and to our dismay  we heard automatic fire and later learned that the terrs had stayed in the compound and were hiding in a disused cattle dip. It was from there they again opened fire but  managed to run off across the lands and into the bush without being caught.
We went out and examined the damage.  The first rocket had fortunately hit the garage,  and not our bedroom.  The mother hen was still sitting diligently on her eggs on the tractor seat.  Some of the workforce had fled to neighbouring farms during the fighting, but those who had remained were visibly shaken and frightened.   At one stage during the night the terrs had demanded to know where our cook’s house was and they proceeded to fire at her house.   She had positioned herself into a recess in the wall and was lucky not to have been hit, but there were bullet holes in the door and walls.  It was while they were attacking her that the helicopter had appeared  and they had run off.
We received a call on the radio from a neighbour telling that a number of our workforce had run away in the night to his compound and he would send them over on one of his  tractors.  Not long after we heard, with dread, a muffled explosion and our fears were confirmed when word came that the tractor had hit a landmine laid by the terrs on their way out of the farm.  One of four land mines as it turned out.  We rushed to the scene to see the men staggering about; the tractor, completely wrecked,  on its side, and the driver groaning over a broken leg, the only injury that had been sustained , which was a miracle.
The local follow- up stick quickly arranged for a posse to track the terrs.  This ended in tragedy as in their wake the terrs had laid a further three landmines.   Two were detonated as the follow-up vehicles went over them resulting in the tragic deaths of two of our neighbouring farmer friends.. The terrs got away.  We never heard whether any had been caught.
Investigations around the farm and the fields revealed that our  attackers had numbered around twenty-five, a much larger group than was usual for such attacks, and had been conducted with far more resilience and determination.  The usual modus operandi  was to attack swiftly and briefly and then run.  This attack had consisted of  a much larger number of men, and for a prolonged period.  In addition, they had remained at the site and continued the armed engagement the following morning.   Several years later, strangely and surprisingly, Peter came across the leader  of the attack on our farm, whose Chimurenga (war) name was Daniel Boon.   The reason for such a sustained attack on us ,he said, was because the farm had in their opinion, been  “liberated” (it had not been previously been attacked – the owner had left due to ill health and  had been vacant for several months) and our subsequent take-over had been seen as an affront to their so-called success.
The next day, we telephoned our daughter at boarding school in Salisbury to let her know we were safe and arranged to go and fetch her home.    She had already suffered considerable heartache with the loss of her beloved horse, Flight.  We had arranged for him to be sent up to us from Chiredzi by rail but the train had been attacked, carriages de-railed, including the carriage containing the horse and groom.  Fortunately the groom was unhurt but Flight was sadly not so lucky.
For some reason, we rather stupidly decided to make the trip into Salisbury in our car and not in our armoured vehicle.  The farm roads were deserted and we got to the school with no problems.
It was on our way back, when were just a couple of miles short of our farm gate, that we came
across  a roadblock manned by police.  We were told to reverse some way back, pull to the side of the road, stop the engine and stay in the car.  Several army personnel and police who had been standing at the roadside began to move away from the road and into the bush, leaving one young man alone kneeling over an area in the dust.  As he looked up, our daughter was shocked to see that he was a friend she had known from a well-known private school just a year ago, and here he was, aged a mere 17, dangerously uncovering what turned out to be the fourth landmine laid by our attackers only the day before.   On our journey out we had, in fact, either straddled over, or driven adjacent to this landmine.  We had been unbelievably lucky yet again.  The atmosphere was tense and we felt fear as the young man, merely a teenager, worked away at uncovering the mine.  At last, it was disarmed and the all clear given for us to resume our journey.
Many of our farm workers, being fearful of further attacks and possible reprisals, left our employ and this meant that with the few remaining employees we were battling to continue with the farm.
To conclude, I must say that during the whole attack we felt no fear – the adrenalin was high, and we were just too busy getting on with returning fire.  However, from then on, for a week or two we didn’t sleep so soundly.  A couple of nights later I  was woken by what sounded very much like rapid gunfire, coupled with  the peacocks making their eerie, ear-piercing alarm call.  As I shouted to  Peter: “We’re under attack.  We’re under attack” I scrambled out of bed intending to rush to the radio to call for help.  Peter jumped up quickly to stop me, saying:   “Wait. Calm down, calm down.” It was only the  heavy   Jacaranda seed pods clattering noisily onto the corrugated iron roof!
Jacaranda  peacock-