I awoke that first morning in the bush to the sound of the birds, and the grunting of hippo in the nearby Lundi River. Our cook, Albert, was nowhere to be seen, and the Dover stove was cold; no fire blazing, only the forlorn, pale ashes remained from yesterday. Peter was hovering around and I was wondering what to do, as I could see no way of lighting the stove, no wood stacked up nearby, so assumed that Albert was out there somewhere, busily gathering sticks for the fire. Suddenly, Peter left the house – no goodbye, no tender kiss. What was wrong? I busied myself trying to put into order all the various tins of baked beans, peas and corned beef lying on the floor in the no-shelf pantry, and then set about straightening up the bedroom, putting away our wedding gifts and clothes. I eventually wandered to the little room with the closed door at the end of the very short passage and tried opening it but it wouldn’t budge, so I heaved and heaved at it and eventually managed to get my head round and see inside.
Such a sight appeared before me: papers, books, photos, clothes, letters, bills, bank statements all piled high up against the door and over the floor. No desk, no chair, no cupboards, and in fact no windows, just a wire mosquito screen at the far end. I pushed my way through the chaos and set to work putting everything into order, including, I was miffed to see, photographs of previous girlfriends!
At about noon, Peter returned. He had gone across the river to see his boss, Bill, to get an update on what had been happening during his absence, and to collect Rip, his Border Collie, which Bill had been looking after. It was then I learned the reason for his unfriendly departure that morning – I hadn’t produced any breakfast! Whew! Well, I had never cooked in my life and certainly not on a stove into which you had to stash wood, and with no sink in the kitchen, and no water on tap, and no table on which to work.
This was solved by me teaching Albert what to do in future. We rustled up some corned beef and baked beans for lunch and dinner was to be a tin of stew with some potatoes.
As dusk fell I could hear Albert in the kitchen priming the Tilley lamp and he went off duty.
We decided we had better get into the nearest town soon to get some supplies.
The next morning, Peter once again went across the river on foot (after some breakfast this time!) accompanied by Rip. I decided to have a look around the ground surrounding the house . There was no garden as such, just a few aloes, and mother-in-laws tongue, and plenty of signs of elephants and hippo having been close the house.
By lunch time, Peter and Rip hadn’t returned, and so went outside and looked out across the swathes of ten foot tall elephant grass embedded in parts of the river, hoping to see them coming across. At last I could hear Rip barking, so knew they were on their way back. But then I heard elephants trumpeting and screaming. I saw the elephant grass swaying madly, then Peter bursting out of the reeds, running like mad, with Rip turning back and barking his head off, before catching up and passing Peter. The dog had seen the elephants at the river and had intensely annoyed them by barking at them. Having had enough of this intrusion, they had charged forward and began to chase him. Rip, of course, turned and, with the elephants hot on his tail, ran back to Peter, who had no choice but to run for his life too. Fortunately the elephants gave up the chase, and at last Peter and Rip got safely back to the house, Peter covered in scratches, blood all over his arms and face from having to thrust his way through the spikey reeds. It was a narrow escape.