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
– 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.