Living in Binga part 2

Since I wrote the first part of this ‘living in Binga’, I’ve remembered so many trivial things!

The sugar ants were prolific in Binga. If you have never seen such an insect, they are quite big, a translucent golden colour and very delicate looking. Somehow I got hold of a bottle of bright green peppermint liqueur. When I spilled a few drops, the sugar ants ate it up really quickly. Their abdomens swelled up and they were like tiny green lights running all over the floor. This amused me so much I spilled quite a lot more of the liqueur and attracted more ants. Did I mention that I spent a lot of my time alone? Roland was away on tsetse control for three weeks out of four. I showed him the luminous ant trick when he got back and he thought it was pretty cool too! We didn’t like the liqueur much anyway.

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Inconvenient sugar ant (Camponotus importunus)

The crusty old bachelor who built the strange looking house we lived in in Binga, had managed to transplant some Sabi Star trees. (Sabi Star are also known as Desert Rose). Crusty old bachelor had dug up at least ten and planted them in a straight row in the sand bowl ‘garden’ at the front of the house. Binga is in an arid area on the Zambezi Escarpment so there wasn’t much other vegetation. I have seen similar flowers in Bali which is odd as Bali is tropical. How incongruous to have these beautiful flowering trees right there by the front door.

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To while away the time I started stitching a patchwork quilt. In fact I’m still working on it some 53 years later. It is still unfinished and unlikely to be finished. It is mighty big though. Stitching by lantern light is not good for one’s eyes. The mice that nested in the back of the sofa were running around and squeaking as I sewed.

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I can remember looking out over Lake Kariba to the Zambian side. Sometimes, at night, I could see the light from cooking fires along the shore. Sometimes I could hear the sound of gunfire. I would take my little 9mm Beretta and barricade myself and my dog in the bedroom behind the metal door. Fortunately I never had to use the pistol, which was just as well. In fact it was far too heavy for me even if it was a small gun. On the odd occasion when I did target practice (obligatory) I was more danger to low-flying vultures than anything I actually aimed at. Apart from anything else, it was a bugger to load. Looking after it was also a responsibility I was happy to give up when we moved away from Binga.

 

 

 

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Living in Binga part 2

Living in Binga

Long ago Roland and I lived in Binga. Roland was transferred from his post in Main Camp in Hwange National Park. He was now on tsetse control in the Zambezi Valley. Because we ranked very low in the National Parks hierarchy, our household goods and chattels were summarily heaped on the open back of a decrepit truck. The road from Main Camp to Binga was, and probably still is, a pot-holed and corrugated dirt track. The African staff who moved us made themselves comfortable on our ancient lounge suite and why not? We bumped along behind in our Land Rover covered in dust.

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Binga is a small settlement on the Zambezi Escarpment just south of Lake Kariba. In those days it was known as a D.C’s Boma. In other words, it was the headquarters for the District Commissioner for the Binga District. The population in the 1960s consisted mainly of government employees. There were police, National Parks Rangers, a few civil servants and the like. The house we were allocated is probably still standing as part of it was built from local stone. The architecture was idiosyncratic to say the least! There was a large oval room with a thatched roof and a plain cement floor. This was our dining room and lounge. The kitchen and pantry were across an open space where we kept our paraffin-run deep-freeze (my 21st birthday present). A large leguan (a water leguan or Nile monitor) soon took up residence underneath the freezer. It was joined at one stage by a number of crocodile hatchlings. The Ranger i/c who lived next door had chosen the backyard of our house as a hatchery for crocodile eggs. One day, during a tropical storm, the hatchlings escaped and headed toward the lake. Our strange little house was between them and the water …

The bedroom had a strong metal door and a small window. This was because the war had already begun. When Roland was away on tsetse control, my beloved doberman Liza and I shared the bed. I only went with Roland on tsetse control a couple of times. I’m not fond of camping at the best of times and it is even worse down in the Zambezi Valley. It is hot and the tsetse flies bite even through clothing. Think of a horse fly bite and multiply the pain by 100%. They draw blood from buffalo and elephant – who have much thicker hides than human skin! What really put me off though was one day, sitting on a rocky outcrop near our camp; I noticed one of the ‘rocks’ moving. I realised it was not a rock but a massive python. I watched, hypnotised, for a while and the thickness did not alter although the snake was moving along. I hightailed it back to the camp and hid under the mosquito net on my stretcher. Pointless, really, but that’s what I did! Also, tsetse fly transmit human sleeping sickness and animal trypanosomiasis and that worried me because of Liza. The cure was also a killer for animals and I didn’t want to go through that.

Binga is hot, it is on the 17th parallel, and there are hot springs there too – The Chibwatatata Hot Springs. The water in the hot springs is literally boiling. Lake Kariba is not suitable to swim in because of crocodiles and hippos so occasionally we would swim in the hot springs. The water was cooled in a narrow channel from the spring to the swimming pool. The channel had cotton waste packed in to slow the flow and cool the water further. One day, a young boy removed much of the cotton waste. Not noticing that it had been removed the next person who swam had some serious burns.

There was no telephone and no electricity in Binga. If we needed to call anyone, we would have to go to the D.C’s office and use the radiophone. I can’t recall a nursing post or clinic but I think there was one.

To be perfectly honest, I did not like living in Binga. It was isolated, hot and dangerous. I was glad when we eventually moved away.

 

Living in Binga

An Interloper in the Bush

Main Camp, in retrospect, was a place where I learned many things and unlearned many others. In Main Camp I was given a puppy, a Doberman bitch. I named her Liza. Her mother was called Janz and her brother, Prinz (you get the drift). Liza was my best friend and my only confident throughout those years in National Parks. She saved my sanity in Main Camp and in Binga, Roland’s next posting. Liza’s tail was docked, that’s the way things were done in those days. I used to wonder what she would look like with a tail. She was amazingly quick – both in physical speed and mental acuity. Liza would help me in the garden, carefully digging up everything I planted. She was extremely protective of me from the beginning right up until the day she died twelve years later.

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This isn’t Liza but it looks a lot like her

In Main Camp I learned that women had little value. They must not be seen as being independent and, frankly, were not really welcome. Most of the other Rangers’ wives in the camp were unimpressed with me and I was made to feel an interloper. The Alpha-woman had ‘chosen’ a bride for Roland and that bride was not me! I learned fairly early in the piece to curb my tongue, to placate and defuse the situation. For a sparky, even volatile, person like myself, this was purgatory.

So, truth be told, the first year of married life was ghastly. If I had had the courage to drive out on my own, I would have done so. In the event, Liza was my salvation. With Roland away on patrol for weeks on end, she was by my side, supporting me in my isolation and in my anger and sadness.

Of course there were highlights. It was not unmitigated doom and gloom. My younger sister came to stay and one night I showed her the elephants as they scratched their thick hides against the corner of the house and munched on the mulberry trees. She was kneeling up on the couch peering through the window and I can remember her saying, “Where are they? I can’t see them!” and then I pointed to the gleaming tusk not a metre away from her. I wonder if she remembers falling backwards off the couch onto the cement floor?

One evening I was walking Liza down on the airstrip and noticed that the Park’s pack-horses and donkeys had not been rounded up for the night. I managed to get behind them and, with Liza’s help, herded them toward the camp. We had not gone far when I realised I was rounding up a herd of wild zebra. In the half-light of dusk their stripes were inconspicuous. We beat a quick retreat. The danger of lions had completely escaped my attention.

In Main Camp, Aaron came to work for me. Aaron was cook, housekeeper and friend. He came with us when we moved from Main Camp to Binga and when we moved from Binga to Salisbury (Harare). He stayed for a while in Salisbury but it was far from his home and he eventually moved back to be nearer his family in Matabeleland.

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I am writing down memories. As memories go, there are some that I would not consider committing to paper – and some of this feels like one of them! Some memories are too incriminating of me and some may be hurtful to others. Nevertheless, there are some I’d like to “write out” but not in a public forum. Many of my less savoury experiences I have written about in my private journals. Sometimes I feel this is merely burying them deeper in my psyche. Would publishing them prove to be cathartic?

An Interloper in the Bush