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?

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An Interloper in the Bush

Black Cats and other delights

Lily, looking at a newspaper cutting “How to be a Writer”, scornfully says, “You just pick up a pencil and do some writing!” Her eight-year-old take on the world is clear. She is not afraid to ask if she doesn’t know something, which, I hasten to add, is not often! In my experience, eight-year-old girls are renown for their confidence in knowing ‘everything’.

On Saturday morning, we go for a walk. In a neighbour’s garden we see a black cat. “Black cats are bad luck” she tells me; there is a shadow of doubt in her voice.

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“Who told you that?” I ask.

“Melanie,” she replies. “When we walk to school, we go past a house where there is a black cat. Melanie says we must run past because it is bad luck!”

“Oh no!” I reply. “I used to have a black cat called Magic. He was good luck. He had green eyes and when he sat on the lawn, it seemed you could see right through his head.”

Lily considers this for a few minutes. “Was he a good cat?”

“No, he was very naughty and very clever, too. One day he pinched a whole string of sausages off someone’s barbecue and brought them home to share with Czar, the Doberman.” Lily looks suitably impressed.

Dobermannhuendin

“What happened then?”

“We all jumped in the swimming pool because we thought Magic had caught a snake.” I tell her.

“Was Magic the boss of Czar?”

“He certainly was,” I reply. “When we used to walk up on Table Mountain, behind our house, Magic would follow us in the bush and then, suddenly, spring out and pounce on Czar!”

“Is he dead now?” I’m not sure how the conversation comes back to death but it usually does.

“Yes, I should say he is, it was a long time ago.”

 

Black Cats and other delights