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.

Dobermannhuendin
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.

zimbabwe-geohive

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

Housekeeping in the Bush

Once upon a time, long ago in Africa, I lived in a Game Reserve. In those days this particular National Park was called Wankie but now, much more acceptable (at least in Australia), it is known as Hwange. Roland’s posting was Main Camp and that is where I went as a young bride. There was electricity and running water. The wood stove was a Dover, a big, black, cast iron monster that was the devil to light and to keep lit. In the garden there were mulberry trees right up against the house. The elephants would raid the trees in the night, pulling down the branches and munching through leaves, fruit and branches. On one occasion they ate the aerial I had threaded through the tree to improve reception on the radio. After that, I kept an empty biscuit tin near the window which I would bang furiously to chase the great beasts away. How exciting, though, to see the moonlight reflecting off the big bull’s tusks – right there by the window! The wise old eyes looking into mine as I banged and crashed the biscuit tin is a memory I will take to my grave.

animals
From my sketch book 1964

The nearest grocery shop was in Dett, exactly eleven miles from Main Camp – so my husband tells me. Each week I would make a shopping list in a small blue notebook ready for the Parks employee to take to Dett for the order to be filled. I can’t recollect his name but it could have been Mwene. He would collect my notebook and those of the other Rangers and set off on his bicycle to Dett. The road out of Main Camp was, and probably still is, dirt – sand really, past the airstrip where there were often elephant and zebra. Mwene was cautious around the elephant and even more alert for lions. He was often chased by the animals so was an extremely fit man! Pushing a fairly old treadly through thick Kalahari sand with a lion hot on your heels would do wonders for cardio. The next day, the van from Dett would come tearing down the road to deliver the goods we had ordered: sugar, tea, mealie-meal and whatever else I had ordered that they had in stock. Golden syrup was popular and powdered milk.

Sometimes, the Rangers’ wives would drive through to Wankie town and do some ‘proper’ shopping. On one memorable occasion on the way home the car broke down a few kilometres from Main Camp. We had to wait till someone missed us and came looking for us before we were rescued. There were four of us in the car and none of us was game enough to get out and walk through the dusk to Main Camp.

Sometimes I would take my sketch book when we were out in the Park looking for animals or stranded tourists. I found the sketch while I was decluttering my study.

Housekeeping in the Bush