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.
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.