African Adventure – Part 6

Safari (Part 2)

Our safari to the Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Preserve was a rare luxury. We travelled with two friends and stayed in luxurious but very inexpensive hotels. Most of the highways were paved, but just in the middle.  You see, you would drive in the middle of the road, and move over when you met another car. Our trip to Mongu was different.

Mongu is a town in the Western Province of Zambia and during the next school holiday, we decided to travel there.  We had a couple of friends who had been posted there and they had come to Lusaka for a break. They stayed with us and my husband decided that it would be a good idea to drive them back to Mongu as they couldn’t get a lift from anyone else. I was seven months pregnant but it never occurred to us that anything could go wrong. And thank God, nothing did. We would be driving over 300 miles across some of the worst roads in Zambia in our 12 year old car.

There was another pontoon to take us across the Kafue river which had hippos standing around in the shallow water, just waiting for a tasty Canadian to have for lunch. There were African women washing clothes and dishes on the riverbank with their children playing around them. It was a charming scene and not too different from my own clothes-washing on my knees.

The journey was long and the whole area was much more isolated than on our previous trip. We had to break the trip into two days since driving at night was very dangerous. Many accidents were caused by unsuspecting drivers suddenly crashing, at night, into a lorry (truck) that was unlit and parked in the middle of an isolated road.

The first night we stayed at a leper colony. The hospital there was run by  priests and nuns from Ireland, and they were very welcoming. The next day was Sunday so we went to Mass before setting out again. Men were on one side of the tiny chapel and women and children on the other. There were a couple of chairs at the back but there was no place for the people to sit. They either stood or knelt and there were kneeling benches provided. One poor woman, who had a small child, was also pregnant. During the sermon she apparently got tired of standing and sat down on the kneeling bench. The woman in front of her turned around and slapped her sharply across the face. Needless to say, she stood up again!

Many of the people attending Mass were lepers and it was quite the experience. I saw little children in their parents’ arms. Several of them had flies walking around on their faces and they didn’t even raise a hand to brush them off. Very touching for a pregnant woman to see.

We arrived at Mongu the following day and drove up to a rise of  land to look out over the Barotse Flood Plain. Every year an area about 40 miles wide floods after the rainy season. The people who live on the plain have to move to higher ground and they hold a ceremony called the Kuomboka, in which the Litunga or king of the Lozi people enters a large dugout canoe and accompanied by drummers, moves the whole village to higher ground.

The canoe carrying the king of the Lozis to higher ground.

The canoe carrying the king of the Lozis to higher ground.

The word Kuomboka means “to get out of the water”. When we were in Mongu looking out at the Barotse Floodplain, it was shortly after the Kuomboka. We couldn’t see much water because the vegetation under the water had grown up and it looked like any other field.

A couple of days later, we drove back to Lusaka, and had only two gas rationing coupons left to get us home. There were very few gas stations and when we stopped at the last one, they were out of gas! This was not uncommon, and luckily we made it back before running completely dry.

The next bit of excitement in our lives was to be the birth of our first child. No drugs. No doctor. In Africa!

Thanks for reading. – Maureen




African Adventure – Part 4

Babies and Cars

Imagine being 21 years old, married, and going off to work and live in Africa for two years.  For us it was an adventure.  For our families, it must have seemed like madness.  We could not phone home, or communicate in any way except by what is now known as snail mail.  Any news we wanted to send home would take ten days to two weeks to reach them.

In early December, 1966, I found out that I was pregnant.  Our families were thrilled with the news.  First grandchild for both sets of parents.  And the baby would have 20 aunts and uncles.

Remember, I was still doing the laundry, kneeling on the floor beside the bathtub, and walking to school in the African heat.  I became quite sick so we decided to try to find a car to buy.  My salary as a teacher (John’s salary was the same) was $2,400 per year.  Zambian volunteers were the highest paid in the world.  The volunteers in India got only $500 per year.

Through a friend of a friend, we found a car that we could afford.  It was a 1954 Peugeot, and cost us $240.  But here’s the thing.  The entire roof of the car was rusted from being in the African sun for over ten years.  The doors opened backwards, and the driver was on the right!  It served us well, and took us on many trips around Zambia as well as to Malawi, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Botswana.

Because Rhodesia and Zambia were opposite politically (Rhodesia was an apartheid state), Zambia declared a policy of no-trade with Rhodesia, which meant that all goods had to come from somewhere else.  Gas had to be trucked in to the country from Tanzania.  The roads were appalling and there were many serious accidents.  Gas rationing was the solution.

We had little coupons which we had to take with us to buy gas.  Most months we were limited to 10 gallons.  One month we had 12 gallons, and one month, only 4.  Gallons.  For the whole month.

People helped each other out and if you had a spare coupon you gave it to a friend who was planning a trip.  If you knew a doctor, it was a bonus, because they had unlimited coupons.

In March we set out for the beautiful Victoria Falls, in Southern Zambia.  They were wild and natural, and uncommercialized.  We walked along a dirt path and came upon the Falls.  In the African language of that area, they  were known as mosi-oa-tunya, which translates to the smoke that thunders.  It describes the Falls perfectly.

John and I sat on a rock at the very edge of the falls and had our photo taken.  It is one of my favourites and whenever life has had its difficult situations, we look at that photo and tell ourselves that we are the kind of people who sit by Victoria Falls and can face anything.

The slides we took in Africa are being digitally translated, and I will add photos when they become available.  Until then you will have to use your imaginations.

Thank you for reading.  Have a wonderful day. – Maureen