Friday, 25 May 2007

Memories of Rhodesia - Part 1


I had just turned eleven when we crossed the over the Limpopo River to start our new life in Rhodesia. The year was 1969, it was just before Christmas and, for me at least, it was a great adventure.

We travelled in convoy, my father, brother, sister and two basset hounds in the car in front with my mother and me in her newly acquired bright red Triumph Spitfire bringing up the rear, I felt special to have my mum all to myself, lighting her cigarettes and pouring her cups of coffee from the big shiny new flask at my feet.

I don’t remember much of the actual border crossing. It was raining and I remember being told that the swollen river flowing angrily under the bridge was known as the ‘great, grey, greasy, Limpopo River’ and that, as far as my mother was concerned, it was the last frontier of civilisation as she knew it!

Originally a strip road, by 1969 the main Beit Bridge to Salisbury road had been improved by the filling in of the area between the strips and the addition of a new surface. The history of the underlying strips could still be read in places where the new tar had cracked away from the harder surface underneath. I remember looking at the thin ribbon of road stretching into the distance and wondering what happened when a car came from the other direction. I also remember being quite astonished when the inevitable happened and we had to pull over to the left, leaving only one set of wheels on the tar and the other on the dirt shoulder of the road to make room for the two cars to pass each other.

Crossing a flooded low level bridge was quite exciting for an eleven year old, especially in a Spitfire with very low clearance! As we crept slowly across the bridge, I remember leaning out the window and watching the water level rising slowly higher and higher until it started to seep in under the door, never doubting for one moment my mother’s ability to get us to the other side or thinking of the possibility of the car being swept off the bridge into the fast flowing river. In retrospect, I can only admire my mother’s calm and determined ‘attack’ of that bridge. At no time did she imply anything but a cool control of the situation and a confidence that we would make it to the other side. She must have been quaking inside – once committed, there was no turning back!

I remember rain! Lots and lots of rain and with it, lots of mud. We had arrived at the beginning of the rainy season and it seemed to rain continuously for the next three months.


The first house we stayed in was a newly built rented one. I remember the starkness of it and the sodden, muddy front yard with little green spikes of newly planted grass bravely doing battle with the thick, sticky, red mud. Mostly I remember the mud – it was everywhere, it followed everyone around the house, its redness staining everything it touched. I remember my mother’s despair. She was a very house proud woman and we had always lived in a meticulously clean and tidy environment. That mud slowly and insidiously took over her life and ate away at her composure. It took shape on the floor, on the walls and on the furniture. And when the rain finally stopped and the mud turned to dust which settled in every nook and cranny, the war took on a different and more subtle tone.

I remember friendly neighbours, open gates and offers of ice cold drinks for the rabble of children that hurtled up and down the neighbourhood on their bicycles, stopping here and there for a pit stop when the hot sun became too much. I remember the rather strange lady that lived next door with the German Sheppard called ‘Otto’ and a swimming pool. How we used to laugh when she stood in her garden calling the dog – “Otto, Otto!” in a singsong voice that, for some reason best known to children, seemed immensely funny at the time.

I remember our favourite neighbours on the corner who had a donkey in their garden and an endless supply of biscuits and cooldrink in their house! Mr ‘Neighbour-on- the–Corner’ also had an endless supply of Chinese puzzles that kept us busy for hours and an endless supply of patience that kept us coming back.


I hated school! No matter how hard I try I can only remember unpleasant times and a great burning desire to leave. I went to an all girls school where I was an indifferent student and a solitary teenager who found it difficult to fit in with the silly, spiteful ‘girls brigade’ of giggling, fashion obsessed robots.

When I informed my mother that I had decided to leave school halfway through my Form IV year, she took it in her stride and told me that I could only leave if I found a job as I was not going to sit around the house all day doing nothing. Maybe she thought I would be daunted enough to back down but so determined was I to leave school that within the week I had found a job and so ended a period of time in my life that I look back on now with no more pleasure than I felt then.

So, at age sixteen, I stepped out into the real world and my life took on a new shape and form.
Watch this space for the next thrilling instalment! LOL


Rebicmel said...

May I have more please

Jayne :) said...

Don't want to bore you all to tears - there's rather a lot of it!

Thought it might be easier to read in smaller instalments :)

Rebicmel said...

Oh I love reading about peoples lives lol, its the avid reader in me

Crystal Dawn said...

Hello Jayne!

Thank you for sharing your trip down memory lane. I imagine you have a cranium full of splendid and not so splendid stories of the past.

I am not aware of the reason that your family relocated to such a far off place. If it's not too bothersome, perhaps you could share a detail or two. I'd love to hear about it!

Jayne :) said...

Hey CD - plans to do the next instalment tomorrow. Just wasn't sure if anyone would be interested!

It gets racier - promise ;-)


J Morgetron said...

What a story! Thanks! I'm awaiting the next installment.