Tag Archives: Africa

Life in a Geological Camp in Africa by Trish Jackson

 

My husband worked as a geophysicist for a large international mining group in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He used scientific instruments to probe the ground and identify masses that were denser than the surrounding dirt, which often indicated large mineral deposits.

Our first child was six months old when we locked the doors of our house on the mine compound, settled the dog in the back of the truck, and headed out, towing our travel trailer. A caravan of trucks followed, loaded with the laborers plus all the equipment and camping gear. Rhoda, our nanny, traveled with us.

Empress Nickel Mine couldn’t produce enough nickel, and they needed to find more ore reserves.

This was our second geological camp since getting married. We set it up outside the mine compound on a low rise beside a picturesque dam. Our compound was made up of the travel trailer (our bedroom), the attached tent (patio), bolt-together metal hut (our dining room), kitchen (a pole structure with hessian sides nailed to it and a metal roof), the bathroom (with a tub like you see in cowboy movies), and the long-drop toilet. The hessian was painted with cement slurry which hardened into a thick crust to make it rain-proof.

The laborers set up their own encampment a few hundred feet away from ours, and David’s assistant, Arnold joined us with his travel trailer.

The horse stables on the mine offered free stabling for our horses, and accommodation for our groom, and we rode almost every day, and sometimes at night when the moon was full we would go for a moonlight ride around the lake.

Sam, our camp cook baked delicious fresh bread every day using an upturned metal bucket with hot coals heaped around and on top of it as a makeshift oven. Geologists and other mining personnel from all over the world visited us, and we got to meet some wonderful people.

David and Arnold built a raft out of empty oil drums. It tipped over most times they tried to get onto it. It was only later that we saw the enormous crocodiles that inhabited the lake. Ha ha.

Some evenings we would sing, and Sam and Rhoda would join in and harmonize with us as only Africans can do. It was awesome.

One of the laborers had a portable record player and only two records—My Sweet Lord by George Harrison and Joy to the World by Three Dog Night. He played them repeatedly as loudly as possible every evening. Whenever I hear either song, I’m transported back to that camp. I can smell the wood smoke, the mouth-watering scent of bread baking and the clean air. I can see the scrubby brush and thorn trees, and feel the vibrant essence of Africa.

To write about everything that happened would take way too long and would probably be boring, but here are a few memorable moments worth sharing.

Our first geological camp was on a farm. Bill Mills, the farmer, wasn’t too happy about it until we found a mutual interest in horses. After that, he and his two nieces often rode over in the evenings to enjoy a beer with us. We were invited to a farewell dinner at the farmhouse when our stay was almost up. The food was delicious, but I can honestly say it was the only time I’ve eaten a meal with horses standing in the dining room begging for scraps. Having a horse thrust its head between you and the next person while seated at the dining room table is a little disconcerting even if you love horses, but it will always be a unique and treasured memory.

One day in the second camp, a free-thinking goat broke away from the others in its flock, charged into our camp and jumped onto the kitchen table, sending pots, pans and crockery flying. An angry Sam chased it out, and not be outdone, it ran into our travel trailer and jumped onto the bed, where it stood with its horns ready to butt anyone who dared come near it. It took a while before someone was able to grab one of the horns and lead it out.

There had been a drought, and the Freedom from Hunger Campaign trucks delivered corn and sorghum to the villages scattered around in the trust land surrounding the mine compound. The recipients couldn’t eat it all, so they did what anyone would do with all that grain—made beer. Horses like the taste of brewers’ grains and it gives them extra pep and makes their coats shine, so we traveled from village to village collecting the masese as they called it to feed to our horses. Most times, the villagers were lying around on the ground too drunk to stand up, and brought new understanding to the term ‘paralytic drunk’.

The drought broke, and it started raining, and didn’t stop. The job was completed and we were supposed to go home. We packed everything up, but decided to wait one more day and spend New Year’s Eve 1971/72 at the mine, as they had organized a big party with a great band. The Umsweswe River flooded and rose so high it covered the bridge and made it impassable. No problem. The band was ferried across with all their equipment in a grader or a front-end loader. They played all night, because they had no place to go.

At six the next morning, tired and somewhat inebriated, we wound our way back to camp. The plan was to get a couple of hours’ sleep and then head out. When we arrived, we discovered that the dam had risen overnight and our camp was now across a large body of water on an island. We had no choice but to drive through the water. The waves lapped at the doors but we made it, hooked up the trailer to our little Daihatsu pickup and managed to slip and slide through the water and along the flooded, muddy tracks until we reached the paved road. Thankfully, the river had gone down a little and we were able to negotiate the bridge.

Soon after that, the bush war hotted up and the company instigated a policy whereby no women or children were permitted to accompany their spouses into remote areas.  It was fun while it lasted and those unique memories will always stay with me and make me smile.

Trish Jackson grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe, Africa, and lived through some crazy adventures that sparked her imagination; including having to keep a loaded UZI by her side every night in case of an attack by armed insurgents. She loves all animals and often includes them in her stories. She’s happiest with her wonderful family members, or in her country home in Florida tapping out a new novel on her computer. Find out more at http://www.trishjackson.com .

 

Those Scary Moments By Trish Jackson

 

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It has often been documented that one’s life passes before one in a near death situation, and then a bright light appears. But what about experiences that are not quite that close to death, but are pretty scary anyhow? We all have them. Here are some of mine.

My husband’s position as the group geophysicist for a large international mining group in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) often took him to remote and isolated regions. The ongoing war with communist-trained terrorists who crossed our borders, and raped, tortured and murdered the innocent had caused the company to implement a policy disallowing women and children from traveling with their husbands to out-of-the-way areas. We all know rules are made to be broken, and when David invited me to accompany him to Sengwa coal field, I conned a friend into taking care of our children for a few days.

Most of the company Land Rovers were landmine-protected—reinforced with thick steel plate underneath, but David chose to use the fancy Land Rover with the leather bucket seats and softer suspension—the one that wasn’t mine-protected. He wanted me to be more comfortable. I wasn’t. I sat as lightly as I could—if it’s possible to sit lightly—the entire journey of over 100 miles of dirt road.

Needless to say, I was more than a little relieved when we arrived at the Sengwa mine compound in one piece. The relief was short-lived. A military unit had commandeered the complex, and were digging trenches and laying sandbags. We were told they were expecting to be mortared that night. Turning around and going home on those roads at night was not an option.

My respect for soldiers everywhere grew exponentially. I was issued with a military rifle, and as I took a couple of practice shots, I thought, ‘Is this really happening? Am I going to have to spend the night in those trenches with mortars being fired at us tonight? What happens if they score a direct hit on the trench?’

As it turned out, the attack didn’t come. We spent a restless night inside the building listening to the radio communications, but come morning the danger had passed. The only incident reported was that the local chief had been killed by a land mine overnight, but thankfully, the villagers had not been attacked.

I was thrilled when our Land Rover wouldn’t start and we had to take one of the mine-protected vehicles for the return journey, which was uneventful until we rounded a bend and almost ran into a herd of elephants. The elephants in that area were known to be aggressive, and had picked up a few vehicles and thrown them around and trampled them. We moved way back, and waited for them to head off into the bush.

Back at home on a later date, I was riding my horse, Calypso, alone in a remote corner of a sizeable cattle ranch. I stopped to let him drink at a water trough, and as I glanced up into the thick brush facing me, I caught movement. The shadowy silhouette of someone lifting something to their shoulders, like they were aiming a rifle—at me. Terrorists were known to pass through our area, but they didn’t generally attack anyone there because the country’s borders were too far away for a quick retreat. I forced myself to act calm, although my heart hammered as I turned Calypso around and walked away. Knowing that someone is aiming a rifle at your back is terrifying, and it took all my will-power not to spur Calypso into a gallop. To this day I often wonder who it was in those bushes, and if I really was in danger.

I think we all find ourselves in a perilous situation at least once in our lives, and each and every one of us has a story to tell. The awesome thing about people is that everyone’s story is totally different, and I love hearing them. Maybe you could tell us yours in the comments section.

Editor’s Note: Comments are always appreciated. We like to know what interests our readers. You don’t have to be a member of the blog or even a writer, and you don’t need a website.

 

Trish Jackson believes that her real life adventures growing up in Africa sparked a love for adventure, and being a romantic at heart, she writes romantic suspense. Her latest novel, Virgo’s Vice is set to be released before the end of 2015. http://www.trishjackson.com

Honeymoon – Rhodesian Style

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             This is the true story of my honeymoon. It probably helps to illustrate just how diverse we, at the Write Room Blog really are.

 

Webster‘s defines “insouciant” as: “Blithely indifferent; carefree.”  It aptly describes the irrational idea to drive down one of the worst roads in Africa in the middle of the rainy season. It was an idea that could only have been conceived with the slightly insane self-confidence of youthful minds. It would be exciting and romantic to honeymoon in Inhassoro, in Mozambique, where we had met just over a year ago. We didn’t care that that had been in the winter, when it didn’t rain. We brushed aside the warnings with derision.

 

We were excited and filled with confidence that balmy summer morning, the first day of our life together. My new husband whistled as he maneuvered the Jeep deftly around the steep curves that would lead us down to Forbes Border Post where we would cross out of Rhodesia and into Mozambique. The freshness from the previous afternoon’s thunderstorm lingered and perfumed the air with its fragrance, but the scream of cicadas was a sure sign it would be hot later.

 

There was very little traffic and we made good time despite the rutted surface and potholes in the road. The midday sun blazed overhead when we stopped in the village of Theca. We wandered unhurriedly around a small private  zoo, hand-in-hand, while waiting for our meal of peri-peri prawns, a Mozambican delicacy. The earthy aroma of the thick coastal jungle conjured up memories of previous journeys and hinted that soon we would be at the Indian Ocean.

 

Not long after lunch, we turned off the main road and headed south toward the coastal plain and the village of Buzi. After about an hour the paved road came to an abrupt end at the banks of the Buzi River. There was no bridge and the  only way across was by pontoon.

 

On the other side, in the small settlement, the storekeeper cheerfully informed us in Portuguese that he had “no gasolina”. Rivers of sweat trickled into the folds of fat on his bare torso. His eyes rolled southward, he scratched the stubble on his chin, then raised his hands, palms-upward, and shrugged. It wasn’t his fault. No tankers had been able to reach him from the south on the flooded roads.

 

He had ice-cold beers, though. The sultry heat turned them blood warm before we had time to finish them, as we foolishly headed into the uninhabited coastal plain on an impassable road with insufficient gas.

 

The warm beer tasted metallic. Cicadas screamed. The heat hung heavy in the humid air. The open windows were our only form of air conditioning and Tsetse flies followed the vehicle in swarms. Our attempts to swat them away were mostly unsuccessful and their stings were painful.

 

Sweat poured off us in the stifling heat as the road deteriorated into two meandering pathways dotted with potholes in the thick, black mud. The tracks divided into three then four separate trails with no indication of their ultimate destination. Unconcerned, we sang to relieve the monotony, “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…”

 

Precariously balancing above the deeply rutted tire marks, we had to skirt a wine-tanker—we didn’t see any gas tankers—buried to its stomach in the mire. We stopped and I jumped into a pothole that reached almost over my head.

 

The deserted town of Joao Belo sprawled into view and we pondered the reason for its demise as my husband randomly selected our route from the myriad of tracks that circumnavigated a broken bridge. The Jeep’s engine growled monotonously.

 

Darkness fell with the rapidity of the tropics, bringing only slight relief from the heat. The whine of mosquitoes replaced the buzz of the tsetse flies as we churned on through the endless, restless mud until a flooding creek forced us to stop.  A sign, incongruous in this lonely place, told us it was the Gorongoze River. Normally a shallow stream, it was now in flood, and the low bridge had disappeared under the rushing water.

 

A lion moaned mournfully in the thick undergrowth as we tried to decide whether to press on or wait until morning. We were young and impatient, and I held my breath, wondering briefly at our sanity as the Jeep eased forward. The headlights sank under the water and it lapped at the doors. Something grated against the undercarriage.

 

A Land Rover materialized in the opaque beams of the headlights as we fought our way up the steep, slippery bank on the other side. The dejected demeanor of the three men standing beside it in the darkness told the story. An unknown object under the water had smashed their vehicle’s differential. They had gas and we were almost on empty, so we agreed to tow them.

 

It turned out that a can of gas was a small price to pay for the xenophobic experience that followed. The old and tattered rope broke constantly as one or both vehicles was dragged down by the mud. Each time, they had to get out and re-join it, and we would start again, until a massive pile of steaming dung in the headlights announced the presence of elephants on the road ahead.  Flies buzzed around it and its unmistakable manure smell suffused the night air.

 

We stopped to investigate the reason for the urgent blasts on the horn of the vehicle behind us. The three men told us in their broken English mixed with Portuguese they were afraid we would come across the elephants and startle them. They would be helpless with their disabled vehicle, and unable to escape if the elephants attacked them.  They told us to leave them and continue on without them. We promised to send help, although I wondered how anyone would get to them, as theirs was the only other vehicle we had encountered.

 

The relief of travelling without the incessant jolting from the towing added to our excitement when we reached the banks of the Rio Save, which was in full flood. The old low-level bridge was buried beneath the water. The chain blocking the entrance to the new high-level bridge was easy to remove. Layers of spattered mud dulled the headlights and it was impossible to determine the cause of the intermittent bumps in the gloom. Finally, we stopped to investigate.

 

The icy grip of fear clawed at me when I looked down through a gap in the road to see the silver, moon-washed water rushing past far, far below. We were on the center of the longest multi-span suspension bridge in Southern Africa, and the massive concrete slabs suspended from the arch above had not yet been joined.

 

There was no going back. Time stood still as, with the heavy helplessness of a nightmare, we crept forward for an agonizing lifetime-long period. My fear gave way to sighs of relief that were short-lived when we reached the southern end of the bridge. In place of a chain, a massive construction vehicle blocked the exit.

 

We had come too far. Nothing could force us to turn around, and anyhow we didn’t have enough gas. We plunged down the almost vertical bank of loose earth, not daring to breathe until we felt the firm bite of asphalt under the wheels and we knew we had made it to civilization and paved roads.

 

I grinned at the Tsetse Control official. The whites of his wide eyes gleamed in the moonlight as he sprayed the vehicle mechanically, probably wondering if we were real or just ghosts in the night. I looked at my watch. It was four thirty in the morning. It had taken us thirteen hours to drive one hundred and seventy miles.

 

The insouciance of youth prevailed, and as we roared triumphantly onto the illusive paved road we had no misgivings about the return journey. And that is another story.

 

Trish Jackson writes emotive romantic suspense focusing on small towns, country folk and animals. www.trishjax.com