Home Articles Trips to Zambia A Return to Zambia and a Solar Eclipse : June 2001
A Return to Zambia and a Solar Eclipse : June 2001 Print E-mail
Written by Kristien (Mostert, van Woenssel) Massie   
Friday, 10 July 2009 11:15

My younger son has an avid interest in astronomy. He started making suggestions I accompany him to Zambia in the first instance for the Eclipse, but also with a curiosity, to return to the place we all so love. We had left this wonderful country 20 years previously and as I thought about his proposal, more than half of me hesitated.

In previous years I had already visited where I had grown up in South Africa and the other haunts I’d frequented. In most cases I was aghast at what I found. Time and absence plays awful tricks. We remember these places as we had last seen. We are unable, let’s put it this way I was unable through long being absent, to envisage how treasured memories alter all that was youthfully familiar and recognisable.

I became a trifle worn down by his persistence and finally, agreed. Plans were made and flights arranged. We flew from London-Heathrow to arrive at Johannesburg where we transferred to an Ndola bound flight. At London’s check-in we found we could ‘through-check’ our luggage to Ndola – the first time we had been able to do so from days of long ago journeys. We always had to clear Customs and Immigration at Port of Entry and of course would have had to do it all over again at our destination - so thought this new facility a good one.Oh! What a huge mistake! On arrival at Ndola, my suitcase was missing …

Ndola Airport Immigration was somewhat slow despite only a few visitors entering and the rest being returning residents. As visitors we were required to pay for our Visitors Visa’s in either US$ or UK£. The amount did not break the bank and only in recent years has the sum become drastically increased in retaliation to the UK’s stamping down on those entering as visitors, then staying on and melting in with the population. I sometimes wonder whether this works.

We found a wonderfully spruced up airport with cheerful, friendly and crisply attired staff. I was truly amazed having practically lived at that previously tired looking airport during the children’s boarding school travelling days. There were of course some changes within those still used Nissan huts and found the luggage retrieval had been moved to a separate shed – no other word to describe it. No baggage for me so a return to the airport building to report it. Efficient staff with one telephone call established that it had indeed been left at Johannesburg. I was later to find that an attempt had been made to gain entry to my case, happily, without success.

We were met and picked up by my close friend’s son with whom we were to stay. We had arranged to be with her but after our plans had been finalised, but she’d been hurriedly flown to her daughter in the UK for an urgent operation. Apart from my greatest wish to see her, an Eclipse wouldn’t wait.

As we drove along the Ndola-Kitwe road, the tar improved and I was appalled to note the absence of trees. We had previously not been able to see too far off the road side and now, could view miles into this hinterland. We entered Kitwe and as I recalled the route and our surroundings I also noted many road adjustments. We carried on to Riverside where we were to stay. Coming off the main road onto the side road to the house was a little mind boggling – the main road having been re-surfaced by the IMF I believe, but the road leading off it, a winding dodgem course in pothole avoidance. Some were no longer potholes, more like excavations.

It was not without a touch of déjà vu with which we viewed our surroundings. The overnight flight too was playing havoc with our senses, however, we settled in and were able to relax and absorb the ambience of being back, a return not without some excitement.

We had of course to keep tabs on my suitcase and its potential arrival. In borrowed clothing with which to cope with the heat of midday as I recalled it in the winter’s of so long ago, and to launder what I had worn. It took two days to retrieve my case. We were then able with a borrowed car to drive around Kitwe and its centre on a familiarisation tour. So much had changed!

We parked in Obote Avenue, and walked passed the old Apeco and BCal offices and round the corner. What was Coronation Square prior to Independence and then Kaunda Square – now Unity? – appeared before us in a terrible state from that which I remembered. A veritable dust bowl and a tree which had disintegrated and fallen down, was still lying there in remnants and the huge root hole remained a hole. The Library building looked forlorn as it faced what had once been such a lovely square with flowers and green grass. I reminisced where The Sportsman’s Den, CNA, the doctor’s surgery, Vennie Myers Gowns and Central African Trust had been … onward to Matuka Avenue where booms now crossed the turning point for parking outside shops. I can’t remember whether there was a charge or a time limit for so doing. I was able to meet up with an old acquaintance at his premises located past Shoprite which had replaced the old OK Bazaars, to renew our friendship. We eventually evaded a very friendly drunk who repeatedly wished to shake hands with us, returned ‘old timers’. There were some very odd signs about. One which sticks in my memory was something to do with ‘it is not permissible to urinate in public places’ …

The vegetable market appeared to have vanished in our absence and none of the shops we saw were familiar to us. Building facades like the Post Office and Barclays Bank were there. Across from the Post Office used to be the ZCBC Store. It was from outside the Post Office I once haggled with a Congolese painter for one of his water colours I much admired and still have it to this day.

We had the opportunity to contribute to commodities for our hosts – pay our way in other words – and this is when I really found out that only those with money were able to pay the prices in Shoprite. Paying at the till was quite another experience. We had already changed some foreign cash into Kwacha and I was carrying around a handbag stuffed with unrecognisable notes. We additionally received an education with the absence of the Ngwee. When the final bill was totted up on the dilapidated till, I somewhat bewilderingly peered at the figure and decided to simply hand over, to a bemused cashier, one bundle of notes saying ‘you take what you need!’
We chatted to some youngsters who had absolutely no idea what an Ngwee was. Such a pity I hadn’t brought any of these long ago coins to show them.

We peeked up Central Street on our adventures and past the old Nkana Hospital where a few of our operations had taken place, now some sort of a Chinese style healing centre. Passing Freedom Avenue Park on our way to Parklands we were sadly able to better note the shoulder high grass that once was short and where children played. The Parks Office hardly remained. Onward and along a road into Twalishuka (old St Peter’s) Close, we viewed our past town residence – still there and intact as we remembered it. My friend’s home too half way down the Close for she still resided there.

We continued and drove by the sad burnt out shell that was Kitwe Playing Fields, my old hockey stomping grounds, to our old farm. Buchi Township and the Waterworks, over the Kafue River via the causeway bridge submerged by a flooded river during some of our time, to meander along the farm track and when we arrived - we gazed upon a vista, barely recognising this entry to the farmhouse surrounds. Green lawns and flower gardens graced where we just kept short grass. The pine forest to the right of the house, where I rubbed toes with the Gaboon Viper, was still there. Our buyer in situ still (unfortunately her husband had passed away during the intervening years). We met her house servant in the kitchen who said ‘go in, madam’s in the lounge.’ I gingerly made my way through a much altered home and on entering the lounge, I was absolutely amazingly greeted with ‘Kris Van Woenssel (my previous married name on leaving Zambia), what took you so long?!’ What an astounding welcome and what a reunion!
We spent the afternoon and also met up with one of her son’s who came from town after she had contacted him. He and my son knew one another having briefly met when the farm changed hands. We were invited to return for the weekend, our last two days in Zambia. This one week’s visit was turning into one of regret at not being able to tarry longer.

The day of the Eclipse dawned with our host driving us to our viewing venue, via the Ndola-Luanshya by-pass – en route saying ‘this is a dangerous road frequented by robbers …!’ So why then did we venture along that going-round-potholes for a road … we received no answer! At Kabwe we stopped for goodies for a braai and turned off the wonderfully tarred Ndola-Lusaka highway and travelled for about 20 ‘klicks’ to a farm. Parked up and toting our consumables, we found a spot among other attendees and would-be spectators. We were so pleasantly surprised by the stock in the shop at Kabwe, a town so frequently by-passed in our day when we headed to Lusaka.

Unbeknown to my son, our host knew that some of the attendees would be their old school friends whom my son had last seen at Junior School in Zimbabwe. A special, unexpected reunion, then took place – what a bonus for him!

The eclipse was spectacular and much enjoyed by all. As the sky darkened and the birds and other wild life quietened down in the eerie silence, I remember seeing a herd of cattle making their way back to the barn … quite under false pretences of course! Thrilled at our presence of such an extraordinary event, it was all too soon, over.
We returned to Kitwe at the end of the day and in the dark. Thankfully not via the bypass but just as we left Ndola, we had a puncture. With the words ‘this is not a good place to stop’ coming from our host who was driving. My son ended up changing the wheel and we subsequently reached their home thankfully without further incident.

The following afternoon we returned to the farm. We were shown round the house and all the alterations they had made – all doors had been removed and replaced by arches – it had become a veritable hacienda. The well loved fireplace had been blocked in. Walking around the house I was able to see more changes, new terraces, lots of exotic plants and flowers. We sat on the lawn and just gassed – catching up and it was wonderful.

Some of these changes provoked memories: The wonderful avocado tree had sadly gone. It was already of some considerable age when we moved to the farm and the crop of avocadoes, not only sustained our greed but were avidly desired by our pigs too! They were about the size of an American football and we had thought of exporting them due to the sheer enormity of the yearly crop. The idea did not become a practicality though as the overseas price for them would have broken the bank – at that time the tiniest avocado in England cost over £1 – so these king-sized ones …. ?? !!

The orchard, which had so sustained us with various fruit had been removed. The ‘Royal’ Strawberry Patch had been dug up – I had dubbed it by this name after the luscious large strawberries had graced the then President’s dessert table when the Queen came to open Parliament one year and she stayed at his lodge on the Kafue River. (Two of our three dogs used to take it in turns to snuffle out the ripe fruit to eat their fill) The pig sties, cattle and goat enclosures were no more as were the rabbit hutches, duck and chicken runs. We were of course saddened but time moves everything into a different lifestyle. They were at the time of our visit experimenting with the growing of asparagus where the orchard had been. Also taken down were a number of old Eucalyptus trees across from the front veranda deemed as unsafe in their dodgy state. The swimming pool on the lower terrace had been filled in.
A herd of dairy cows were housed adjacent the other side of the home, close enough to be kept an eye out for would-be rustlers. They supplied the local dairy board with the milk produced.

The long vista from the house to the river was still a great way to view the Kafue. One year we had a house girl who appeared not to ‘savvy’ whatever one said to her. At the time a humungous crocodile had been spotted in the vicinity – I saw it through binoculars as it sunned itself on that part of the lawn close to the river bank. The sheer size of the skin sections – if that’s the right word - were enough to provoke instant shock. Everyone was warned not to go fishing from the bank … so what did this girl do one fine day not long after the warning was given? Yes, she went fishing! I was home when we heard her screams echoing up the incline and we all rushed out and down the short grass to see her running from the bank and the croc not too far behind – boy can they move! Fortunately for her she had the presence of mind to run around a small rockery a third of the way up and this slowed the croc’s momentum. It also heard our shouting presence and hastily made its way back down into the water … They were then a protected species and we had to go through a rigmarole for a professional hunter to come and shoot it. He never found it though.

One of the joys was watching a pod of hippo and hearing their wonderful ‘haw haws.’ They’d come up the bank at night to the right of our veranda view and then slide back into the water. Somehow the kids and their friends dubbed these slides as ‘foofie slides.’ They’d been instructed to climb the nearest tree should they get into difficulties. We’d also planted a banana grove in that area and had also experimenting with coffee growing.

Back to the present, we enjoyed a braai that evening and after bathing in a bath filled with Kafue River water, I live to tell the tale! My son meanwhile had a shower in an outside built one, and in the dark, nearly freaked out when something moved in the corner. Recalling our close shaves with some of the wild life we’d experienced, on shining the torch in that direction, his gaze met that of a frog …
I slept like a trooper in my old bedroom that night.

The following day as I relaxed in good company, eating a mound of pumpkin fritters made especially for me, their son and mine ventured forth, disappearing through the vast acreage not to be seen until late afternoon. They walked the entire circumference of the farm and reminisced from the time we left the farm and they took over.

We so reluctantly departed the farm that evening for we were to fly back to Johannesburg the following day. With not enough time to try and hunt for old friends, one telephone call with a hockey pal had to suffice.

We left Ndola Airport to a sad farewell from the staff with a request not to stay away for so long again!

Who knows what the future will bring. Never, say never!