MIK WRIGHT’S RECOLLECTIONS

When I look around and see how the majority of kids in this country are brought up, how they live. I look back and see that the life we lived in Northern Rhodesia was a huge slice of paradise. Blessed time for a kid.

Brief as it was.

Well,

Lets see now,

Got born in Salisbury in May 1949, a true love after the war baby.

My first remembrance is of my mother and I in our back yard, her teaching me to hang washing. There was a lot of dancing, my mother loved music. Started school in there sometime, it was a short walk to the school and I remember my young brother standing at the gate with my mom crying because I was leaving him.

My mom says the first words he learned to string together was ‘ where hair mom? He seemed to know back then that we would go on to have to fight so hard to grow our hair like the beatles and the stones.

One day I came home from school and all our stuff was packed and the folks told me that we were leaving. I don’t remember why or if we were told where we were going. Found out later that my mom’s sister was living in a place called broken hill, that sounded so strange to me, a place called broken hill.

The drive seemed to take forever in that big tank of a ford, long rough dirt roads, twisty escarpments, and many wild animals that I had never seen before. Huge forests and wild looking bush.

I was 6 years old and had never been outside of the city of Salisbury.

I loved it.

We finally got to where we were going to be and call home for the next 9 years.

A small town called Ndola, on the Copper-belt, even stranger names, Lusaka, Muffalera, Chingola, Kitwe. Very dark and happy black people.

Sometimes when I’m driving, long distance mostly, here in the States, I say those names out loud, the Zulu ones as well, and all the names of towns in Swaziland where I lived later as a young man.

I’m not sure why or what my dad did but we lived out at the airport.

He was a master welder and could fix anything mechanical. A panel beater by trade. That’s how they used to take the dings out of cars.

There were only about another 5 houses out there. No other kids to play with. My brother and I got to know and play with the black kids our age, ran around the bush all day, learned how to catch rats by finding their holes and blocking all the exits but one then pushing sticks down into the other holes and as they came out the open one we would bash them with a club. When we had enough, they were quite big; we would take them to one of the kids kia’s and their mother would cook them up for us to eat. The process was quite simple. Hold them by the tail into a big pot of boiling water over the fire and all the hair would drop off, then gut them and fry them up with some chili and onions. This all eaten with a scoop of sadsa with our hands. My mom was always mad at us when we came home to full to eat her dinner, having eaten with the “ kaffirs”.

My good friends.

I missed them when we moved into the town into a huge house on an acre of ground with huge trees, an anthill much bigger than the house and some strange huge shrubs called kasva that lined the whole border of the one side of our yard.

We had two “ men” called a houseboy, his name was Jim and a garden boy whose name was Isaac. Isaac used to dig up huge roots of the kasva shrubs to take home to cook. He planted and tended a garden full of vegetables that my dad would oversee. On the weekends in the season, a young boy would appear just before breakfast time with a basket full of huge mushrooms, one could fill a frying pan, I can still taste those mushrooms as I write this.

Jim was a Zulu and used to do everything in the house including cook. I loved him, he taught me to speak fanagalo a language he had learned when he went to work in ‘ igoli “ the gold mines in Johannesburg.

Isaac taught us how to make a kati, which is called a slingshot here, out of old car tubes and bits of leather from old shoes to hold the stone. We had great times shooting at the huge lizards that were all over the place. We also killed and ate a lot of birds. We were always on the rampage fighting wars and killing things, being big hunters.

The place was called kansengi; I think that’s how you spell it.

There were only two seasons that I remember there. Hot and raining or hot and no rain. There were deep trenches on the sides of the roads that we would jump down into and run along, under the culverts, under the driveways, using our clay laka’s, which was a flexible fresh cut limb from a mulberry tree about 3 ft long. We would dig into the clay sides of our trench and pack a handful of clay onto the end. You could whip it thro the air with quite some force, leave a huge bruise on the chest of your opponent with a good hit.

I missed my black friends but there were many new friends who were all white at my new school and there were many kids our age on our street. We all had bikes and would travel for miles in the suburbs and to school.

My first snake encounter, of which there were to be many and ongoing in my life, to this day, happened on my bike ride to school one day. A car had clipped this incredible looking snake that was writhing in the grass on the side of the road. It was about as thick as my lower leg and almost as long. I looked about and found a good stick and smacked it on the head, wrapped it around my handlebars and took it back home. My mom was still home and when she saw me walk in with the snake she freaked out. So did Jim and Isaac. The snake was not dead or was just doing its death wriggle. I killed it again, convinced my mom to take it to work where there was a man who knew a lot about snakes. He was impressed, said that it was a very fine and big specimen of a Gaboon Viper, a deadly poisonous snake. Very beautiful. She brought it home and I skinned it.

My folks trusted Jim a lot and would let me ride to his home and spend the night there sometimes. The bush was never to far away. I can still feel the way my bike rode on those worn footpaths thro the bush.

When I was about 8 I fell out of a mango tree and broke my arm. The mission was to jump from tree to tree, like a monkey, never touching the ground and complete the whole grove. Mangos were everywhere all the time it seemed, we used to get sores on our mouths from not washing after eating so many. I remember calling my mom at work, she ran the Ndola lottery, was the secretary, always coming home with huge amounts of money to count, it was like something out of a weird movie. The table full of notes.

Later when I was older and had been in the boy scouts for sometime my folks would let me take long rides, after I told them that I had been doing it anyway, but longer, into the Congo, it was only about 8 miles to the border, camp out for the night, always had my kati and my 22 air rifle with me. I loved the huge forests and the animals and birds that were everywhere.

When I was 13 my dad sent me out into the bush, up near Nyasaland, with an old Boer who was working on the roads up there for a month. Staying in an old rondavel. It was so dry and hot I shaved my head to help stay clean. There was not much to do but take long walks, longer and longer with the .22 rifle, shooting doves and seeing a lot of buck, bush pigs and other wild game and a lot of snakes.

One weekend the old man took me out with the big gun and showed me how to stalk and shoot a huge buck. It was called a heartebees. It stood twice as high as I did. It was an amazing feeling, sorrow and awe for this huge animal that I had killed. The old man said that it was “ for the pot “ there were about 20 men and some women to feed.

That year I went to the high school Llewellyn high. I was always more mature than the kids my age and met and became friends with a guy called Chris, 3 grades up from me, who lived not to far from us, his folks were from Manchester in England. His father was a boxer and his big brother was a musician in the local orchestra and played classical clarinet. His friends had a band called ‘the young ones” peter played the sax in their band and used to go back quite often to the U.K. He brought back LP’s by the Beatles and the Rolling stones. Our lives would never be the same. Soon Chris and I had to have our own band, the older guys tolerated us hanging around and we learned from them. Our band was called the echoes.

My dad was in the police reserve and was in an organization called the M.O.T.H’S. Memorable order of the old tin hats. I remember watching him getting dressed up in the uniform with hard hats and shields and sticks and some had guns to do patrol work at night. I was not sure what or why things were so bad, our lives, as kids seemed so great.

Then, suddenly one day I came home from school and our house was full of strange people, some could not speak English even though they were white. They were Belgian refugees on the run from the Congo. There had been something terrible there and many of them were killed. I heard a story about a pregnant woman whose baby was cut out from her with a machete and she was left to die there. A terrible time, I had not heard of such things before.

We fed and clothed and ferried people to the airport for a week or so.

My dad never spoke about the war they had been fighting in. The 2nd world war he said. I asked him what he had done and how it was, he just said that he fixed trucks and tanks and learned how to cook his bully beef in a tin on a fire made with sand and petrol. He had been in the dessert in Egypt. His young brother Roy was captured in their first engagement and spent the rest of the war in a German P.O.W. camp.

I used to look through his tin trunk sometimes where he kept his personal things, he had a can with a hinged lid, there were 8 medals in there. I never knew what they were for. That trunk was supposed to be out of bounds for me, I can still remember the smell of that trunk.

I was a full on romantic and had just been to the mountains in S.R. to Inyanga had fallen in love with a girl there, life seemed so good.

Not long after that we left with what we could get into two cars and drove to The Betchuanna Protectorate.

This was 1964 I think. My dad said that we were not going to live under kahunda.

Long stories there. My teenage years. Meeting the Bushmen. The American Peace Corps, boarding school in Kimberly, a two day journey on a steam train, encounters with the VERY strange and terrible Africanners. Expelled. Working for the Anglo American co, looking for diamonds in the Kalahari, trips to the Okavango swamps, breaking my leg badly in a motorcycle accident in which my friend was killed when I was 18……..

But this was a story about N.R. was it not?

________________________________________________________
Well this is now Miks little sister Lindy   I can remember Mik being electrocuted one night when they were playing somewhere   It was a Friday night and Dr Kildare was on, my favorite program, and we had to rush to the hospital   What a drag!!!     Yes it was Kansenji we lived in. My memory does not go back further than that.   I was 2 years old when we moved there and 9 when we left.   I can remember the big yard Mik mentions with all sorts of fruit trees.   We each had our own mango trees!! Many green mangos and salt were eaten.   We also had Avo trees which we used to climb with ammo (soet and flour   the soet from the old donkey boiler which was for our hot water supply) man we used to get so dirty much to my mother’s horror!!   I also had my own graveyard for my pets that died. I had white rats and a four-story cage for them all. Very clean, (my Dad made sure of that) used to use my shampoo to bath them, I was the terror of my Mothers life!!   I also broke my arm falling out of a tree. Seems it was the in thing.   My Dad had a really beautiful rose garden and he loved his Pride of India trees. Our garden was like a tropical drink   all sorts of things   monkey berry hedge (they were pretty good eating) Tree house in the tree in the front yard.

We had to get out of Zambia as my Dad was in the police reserve and my brother Patrick did not take kindly to being seated next to anybody that was not white. At school they were getting close to asking him to leave, so we left with all we could fit in our car.   Mom Dad Mik Pat me and our dog Suzy and off we went to Botswana   We were only going to stop there to visit our uncle and ended up staying 6 years.   At one stage we tried to go back to Zambia to sell the house and try and get some more of our stuff but were stopped on the Zambian side and at that stage Ian Smith has declared UDI and they wanted my parents to renounce Ian Smith which they would not do, so they made us prohibited immigrants.

Eventually my folks got a pittance for the house and some of the money they were able to get a long while after.   We all went to Kansenji Primary for a while together then of course Mik and Pat moved on to high school   I can also remember close to when we left My friend and I used to sit on the roof of our house with binoculars and watch them fighting in the township much blood and gore. Mik says maybe with all this uprooting has something to do with me not ever wanting to buy my own house   I travel very lightly and can uproot very quickly never one to collect things   Oh well!!! So it goes but they were happy years

 

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