Rod Madocks : Born Broken Hill 1952, left in 1965. I went to school in Marandellas in Southern Rhodesia. My father in Colonial Service 1946-1965 , District Officer Chinsale and Provincial Commissioner Fort Rosebery before joining Secretariat to prepare new Zambian Govt for Independence.
There is nothing outwardly to connect me to Africa now. I am middle-aged, settled, living a suburban life in the English East Midlands. I rarely shift from my habitual round. I have not left the country in fifteen years. Speaking to my neighbours, I am culturally and linguistically indistinguishable from them. But in reality, internally, Africa continues to beat within. I still dream sometimes of red earth, hot sun and the black shapes of animals moving in the tall yellow grass. I still hear the insistent three beats of the hoopoe’s call. That sound was an insistent motif right through the long hot afternoons of my childhood. How I used to dream then of growing up to be a game ranger – tough, self-complete, at one with nature and armed to the teeth! Sometimes I think that DH Lawrence’s famous description of the Americans could equally apply to how Africa has shaped me:
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”
― D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature
Africa seems to have given me an independence spirit. I tend to sort things out with little recourse to others. I assume that the police or the law will not help me and if I am threatened my first reaction is to fight it out myself. I am alert for predators. I do not see the world as essentially beneficent. I am observant and watchful of strangers and judge people by their actions rather than by received ideas. Africa taught me that life could be short. As a child I had seen how people could die quickly by animal’s tooth or by the hand of man. My first memory is of running away through long grass while my dog stood up to a marauding leopard. My second memory is of being stoned by a crowd of Africans while in my parent’s car.
When I was young the turmoil of leaving Africa was more apparent. I fought my peers at school. If I had weapons to hand I would use them. I had no time for elaborate English game playing. I said “ja” instead of “yes” – it took 5 years to lose that accent or to have it beaten out of me! In my teens and twenties, I remained restless. I travelled to the Mediterranean seeking hotter landscapes that reminded me of home. I went to live in Texas, USA for a while for the same reason. Eventually the restlessness died down. Time and circumstances mired me in one area of England or maybe I just decided that one place was as good as any. I remained adventurous and self-reliant though. I sought adventure in a smaller way, took life risks, lived a rackety life, rode motorcycles and hung out in Caribbean neighbourhoods because I felt at ease with black people.
Now the days are quieter. I am a full-time writer. Sometimes I still think I hear the hoopoe calling in the hot afternoons. I still carry a stick when walking in long grass in case of snakes. A dog barking somewhere might still signal a leopard on the prowl.
I’ve never been back. I think of Africa as my beginning, my cunabula, the cradle of life but it could also be a threat and if I ever go back to Africa, I somehow half-believe that it would be a one-way journey. As Africa made me it could also undo me!
Rod Madocks is a novelist and short story writer, his website is www.rodmadocks.com