Chapter 39

Thrills on Land and the Lake

 I greatly admired the Africans. I trusted them and they held me in high regard. My old friend, Very Rev Dr Donald Fraser; once said to me, 'Remember, Caseby, the African has microscopic eyes, he thinks hard and has the capacity to weigh a person up - especially a white one - in a matter of seconds.' I found this to be true.

One season, just before the rains came, I told my students I intended visiting a certain fertile valley - about six miles away

- the next day. As we assembled, one of my pupils called Vurayata, said, 'Please do not go today, the rains will break, the dry stream beds will get flooded and we may not get home.

I knew 'Vurayata' was the name given to a rain-maker. As the sky was perfect blue, without a cloud and the sun shining bright, I replied, 'My plans are made, let us go.'

We made good time walking, laughing and saluting people by the way. Reaching the valley, I was very delighted to see

large area cultivated and sown with fir seeds. I felt proud of my workers and told them so.

We were plotting out another area about noon when drops rain fell on us; then, out of a cloudless sky, torrential rain. Never before had I experienced such a deluge. Within minutes we were soaked to the skin. I could not move, water rushed around my boots. Africans lifted me on to a lonely rock but the rock was unsafe. I was lifted off in time as the boulder tumbled down the hillside. The students surrounded me, but the muddy flood water was swirling around my ankles. After twenty one minutes, the rain ceased. We all laughed. I looked at my friend Vurayata. 'You were right, I have learned my lesson. I'll not run the risk again!'

We slipped and slithered on our way home, only to find no rain had fallen on the Plateau. The Africans have strange rites and customs, some are good, some are bad - from that moment I had respect for many customs that saved me from harm many times. One thing I noted during the storm: eagles, hawks and smaller birds of prey were active. They swooped and dived, carrying off snakes, rabbits and rat-like creatures in their talons - they reaped a fine harvest of creatures driven from their hideouts by the so-called cloudburst - I saw no cloud for rain.

One day, sitting in my office, writing up my diary, Vurayata said, 'Rumbles came from the mountains, beyond the Lake (forty miles away) - come outside, something is going to happen.

As requested, I invited my students to follow. Far down on the lake, a dark smudge seemed to be moving and moving fast. It grew in size and white spray was evident in its wake. In a matter of seconds the smudge had grown into a mighty mass. It rose from the lake, high into the air, then with a crack like thunder the mass broke up and plunged into the mountainside below us. The crash was like the bursting of a salvo of shells during the war and the devastation as great. Huge trees were splintered to matchwood; a column of water many feet high cascaded down to the lake. Tens of thousands of fish of all sizes struggled in the murky mass. It was a whirlwind of great magnitude, lifting millions of gallons of water high in the air, then releasing the volume onto the mountainside. Africans -hundreds of them - carried away the fish. When I arrived with my students, fish were still plentiful, especially eels and snake-like creatures. The cloudburst shattered everything over a five acre area. Fortunately, no human being was injured.

One morning, for no particular reason, I turned from my set plan and made for Mr Archie Burnett's house. As I was about to walk up the veranda steps, I saw two-year-old Blossom Burnett playing with a deadly snake. I tip-toed to the back of the house and told Archie. My plan was for Archie to take off his boots and move quietly towards the veranda and snatch up Blossom, while from the front, I would deal with the snake. The plan worked and with a wallop from a broom handle, I smashed the snake's head. It was a miracle the child survived, for the Africans told us it was the wickedest, fiery tempered, poisonous snake in the bush.

Strange to say, Blossom was involved in another snake incident. Six Europeans, including Dr Laws and myself, were in a room next to which Blossom was in her cot asleep. One of the ladies whispered to us that there is was snake on Blossom's pillow. Being the youngest, I slipped off my mosquito boots, hurried to the cot, snatched up the child, while one of my. colleagues dispatched the snake. It too, was a deadly poisonous snake.

Travelling with my students regularly from place to place I learned from them many customs, met a number of witch doctors and experienced many taboos. One man lived on the lake shore. I liked him as a man but did not approve of his drunken habits and some evil rites. He was always frank and often I appreciated his advice.

One such day the lake was like a millpond, so instead of walking to my destination I took a boat with four strong oarsmen. We had not moved far when many voices were shouting from the shore.

'Come back, Bwana Mwakuyu, the Chief must speak to you!' We turned and made for the Chiefs Compound. He looked upset.

'Don't go on the lake today, do not go by road.' He told me that something dreadful had happened in the high mountains last night: a cloud broke and at this moment water is moving towards the lake. We talked about many things, until someone.. shouted, 'It comes! It comes! It's angry! Very angry!'

The Chief took my arm. 'Come here and see!' Rushing and crashing came a solid column of water, three or four feet high. It followed the Chitimba River course, smashing everything. It reached the calm waters of the lake-soon the lake was turbulent, masses of tree trunks, cattle, goats, sheep, wild animals, grass huts. Far, far out into the lake, mountainous seas, muddy and stinking garbage. No canoe, small boat or steamer could survive the fury out in the lake.

To me it was a true deliverance. I had survived many furious battles in the Great War; now through the instinct and intervention of an African Chief, four sturdy oarsmen and myself had been saved from a tempestuous sea.

I asked the Chief, 'In what way may I show my gratitude for your great kindness. An ox, or sheep, or goat, or all three?'

A big, big grin came over his face, then in solemn voice, 'A Bible and a cake of soap!'

I met his demands and, more satisfying, we became close friends. He became a Christian.

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.