A Working Visit to the Lake Shore
With ample supplies of food in the barns and the work of my department well organized, the Principal advised me to have a holiday.
'Knowing you,' he said, 'you'll most likely call it a working holiday, as you have so many interests.'
My wife and I fixed on Vintu Kutu, the delightful plantation home of Mr and Mrs A.G. Mackenzie. The Mackenzies were delighted for they had over 1,000 acres and they were anxious to have my advice about extending their ground to grow more cereals, also tobacco, cotton, sisal and vegetables. The mission also had an option for nearly twenty years on 2,500 acres. So far I had developed only 200 acres for rice, lucern fodder crop, melons and pumpkins. Over 1,000 acres was given to an industrious chief on condition he sold half his crop to me and observed instructions of my trained supervisors.
Very early one morning, four a.m., we set out on our journey. Zinda was asleep in her covered cot, carried by two men. My wife was in a one-wheeled bush car. I was in another - with medical orders to walk as little as possible and rest during the heat of the day.
The sun was rising when we reached Chitimba on the lake shore. We had a light breakfast of fruit. Zinda, now awake, was dressed and sitting up in her cot and at times on her Mum's knee or mine. We took an inland road, a slight breeze was blowing, although it was a hundred degrees in the shade. We made brief stops to inspect cocoa and citrus tress, experimental plots for ground nuts and river bank areas for catch crops, mostly vegetables. On the beaten track we met many Africans on their way to Livingstonia, carrying grain for my barns; others with rush and string mats; baskets; clay pots and carved woodwork. We did not see any wild bush animals, but we heard many of the monkey clan chattering in the jungle trees. We saw lots of birds, from the tiny humming birds to the ghost-like vultures, to eagles. At one dense bush we had to go through there were thousands of nests high above the rushes and impressive spider webs. One huge web, about one foot in diameter, had many insects, hornets, dragonflies, grass hoppers and large bluebottles.
The Mackenzies gave us a fine welcome. Baths were prepared and in the space of one hour we were in light clothing and sitting down at a lovely meal.
Zinda had her nursemaid and a pretty African girl called Masida to see to her meals. As the afternoon grew cooler, Ellen, her nursemaid, took Zinda and Masida for a walk to the large outhouse where African women were sewing dresses and other creations, where fruit was ripening and to buildings where tobacco leaves were maturing and cotton being ginned. Ellen discovered one of the dressmakers was a friend, so they had a joyful time chatting. Zinda and Masida, with their hands full of ground nuts made for the chicken run to feed the fowls. As they moved around the runs, a few cheeky monkeys moved towards them. The children were fascinated and threw nuts on the ground. They were having grand fun as Mr Mackenzie and I came out of a barn. We realized the danger the children were in. We scared the creatures away in time, for one was actually jumping at the girls to tear nuts out of their hands. Monkeys are vicious and their claws can cause great injury. Zinda was very disappointed.
'You naughty Daddy, we loved the pretty monkeys. They were hungry and need food.' Poor wee lass, she did not realize the danger.
I enjoyed two free days at the start of the holiday. We moved around the extensive plantation, had two trips to Deep Bay - a grand place with huge rocks, pools of fresh water and a long sandy beach. Zinda was delighted. We all helped to make a sand castle under the watchful eyes of two men from our host's estate. The men were on the lookout for snakes, scorpions, large spiders, land crabs and crocodiles. Before walking over or around rocky boulders the trusty Africans walked ahead of us. They were told to see that Zinda was never in danger.
We had a picnic hamper filled with lovely eats and a separate basket filled with sandwiches, apples, pears, pawpaws and oranges for the Africans in our party. Ellen was close to Zinda and Masida all the time, the scare with the monkeys made her alert. We had our own dog, Boyd, with us. He splashed in the water. Zinda wanted to do the same, but we had to say no. On the calm waters of the lake lurked dangerous insects, tiny creatures that bored into the skin and brought on fevers. The second day was like the first, relaxing and enjoyable.
An African boatman took us out for a sail. The weather was calm and clear. At one point lines were thrown overboard and it was not long before fish were caught. Zinda was very excited; she wanted to, 'Take the pretty wriggling fish home to the bath.'
It was good to be back to the cool quietness of the Mackenzies' home. We soon had baths, dressed and ready for a meal. First Zinda was bedded, story told, prayers said, then she was tucked in with a mosquito net firmly in place. The mosquito net was a new type, hung from a spring hook in the ceiling. The net was tucked under the mattress to keep out crickets, moths, fire flies, flying ants and, of course, mosquitos. The little lass was sound asleep with her 'Dolly Cat' and 'Teddy Bear' beside her.
We were at the second course of dinner when my wife walked into the bedroom to see if all was well with Zinda. Boyd, our dog, was barking in an outhouse and we thought he would waken the baby. The Mackenzies and I heard another sound. My wife was shouting, 'Zinda's missing! She is not in her bed!' Talk about panic!
Ellen heard the cry too and was in the bedroom with other African servants. We searched the whole house. I was convinced she was not outside as all doors were shut and wire mesh netting on the windows. I had a third look under the baby's bed and there she was, with her 'Cat' and 'Teddy', suspended in the mosquito net. She had rolled over in her sleep. What a relief. Anxiety and distress gave way to rejoicing and a prayer of thanksgiving. Zinda kept on sleeping.
In my early days in Africa Dr Laws stressed one word on all his staff: communication, and he used the word to express different things. Communication between Africans and Europeans through speech, neighbourliness and Christian zeal. Between point 'A' and point 'B', through roads, paths and transport. Between resolving rites and customs, from a white and black point of view. Between people of all colours and God, for the well being of society. On the first day of my working holiday, from Vintu Kutu to parts of mission ground on the lake shore, never surveyed, communication by roadway was in my mind. With local chiefs and a couple of trusty leaders and two of my own senior students, we set out for a place that had dense vegetation, a partially dried up river bed and a village, where the people seldom moved far away. In fact they seldom married into other tribes. One of my students had a note book and each remark from me and answer from the chiefs he wrote down. We noted wild animal life from spoor: lion, leopard, hyena, elephant and many kinds of zebra and an antelope. We did not encounter any wild game, but we saw various kinds of snakes, some six feet long, to pinkie-eyed ones of four inches. We had many small hessian bags into which we put soil. One other feature was noted - a dozen kinds of trees, from monster trees of hardwood to medium-sized soft woods.
Gradually we moved higher and higher until at one point we had a clear view of the ground we had covered. Communication indeed. There was need of a good road to get at the hardwood trees, a suggestion the carpentry department took up later - felling trees, digging pits for men to saw the huge logs into boards for housing. We halted near a pretty but small waterfall. I had a cup of tea and sandwiches. The Africans shared a basket of fruit.
We reached a point a few thousand feet up commanding a clear view of Lake Nyasa, now Malawi. I considered this would be an ideal place for a rest house for Europeans. The area would be easy to clear, good timber, rich soil, clear water and an excellent view and not too far from mission station and European plantations. We were talking about a road, really a cleared pathway some eight feet wide, for motor cycle, bush car, machilla, or to walk on, when one chief looking across the lake, said, 'Bwana, do you see what I see?'
I saw nothing unusual, but all the others were silent. They saw what the chief saw.
It took me a few minutes to see what looked like smoke from a steamer. The men were motionless, until the chief again spoke, 'Bwana! Do you hear what I hear?' I could not hear anything except for crickets.
Another pause. I did see clearly and hear plainly a huge column of a water whirlwind and a strange hissing sound. It came nearer, rose higher, changed direction and with a mighty whoosh crashed like thunder into a hillside a mile away. Mighty trees splintered like matchwood, millions of gallons of water poured down the hillside, crashing everything as it passed. This waterspout is classed as a climatic freak. It only happens, the chief told me, when the water of the lake is calm and the air sultry. It was an awesome sight, yet as the spout moved fast in the sunlight, it appeared as if a million diamonds were shining.
The old chief spoke again. 'Bwana, many boat loads of fish, big and small, lie yonder.'
One of the men with us cried, 'First in the direction of the south, the east, then north and finally west, the black cloud of water has fallen. Go with baskets for fish.'
As we stood on the hillock, we heard the babble of many voices, all making for the 'Manna from heaven', as they called it. It took us an hour to reach the spot, the devastation was great. Men, women and children were still scouring the area for fish, some that I saw in baskets were ugly and black - fish that lurked deep down at the bottom of the lake.
Each day I made journeys with my men. My students had recruited workers and with axes, hoes and strong hatchets, started on the new communication road.
In time the road was complete, the rest house built, a garden made and later a village was erected and nearly 1,000 acres of holdings mapped out go-ahead Aflicans.
A working holiday indeed but a profitable one and after eight days of generous hospitality from Mackenzies, we returned to Livingstonia, refreshed and happy. There were nearly five hundred entries in the student's notebook.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.