Sunset at Kariba, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)
This Nugget is a sequel to my previous one. As my mind’s eye travels down the twists and turns of “memory lane” many poignant memories rush back with such intensity, that for a minute it seems I have been transported back in time! Among my treasured memories, two stand out that seem a fitting sequel to my Nugget: “No Safety Net”. Some might question why in my writings I speak of a country, towns and cities whose names no longer exist. The answer is simple, my friends; I was born, grew up, married and bore our children in Rhodesia NOT Zimbabwe. My feet did not walk the dusty paths of the new names given to places well-loved and known to me by different names. So for the sake of accuracy and being faithful to the events of that era, I do not use the modern names of my homeland. In this Nugget I will take you on a journey that will show you the vast contrast with the land of Rhodesia as I knew it and the country of Zimbabwe as it is today.
The rugged wild beauty of the Rhodesian bush, along with its rocky granite kopjies and daunting escarpments are beyond compare. The distinctive sounds along with the unique scents of the bush had a way of seeping into one’s very being. Those of us who have been blessed to live in Rhodesia will never erase its images from our minds and hearts. A certain sound, a particular scent will instantly bring back a rush of nostalgic memories, so tangible that it would seem they could be touched and embraced all over again!
Such is the setting for this Nugget. Recently we drove to a theme park with our children. As we wound our way through the Ozark Hills, the closer we came to our destination the modern four lane highway deteriorated to a simple two lane road. It was winding its way through hair-pin bends perched precariously along the edge of rocky ravines. This reminded me of the trips that my hubby and I would take; gingerly driving along the Zambezi Escarpment as the narrow road snaked its way to Kariba and the mighty Kariba Dam. The presence of elephants was very evident by the fresh droppings along the road. We often wondered as we negotiated a sharp corner if we would have a close encounter with a herd of these gentle giants! Reversing in haste was not a good option considering the road was carved out of the side of a steep, rocky escarpment. It was a long way down to the bottom of the ravine and there was NO SAFETY NET. On one particular trip we were acutely aware of the fact that the Marula trees were loaded with fruit and were a favorite delicacy of the elephants. They would gorge themselves on the fruit which in turn would ferment causing these pachyderms to become “as drunk as lords”! The vision of a friend’s VW car with a squashed “bonnet” (hood) after it had been sat on by a drunken elephant; on this very strip of road, was playing back in living color in our minds! Our friend had nowhere to go when he rounded a corner and found himself in the middle of the inebriated herd. He had no safety net! Thankfully for him after the elephant sat on his car it staggered off and he was able to ease his way through the unsteady herd, to safety. Rhodesian memories filled with encounters with the wild, never to be forgotten.
Now fast forward with me to many years later. Rhodesia and all of it memories had become a chapter in the history of a changing nation. It was now called Zimbabwe, all the familiar landmarks, towns and villages had new names; the year was 1984 and it was early May. We did not return to Rhodesia as missionaries after our return to the States, as I recounted in my previous Nugget. We had accepted a post to be missionary educators running a Bible College in Durban South Africa. My husband’s parents had remained in Rhodesia, living in Bulawayo but his mother passed away while we were in the States. After her death Dad moved to Sinoia where he was the senior Pastor of a congregation and we had the joy of him visiting with us in Durban for one Christmas. Then the call came saying that Dad had passed away from complications after surgery. Sadly we loaded our car, took the children out of school and set out for the long journey from Durban, South Africa to Harare, Zimbabwe (known to us as Salisbury). The deeper we drove in Zimbabwe the more shocked we were at how the country we remembered had changed. Signs of poverty seemed to be the norm; gone were the maize fields, in their place farmland lay desolate and uncared for. Farms that during our day raised large herds of cattle now lay in ruins with no signs of livestock of any kind. We were shaken and saddened by what we saw.
After the funeral service and burial at the Warren Hills Cemetery, we lingered saying our earthly farewell. You see in that sacred place not only was it the final resting place of my husband’s father but also our infant son was laid to rest there in 1974. We did not sorrow though, as those without hope, as we drew comfort in the knowledge that in God’s eternal time we would be reunited in heaven…this time WE HAD A SAFETY NET! Slowly we made our way back to Harare, we were staying with friends who lived in the suburb of Borrowdale. My hubby knew the roads well and decided to take a shortcut that would take us down the road of what used to be the Prime Minister, Ian Smith’s residence during the days when Rhodesia was our home. We came to the intersection that would turn onto the road we were seeking when we were suddenly confronted by military men armed to the teeth with guns pointed at us. We were confused, to our knowledge we had done nothing wrong, we had not run a red light or more to the point transgressed to the level that we deserved a posse of zealous soldiers surrounding our car with rifles at the ready! Our vehicle had South African plates so it was evident to our captors that we must be visitors yet this did not seem to make any difference. The leader and spokesman of the group poked at my husband’s window and indicated that he open it. He demanded to know where we were going. My husband responded that we were visitors staying with friends in Borrowdale. The men chattered amongst themselves for a few minutes in Shona; we quickly discovered we were in grave danger. They were trying to decide what to do with us! They were unaware that we understood Shona and thought they had the upper hand! I was so thankful that we had not taken our two children with us to the graveside service as it was not looking good for our safety. Quietly I prayed asking the Lord to help us. The leader marched back to the car demanding we explain why we were trying to drive down this particular road, as this road was closed to the public because it was now the road where President Mugabe Mansion stood. He told us their instructions were to “shoot on sight” if any uninvited individual drove down that road. Things were looking bleak and grim for us, tensions were rising, the men were flexing their muscles and we had no defense or way of escape. Would God hear our prayers and provide a safety net?
My husband was amazingly calm, he looked the leader in the eyes and spoke softly in Shona and told him that we had travelled three days from South Africa to bury his father. He explained that we were just returning from the graveside and now were trying to reach the house of friends so that we could sorrow with our children! Instantly the soldiers’ demeanor dramatically changed, it was as though they had been punched in the stomach and all their bravado had melted away. What had changed? What had caused these soldiers to lower their rifles? The answer was that my husband had tapped into their deep rooted custom of respecting the passing of an elder! The leader instructed us not to go down this road, directing us to a different route – God had provided us a safety net!
As we drove a different route to the suburb of Borrowdale, my thoughts went back to that gut wrenching day when we were forced to walk away from all of our earthly possessions; the keen memory brought back a flood of pain. The pain did not last long though as the words of a familiar hymn that my hubby loves to sing with his beautiful Welsh tenor voice began to ring in my ears:
I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city, where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one, that’s silver lined
Don’t think me poor Lord, deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged, ’cause I’m heaven bound
I’m just a pilgrim in search of a city
I want a mansion, a harp, and a crown
Chorus: I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And someday yonder, we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold
Yes, my friends many injustices in life swirl around us but when the final chapter is written God will have a safety net and a glorious reward for His trusting children!