Memoir #4: Robert M. Martin; African Safari, 1963; Part 2
(African Safari, Tanzania, et al.; December, 1963)
School activities and political "corruption" meet head on
One of my pet projects was a school field trip to Lake Rukwa. The trip would have been a long day of bus travel, and foot excursions, at the lakeside. The problem was funding. The Peace Corps had a policy of hands off for such expenditures and the Tanzanian Educational system coffers had no disposable income for such activities. The burden fell on the students.
Most of the upper class students wanted to go but lacked funds. I advised the students to assume the workers posture when going back home to their villages. Do whatever jobs they could manage to earn a few shillings, maybe even assume a mendicant order attitude when trying to convince their families and tribal elders to contribute to their journey.
It was a slow, exceedingly slow process, but the money kept coming in by dribs and drabs. In the interim, I received clearance from Mr. Mwakasindili, he had given a nod to the idea before I began, and now approved of it again as money began to accumulate.
I spoke to whatever school authorities that I was advised to contact; such as, the bus company and negotiated for a reasonable price, which I eventually got, then on to the food and soft drinks. Other teachers eagerly volunteered when I saved a seat for each one who wanted to come plus a some places for their students.
When I had reached the stage of lesson planning for the journey, and the roster; I was told by one of my students that Mr. Mwakasindili wanted to see me in his office. The man asked me to sit down because we needed to talk. I was concerned that something had happened to one of my students, or that Sigurd, or both of us, were going to be moved to a new post.
We both had put in hours and days of work creating our notes and lesson plans, we wouldn’t want to leave at this stage. “No, nothing like that.” He came quickly to the point. He wanted a portion of the students travel funds for a beer he was going to have for his friends.
I immediately offered to buy him a few bottles from my own pocket, but I didn’t have the funds to buy him a couple of cases. It didn’t take him long to react. He leaned over his wide table and said, “I have reconsidered your proposed field trip. It is really too dangerous for you, and several other teachers, to travel to Lake Ruwaka with a bus load of students. You will have to cancel your trip.”
I strenuously objected, pointing out that he was willing to let things develop, just as they had, up to this point; and now that I wouldn’t bribe him he refused to let us go. My words had absolutely no effect on Mwakasindili.
I was a year out of university and I knew that this type of extortion could be stopped, and I was going to do it. I excused myself. During the next several days I spoke to my colleagues. Sigurd would back me, and he knew how much work the students had done to collect the money.
With my African teaching colleagues, it was a very different matter. Mr. Kazi best expressed the prevailing attitude among the teachers. “Mr. Bob”, surnames come in first place of order when introducing ones self among Swahili speaking people. And since Sigurd and Bob was the name we called each other, our first names, we became Mr. Sigurd and Mr. Bob, “you and Mr. Sigurd are here only a short while, then you will go back to your own counties. When you leave, your disagreement with Mr. Mwakasindili will go with you; but I must remain, as must the other teachers.
Mr. Mwakasindili will remember that we had sided with the foreigners against him. Our lives will become very harsh. I’m sorry but, I cannot support you.” Before my contract was completed, Mr. Mwakasindili was called before the Mbeya Sports League Council, money was allegedly missing from the accounts books and Mr. Mwakasindili was the treasurer/accountant of the league’s finances.
Mr. Mwakasindili claimed complete innocence and challenged anyone to check his books and be totally satisfied that he was in no way implicated in anything underhanded.
The Executive Committee was willing to allow an audit of his book, a date was scheduled. Then, the unexpected happened. There was an accidental fire in Mr. Mwakasindili house in one room, the one in which he kept his Sports League books. Low and behold, the one book that apparently had the incriminating information was damaged beyond recognition.
Political discontent began to brew in the Indian Community, they did not feel that the fire was accidental, nor was Mr. Mwakasindili as innocent as he claimed. Accusations were made, denials in response. Mr. Mwakasindili played his trump card. One of his cronies from the same tribe, held the job of chief Executive of the Education Ministry.
It was time for our head master to call in repayment for some favor or obligation owed to him by the Education Minister. As with our cook Ahmed, I again saw the strength of family ties. Instead of punishing Mr. Mwakasindili for his indiscretions, he was rewarded by being given the job of Superintendent of an entire district in Southern Highlands, bordering Portuguese East Africa, later the Republic of Mozambique.
The teacher staff was not happy with the results, especially Sigurd and myself. We both felt that there was a complete miscarriage of justice and Mr. Makasindili was rewarded for his illegal practices, by being given a position substantially higher than his current head master’s assignment.
I was especially peeved, having had him lean on me for a bribe before he allowed me to take the students on a field trip. Mr. Kazi, really "Mr. Cool Headed" and philosopher among the staff told me, “My Bob, don’t worry. Mr. Mwakasindili is being sent to the province of the country’s witchdoctors."
"It is widely known among the tribes that in the Southern Province the witch doctors change into crocodiles and drag evil ones into the swamps. Mr. Mwakasindili's reputation will precede him and his character will force him to repeat the same dishonesty again."
"A witchdoctor will be waiting for him some late afternoon or evening when he is walking alone along the river.” Mr. Kazi’s words made me feel vindicated. Somehow I knew that justice would be done. Yet, at the same time, my culture and logic rejected his line of reasoning; but it didn’t make any difference. Some how justice was going to be served.
Christmas vacation presented new experiences in Africa
Summer weather at the Christmas Holiday break is a wonderful gift; especially, when you have spent most of your life north of the equator and expect rain and overcast or worse. Unless of course, you are from the San Francisco Bay Area or a similar California coastal area south of there. With only three highway hitches, I made it quite far into Zambia in just one long day.
My third ride was with an African farmer who spoke some Swahili. I understood that he was going south, just the direction that he was driving. I sat in the back seat and gradually, with the pleasantly warm weather, I was lulled into a sound sleep as I was watching the landscape pass slowly by at about 40 miles an hour.
I knew that the farmer was going to his “shamba”, or farm, but neglected to ask where that farm was, except that it was south of where I got the ride. When the car stopped I woke up. “Hummm,” I thought, “I should have asked what part of the south he was going to.”
My road map of southern Africa had a scale too small to pinpoint where this “no where” place was located. It didn’t make any difference because the farmer couldn’t read it anyway. After awhile I left, and even if it was after 5 p.m., it was still summer; which gave me some extra minutes before dusk. I thanked the farmer, shouldered my backpack, and headed down the road. I had a little water and some cookies because I wanted to reach the tarmac (highway) before darkness fell.
Even better, I wished that I could find a store, or gas station, where I might spend the night. Better than that, the farmer pointed off in the distance to a Union Jack flying in a small cluster of houses. The country was still Northern Rhodesia when I passed through in December, 1963. Independence came in October, 1964, creating the new nation of Zambia.
As I neared the compound I could see that it was a police station, one for the town of Broken Hill, today Kabwe. The grounds were well looked after, trimmed bushes and trees and flowering plants, the houses, from cottages to larger plantation style main building, housing offices, and shared meeting and dining area. The setting gave a touch of familiar surroundings to the officers and expatriates living at the station.
The office was open and there was a British police officer at one of the large 1930s desks on the other side of the counter. I greeted the officer, introduced my self, said that I was on holiday traveling south and inquired if he knew of anyplace nearby where I could get lodging for the night.
We talked for a few minutes and the officer excused himself. Officer in charge, Captain Seymour, appeared, greeted me and asked if I’d like to have dinner with the officers. It had been a long day of travel and I had had only one sit down meal, a light lunch.
I accepted and thanked the Captain. I made number seven at the meal. Their cook was good, and prepared ample, tasty, and a good variety of items for the table.
English beer was our beverage. I complimented the officers on their home away from home and the excellently kept buildings and grounds. The evening passed with some of my stories of training for a Peace Corps teaching position in East Africa.
I thought a comparison with the "90-day Wonder" program for many U.S. officers during the World War II made a good comparison. All of the officers were familiar with the U.S. wartime program, three had served, one in Burma, two in Europe. The U.K. officer-training program was "better", of course, but the Yanks did pretty well under the circumstances.
I asked about the political situation in Southern Africa. The officers were not enthusiastic but frank. Conditions simply were not good. What had been the British Empire was quickly disappearing. Perhaps the political decisions were being made in London, but much of the external pressures were generated in Washington, and lots of motions and resolutions from the newly emerging nations; especially, those in Africa at the United Nations.
We talked about Hollywood during dessert, and the meal ended on a positive note. The captain asked if I would like to spend the night. “If anything is open, I would appreciate it,” I accepted. One of the other officers had just left on leave for the U.K. and his cabin was open.
Wonder of wonders, how nice it was to sleep in spotlessly clean surroundings, freshly cleaned sheets in the bed, and a shower with hot and cold running water. I could do little more than take a shower, lay down, and immediately pass into profound sleep which was so easy to do when a person is in his early 20s.
I joined the officers for breakfast, including sausages, which were good, but seemed a bit heavy at 7 a.m. I was taken down to the main tarmac with two of the officers beginning their day, I was let off, wished good luck, and once more was traveling south.
More days spent in Rhodesia
My next ride took me as far as Lusaka, capital of Northern Rhodesia and rather close to Broken Hill. I spent much of my day as a tourist, browsing the shops and mentally comparing this British outpost of colonialism with my posting of Tanganyika.
Northern Rhodesia was more British. No other European power had had a 19th century presence here, like the Germans in Tanganyika, before it became a British Trust Territory. The architecture was different, the food in the restaurants was close to that of the U.S. but different, the automobiles on the streets were British to a greater extent, even the clothing of the population appeared to be different. The latter is not unusual because the tribal groups were different from those of the families of Swahili-related tribes of East Africa.
In late afternoon I asked about lodging and was directed to a quiet neighborhood with a sign on the front porch, "rooms to let". The manager told me that I had arrived at the height of the tourist season and there wasn’t much available. He paused, thought a moment, and said that one of his regular tenants, a professional wrestler, was away on a tour and would be back tomorrow.
If I didn’t mind sharing his room I could have that. Under the circumstances, I accepted. The room was of normal size, but packed with bric-a-brac, electronic equipment, sound systems, a couple of radios, and a wardrobe throughout, and some bodybuilding and wrestling trophies.
The manager said that the sofa bed was free and gave me bedding. Needing assurance, I asked, “And you are sure that this is okay?”
“It’s quite okay,” he insisted, “Charles won’t mind.”
I didn’t feel very comfortable, psychologically, but still I managed to fall asleep. It had been a good day.
About 2:30 in the morning, the door opened, which I wasn’t aware of, then the lights went on and the sound system, too. That made me sit up and take notice, “pronto”.
Apparently the music was on a double timing system working in conjunction with the sound system. I felt myself explaining who I was, how I got there, no need to become excited, probably that was more for me than for Charles, even if I wasn’t fully awake.
“It’s OK, take it easy, I’m going out with my girlfriend. I just came by to pick up a few things, and I’m out of here.”
By then, I was awake enough to ask if he had won his match. He had, he was on a roll, and sweeping the competition match after match. He said that anther season like this one and he could move abroad to the big time in the U.K. and then, who knows, maybe on to the U.S. and TV’s “Big Time Wrestling”.
When I asked what his stage name would be if he went overseas, he smiled and proudly said, “Charlie Atlas, of course.”
I wished him good luck, the lights went off, the music, too; the door closed, and I slept like a log for the remainder of the night.
South to what was to become "Zimbabwe"
The next country on my trek south was Zimbabwe, still called Rhodesia and under British rule. Nationalism was brewing with political organizations like ZANU, Zimbabwe African National Union and ZAPU, Zimbabwe African People’s Union.
By 1979, there was Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, which did not last out the year. In 1980 ZANU won a clear majority with Robert Mugabe becoming Prime Minister. Joshua Nkomo’s opposition ZAPU continued to resist, politically and militarily.
After years of bickering and fighting ZANU and ZAPU united to create a one-party state under Robert Mugabe’s leadership in 1987.
Right into the 21st century, Zimbabwe, under President Robert Mugabe, his political title changed in 1987 from Prime Minister to President; the nation has had a continued political, economic, financial, diplomatic, and humanitarian crisis, one after another; but my visit was in December of 1963 with the great national traumas far in the future.
The next mid morning, I stopped at a small farming settlement while traveling south to the Victoria Falls, Zambezi River, and the Zambia-Rhodesia border crossing for trains and vehicles. The "one-horse town" had a general store, two saloons, and not much more.
It could have been the setting for one of the 1970s "Spaghetti Westerns". I wanted something cool and thirst quenching; so, I walked through the closest set of swinging doors. The Black bartender came over and announced that this was a "Black Bar".
“So! I just want a drink, not to join a political group”, I announced. He excused himself by explaining that in Rhodesia only Blacks can be served in a Black Bar, and only Whites in a White Bar. If he served me he would lose his job, and he didn’t want any trouble.”
I apologized and said that I did not want to cause any trouble for him, thinking that this was more like the Wild West than I had first imagined, except with a racial twist.
I pushed through one set of swinging doors, took a few steps over to the next swinging doors into a "cookie-cutter" duplicate of the Black Bar, except that it had a white bartender. As in the other bar, there was a brass foot rail, a mirror behind the bar, and a few free standing tables with chairs.
The missing items were the spittoons and the addition of booths along the other long wall facing the bar counter. The white bartender thought the idea of two side-by-side establishments was redundant, but that was the law, no special name such as South Africa’s pour-over word of Apartheid.
The Zambian side of the border included a park and a resort, and pathways for visitors to saunter around the outstanding lush beauty of the area. The falls themselves are about a mile wide, have a maximum height of 420 feet. Its cascading waters drop into a narrow gorge below, now partially flooded by the lake waters created by the Kariba Dam down stream.
It is difficult not to spend time in the area. The Scottish explorer, and missionary, Dr. David Livingston discovered the falls in 1855. Some years later when he hadn’t managed to get information out about his whereabouts in central Africa, the American Journalist H.M. Stanley found the good doctor on the northern shores of Lake Tanganyika, in 1871, and began his greeting with, “Dr. Livingston, I presume.”
As I sat at one of the resort's riverside tables, having a tea and biscuits, I had a strange feeling that I was not alone. People were in the restaurant but outside the sites and sounds of the Zambezi were pretty much mine alone.
Then I noticed that one of my biscuits had disappeared. “Hmm, that was unusual,” I mused. “I was served two, ate one, and now there are none.”
I counted the pieces of sugar cubes in the glass bowel, eight, then turned away looking out to the river. When I turned back again, there were seven cubes. I turned away again, but only partially, watching the sugar bowel.
“Ah ha,” there is the culprit, I thought as I saw a long, slender, hairy monkey’s arm slide up the side of the table and its nimble grasp another cube of sugar. “Boo,” I exclaimed as I looked under the table and two startled monkeys scurried away, giving up their snatching for the moment.
On to "Salisbury", which is now named "Harare"
I reached Salisbury, renamed "Harare" after independence, in the next day’s travels. Now, this was a city! It had a metropolitan center of the type with which I was familiar. There were numerous large buildings, traffic congestions, crowed sidewalks, window browsers, Christmas decorations in the shop windows and on the streets, transit buses, even Salvation Army people soliciting donations in front of their kettles.
Urban development was definitely more in evidence as I moved south. From outward appearances the blacks and whites appeared to be harmoniously sharing one bountiful world.
I made a point to visit the ruins of the stonewall city enclosure of “Zimbabwe”, Bantu for "stone house", in the south eastern part of the country. It was discovered in 1870 and some believe that it was the site of the biblical King Solomon’s mines.
The archaeological digs on sites indicate that it was first inhabited by Iron Age people during the 3rd century a.d., but the imposing walls standing today were built by later African arrivals about the 11th century.
The pity of the early story discovery was that those first early European discovers were interested only in the gold. Many, probably most, of those dozens upon dozens of beautifully carved, molded, and polished gold artifacts were melted down into bullion for immediate gains.
The precious few items that remain tell of an old civilization, highly sophisticated in craftsmanship and artistry, but man’s reaction to gold in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries in reference to gold mining in its various forms, its possession, legally or otherwise, and flouting of it, once possessed, has often been less than rational. The journey to old Zimbabwe made an interesting and worthwhile afternoon’s diversion.
I spent the night at "The White Swan Inn", a very traditional British dinner, bed, and breakfast lodging. The exception was the height of the ceilings. The difference was intentional, because this was Africa with a warmer climate than England.
The ceilings were probably 10 or 11 feet high, rather than a lower ceiling in a 19th century, or older pub/restaurant and lodging establishment, in England. What amazed me was the total, all-inclusive price, of five English Pounds for so much. Even the meals, both dinner and breakfast, were very tasty and ample.
When I complemented the manager on the excellently prepared evening meal, he said it was a custom that guests were allowed seconds on any items they wished. I was quite satisfied, but did spend some extra time over a cream dessert and a cup of coffee talking to a plantation owner and his daughter, about to leave for a university in the U.K.
She was good looking, and he had some very interesting things to say about Rhodesian agriculture. Even in those days Japanese industrial goods were having an impact on Western business.
The farmer said that he could buy Japanese farm machines for a good percent lower than comparable British or American equipment. Not only was the initial price excellent, but they also had a reliable parts distribution at a number of locations in Southern Africa.
It was a growing concern of the British manufacturers of farm equipment that the Japanese were undercutting them in their equipment sales to traditional customer bases of British plantations throughout Southern Africa. The Government in Pretoria, South Africa, hoped to control this loss of market by restricting Japanese business in South Africa, using the Apartheid ruse of restricting the Japanese to the category of being "nonwhite".
An indignant Japanese Government threatened to sever all contact with the South African Government, in all business, financial, and cultural programs if the categorization was not changed. The South African Government rescinded the original non-White classification and declared the Japanese as "White", and therefore having no restrictions on any of their previous activities in South Africa.
It is amazing how the pocket book can affect any type of relationships, racial, cultural, business, or any other type of day-to-day commerce among nations.