In 1995 the Zimbabwean economy was booming under the leadership of Robert Mugabe and life was good in the beautiful country we all call home. I often look back and think what possessed me to leave England when I did. At that stage, Zimbabwe offered great career prospects and we were the new rainbow nation generation. In hindsight perhaps we should have looked North and seen what was coming but I guess it is just human nature to be positive and optimistic about change.
I arrived back on Karna in time to see the giant mopane trees flush their waxy green leaves , the road home was soggy and slippery from the heavy rainfall . Although seasons had passed by in my life , in a way if felt like time had stood still, home for me was my family and a team of staff who had all worked on the farm since I was a child. My travels abroad had drastically changed the way I viewed the world, I did not feel comfortable being waited with a tea tray in our home , it somehow felt intrusive and wrong. Mum would ring her silver bell while sitting at the dining table and platters of delicious home grown and cooked food would arrive served to the table . I was now acutely aware of my privileged up bringing and I was not alone in how we were was raised, most farming families in Zimbabwe share the same story. It was not wrong – staff who worked on Karna Block came from the local community of Lubumbi and Jotsholo – they chose to work and earned wages which supported entire families in the community – they did so with pride. Isaac Sibanda ,Joseph Ngwenya and Orchard Ncube all worked on Karna Block and then for Nemba Safaris for 20 years – they started as farm Laborers and became amazing Safari Cooks who coached by Mum learned to speak and read English over time. Stately Orchard Ncube however did not learn English … he felt it was his duty to teach Mum Ndebele, they had a very special relationship over the years.
Masuwe Lodge was to be my home for the next two years, in its day it was considered one of Zimbabwe’s top luxury Lodges, famous for great food and hospitality . For me it offered a mix of living in the bush ,but close to town for a fun social life when we had a day off . Victoria Falls town known as the adventure capital of Southern Africa offered a great selection of activities from Sundown Cruises on the Zambezi to Canoeing on the upper river as well as Elephant Back Safaris , Bungi Jumping , Float Plane charters and Game Drives . Just after I arrived I was sent off do my first canoe trip down the Zambezi with Max Dyke – we were charged by a hippo on the river which was a terrifying experience , a few days later I realized how lucky we had been. The same hippo up ended a canoe killing the paddler Evans Nemasango and when the Guide Paul Templer turned back to try save him , he was viciously attacked. Miraculously Paul survived this horrific accident but lost his arm , the incident shook the whole Vic Falls community.
We were a close knit team under the Management of Jonno Ellway and Mark Brightman … both were great leaders and they always managed to make the work day fun. Jonno would arrive and take me with on food shopping sprees for the Lodge that were always way above my food budget, much to the frustration of Jeanette Brightman who had to balance our books and budget. Monthly we could expect a visit from statuesque “Ma Stutch” Veronica Stutchbury – who would breeze in her elegant Caftan to check our stock controls and accounts . In the evenings on the deck under the stars , she would share amazing stories about her life in Mana Pools with Jeff. Occasionally Stuart Cranswick who owned Landela Safaris or Dave Jackson would arrive in town and we would all stand to attention and scrub and polish everything, on one such occasion Mark being an ex National Parks Warden …. got carried away and gave instructions for the cement pathways to be painted his favorite color green .
My day would start with a check on the bookings and transfers , which were neatly written in pencil in the diary on the Reception desk. I arrived on duty and as I placed the pencil to write ….. a GIANT black rock scorpion scuttled out from under the diary page…… Although no one owned up to this one … I am still sure this was a prank and a good one at that!!! We had a resident troop of baboons who would roost in a giant Acacia tree across the waterhole from the deck of the lodge – I loved to sit in the evenings after a busy day and watch the large red sun disappear over the hazy horizon , at this time the Resident Baboon troop would climb the tree to go to bed, squealing babies with the odd bark from Dad to keep everyone in line. During the day they were never far from camp and if the tent doors were left unzipped you were certain to get a visit! On one occasion a client lost all his heart medication … not sure if the poor baboon ever made it through that experience. Other regular visitors were a large troop of banded mongoose that became so tame that on one occasion ,Guide Philipa Bradford gave them a golf ball which they obviously thought was a egg and the antics that followed with them trying to break it open where hilarious . At the end of the day when we all went off to bed – A night watchmen was on duty to guard the camp and to keep him awake it was part of his job description to water the lawns. On a dark night when there was no moon he went to move the hosepipe only to discover it was the tail of a lion and he lived to tell the “tail” by escaping into the toilet in the the main lodge area. Needless to say their was no early morning wakes ups or tea trays delivered to the clients that morning and after that the guard was given a hand held radio in case of emergency’s!
At this time tourism in Victoria Falls was booming and the most popular activity after visiting the Waterfall, was to experience white water rafting on the Zambezi River – sold as the best one day white water rafting in the world with a climb in an out the gorge which was not for the faint hearted. The small town was awash with sun bronzed Raft Guides and Kayakers from all over the world, as well as Hoteliers, Bush pilots , Canoe Guides, Hunters and Safari Guides carousing on their days off from the bush. One thing they all knew how to do was party!!!! Social life for locals and tourists alike was crazy and care free …meeting each day at the bar at Ilala Lodge to watch the days epic rafting flips and experiences on the big screen, followed by wild parties at the well know pub Explorers and after 10pm on to the night club down a dark passage into the depths of Ilala Lodge Hotel known as “Down Time”. For those who did not want to sleep , it was on to the Zambezi River to watch the sunrise.
It was at Explorers on a night out with the girls that I bumped into Russell who was in the area for a job interview.