Dangerous Journey to Chasela

Sometime in late 1959, my mother arrived back at our village in Chief Magodi in the Lundazi District of Eastern Zambia in Southern Africa. I had lived with my grandparents, uncles, aunts, dozens of cousins and other kinship member. The village may have had a population of over 200.  For two years I was first herding goats and later doing Sub A at the nearby Boyole School. My mother had come to get me to join the family in the Luangwa Valley where my father was a schoolteacher.

We caught the then Northern Rhodesia Central African Road Services (CARS) bus at Hoya on the Lundazi-Chama Road. When the bus coming from Chama finally arrived, it was exciting. There was dust, passengers coming out, all the relatives who had escorted us saying goodbye to me and my mother. The smell of burning diesel fumes was very strong, strange, and new. When I stepped foot into the bus, it was all shaking, trembling,  and rattling from the idling engine. We rode the bus for half an hour and we arrived in the tiny provincial district of Lundazi.

My mother and I spent a night at the rest house in Lundazi. It was a huge building with tiles for a roof. It had upstairs and downstairs. It cost you six pence for upstairs and 3 pence per night for downstairs. The following day at noon, we boarded the bus for Chief Mwanya.

The bus drove really slowly as we quickly reached the outskirts of the tinytown. The road was narrow and bumpy at first. Later on the bus picked up speed. It was going so fast and trees were zooming by so close to the road I wondered how the driver missed crushing into them. The repeated bumps, swerves and ups and downs were so violent and nerve jarring that adults, including my mother, were vomiting out of the bus windows. I stood all the way and was enjoying the experience.

At 3:00 pm that afternoon, we arrived at Lumimba Catholic Mission station. We all came out for refreshments. There were streaks of vomit  all along the bus outside. None of the adults could eat because their stomachs were so upset. My mother bought me nshima with delicious chicken and I ate it all, wiping the plate clean.  I was very hungry.  At 6:00 pm that evening we arrived at Chief Mwanya’s palace. My mother and I spent a night at one of the chief’s guest houses since the Chief knew my father as the head teacher  at Chasela Primary School.

Early the following morning, my mother and I set off on foot for Chasela Primary School. But first she went into the bush and broke a small branch of the mnyongoroka tree. She stripped the fiber and broke the stick into 4 pieces which she threw in all four directions; North, South, West, and East. My mother was carrying a bundle on her head of our clothes and blankets.

I was small so my mother had to walk at my slow small boy’s pace. By 9:00 am, the searing valley heat was on and we were walking bare feet. By noon, our drinking water was gone, I was trotting as the ground was scalding my feet and I was crying and asking my mother to carry me. You could smell and see the seething heat which could have been easily atleast 100 degrees Fareinheit. The earth, dust and dirt were hot. My feet and legs were aching and threatening to turn into jelly every step I took. My mother kept saying we were almost there and “your dad has nshima with chicken ready and plenty of drinking water”.

At one point my mother pointed to a distance where we could see some baboons and herd of buffalo. I was by now bawling with both my hands behind my head and pleading with my mother for us to stop. She said we could not afford to stop and rest, as there were too many lions, leopards, and hyenas that came out at night. We had to get home before sun set. We could be meat. This was true. We had to get home before dark.

She kept sweetly encouraging me to walk a few more yards with: “The house is just beyond those bushes”. At 3:00 pm, we finally arrived at the house. I had walked ten miles in seething heat and bare foot. I collapsed, did not eat dinner and slept all night. The following day I could hardly walk as my feet and legs were swollen. This is where I was to live for the next 2 years; a place among the Bisa people in the Luangwa Valley with incredible wild life everywhere everyday. When I was older, she explained that the twigs of the mnyongoroka tree that she tossed in four directions were meant to ward off all dangerous wild animals along the way. Indeed, that whole journey not a single dangerous wild animal crossed our path. This area at the time was teaming with dangerous wild animals night and day.

Incidentally when my boys were small they used to like the game “bus ride to Chasela” with daddy. I would put them on my knee, bump them violently up and down, half tip them over on sharp bends, and they would pretend to throw up like grandma did.  They would giggle and scream because it felt like riding a roller coaster at an amusement park. They all loved the ride and begged me to give them the ride to Chasela during any spare moment when they wanted to have some fun with daddy.