From Salisbury the bus to Lusaka set off in the late afternoon. There was nothing to see at the stops in the dark along the way; Sinoia, Karoi, Makuti, then Chirundu where I got off. I watched my fellow passengers clear Customs and Immigration before leaving me behind with my to-be fellow Customs Officers.
One of them was doing his last duty before he would catch the bus as it returned to Salisbury. I was his replacement. His name was Taylor. Three years later, I stood behind him in a queue to get a job in Earls Court, London. Small world!
The housing and single-quarters were a short drive away on the top of a small hill to try to escape the horrendous heat and humidity of the Zambezi valley floor, but the small increase in altitude was largely futile. Also, mosquito-nets were standard issue, and there were wall-to-wall cockroaches if one got up at night and turned on the kitchen light.
I soon settled in to the routine of border duty. Our searches were quite thorough because the border war was just starting and insurgents were crossing the Mighty Zambezi wherever they could, but arms were also being smuggled across in trucks in false compartments or hidden in the loads.
My SA Navy explosives course qualifications gave me the job of driving the metal detector. Loads of kapenta dried fish, netted in Lake Nyassa (Malawi) had to be unloaded by the annoyed drivers. I would wave my machine across each sack.
When it went off with an unearthly clatter, I nearly jumped out of my skin.
All the officers and police gathered around as we carefully slit the sack open with scissors, gently moved the smelly fish aside, expecting to find a bunch of ammo or grenades…
There was a bottle-top on the roadway, under the sack. The driver was well pissed off.
Entertainment consisted of frequent visits to the local sugar-estate country club tennis courts and pub. One of the lads had a boat and spent time tiger-fishing on the Zambezi. I once went out with several off-duty guys where we had a laugh diving overboard with clutching fingers to catch baby crocodiles. I don’t remember why we weren’t concerned about their mum.
One afternoon three of us decided to go to Lusaka to paint the town red. One of the lads had a Mercedes. The visit was an alcoholic blur, enjoyed by all. On the way back in the wee hours, we got attacked by a vicious hungry and stopped at ‘The Robin Inn’ in the village of Kafue to beat it off, but the night-duty man said there was nothing available. In revenge, my companions dared me to pinch the alarm clock from Reception. A few miles down the road, I wondered what I was doing with an alarm clock and threw it out of the window.
We were arrested at the border post, just across the river from home, and taken in cuffs back to Kafue. I told the police chief there that it was I who had done grand theft clock, so he let my mates go. They gave me what money little money they had and promised to send me a cake with a file in it. We laughed about that, but I was a trifle scared.
The rest of my day was spent in open-air cells, with crocodile skins salted and drying, lying on the wire mesh over my head, before I was cuffed again and taken on the back of a police Landy to Lusaka Remand Prison.