Gathering in Mutarara on the north bank of the Zambezi River in September 1971, there were eight field technicians as well as a laboratory tech, all led by Frank Merryweather. Loxton, Hunting & Associates had landed the substantial contract to survey the natural resources of a large section of the Zambezi Valley, rumoured to last for three years.
Frank was joined by his wife, Anne, and daughters, who had rented a house in Mutarara Nova, the eastern-most of the string of villages that made up the town that hugged the riverside. The Quartel was next, consisting mostly of the Portuguese Army barracks, Government officials and clinic. Centrally lay Dona Ana with a railway siding at the end of the steel rail bridge. The rail branched just outside the town, one heading north to Malawi, the other west to the town of Tete. Finally, westernmost, after a gap where the floodplain narrowed too much to accommodate any buildings, there lay Mutarara Velha – the old village.
Besides Norman Trevor-Jones and I, there was my old friend Bruce Barichievy, whom it was good to see again. The brothers, Derek and Trevor Tawse (Trevor’s wife, Susan ran the laboratory when it was established) were part of the team. Terry Haffern (with his beautiful wife, Gail), Eric Gärtner, Glyn Jones and, later, Graham Wright, made up the rest. Main Base was a building complex in Dona Ana that had been a bank at one time. It housed our main office, Frank’s office, several rooms to make up living quarters when technicians were in town, the lab and store-rooms.
Terry and Gail were nice, normal gentle people, very much a contrast to most of the rest of us hard-drinking hooligans. (Terry left the company at the end of the year and by 1978 had emigrated to New Zealand.)
My area to survey was sandwiched between that of Bruce at Lake Lifumba, eighty miles west of Mutarara. and that of Norman which included Lake Danga. I was miffed. Not only did I have no lake, they could establish their camps on the water’s edge, while I had the scattered huts of the village of Shakwe between my camp, under some thorn trees, and the Zambezi.
The Portuguese authorities at the time had a policy of building aldeamentos, consolidated villages that could not only be protected from the ingress of Frelimo, the terrorists (that would be freedom fighters and the future government), but to govern the local population’s sympathies. In their place, I, too, would have been unhappy about being herded into a village after I had been used to place of my own choosing alongside my crops or a stream.
As I have always been mad about dogs, I decided to get a puppy to keep me company. I bought him from a local fellow who had a hut on an island on the Sorodze River, a small tributary far from my camp so that there would be little chance of his finding his way home. The little mite was car-sick for the first week, but soon got over it. The local dogs were all similar; brown or liver and white with curly tails, but later, when a vet in South Africa checked him over, he told me that he was closely related to a definite breed, the Basenji, or Congo Hunting Dog. I named him Shakwe, not considering that the local chief of the same name might be insulted.
Certainly Shakwe, as basenjis are, was barkless and emitted a whole range of yodelling sounds. He looked similar, but his ears were not completely pricked and nor was his tail as tightly curled. I was later to discover that he was deaf. As the breed is used mostly for hunting, in packs of a dozen or more, it is tradition that a bone in the puppies ears is broken to render them deaf, it being believed that this would sharpen their sense of smell.
I made a raft from mophane poles and fuel drums one weekend to paddle down the Zambezi. Shakwe did not like the idea; he abandoned ship and yodelled at me in protest from the bank as my craft drifted downstream.
The river was very low. I kept getting stuck on sandbanks. Eventually I gave up and went ashore. I dismantled my craft to save the rope and drums, then discovered that I was on an island with a deep channel to cross to the bank! Luckily a pirogue came along and towed the drums ashore for me. I walked back to camp to fetch my Land Rover, to return and retrieve the remains of my raft.