From December to March is usually the rainy season in Mozambique, which means that few roads that are not tarred are passable. Which cut off vast tracts of the country, including part of the main artery between the capital, Lourenço Marques, in the south and the city of Beira in the centre. As for the north, most normal traffic ceased to move.
Loxton, Hunting & Associates, natural resources surveyors, beefed up their South African contracts with their Mozambique personnel until the rains there stopped. Our first project in January 1972 was the southern portion of the homeland of Lebowa. I was camped in a tent to the west of the area, near Zebediela Citrus Estates, at one time the largest citrus plantation in the world, which had been started by John Slazenger and now had been handed over to the fledgling Lebowa government. My friend Bruce Barichievy’s area bordered mine. His area also bordered that of Derek Tawse, and they shared an old farmhouse there.
Charles Howard, newly employed, was sent to join them for training. Thus, it was awhile before I actually met Charles, but Bruce gave me reports when I met him on our mutual boundary.
“You must meet this new bloke. He keeps a green mamba as a pet.” Bruce told me. “He plays a good game of poker, too.” The first cheque that I had ever written out in my life was for an amount equal to one month’s salary, a poker debt to Bruce. It was therefore a certainty that I did not want to meet anyone that Bruce regarded as a good player.
Roughly every two or three weeks, all members of the field team would meet at the party-leader’s camp to discuss problems, bring in samples and get help with vegetation identification. At the next meeting, I met Charles and heard another episode from Bruce. He and Derek had decided to take Charles into Pietersburg one evening, to give him an initiation and show the greenhorn what real men were like. The net result was that, after a lot of drinking and a lot of poker, Charles drove them both home in Bruce’s Landy – one was sick and the other passed out – with all their money in his pockets.
Charles was an athletic sort of bloke; he had briefly played fullback for the national rugby side for Zambia, from whence he came. He was well co-ordinated, of course; a prerequisite for catching green mambas, or any other kind of scaly beast, for that matter, but with a sun-sensitive skin, so that, even with the wide brimmed hat he wore, his nose was usually peeling and he had stubble on his jaw, long before it became the fashion, because it was uncomfortable for him to shave more than once a week. He looked like a hillbilly from the Ozarks, which was why we called him Jed.
Shortly before we returned to Mozambique, I flew off to South West Africa, as it was then, to get engaged to Greet Burhoven-Jaspers. This kind and gentle soul had agreed to marry me, a drunken reprobate. Could this be a disaster, especially after the palm reader had insisted I should never get married because he could see that I would be a terrible husband?
However, this was as good an excuse as any for keeping out of Jed’s way, because, knowing Bruce, there was bound to be some sort of mayhem planned.
Understandably, Jed was reaching the conclusion that I was some sort of drip.
Imagine the dismay on both our parts as the Lebowa job ended and we were told that he and I would have to camp together in Mozambique while I taught him the local vegetation before he moved to his own area. I was dreading it, hoping that he had found a home for the green mamba by then.