Both 18 years old by now, Sheila’s son, Nicholas Simkin and my daughter, Nicci, started writing their matric examinations back in South Africa in late October, 1991.
My survey team was strengthened by the addition of Abel Makoena, a delightful character with whom I had worked before, but such was the workload that Pedro Ferreira also flew up from Basil Read Head Office to help me for a week. In between some hard work re-aligning roads to avoid unnecessary destruction of homes and payment of compensation, I learned a bit about fishing.
Before the horrific drought that was to follow from ’93/’94, the Boteti River was still a significant water-way with good stocks of African pike and several species of delicious bream. Robert Riggs had a home on the river bank and lent John Riley, my boss, and I his boat for the purpose. The locals used woven reed fish-traps set in sub-water reed fences for the purpose. We used light spinner rods with triple-hook mepps lures almost exclusively, and almost never used bait. I had never had much luck fishing before, with rare opportunity, but the Okavango Delta changed all that. A little success ignites enthusiasm!
At the end of October, the plane that flew up from Lanseria Airport to collect us, had, amongst others, some old friends from SNA Consulting Engineers, Joe Coetzee and Vissie Visser, on board on their way to Shakawe to spend the weekend fishing on the Okavango. Basil Read men included Brian Maynard and my old site-agent from the Naboomspruit job, Kevin Pickard. On its return, the Turbo Air’s 10-seater Kingair picked a bunch of us up, to go back to South Africa for the last time before the Christmas break.
At home, on our little farm, all was well with Sheila and her herd of cows. As usual, the weekend was over too quickly and Sheila was delivering me back to Lanseria for the return flight to Maun.
With the year drawing to a close, thoughts turned to the Christmas party and the holidays to follow. John Riley, who was never short of imagination, decided on an Arabian Nights affair. The main attraction was to be the hiring of two belly dancers from a studio in Johannesburg who were to be flown up to Maun, the day of the party.
(Few of us had ever encountered belly dancers before and assumed that they must be somewhat akin to strip-dancers, which were a common construction party treat.)
John and Julie’s twin daughters were Kathryn and Stephanie. It was an amusing coincidence that the two belly dancers were also Kathryn and Stephanie! As the oldest married man on site, I was designated their chaperone and met Kathryn Harrison (46) and Stephanie Dawes (+/-23) at the airport and took them to lunch at the Duck Inn just as a monstrous storm broke. Water was eventually ankle deep at the bar.
The ladies thought it a great joke, saying it would soon be over and would not spoil the party. It was and it didn’t. I took them back to the flat to bath and change while I returned to the site offices to help decorate. I collected the ladies at 18h30 and took them to site as my “guests”, as their act was to be a surprise.
There were about 80 guests, in thobes, fezzes, turbans and cummerbunds. It was very festive and colourful. After dinner, the ladies changed in my office with blankets draped over the windows. First Stephanie came on to dance in maroon and purple. We were stunned to silence at the supple beauty of her movements. Not the bump and grind some had expected. Then Kathryn, who had been a ballet and modern dancing instructor before she switched to belly dancing, and was of a plumper stature, provided the humorous side of the pair. It was a delightful show! At 01h00 I took the ladies back to the flat at Sedie Hotel then returned to give lifts to various visitors to their accommodation.
The next day was a mad rush to finalise arrangements for leaving Maun, but finally I got to the airport with the ladies and my Staffy, Mack, who was to fly back with us along with Abel. We had to wait for an hour for our pilot who had been at the party with us. Such was his hangover that he had to stop at the end of the runway and get out to replace a fuel-cap on the Piper Navaho, before he turned to take off! Then over the Kalahari, I noticed that one of the luggage bays was open and the tie-downs were floating in the wind. He decided to land on the sand strip at Rakops to shut it, rather than be embarrassed at Lanseria! The airfield official in the mud hut at the end of the strip ran to collect landing fees, but the pilot managed to take off again before he arrived!
Mack was as good as gold all through the flight.
At Lanseria Airport, Sheila, with Nick and Tim, had been waiting for hours. She was not best pleased as I stepped off the plane with two ladies in tow! Especially as, theoretically, she could have also joined the flight up and back to attend the party.
Pity she had cows to milk.
Pity she had cows to milk.