With my annual leave looming large and excitingly nearer, there were preparations to make. Deciding to use Sheila’s Landy, she retrieved the canvas for a canopy from Paula Rawson who had promised to sew it together, but failed due to closing her fabric enterprise for the Christmas break. We got the bright idea of gluing it together, and using eyelets we got from Kalahari Kanvas, it was ready when we left Maun, Botswana for Malawi early on 16th December 1992.
We entered Zimbabwe at Pandamatenga, went into Hwange Game Park and spent the first night at Robin’s Camp. The next morning, we found that hyenas had chewed up our plastic dinner plates and eaten the Aromat salt.
Soon after we left, one of the rear spring U-bolts sheared off. From my large toolbox of oddments, I found a piece of chain which I tightened in place with a couple of ordinary bolts to get us to Hwange town where we got new U-bolts from the garage. The mechanic said my heath-robinson repair would have out-lasted the new ones!
We set off again and made it to Mlibizi on Lake Kariba where we camped for the night, intending to catch the ferry to Kariba in the morning, but it was full. We pushed on to Binga for fuel then headed east past Seabuwa where we heard from folk turning back that the road to Karoi was closed due to a bridge that had been washed away in recent heavy rains. The same story was told all the way past Gokwe, thus we were advised to go further south to Gadoma, Chegutu (Hartley), and north again to Chinoi where we booked into the Orange Grove Motel as it was dark and raining steadily.
The following day we went on to Karoi, turning off at Makuti for Kariba, where my cousin, Rowena Simpson and her husband, Barry, lived. (Eric Earle Shipton, the well-known Everest climber and explorer, was Rowena’s uncle) We got there in time for lunch, but ended up being invited to stay the night. I had not seen them since 1966, when I had stayed with them when they farmed near Filabusi, Matabeleland South.
We went to see the circular church, built on the top of the hill overlooking the dam, with the same shutters used to build the coffer-dams when Kariba Dam was built (1956-1960), to commemorate the deaths of some 85 workers that died in accidents during construction. About a third of them were Italians.
Exploring the town and dam wall was short lived when more rain came down, but from the Simpson’s we saw the buffalo that they said often came to graze near their garden fence.
The next day we drove across the wall into Zambia and headed through Lusaka and east in the direction of the Malawi border, aiming to get to find Chembe Banda’s home near Petauke in eastern Zambia. It was dark when we gave up asking the way from locals, but he heard we were looking for him and caught up with us to guide us to his home where we camped in his yard. Chembe was the surveyor working in Maun for Arup Consultants who were controlling the work done by the Korean company, Daewoo Construction.
As we prepared to leave in the morning, we heard that foreigners had camped nearby, also looking for Chembe – it was Keith Spackman and his mum, also heading for Malawi. Chembe guided them home. Sheila, especially, was impressed by Chembe’s family. His younger brothers were inspanning their oxen to go and till the lands even as dawn broke. She admired their rural way of life and their cheerful hospitality.
At the border beyond Chipata, Keith was told that his sister and brother-in-law had not come that way, so he turned back towards the more northern border post to find them. Later, we were to find out that the information was wrong, but eventually we met up with him and them, again.
Our first impressions of Malawi were not good. The toilet at the border was filthy, and the country seemed to be so heavily populated, we couldn’t even find a bush to go behind without spectators.