It all began with a single thought, lying in my bed staring out of my window at the night sky – starless, wet, and cloudy – a typical English winter evening. I began to think of home – my parents, my horse, the space, the farm – everything representing my past I began to think of and with this I became emotionally strained, tears streamed down my face as I recalled the past; I faced facts – I was certifiably homesick and although I had refused to face facts before I had to admit it as my mind stirred bringing all that filled my world. I thought of everything that was precious to me. All the anger, the pain and memories stirred up.
The last walk that my father and I had in search of poacher’s who we ended up apprehending after sitting on an O.P. (Observation Point) for an hour monitoring movement through binoculars, eventually catching the poachers who had poached Guinea Fowl, unfortunately it was nothing major like any antelope but they were still poaching, we apprehended them in the end letting them go their ways but confiscating their catch they had tried to hide once they saw us watching them which was unintentional, as far as my father and I were concerned our O.P. was well hidden, unfortunately it was not.
On the same farm we resided on in the Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe I had inherited a horse from the previous owners of the farm who had relocated to New Zealand within a year of the Zimbabwe land reform programme beginning. The horse was just short of 16 hands; he was dark brown – almost black known as a dark bay in equestrian circles. A stallion of eleven years, extremely powerful and very quick – his name was Beauty, pretty original and so I tried to change his name to Pilgrim which is the horse from The Horse Whisperer and it didn’t fit, so then thought of Destiny and that still didn’t fit, and so kept his name. Named by the mother of the previous owner who according to her son thought “she knew the world about equines but in fact knew nothing and would refer to “her” books claiming that they were the only things that were correct so practically she knew nothing about horses but when it came to the theoretical side’ – such as maintenance, handling and sheer up-keep “she knew everything”, any horseman will however tell you that practical horsemanship is different from theoretical – practical. It is the practice that makes a horseman great and able to connect with their horses. This I have always believed as in many corners of life practical outweighs theoretical, for if you cannot listen to a horse how on earth can you pay attention to a human? I am no professional horseman but this is a belief I have held for a very long time. Even though I have had to learn it the hard way in an accident which could have claimed my life, but that is possibly another story for another time.
Beauty was my friend – I don’t think there was one corner of the farm we didn’t cover; we rode fence lines, herded cattle in for corralling at night keeping them from Hyenas and cattle thieves, drove them in for dosing or dipping on a monthly basis; it was utter bliss and herding with him was heaven, he knew exactly what to do without me reigning him and was extremely affective – he kept the cattle in line and you could tell he was always at his happiest when droving. On one occasion whilst we were gathering the herd to take them for dipping a cow decided she would be brave and try take Beauty on and so she began to charge, Beauty then turned in and kicked out at the cow, she stumbled but lucky for me she was not injured, probably a bruised ego more like. Shortly after that incident that heavens opened up and we got the gloriousness of an African thunder storm.
One of my last rides on him was a moonlight ride, just him and I before I left for the other end of the country so stayed as much time as possible together because this horse had truly become one of the best friends I have ever had and through that a philosophy will always stick with me, “Never once do we choose the horse, we are chosen by the horse”. The night of our last ride was utter bliss; the moon shone brightly, the African night sounds stayed vibrant – crickets, nightjars and jackals would seem to be entertaining themselves and the odd cry from a Hyena would bellow out in the distance, and every now and then a slight breeze would kick up. As we rode I stared at the night sky, stars like diamonds on black satin glistened in the darkness, the odd shooting star would pass over head and burn up in the atmosphere. I would usher the odd reassuring word to Beauty as we continued our ride on the dusty trail. Eventually after a two hour ride we returned to the stables and we stayed in the yard for a bit after removing his tack and stayed with him for a while. I lay back on the empty feed trough and watched the sky, listening to the sounds that surrounded us. Beauty coming up and nudging my face and smelling my hair, sometimes nibbling my nose out of affection – after a while with him I decided it was time to retire. I petted him down, picked up his tack and walked back home with him following closely behind, I opened the gate, put his tack down, petted him down and hugged him one last time and locked the gate behind me and with that he returned to the stables of which were a lovely Victorian style design. The stable area was a square design with a cement feed trough in the middle, each stable was naturally big and had an individual feed trough in each corner made out of cement. In total there were fourteen stables, a feed room, and traditionally, a foaling stable – the stable area and yard was huge and when properly maintained was stunning. The stables had two entrances – one for a vehicle, another for when coming in from an outride or releasing the horses into the stable grounds or grazing pastures which in the nineteen forties and fifties had been a horse racing track on the farm which is what the stables were originally used for, the view from the stables and main house was stunning; we stared into utter vastness and down into the pastures which the cattle and horses would often share. In the distance lay foothills which would put Ben Nevis at Fort William in Scotland to shame. It was utter bliss and can happily say that it was possibly one of the best farms we resided on – the house was big and also a huge traditionally designed colonial era house.
I spent a few more days at home and as usual spent the majority of the remainder of my days on the farm known as Coldstream Estates with Beauty doing the norm; herding cattle, riding fence lines and being a regular “African Cowboy” and sometimes visited the former Zimbabwean minister of finance – Simba Makoni, if he wasn’t on the farm I would go and see his nephew and manager.
I understood from my mother when we spoke on the phone once from the other end of the country that Beauty would often gallop up and down the fence whinnying after I left as if he were trying to call me.
I then left the comforts of home to go work at Zimbabwe Online in Harare (Internet Service Provider) but later transferred to the west of the country to the country’s second capital Bulawayo to work in the office there which was by complete accident, I stayed there for almost a year and in that period realising that it was time to leave Zimbabwe in search of a better life so I could concentrate on building a future. Within that time I had organised for Beauty to go to a good home in the same area and not far from the farm we lived on. So, from March 2004 to November 2004 I lived and worked in Bulawayo. My time there drew to an end and I left to travel to directly the other end of the country to spend my last month with my parents, they had moved two months after I left home. It took me three days to get home to my parents as I spent two in Harare to finalise my travel plans and say goodbye to friends. On the third day I secured a lift to Headlands which was the area where we had lived for several years and had inherited Beauty, I was dropped at Halfway House in hoping that I’d be able to find a lift all the way through to my parents of which I managed to from a German expatriate who was a doctor in the eastern town of Chipinge. Whilst there I saw the person I had entrusted with Beauty, a brigadier in the Zimbabwe National Army. I enquired after my equine friend but the news was unfortunate and my heart sank. He told me that he had not been able to secure Beauty and that he had eaten a shrub which poisoned him – without him telling me the name I quickly deduced that he had eaten the same plant that had killed his mother two years before I inherited him called Lantana Camara which is hazardous to both cattle & horses in the tropical regions of Africa, America and South America, it induces Cirrhosis of the Liver and kills them slowly and painfully – my heart sank upon hearing the news – my friend I had shared good times, sad times, lonely times with was dead – he had made the world simpler than it was and had made more sense than any human possibly could.
At one stage in 2002, a year prior to inheriting Beauty I went to house/farm sit within that same area for an Australian expatriate who went away to Mana Pools and Chirundu Game Conservancies for a few weeks, the setting of the farm was absolutely stunning. I was allocated a horse, a South African breed known as Bosikop and was skewbald (white and brown colouring) – the name was Ziggie, he was an eight year old, 16 hands on the mark and having been of South African breeding was extremely rugged – whilst on the farm we rode the valley’s, stream’s & foothills and the views one would find are the kind to be ever captivated, ever beholden. I would awake at 0430hrs, go out, get Ziggie from the paddock, stable him and feed him – return to the house prepare breakfast which was often two slices of toast and a mug of coffee.
I would then get him groomed and tacked up and then depart on a days ride patrolling the gullies and streams, often running into a small herd of Kudu, a large troop of Baboons, and bumping into the odd Duiker or Klipspringer and passing the odd obvious lair of a leopard, with it being summer I would often end the day off watching the sun go down from a huge hill next to the house.
On one occasion I had been patrolling on Ziggie when I became bored and with it being mid October and the weather being inherently hot I needed to be kept occupied. I was riding in between two rock formations in a valley when I noticed a troop of baboons to my 1 o’clock so trotted roughly twenty meters ahead of the column and dismounted to face the troop of which had become curious and had stopped at my rear of which I was now facing; I kept my hands by the bit keeping the reigns on his withers so as to mount and depart immediately so knelt down on my haunches and sought out the ring leader, once I had spotted him I locked eyes and began to challenge him by barking at him in the typical baboon manner a “BAAA-HOOOW”. This being a challenge several male baboons barked back without moving, I again barked – this continued a few times before the “main-man” started to move forward. This, to me being a game barked twice of when I noticed the troop beginning to charge in my direction. I had one advantage, I had a horse so I quickly mounted, turned Ziggie in on the heal, barked once more and cantered away in the opposite direction, in front of us was a wide stream and then a semi-steep climb up the bank on the other side. Unwilling to be literally torn apart by baboons I crossed the stream and cantered up the bank on the other side and carried on riding. I had now kept active and my adrenalin had now got going as challenging a baboon is extremely dangerous as they have been known to tear apart leopards, humans and dogs. Having Ziggie as a trustworthy companion was a delight and even until today when I think back to the entire time there I smirk to myself; knowing that I only did what I did on that occasion because I had one advantage over the baboons and also with it being a very brief stage in my life of which I thoroughly enjoyed and loved every minute of, it is one of the few parts of my African life I can never regret.
All this I registered and remembered as I lay in my bed 5000 odd miles from my former homeland and feeling nothing but a heavy heart. I felt a heavy heart at the situation, a heavy heart as I now realised that I was homesick and missed my parents; that naturally wasn’t a realisation – I always did miss them from the moment I left, the moment I walked through those departure gates at Harare International Airport on the 16th of January 2005. I felt a heavy heart as the Africa I had grown up in was a different Africa and had learnt a different language & culture, liberalised certain viewpoints of past situations with the country and made friends with the majority of Africans I had met within my short twenty six years in Africa. What had happened to the country I had grown up in? The country which I had once loved, what had happened to the nation I had once served in pride as a police officer for two years?
I can safely say that I truly wish my children could have the upbringing I had – the space, a different culture, a different language – sadly, my children will not have that – I will not share that with my family. Times change, situations change, life changes but I guess who and where we come from will never change in our hearts. We will always stand proud, stand true and be who we are. Memories we will always have to remind us of where we are from and who we are.
I guess those of us who have left will always say “I had a home in Africa”.
January 2007 ©