Thursday, November 18, 2010

49. My first visit to Bulawayo

I had last seen Jane in 1949 and my mother and Maureen in 1953, and it was now about 1964. After my visit to the operating theatre in Bangor, the family clubbed together and bought a plane ticket to Bulawayo so that I could recuperate there. We had been unable to sell our little house in Bangor so it was left empty while Tom, Jeni and Tommy moved into a transit hostel at Wildenrath in Germany. Jeni was the little mother, doing all their laundry and generally keeping everything together, while I flew away to Africa. Here I must mention how delighted I was when all the furniture I had reconditioned sold at a very good profit, after Tom had said I would not get much for that old stuff!

The flight to Bulawayo was very long because, at that time, planes could not fly over other African countries. We first landed in Nairobi where, on landing, the little unaccompanied girl who had slept with her head in my lap most of the night, decided to throw up all over me! We took off again and next landed in Salisbury, where we were accommodated in the Jameson multi-racial hotel for a six hour stop over. By now I smelled decidedly unpleasant and had an almighty migraine. I bathed and changed my clothes and then, because we were entitled to a meal and room service, I ordered a lobster thermadore, something I had never before eaten. Migraine or not, I was determined to try it.

Everyone was at the little Bulawayo Airport to greet me, waving and smiling and jumping up and down with excitement. My first reaction was that they had all grown very old, forgetting that I had also aged. The next shock was their accent; it was a mixture of Australian and Yiddish! Africa has a unique vibe about it, the light, the air, the colours and the warmth, were so comforting after the English winter. I was taken to the Matopas, the Zimbabwe Ruins, the Victoria Falls and across to Livingston in Zambia. It was all so magical there in 1964. The Victoria Falls were magnificent, but the walk through the mist was somewhat spoiled, by Mother taking the opportunity of us being alone to regale all Father’s indiscretions and evil doings over the past twelve years, which I really did not want to hear while in that wondrous place.

Being with my family again, seeing them all settled together in the lovely town of Bulawayo, enjoying a full social life surrounded by old friends, made me realise how alone I had been for so long. When it was time to go I really did not want to leave.

My father, who loved making big gestures, had arranged for a retired army cook to make a huge Christmas cake for me to take back to Germany. He had provided all ingredients, plenty of dried fruit, cherries, brandy and icing sugar; it was beautifully decorated and packed in a specially made, large wooden box for the journey. I sat with the heavy box on my lap from Bulawayo to Wildenrath and all the stations in between. The top of the box had to be prised open so customs could inspect the cake, they even wanted to cut it open to see if there was anything concealed inside, but relented. I joined Tom and the children at the hostel and we were still living there when Christmas came. I walked into the dining room, proudly bearing the cake which was to be shared by staff and residents alike. There was an embarrassed hush as I tried, in vain, to penetrate the icing sugar with a carving knife. It was like stone. Eventually the top was prised off with the aid of a hammer and large screwdriver, but the cake underneath was dry and hard without a single currant or raisin, let alone a cherry or drop of brandy. And to think I had nursed that wretched thing over land and sea, across continents and through the hazards of customs!

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