A joyful Zimbabwean Childhood in the 1970’s

Just for 5 minutes, come away with me – away from media, Corona Virus, fear and out of the divisive mood around the globe. Visuaise yourself wooshing down a water slide, screaming your lungs out, joy and terror parading though your veins, popping out the other end into a fantasy world – into joyful 70’s childhood on dusty farms in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), playing under huge blue skies and hiding from booming electical storms. We are all laughing – happily captivated by freedom. FREEDOM!

The huge oval colonial driveway outside my home has turned into a mudslide skating rink which we skate and slither across. A gang of excited dogs nip our bottoms and pull our clothes, dragging us into the chocolate mush. Muddy droplets hang off our hair and eyelashes as darkness descends. At the door we drag off our clothing and head for the steamy bath Mum has drawn for us – we are freezing cold and haven’t even noticed.

BOTTLE FEEDING BABY GOATS

Dawn breaks and the friends, who stayed overnight, and I rush down a winding sand path, pasting the staff greeting good morning, heading for the goats’ pen. We are kissed and nuzzled and as we sit down amongst them, they climb us and graze our hair. What sweet animals, but their spooky eyes make us shiver. Have you ever noticed goat’s pupils are slices which stretch from north to south, not east to west? On Saturdays we take turns to feed the tail wagging Kids warm milk from teated bottles, holding ever so tightly as they hungrily butted, guzzled.

BOYS WITH MATCHES

Kissing them all goodbye, we raced to an ancient fig tree, calling “last one there is a dirty lizard!”, where we played, climbered over silvery branches to swing, finally collapsing between shaded roots which rise out of the ground like a nature New York city. Oblivious to the danger of snakes hiding in holes dotted around. Actually – not a care in the world at all! Smelling like goatlets we opened little satchels to find a picnic of sandwiches, biscuits and fresh orange juice with floating bits. Can you smell it (in your mind) – the mouthwatering aroma of squeezed orange nectar?
Naughty boys produced boxes of matches and lit their farts and burped out songs competitively. Like, seriously – little boys are made of snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails. Little girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice.

BIRTHDAY CANDLES, A FLOURISH OF SPIT & PRIZES

Sunday followed, we returned to my friend’s house, clutching little brown suitcases packed with whitened Bata takkies, swimming cozzies and towels (specially rolled with its corners tucked in). Homework stayed behind – it was holiday time and anyway there was a birthday to celebrate. Families arrived in funny cars from far and wide, bearing gifts. Braai coals glowed red hot, adults played tennis, thrashed each other at ping pong and towel jumping was laid out for the kids to win sweets and packs of cards. A lunch fit for kings, arranged on granny’s embroidered table cloths, prepared beautifully and professionally by staff wearing starched white uniforms, aprons and neat caps draws flies. As the sun baked down younger kids headed to the pool with lilo’s, colourful beach balls and safety rings to swim and play for hours. All ages dolphin dived, learnt to somersault and make the biggest bomb splashes. God only knows how we didn’t land up in hospital with cracked skulls. Yes, there were a few broken arms! At lunch time we were allowed to chew off the juicy chicken bones, held with our fingers, and eat copious amounts of rainbow birthday cake ….. layered with enthusiastic candle blowing spit. We all survived!

Marco Polo was our favourite game – remember the game? Did you play it? We swam until we turned into blue wrinkly fish look-alikes, and at days end, shivering, teeth chattering towelled bundles scampered indoors to change, leaving footprints and puddles everywhere. Our folks never really bothered. Time to tuck into a warm dinner followed by ever faithful jelly (eew, pigs’ trotters – who knew?) and ice cream or custard. The adults, wearing broad rimmed straw and cloth hats, mellowed with Gin & Tonics, played “who put the cookie in the cookie jar” and argued over politics. Seeing the chance to split, teenagers snuck off to hay barns where they secretly make out and smoked stolen cigarettes, while the younger ones ‘fell in love’ with the pretty girls and older boys in silence, fantasizing about a future belonging to a perfect lala land in a child’s colourful imagination

WE BETTED ON AND RODE HORSES

Each farm had a different wonder – one owned race horses we placed risky bets on as they dressaged and raced. Others had more placid horses we could ride around the farm on. Sweaty riding caps were shared and grooms chaperoned us to keep us safe. Savanna was my favourite, a tall speckled grey horse – how can I remember those details so clearly now, yet cannot recall where we put down our keys 10 minutes ago? Next-farm neighbours had an art school where we tie dyed caftans and glued mosaic pictures together with seeds and stones, ate cottage pie with home grown vegetables and oftentimes spent afternoons lazing on the banks of their dam. Sometimes we buzzed around in a rubber dingy, dangling over the sides and tumbling into the water with the dogs to splash off the sunburn pain.

OBLIVIOUS TO TERRORISTS

Adults overstayed the lunchtime parties, always. Perhaps that is the way it was. Families huddled around roaring fireplaces, playing monopoly (the closest most of us will get to owning a piece of real estate on Bond Street and getting out of jail free), canasta and charades into the night. At midnight everyone “called it a day”, driving home armed with rifles, pistols and FN firearms in case of a terrorist ambush. Safely home us kids flopped into bed, where dogs and cats hid under the covers – as flat as crocodiles.

Woosh, back to the year 2021 – Okay, enough dreaming of the 1970’s for now – back to work folks. To cabin fever where patience has worn out her welcome mat – and we wait out the storm of Covid-19!