It was December 1972, Zambia, Africa. The long-awaited rains were late in coming. The air was damp, humidity rising. Christmas was a special time at Kalulushi Farm College (KFC). Students returned to their villages and small rural towns to be with families for Christmas.
The college quiet, a small number of students and a skeleton staff care for the cattle, milk the dairy cows, feed the pigs, and collect the eggs from the chickens. A workshop mechanic keeps an eye on the diesel engine for pumping water from a small creek to a concrete reservoir to irrigate 5 acres of vegetables. It is 4 days before Christmas.
Tanya, now 13 months and I drove to the nearby mining town of Kalulushi to collect our mail. Tanya has discovered the joy of tearing up paper, a new skill learnt in preparation for Christmas Day. Out of the car and into the post office to join the queue, mostly European, orderly, expectant. Tanya demands to be carried, her best vantage point to survey the comings and goings. Mail of late had been slow in arriving, parcels promised, still arriving. Perhaps today will be different.
Our Australian friends at KFC, Lance and Jenny Brooks with 8 months old Andrew were joining us for a trial camping run down to Victoria Falls. I had set up my Hillman to sleep Joan in the car – a removable folding bench attached to the rear parcel shelf, supported by 2 screw in legs behind the front seat upright, the front section resting on the front windowsill, passenger’s side. Tanya on a bed replacing the back seat, and myself on a homemade roof rack, a piece of tarp tied to the sides of the roof rack for protection from the rain. I wanted to road test our camping gear before leaving for a 3-week road trip through Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya with our Canadian friends.
Leaving the farm college with friends Lance and Jenny, we travelled to Mazabuka, a cattle farming region in the south of Zambia. Our friends Allan and Bev Slater were working with Family Farms, an organisation set up to plan for and repatriate local farmers back onto tribal lands taken over by European farmers under British colonial rule. Land was being surveyed to provide each local farmer with 400 acres of arable land with access to water.
We stayed overnight with Allan and Bev, Joan and I camping in our car. Next morning, we continued our drive to Victoria Falls, completing a 13-hour drive over 2 days. The drive took us through rural communities, at times rich farming country, with large corn harvesters on commercial farms, past tobacco and sugar cane. In other places, small villages supporting subsistence farming with an ox drawn single furrow plough. The road was a pathway for local people walking with an assortment of animal-drawn carts and tractors loaded with people, produce and animals.
Arriving at Livingstone around 3.00pm on Christmas Eve we prepare for our crossing into Rhodesia and the small community at Victoria Falls. The tension in the car began to climb as we approached the first of two check points on the bridge spanning the Zambezi River below the Victoria Falls. Ian Smith had declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from England. He had set up his own government in Rhodesia. Ian Smith’s government was reported to be supported by the Armed Forces of South Africa. There were armed skirmishes along the Zambezi River, the border between the two countries.
Passing through the Zambian roadblock without incident, we drive across the bridge to gaze in wonder at the magnificence of Victoria Falls. A mist hangs over the falls, the roar of falling water on rocks, a throbbing beat of energy. Then we are on the Rhodesian side and enter another checkpoint. After handing over our passports, we are guided over a car pit and our vehicle examined underneath with bright lights, torches lighting up still hidden places. We are requested to drive forward to more waiting officials. Our car is searched inside, and we are asked the reason for entering Rhodesia. We are waved through and join our friends as we locate the campground. Selecting a spot on a grassed area, we set up camp in the shade of a large tree. There is plenty of space, green grass, and shops across the road from our camp.
We are tired after the long drive and tense from crossing through border immigration. Tanya is running around and into everything as we set up camp. Andrew is crawling around on the soft grass inspecting small sticks he has discovered. Then into his mouth they go, much to his mother frustration.
Lance spots a fish and chips place across the road from our camp. Christmas Eve with fish and chips from wrapping paper sounds a good idea. Decision made; over the road we go. The shop has a window opening onto the street. There is a small group of local tribal people standing by the window. Lance and I look for the line and sort of tack ourselves onto the end of the queue. People were waiting around, quiet, interested in Tanya, watching, waiting. It was then that a woman called out to Lance. “Are you here to order some fish and chips?” “Yes”, was his reply. “Then come to the window and I will take your order”, was the response. I looked at the tribal people and before I could say anything the lady said. “They can wait, I will take your order now”. We ordered and stood back to wait for our order. I was again reminded of where I was. This was not Zambia.
Christmas Day was filled with time wandering along the walks that led us to the edge of Victoria Falls. Its grandeur is spectacular, rugged, water cascading over the lip of the falls to merge with gravity, to crash on to rocks seeking a way out. Rushing water joins into a great torrent to discover an escape route as its harnessed energy is channelled into a narrow gap in the surrounding walls and is released with force to continue its journey uninterrupted out into the awaiting countryside, to be calmed, a gentle river sustaining, supporting new life, a source of precious water in a parched landscape.
Back at our camp, Andrew was having a sleep. It was late afternoon. Tanya was playing nearby. A man wandered over from a nearby campsite. “Where are you from?” he asked with an English accent. “Zambia”, I said. “Yes, I thought you were” he said. “The number plates on your car tell me that”. Where from in Zambia” he asked. “Kalulushi, up on the Copperbelt” I said. “What’s it like up there? It must be difficult for you with all the unrest and fighting in Zambia” he said. “I hear that the locals are raping people. Law and order is breaking down in the larger cities”. And so, the conversation continued. Two different countries, different stories, different experiences, with little in common.
Christmas Day in 1972 was different. There were no carols, no church, no family, simply good friends who have become lifelong friends, sharing each other’s company. In this place on Christmas Day, nearby, nature exercised its sustaining power and beauty. Yet this special place is overshadowed and pushed aside by a deep mistrust between peoples who surround us in that place.
The story of Christmas through the birth of a small child provides an alternative to the world. It is a simple message “Peace on earth, good will to all men”, to all nations, to all of humanity.