Our long term memories are located near the emotion centre in our brains. Psychologists know that to lodge a memory well and truly… link it to an emotion. Looking through my photos for interesting ones to post on FB I came across this one…
A vivid recollection flashed through my mind: the first time I ‘met’ Cecil John Rhodes.
I was a kid. I’m not sure how old, but old enough to ride over the Sikoveni hills towards the Umzingwane to Esimbomvu. I must have known my parents would freak out at the idea of me riding so far into the TTL in the middle of the war, because I didn’t tell them. I set out in the early morning accompanied by Zulu, our huge Alsatian. We called him that, not a GSD, I’m not sure why. My dad had worked in the police as a dog trainer and we have always had one. It was said Zulu was born on the same day as me….he certainly came into Rhodesia in my cradle! Awesome dog…
Esimbomvu is at a crossroads; red and dusty. A few scraggly trees shelter people, waiting for transport. They sit on bricks or granite chunks moved for the purpose. The patience is as tangible now as then. A cluster of flat faced stores face the road, bright paint peeling. That hasn’t changed. The road is worse in a car than on a horse, but the red, red dust or mud, depending on the time of the year, is the same as ever. Esimbomvu is a pretty apt name for the place! The red soil continues from the gold belt, to the Umzingwane.
On the other side, the Matopos lures.
That day, I arrived mid morning, tied my pony to a tree and went round the back of the store to give the maas I’d been carrying to the owner. Later, I could bum lunch, although the maas wasn’t a prerequisite.
Sitting under a tree nearby was an old guy I didn’t recognise.
Really old, he wore tattered clothes and manyatela’s made of an old tyre, the straps criss crossing the arches of his feet. I’m not sure why he bothered with them, he sure didn’t need them. I reckon the soles of his feet were probably more thorn proof than the tread. None of the steel belt radials we have nowadays! Perhaps they were a status symbol.
It was there, sitting under that tree that my image of Cecil John Rhodes cemented and I’ve never been able to shake it.
“So, missy,” the old guy said and we went through a bit of a greeting routine. I’ve never been very good at that, but it’s impossible to avoid in situations such as these. “You can ride a horse?”
I nodded wondering whether he considered my horrid Basutu pony a horse. A donkey more like.
“You ride well,” he states and once again I nod. I can’t remember learning to ride.
Zulu comes and lies near me. “Just checking,” he says, his yellow police-dog eyes settling on the old guy. “I’m not too happy about that carved walking stick. I think I’ll just hang about for a bit…keep an eye.”
“You know Lodzi couldn’t ride?” the old guy asks and once again, I shake my head.
“Uh uh,” says the old guy pulling at the huge hole in his ear lobe. From somewhere, he extracts a bag of shamrock, cuts a square of newspaper and rolls a ciggie.
“It’s said he built the railway line, because he was so rotten at riding a horse. He was round and fat and he looked as if he would be better tied on the horse, or driving in a scotch cart. His clothes were too tight for him.” The old man paused, his milky eyes staring off into the distance. He picked up the faded hat on his head, scratched a little and replaced it carefully.
“You know, the Indaba was held here,” he said, waving his hand behind him vaguely. I shook my head. I hardly knew anything about Rhodes, other than he had a country and a National Park named after him. Oh, and that he wanted to go to Cairo. I had no mental picture of him at all, certainly not a fat man, wearing constricting clothes and wobbling about on a horse. Years later, I went to the museum in Bulawayo and saw a picture of Rhodes and I wasn’t that far off. I stared at his saddle through the glass display windows and wondered where the straps to hold him on were. You see, I had a picture in my mind that could not be shifted. There were certainly straps around and about in the clothing – thick belts, his hat strap. He wore those funny puttie things on his calves, you know what the BSAP used to wear back in the day. No wonder he couldn’t stay on a horse.
I wore only shorts (later was persuaded to put on a tee shirt!!)
I tried to reconcile this image I had of Rhodes with the one depicted in the museum. A guy who set out from Cape Town, a sickly youngster who made more money that I could even imagine. And I couldn’t.
I looked up from the old guy to the Matopos, away in the distance. I’d heard how brave Rhodes had been to ride out accompanied by a few people to meet with the warlike Matabele chiefs. What on earth was he doing down here? This is Esigodini, not the Matopos. Of course I knew nothing about the old roads, but I knew how difficult it was to ride a long distance. At least he had a saddle.
Did he perhaps sleep outside one of nights on his way down from Bulawayo?
Off my mind went on another adventure. Imagining the woodsmoke, the conversation, cigars. His tent. Perhaps they shot an impala for dinner. Understand, although I knew little about Cecil John Rhodes, I knew plenty about Jock of the Bushveld.
I dunnohowmany years later. I insisted on stopping at the Indaba tree on our way to Lumeni Falls. Staring at the fenced off area, the ant-heap and little plaque, I once again saw Rhodes, rubbing his butt, pulling his shirt straight and sighing in relief as he sat down on the ant heap. He still wore his hat and someone got him a shot out of that saddle bag I lusted after in the museum. I have no mental image of the chiefs he spoke to. The old guy told me nothing about them. This pic is of the view Lodzi would have had while he sat resting his sorry ass…
There is no moral to this blog post except perhaps be careful what you tell kids – they could be a crazy little tyke and get a mental image of the founder of Rhodesia as a rotund guy who needed straps to hold him on a horse…
PS…Oh man..I’m devastated…according to Wiki something or other, its only 8 miles from our house to Esimbomvu…strewth, it felt alot more than that with no saddle and a bag of maas dripping down my leg!
Right now, I’m busy cutting Silk Threads for Amazon – a ‘lite’ version…less explicit. After all, I was trying to write a book about Aspies, not an steamy SOG!
You can download from Amazon here:
Jack and Jill is also available on Smashwords