On being barefoot

Lake Kyle, Zimbabwe, December 1971 (now renamed Lake Mutirikwe). Rocks and vegetation typical of the area.



Six of us – all only sometimes naughty children – crept out of the thatched holiday lodges in the middle of the game reserve before dawn while our respective parents were still sleeping. The planned great escape sprung into action as each one collected their fishing rods. There was muffled laughter at the uselessness of whispering when the tackle box rattled so.

‘Shh! Come! Let’s go!’, we said, and walked quickly out of possible earshot of the slumbering adults to the dirt road which would take us part-way to the fishing spot just as the fish would start jumping at first light. Although all shod, there were some kudos to be gained from walking barefoot as proof of general toughness and so, one by one, we removed our tackies – canvas  shoes – and walked six abreast, our shoes in our hand, in strange imitation of many an impeccably besuited black African man who would walk thus to the nearest bus stop to save the leather and preserve the shine on his shoes until he reached town.

Our pace slowed naturally even after our eyes had adjusted to the sporadic moonlight among the shadows cast by overhanging trees and we took in the scent of unidentified dung – possibly kudu or eland, the moist decay of fallen leaves and the neither sweet nor pungent odour of lichen fixed to granite rock. Our excited chatter fell away too in that utter silence just before the first bird wakes, when any sound is only an imagined one, the one wished for. We padded along in the dust, now quite soft under foot on this road seldom used by cars.

The landscape changed. We went downhill for a short stretch and then the road flattened out. In the pre-dawn light we could make out the faint outline of trees on the lake shoreline. It was misty. A gentle breeze had us pretending we were not shivering in the kind of bravado appropriate to our age.  As we walked along, it seemed to get a little warmer, and the mist grew noticeably thicker until we could not see more than a yard or two in front of us. Then, thicker still, until we could not see each other, yet became aware of a strange phenomenon: the mist – or fog, even – seemed to be floating about a foot off the ground and extended at least until the lower branches of the quite tall trees around us. We decided to stay on the road, and not cut through the bush just yet. We all stood still, transfixed, in wonder. None of us had ever known a mist quite like this, but now was not the time to admit that we were just a little scared of this new unknown.

As the sun rose, the ghostly white mist enveloping  our little group now bereft of bravado began its transformation into a dirty yellow and then, quite rapidly, disappeared right in front of our eyes.  We waved our arms in the air as if to catch a remnant of this almost living thing that was at once so tangible but could not be touched. We were children. We did not want the magic to stop, yet the call of an unseen African Fish Eagle broke our reverie, and reminded us why we were on that road in the first place.  We started walking with great purpose and told the youngest of our group where East was.

That’s how it was early one morning for a few little white kids going fishing in the middle of Lake Kyle National Park near Great Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe.  It was 1975. There was a war on, you know.

Rocky outcrop immediately behind the lodges mentioned in the story. This photo of my sister and I was taken one year after the experience related in the story. The trees were home to a large troupe of Vervet monkeys, whose shrieks and chatter we became quite adept at imitating.

Allison Wright © 2015

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