Monday, March 19, 2007

“The Living Record of Your Memory”*

OK, I admit it. . .the inspiration for this blog came from my brother. He recently wrote about the mission station where my parents lived when my brother and I were young children.

I confess that my memories of Sikalongo Mission are very dim. Additionally, they are episodic. My brother has visited this mission far more recently than I was there, having seen it in 2003. And my father will be sure to correct any mis-remembrances that I have.

Photo of me and a much loved doll. I recall losing a doll on the train--by the time I remembered that I had left it there, the train was gone, and with it the doll.

So, here goes. This is what I remember about Sikalongo Mission. It is located near the town of Choma, Zambia, in the southern part of Zambia. Choma is sufficiently small to not be shown on all maps, but it is due east of Livingstone. When I lived there with my parents the Kariba Dam had not yet been built on the Zambesi River, but if you were to visit this location today, you would be very near the resulting lake, Lake Kariba.

My mind’s eye recollection is that as you approached the mission on the dirt road leading to the mission, you would be going up a long hill. At the bottom of that hill there was a dam. This place figures in one of my recollections. There were a couple of mission houses, and then the main mission house, on the left. If you walked away from the main mission house, toward the schools, you would come to a mission bell, up on a kind of scaffolding.

Other buildings that I remember are the milk house (I don’t know if that is what it was called, but there were milk cans in there), the out-houses (the source of another story) and the pig pens. I do not remember the church—which is most curious, since attending services there would have been a weekly feature in my childhood. I do remember sitting in church, somewhat drowsily, listening to services in
Chitonga. Mother would run her fingers up and down my arm, tickling me and lulling me.

My 2nd birthday. You can see a kerosene lamp on the bookshelf, and a pressure lamp hanging overhead. No electricity in those days.

Mainly, I remember stories. Stories from this time of my life frequently involve animals. During this time is when I first became attached to pigs. I don’t know why, other than that we had them on the mission, and I could watch them in all phases of their piggy lives. Many of the animal stories I remember involved the natural wildlife that we would have encountered—crocodiles, various antelope or giraffes, and baboons. I never saw a lion in the wild, nor an elephant. The memory I have involving the dam on the outskirts of the mission had to do with a crocodile getting caught in one of the pools by the dam, and since it couldn’t get out, and kept thrashing about threatening anyone who approached it, it had to be shot. And of course there were snakes to be reckoned with.

There was the time one evening that my father reached for his slippers. He had been reading in the living room, and with the lamps (with no electricity, the lamps were either kerosene or pressure lamps) turned down low, he thought he saw his belt inside the slippers. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a snake. As I recall the story, my father initially considered using a gun to shoot the snake, but decided not to put holes in the walls (maybe my mother influenced that choice). Someone brought a shambok, a whip made of animal hide, and I believe one of the African men used it to break the snake’s back. The general rule with snakes in Africa was “kill first, ask questions later.” Of course, many people associate snakes with Africa and expect you to have some kind of encounter. Snakes weren’t really everywhere, but since a fair number of snakes in Africa are poisonous, you learned to be respectful.

My 4th birthday. I assume this photo is in the main mission house at Sikalongo.

Another story involved me and the out-house. Since we did not have indoor plumbing then, the bathroom was an out-house. Generally, you were well-advised to check the seat before you sat. But I was a child set on the next play time, and forgot. Smack—I sat down right on top of some kind of wooly caterpillar that had as its defense mechanism to eject all its spiny prickles, right into my . . .(hey, you’re ahead of me and you already got the picture!). The cure was a painful amount of time spent with my lying stomach down on my bed, with my mother removing prickles with a tweezers. Thank goodness there were no digital cameras then for virtually instant photos!

Mother and me with my many dolls! In front of mission house at Sikalongo.

I sometimes wonder if these stories are embellished by my memory. I have become more suspicious of recall. I am older, so the distance between my present recollection and that long ago event only increases with each passing year. And, of course, it is impossible to cross-check everything. The very nature of memory is such that a stand-out event for me may have passed unnoticed by most everyone else.

*Source of title--Shakespeare's Sonnet 55 "Nor marble, nor gilded monuments"


KGMom said...

By email--my father supplied the following details on the snake in the living room story:
"The Snake: I had been sitting in the living room listening to BBC, had fallen asleep, had got awake to hear a swishing sound which I thought was an African driving a wooden sled drawn by oxen out on the road in front of the house. Because that was out of character for that time of the night I went to investigate. I looked out the front door. I could see nothing. Your mother was sitting at the dining room table, reading or writing and I asked her of she had heard an African driving a sled past outside, and she said "No". I went back into the living room, shone my flashlight over on the chair I had just been sitting in and saw the snake curled around the back of the chair where I had just been sitting. That is when I thought of getting the shot gun, but your mother nixed that because of putting holes in the wall. About that time we heard the school boys getting out of evening studies and returning to the dormitories, and knew the two Head Prefects would be bringing the "tilley lamps" back up to the main mission house. We waited until they got there and called them into the living room. They said right away it was not a poisonous snake, but I wanted it killed. They got a stick (not a shambok, rather "sjambok") and killed it. But your story was basically correct."

Mary said...

Donna, you and your Dad's stories are really compelling. What a life you had. Perhaps what struck me most of all was the picture of you and your doll who took a train ride without you. And you birthday party is so cute!

My Mom grew up on a very poor farm in Maryland and remembered seeing poisonous snakes drop through the fireplace into the living area. Yikes!

Climenheise said...

I enjoy these stories from the time just before I was born. Choma is not so small anymore -- about 100,000 people!

Body Soul Spirit said...

"I sometimes wonder if these stories are embellished by my memory"

Childhood memories are from a "child's view" and may include details adults miss. I wouldn't call them embellished. Interestingly, it is the snake and animal encounters I remember most from S.Africa. You have some lovely photo memories.

Anonymous said...

What great pictures of Grandma, Grandpa and you!! I love pictures and it's great to get a glimpse of my heritage.

Anonymous said...

Ah thanks for writing of your life in Africa - I know I have asked you in my comments to do so. I loved it. I love every detail of it. You paint a picture for me - and I can just see you as the train left with your doll. The fact that you can add the actual picture to this documentary of your life is extraordinary. The pictures are amazingly good also. It is a very touching and well thought out piece of writing each time. Good show!!(ocean)

Ginger said...

I loved this! I'm with Ocean; you really paint the pictures well. Would be lovely to read more, as you can recollect them. And the pictures were awesome. I loved the one of you with all the dolls lined up on the stairs. It provoked some memories of my own!

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. It was a delight to come by here!