Riding Horses at the Kwe Kwe Game Ranch
By Fred Owens
They put me on a fast horse. Why did they do that? I told them I wanted an easy ride. They might have been having fun with me. He was a tan quarter horse named Jethro and he wanted to run. Just go flat out. A really good ride for somebody who knew how to ride. I was hanging on for dear life.
And who names a horse Jethro?
Anyway, it was a bone-jarring experience. I let him run and just held on. I saw zebras grazing and impalas leaping, antelopes I didn't know the name of and a giraffe. The game ranch had thousands of fenced acres. Stocked with zebras. You can keep zebras fenced in if you feed them and give them plenty of room. Impalas make good targets for predators (leopards) and poachers with a taste for antelope venison. You need a good rifle to protect the impalas. Nyama they say in Ndebele. it means meat. Zimbabweans love meat, from a cow or a goat, but from wild game as well. Tourists see an impala and take photos. Local people (aka "natives") see an impala and it looks like dinner to them.
How about wart hogs? The wart hog is so ugly that it's cute. They killed a wart hog for the BBQ when the backpackers came on their mangy, dirty old bus. These young and poor travelers had not bathed since Tanzania, but they drank plenty of beer in the interval. Partying with these idiots for one night was enough for me. And BBQed wart hog is one tough piece of meat. Flavor yes, but my teeth aren't strong enough to get it down. I would still be chewing if I hadn't spit it out behind a bush. Instead I filled up with potato salad and Bohlinger's Beer, trying to enjoy the company of drunken Australian college students out on an adventure trek.
The next night my hosts put me in separate housing, in a thatched tree house over-looking the swimming pool and near the main house. It was quiet up in the tree. The backpackers were all white people. My hosts were white people. That's why I was there -- to spend a few days with my own kind.
We ended the last installment of this African story, with this lament --
Once I saw Precious looking in a mirror and I knew what she was thinking -- she wanted to have lighter skin and not be so black. She wanted to use the bleaching cream that some African woman use. The cream has very harsh chemicals. It is dangerous. I begged her to throw it away. "You are beautiful now, " I told her. What else could I say?
What else could I say? I did tell the truth when I said "you are beautiful now." I was sure of that. But how could I even know the smallest part of what a poor, young African woman sees when she looks into a mirror? What was she thinking? Or was she even thinking? Her face was like a mask, unknowable. I could not read her. I was smart not to try. Except that one time, seeing her look into the mirror and I was moved to sorrow, because you gotta love who you are, and what you see in the mirror is not who you are. Except she was pretty. I could say that. "You're pretty, but what else do I know about you?"
I sat at table with the white ranchers, using napkins on sturdy china plates. They were stocky people, the man and the wife. Wide and strong. He wore short shorts which showed off his well-tanned legs. And sandals. In Zimbabwe high status men wear shorts and sandals. Danny, his name, had grown up on the ranch. "We are Zimbabweans. I was born here and so was my Annie. This is our country, I have no other country but Zimbabwe and this is my farm. It was my grandfather who started it, and then my Dad and me. We built the fences and the barns. We moved the earth and made ponds and put in irrigation. The revolutionaries say we stole the best land from the natives. Rubbish. We made it the best land with our labor. I'm a white African and this is my home." So Danny said as he sat in hi recliner after dinner. We were watching the BBC News from his big screen satellite television. Annie was coming in and out of the kitchen and giving kind instruction to the help. My comfort was established. And the lazy dogs sprawled at our feet. Life was good in Africa if you owned a ranch.
But, I interjected, you have a swimming pool and the local people have a cold water pump. The local people was his jargon for the workers who occupied a thatched roof village of 250 souls not a hundred yards from the big house.
"Yes, We have a pool and they have a pump. But I paid for it. I built that well for their water. And I have the water quality tested at times. They have good drinking water even in the dry season and they don't get sick. It is in my own interest to see to it that they are well and working. It is my responsibility. Everyone on this ranch has good water. And they say we are racist because we have a pool. Bah. We grow the food. We feed everyone. Because we want to get rich? No, the work is too hard. No, we feed the people from our hearts desire to do a good thing. No one is hungry in all of Zimbabwe, except some small tribes along the Zambezi River. But no one else is hungry because of farms like this. And we export maize to other countries, to Zambia and Mozambique. I'm very proud of that. And the government wants to take our land and give it to the local people.
"But they are the true immigrants. All these farm workers come from Malawi. Malawi is too poor. They don't even have shoes in Malawi so they come here because they can make money, doing work that Zimbabweans won't do at these wages."
But you could pay them better and the Zimbabweans would do they work at better wages.
"Would they? I doubt it. This is a good farm, but it's not from nature, it's from men like me who made the land productive, to feed people. No, I sleep well at night and I enjoy my TV and my beer."
Danny, you make a good point. This is a good farm and I hope you can keep it. I enjoyed having dinner with you and Annie. I will sleep with a full belly tonight.
And I did see his point. But I also saw Precious looking into the mirror that day and wishing her skin was whiter. Wanting to be whiter. I told her she was beautiful and that's all I said. She threw away the bleaching cream because I asked her to, but otherwise I did not expect her to change,. I did not expect Danny and Annie to change. I did not come to Africa on a mission. Unless I was kidding myself. Better get back on that horse and take another ride.
I now had a black girl friend and it was getting serious, a poor African woman with a big heart. Was I out of my mind? Did she even care for me at all? Well, sure, I was a nice guy and all and a white boy friend was better than a black man because I wouldn't beat her or cheat on her or take all her money. But that was in the larger scheme of things. Did she actually know me, and care for me?
Ach, I'm not going deep like that. Precious and I, we got along, we laughed together and her aunties liked me. I will ride the horse and have a few more evening chats with Danny and Annie and then go back to Precious in her little room on Airport Road in Bulawayo.
Correction from last installment.... Amacimbe means mopani worms in Ndebele. Amacimbe, or mopani worms in English, are a delicacy in southern Africa. They are grubs or caterpillars that live in the Mopani trees. The local people collect Mopani worms in their molting season. and they eat vast quantities. Fried in butter or lard, they come out looking like black shrimp. They have a powerfully strong flavor. I tried them at
Aunt Janet's house in Lobengula. Everyone watched me. Let's get the white man to eat Mopani worms, they told each other. Of course I ate one and then ate several more, just to show them I could do it. The taste was over-powering.
Next installment. Aunt Janet died. Even while I was at the Kwe Kwe Game Farm. Precious called me and told me she was dead. I came back straightaway. I had only just met Aunt Janet, but she seemed to be the best person in Precious's very large family.
Intermission. This very long story is less than half-way told, but we have all of the home isolation to tell it and that could go on for a long time, so we are taking a brief intermission and the next issue of Frog Hospital will be a report on local conditions from the coronavirus, as well a family news. We are healthy, and let's pray that health remains to protect us all.