Anyhow, we couldn’t worry too much about that, we were on our way, we had jobs to do and we had to get moving or else we would not make Gokwe by nightfall. It was already after four o’clock by the time we moved on. We briefly halted in Kadoma to stock up with a couple of things we had forgotten (I seem to remember matches was one thing – see why I was worried?) and then headed on the side road through Empress Mine, one of the large Zimbabwean mining villages that runs either side of the Great Dyke. It was dusk when we went through there, and we saw a shift change, a whole load of tired, dusty blue-overalled men wearily trudging along the road to their tin shacks, the life drained from their faces, their eyes only faintly recognising the presence of Judith as we drove past.
We turned onto the main road to Gokwe as it really got dark. Although the major trunk roads of Zimbabwe are wonderfully constructed and there are great segments that appear to pass through lots of nothing, at night any road is treacherous in Zimbabwe. In 1996 it was safe in terms of the fact that we were unlikely to be hijacked or robbed (something that could not be said of the turn of the century) but there was potential for a whole multitude of objects on the road to crash into; people walking, riding bicycles, driving mules or tractors, bits of wood or lumps of concrete or startled game. Two or three times we had to jam on the brakes as a cyclist with no lights loomed out of the dark only a few feet in front of us. Our average speed decreased even more. And then, at last, around 7:30 in the evening, the fires and limited electric lights of the town of Gowke appeared. The last time I had been here was on my return from Binga in 1993, and compared to the tiny settlements it had appeared like a metropolis. Coming down from Harare it was completely the opposite, a frontier town civilisation had bypassed. It was at this point that another missing link in our planning became glaring. We had no idea where the tsetse camp was. I seemed to remember it was off the main road as you headed north out of town, but I had little idea how far. We asked and my conception was confirmed, so we drove north. There were no road signs, but right on the edge of town, we could discern a bunch of buildings set amongst some thorn trees. On the right was a house with some lights on so we stopped and asked whether we had the right place. We were correct again, and the man we were talking to was a kind of caretaker. He invited us to drive up and he would join us with a key. They look like a typical Public Works depot or Government office you may find in these rural areas. We had to drive up into the compound, up a steep narrow track which was marked by several tree roots, a lot of bricks and several gullies. I think there was a track underneath it all, but it was difficult to tell in the dark.
We parked and relieved we jumped out and started to look at our camp for the night, a concrete rondavel. Quietly congratulating ourselves for getting to this stage, we waited patiently for the caretaker and listened to the night sounds. There was the usual crickets chirruping, and frogs croaking, and a strange high pitched hissing which almost sounded like a snake, till we realised Judith’s back rear tyre was as flat as a pancake. We must have gone over a thorn or a gnarled tree root as we drove up that drive. One step forward, two back.
We had a look round our quarters; like so many concrete buildings which are rarely inhabited, there was a film of grey dust everywhere which penetrated even the cobwebs strewn around the rooms. There were a couple of bedrooms and a serviceable outhouse, and a small kitchen whose centrepiece was a Calor gas stove and chimney.
Somewhat tired and irritable, we brought our bedrolls in and the few knickknacks for the night ahead. We paid the caretaker, took the key, offloaded some food boxes from the van and locked her up. And we set about making some food. Bob, an old man, bless him, rested in one corner; I started trying to be imaginative with a couple of tins of tomatoes, some carrots and a tin of pilchards. Jo, always keen to tinker with something mechanical, tried to light the stove. He gave us updates through the half open steel door, it was on, it went out. He finally got it going but the flame was not very strong. I got some water in a pan and prepared to start boiling it on the stove. I went back for the victuals and as I made my way back to the kitchen there was a loud “WHOP”, and a shaken Joe came staggering through the door. Bob started out of his doze.
“What Happened”, we both shouted.
“Er…I Don’t really know. I think there must be a leak in the stove or something. I thought the gas was not coming out of the top very strongly. His hair, usually slightly dishevelled, was blown upwards and backwards, and his face was red with a few black smudges, but otherwise he was unharmed. I rushed into the kitchen and turned the stove off.
Jo managed to use the wood stove and we did heat up some food, but it was after 9 by the time we ate. The light salad in Chegutu seemed a million years ago, and a different world to this. After three days we were back in the real Africa.