I was still convinced that the track between Chirisa and Chizarira was only just through the bushes. It said so on the map and the GPS was showing me that we were getting closer. My fear was that the track had become so overgrown that it was now no more than a tangled cut line that we would not have a hope of finding let alone driving down. This annoyed me, as to drive back to the salt springs and round to Chirisa from the north would take three hours, which would be a huge waste of time. So I was prepared to try to find a way through the mopane.
But as we got closer to where the track should be, the mopane grew into trees, and there were small kopjes barring our way. I wanted to try and cut some of the vegetation back to get through, but Bob suggested that this was futile, and looking off into the east he said that there was no way there could be a path through there. With everyone a little fractious in the van, I got out and stood in a slight clearing and thrust the GPS skywards to get a reading. I came back to the van, looked at the map and announced as forcefully as I could that the track was less than fifty metres to the east. I started trying to clear a way through, untangling branches and removing ground detritus. Bob went off walking east, obviously trying to disprove my theory and show me up to be the young immature ass that he knew in his heart of hearts I must be. As I bent down to clear a particularly obnoxious log out of the way, I heard some shouting, and I saw Bob standing in the middle distance looking like a scarecrow, both arms pointing straight outwards in a northeast – south west orientation. He was shouting “It’s here” and he came running back as fast as a seventy year old can go in thick bush. He then proceeded to stand in front of the Land Rover while Joe inched forward, steering wherever Bob’s finger pointed. He did find a route that went over the fewest roots and meant we had to clear minimal branches from our way, and after ten minutes of driving we were on the track. Long straight and completely clear in both directions for several miles, it was like a motorway compared to the previous route. As we all got back into Judith, Bob took an admiring look at the GPS. “You must get me one of those things”.
The events of that day did more to bond us together as a team than ever before, and that night Bob was in good form as he recounted the tale and then moved on to other things. As a white Zimbabwean who had lived through so many of the changes in the country, he had many interesting perspectives on what went on, and it was interesting to hear Edmore and John’s alternative views on recent history. Edmore and John talked of Mugabe as the saviour and great leader of Zimbabwe, as they had always lived at a distance from Harare’s mutterings. Bob talked of Mugabe as someone he had rubbed shoulders with very often, as they were both part of that Harare community that ran and organised the country. In fact Bob had only crossed Mugabe a few times, but knew many of his relations and of course all the civil servants and politicians who had come into contact with his work at the Herbarium.
Joe and I were outsiders in these conversations, as we were when they moved on to folklore. But the stories from Zimbabwean childhood were of much more interest to us both. Curiously, these tales crossed both the racial divide and the urban rural split. The most famous of these stories were about the hare in the moon. The conversation moved this way as we were close to full moon and it shone through the faidherbias at us. In Britain the stories were about the man in the moon, and I was only ever half convinced that I could see his face in the bright reflection. But when I heard about the hare in the moon, it was obvious. Shining down on us you could see the two huge ears and the little face, you could even see an eye. And behind and below the ears was the bulge of the body and a little tail at the end. It was so clear. I wondered why I had never noticed it in England. When I got back I realised why, the moon appears at a different angle in the northern hemisphere than it does in the south, and you have to turn your head clockwise about 90 degrees before you see the hare in the moon.
The stories themselves are as typical as any folklore anywhere, a bunch of animals have adventures and each animal has certain characteristics which you can find in people. I found it slightly curious that although typically Zimbabwean animals existed such as the lion and the elephant, they tended not to play a major role. Most of the stories surrounded the hare in the moon who outsmarted the bear at every move; sounds a bit like Brer Rabbit. Bob had picked them up from his various trips around the region, and by people he knew in Harare who had collected and written down these stories, but Edmore in particular knew these from tales his family had told him, and he recited each one slowly and carefully as a narrator must. It was the first time I saw him properly confident; although he had learnt how to record position using GPS, had helped Bob identify some trees and had confirmed my map reading with his local knowledge, you could sense he was always just playing a supporting role. Now he took centre stage and relished it. He told three or four stories in succession, slowly and carefully, and at the end of each one he would stay silent for a few seconds before starting again “…And then there was the tale of how the Bear..”.