A ghost of Christmas Past

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A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Horus » Mon Dec 07, 2015 1:13 pm

It was December 1970 and I was preparing for the arrival of my parents who would be spending a month with us. I had come to work in Zambia as an expatriate engineer; it was a beautiful country situated in central Africa about 15 degrees South of the Equator. It was formerly known as Northern Rhodesia at a time when the whole area came under the grandiose title of ‘The Federation of Northern & Southern Rhodesia & Nyasaland’. After some countries gained their independence from Britain they became known as ‘Zambia’ in the North and ‘Zimbabwe’ formerly (Rhodesia) in the South. Malawi nuzzled itself along side the two of them, divided only by the great ‘Rift’ valley seen by many as being the cradle of humanity and the rocky ‘Muchinga’ escarpment.

Zambia was and still is a relatively unspoiled country with its economy mainly based upon the mining of copper, it also had an annual surplus in food items such as Maize, which was usually sold to neighbouring countries. It should be noted that since penning this original vignette, that Zambia has experienced a massive decline both economically and socially and can now barely feed itself let alone export surplus food to its neighbours. Most of its larger towns are on what we would describe as the ‘line of rail’, that is to say that they happily position themselves astride the railway line that runs in a general South to North direction throughout the country. To anyone interested in the colonial history of Africa, this railway line would have formed a part of the great dream of Cecil Rhodes who gave his name to Rhodesia (now present day Zimbabwe) of uniting the African continent with a railway line. It would have stretched from Cape Town in the far South, to Cairo in the North, regrettably his dream never came to fruition.

Our ‘house boy’ for that was the term used in those days to describe a house servant, was called ‘Lamech’. He was a small wiry man with glossy ebony skin and a smile that would put the sun to shame. He had come to see me on our first day in our new home and asked for a job, this I had done and he stayed with us throughout the many years that we lived there. But in this PC world that we now live, in I should make it clear that this was not a case of the white man having a black servant. It was just the normal economy of a country that expected wealthier individuals such as the expatriate workers to provide jobs for others. Most homes had a gardener and a house servant, although the word servant is a misnomer. They were in fact similar to a home help and in most cases were treated very much as a part of the family. We had social responsibilities towards them and their families and would house and feed them, plus take care of their medical needs. Lamech was a part of our children’s and our own lives for a long time, together with his wife Florence and their son Noah who by now will have children of his own. For those of you with a bible education you will recall that Noah was the son of Lamech, so he was very aptly named in my opinion, they all still have a special place in my heart.

Lamech liked a drink and although he would never come to the house any the worse for wear, he would on most evenings sup a few quart pots full of the local heady brew called ‘Chibuku’ whilst sitting outside his own small house located at the top of our garden. Chibuku is a crude beer brewed from Maize corn, it smells revolting and looks similar to a very watery porridge with all the solids still floating in it, a bowl of this would be like having your breakfast and getting drunk at the same time. This consumption usually resulted in him getting drunk, singing a few songs and his wife Florence chasing him around the garden with a big stick, usually a large branch ripped off a tree complete with all it’s leaves. Thus we were treated to a hilarious scene of this little man being chased around our large garden whilst being thrashed with a big branch by his equally big wife. The fact that all the leaves were still on the branch slowed it down somewhat and reduced his injuries to something akin to being ‘fanned’ to death as Florence attempted to inflict some damage while he rolled around on the ground laughing at her.

It was a ritual enacted every Christmas, Lamech would come down to the house and confess his sins to me as we sat together on the veranda, he would greedily gulp down the proffered tumbler of my best Scotch Whiskey, then hold his glass ready for a refill after each confession. It should be said at the outset that there was no requirement for him to confess his misdemeanours to me, it was just something that he liked to do and I am sure he made them all up in order to get more free whiskey as he confessed his sins and assuaged his guilt. So it would go something like this “Bwaana” (Zambia is the only place that you will be given this title) “I am a thief” he would announce, I would naturally feign shock and horror “Oh I am sure that you aren’t “ I would reply. “No Bwaana, I have stolen cooking oil from the madam” “That’s OK Lamech, we don’t mind you helping yourself to some cooking oil” I would reply. He would nod his greying head and hold out the glass. “I have also stolen Tea and Sugar” “oh that’s OK” I would say, “we don’t mind you having some tea and sugar” as I gave him a refill, the conversation would continue in that vein until he had supped most of my bottle of Scotch. Needless to say he never remembered his confessions the next day.

We waited by the fence of the small bush airport at Ndola; the airport was nothing more than a tin-hut with a runway attached. We had a clear 360-degree view of the sky, but nothing on this landscape stood above thirty foot in height; it was all bush and Acacia trees as far as the eye could see. We leaned on the chain linked perimeter fence alongside the bush road and scanned the horizon, acutely aware that this endless expanse of Acacia bushes was the same place where a secretary of the United Nations and peacemaker general ‘Dag Hammarkshold’ had met his death in a suspicious plane crash. His well kept memorial in the bush being an interesting place to visit at the weekend.

A small speck on the horizon grew until the shape of the ‘Alitalia’ airlines DC8 filled our vision. It came in low like a huge Condor, seeming to brush the trees with its undercarriage as it passed over our heads. We held our breath as it barely cleared the perimeter fence, before dropping heavily onto the tarmac beyond with a burst of smoke from the tyres, then it disappeared into a blended heat haze of reverse thrusting engines, dust and hot African sun, leaving us with the taste of burnt aviation fuel in our mouths and stinging our eyes.. We watched as the plane grew smaller and then seeming to sink slowly into the runway in a shimmer of super heated air, the black ribbon of tarmac heading towards the opposite horizon flanked on each side by the red soil of Africa. I waited with baited breath expecting any minute to see a large ball of flame erupt at the point the plane had disappeared from our sight. So it was with much relief that we saw the plane reappear again on the horizon and taxi back down the single tarmac strip towards the terminal building.

My parents thoroughly enjoyed their month long vacation with us and their one and only ever Christmas spent in the sun. I have happy memories of my father lazing on our garden swing, sipping my Whiskey, with his Grandchildren gently pushing him too and fro. He never did make the connection of him having a wonderful holiday, with me actually having to work there in all the heat and putting up with the privations that came with the job. “ You have got it made here” he would often say, while sitting on the veranda in the sunshine having his breakfast, not realising that I had been at work from 6.00 am that morning and had only popped home each day to have breakfast with them at 10.0 am by virtue of my position and the job I did plus pulling a few strings. My wife would often take them to the open-air Olympic sized pool for a swim and usually a picnic lunch on the grassy banks or to a barbecue at someone else’s home. But wherever they went I would usually have joined them by around 3.0 p.m. As he probably got up at about 9 am this reinforced his view that I actually did very little work, the fact that I had just put in a nine hour shift usually escaped him. In the evenings he loved to walk down the drive, lean on the gate and watch the world go by. I could see that it was his special time and no doubt he was experiencing that feeling that we all have when on holiday, the one when you think that you could spend the rest of your life in this place.

Now in the higherarchy of things, if the people working for me held me in high regard, then it went without saying that the Bwaana’s father was elevated to the status of a god and as such he was shown great respect. Now our dear Florence, Lamech’s wife, was extremely well endowed, she would often wear little or nothing to cover the upper half whilst out for a stroll. I had by now become used to such things and nary batted an eyelid at the masses of exposed bosoms displayed on a daily basis. However my father was of a generation that could still be embarrassed by a bit of naked flesh.

On that fateful evening he was leaning on the gate deep in contemplation, when who should sail into view on the road opposite to him? None other than the well-endowed Florence sporting her alfresco double d’s. Our bungalow and its extensive gardens were situated on a crossroads and like a vision of loveliness she had appeared on the opposite corner of the junction from him. Upon seeing the Bwaana’s father she immediately dropped to her knees and with arms outstretched in front of her proceeded to raise them to the heavens at regular intervals, her back would arch like a bow whilst calling out the traditional praise of ‘Baba’ meaning father. This unknown to him was a traditional tribal chief salutation and his own status as my father did in the eyes of Florence entitle him to such adoration and praise. As she was doing this, her back arched again and her huge bosoms were heaved upwards, nipples pointing skyward then sagging down again and bouncing uncontrollably like huge bowls of Blackcurrant jelly, it was indeed a mesmerising sight to behold. This was repeated at regular intervals much to my father’s consternation and embarrassment. I could see the beads of sweat appearing on his forehead and him desperately looking around and hoping that no one else had seen him, but unable to extricate himself from the embarrassing situation. I watched this scene from our veranda with increasing hilarity until my wife made me go and rescue him. Now they are both gone, but that memory will stay with me forever.


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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Ruby Slippers » Mon Dec 07, 2015 4:35 pm

Oh Horus! That was an absolutely wonderful 'vignette' ! The best yet, for me. I'm enjoying these so much. Thank you a million times for this one! :up

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Horus » Mon Dec 07, 2015 5:41 pm

Your'e welcome Ruby S, glad you enjoyed it. :up
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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by LovelyLadyLux » Tue Dec 08, 2015 4:36 am

Very good H! Very good ;) :up

I get your concern re: servant and todays PC world H. I have a girlfriend (now 80) whose father was in the British Army and posted all over the world. She spent very little of her early life living in the UK but did spend many years living in India. I don't have details but her family was basically given an "Iya" or "Aiya" (spelled by way she pronounced it). This woman was basically given to their family. She lived with them, helped in the house and with childcare. She "belonged" to them and couldn't be given away or given back as that would have brought shame to her (the Aiya's own family) and possibly even attempts to give her back could have caused serious repercussions for the Aiya. My gf said her family has their Aiya live with them until she passed.

In those days it wasn't considered "owning" as it might be considered today. It was more a way of life and given it was India I'm sure this Aiya's life was much better living with my gf's family than it might of been depending on the Caste she was born into. Again this might should harsh to those PC people reading this but it was just a way of life.

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Kiya » Tue Dec 08, 2015 10:09 am

Fantastic Horus :) I really enjoyed reading your vignette..........more please.

Had to laugh at Florence chacing her hubby around the garden with branch, can just picture it :lol:

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Horus » Tue Dec 08, 2015 11:50 am

@ Kiya, somewhere or another I have some photos of him and Florence sitting in the garden with the kids.

@ LLL, yes I can understand about your friend and her Aiya, we British are always condemned for our old Empire, but often the wrong picture is painted. As I said previously, it was expected that those better off Europeans would employ local people and help spread the wealth around, but it was not just a matter of paying them, we also had a social duty towards them. In our case we would see that they were fed and on a hand me down basis they never lacked for cloths, they had a secure income and a roof over their heads. We took care of them medically and Mrs H even saw to it that Florence’s baby Noah was taken care of properly and that Florence was looked after by the hospital. On the odd occasion I have had to go to the local prison and retrieve my ‘Garden Boy’ who had been falsely arrested and to bail out Lamech when he got really drunk, had a row with Florence and ended up in jail, (that may just make another story ;) ) so we became protectors of their social welfare as well. I have no doubt at all that their lives were far better when in my employment than after we left the country, we were sad to have to leave them and he would ask if he could come back to England with us, it was a hard task to try and explain why this could not happen. No doubt at all in my mind that your friends Aiya was very fortunate to have been ‘given’ to her adopted family as her life would have been much better than it ever could have been otherwise. Colonial attitudes and practices are often hard to justify in our modern world, but if looked at with unprejudiced eyes and an understanding of history then it can be seen as not always being bad.
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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Kiya » Tue Dec 08, 2015 4:22 pm

Oooo another story coming.................hopefully ;) :)

And let us see the photos of Florence & Lamech & family as & when you find them :up

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by LovelyLadyLux » Tue Dec 08, 2015 11:36 pm

My gf was a little girl when her Aiya was given to her family. She had no idea if her Aiya was initially an orphan or only child or 'why' she was chosen to be 'given' but in fact the Aiya was totally accepting of being given to her family and thrived as essentially the person who was going to look after the children, clean the house etc. She never tried to leave and lived as if she had indeed been born into the family. For the Aiya her total role in life was to be with and serve the family she was given to and lived with them into old age.

What I think is hard for some to wrap their heads around is that the Aiya was extremely accepting of this role. She didn't want it to change in the least AND probably her life was very much better than if she was left living in India trying to cope with crushing poverty.

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Horus » Tue Dec 08, 2015 11:51 pm

Here you go Kiya, I am afraid the quality of the photos is very poor. I had to extract them from an old Super 8 movie, so each one is a single frame and difficult to get them any clearer.

This one is of my dear wife holding baby Noah and my son, Florence has my daughter on her lap.
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Here Lamech is trying to get my son to come and play with the little dog
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This one shows Lamech trying to get the dog to look at the camera
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Notice how in each image that Florence hardly moves, she does not understand a film camera at all. :D
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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by LovelyLadyLux » Wed Dec 09, 2015 2:21 am

Interesting photos H. Was Lamech 'dressed up' or was that how he usually dressed? Or did he wear traditional African clothing like his wife is doing?

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Horus » Wed Dec 09, 2015 10:34 am

Very few men actually wear what you would call traditional African clothing LLL, although the women will get their best dress out for a photoshoot :lol: :lol:
Lamech is wearing a typical 'House Boy' uniform which we would buy for him as and when he needed a new one. It was not something we or others imposed on them, rather a locally made work uniform that they saw as being more of a perk than anything else, it gave them a sort of status amongst their friends of being properly employed by a European who treated them very well and looked after them. ;)

And as you can see from the photos, it was difficult for Florence to get Noah back from Mrs H after she had gotten her hands on him. :lol:
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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Kiya » Wed Dec 09, 2015 6:31 pm

Awe lovely photos to look back on......have to say your dear wife looked to be a dainty wee thing & your son looked to be tall for a wee boy :) :)

Thank you for sharing :)

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Horus » Wed Dec 09, 2015 9:08 pm

Thanks Kiya and yes she was always very dainty, maybe that is why I always felt I had to look after her, she was the love of my life. Here she is with my daughter who would have been about two and a half years old at the time judging by the pushchair in the background which my son would be in. Both my children are quite tall and my son is taller than I am at 6 foot (less some shrinkage for age) :lol: and up until her passing we would always take the Micky out of her petite size. We would all laugh when like most smaller people she would come out with statements to my son (even after he was married) and he was winding her up, such as “You are still not too big for me to put you across my knee you know” To which he would reply good naturedly by standing alongside and towering over her, he would then proceed to pat her on the head saying “Of course you can dear mother” her dainty size was always a family joke, she reminded me of a little Terrier, probably why I love Little Annie so much. :)

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Kiya » Thu Dec 10, 2015 9:11 am

Awe lovely...........thank goodness for our memories :)

Out of my 5 brothers there is one much taller than the rest, my Mam would always get him to dust the higher shelves where she couldn't reach, they would just look at one another & giggle :)

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Jayway » Thu Dec 10, 2015 11:42 am

Great story again Horus, thankyou. Hope there will be more Africa episodes ? I met an Angolan family when I first landed in Portugal, later I asked if they would like photos as I found a job in the photoshop. I asked, they said yes, then there was a mad rushing about for half an hour as they all had to change into their Sunday best and father had to shave ! I printed the photos out large and they were so pleased they made me a chicken feet and baby bird dinner - I ate the rice.

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Horus » Thu Dec 10, 2015 1:17 pm

Jay were these people white Angolans?
The reason I ask is that I was there when Angola was granted independence literally overnight when the Leftist Military Coup in Lisbon in 1974 overthrew the Estado Novog regime in Portugal who wanted to maintain their African colonies and had been fighting the rebels in both Angola and Mozambique. Angola bordered onto one side of Zambia and the various factions of UNITA led by Jonas Savimbi & the MPLA fought alongside of each other, although later they would fight on opposite sides in a civil war after they eventually gained their independence from Portugal.

I recall it very well and the foreign involvement was of a level I have never seen before in an African colony, UNITA was receiving huge amounts of military aid from America and a pre independent South Africa, while the Soviet Union was backing the communist MPLA forces. As I said during the struggle for independence they fought alongside each other, but after it was gained they turned their guns on each other.

Both sides employed mercenaries and many crossed over from Zambia and the Belgian Congo where people like ‘Blackjack’ Schramme and ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare operated. Mad Mike would disguise his activities as running a drinking club in South Africa, myself and two mates were picked up as mercenaries whilst there in 1974 after a clampdown caused by international pressure even though there were thousands of Cuban military in Angola at the time financed by the Soviets, but that is another story.

Almost simultaneously the other Portuguese colony of Mozambique was also conducting a war for independence led by FRELIMO under the leadership of Samora Machel who’s daughter incidentally later married Nelson Mandella. So at one time in my life I lived in a country with a war going on in The Belgian Congo to the North, Angola to the West, Mozambique to the East and another in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) to the South, all with guerrilla fighters spilling over into my country. So when you have ‘lived in interesting times’ it is not hard to see and predict the end result of some modern day troubles, especially in the Middle East. ;)
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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Jayway » Thu Dec 10, 2015 8:40 pm

This family was black, they had a free plane ride to Portugal, I think it was from Namibia?, they had to run away after the mother was killed, Dad and 4 kids.

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Re: A ghost of Christmas Past

Post by Horus » Thu Dec 10, 2015 9:09 pm

This family was black, they had a free plane ride to Portugal, I think it was from Namibia?,
Yes Jay that would be correct as it was the most direct route into South Africa from Angola at that time and Namibia was also being administered as a protectorate of South Africa.
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