Every time I mash a boiled egg, adding butter, mayonnaise and chopped parsley to paste on toast or make a sandwich, memories come flooding back to a time where Carol and I were sent on a holiday to the Vumba Heights.
My Mother was never one to make a big deal over outings or any events planned which would involve us kids or even them. I guess having 5 kids did it for her. So there was never the usual build-up and excitement that comes beforehand. She just said it as it was and usually just a day beforehand or on the day. It would be a case of:-
“Go and get yourselves bathed and dressed now because we are going out.”
“Where are we going?”
“There and back to see how far it is.” from Dad (privately rolling our eyes because he always said that.)
“To the circus and if you aren’t ready you’ll be left behind – now hurry up!” from Mom and we’d be done and ready in record time almost peeing with excitement.
It was the same with all events, Guy Fawks Fireworks display in the Park, camping at Lake McIllwaine, Picnics, Switching on the Christmas Lights in First Street, Salisbury and going to one of the Drive-Inns – how we loved that and on those occasions, because we were 5 and the folk always short of money, we’d stop just before the entrance to hide two of us in the boot of the car or under a blanket in the back seating area then pile out like escaping monkeys once parked.
But I digress
So it came with somewhat little surprise when Mom called Carol and I into the bedroom to help her pack some clothes those years back when I was 11 nearly 12 and Carol 10 years old.
“Where are we going Mom, why are we packing our clothes?”
“You’re going on a holiday together.”
“All of us? Where are we going”?
“No, just you and Carol. Now stop asking questions and help me pack! Why is your cupboard so untidy? How am I supposed to find anything?
“It’s Carols fault Mom”
“No it’s NOT, you’re just as untidy!”.
“If you’re going to fight, you won’t go”.
And that ended that squabble – silently glaring at one another.
“Where are we going?”
“To Vumba Heights, it’s a holiday place for children. Now no more questions, you hear!”
The following day we were taken to the main bus stop in Rezende street to join a mixed collection of kids, excitedly jumping around, nervous to almost tearful and the usual feigning nonplussed and dead cool. Carol and I just stood there gawping, clueless, no encouragement nor explanation from the folks – they were funny like that, matter of fact, get on with it. Calling order of some sort was a ‘grown up’ with a clip board ticking off kids names.
Once all the children had been accounted for and the luggage packed, we were herded onto the bus after great amounts of hugging and kissing, aiming for and crushing ourselves against the windows to wave goodbye to our parents before we were on our way.
We had no idea where we were going but it wasn’t long into the journey that the ‘grown-up ladies’ in charge had us singing those typical travelling songs “She’ll be coming round the corner when she comes.” “Sugar in the morning- sugar in the evening” and so on after chomping through a packed lunch of sandwiches and juice.
And finally we arrived to a place that would turn out to be one of our best and most memorable holidays ever.
Vumba Heights Hostel For Children.
We were all ushered into the Assembly Room, welcomed, given verbal instructions of do’s and don’ts, meal times and consequences for ANY misbehaviour. We were then broken up into groups – boys and girls groups and taken to our various dormitories – the prettiest room Carol and I had ever seen. All in a pink and green floral theme with pink curtains and bed covers, everything laid out neatly with the unforgettable smell of freshly washed linen and clean white walls – all so fresh and fairy-tale pretty which for us was fairy tale pretty because at home furnishing was mostly in shades brown or dull government green – you know – so it wouldn’t show the dirt being the general rule in of those days for large families
I can’t remember if we all chose our own beds or if we were dedicated to one by name but cared little about that, we were now all just excited and happy to be there. We must have had lockers or boxes to put our clothes in, I don’t imagine any of us had much, but what Carol and I did have was our own new bar of soap in a plastic container – to share and our own new flannels, tooth paste and brushes – a new treat for us, let me tell you. Friendships were immediately formed and after unpacking we went snooping across to see where the boys were
“Hey, get out, girls are not allowed!!”. As they equally got peeping into our dormitory. “Hey, get out, no boys allowed in here!!”
Their rooms were all in blue which impressed us hugely but they scorned us for having “girly” rooms. From there it was a discovery venture around the hostel
“No children allowed in the kitchen chaps, off you go and play outside – but be back for dinner at 6 otherwise you’ll go to bed hungry!”
The first place we explored was the forest right nearby, it was thick vegetation, dark and quite frankly terrifying for all of us at first venture. Behind was a large rocky mountain accessible only by going through what appeared as a dark forboding forest and it was immediately decided not a place to climb up.
Each morning after breakfast (or maybe before) we all gathered in the Assembly Room (for want of a better word), which was circular in shape and had built in cupboards all along the wall under the windows which we later found were filled with all manner of games and stuff to do on rainy days and also coupled as a seating area.
So the day started with prayers and singing a hymn before we were let loose to run wild outdoors and play typical outdoor games that kids do.
Carol and I both had long hair which by habit and rule, we always plaited, clipping up any lose ends. The one morning we both decided to go for something slightly different, plaiting our hair just above the ears and clipping the plaits up on the top of our head – you know old granny fashion style. God only knows what put that idea into our heads but clearly we thought it would be a cool idea. Carol had strong straight self determined hair whereas mine was more accommodating so it wasn’t long before her one plait sprung loose and bobbed up and down in rhythm to her singing. This caused the start of much stifled giggling whilst she frantically tried to pin it up again to have the other side spring loose and repeat the dance. Then one of mine did exactly the same and in attempt to fix it, blushing furiously the second one joined the dance. Contained sniggering burst out into uncontrollable loud giggling.
“Okay that’s quite enough everyone, Dinah and Carol, leave your hair alone now and let’s just finish assembly.” which we did, both of us with our plaits hanging downwards like a fountain spurt. Believe it or not we attempted the same hairstyle again the following day with the same results and gave up after that – back to the good old fashioned plaits.
Once we’d gotten over the fear of the forest, it became our most popular playground. The forest was full of “Monkey Ropes” (vines) hanging down from the tall branches which we learnt to swing on, climb and compete who could swing the furthest and climb the highest. And the boys teased us mercilessly that they could see our panties
“We can see your panties….we can see your panties.” they’d chorus in sing-song manner grinning chuffed with themselves even though we had our dresses tucked well into our pants.
“No you can’t, no you cant!” we’d chant back. “So if you can, what colour are they?” shouted down to them.
Silence and silly boys giggling.
We were Tarzans and Janes and hunters and the hunted, we ventured further and deeper into the forest and scared each other to screams with imagined sightings of life threatening ghosts, giant beings and wild animals.
The bell always rang for our 10 o clock teatime – Mazowe orange juice and a thick sandwich where we all gathered and sat on the surrounding stone walls discussing what games to play next till lunch time.
Meals were probably very basic but good old fashioned solid and healthy, after lunch we had to rest for an hour or so and given afternoon tea and biscuits or cake in the assembly hall.
In the meantime, the odd outing was also organised for us and the one I will always remember was a picnic somewhere in the hills where there was short grass and a view of the beautiful mountains – a bit like the scene from The Sound Of Music where Maria took the Von Trapp kids and taught them how to sing. We were taken there by bus and carting carriers filled with drinks and refreshments, made our way in great excitement up to this wonderful picnic spot. On second thought perhaps it was one of those National Park areas because I cant see anyone in their right mind bush-wacking with a bus filled with kids into some remote area. Once there we had the freedom to run around like wild lunatics, rolling down the hill, playing catches, last touch and racing – whatever. Come time for lunch, probably called up with a loud whistle, we sat around on the grass and handed sandwiches securely wrapped up in that wonderful, ever faithful, always used grease-proof paper.
And that’s when Heaven happened for me.
Two sandwiches each made up with mashed egg, butter, mayonnaise and chopped parsley. I will never ever forget that and forever afterwards, through trial and error to copy those sandwiches, I finally got the mixture right to taste just as I remembered from that picnic.
Of course we had the rainy days and so needed to stay indoors where we mostly played in the Assembly room. There was never really adult supervision, as I said the cupboards were stacked with board games and fun stuff to do so we were left to entertain ourselves and which we did quite happily.
On one of those days, one of the boys – of course – suggested we play kiss catch – the boys had to either shut their eyes and count to 100 or left the room whilst we girls, all giggling delightedly, hid into the various cupboards and spaces .
Now I know this may sound crazy – but at that innocent and tender age, mixed with girls and boys and well into our time there, little crushes definitely started forming and developed. I had a huge crush on a boy who came from Eagles school in the Vumba, attending only because his mother was one of volunteer ‘matrons’ there for our stay. And the crush was definitely returned confirmed by our catching each other shyly eyeballing one another causing blushing on my part and awkward smiles from each other. At those games where we needed to group up, we never missed a trick to make sure we were on the same team. Simon was his name as I recall, I really fancied him and I honestly believed at the time he would be the one I’d marry one day – at the tender age of twelve years old??… Seriously?? … He was definitely a good looking boy and just thinking about him in those lovely innocent days quite made me blush and go quite pink and a little weak at the knees. (I know!! But it’s true, promise.)
And so with shyness mostly gone over the days, we were getting to that stage where it gently moved onto openly showing we fancied each other and on one particularly happy day we become ‘sort of hitched’ – oh yes, very innocently serious we were becoming but it was on this pivotal precious day my happy little romantic world came falling down and crumbled.
Because it was on that very happy day, when we were all in our dormitories settling down for the afternoon rest, I all pleased with pleasure and with a smile on my dial, that one of the girls called out to me from the far end of the room.
“Hey, Darnah!” I looked up to face the caller.
“My brother smaaks you (adopted Afrikaans slang for really likes you) and wants to get hitched to you.” loud enough for all to hear.
Every girl, including me, literally froze in our tracks and gaped stupidly because it was Margie, Margie, a “breker” of a girl not ever to be reckoned with, Margie the tough cookie who we all feared a little and didn’t dared cross her, Margie who we really believed she’d otherwise lay a punch on us and knock us out flat if we did, Margie who’s said brother was just as scary, stocky built, tough as an old tyre with the smug attitude of a bully. There was no way would I nor could I ever ‘fancy’ him and besides which he was not that popular with the other boys either – well, he had a small collection of ‘mates’ but those who were probably too scared not to be.
I just gaped at her like a guppy out of water looking around for support only to find all the girls gawping between her and me with morbid interest. They all knew I fancied Simon but they also knew this wasn’t going to be an easy one for me to worm my way out of.
Nervously I mumbled, “I don’t want to get hitched to your brother because I like someone else”.
“You will get hitched to him.” and left it at that – no room for argument nor refusal.
Leaving all the girls staring, I crawled onto my bed and lay the entire rest period fretting over ways to get out of this without – what? – being punched or worse, even killed. If I wasn’t such a ‘bang-broek’ (scaredy pants) I would have stood up to her and said,
“No way, I don’t even like him, you go and tell him that!” and most likely she would have backed down, but I wasn’t, so that was that!
In desperation, I eventually came up with a resolve I thought could work, a sort of ‘Catch me if you can’ game, I run into the forest and hide, whilst he blocks his eyes and counts to a hundred and then if he could find me in there before I managed to escape and get out again, I’d consent to getting hitched. Oh, I know, silly but hey, desperate measures and all that! The deal was accepted, word got around and everyone gathered at the forest entrance after our afternoon tea. This was going to be fun – for them – not me, but I had a cunning plan, I did, I was going to hide behind the first bush, he’d run past and I would then rush back out again. That was the plan and worked only as far as me hiding, that is, but then completely fell apart when I saw him come running into the forest looking around all red faced and determined that I started giggling hysterically mostly from nerves and being truly bloody frightened. And so he found me and my sad fate was sealed. I was devastated and my little girly heart utterly broken as I saw Simon simply turn around and walk away with his head down.
In spite of that, over the remaining days, I did manage to avoid most of Derek’s advances and attempts to hang ‘together’ whilst Simon and I came to an understanding friendship and continued to sort of ‘hang out’ together.
We had another glorious picnic, we continued our wild games in the forest and we even braved it enough to venture up a little into that rocky mountain behind us. The interesting thing here is that I cannot recall the ‘matrons’ ever trying to harness us in or lay any strict rules relating to health, safety, general behaviour and all that stupid restricting stuff, they were hardly ever around or ever seen except of course at mealtimes and bus trips etc and yet I suppose we knew our boundaries and stayed within them but we were otherwise totally free to run around and venture out and just be kids having a whole lot of fun. None of us got hurt, if we did we just got up, dusted ourselves off and just carried on, in pain or not. None would dare be a cry-baby for fear of ridicule and we somehow didn’t run into any danger – our natural survival instinct perhaps? (God, can you imagine how parents and matrons of today would piss their pants with constant anxiety) I guess there was probably a head count at the end of each day and I believe we were all accounted for by the end of the holiday – can’t think that any of us went missing. Hang on, let me think…..nope all there.
I will also remember always the feel and the smells of Vumba heights, the forest and the cracking sounds in there, the monkey ropes to climb and swing on, and most of all the constant but faint smell of smoke in the crisp air coming from from what I can only guess was one form or another of a wood burner for the outdoor hot water tank or an Arga stove? I don’t know but that wonderful smell still stays with me.
Perhaps if you have been there yourself, you may know and will be good and kind enough to let me know.
Thank you for reading all of this and I truly hope you’ve enjoyed the memories I share as I have in writing them. I would love to hear your comments below.
Special thanks to Frankie Kay and Theo De Beer for allowing me to use their images.