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Categories: Ian Jarvis | Northern Tales

Letter from Lusaka -- May 1952

From Great North Road

Contributed by Ian Jarvis.

PWD Box No. 137 LUSAKA, N. Rhodesia.

1st May 1952

Dear Mum, Dad, Don and Marian and all the family.

I expect by now you have got my letter saying we had got here safely.

Well, I will go back to the 17th when we arrived at Cape Town. We got up about 5 to see Cape Town and it was a flicker of lights. We could see Table Mountain and the other three peaks. It was certainly a lovely sight. About 6 o’clock the port Health Authorities came on board as there were several cases of measles on board and these had to be dealt with first. Then after breakfast we had the Passport Authorities to go through, then the Customs, then on to the Rhodesian Charter Agency, then to the Railway warrant office and then to representative of Cooks to change money, then back to R.C. Agency who gave us all instructions about getting off the boat and told us to get into touch with their representative in Customs shed. All these people set up offices in different parts of the ship so what with having breakfast, rounding up porter and getting off the boat we were nearly exhausted with all the forms and interviews, etc.

The R.C. Agency are very good and have list of Government officials on boat and after they have seen all they wire through to their respective offices in Rhodesia saying we are on our way. Mr. Steel, their representative in the Customs shed was very helpful. He rounded up the three Elys cases as well as the 2 cabin trunks and tin box, got all these cleared by S. African Customs and had them sent off to catch our train. Incidentally, we had to repack on the boat as we could only take hand luggage into the compartment of the train. We took our other cases etc. to the station and put them in the left luggage office and went to find the address given us by one of Norman’s office colleagues. This was not far from the station and found that Mrs Stoddart had been down to the ship to meet us, but we did not know she would be there. However, she made us very welcome and said she had arranged lunch for us at her home at the foot of Table Mountain, so we went there until it was time to catch the train.

We thought this very nice indeed and we had a good look round Cape Town on the bus journey. We saw the site of the Exhibition of S. Africa which had just ended. It is very nice in Cape Town with some pretty bungalows and lovely gardens. The flowers are so much brighter. From her veranda we could look right out over the Bay.

Well, we caught the train at 2 p.m. Thursday but it is not nearly so luxurious as we were led to suppose. Four bunks to a carriage, the two seats being two and the back folds up somehow to make two more. Apart from going to the dining saloon for meals we had to live in this carriage until 8 o’clock Saturday evening and this proved a bit irksome for Ian. The scenery round the Cape is beautiful with mountains and pretty little towns, but by Friday morning it was flat and uninteresting.

Bechuanaland made me feel like walking back and some of the squalid native villages made us feel sick. Somewhere along here we saw a funny sight, an African dressed in a really smart kilt with white shirt. At the north of this territory it started to get better and one village made the basket work made of straw stuff which is rather nice and we bought one of the round baskets with lid for 4/- and I am using it as a work basket.

S. Rhodesia gets better still. It is softer and greener country and right on to Lusaka the countryside is rather like Hindhead district. Well, at 8 o’clock on Saturday night we got to Bulawayo and then had all the Customs and Immigration paraphernalia to go through again. We had filled in so many forms we were fed up with them. All this had to be gone through again at Northern Rhodesia. Anyway we had to change on to the Rhodesian Railways and these were a bit better. At any rate, they were British staff, which more than the S.A. trains have. They have Afrikaans, the Dutch descendants, and they don’t care for the British and they treat you with cold politeness only, which is uncomfortable. All menus are written in their language, with the English version as an afterthought.

At 9.15 on Sunday morning we got to the Victoria Falls. It is certainly a lovely sight with the spray visible for miles. The train crawls over the bridge with the deep gorge of the Zambezi below. There was a rainbow running through the spray.

We got Lusaka about 9.30 Sunday evening, very tired. There is a station but you step right down on to the ground, there is no platform. Two men from Norman’s office met us with a car and took us to “Longacres”, a new Hostel for Government officials in transit and for single girls. It was very comfortable there everything was done for you by an army of African houseboys, waiters, cooks, etc. who paddle about barefooted so that they are very silent and make you jump. They wear a long night shirt sort of dress and round hat in white, for waiting at table and khaki for working. At table they whisk your plate away as soon as empty and as silently put the next course in front of you.

The first drawback we found was that without a car you had to stay put as there is no bus so we were lent a staff car and on the Monday we went into town 2½ miles away and bought a new Morris Oxford, grey. 13½ h.p. This has been a great help and Ian could hardly believe it was ours.

On Wednesday we were moved in to our bungalow, which is on a new estate 2½ miles from town one way and 3½ miles from Norman’s office the other. Nobody told us it was early closing day so after we had moved in we decided to shop but everywhere was closed, so we had an egg each (and nothing else) bought from native at door and I boiled these in the electric kettle. Afterwards we scouted round and did find a little shop open to sell cigarettes and he let us have enough to keep us going that day. The grocer, butcher and milkman call each day for orders and deliver each day.

The bungalow is very nice with three bedrooms, lounge and dining room combined with archway dividing, kitchen scullery and modern bath and lav. It is expensive getting everything together here again and I have been busy making curtains. The windows are huge and the lounge and dining room took 18 yards. There is a low veranda in the front. We will take a snap of it soon, but are expecting workmen in soon to redecorate as part of the roof was blown off and the rain ran down the walls in a freak wind and rain storm some time ago and it was left streaks.

Having moved we had the job of finding cook and houseboy. The cook I got from the Head houseboy at Longacres, the houseboy came round during the afternoon. We have to register them for mealie meal and get coupons for them. The cook’s name is Paul Chebuyi and the houseboy is Abson Meleki. There is a house for the cook at the bottom of our garden. It is called a “kya”, or so it sounds, and there he lives with his wife and 9 year old son. They moved in on the Thursday and it was a sight as they made their way here carrying their belongings on their heads. The family doesn’t come down the garden at all so they don’t interfere. It took some getting used to but we have been lucky to get clean workers and so far they seem honest. There are their drawbacks usually but time will tell and it counts a lot if they are clean and honest. We have had to rig them out in special suits, one khaki for working and one white for waiting at table. The food has been well cooked up to now and the houseboy has cleaned the dining room before breakfast at 7.30.

Norman has to be at the office at 8 o’clock – 12.30, gets home for lunch until 2 then on till 4. I haven’t been about schools yet as I haven’t had much time and Ian has been off colour these last few days. I expect it is the excitement and the different water etc. He seems a bit better today. We are not far from the new girls’ school and new boys’ school but the small boys have to go into town so expect Norman will have to arrange to take him and call for him. Their hours are from 8 o’clock – 12.30. Norman has just heard that he is after all to take over the Prison, Military, Police and Coloured Housing Section. I think his experience during the war decided it. He is head of his Section and has quite wide powers in the decisions made and money spent. He has his own staff working under him. He will do quite a lot of flying apparently and there is a possibility that he will be flying to Fort Jamison one day next week. He will write and let you know about the business side of life himself.

I am going to learn to drive the car myself and it will be useful when he is away, otherwise I shall have to stay put here. Norman is going to write to Jess and Reg in the near future. He wants the address of the London Brick man who went to Southern Rhodesia and he believes he has gone out here on the brick question. They are apparently having trouble with the bricks out here. I don’t know if Reg has any information on this matter.

There are some funny insects here. In the garden there are lizards, huge beetly things, ants about 6 times the size of ordinary ones, stick insects, preying mantis as well as others. Some of the trees and bushes are exotic, being brilliant reds and yellows and blues. There is one bush with big bright red flowers which are a picture. We have banana orchards, vineyards, sugar canes growing, oranges and lemons growing so if nothing else we have seen something.

Lusaka town itself is rather like a wild west town in parts but there are a lot of new buildings going up all over and it is going to be very a modern place when finished. The shops are kept mainly by English or S. African with some Indians. Some of the stuff is dear, especially china. I bought Tootals curtaining also 4 new whitney blankets, but some food is cheaper than England where as some is dearer. Bread is 1/2d a loaf, marg, stork, 2/3d, bacon 3/6d liver about 1/2d. I don’t know yet if I like it here or not, most people do, but say that it takes about three months to get used to the different way of living.

We have just heard that Kath and Geoffrey have got a baby son born on 18th April 5lbs. 11oz. and that they are both doing well. Though the baby is small he is not thin and has dark hair and very much like Geoffrey. His name is to be Richard John. I am glad it is all over and that everything went off well.

The cooking here is done on a dover stove for wood burning. I don’t think I should like to manage the thing myself, though I expect it is just a matter of getting used to it. By the way on the boat journey near the Cape we saw albatross, flying fish, dolphins, sharks and whales lying in the sun spouting water.

Well I must stop now as I have several things to do this morning, so will leave anything else until I write again. I have typed this letter to save weight of paper for airmail. Let me know how long it takes to get to you.

Give our love to all at home, and let us have a letter from you letting us know all the news from home.


Norman, Daphne, Sheila and Ian

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