Hills in Africa get bluer the further you are away from them and the blue mountains in the distance were no different. They shimmered like spirits in the African heat. They danced tantalizingly and, as the black Ford Zephyr drove towards them, they kept out of reach. The thick-set baobabs stood guard, watching out over the land.
The red vinyl seats stuck to the backs of my legs but the discomfort did not worry me. I was ten and excited about this new country the family were moving through on an open road with wide open spaces as far as the eye could see.
We had left the border town on the big wide Limpopo River in the early morning and, as it was December, it was a hot-as-hell by ten o’clock in the morning. The place where my father had been born forty years earlier, lay in the distance with the chimney stack jutting out into the blue sky.
‘When are we going to get there?’ at different times we complained. ‘Just now,’ came the reply. Just now could mean anything up to a day. Fortunately, the only hotel in the village lurched into view and I unstuck myself from the red vinyl Zephyr seats and headed for the welcome cold Coke which we had been promised. My father immediately ordered a beer and crowed that at least you could buy a drink on a Sunday without a meal, which was the law south of the border. My mother chipped in that even the petrol was cheaper. Less than 25 cents a gallon.
We teased father about the town he was born in and mother asked him if he ‘remembered a tree over there by the road’. I wondered (almost aloud) if I had been born there I would have wanted to take a one way ticket out of town. It was so utterly boring.
We then set off and headed for the capital, quite a few hours away.
‘I hate Harold Wilson!’ screamed the bumper sticker on the back of a Morris Traveller. You know, the one with the wooden panels. This was a country of old cars and strange values and a racism which would scar the land.
Some called it ‘God’s own country’. To live there, you had to turn back the clock twenty years.
This country, caught in a time warp, out of step with the world, would be our home for quite some time.