In a little coal mining town, next to Zimbabwe's largest national park, I was born in the middle of the 80s. We lived in an even smaller tin mining village where elephants would wander through our back yard and baboons often raided our vegetable garden. On my second birthday we had on of my uncles visiting us for a couple of weeks from Germany. A few days after my birthday he saw a snake and was intrigued by its length (at least one and a half meters) and agility. So he followed it around the corner of our house to a hedge where it rose to his eye level. There he stood staring into its eyes, less than fifty centimetres from his, with no sense of fear whatsoever. He called my dad, and says he's never heard anyone yell as loudly or desperately as my dad did when he saw the snake's fatal pose. Back in the house, they identified the snake as a spiting cobra, and Dad explained to my uncle how lucky he was that the deadly snake had just retreated into the roof instead of spitting at him, or striking because that would have blinded or possibly killed him respectively. My dad's last words to him were "God has some plans with you". The next day I was standing in the shade of a vine when, all of a sudden, I cried out in pain. On closer inspection, two little fang marks were found on my chest, so that time it was my turn to be lucky that it was only a small snake which had bitten me.
A few years later, when my older sister had to go to school, we moved to another lovely, peaceful city about three hundred and eighty kilometres south-east of the last. When I went to the Montessori pre-school at the age of four, I met my best friend. He later became my next-door-neighbour when we were living in a tiny suburb on the outskirts of the town. Even though we went to separate primary schools, we shared plenty fun experiences like beating out bush-fires, shooing cattle from our gardens, and having adventures on the river at the bottom of our gardens (those rivers are dry most of the year).
Once a year we used to go on holiday to the mighty Zambezi in the north of Zimbabwe, where we would book an exclusive fishing camp on the river. They were highlights of the year because of the absolute tranquillity, beauty and adventure of the African bush. The camp was in riverine forest where the elephants, impala, and other magnificent animals wandered by day, and the lions roared majestically by night. We would sleep in a massive family tent, and our marvellous household assistant would come with because he was a Tonga from the area. The last time we went my best friend came with, that's when he and I were chased from our peaceful fishing by an angry elephant. After a frightful sprint with bushes flashing past and the ground shaking from the charging elephant, we were glad to reach the only concrete building besides the toilet and caretakers hut alive.
At the end of grade seven we wrote exams before moving to 'high school'. My new school was Petra High School, a much nicer, friendlier, Christian school, but I didn't have as much time for my Lego Technic as in Primary school. An other of my uncles used to visit on a yearly basis, bringing Lego with him with which I would make cars, train systems and other such models. Most of my spare time then went to scouts because I'd just joined a new group (actually the oldest one in the country that had just been revived) with my best friend an two others. Even though people laughed at us for being Boy Scouts we didn't mind because they just didn't know what they were missing. In our Friday night meetings we learned knotting, map reading, orienteering, First Aid, pioneering, etc which we would make use of on the monthly hikes in the beautiful Matopos. Beautiful is an understatement for the Matopos, an area of granite hills with more than three hundred species of interesting indigenous trees and which is famous for its amazing balancing rocks and historical richness.
On top of the monthly hikes, we could go abseiling at Gordon Park (the scout park in Matopos) over the weekends, and occasionally we went 'bundu-bashing'. The scoutmaster had a tough old short-wheel-base series two Land Rover in which we all learned to drive - off-road. That was an exciting, adventurous way to reach beautiful, remote parts of the bush otherwise only accessible by foot, but unfortunately that soon stopped because fuel was simply too expensive and rare.
The highlight of form one was a trip to America with the Scouts for an International Jamboree in Michigan. Unfortunately I missed the 'micromouse' competition where I could have raced my model cars in a maze. The models were getting more complex and technical, the latest being a radio-controlled car and a walking insect. Likewise, my favourite subjects at school were the technical ones, for example Physics and Technical Graphics, but I also enjoyed creative writing. Most of my works which I entered into competitions were about my experiences in the Matopos, along the lines of "As I sat perched atop the tall rocky kopje, a majestic Black Eagle soared through his azure domain, scanning the sea of great grey granite gomos way below him in search of a tasty morsel."
We'd moved house yet again, to a lovely old stone house tucked away in a massive (5 acre - that's 20 000 square meters), rocky garden with about 250 species of trees in my Dad's nursery, and a swimming pool full of fish and water-plants (I kept fish for a while).
I was getting more involved in scouts, our little group of four had two new members but it was still an exclusive group of friends. We entered (and won) almost all the competitions, held a yearly expedition to the Eastern Highlands for a 3-day hike in the wilderness of the Chimanimani Mountains. We also went on a train trip to the mightiest waterfall in the world - Victoria Falls on the Zambezi: Norm (our scoutmaster) had organised a luxury wagon with chef and waiter, free elephant rides and one free 100m bungee jump off the Vic Falls bridge. We managed all this despite severe shortages of bread, flour, maize (the national staple diet), oil, sugar, salt and fuel. In the same year we attended a weeklong intensive training course after which we were treated to a game safari on which we stalked rhinos - with a guide. (For more information about our Scouting adventures see http://matabele.altervista.org/troops* - we're the 1st Pioneers) On two occasions later during this year my best friend and I endangered our lives by following adult rhinos, alone in the Matopas. That year my timetable got really tight because I was also devoted to school and Form 3 was the first year of my 'O' level course(similar to Mittlere Reife, but compulsory).
The first devastating effect Mugabe and his terrible regime had on my life, was when my best friend left the country because the political and economic situation was simply too hostile. He was my closest friend whom I'd known for almost twelve years, which was then three quarters of my life. So for me that year's class camp, which was usually one of the year's highlights, was an awfully sad one. The next year, when I was packing in excited anticipation the night before our Form 4 camp, I received a solemn phone call from school informing me that our camp had been cancelled. This was because the war veterans had taken over the farm, the police had road blocks along the way, and it was simply too dangerous to go.
A new hope entered my life when I was confirmed at the Christian Community church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since then, prayer has been the answer to all my problems. In the last holidays before our 'O' level exams, we organised a study camp for a few of my friends. Towards the end, I stupidly agreed to lead them through a dark, dangerous cave when I was feeling sick. Inevitably we got helplessly lost in the pitch black, and ended up in a crevice with barely enough room to move. So I pushed on ahead with two of our smallest members and eventually squeezed out into daylight. But now the problem was that the others were somewhere in the cave and I had no idea how to get to them. In despair, I prayed for guidance, then - like a miracle - I walked straight into the proper exit of the cave, found the others and led them out.
Preparing for and writing the 'O' level exams was a difficult period, so scouts ceased for a while and I put all of my effort into 'O' levels. Therefore the exams went relatively smoothly, and I felt confident about them. After that there was a long break from school, so I spent all of my time on scouts and before Christmas I had finished the 'Chief Scout Award' on which I had been working.
In the beginning of the next year found us embarking on the longest, most adventurous car journey I've ever been on. With the expedition leader and only six other members in two land-rovers we set off to Kilimanjaro via Harare (Zimbabwe), Lusaka (Zambia), Mbeya, Dar-Es-Salaam and Zanzibar Island (Tanzania). All went well until the police started hammering us - we were stopped at every road block and fined heavily for stupid little things like wrongly shaped stickers, one light not working, and driving 57 in a 50 zone etc. So one morning when we were sitting at a road block arguing with a corrupt police official, I decided to pray again. Before we knew it, we were driving off high and dry. Amazed, I turned to my friend next to me and found he had prayed as well. After that we prayed at every road block and had no more fines from corrupt police. The rest of the trip was stunning - climbing Kilimanjaro (Africa's tallest mountain) where there is snow on the equator, visiting the world-famous Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater, scuba diving in Lake Malawi and challenging a 300km long 'dry weather only' mud track in the wet season. On two occasions we got hopelessly stuck in the middle of nowhere in darkest Africa surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of wild game reserves with hyenas howling in the night. On both occasions we simply prayed, tried again and got the vehicles out.
Since I was away, I missed the first few weeks of school but the syllabus was not being taught yet because the 'O' level results were so late. I was overjoyed with my good results, just like one of my friends. The first term went well, then in the first holidays I worked hard on my Sable Award, which included planning and carrying out a four-day canoe trip on a remote dam in the Matopas with only my friend - no adults.
Then came the shock that changed my life. The night before the first day of the second term we received a desperate phone call from the school informing us that they had been shut down by the police. The next day we heard that almost all of the private schools countrywide had been shut down by the government. Over the next week we heard of people who had gone to school and been turned away by armed police, and of headmasters being put in prison for a night or two. Even though the presented reason was the issue of raising school fees, we found out that it was just part of Mugabe's plan to get rid of the whites and educated middle class so that he could brainwash the uneducated masses.
In the 1980s our beautiful country was bountifully booming until, like an obnoxious worm in the magnificent mahogany woodworks, our dear diabolic dictator ruined everything, threw the country to the dogs - his dreadful followers. We soon realised sadly that when inflation is about 700%, people are starving in the countryside, basic commodities of living are rare so one has to queue for hours to get them, and our academic future is threatened, it's time to go.
Therefore, when the schools opened again after two weeks, it was with no confidence and a deep depression that I returned. I half-heartedly attended lessons, devoted most of my time to scouts, and eventually dropped the idea of even going to school. In the next six weeks I got my Sable Award, the highest possible standard in Boy Scouts, which had not been reached for the last 14 years. So the crescendo of my exciting life in lovely Zimbabwe was brought to a sudden end, and my family torn apart by the tragic developments in the country. Now my father is in Zimbabwe, separated from his family, keeping the house and running his company, my brother, Mum and I are here in Flensburg and my sister will be studying in Cape Town, South Africa. My friends are also scattered around the world, and the few remaining in Zimbabwe have a rather lonely, socially and culturally inactive life (there are almost more elephants than educated people in the country).
Fortunately, God came to the rescue again, he has not forsaken me! Forty days before we left, the Baptist church where I attended services, embarked on the 'Purpose Driven Life' course. This was structured around the book 'Purpose Driven Life' by Rick Warren, asking the vital question 'What on earth am I here for?', and it was a forty-day course - perfect. So I got the book and in accordance with the course, read a chapter a day, but there were a few concepts which I found difficult to grasp. One of these was the statement that God knows every one of us, but that doubt was erased by the events of that week and, finally, the church service at the end explaining it all. The other more important statement which I did not believe was that God has a plan for each of our lives, but that was clearly demonstrated to me in the last few weeks. Well, remember at the beginning of the article what my Dad said to my uncle after helping him out of the cobra incident? He said 'God has some plans with you', and now these plans are revealed. Before he, or anyone for that matter, knew that we were coming to Germany, he had decided to buy a house in Flensburg and move here from Pöcking by München. He signed the contract for the house two days after he heard that we were definitely coming, so now he can help us out by accommodating us, and I believe that that is one of his parts in the master plan. This is a rather difficult time for me, and I'm sure it's more than coincidence that I've got this wonderful book as a hope and comfort that there is a plan in my life. I'm amazed at how all these pieces that were scattered over decades and thousands of kilometers are coming together like the pieces of a pre-planned puzzle of my life.
http://www.goethe.flensburg.de/public/termine/newsarchiv/aug-sept04/zimbabwe.shtml which nolonger exists.