Everyone blames el Nino. Instead of having rainfall evenly distributed throughout the recognised rainy season in southern Africa, it has become bimodal. It rains heavily at the start and the end of the season, but not much in the middle. Of course, this is not what the farmers want. In Swaziland, there was not enough rain to plant at the right time to produce maize, the staple crop.

In Zambia, December was wet, but February and March were relatively dry, but we have already had three heavy downpours in April in the Valley. This affects me because I live in Kapani, accessible only on dirt tracks which can become skating rinks when wet. I have to search out alternative routes which run across sand rather than clay. The previous doctor enjoyed driving on a twisting side-road which had a series of big depressions. If you get the correct speed, you hit the puddles in rhythm. It is like driving on a roller coaster, great fun with muddy water splashing over the bonnet. Her colleague slid off the road twice during their stay.

The doctor’s vehicle is now a Toyota Hilux Twincab pickup. It only has two-wheel drive, unlike my previous vehicle, the Pajero which I named Phyllis, which had four-wheel drive. I can press a button on the dashboard and engage locked differential, which improves the grip, but I can only drive in second gear at 20 mph.

Fiona works for the Carnivore Project, learning about how lions, hyenas and wild dogs hunt their prey. She lives on Robin Pope Safari land at Nkwali. She invited my sister-in-law Su and I to a braai yesterday afternoon. We sat on the verandah of RoJo House, a beautiful two story mansion looking out over a lagoon. It was hot and humid. There was an outdoor swimming pool which was chlorinated, but it had recently been visited by hippos, so we didn’t have a dip to cool off.

To the south we could see dark skies and the occasional flash of lightning. Then we heard rumbles of thunder as the storm approached. The animals knew what was about to happen. A herd of impala raced across the lawn in front of the house. Troops of baboons scampered after them. Heavy raindrops started to fall and before we could move the furniture indoors, it was pelting down. Stair-rods. Feral cats and wild dogs. Visibility dropped to 100 metres. All the verdant greenery seemed to turn grey. The earth around the house became a swamp.

After half an hour the rain ceased and we decided to go home. It was 4.30pm and I certainly didn’t want to drive in the dark on the muddy tracks. Ed has a four wheel drive safari truck. I gratefully accepted his offer to escort us to the tarmac road.

Some of the tracks have deep ruts. It is best to drive with your tyres in the ruts if you have enough clearance. Attempting to drive on the peaks is a recipe for skidding out of control. I think this is what Ed was trying to do when his vehicle went broadside on down the track, spraying mud into the bush.

“This is fun!” said Su. She obviously hadn’t seen how white my knuckles were grasping the steering wheel. I get foot cramps as well, from clenching my toes involuntarily. Once we got onto the tarmac, I could relax. Yes, it was fun but only after I’d successfully negotiated it.

After the storm, there was a strange yellow glow to the sky at sunset. The following day I took this photograph of the rutted road after it had dried out a bit. It looks benign here but I assure you it was treacherous.


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