7 August 1998

A very moving experience

Another letter from Zimbabwe and Judy Vowles who, with

her husband John, has moved to the Eastern Highlands to

continue their Christian Village project on a 243ha (600-

acre) holding. Their journey was memorable to say the least

WELL, we are here at Chokwa. We expected a difficult, exhausting and nerve-testing journey and we were not disappointed. At least the rain held off and the rivers were down.

We packed all our furniture and farm bits, like rolls of wire and feed drums, into the 10-tonne trailer the day before the move, and left it outside our house to be collected by tractor and hitched onto the main cattle-rig when the livestock had been loaded.

We started loading horses at dawn, but the old brood mare who was supposed to show all the young ones the way, decided halfway up the loading ramp that she didnt like the idea, and came down backwards twice as fast as she had gone up, scattering helpers in all directions.

That set the mood and it took two hours to load six horses. Then, as we were about to get the dairy cows on board we were confronted by the newly appointed person in charge of the dairy, who objected to the two cows we were taking. We had been given free choice to take two cows from the farm herd to replace our beloved Jersey who had just died from plant poisoning, but the owner hadnt made this clear to everyone concerned and so the two we had chosen were replaced by two more.

The ones we had chosen had been wormed, dipped and branded ready for the journey and the new ones hadnt, so there was quite a heated discussion which delayed us further.

The livestock settled, we sent the tractor up to the house to fetch the trailer, but the driver came back to say that he couldnt get it down the hill to the tar-road, so two tractors had to go – one to pull and the other to be brakes at the back. Then, when it was all hitched together, the lights didnt work and that had to be fixed.

At last we saw them on their way, and John and I went to load chickens into our little trailer and dogs, cat and last minute items into the back of the Suzuki. We left one and a half hours after the lorry and confidently expected to reach Chokwa around the same time or soon after.

We had arranged for a friend to have a tractor and trailer standing by on the tar-road by the Chokwa turn-off, the idea being to unload the 30t lorry there, ferry our belongings down the last 3.5km of almost non-passable road and walk the livestock. We arrived there after a six-hour journey to find the tractor had gone home and the lorry hadnt arrived. We hadnt seen it on the road and had no idea where it could have gone.

By this time it was almost dark and there is no twilight in Zimbabwe, you can watch the sun sink out of sight in a matter of minutes. We decided to drive down the last stretch and see if there had been any messages, but no-one had heard anything and a phone call to the lorrys owners also drew blank. So at 9.30pm we headed back towards the tar, to wait for an hour at the turn-off and then maybe back-track.

As we started up the infamous 3.5km stretch we saw vehicle lights coming down and as there is nowhere to pass we switched off our lights and engine and waited for them to come on down.

It was then we could hear that it was a heavy vehicle! Not only had the driver disobeyed instructions in coming down the last section, but he was also coming down a road he had never seen, in the dark, with the 10t trailer still hitched behind him.

There was nothing we could do since, once started, there was nowhere for him to turn. So we sat in the Suzuki in silent disbelief as the headlights inched their way down over the deeply rutted road. He somehow negotiated the hairpin bend, but when he got to the stream crossing the trailer threatened to go over.

So when we heard a yell and the hiss of air-brakes we rushed up to meet them. It took until midnight to get across the stream. Using the Suzuki headlights he had to unhitch the cattle-rig, go back and pull the trailer through, then hitch up the rig again (with all the horses, etc, on board) and reverse the whole lot back to the trailer and connect up.

Having done that he negotiated the last obstacle – by having someone lying flat on the ground and telling him where his wheels were as he inched forward and I reversed backwards! And then, safely over the bridge, he drove a little too far to the side and sank into wet sand – where he was stuck for two days.

Since it was then early morning we decided to wait for first light, when John got the horses and cows off by jumping them onto a farm trailer covered with sand and then on to the ground.

We couldnt unload our furniture as the lorry was blocking the only bridge, and rain clouds began to gather, but the rain passed us by. Eventually he was pulled out and we thankfully escorted him to the top of the road without further problems.

Our only casualties were three chickens, and they had been in our trailer!

We have been here six weeks now, have entertained 29 visitors and its already feeling like home. We are saving so much on petrol too – no one wants to drive up the road.