In my memory Zambia was soft dust, jacaranda trees, chameleons and a black and white cat.
We took a job in Africa to escape the soul crushing megalopolis of Sao Paulo in Brazil. It was like moving from Mars to the moon. We still had work and a home and books, but nothing else was the same.
Our little African house came with a tiny garden of overhanging bougainvilleas around enough lawn to sling a hammock across and a patio with a rusting metal table and chairs, behind a lattice work of alternate bricks held up by a tenacious and magnificent jasmine plant.
We lived in the capital , but even in the city there were stars such I had never seen since camping in Costa Rica and the heavens seemed very close indeed. Every Saturday we could hear beautiful music and pick up trucks passed by crammed with traditionally dressed Zambians singing. Eventually I understood that these were funerals.
There was a small vegetable garden and the bright orange soil splashed the whitewashed wall after the rains. We tried hard to grow things, but despite the sun and the rains nothing flourished and we began to understand how infertile tropical soils can be.
Amongst the pepper plants we found a chameleon. Watching it was like regarding the inhabitants of another planet as it’s golf ball eyes rotated to watch us slowly and its pincher hands clasped and climbed in an hallucinary dream.
Bonkers the cat was obsessed with the chameleons. He owed his life to my worry about snakes and spiders. I had insisted that a Cat would be essential to protect us and so he appeared to keep us safe. I asked if anyone had a cat with kittens and if so could I have a short haired, female, black cat, if possible. A month later a black and white, long haired male kitten was given to me in an ornate bird cage. He was small enough to sit in my hand and we fell in love.
Bonkers ran up curtains, fell off and broke his leg. He burnt his whiskers on the embaula. He crawled into the engine of a car and got badly run over. Our extraordinary Zambian vet brought him back from the brink over and over again and Bonkers the Magnificent survived .
There were excellent market gardens around Lusaka and trays of bedding lobilia, zinnias , begonias and candy tuft could be bought to bring a bygone suburban England to this lovely, lush country.
We walked to work each day and the enormous road side trees carefully planted for beauty rained down purple, gold and cherry coloured petals onto the quiet side walks.
In our garden the jasmine was loaded with so many flowers for a few months that it pulled down the wall and we could reach the avocados and mangos shining in the foliage beyond, while Bonkers stalked the chameleons and the singing trucks drove by.
If any one is bored on a cold Sunday these are parts 1-6 of All my Gardens:
All my Gardens- part 6 : Brazil – humming birds and highrise.
All my Gardens-Part5 England and almonds.
All my Gardens -Part 4: Costa Rica and the big world.
All my Gardens – part 3: Wild Wales.
All my Gardens: part 2 Garsington Manor and beyond.
In Cold Time (All my gardens :part 1)