Crossing boarders

This morning I woke up and saw that it was 6.13am. The alarm hadn’t gone off and I wondered why. I turned the radio on and tried to shake myself awake. Then I remembered it was Saturday. I lay back and fell again into delicious slumber land. Relief.

That feeling took me instantly back to my childhood. I was very young when I went to boarding school in another country. When I was nine, my 11-year old sister and I travelled by aeroplane or bus from Zambia to Zimbabwe to go to school. Going home for the holidays was the most amazing and wonderful thing in the whole world. I remember waking up in the mornings, expecting to hear the clang of the rising bell that the matron rang to wake the city, and then I’d feel the soft sheets of home and remember I was not at boarding school. That feeling, for me, defines relief.

My mom would come and peek around the bedroom door to see if we were awake and then she’d come and sit on one of our beds and chat to us until we got out of bed. Ah, precious memories.

When we lived in central Zambia, on the Copperbelt, travelling to boarding school was a simple bus trip. Then Zambia closed its borders with Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was called in those days) and our bus trip became tricky. We travelled by bus literally to the line that divided the two countries, to be met by a bus on the other side of the line. We got off the bus, walked across the line to the other, the drivers exchanged contents of the holds (trunks and suitcases and bags) and we continued our journey to Harare.

Thereafter it was easier to travel by air. However, because the borders had closed, we couldn’t fly directly from one country to the other so we had to fly via Malawi. Then we moved further north, to a small town called Kasama, close to Lake Tanganyika (where we holidayed once – what a beautiful, unspoilt paradise).  Our journey from northern Zambia to Harare usually involved about four or five separate legs. We’d start with one or two flights in very small aircraft that left from rough and rural airstrips where the “airports” were small, dome-shaped buildings made from corrugated iron.

Those short flights would take us to the relatively massive airport in Ndola and from there we’d fly to Blantyre’s Chileka Airport in Malawi. And it was there that we – two little girls – would sit for up to six hours waiting for our connecting flight to Harare. The airport shop (there was only one) would close between scheduled flight arrivals and departures. So we’d sit on a wooden bench and swing our legs and talk about our holiday memories and what awaited us at boarding school. It was a boring wait, although sometimes my sister would imagine her next home-theatre production that she would write, produce, direct and star in. I loved travelling with my best friend.

And then we would board our flight to Harare where we’d be met by a matron, for our onward journey, by car, to our school.

The return journey was equally circuitous, but somehow when our hearts were filled with hope and longing to be home with our family, the journey seemed so much shorter.

So today is Saturday, I’m not at boarding school any more, and we’re about to go and explore the day, by bus. Today we have no borders to cross.

Sunshine signing off for today!

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47 thoughts on “Crossing boarders

  1. So many little children had to travel alone, it would never happen today; the world was actually better back then, I think.
    Lovely post, Sunshine.

    1. Thank you. My husband made the same comment when he read this post, Cindy – it would never happen today. But it was a better world back then, and we didn’t know anything of the scary possibilities that exist in our world today.

  2. There is nothing quite like the feeling of home. I woke up this morning and was convinced my kids were late for school then remembered it was Saturday and fell back into slumber. It must be something in the air. Wonderful story. Enjoy your day of exploring boundary free. Hugs, Diane

  3. Lovely post this morning Sunshine. It tugged at my heartstrings as I imagined your mom and dad watching you girls leave knowing it would be a while before they saw you again and you and your sister looking back at your parents wishing you could stay longer or not go at all.

    I went to girl scout camp for two weeks when I was ten and was so homesick. I guess you do what you have to do in life. I would find it heartwrenching to send my children away to school.

    1. Thanks, Jeanne. I can’t imagine how it felt for my mom and dad to send us all off to boarding school so far away. You’re right – you do what you have to do.
      I really loved boarding school, though … the leaving was the worst part, but once I was there I was fine and I have good memories of those years.

  4. What a fascinating story. I can’t imagine today two little girls taking such a journey alone–with a six hour layover. How brave you girls were, and that you were traveling with your “best friend” is truly touching. But I’m curious, how long would you have to wait before going home again? What was it like for you to be away from your mother for long periods? Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Monica. I have often thought how much times have changed and how you just wouldn’t do that today. There were plenty of girls our age who travelled from neighbouring countries to go to boarding school with us, so it was fairly commonplace in those days.
      We had three school terms in a year, so we would be gone for a term (about 11 or 12 weeks) at a time, and then we’d be home for about four or five weeks holiday. I missed my mom very much, but I really had fun at boarding school. Don’t know that I would choose that for myself again, but fortunately I have good memories of those years.

  5. I’ve read about Lake Tanganyika from reading Dr. Jane Goodall’s journals. When she first started at Gombe she’d take a boat across the lake to get there. She described all of the fishing huts and villagers that would come to the lake to take care of their daily chores and the trees and foliage that lined the lake. I hope someday you’ll tell us a bit more about your holidays there!

    1. I have such clear pictures in my mind of the lake and our holiday in Sumbu, on the shores of the lake. Jacques Cousteau had been filming there shortly before we went there … I had never heard of him, but realise now that that was quite a big deal! I will definitely write more about our years in Zambia and those kinds of holidays; they really were special.

  6. You brave girl, Sunshine! My parents never would have permitted my sister and me to travel by ourselves to another country for boarding school — different times, different customs, I suppose. And I hated sending my son off to tennis camp for a week when he was sixteen! Still, I imagine you two received a better education, and that was what your generous parents wished for you. What a lovely memory for a weekend morning!

    1. Thank you, Debbie. And yes, you’re right, different times and a different world for sure … It can’t have been easy for my parents, and I know the decision was a tear-filled one for them to make.

  7. And I thought I had a long trek from my apartment to high school when I was a kid (over an hour and I had to get up a little after five)! Hope you had a great day trekking through London.

  8. A poignant post today.

    Before coming back to the UK we considered moving to Zambia because my husband had so many good business connections there, but we didn’t want to send the boys to boarding school, so we decided against it.

    Reading this post was like listening to him in the old days, with talk of the Copperbelt and Ndola, etc. When he started the job that took him there, he had to go to Zimbabwe for a British passport because he couldn’t use his South African-issued one in Zambia.

    I can’t imagine that anyone would let their children have that wait these days; how times have changed. Not always for the better.

    1. Thanks, Tilly – glad it was an evocative post for you. It’s amazing how waking up and thinking it was a week day evoked this whole post for me!
      I’d love to hear about your husband’s time in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and I can understand your decision not to go and live there. Times have certainly changed …

  9. I’ll have to get him to write a guest post. He travelled all over sub-Saharan Africa and he has some great stories. Did you read the one on my blog about the horse in the boot?

  10. What a fun post, Sunshine. I love reading boarding school stories–hope you’ll share more about the adventures you had there!

    Glad to hear you had a good day and got to sleep in this morning!
    Kathy

  11. Enjoy the weekend, Sunshine 🙂 What colourful memories, and what a long and arduous journey for two little girls! Glad Saturday afforded you a feeling of luxurious relief, all the sweeter because the weekdays are filled with action.

  12. I wander if I could ever let my little girl go through such a hectic trip….. To be away from me. Although I can appreciate the need to be educated. Would break my heart.

  13. Well, Sunshine, no wonder you have such a sense worldliness and a spirit of adventure! That must have taken real courage when you were a little girl. Now I bet getting from place to place doesn’t seem daunting. I’m glad you and your sister had each other on your adventures!

    1. Thanks, Maura – I can’t take any credit for courage, it was what we had to do and we did it. I didn’t think too much about what an ordeal it actually was, and yes, it was great to travel with my sister.

  14. Hi,

    I’ve been casually following your blog for a few months but this post really made me sit up and take notice.

    I spent my formative years in Zambia and I remember well the change from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe and the ‘interesting’ political climate of the time. Over the years we lived in Lusaka, Solwezi and many places in between.

    Your post reminded me of my school journeys, the drive from Lusaka to Sakeji, near Ikelenge, would typically take 2 days each way. One class mate would get driven down from Zaire (now the DR of Congo) which he claimed took a week (kids!) but often they would fly into the small grass strip at Sakeji.

    Friends of mine went to school in Zimbabwe, but I don’t recall which school or where but I think it was Harare.

    When I turned 11 I came to school in the UK and would fly Zambia airways unaccompanied back to London and then find the right coach to travel to my Grandparents house. They in turn would put me on the right train (the next day) to get to school.

    I can’t imagine being happy letting my daughter do that on her own and I can be pretty certain that there’s no chance my wife would let it happen.

    Things really are very different these days.

    1. Thanks for following my blog, limey, and for commenting. It sounds like we have a lot of similar experiences … I started school in Lusaka, although I am not familiar with any of the other places you mention. And you also travelled far as a young boy, on your own, to go to school, wow. Some of our friends in Zambia also went to school in the UK. Things certainly are different today.

      1. You write well, so its no hardship following your blog 🙂

        Sakeji is a mission school way up in the North Western Province of Zambia, it’s only about 20 miles from the Congo border. At one time we had the Zambian army camping on the grounds to protect us during the troubles of the late 70s. During that time we were living on a farm outside of Lusaka, called Yeildingtree Farm. I believe it it now run by one of the sons of the people ran it when I was a child there.

        I left Zambia for the UK in ’88 and currently work in London. Though I still have family there and miss the place terribly. Reading what other people, such as yourself, say about those years really does bring on the nostalgia.

      2. Thank you, limey. We left Zambia for Zimbabwe in 1973, and I haven’t been back. I’d love to, as I have so many fond memories of those years there.
        I was in the New Forest last year, for work, and met someone who went to the same primary school as I did in Ndola – what are the chances? (I did my first few years of school in Zambia, in various towns.)

  15. What a unique experience! And there is something so special about a sister relationship, that’s it’s almost hard to put the words to it. This reminds me of talking with my sister a few weeks back, and how we laughed until tears over something most people would find maybe mildly funny. But to us, it was just a part of our shared humor and look on life, formed through our shared life growing up.

    Great post!

    1. Thank you so much. You’re so right – my sister and I make each other laugh until we cry, like no other laughter I know! I understand completely what you say about a sister relationship, it’s just so special.

  16. I envy your life and its vast array of people, places and things. I have lived in condo tower, strip mall, corrupt crime ridden Miami , Florida, USA almost all my life. Doesn’t seem like I’ll ever break away. O well, there’s always heaven.

  17. For some people this way of life is unimaginable… while for others it’s still a way of life. I panicked this week when my 16 year old daughter caught a train and two buses ON HER OWN!!!!!!
    One of the biggest advantages of life down under is travelling with no border posts!! People are surprised at our willingness to drive 14 hours for a holiday, but what they don’t appreciate is that a nice 6 hour drive to visit my Mum usually converted to a 12 hour one after 6 hours at the border!!! That was just for a weekend!
    I’m not sure who was braver… you or your Mum?????
    As kids we trust our parents would never put us in situations that aren’t safe… as parents we put our kids into situations that may not be safe, but we have no other option…. and then we pray..BIG TIME!!!!
    Lovely to catch up with childhood you again!

    1. It wasn’t a question of me being brave, Fi – it was definitely my parents who were the brave ones! It must have been so hard for them to make that decision, but it was the one that was best for us.
      This was all before we knew each other, hey? You’ve probably heard it all before, though! Thanks for commenting xx

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