My Brother Saved Me From Drowning [column]

Among the pastimes of the youth who lived in the Kabangwe area of Lusaka during the bygone years was bird hunting with catapults and fishing. One fishing expedition, however, almost ended in tragedy. JOHN SHAKAFUSWA now recollects how his elder brother’s daring effort saved him from drowning.
THE event that I would like to share with you took place over 40 years ago. Growing up that time cannot compare to what the young nowadays are familiar with. Today, you do not find so much open space like we were used to when we were young.
The world of the young today is mainly spent indoors: at a play station, watching HD (high definition) movies, satellite television and, more often than not, alone connecting with friends and the world on social media via the cell phone or computer.
Just as their world would have sounded strange to us then, so would our regular pastime then to them. Where we played football made out of plastic and paper, the conventional football is now commonplace and it is not rare to find children, even as young as a year or two playing world cup football on their play station.
But first, let me tell a little bit more about my home and my life as a child.
Our house lay just below the Kabangwe Hills. You can still see these hills today as you travel north from Lusaka, on the Great North Road. They are situated to the west of the road, about 10 kilometres from town.
The thick forest that once covered the hills is no longer there. People looking for poles to build houses or just firewood to make charcoal have destroyed the green beauty of my childhood. And, most recently, all that open space has been taken up by people hit by the house ownership craze that has gripped the country.
Most of the buildings and houses you see today were not there then. It was mainly bush country with grasses and trees covering the land. It was typical African savannah, of acacia trees and long grass.
Being the youngest boys in our family, my younger brother and I had so much fun taking our cattle to graze on the hills, and sometimes beyond, to the river on the other side. It was fun meeting with children of farmers on the other side of the hills.
Together we engaged in different games, which included getting bulls, even dogs from different homes to fight. Sometimes when we were not happy about the results we picked fighters from each side who fought it out in the open field. Despite these differences, we still got together, forgetting the memory of a bloody nose or a lump on the face.
The area was also rich in animal and bird life. There were different animals of the antelope family, squirrels, rabbits and porcupines. Sometimes our dogs would catch a rabbit which we would proudly present when we got back home.
Since amusement parks and other places where you go to have fun today did not exist then, children of my age normally went fishing. We had so much fun comparing our catch. Sometimes a boy was not so lucky and ended up attracting only frogs to his fish line.
Or a crab would go for the bait, which was usually some freshly dug up earthworm. The crabs would often cut the fish line, taking both hook and worm. In that case, the unfortunate owner would pack the little fish he had caught and sit watching his friends fishing.
The other popular pastime was hunting birds, the bigger the better. The rubber catapult sling tied to a v-shaped piece of stick was the common weapon (malegeni) and we had so much fun going out usually in groups of 10 or less.
This is where my story starts. I was in early primary school then and given much to love of outdoor life a bunch of kids who would go out to play football, fishing or try their hand at target practicing with ‘malegeni’.
Among the prominent physical features in our area was the dumpsite we commonly called marabo, a word that was derived from the household, factory and shop rubbish that was dumped there.
How many of you remember this place? It proved to be quite the crowd puller.
From time to time we had aenturous boys trekking in from Chunga and Matero and, occasionally, we would engage them in fist fights. But that is another story.
Now to the west of the dump site were a number of dams, left over from the brick making industry of earlier times, but which were teeming with fish, a clever initiative by the muzungu factory owners that provided many a home with the much needed protein.
On the southern part of marabo was a small fast flowing stream that poured its waters in what we initially believed was a shallow gorge, creating a spectacular water fall. Somehow, we knew about the mighty Victoria Falls and that water fall just made the picture vivid.
It is this spectacle that we gazed at on this day when we were returning home after a not- very- successful bird hunt. Interestingly, some fish was swimming against the current, their silvery bellies shining as they flipped this way and that through the water.
A wild idea entered my head that I could actually scoop that fish. That proved to be my undoing!
I went in all the way, no idea of swimming and seriously gulping that murky water as I tried to scream for help. Help indeed!
We had big sturdy fellows in our group who could have saved me, but all they could do was shout: “He is drowning, he is drowning!” as if that was ever in doubt.
My legs were stilled and all conception of swimming that I could have harboured in my head about swimming was gone. The bottom seemed so far and when my feet connected with it my head would go under water. In my panic I can only imagine the many gallons of water I consumed.
Then there was a splash and someone was trying to prop me up from bellow, pushing me towards the edge of the brook. This guy was virtually under water, walking below the surface and pushing me to safety.
The panic of a drowning boy!
When I fell into the water I was holding a semi -ripe mango and, as I came out, that fruit was still tightly clutched in my hand.
My brother must have been 10 or 11, about two years older than me.when he jumped into that vicious stream to save me. Once, he jokingly asked me if I still remembered my mango from that day. Is that really anything I can forget? Over the years I have agonised through nightmares of that experience and it is only now that I chose to exorcize it.
When I think of all those kids that have died, pulled away by the raging currents of Ngwerere stream in Garden compound while people watched, I shudder.
Then I thank God for my brother. He has not changed much. Every now and then he still tries to be a champion of the ‘drowning’.
NB: Contributions to this column, the column you write, should be sent to The Editor, “It happened to me” P O Box 30394, Lusaka, email: or drop them at any of our Times Printpak offices. Please note that it may take some time before articles are published this is because they are published on a first- come- first- served basis. Don’t lose hope. Keep sending in your valuable contributions.–Editor.

Source : The Times of Zambia

Leave a Reply