The Teaching Autobiography, Contents: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3 Photo 4
No tale of our life in Africa would be complete without Inhaca in it. An island twenty four miles across the bay, it was a symbol of happiness to all of us. It lay twelve miles of ocean beach, facing the Indian Ocean, at its North end a lighthouse where it turned a corner to its inner point, inside which lay a small fishing village. At the other end of the twelve miles of ocean beach was the South point which ended in sandhills, steep and wooded on the inner side where we camped but in front sloping gently down to the hard beach where the surf always thundered. There was a small reef of rocks at the point. This reef was a little sheltered because it was overlapped by a similar sandhill and bush clad point belonging to the mainland, separated from Inhaca only by a narrow opening into the Indian Ocean, a deep channel which curved over to our island, through which the tides raced. The mainland, after the first half mile, quickly receded South into the shallow shoal waters and long, curved shore that formed the South end of the huge bay separating us from Port Melville.
From our camp stretched a series of tiny points and coves making one deep bay that at its centre was only a mile or so from the fishing village from which our mail was fetched and which then curved back to Euphorbia Point. The first rock point after the ocean beach we called Cavally Point. Here the deep channel from the entrance came across and made it a good stand from which to cast and troll for big game fish. I once gaffed a sixtypound cavally here, for Anthony who had fought the fish for half an hour, hence its name. In the next bay we pitched our first camp under a spreading mimosa tree. Unfortunately the sand was for ever blowing over from the front beach and finally it pinched the bush out on both sides of the mimosa tree hollow, forming steep sandhills on both sides, so after a year or two we had to move our camp to the next point which we called Rock Cod Point and behind which the bush was sufficiently deep to hold its own.
Here on the very point and edge of the coral reef grew one little wind swept tree which provided just enough shade for a deck chair under it. There I sat, read, sewed, or just idled, listening to the call of a bird whose notes were a phrase repeated three times and then after a pause, a soft descending scale. Antoine taught the children his tribe's translation of its song:
"Mother's dead, father's dead, and I'm
Alone, lone, lone, lone, lone."
Except once, I never heard this song away from our island and we called it 'our Inhaca bird'. I did not find it mournful, although it was in a minor key. To me it throbbed with a deep content.
The coral reef which edged the shore here for a mile or two was unlike any other bit I ever saw. It lacked any surf at all, yet its bays were of clean sand. After a mile or so these bays became mixed with the usual mud mangroves. Here the high tide lapped up to the edge of the reef and at low water spring tides, there must have been a drop of about eight feet, turning the reef into a wall. From the edge when it was windless and the water crystal clear, we could sit and watch a natural aquarium. Corals of all sorts, some like sponges, some branched, grew round the edge of the channel, with huge pearl oysters wedged between where sea snakes sometimes lurked, and in and out and round about swam a host of fishes, some banded black and white with yellow tails and fins. There were all shapes and sizes from the tiniest electric blue fellows, to the big, slow moving, beautifully coloured parrot fish. These lived there, but you never knew what huge form might come cruising along scattering them in flight and many hours were spent just watching.
The steep sand hills that had pinched out our first camp were a joy to the children. Climbing to the top you would get the sea breeze, hear the roar of the surf and watch the endless waves breaking on the hard sand of the front beach. Or you could sit down and stage hermit crab races, or turn and roll down straight into the water of the little bay that made our bathing pool, for across this bay the coral reef stretched hardly broken and kept it safe from sharks.
Those same sandhills were a lovely place to lie on after dark. Once we watched seven separate thunderstorms, one or two of them just continual flickers on different parts of the horizon, others giving a vivid display of jagged lightning. The heavens were alight that night and we stayed until the nearest storm drove us helter skelter to our camp.
Those summer nights were very beautiful, whether a moon made everything silver and black, or whether it was velvety dark with bright starlight and crooked shadows across the sea. Sometimes, when it was hot and still, the silence would be broken by the resounding smacks of some giant sting ray, or by sudden boiling up in the water as some monster chased its prey. In daylight one of the prettiest sights was when a big fish chased a shoal of tiny fish, which then would leap in and out of the water in unison, looking like waves of silver spray.
We did not go into the bush at all except along the edge, for Inhaca was never burned and the snakes were numerous. In our first camp a hammock was slung for me just inside the edge of the bush, with a rope tied to a tree, so that I could rock myself. Once I was stretching out my hand for this rope when I saw on the trunk a moving green curve. Never was a hammock emptied more suddenly.
As soon as they had reached their sixth birthday the children came too and we all, even the 'boys' (natives) loved being there. Anthony fished most of the time. It was always right for some place or tide, even if it was only to catch small fish needed for bait later on, when he and perhaps Michael would go trolling in the 'Vamos', our motor boat. Susan our youngest and I were fond of walking along the ocean beach just as the high tide turned, when the last wave would leave a little line of shells. It was a wonderful island for shells, many were beautifully coloured or of strange shapes; our favourites were the fans, yellow, orange, pink and red and sometimes the rare mauve ones. Once after a storm there was a long line of wrack and in it I found the most perfect little miniatures of the larger shells.
There was one expedition the whole family made together at the first low spring tide. It was to the flat reef of rocks on the front beach. Here in pools and along the crevasses the finest oysters grew. So with steel chisels and hammers and a sack we set out. One always started trying to keep dry but sooner or later a large breaker would catch you slap on the back and it was really more comfortable when this was over. Christmas dinner was always oyster stew (chowder) and it was so popular, that except for fruit, sweets and crackers there was no need for anything else.
A day or two before we left Port Melville for New Zealand, I was in bed in the early morning, thinking of Inhaca and how homesick we should get for our island. I had not learnt then, that if a place holds you as Inhaca held us, you do not leave it behind. It is a part of you and you take it with you. But then, I was rather miserable. Suddenly I heard the call of our Inhaca bird. I could not believe it, and shot out of bed to the window, not so much to see it, as to prove I was not dreaming. Again the three soft notes floated into the room and it completed its descending scale. It was Inhaca and I had been given the most perfect goodbye I shall ever know.
This finishes a brief survey of my life until we left South Africa. It may be concerned more with my background than myself but it does show that up till then, I had led a normal life, for my environment and generation.
I think we had been regarded as a fortunate couple, with three nice children who had had a happy home. I have not touched on the inevitable disagreements and disappointments that make up any life. In the early days my chief difficulty had been to adjust myself to Anthony's jealousy, a strong characteristic exhibited, I learnt from his family, even in childhood. The fact that it persisted in spite of their being no grounds for it, bewildered me at first. I was often made unhappy by it, before I learnt to accept it as a part of his character, balanced by other finer traits. In fact in those days I did not argue that out but custom and experience gradually made it more tiresome than hurting and because it did, I felt our relationship had lost thereby. It had destroyed a youthful tendency to set him upon a pedestal but that step towards reality must have been a gain rather then a loss.
There was a greater threat to our relationship, something altogether different, which hurt and which was the cause of our first serious quarrel. I do not remember the beginning of the discussion only when Anthony began to express his very cynical ideas, his conviction that love was no protection in the relationship between men and women, that no man or woman should be trusted. I thought he was generalising and rather diffidently expostulated that it could not apply to us, who both cared so much for each other. I was astounded when he maintained these convictions irrespective of individuals and wound up by saying that it was only my youth and ignorance that prevented my accepting this belief but that I need not worry, it would be his care to watch and protect me. That made me angry and my whole nature rose in protest but I was totally unable to express my own unformulated ideas and against his experience could not argue. So it ended in a burst of temper when, after passionately exclaiming: "Well if that is all you are going to rely on, then you had better watch out." I whirled away to a solitary night and bitter tears, for I was far more hurt than that childish outburst of temper conveyed.
I still think it was a tragic mistake to uphold such an outlook, which in fact was quite at variance with his own personal life after marriage. I was without religious conviction then but still held to the ideals of honesty and personal responsibility my home life had given me. Had these through personal experience become my own set of values, it might not have mattered but for him to insist on the absence of them, in the beginning of our relationship was just folly.
From this point, so early in our married life, there began a split in our relationship. The physical side, based on Anthony's own integrity and sensitivity grew to be almost perfect but our mental companionship was entirely onesided, there was no further exchange of ideas, he talked, I listened. Perhaps I am secretive, I know that I rather like to hoard confidences, so Anthony learnt he could talk freely of matters without fear of my being indiscreet.
Of course I was only twenty then and in common with girls of my generation peculiarly ignorant in some ways and my ideas were naturally unformed but I was observant and used to doing my own thinking. So I watched the experience and behaviour of those with whom we mixed and pondered over the problems they presented.
My father had always set rather a high standard of truth, courage and honesty before us. He disliked gossip and would not tolerate scandal. I think the epitaph chosen by his fellow masons well describes him:
"With charity for all and malice towards none."
Perhaps it was the consciousness of the feebleness of my own efforts that had hitherto made me believe such standards came more easily to men than to women. This new life in which men predominated soon undeceived me. I learnt that, if it were not general, there were men as ready for gossip and scandal as any woman. Two incidents at this time made a lasting impression on me. Once I heard a friend of Anthony's making a tremendous episode of some slight he had received from some other man, telling how he had waited for months and gone to infinite pains to work out a scheme to get even. How surprised he would have been, had he known that the impression he made on me was one of amazement that a man could be so petty.
The other was the break up of an affair between a man and a woman we knew. He was very well liked, by men as well as by women. She was attractive but most unhappily married. By pure chance I was the witness on two occasions, when the man evaded a suggestion of a future meeting. I was, perhaps unreasonably, furious with him and distressed by what I felt to be her humiliation. So I observed and pondered and came to the conclusion it was not the difference in sex that controlled standards but of personality and circumstances. But I did not share any of these ideas with Anthony. He did not seem to be interested in what I thought, so the mental companionship and exchange of ideas which I think is even more important than the physical, because more lasting, never developed between us.