What’s in a name?

I’m not a particularly adventurous kind of person, far from it, and when my employers mentioned that the job entailed some driving, I took it in my stride.

You see, I was stationed in Ndola, Zambia, back in the 50’s, and my job was to construct and maintain some twenty odd, low powered radio transmitters and receivers for the Min. of Posts and Telegraphs, throughout the entire North Western Province.

I was provided with a Bedford One Ton truck. Pale blue in colour, and it’s registration number was N.R.G. 770, a `left over’ from the old Colonial days, when Zambia was of course, Northern Rhodesia.

I also had James, my trusty black companion, who spoke perfect English, and accompanied me everywhere, including the occasional sojourn into the bush to answer the call of nature. They had mammoth snakes up there, and the old fellow wouldn`t let me take any chances.

The rainy season came around, and I was pretty well settled in my new job when I got my first taste of `bush bashing’.

Mwinilungu it seemed, had gone off the air, and it was a matter of importance to get it back on again, soonest.

I loaded my truck up with a 44 gallon drum of petrol, a Lister Generating Plant, a spare Transmitter- receiver, and several days rations
Picking James up at his married quarters, he asked whether he could bring his wife Tulip along too, since she had her family there at Mwinilungu, and it would be a good opportunity for her to see them.

“O.K.” I say nonchalantly, “Let her travel in the back,” needless to say I promptly forgot her!

We drove up past Chingola on a fairly good road, and headed for Solwezi, some three hundred kilometers to the North West. The road wasn’t good, in fact it was bloody awful, badly corrugated in sections, and under water at others, making the journey a veritable nightmare.

We made Solwezi by nightfall, and rested up for the night in the Government rest house there.

James was waiting for me on the following morning, together with his wife Tulip.

To my surprise she was very young, 16 at the most, and she was very pregnant!

We travelled on, and the road ahead narrowed to less than a track in places, and in others, I could see nothing but a sea of mud. It was harrowing, and my arms soon ached from pulling at the steering wheel, and getting us out of the spins and gyrations as we ploughed on towards Mwinilungu.

Then it happened! My truck sank down to its axles in mud, and we were well and truly bogged down. There was nothing for it but to wait for a four wheel drive vehicle, and get pulled clear. James and I sat beneath a Mopani tree and shared a warm beer and waited.

I had never felt such humidity, and leaned against the tree utterly exhausted.

The high pitched wail that came from the truck made my blood run cold, and James turned a shade paler. It was Tulip yelling as her first labour pains tore through her young body.

“For Heavens sake find a woman, any woman, just get her here.” I yelled.

I should have known better, no-one in their right mind would be out in that mid-day heat, let alone a mid-wife. Three hours passed, it was late afternoon, in a couple of hours it would be dark, and it looked very much like rain.

James and I lugged the Lister Generating plant out of the truck, and bedded Tulip down beside the drum of petrol, then
we waited for the inevitable to happen. I’m surprised that they didn’t hear Tulip’s screams back in Chingola, they completely un-nerved me, and the time interval between them began to make me sweat!

Without going into too much anatomy, I managed to get James to examine Tulip’s condition, and assess the girl’s dilation.

Tulip gave birth to a son around six that evening, and I cut the umbilical with a Swiss army knife I had in my tool box, tying it off as neatly as possible. We got pulled out the following day by a Central African Road Services bus, and Tulip was transferred to the clinic at Mwinilungu.

Some months later, I asked James what he had called his son.

“Enarji,” he replied, quite seriously.

I thought it an indigenous name for a boy, and left it at that.

Several years later, I was relating my story to a group of ex Colonials, when they all roared with laughter.

“I’m not with you?” I queried.

“Don’t you see Geoff,” they laughed.

“James called the boy after the name of your truck, N.R.G. 770!”



Geoffrey Kennell
Off the cuff

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