Often beer and fishing go together although I am not sure that drinking had anything to do with this story that happened to a fishing friend that I will call Phil. He loved to go for tigerfish as many people in Southern Africa do.
Tigerfish are placed by many among the best freshwater game fish in the world, together with salmon, bass, trout and the South American dorado among others . Being one of the top predators of the African rivers, it is always on “hunting mode”, looking for prey, mostly smaller fish although some have been seen catching swallows in flight  and probably will also catch swimming birds.
It is no surprise then that their aggressivity is used to catch them by means of shiny and colourful lures that are either cast and retrieved or trolled behind the boat until they are taken by the fish. When this happens, you react by strongly pulling your rod, hoping to hook it. The latter is very difficult to achieve because the fish has a very bony jaw that resists the sharpest of hooks.
The consequence is that often the fish feels the hook, jumps outside the water, violently shakes its head and dislodges the lure that goes flying, often back to the water where sometimes it attempts to catch it again as soon as it hits the water, apparently indifferent to the hooks! Sometimes, however, it lands on the boat and, rarely it can even hit you as if the fish would aim the lure at you!
So it was that one Friday, not thinking on all of the above, Phil and friends traveled to the Chongwe confluence to spend a weekend in search of tigerfish. They stayed at the same place we were with our friend Chris and on Saturday morning, very early, they were in the water. After a while Phil had a good take and he stroke. The fish reacted jumping out of the water and, as I mentioned, shaking its head managed to dislodge the lure.
That in itself would have been frustrating for Phil but it got worse. Before he could move, the lure came flying straight at him, more precisely to his face. One of the hooks got embedded in his upper lip from where the rather large lure hanged while Phil screamed in pain as lips are very sensitive areas of our bodies.
Being brave and trying not to spoil the fishing for everybody, he held the lure up to avoid it pulling from his lip while a friend carefully cut the line and then detached the lure, leaving only the hook in his lip. A quick check revealed bad news: the hook had gone in beyond the barb. Phil, bravely, tried to pull it out but, as expected, the pain was too much. He decided to leave it in place and put up with the pain to enable his friends to continue fishing.
After a while, the pain was getting worse so they decided to return to camp to attempt to remove it on firm ground. Soon it was clear that the hook would not go back out and the movement only made matters worse. It was then that Phil decided to have a final attempt at removal by pushing it so that it would go through the lip and they could cut it. He nearly fainted with pain and all further attempts were abandone hoping that leaving it alone would decrease the discomfort to tolerable levels.
Soon it became apparent that Phil could not put up with the discomfort any longer and, unanimously, they decided to return to Lusaka to see a doctor that could remove it and end Phil’s misery. Although the journey back was rather tough, the actual removal of the hook took the doctor about ten minutes and Phil did not even end with a scar to show for his predicament!
This rather unusual and rather unpleasant event did not dent Phil’s fishing drive although I believe that he remembers it (as I do) whenever he hooks a tigerfish!
As I mentioned before, my work in the Transmara in Kenya took me often through Narok when the weather was dry and I could drive through the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, up the Oloololo escarpment and then through the wheat fields and Lolgorien to Intona Ranch.
During the rains, however, the Maasai Mara would become muddy but still passable but the road on top of the Oloololo escarpment would be deep mud first and then there was the infamous soapy red hill where the journey ended -at least for a while- for many!
Those wet days I would travel through tarmac via Kericho until reaching Kilgoris and from then to Intona through a muddy but shorter route that, usually, we could negotiate, but not always without trouble.
Narok was a classical “border” town in the sense that it was the last stop before you entered into the “wilderness” beyond. It was in Narok where you re-fueled and bought your last essential supplies for you and your workers. The latter would go for the needed vegetables (read cabbage) as well as meat to last them for the two weeks spell they would spend at the ranch.
In addition, malaria was feared but they often did not get the chloroquine to protect them from it so we needed to get them from the pharmacy in town that happened to be next door to the butchery named “Jamaica”. Although the chemist was well identified, its neon sign was “interesting”. It read “Madawa” and “Duka la dawa” which mean drugs and pharmacy in Ki-Swahili.
Clearly, there was not enough room for the sign to be placed vertically so an ingenious electrician has placed on its side! Although I never seen it in its full glory during the night, I would have loved to have seen the face of the Hoechst general manager when he/she saw it for the first time. The sign is probably no longer there after all these years neither is Hoechst that is now part of Sanofi-Aventis.
Kilgoris also offered an interesting sign that was the meeting place in the Transmara when, with my boss Matt, I met Alan for my first visit to Intona Ranch . Our rendezvous was the “Kilgoris Nylon Night Club” that, I must confess, I never saw its inside although I would have stayed there in case of breaking down as there were few other offers for accommodation in the place.
Judging by the disproportionate and (to me) unfortunate increase in the number of lodges and camps in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve that went from less than ten in the 80’s to a staggering 118 today , this night club is probably now a resort belonging to one of the major international hotel groups. Although the name of a few possible owners come to mind, I leave it there!
The Covid 19 outbreak has kept us at home for quite a while by now and this has severely limited our travel routine. Although we think that this will change in a few months, this forced immobility has limited the opportunities of finding new “beasts” to be spotted to keep readers engaged while I continue writing posts on our life events.
Checking for pictures for my Zambian stories I found a folder where I keep unusual sights or events that we have witnessed over the years in the various parts of the world where we have been fortunate to live and work. Despite the abundance of similar material in social media nowadays, I still believe these are worth writing about.
The observations belong to different cultures and languages so, I will attempt translation when necessary, hoping that I will not miss their meaning. A handful of them may be improper to some and I apologize for these in advance.
I encourage you to comment and, if willing and interested, to send me your “Spotted!” for me to placed them in the blog with due credit to the originator.
While I keep writing my memoirs on Zambia, I hope that these short posts, like the “Spot the beast” (that will resume when I find material) will keep you entertained.
Spotted! – 1
If you look carefully, despite the bad photograph (a picture of an old print taken by my father from a long way away), you would just be able to see a speck in the middle of the picture, well beyond the reeds. It was my Land Rover well inside the River Plate. Although I have already written about this event, I chose it to start this new series of “Spotted!” as it was a consequence of my own foolishness that was already present in the 1970’s!
I thought it suitable to start with a deed of my own so I feel better when I show you what others have done.
As I mentioned earlier, our two cats, Inky the Siamese and Tigger the marmalade travelled with us to Zambia where they enjoy their last years of their lives, despite the arrival of our children that placed them in the background.
Apart from our cats there were two “guard” dogs, Nero (a male) and Ginger (a female) that came with the house as guard dogs, although I did not think much of their security skills. As it was common in those days of food shortages, the house also had some small livestock in the backyard, next to the vegetable garden and fruit trees tendered by Lemek, the gardener.
Apart from rabbits in cages, there were a few ducks and chickens. We soon acquired six Rhode Island red hens that lived up to their reputation and produced many eggs for months on end. Later on, when Anders left Zambia to go to Rome, we inherited his pair of turkeys that he, impolitely, had named Mabel and Julio. We kept them until the following Christmas when we got rid of them and Ander’s cheekiness !
This abundance of animals meant a lot of grain spillage that attracted a large number of rats. The situation was not helped by the presence of a local market next door where hygiene was not on top of the agenda. Apart from feeding on the maize on the ground, the rats loved guavas. The house had a few guava trees and these became a rat playground. The rats were literally lining-up to get at the guavas! To make matters worse, passers by would take care of those that survived the rodents with the result that we hardly harvested any.
Our dogs were indifferent to the rats, but we expected our cats to do something! We placed them near the guava trees and, although they became aware of the rats, they insisted in looking the other way! They were obviously believed that they had earned their retirement and were happy to age in peace. So, I borrowed a pellet gun and took a few shots at the invaders but soon they became too clever for me. They became nocturnal and defeated me and continued feeding on food spillage and guavas.
Aware of the situation, even Mabel gave up and declared herself ready to share the garden with them, provided that they did not enter the house. I promised that no quarter would be given to any that attempted this and the situation slowly reached an equilibrium, tilted in favour of the rats, of course.
In the middle of this situation, and to make matters more interesting, one day Tigger disappeared! “Maybe it was eaten by the rats” I told Mabel trying to be funny. I am afraid that I am not willing to publish her reply! She was very worried about the cat’s disappearance. She looked for it everywhere in the house and soon she had all available hands (including mine) combing the house compound in a cat search that yielded no results. Later, the quest was extended to the neighbourhood. Mabel walked the whole day around our area but came back home empty-handed. Tigger had vanished.
We had serious concerns about our cat’s fate. We have heard stories that some of our neighbours were from the Far East and that a number of dogs had gone missing for no apparent reason and people suspected that they were being eaten. We feared that our cat had met a similar end. Undeterred, Mabel continued walking around the various houses and the local market calling Tigger until, after a couple of days, she returned convinced that she had heard a faint meowing coming from the local market area that answered her calls. She was sure that Tigger was inside there somewhere.
The next day, she decided to pay a visit to the market and headed for the area where she had heard what she thought were Tigger calls. She entered one of the shops and purchased a few food items while making comments about our cat’s disappearance, stressing the fact that the cat was a completely useless hunter. Of course, the owners listened politely while denying any knowledge of the cat’s existence. However, they promised to cooperate in case they saw it.
Mabel kept visiting the market to see if she could find the cat and, in so doing she established some contacts with shopkeepers until she got some “confidential” information that “a cat” was being held at a large store where food items (vulnerable to rats) were kept but she could not get inside the place as someone else held the key.
A couple of days passed, and we resigned ourselves to our cat’s disappearance when, one afternoon, Tigger appeared at the kitchen door asking for food! Despite being rather bony, it was in good health and still conserving its appetite.
Eventually Mabel went back to the market where she was told that people thought that a large cat like Tigger would have been good at controlling the rats at the warehouse so they decided to “borrow” it from us. However, soon they realized that it was useless and that, if left there, it would have died of starvation surrounded by food! Then, they decided to place it over our perimetral wall for it to return to us.
Luckily, it did not take Tigger very long to return to its usual fat and lazy self and we never saw it catching anything until we left Zambia.
Every city has its dangerous roads, Nairobi had River Road and Lusaka’s equivalent was Cha Cha Cha Road, an interesting name for a Latin American . The latter’s reputation was truly bad, and everyone would recommend you not to go there if you could avoid it. Unfortunately, I needed supplies for the project that were mostly found in shops sited in that road so I had to risk it.
The first time I went to Cha Cha Cha Road, I managed to shop for what I needed and came off unscathed. Things were different the next time I visited it…
Aware of the situation, I always went there in the smallest and oldest project car, not to call the attention of the possible robbers. As the first time, I prepared for the risky task and, together with one of the drivers, we agreed that he would stay in the car while I dashed in and out to get the supplies.
All was going well, and I was about to enter into the last shop when things happened. I got out of the car with the money safe in my pocket and left my suitcase in the car, where the driver sat looking after it as well as the shopping we already had. Suddenly, while I was walking towards the hardware shop, I heard a commotion near the car, and I saw a couple of men running away with my case while the driver tried to look after the car!
While the driver stayed with the car, I gave chase but, although I was fitter then, thieves invariably would outrun you. Despite this, shouting “thieves, thieves!” I continued my chase. The fuss attracted passers-by that join me in the run. After about two blocks away my case was thrown away and I managed to recover everything except the money, of course. The thieves disappeared in the distance and I decided that there was not much else I could do.
I was rather shaken so I aborted the shopping. Luckily the driver was still locked inside the car, rather stunned. After a while he managed to recover and explained me that, when I got out of the car, one of the thieves opened the passenger door. When he reacted to stop it another guy opened the back door and took off with my briefcase! I was lucky not to have been injured and pleased to have recovered my case with its contents I learnt a lesson and decided that Cha Cha Cha Road would be avoided in future, if at all possible.
Another common trick those days was that someone would come and tell you that you had a flat tire and, the moment you got distracted, they would snatch whatever you had inside the car!
A couple of days later, while still recovering from my experience, I got a bank statement from my bank in the UK that was really surprising! I must admit that I was not very thorough in checking my bank statements, and I concede that this is not the correct thing to do. As usual, I had a look at it but this time a figure hit me hard: there was a cheque paid from my account for a substantial amount of money that I was sure I had not issued.
I immediately sent a fax to the bank asking for clarification and leafed through my chequebook. To my relief, all cheques were there so I relaxed and thought that the bank had made a mistake. When the reply from the bank a few hour later confirming the information and attaching a copy of the cheque, I got really worried although I knew that I had not written such a cheque. However, looking at it I realized that my signature was different and it had been clearly forged but, how?
I immediately got the number of the cheque and went again to my chequebook. The cheque was not there! Both the cheque and the stub had been removed. Not well versed in the subject of forgeries it was only then that I realized that the removal aimed at me not noticing its absence until it was cashed!
After careful consideration, apart from the Mabel and I, only Mr. Phiri, our caretaker, had access to the house so our suspicions fell on him. However, I was sure that he could not have hatched the idea and that he must have been acting under orders from someone else with experience in this kind of affairs.
While letting the bank know that they had paid a forged cheque and that I was very unhappy with their lack of control on their clients’ signatures, I called the landlady that had recommended Mr. Phiri and she agreed that we could no longer have him inside our house after what had happened.
Before going to the police, I visited the FAO Administrator, an Italian called Alberto (not his real name) that was a well-known and crafty character believed to have a strong connection with Mr. Andreotti, then Prime Minister of Italy. Alberto had lived in Zambia for a long time, and he knew many people and I hoped that he also knew how to handle situations like this.
Mr. Alberto immediately understood the situation and he was happy that I had not yet involved the police as the latter was pretty ineffective anyway. He asked me to come with Mr. Phiri to ask him a few questions. I obliged and, after the canning questions asked by Alberto, Mr. Phiri confessed that he had indeed taken the cheque following instructions from an outsider that we did not know. So, we had not only the direct culprit but also the name of the “brain” of the operation, who had cashed the cheque either himself or sent it to someone in the UK to cash it for him in Bristol!
While this took place, I was on the phone with the bank. They, amazingly, refused to accept any liability for having paid an obviously forged signature, despite me sending them an enlarged picture of my signature pointing at them the four or five errors that the forgery contained.
Very upset after hearing the response of the bank I went again to see Mr. Alberto. Fortunately, he lived up to his reputation and promised me to contact the person who had cashed the cheque and he assured me that he would pay back what was mine. Somehow reasured by his confidence I went home and started organizing to close my bank account.
A couple of days later Mr. Alberto turned up in my house with a rather large bag full of Kwacha, the equivalent of the loss estimated at the parallel market! After that day we had sufficient cash to last us for almost one year!
My argument with the bank continued and, eventually, they agreed to give me a small amount of money to compensate me for the “inconvenience” I had gone through! I accepted it and immediately after that I closed my account and started to check my statements more carefully from that day on!
 The Cha-cha-cha is a a genre of Cuban music that developed in the 1950’s and became very popular worldwide. The Zambian Cha Cha Cha was a civil disobedience campaign that started in 1961. The campaign included strikes, arson, road blocks and other protests in Lusaka and the rest of the country and it was named after the Cuban dance meaning that it was time for Britain to ‘face the music’ of the independence of Zambia.
Mabel’s second pregnancy progressed well despite some issues regarding the foetus compressing her femoral nerve that required lots of physio and massage for her to keep going. As usual, because of the size and shape of her belly, we received lots of predictions about the sex of the future baby. All predictions came from European friends. The Africans would not talk about children not yet born, so they ignored Mabel’s condition.
The visits to the Dr. in Zimbabwe yielded normal results and we were soon ready to embark on the “final” journey that would produce a new member of the family. It was then that I made a mistake. Our car was not available so I needed to use another one for the journey and, unwisely, I chose a Toyota Hilux that in those days were work horses with very hard suspensions.
The result was that Mabel had a very unpleasant journey that, luckily, did not brought the birth forward but made her suffer the bumpy ride to the point that she has not yet forgiven me thirty years later!
After Flori’s birth, we had gone through the process of finding a nanny to care for her and our future baby. We had both been looked after by nannies in Uruguay and we were familiar with them. We were aware that whoever we selected would spend a lot of time with our children, often in close contact, so we needed to be careful. Additional care was required at the time because of the HIV-AIDS epidemic that was ravaging Zambia.
After searching through friends we selected Annie, a young girl coming from the rural area that, luckily, did not have the disease and was willing to learn. She was immediately accepted by Flori and she became part of the family. She immediately understood what was required and was a great asset bringing up the children.
Flori and Annie came with us to Zimbabwe for the birth of our second child and, again I missed the birth after a waiting period at the Bronte Hotel as before and, again, our son was born while I was driving back so I repeated the same hurried journey back to Zimbabwe.
I learnt the sex of the baby when I got to the clinic and it was a very emotional moment for me, a person not easily moved. My emotion did not last too long as I realized that now I (with Annie’s help) would be in charge of Flori and her needs, at least until Mabel recovered from the birth.
Mabel needed another night at the clinic, so we left her to rest. It was the end of the day and we needed to have dinner so I ordered the food for Annie and myself while we prepared Flori’s baby food, following the instructions given by Mabel. Flori ate very well and seemed very happy with the new arrangement so “this is a piece of cake” I thought while having some dinner.
After eating, it was time for her to go to sleep, so I handed it over to Annie for that task while I had a shower. Coming out of the shower I found Annie busy trying to persuade her to go to sleep but failing. It became clear that it was a true challenge! Annie and I tried several known tricks to no avail. We sang, rocked and walked with her but her large eyes were still open! Even placing her on Annie’s back, usually a very powerful sedative, failed to work!
Time passed and the signs of a sleepy Flori did not appear, so I decided to go for another method. I would drive her on her child seat with Annie by her side trying to comfort her as much as she could. So I drove and drove through Harare. I got to the airport and back to the hotel without looking back where things appeared quiet. However, when I checked, the situation could not have been more devastating. Annie was fast sleep and Flori’s eyes shone in the dark!
I woke up Annie and, again, drove around Harare for another thirty minutes or so until both of them fell sleep and I could return to the hotel where, with outmost care, I woke Annie and we removed Flori from the car and finally deposited in her room with Annie while I could go to mine, hoping that she would sleep the rest of the night.
Luckily, she did although, judging by the look of Annie, I doubted that. I did sleep though!
Julio, our son, did not suffer from jaundice and we were ready to travel immediately but we still needed his travel permit. We went to the centre of town to shop for a few essentials that we would not find in Lusaka as well as getting the first Julio’s “passport” picture. The latter was a bit more complicated this time as we had two babies! As before, Mabel held Julio for the picture while Annie and I cared for Flori. Somehow, while we were waiting for the picture at the photographer’s shop, our document bag disappeared from a basket I had between my legs! Someone had taken advantage of our situation and removed it without us noticing.
There was nothing we could do apart from remembering what was in it and going to the police to report the loss. Luckily, we had deposited most of our documents at the hotel safe and only money and my credit card were in the stolen bag. We were extremely lucky not to have lost our passports as there were no Uruguayan embassies neither in Zambia nor in Zimbabwe! I was issued with a new card by the following day and we got the travel permit that enabled us to travel back home.
The arrival of our daughter and of our son fourteen months later, after eleven years of marriage, changed our lives as it happens with parents all over. I will describe what happened during this period that spanned between mid 1990 and mid 1992 in two posts.
From the moment we knew they were coming, we agreed that within reason, our kids would adjust to our way of living and not the other way round as we saw many parents doing. We also decided that they would be born in African soil. Unfortunately, Zambia was out of bounds for our insurance, so we needed to go outside the country.
Many mothers to be travelled back to Europe or America to have their babies, but several were also going to Zimbabwe. We chose the latter. Harare was about five hundred kilometres away or an eight-hour journey but the facilities there were excellent and recommended by our doctor in Lusaka.
So, after her trip to the UK, Mabel, talking to mothers with young babies, got to know how to handle the situation in Harare and she got convinced to have the children there. A gynecologist called John was recommended and it was explained that the birth would take place at the Avenues Clinic. Of course, there were a few risks involved as we needed to travel to Harare for check-ups and also to go there a few days prior to the birth. The latter period we would spend at the Bronte Hotel, located a few blocks away from the clinic.
So, following the instructions of Dr. John, we travelled to Zimbabwe via Chirundu for the first time, a few months before the calculated birth date. Unlike the Zambian side of the border, the Zimbabweans appeared very strict and punctilious with the regulations. I must confess that I instantly preferred the Zambia side that even had a drink vending machine but, with time, I started to understand and to like the Zimbabweans as well.
Crossing the border included crossing the Zambezi River. At the time there was only one single lane bridge across, the Otto Beit  bridge and it had its history that we ignored then but that now with the internet it is easy to research.
It had been built just before WWII with funds from the Beit Trust  that funded also the Beit bridge over the Limpopo River linking Zimbabwe and South Africa as well as the Kafue and Luangwa bridges in Zambia. The Otto Beit bridge was very advanced for its time: the 380-metre bridge was suspended with parallel wire cables being the first one of its kind built outside the US, following the approach of the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges among others.
After waiting for a while for the incoming traffic to pass, we crossed and arrived in Zimbabwe. We needed to re-fuel so we stopped at the first petrol station that we found. As we entered it, we were very surprised to find that there were more elephants than attendants! We feared for our lives and remained in the car waiting for the pachyderms to move away. They did not.
When we asked the petrol attendant about the elephants that he seemed to ignore, he explained that they were always there but that they did not bother anyone, feeding on the surrounding trees although they would cross the petrol station to move among the trees! Frankly, while our petrol tank was being filled, I expected an elephant to come and wash our windscreen!
It was the first time that we experienced such “closeness” with elephants but we soon realized that this was not uncommon in Zambia and Zimbabwe, something unthinkable in other countries we knew.
After the novel experience of “fuel with elephants” we carried on. The good road decorated with abundant elephant dung, traversed dry country but soon the hot valley ended, and we started climbing the Zambezi escarpment where we found lots of slow heavy-loaded lorries that slowed us down. Many of the trucks were carrying copper but there were lots of different goods being taken to Zimbabwe as well as to be shipped at the various ports in the East coast of Africa.
At the top of the escarpment, we stopped at the veterinary cordon fence that blocked wild animals from going beyond and into land destined for cultivation. Apart from elephants that would create havoc when raiding crops, buffalo (a foot and mouth disease reservoir) were the ones being stopped as they could pass the disease to the commercial cattle industry of Zimbabwe.
The post also checked that we were not taking tsetse flies with us. The procedure consisted of a control officer armed with a small net walking around the car catching any flies that may have been in the outside of the car. After that we were also sprayed inside to kill any flies that had decided to travel more comfortably!
After the control gate we drove through Morongora first and then Makuti. At Karoi, 86 kilometres further, we decided to stop for lunch. The Twin Rivers lodge looked nice and clean from the road and we decided to try it. It did not disappoint us. While waiting for lunch I ordered a ginger beer, a non-alcoholic drink new to me. I was pleasantly surprised by its piquant taste and became a fan of this drink from then on!
Beyond Karoi, agricultural land dominated and we saw numerous irrigation systems and dams from where water was taken to transform the dry land into crops of various kinds, mainly wheat and maize. The road was excellent and there were many well sign-posted secondary roads that reached other localities inland. There were good road signs and grass-cutting tractors were working at several places to keep the grass on the side of the roads, short. Zimbabwe looked like a more developed country than Zambia.
The large silos plants were an additional proof of the grain production of the country that was considered at the time the “Granary of Africa”. We reached Chinhoyi, a busy town where lots of people were moving about, including many “white farmers”. After passing Banket we finally got to Harare, still admiring the beautiful land we were travelling through.
We had no difficulty to find the Bronte Hotel and Harare still maintained the aspect I remembered from my earlier visit in 1985. However, we realized that requirements for tourists had relaxed and we were not “inspected” before we were allowed to enter our hotel!
The memory of my 1985 experience with my Swiss friend François (a tick ecologist) still fresh in my mind. We were staying in the Monomotapa Hotel in Harare, prior to our trip to Nyanga to attend a tick meeting, when we decided to have our dinner outside the hotel only to find that we were denied entrance as we were not dressed properly!
Although we were offered ties to be allowed in, we refused to wear them and left. Walking a few more blocks we came to a North American-style restaurant that did not care about ties so we ended up enjoying a few pounds of the excellent Zimbabwean beef. Dinner over, we walked back to our hotel only to be stopped at the entrance by the conciérge, for not being dressed well!
We were still in a heated argument with the man that was very stubborn and refused to understand that we were guests in the hotel when, luckily, one of the meeting organizers happened to come and talked to the doorman that finally gave in, but he still looked down on us whenever he spotted us in the lobby!
The Bronte Hotel boasted about its garden and it was right as it was well kept and large. Although Harare was much cooler than Lusaka the rooms were comfortable although the corridors and garden were quite chilly so we did not spend much time outside as we were not prepared for the cooler weather. Dinner was simple, good and trouble-free, apart from the issue of two bills, one for the food and another one for the drinks with the consequence that you paid one and started to move off only to be interrupted by an embarrased waiter bringing you another bill!
Breakfast was included in the price, but we also had difficulties understanding the serving system. The waiters worn bands of different colours across their chests and each colour fulfilled only one function and there was no flexibility between them. I do not recall what each colour did but let’s say the green was for drinks, the red for food and the blue for paying. After a few futile attempts asking a “green” or “blue” waiter for food, etc. I adjusted to it after a couple of days, but still found it weird and somehow irritating.
Dr. John was good and all was well with Mabel’s situation. He recommended another visit after two months. The Avenues Clinic looked very nice from the outside, so we were satisfied. The return journey was uneventful and so were the next journeys required for the various check-ups that also went well.
About a week before the estimated time of birth we travelled again to Harare and we settled down at the Bronte Hotel to wait for the first signs of birth to appear but, after a few days, although there were some false alarms, nothing happened. We decided that I would go back to Lusaka after having spent seven days waiting. Paternity leave did not exist in those days and the work needed to continue.
I believe that Murphy’s Law applies in all situations and the birth of our daughter was no exception. As soon as i got to Lusaka I phoned the hotel to talk to Mabel and they told me that she had gone to the hospital! I could not locate her so I decided to refill the car with diesel from our fuel reserve  during the night and return as soon as I had a few hours rest as the border would only open at 06:00hs.
Before leaving I informed Bruno, who stayed in charge of the project in my absence, that he should not worry about us and continue with his work at Lutale. “Do not phone me unless the project burns down” I told him trying to make the point! I left early and, not having had any news about Mabel, it was an anxious journey and I made an effort not to drive too fast.
I went straight to the Avenues Clinic and, fortunately, I found her in good health and very cheerful as she had gone through the birth process and our daughter Florencia (Flori) was also well. She had been “deposited” in another room, together with other babies. I looked at her through a glass and hoped that they would not swap her for another baby but then I convinced myself that it would be unlikely as she had an identification bracelet and it was clearly different from the other babies with her dark hair and eyes!. I was relieved to see them both well and immensely happy!
The following day we moved to the hotel and settled down to wait for a day to start the journey back with our newcomer. Then, in the evening the phone rang. It was Bruno and, before he could say anything I reminded him of my parting words about not phoning me. He let me rant for a while and then said: “the project office burnt down!”. “It is a joke, right?” was my reply but he repeated the news and I believed him.
The project offices were local huts with straw roofs, and it was October, the end of the dry season and the dry straw had caught fire. We lost important records but, luckily, we had duplicates of everything, except the latest records that were lost forever and a gap can be seen in all our publication graphs that remind us of the fire and the birth of my daughter! Before he hanged up, Bruno did congratulate me about the birth! He calmed me down telling me that the burnt office was being re-built and I forgave him instantly for calling!
The following morning, we needed to take Flori to the pediatrician, a very young and nice doctor. He saw that Flori was rather yellow and told us that she was suffering from infant jaundice, a common problem that required a couple of days to improve and no treatment. The following day she turned very yellow but afterwards the problem cleared, and we got the green light to travel.
Although we had a birth certificate, we still needed a travel document to enable us to cross the border. So, after taking Flori’s photograph, we went to immigration and got the needed document that even included her thumb print with no pattern, just a black stain! Armed with this new document, we travelled back to Lusaka with our new arrival and started our new family life.
 The Beit Trust was created with funds left in his Will by Sir Otto’s older brother Alfred for infrastructure development in the former Northern (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Beit
 At the time we were going through a fuel shortage and I kept fuel at home.
After the traumatic experience of the riots, things calmed down for a while. Mabel came back with the news that her pregnancy was going well and she was happy that we were going to have a baby girl. We decided to start exploring Zambia, starting from places relatively near Lusaka, before the pregnancy advanced and our travel got reduced.
Among the items we “inherited” from the earlier project was a mechanic to maintain the vehicles called Des. It was through bringing the cars to him in the outskirts of Lusaka that we got to know him and his wife Mary very well. We spent a few Sunday lunches together with a number of their friends, including businesspeople and hunters, among others.
Amid their close friends was Chris, a son of a Scottish father and a Zambian mother that was a very prosperous businessman, owner of the largest petrol station and spares shop in Lusaka. From the start we realized that we got on well and it did not take too long to discover that we shared the passion for fishing and we became friends.
He was a very kind man, very supportive of our efforts to enjoy Zambia and it was him that arranged for our rubber dinghy maiden voyage at the Kafue Marina and participated from the exercise with great enthusiasm.
Chris knew every fishing spot in Zambia, and he kept boats in several of them so that he did not need to tow a boat whenever he wished to go fishing! Apart from Kafue, he had boats in Kariba and lake Tanganyika, to name what I recall now. One day, he invited us to join him at a place known as the Chongwe confluence. We happily agreed to meet him there travelling by land in our now repaired Land Cruiser while he would get there from the Kafue Marina.
So, we left early on a Saturday and followed his travel instructions taking the road to Chirundu (the border with Zimbabwe) and turning left a few kilometres before to enter on a dirt road (now the RD491) towards Chiawa. We drove on and we came to the Kafue River where we waited for the pontoon to arrive as it happened to be going towards the opposite shore. We joined the other cars in the queue and had a few “mates”  while we waited.
When the pontoon arrived we paid our fee and boarded it, together with the other cars. The crossing was quite picturesque as the pontoon was operated by a couple of guys that would pull from a rope and move it across. Of course, the passengers were free to join in the effort to make the trip faster! Luckily, there was not much of a current and the operaton was successfully completed after about thirty minutes.
Leaving the Kafue River behind we drove through a narrow dirt road for a while until we came to the Zambezi river where the road turned left and from then on we drove along the river following its current. After a while we passed what looked like a derelict farm with a number of windmills in the water. Apart from pumping water from the river, we could not think of anty other reason for their existence but we did not stop to investigate as we were anxious to get to our destination.
After a long but beautiful drive along the river where we saw planty of game, including many elephants, we go to the confluence and found Chris. He was already fishing while two of his employees were busy cutting the very tall grass and collecting the rubbish left there by other careless campers to enable us to camp in comfort. Although we were meant to be at the Lower Zambezi National Park, its existence was still in its infancy.
We were on the Zambezi river shore at the point the Chongwe River entered it, a place renown for its good fishing. I believe that there is a luxury camp there nowadays 
Chris loved fish and he knew a place where Tilapia  were abundant. He told us that the fish congregated at a particular spot where tree branches came down to the river offering shelter to the fish that stayed there, probably feeding on the muddy bank. He explained to us that the river there formed a “gwabi”, a place where the water turned against the main current and fish liked.
He sat on a canvas chair with his rods pulling fish out. He had the system well oiled: another of his sidekicks was gutting them and dropping them in a frying pan without delay! We could see that there was already a good pile of freshly fried fish. I realized that Chris loved fishing more than I did and that he not only enjoyed the actual fishing but loved to eat his catch as well.
We left Chris to continue getting our lunch and went to a place where the grass had been cut to set up our camp. A number of large trees offered good shade in the campsite and we were the only occupants, apart from a few elephants busy pulling tree branches that largely ignored us. We joined Chris and his men for a purely Tilapia lunch that, even to me that I am not fond on fish, tasted delicious, probably because they were fried as soon as they came out.
After a good siesta we took off on his boat after tiger fish (Hydrocynus vittatus). We trolled along the banks with a couple of rods with shiny lures traying to get the attention of this carnivorous fish. Tigers are fast and ferocious predators that would attack the lures violently and eject them when jumping outside of the water. We had a few strikes that we missed but still we enjoyed the action. Luckily, by sunset I hooked one that I managed to land. It was my first tiger fish, and a reasonable one as well so I was extremely pleased and so was Chris that had skipped the boat for me to get it!
In twilight we returned to camp, guided by the fire and our lights, had another Tilapia dinner and, as usual in Africa, we went to bed early for a well deserved rest after a long drive an a very exciting fishing day.
As it often happens, things did not work out as planned.
A couple of hours later we were woken by a leopard started calling very close from our tents and, although it was not a threat for us, it was a rather loud leopard! As the calls continued, we decided to find it. So, Chris and us got in our car and started to drive around trying to reach the place of the calls that now, as usual, stopped! We drove for a while but nothing appeared in our headlights.
We were about to turn around when we caught a glimpse of a spotted hyena running through the thicket and we followed it through the bushes until we came to an area next to the river (about a couple of hundred metres from our camp) where there were a number of racks made with sticks that had been recently used to dry meat and, before we could think what meat it was, we bumped on a large hippo head lying on the ground.
The hyena was after the meat that was left on the head and the leopard was also part of the action but we were not sure on what capacity. We knew that we would not spot it after our drive with headlamps and spotlight and we returned to our camp. Fortunately, our sleep was not interrupted again.
The following morning, we were up early for a sightseeing tour of the Zambezi. It was the first time that we had a chance to appreciate the unmatched beauty of this “mighty” river that traversed very dry country and it was its lifeline. The water was unbelievably clean (at least for our standards) and it contained bright specs that we learnt to be suspended mica particles.
The deep parts of the river showed a dark green hue while the many sand banks were brownish and carefully avoided by our skipper. There were a number of islands between us and the opposite bank that was Zimbabwe, where no motor boats were allowed as the area was protected and it included the Mana Pools National Park, a place we would come to know in the future.
Seeing the windmills, now from the river, we express our perplexity about them to Chris. He was quite amused while hetold us that this had been the farm of someone called Winston that, in the mid 80’s, had convinced President Kaunda that he could make oil from grass! The machines -probably operated by the windmills? – were crushing grass at one end while oil was coming out of the other! The President, convinced by the project manager, had travelled by helicopter to visit the farm and even gave Mr. Winston a Zambian diplomatic passport! The latter was probably deported once it was discovered that the oil was coming from a jerrycan! 
We saw lots of game. While the groups of hippo were rather abundant and often loud, there was also game along the river banks where the ocassional crocodile could be seen basking. Apart from the large numbers of elephants, we also spotted many impala and buffalo as well as several troops of baboons. There were also many interesting birds in addition to the expected fish eagles that dotted the shore perched on top of their favourite trees. The African skimmers (Rynchops flavirostris) were great fun to watch while flying a few centimetres above the water with their longer lower mandibule -extremely sensible to the touch- in the water. The moment it encountered a surface fish, its beak would snap shut and fly off to process its prey.
The morning passed very fast and it was soon time to return to camp, pack and start the return journey. Chris would stay longer for an afternoon fishing as his return by boat was much shorter and he wished to store a few more fish to take home.
We had gone through a great experience and we decided that the place was worth another visit.
 Mate is a traditional South American drink made by soaking dried leaves of the “yerba” plant (Ilex paraguariensis) in hot water and sucked through a metal straw from a container typically made from a calabash gourd.
What it is: As it is known nowadays, the khanga (or kanga) is a typical East African cloth (150 cm wide by 110 cm long) made out of light and colourful fabric (cotton or synthetic). It shows a wide border (pindo) all around, a symbol (small motif repeated or big motif alone, or both) in the middle area (mji) and it is usually bearing a kiswahili saying (jina), or not. It is normally sold by pairs (doti) and is mostly worn by women.
There are many ways to wrap it around (Jeannette Hanby & David Bygott, “Kangas – 101 Uses” 1984). They can also serve in multiple ways: as baby carriers, head wraps, aprons, pot holders, napkins, towels and much much more, like for covering shoes, handbags and so on… Its designs can be representative or geometrical, or both together and its price always stayed low so that anyone can afford it. The extremely light khangas are called “nyepesi”, and are very good in hot weather.
It’s history: They originated in the midst of the 19th. century and were distributed along the East African great lakes and sea shores. One of the most ancient design is the Khanga Kishutu that was usually offered to young brides (see khanga N° 27). Khangas have much evolved since they appeared. Designs and fabrics have changed as to adapt to different contexts. At the beginning of the 20th. century, Kaderdina Hajee Essak, also known as “Abdulla”, started to create designs and marked them “K.H.E. – Mali ya Abdulla”. He often added a proverb in Kiswahili. It became common then to have a message which could be religious, political, promotional, historical or philosophical. It is a short sentence presented like a proverb or a motto and which can have different meanings. The more mysterious or ambiguous the better! The first khanga designs mostly included dots in the middle area. So the khanga’s name may come out of the African guineafowl (called khanga in kiswahili) which has many little dots on her dark plumage. Some people say that it might also come from the bantu verb “kanga” which means to wrap! At first the khangas were designed and printed mostly in India, then in the Far East and Europe. But since the 50s, Tanzania and Kenya developed their own manufactories. For example in Kenya: Mountex in Nanyuki, Rivatex in Eldoret or Thika Cloth Mills.
“Apart from its protective and decorative role, a khanga is all about sending a message. It is the equivalent of the get well, greetings, or congratulations cards in the western culture but in this case the message goes a little bit beyond the normal meaning. For example, a fruit, a flower, a boat, or a bird could mean good upbringing or just the appreciation of beauty. On the other hand, a lion, a shark, or any such kind of dangerous animal could signal the sense of danger or a clear warning.” Quotation found in “Swahili language and culture” – http://www.glcom.com/hassan/kanga_history.html
More information (history, culture, uses and examples):
Jeannette Hanby & David Bygott, from “Kangas – 101 Uses”, 1984, Kibuyu Partners, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why collecting khangas?
Attraction to them: Khanga, PinkShade’s mother, acquired her pseudonym because of her demonstrative and exultant love for khangas, both the guineafowls and the pieces of fabrics. I must say that she always cherished fabrics a lot and used to buy some all over the world and include them in her household. So when she discovered these East African cultural jewels, she enjoyed them very much because they express a joyful way of life, with beautiful designs, enriched by the sayings which are like enigmas challenging us to discover their meaning. For her first visit in Kenya, I offered her very first one, N°4, which says “SAHAU YALIOPITA”, meaning “forget about the past”. It was particularly accurate as she had just become a widow a few months before. Impressed by that significant gift, she couldn’t prevent buying a few different ones in every place where we brought her to.
Surprising observation: At the end, when I noticed at her home a full drawer stuffed with bright colors, I realized that she managed to collect about 25 different designs, in only 3 short stays in Kenya. Not talking of the other khangas, coming from Tanzania, Madagascar and other countries.
Recalling and sharing: Knowing that the British Museum had a collection of about 12, I thought that it wasn’t that ridiculous at all to make a little catalogue of her Kenyan textiles showing a picture of each, with some short references. She immediately asked to combine them with mine. But see, there is some funny inversion as I hardly have 7 of them, after having stayed in the country for about 4 years! And on top of that I bought only 5 of them. One was offered by a dear friend (the precious kishutu one, N°27) and the red, white and black one with nice palms (N°17), by my dear mother ! Anyhow, altogether it makes 30 khangas. Each of them folded in 5 and piled up all together, they reach about 48 cm high, not speaking about the weight which rises up to 6 kg!
Conclusion: Now back home in Europe, we both think we miss the khangas so much, the richness of their diversity and their faculty to evolve according to events and fashions… so when do we set off and try to find some more?
Pictures and explanations of a collection of 30 khangas belonging to Pinkshade and Khanga follows and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did. At the bottom I include a link to a PDF file where you can watch the original work from where I have adapted this post.
So, here there are for you to enjoy!
HASIRA ZA MKIZI TIJARA YA MVUVI
The anger of the cuttlefish is the gain of the fisherman
La colère de la seiche fait le bonheur du pêcheur
DESIGN N° 01-2479 MADE IN KENYA
Khangas which come in dark blue colour are normally called “kanga za magharibi” (dusk kangas)
Main subject: a swordfish and a dhow between two coconut trees
Owners: Pinkshade (P) and Khanga (K)
Things don’t happen by chance
Rien ne se produit sans raison
Things don’t look as they are
Les apparences sont trompeuses
N° RR 15187 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
MALI YA ABDULLA R/K1? (5 or 9)
Main subject: Peacock
TULIZA ROHO YANGU
Breathe my soul
Eveille mon âme
DESIGN N° 01-2490 MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Coconut tree
Forget about the past
Ne te préoccupe pas du passé
DESIGN N° 01-2470 MADE IN KENYA
Border including paisleys
Owner: K (gift from P)
What roars does not last / What is famed does not last
Le succès perdure rarement
No references found… bought in Mombasa
Main subjects: Lantern and boats
UMEKUJA KUTEMBEA USIONDOKE NA UMBEA
You came to visit us, don’t leave with gossip
Tu es venu nous rendre visite, ne repars pas avec des ragots
DESIGN N° 06-3687 MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Flowers
KIJANA USIBADILISHE TABIA YAKO
Young girl, do not change your behaviour!
Jeune fille, ne te laisse pas influencer!
DESIGN N° 01-3425 MADE IN KENYA
Geometrical and vegetation inspired
HASIDI JENGA SHULE SABASI ASOME
Jealous persons are building a school where hostility can be learned
Les gens jaloux créent une école où l’on peut apprendre l’hostilité
N° 06-3898 MADE IN KENYA
Main subjects: Cashew nuts and paisleys?
Do not envy the one who loves you
Ne sois pas jaloux de celui qui t’aime
DESIGN N° 01-3076 MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Flowers
SI MZIZI SI HIRIZI BALI MOYO UMERIDHI
If no roots, no charms, at least a heart you possess
Si tu es sans famille, sans beauté, il te reste néanmoins un cœur
N° RR 15934 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
R/ 190K.H.E. REGO. (MALI YA ABDULLA) MOMBASA
Main subject: mixed paisleys and flowers
UPEMBO NA MTUNDAJI MWENYE MAKOSA NI NANI ?
Love is the reaper of who is at fault?
L’amour fauche celui qui est en faute ?
N° RR-15197 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
Khangas which come in dark blue colour are normally called “kanga za magharibi” (dusk kangas)
Main subject: Mango tree
HOHEHAHE HAKOSI SIKU YAKE
There are more than enough voices in this world (?)
Il existe au monde plus d’avis qu’on ne puisse entendre (?)
There will always be a lucky day for the lazy loiter, do not miss this day!
Il y aura toujours un jour de chance pour le paresseux, ne manque pas ce jour !
N° RR 15366 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
Inspired by vegetative subjects
MWENZANGU TUFANYE LAMSINGI
Dear friend, let’s build together strong foundations
Cher ami, tissons de solides liens
DESIGN N° 01•2686 MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Cashew nuts?
KAMA MVUVI VUA USICHEZE NA MASHUA
If you are a fisherman, fishes won’t play with your boat
Si tu es un pêcheur, les poissons ne joueront pas autour de ton bateau
Comme on fait son lit on se couche !
Main subject: Fruit? Cherimoya?
TUFURAHIE MIAKA 25 YA UHURU
Let us celebrate 25 years of freedom
Fêtons 25 ans d’indépendance
N° RR 15882 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
This model is part of the British Museum collections
It was created in 1988 to celebrate Kenya’s independence
Main subject: White mulberries?
Owner: K (doti)
MPANGO SI MATUMIZI
The plan has not been applied
Le plan n’a pas été mis à exécution
N° RR 15818 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Handbags
SEMA NAYE TARATIBU MPUMBAZE KWA MAKINI
Talk to them calmly and attentively
Parle-leur calmement et attentivement
DESIGN N° 06-3910 MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Palm leaves
Owners: K and P (split doti!)
MIMI NA WEWE HATUACHANI
Me and you are bound together
Toi et moi sommes inséparables
MOUNTEX NANYUKI KS 200
Main subject: Flowers
Owner: P (doti)
HASIDI SI MTU KANDO NA JIRANI YAKO
A jealous person is never far from your neighbour
Il peut toujours se trouver quelqu’un de jaloux dans ton entourage
MOUNTEX NANYUKI KS 209
Main subjects: Grapes and hearts
DUNIYA NI MATEMBEZI
The world is about walking, seeing and learning
Découvrir le monde, c’est marcher, observer et apprendre
Les voyages forment la jeunesse
N° RR 15835 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
MALI YA ABDULLA 134
Main subjects: Seaweeds?
NAPENDA LAKINI NASHINDWA
I would like but I am unable
Je voudrais bien mais je ne peux pas
DESIGN N° 01-2226 MADE IN KENYA
Khangas which come in dark blue colour are normally called “kanga za magharibi” (dusk kangas)
Main subjects: Orange tree and cashew nuts?
Do not discriminate me for nothing
Ne me discrimine pas en vain
N° RR 15225 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
Main subjects: Pineapple and mulberries?
KUPENDANA SI AIBU
Those who love one another do not feel ashamed
Il n’y a pas de honte pour ceux qui s’aiment
N° RR 15865 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
Border including paisleys
AJIDHANIYE AMESIMAMA AANGALIE ASIANGUKE
Who thinks to stand firm should be careful not to fall
Celui qui se croit solide doit veiller à ne pas faiblir
DESIGN N° 01 3064 MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Sunflower
Owner: P (doti)
MCHUNGULIA BAHARI SI MSAFIRI
Who only looks at the sea is not a traveller
Celui qui ne fait que regarder la mer n’est pas un marin
Dreaming is not enough, acting is necessary
Rêver ne suffit pas, il est nécessaire d’agir
Border including paisleys
Don’t forget to worship
N’oublie pas de prier / N’oublie pas de vénérer
N° RR 15468 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
Khangas which come in dark blue colour are normally called “kanga za magharibi” (dusk kangas)
Main subject: the Taj Mahal !
N° RR 15165 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
ANCIENT DESIGN KISHUTU
This khanga is said to have one of the oldest and most well-known designs. Called “khanga kishutu” it was traditionally worn on the East African Coast and Zanzibar by a bride on her wedding day. The design usually comes without a saying although sometimes it appears with a saying at the bottom.
The red-black-white ones like this one are called “khanga kishutu cha harusi”.
There is a blue version which is more popular in Mombasa.
This model is part of the British Museum collections
It somehow reminds of certain carpets designs
Owner: P (gift from a dear friend)
Do not blame me for nothing
Ne me blâme pas en vain
DESIGN N° 06-3462 MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Pineapple
NIVISHE NILISHE UKISHINDWA NIRUDISHE
Dress me, feed me but If you cannot, return me
Si tu n’as pas les moyens de m’entretenir, oublie-moi
N° RR 15901 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
Main subject: Flowers
UMSAFIAYE NIA MOYONI ANA MAWAZO
Those who have good intentions at heart (first) may have other thoughts later
Ceux qui ont de bonnes intentions au départ peuvent développer d’autres pensées
N° RR 16065 RIVATEX ELDORET MADE IN KENYA
This design looks like “Art Nouveau” style
Owner: P (doti)
 She chose “Khanga” as her pseudonym because of her fondness for these cloths.
This post is based on a brochure prepared by Khanga and Pinkshade. Here is a link to it:
The Rufous-bellied thrush (Turdus rufiventris) is a songbird that occurs in most of eastern and southeast Brazil (where it is the national bird), Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and central and northern Argentina. While in Uruguay they are known as “zorzales”, here in Salta they are called “Zorzales chalchaleros” or just “Chalchaleros”. While the English name for the species describes its distinctive reddish-orange underparts, the vernacular name in Salta reflects its preference for feeding on the fruits of a tree known as Chal-chal.
The Rufous-bellied thrush -very similar to the African Olive thrush (Turdus olivaceus)- occurs in different habitats (forests and urban treed areas) and it is common around rural houses where its song is one of the pleasures of rural living. An omnivorous bird that prefers arthropods and fruit it can eat broken maize during our dry winter season when food becomes scarce. As I mentioned earlier, one of its favourite fruits are produced by the Chal-chal (Allophylus edulis).
We do have Chal-chal trees in the farm but not close to the house. However, about ten years back we planted a row of Hawthorn bushes (Crataegus spp.) to act as a wind-breaker against the predominant eastern winds that often blow in this latitude. This resulted in a rather unexpected high wall of trees that not only help to stop the wind but also yield what I estimate to be several hundred kilogrammes of red berries, towards the end of the summer months.
This plethora of fruits attracts a number of birds that include the large Dusky-legged guans (Penelope obscura), Chachalacas (Ortalis canicollis), Toco toucans (Ramphastos toco), Blue-and-yellow tanager (Rauenia bonariensis) and Sayaca tanager (Thraupis sayaca). Although the latter are rather spectacular, the most common birds that come to feed on the hawthorn are the Rufous-bellied thrushes. We probably have a few dozens of them constantly moving to and from the red berries.
Year after year, the resulting thrush heavy and uncontrolled air traffic causes casualties announced by loud bangs coming from our only large east-facing window in the house (that also faces the row of hawthorn trees about twenty metres away). Usually, about two or three thrushes (no other species do this) either die or get stunned after heating the glass. So far we have accepted this as an unavoidable consequence of the increased number of birds brought about by the abundance of food.
This year, however, the suicides (birdicides?) reached alarming levels and yesterday we had four hits (three dead and one recovered), a rather alarming number! Although the first bird that hit during early morning recovered, a second one crashed about an hour later so we decided to do something about it.
I remembered having read somewhere that if you drew lines on the glass with a highlight pen, somehow the birds eyesight would see them from far and avoid the window. I drew the lines and, satisfied with my job I called Mabel to see it. The moment we were close to the window a bird nearly hit Mabel’s head and the loud thud indicated another fatal outcome! The fluorescent lines did not work so, do not try this at home!
So, “encouraged” by Mabel I placed a rather obstrusive zig-zag of flourescent yellow tape that occupied the top of the glass, at the area the sky was reflected. We decided that it was better to interfere with our view rather than nhaving more casualties!
So, proud with my work but now tired, I went for my obligatory siesta (a pleasure of these regions!) to recharge my batteries.
When one hour later I woke up, Mabel was very upset as a fourth bird had killed itself!
In desperation and after some more thinking, we remembered that we had bought some bird netting to protect our fruits. We placed the netting in front of the window in a way that resisted me throwing the Bolivian guiro that was the closest to a thrush I could find for a test!
Below I show you the netting and a video showing how we expect it to work.
We believe that the deaths will stop now but our discussion has turned now to resove the reason that compels the birds to do this.
A couple of years back we thought that the birds could see a mirror that we have in front of the window and tried to fly through. As the birds continued hitting the glass when we covered the mirror, this idea was abandoned.
However, we are convinced that the birds see the reflection of the sky in the window and try to fly through.
The presence of predators, in particular the Sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) make us also believe that it could chase the thrushes and the latter, trying to escape, bump themselves against the window. In favour of this hypothesis is that we have seen the hawk catching thrushes and other smaller birds around us. However, it is unlikely that the hawk would try to kill four birds the same day when one would be sufficient for a few days.
That leaves us with the last hypothesis that had been put forward by Mabel: the ripe fruits of the hawthorn ferment in their crops and their small livers are not able to process the resulting alcohol with the result that they get drunk! The fact that the berries are ripe now and likely to ferment faster, supports this hypothesis. In addition, after “googling” the idea, I found that at least one similar event involving the hawthorn and Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorumhas) happened in the USA  and other instances of drunk birds also exist .
 I did not find an English name for this species.
 S. D. Fitzgerald, J. M. Sullivan and R. J. Everson (1990). Suspected Ethanol Toxicosis in Two Wild Cedar Waxwings. Avian Diseases 34, pp. 488-490.