Letter from Tanzania
from Fr. Wilfred Skoyles and Mr. Peter Skoyles
Past Pupils of the School

Liwale P.O., via Nachingwea

Fr. Wilfred, Mr. & Mrs. P.W. Skoyles request you to join them on a safari into the African Bush. Passengers travel at their own risk -!!!!!!!!!!!

Today we are leaving Liwale Mission to visit Barikiwa School, 40 miles away. We will be away for at least a day, but it could be a lot longer: You are therefore asked to bring enough food and water for three days. The rainy season has not finished yet and everything is covered with thick greasy mud so you are advised to wear knee high rubber boots, old clothes, and a hat to protect your head from the boiling sun. It is as well to bring a good water-proof coat in case we (are) caught in a torrential down-pour. Do not forget your torches for we may have to spend the night stuck in the mud and you will find the African bush very dark if there is no moon and it gives one quite a fright to step on a poisonous spider or a snake. We do not advise you to bring valuable items such as cameras or binoculars as you will find them an encumbrance when swimming rivers

It is six o'clock in the morning. The sun, huge and red, is rising quickly from behind a bank of rain clouds on the horizon. The river valley is full of white, fluffy mist, looking like a snow field in the early morning light. The breeze seems quite cold and we all shiver in our thin shirts although the temperature is as high as 70 or 80 degrees.

We are taking both cars with us today as we expect trouble when we cross the Makata river. Before we can leave there is a lot to be done. While it was still dark our mechanic was busy filling up the petrol tanks, ten gallons for each plus a spare four gallons can. He also checked the oil and water besides testing the cars thoroughly for if anything goes wrong we will be well over 100 miles from the nearest garage

The next thing is to load 200ft of thick rope on the roof for the winch. Unfortunately you will have to sit in the back of the Land Rover, unfortunately because there are no seats and you will be bouncing around together with an assortment of spades, axes, ropes, lacks, cans of water and tools.

We are ready. The stillness of the African morning is shattered as the engines of both cars start up and roar into life.

Five minutes after leaving the mission we are in the bush. The road is very sandy and the gears whine as the wheels struggle to get a grip in the soft sand. Now we are at the top of a hill and in front of us we see range after range of tree-clad hills In each valley we have to cross we know there will be a river some with crude bridges but many without. We know, also, that to reach the rivers, we will have to chum our way through black, water-logged mud.

While we are waiting for Fr. Wilfred to return from Barikiwa School we will take a short walk along a little foot-path to visit Bwana Tabora and his family. On either side the grass is way above our heads, 15 ft high in places, and ideal cover for any animals that may be about! Keep your eyes on where you are walking in case you step on a snake! If you get bitten it is almost 200 miles to the nearest doctor. Stop! Look at those tracks in the dust, a chui (leopard) has passed this way today. It was not far from here that a man was attacked by a leopard and although he eventually managed to kill it with his bare hands, he suffered some terrible bites and scratches on his arms.

We are almost there now, see that little mud and grass house. You will be expected to shake hands with him and then we will all sit in the shade of the little verandah. Mr. Tabora is a Moslem, you can see his three wives over there preparing today's meal (the only one). This morning early they were busy pounding the maize into flour in a hollowed out tree trunk. It took them two hours to grind enough for the family meal. Feeling hungry? Good because we have been invited to share the meal with them. To start with he gives us a bowl of "Pombe" (native beer) it looks like potato soup, but with all sorts of odd things floating in it, even an odd fly or two. When you have drunk you must pass the bowl on to the next person in line.

The meal is ready, but ladies you will have to leave the men now to go around the back of the house to eat separately. First we will be given a small bowl of water - do not drink it - wash your right hand in it! Do not expect knives and forks, one eats with ones fingers. A large bowl of "ugali" is placed in the centre and we all sit crossed legged around it. Just take a lump of ugali - it is lust like porridge - in your right hand, roll it into a nice round ball then dip it into a bowl of sauce and eat it. Better eat quickly or there won't be any left. Well did you enjoy it ? It improves when one gets used to it.

These are his children he is introducing. Five of them. The youngest, two years old, is still being fed by his mother. The eldest, ten years old, wants to attend our mission school at Barikiwa, but it is over 20 miles away which would take him 5 hours by foot. His father says it is too far even though their neighbour's boy does it every day. It is not only the problem of distance either. One child on his way to school (12 years old) was dragged into the bush by a hyena - all they found of him was two of his fingers.

It is time to say good-bye now. "Kwa Heri" Have you noticed how the river has risen since we left. It must be raining hard somewhere. I hope Father can get across before it rises too much or he will have to leave the car, perhaps for a month or two, and swim across - a dangerous business a) because of water snakes (there is even supposed to be a two headed snake inhabiting Liwale rivers!) b) because of Bilharzia. A small insect bores into the toes and from there spreads to every part of the body - very painful.

The river is in a deep valley full of palm trees. It is getting dark now and huge black clouds are swelling up over the hills behind us. The thunder is no longer growling in the distance but crashing overhead. Lets get back and shelter in the car. The rain is dashing against the windows, pounding on the canvas roof and drawing down a white curtain to obscure the view of the river. Father Wilfred had better hurry up.

Was that a car I heard? Lets go down to the river bank and see. These rain coats are not much good against rain like this. The water lust runs down inside the collar and comes out like miniature waterfall round ones legs.

The other Landrover is arriving, appearing like a phantom out of the mist of rain. Who will volunteer to wade across the river to bring one end of the rope back, as one end will be attached to the winch on Father's car, and the other to ours to act as an anchor.

The Land rover is almost in the middle now with the water curling over the bonnet. If it gets any deeper the engine will stop and make the winch useless. It is still moving, its wheels ploughing their way through the thick sandy river bed. The strain is so great that our car is being pulled backwards by the weight. Everybody PUSH!

The engine has stopped and the car stands silent amidst the foaming brown flood. Do you hear the roaring from further up the river?

......That is a wall of water that has broken through a dam of fallen tree trunks and rubbish and is rushing towards us, twenty feet high! There is only one chance with every-body pushing my car and in bottom gear we might be able to pull Father out of the river before he is washed away! (The Africans always say one should not cross a river after four o'clock as it will be soon too dark to find the body till the next day!)

Now we are entering a dark forest, the cars slow down and we all sit and watch a troop of monkeys at the side of the road. There are about twenty or thirty of them some with young clinging to their backs. We stare at them, they stare back, most annoyed at our noisy intrusion into their home. One of the older monkeys throws a half eaten maize cob defiantly at us and as if at a signal they disappear into the shadows, swinging from tree to tree.

We are going very slowly now, we are in low ratio four wheel drive, churning slowly up a 1 in 3 hill. On either side of us the rain has gouged out deep trenches. We stop and watch Fr. Wilfred in the leading car inch his way carefully through the obstacles. Farther up the hill he stops and beckons us on. We go very slowly feeling our way inch by inch. The next second one of the wheels slips over the crumbling bank to be followed quickly by another. Everyone makes a frantic grab for something solid to hang onto as, to the accompaniment of flying, clattering, spades and other equipment, the car rolls on its side, the two offside wheels spinning in the air. The engine stops and all is startling quiet. After the initial shock everything gets back to normal again for this is not the first time by any means that this has happened. Already Fr. is uncoiling the rope from the roof and as the first car is turned around so that we can use the winch fitted to its front, our passengers climb carefully out of the windows. The winch whines and slowly my car is pulled protestingly out of its trench and onto a more normal level. Soon we are speeding on again, down into the valley, bumping over the tree roots that jut through the surface and swaying from one side of the road to the other to avoid deep pot-holes.

The order goes out: "Close the windows!" as we crash through a river, the spray reaching higher than the roof and temporarily blackening the wind-screen. The wind-screen wipers whirring we rush on.

Before us lies the Makata river. The bridge has been washed away but we must find another place to cross so that we can deliver important school supplies, food and medicine to our teacher on the other side who has been cut off now for three months.

"Everybody out! There is no road down to the river now so we must cut a new one. With spades and axes we all get down to building a new road one hundred yards long through the virgin jungle. Two hours later we reach the river bank and we are greeted by the sight of sand dunes and rushing water. Hilda and I think it looks lust like a deserted beach at home. On this side the bank is low but on the other it is a steep six feet

We watch from a safe distance as the rope from the winch is carried over to the far bank and tied firmly to a tree. The rope pulls taut and the Land Rover squelches through the water-logged sand into the water. The water is only 1ft. deep but beneath it is quick-sand. The front wheels reach the bank and the bank is so steep that the car is standing on end, its rear lights under the water its bonnet pointing skywards. Two hours later the car is across. It has been decided that the first car will carry on to Barikiwa while we stay here, for on the horizon ugly storm clouds are gathering and in two hours there could be ten to twenty feet of water in the river.

The engine is screaming away, the wheels spinning helplessly in the mud - Push harder! There is a crowd of Africans pushing now and it is moving slowly forward towards the bank. With a sudden jerk the car clears the bank and is on firm ground at last. Soon we are coiling up the water-soaked and clumsy rope. I am so sorry that some of you fell on your faces in the mud when the car shot forward just now - "Pole Sane", (Very sorry), that is just one of those things one expects on safari in Africa.

Now we have a long, wet, cold drive back to the mission. That is one thing one never sees in a film on Africa - people shivering with cold!

Well I hope you enjoyed your safari with us - They are not always so exciting as this one but in Africa one never knows what will happen!!! Anyway you have seen a view of Africa one does not get in the films, pouring rain, freezing rain, heavy clouds, swollen rivers and mud!

- Join us again sometime -


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