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The Visit

Story ID:3092
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Writers Conference:$500 2007 Family Memories Writing Project
Location:Manzini Swaziland
Year:1962
Person:Uncle John
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To illustrate my father’s propensity for practical humor, I shall relate the following tale. The first time my family was visited by my Uncle John, my father took full advantage of the deeply imbedded prejudices most people had regarding the “Dark Continent” in the early 1960s. Uncle John had never come to Africa. As a young man he left Ireland and went to sea, working as ship’s doctor to see the world. He eventually settled in Australia, but his knowledge and experience of Africa was supplied, chiefly, by Tarzan stories and movies, most of which were shot in the jungles of Florida!

As soon as he knew when my poor Uncle John was arriving, my father arranged a brief time-share swap with a Swazi friend, whose hut was about 20 yards from our house, behind some fairly thick bush. When my poor uncle arrived he was brought from the airport by ox-cart to the grass hut where my mother crawled out, dressed in animal skins and greeted him warmly. His suitcases were taken into the hut and put against the rounded hay-grass wall and he was told that a piece of cloth would be put up to give him some privacy. Then my parents raved about how wonderful it was to live in Africa and that they were fortunate to own a small paraffin stove with which to make tea for my uncle. My unfortunate uncle tried his hardest to hide his shock and the overwhelming concern he felt for all of us, pretending that he was very comfortable sitting on the hard packed earth with his legs crossed after a long flight in a Douglas DC 3.

“We’re so happy you could visit John, the children have been dying to meet you. Will you have a little tchwala?” asked my father, offering him some of the milky gray beer the Swazis make from Sorghum corn.

“Well, I’ll tell you Hugh, they gave us so much to drink on the plane, that I’m fair sloshing with liquids… thanks anyway. By the way, are those things supposed to be floating in it?”

My poor Uncle tried so hard to look unconcerned. He had brought gifts and those had to be distributed. We were instructed to go into paroxysm of joy and we did. He looked like he would burst with empathy.

Then my father gave me the high sign and I said I had to “see a man about a dog” which was how we said nature was calling. I left the hut and found the tape recorder which we’d placed in the long grass with an extension cord leading from our house and started the tape. I then ran back to the hut quickly and ducked inside the low arched doorway, barring it with the rough stick lattice door. When they all looked at me curiously I said:

“I thought I heard something in the bush… it’s probably nothing.”

Suddenly there was the deep, guttural growl of a hungry lion, quite near, courtesy of EMI Sound Effect Recording Studios. This sound is hair raising even if you know it’s a tape, so I know my poor Uncle must have lost several shades of color in that darkened hut.

My father said: “Don’t worry John, they haven’t taken anyone yet, they’re just interested in the buck around here.”

“There are buck around here?” asked my quaking Uncle

“Oh yes and the lions prefer venison, I’m told.”

“It’s a preference then?”

“Yes, yes, not to worry…”

“A preference means they could decide they’ve had their fill and are looking for something exotic for a change…”

“Well now, you’ve got a point there John. I hadn’t thought of that” said my cruel father.

“Do you not have a more substantial door?”

All of the above was said in a nervous whisper

After some time pursuing this cruel hoax my father said that we needed some sugar and that we could go over to the neighbors’ house and get some. He explained that they were away, but had left him a key so that he could take care of the place and every now and again, he could take some sugar, milk or butter according to our need. Uncle John was led through the thick bush in the dark, with all the accompanying noises of the bush at night, until they got to the fence of this lovely house. The gate was carefully unlocked and with hushed voices they entered the yard. As promised the keys opened the front door and my uncle was led unknowingly into our house and told not to touch anything.

Uncle John waited, looking around, while my parents went into the kitchen and fought to keep from laughing until suddenly my uncle spied a picture on the mantle piece. It was a picture of my father’s family, five boys, a girl, mother and father and my Uncle John knew! The laughter continued throughout my father’s life as the story was told many times over the years. My Uncle explained later that he had wanted to react by playing along that night until he could discover a way to turn the tables, but he was unable to contain his laughter and the whole confidence game was exposed.

Uncle John enjoyed the joke so much that he perpetrated the same hoax on another brother when he came to visit Uncle John and Aunty Bunny in Australia.