Zimbabwean Bobsled Team

Mr. Black

We were striking out on elephants. Every morning would find us on fresh tracks that would invariably lead across the border into Mozambique. The bulls who opted out of international travel usually caught our scent in the constantly shifting wind and sought their entertainment elsewhere. We drove, we walked, we woke up early and repeated the cycle.     

Elephants and people don’t mix very well, especially when said humans’ survival can depend on a tiny, unfenced crop of backyard maize. You’d be pissed too if you hauled bucketloads of river water every day only to have your harvest eaten and stomped in a single night. Let’s just say that the locals were happy to direct us toward a few problem bulls who were hanging out near their rural village. 

The bulls wouldn’t come to water until late afternoon, so we decided to take a break in the shade of a dry riverbed. We lounged, shooting the shit in English and Shona, respectively. The PH smoked, the trackers napped, and the game scouts fiddled with their AKs. 

On the high bluff above us, a handful of barefoot children played, eyeing us with curiosity and getting increasingly brave. Perhaps in anticipation of a productive afternoon, one of the trackers began to sharpen the blade of his small axe on a nearby rock. I heard chatter above us followed by the blood-curdling scream of a young boy. The trackers laughed and the PH translated to me that the older children had told the youngest that we were preparing to come cut their heads off. 

I was the little brother at my house, so I was sympathetic to the familiar horror of a false death threat. I decided to lighten the mood, blaring “Sweet Home Alabama” on my iPhone. My suspicion that Skynyrd is the universal language bore fruit when the entire troop of children began dancing and clapping to the sound of Ed King’s simple but brilliant riff. 

The festive mood in full swing, the kids decided that it would be fun to slide down the hillside on a 55-gallon plastic drum cut in half lengthwise. The first attempt went only a few feet, the rider quickly toppling over into the sand. The second rider did a bit better, finding a steeper line that allowed him to gather more speed before he tumbled ass-over-teakettle down the embankment. 

Third time was a charm. The oldest of the group took the plastic helm, gliding the half drum like an expert, nearly reaching the axe murderers down at the bottom. Cheers erupted and the American judge gave the kid a perfect 10. 

No elephants were slain that day, but the Zimbabwean Bobsled Team was born.        

From the FE Films Archive

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