A Love of Travel – and Warthogs

My name is Sheena Wateridge. I was born in Kent, my parents came from north-west Scotland and I have now lived in Starston since 2019. However, I have been fortunate enough to travel widely and for 20 years of my life I lived in Africa, a time that I really enjoyed and it was there that my passion for warthogs began.

I love warthogs, warts and all, as they are full of character. They may be one of the ugliest animals but they have endearing features and are very plucky. I saw a film once of a mother warthog defending her young from a lioness. She kept charging the lioness until eventually it ran away.

In the 1960s I worked in London as secretary to the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Their offices were within the Palace of Westminster so I got to know the House of Commons well and loved the area.

The greatest thrill of the job was attending plenary CPA conferences throughout the Commonwealth. In 1964 the conference was held in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1965 in Wellington, New Zealand. On the way home from that meeting I took some leave and visited Ceylon (as it was then) and Singapore. In 1966 the meeting was held in Ottawa, Canada and in 1968 it was Nassau in the Bahamas. I also attended an executive committee meeting in Valletta, Malta.

The meeting places may have been exotic but the trips were also hard work. Our CPA team would leave London three weeks prior to the conference in order to prepare for the onslaught of 200 delegates from 30 Commonwealth countries. They would spend two weeks in the host country having meetings in parliament and touring the country.

Entertainment was a major factor and included limbo dancing on the beach in Jamaica, a trip to the Rotorua hot springs and geysers in New Zealand, cocktail parties and dinners hosted by Prime Ministers and Governors with many speeches. There wasn’t a lot of spare time.

In 1967 I met my husband, Alan, who at the time was working in London at Gemini News Service, part of The Guardian newspaper. We married later that year.  

For the first 13 years of his life Alan had lived in Egypt as his father was working in the foreign office there.  When he was only 12 years old he caught a Nile Perch – a record catch. After schooling on HMS Conway he joined the Merchant Navy and from there he attended Eaton Hall for officer training in the army. He applied to join the Kenya Rifle Regiment but was posted to the Northern Rhodesia Rifle Regiment instead.

During this period he was recruited to help with Operation Noah, the rescue of animals and relocation of villages in preparation for the construction of the Kariba Dam hydro electric power station across the mighty Zambezi River.

Next came active service in the Malayan Emergency. You can imagine the adventures which unfolded as he recruited Zambian men from villages to serve. It is said that village chieftains were only too willing to recommend their most difficult subjects. These young men hardly wore shoes so army boots were initially a challenge! Also, Zambia being a land-locked country, they had never seen the sea. To cut short a long story of escapades, Alan’s Zambian platoon received a recommendation for spending the longest time – three months – in the Malayan Jungle fighting Chinese terrorists.   

After working with the United Africa Company (Unilever) in Nigeria as a commodity manager in the 1950s, he returned to Lusaka, where he became MD of the Zambia Publishing Company which produced educational books and the national daily newspaper, the Zambia Daily Mail.

Also in 1962 he stood as an Independent candidate in the Zambian election. He was unsuccessful, but throughout his life he had many political connections, including Kenneth Kaunda, the first President of Zambia elected when the country gained independence in 1964.

In 1969 my first son Justin was born, two years after Alan and I married in London. Alan wanted to return to Africa so we flew to Lusaka in 1970. Thereafter, I spent 20 incredible years there appreciating the delightful people, idyllic climate, relaxed lifestyle, unforgettable scenery, sunsets and sundowners. And, of course, warthogs.

When I first arrived in Lusaka I went to work for the speaker of the National Assembly but only lasted 6 weeks as I was missing my baby too much. Thereafter I worked on a part time basis.  One of the jobs I did included being Executive Secretary of the Zambian Wildlife Society whose patron was David Shepherd. It was at this time that he visited Luangwa and Kafue National Parks to paint the wildlife – particularly elephants. I also worked for a legal firm where I met Levy Mwanawasa, a young lawyer who subsequently became the third President of Zambia. My second son Jonathan was born in Zambia in 1972.

Latterly I owned and operated a flower shop in downtown Lusaka which was an enormous challenge as, at that time, very few farmers grew flowers and none were imported. I used a lot of bush grasses and interesting foliage and soon an enterprising Zambian lady started growing wonderful roses and other imported flowers. When the Queen visited Lusaka in 1979 I prepared a bouquet of frangipani for her. Her lady in waiting was very impressed and apparently the Queen herself liked it.

With my family I spent many happy years visiting game parks and the Victoria Falls and Alan pursued his love of fishing. He started the Lusaka Yacht Club which blossomed and they held several yachting events on the Kafue River. This could be quite alarming on occasions as the river was frequented by hippos and crocodiles and, not being an accomplished sailor, I was always frightened of falling off our yacht, a Yachting Monthly Senior class named Drinkard!

In 1965 Southern Rhodesia had declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) and over the next ten years there was a great deal of fighting amongst local political factions.  You will probably be aware of the names Joshua Nkomo, Bishop Muzorewa and especially Robert Mugabe.  Talks were continuing with Britain, South Africa and other neighbouring African states.  The guerrilla offensive continued for years.

Of course, imports to Zambia were also affected during this conflict. The current corona virus pandemic was not the first time I have been short of lavatory paper!

Our house was in President’s Lane, Lusaka, just behind State House where Kenneth Kaunda lived.  Lusaka Golf Course was just half a mile from us. Joshua Nkomo was living in a house down our lane. One night a helicopter landed on the golf course dropping off special Rhodesian forces with the intention of capturing Nkomo. He had already fled but his guards started shooting at the Rhodesians and were running down our lane and through our garden. Our family security guard banged on our front door to be let in. He was petrified and said,  “I am not a man tonight”. Even our dogs had their tails between their legs! It was fortuitous that our two sons were soundly asleep and the first they knew of it was when they saw the smoldering remains of Nkomo’s house on the way to school next day!

During this time I also worked for the Zambia Canada Wheat Project and was paid in foreign exchange which was far better than Zambian Kwacha! This also meant that we were lucky enough to afford to send our sons to boarding school back in the UK. Indeed we were relieved that they were safely at school when Alan and I had a terrifying experience several years later…

At that time we were living in a bungalow. One night we were attacked at 1.00 am by a gang of thieves all pretty high on marijuana. They threw a rock through our bedroom window and shouted “Give us money”. Alan threatened them with a gas gun and they backed off for a while. They had broken all the security lights with the swimming pool scoop. Telephone wires had been cut. The gang consisted of 8 men. After holding them off for about 20 minutes they broke in through the windows and then rushed at Alan, hitting him on the head and breaking fingers of his right hand which he had put over his head for protection.

Meantime I had locked myself in the lavatory. The door was kicked down and I was told by the leader of the gang to go into the adjoining bathroom where they had put Alan who was bleeding profusely. We stayed in petrified silence for about 40 minutes. We could hear them going through the house and our belongings but suddenly there was silence. We waited 15 minutes or so and then ventured out to find devastation. They had pulled down curtains to wrap their spoils in – silver, cameras, radios and so on. Alan was furious because they had taken his bottle of whisky and cigarettes! 

After the attack, I was very nervous about living in Lusaka and was relieved when Alan’s job took us to the Cayman Islands for a year soon after this. We lived in a condominium right on the beach, had access to a swimming pool and, initially, it felt like paradise. However, the island is only 22 miles long by 4 miles wide and you can get tired of sea and sand. I worked at the Cayman Turtle Farm which had a retail side and a research branch. There were approximately 20 pools which contained turtles of differing sizes – some as large as 8 foot and weighing around 800 lbs (360 kg).  This was before turtle products such as tortoiseshell jewellery, cosmetics, soap, burgers and soup were banned in USA.  My leaving present was a hybrid turtle shell which hangs in my bathroom to this day.

Alan and I returned to the UK in 1990 but we both missed Africa and continued to do so until Alan’s death in 2007.

Back in the UK I began working for Jardine Matheson in the City of London where I had an amazing thirteen years. Thanks to the generosity of their travel company I was able to visit Mexico City, Hong Kong – where Jardine’s roots lie – and New York via Concorde.

And now I live in Starston where I am very happy surrounded by many memories of my time in Africa. There are no warthogs in Starston, of course, but I still have my family of warthogs around me to remind me of those happy years. 

Sheena Wateridge