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Zambia April 1967

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Flying in to Ndola Zambia on the C130 Hercules

When we decided that I should join my husband on his assignment in Zambia I had no idea the amount of preparation a journey like that would entail.

My first stop was at American Express Travel Agency in Atlanta. I think we stumped them as they had no idea where Ndola, Zambia was or how to get there, but they did give me all the advice necessary to get Passports, visas, traveller’s checks, inoculation certificates and eventually airline tickets.

Besides finding tenants for our home I had to sell our 1965 Mercury sedan. Packing up everything and putting things in storage was not new, but determining what to take to Zambia for myself and my two little boys was.

We were pretty excited when we got the news of Charles’ first overseas assignment. Lockheed was sending him to Ndola Zambia as a Technical Representative to Zambian Air Cargo.

Where in the world is Zambia? Well it once was Northern Rhodesia, but had gained its independence from Britain in 1963. The transition was amicable, and the British were still training Zambians in administrative duties. Dr. Kenneth Kaunda was the first President of Zambia and they had just minted their own money now Kwatchas and Ingwes instead of Pounds Shillings and pennies.

It is a landlocked country centrally located on the continent of Africa just south of the Congo and west of Malawi and Tanzania. It is next door to Zimbabwe which used to be Rhodesia where there was a lot of fighting before they got their independence.

Charles got that assignment because he was the only Rep who had his A. & E. Licenses and Certificates, and this customer would need to have that to certify civilian maintenance. Most Lockheed assignments are Military and do not have the same requirements.

Zambian Air Cargo had contracted to buy four Hercules Aircraft to haul copper ore from Ndola to the port at Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. The mining companies lost so much copper with trucks going off the terrible roads across country. It was felt that flying it out would be better. The flights looked empty because it didn’t take very much copper to reach the payload limit. This was at a time when the price of copper was worth the expense.

My oldest son had been in school only one year in Georgia, and the youngest would start school a year early in Zambia. The school system and the culture of Zambia was still very British, which would be fine with me since I was educated in Scotland.

My youngest son had just celebrated his 5th birthday and I convinced him that we should pack all his gifts in the big steamer trunk we were shipping to Zambia and he would have a something to look forward to in our new home. A steamer trunk is not very big, so we made quite a game of what could go into the trunk.

My little boys had to get passports and I had to have my British passport renewed. Since I was a registered alien in the U.S.A. I also had to have a re-entry permit so I would not lose my legal alien status when I returned to the USA. These re-entry permits are only good for one year so I either had to return to the U.S.A.n within one year or send the permit (like another passport) to Immigration to be renewed which would take weeks.

We had to get visas from the Zambian government which was not easy since there was no Zambian consulate in Atlanta. We also had to get many inoculations certified in a valid record to be sent with the passports, registered mail, to the Zambian Embassy in Washington DC to get visas to live in Zambia.

Getting all the shots proved to be a challenge for our doctors too. There was very little demand for typhoid, typhus, cholera or hepatitis vaccinations. We had to go to the Health Department in Atlanta to get Smallpox and Yellow Fever. The injections had to be broken down into smaller doses for my four-year-old and it would take 3 jabs for him and only one for me.

The inoculations broken down into doses small enough for the children was worrying. Would the shots make them ill or have reactions? There were so many that we were required to have to be able to be admitted to Zambia. Cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, typhoid, typhus, bubonic plague to name a few. It turned out that Tuberculosis was the biggest threat as it was very common in Zambia.

An adult can get most inoculations in one or two shots, but my 4-year-old had to get so many that the nurses became very sympathetic to his tearful reproach. Each time they had to administer the needle into his small behind they said, “bless his little heart”. They said this so many times my son thought that was part of the ordeal and he would mutter “Bless my heart” as he suffered another piercing.

We made a game out of packing a large trunk to be shipped out to our new home. “What items would be useful to us in Ndola?”

The weather in Zambia was reported to be warmer than that of Georgia (it was not – Georgia was hotter and more humid) so we packed summer clothes for the boys and some for my husband and myself.

We put in the trunk the presents Neil had received for his 5th birthday on the eve of our departure. There was a mini record player and records, a slinky, silly putty, an assortment of matchbox cars, colouring books and crayons and some sports equipment. We added a couple of large cans of Folgers coffee for dad and off it went on a mysterious journey.

We broke our journey to Zambia in Scotland so I could visit all my family there and let my sons get to know their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother. When my plane landed in Edinburgh my cousin was there with nieces and nephews and his cine camera to record the event.

Customs could not believe I had nothing to declare when they went through my luggage. The diligent customs officer looked disbelieving at me as he asked,

“Ye didna bring ony booze fer yer family?”

I felt guilty at that point, but I had not considered that with all the other important items to bring and really did not have “anything to declare”.

We settled into a wonderful few weeks of Scottish Highland sightseeing, castles galore, seaside picnics with family, rides on double decker buses to visit aunties and trips on trains to see Granny. My boys were impressed with everything, but puzzled when we pumped up the primus stove to make tea to have with our picnic in a shelter at Kinghorn because it was raining too hard to sit in the sand. My older son, Andrew, kept asking " Do they have the air-conditioning on outside in Scotland?”

Milk delivered by horse drawn carts was another first for my children. The boys chatted with the milkman and the horse whenever they could. Milk Delivery by horse and cart was not seen in Georgia so I suggested that we get a picture of us with the milkman with the bottles of milk in the wire basket, and the horse.

I was taken by surprise one morning early when my son knocked on my bedroom door and said, “Here's the milkman mom, he says you can take his picture”. There he was with the milkman (and milk bottles in the wire basket) looking round my bedroom door at me still half asleep in bed.

Since my sons were so young, I was able to kit them out in kilts with no resistance. When we arrived in Ndola, after a gruelling 13-hour flight with many delays and stops in Beirut, Addis Ababa and Nairobi, we were dizzy and the boys were wearing kilts.

I was somewhat alarmed when we had to disembark in Beirut and go out on to the Tarmac to identify our luggage escorted by armed military. The airport was patrolled by soldiers with weapons at the ready. The boys thought this was very exciting.

All this should not have been surprising with the Israeli Arab conflict unfolding at that time and the raid on Beirut Airport in 1968.

Upon arrival in Ndola, we were not allowed to process through customs and immigration because we were not immunized against tuberculosis!

After all the indignities of the many needles there was to be one more. There was no vaccine for TB in the US, but since we had come from the UK and I had a British Passport I should have had that inoculation in my shot record.

While the authorities were making arrangements for us to go straight to the hospital for these inoculations, we had quite a long wait in the airport lounge.

My five-year-old had to use the toilet and did not want his mother to accompany him to the “Ladies”. After quite a long absence, my older son, wearing his kilt, made an announcement in an American accent “Mom, Neil’s locked himself in the bathroom”. He looked very Scottish, but sounded very Southern American.

The fire department was sent for and there was much wailing on the part of my five-year-old and much instructing on the part of the firemen. It seems that Neil, who had never seen a mortise key in a lock before, had locked the door and lost the key somewhere in the stall. The conversation was all in English, but a Zambian/English accent versus American/ Southern meant little comprehension.

We were finally able to proceed to our new home. Years later when the boys were quite grown up, they told me they were very impressed with our new circumstances at that point. They thought that their daddy must have been made a Vice President of the company. Dad had picked us up at the airport in a white Bentley with red leather interior and he took us to a lovely white colonial house with beautiful gardens all around it.

However, this was not permanent. It is the custom when new arrivals are trying to find housing and transportation, they use the home and car of a family going on leave. Ex patriates usually take leave every two or three years and stay away for 3 months at a time. Having a family live in their home while they are away, is beneficial for everyone.

We eventually settled into a nice, spacious duplex with a big garden and a Volkswagen Beetle for wheels. Life in Ndola was quite different from Atlanta Georgia, but since Zambia had been part of the British Empire, I found food and shopping more to my taste. Brown’s supermarket carried all the British food I had been missing for the eight years I had lived in the USA.

We got a little dog for the boys. He was the most adorable half Dachshund half Basset with short legs and long ears and was named Rastus.

He was just a puppy, quite small, when I was backing the car out of the driveway and made sure he was not behind the car – he wasn’t – I drove forward and he had been in front of the car and I ran over him – he was killed.

My 5-year-old was heartbroken so we got another dog as soon as possible – this one was part Corgi and Charles named him “Tater” because as a puppy, he looked like a potato.

One of our neighbours had a cat called Puss Perkins which had a litter. We got the biggest kitten and named him Brutus - he did turn out to be a huge cat. As it happens our neighbour’s cat was killed because she liked to sit on their car’s engine. When we left, they asked to have Brutus which they renamed Puss Perkins II. We got letters and pictures about him.

The boys attended Kasengi Primary School and we made friends with the other parents, mostly English ex patriots working at the banks or in Government.

Neil would have been too young to go to school in Georgia, but he was allowed to go to Primary One in Ndola, so he was thrilled. After his first week at School, he complained to me that he still couldn’t read. I think he thought that he would be “plugged in” and be able to read instantly. I wrote words on six-inch flash cards and placed them all over the house and by the second week he could read extremely well.

Every day the boys would come home from school and ask if our trunk had arrived. It had not. I was embarassing my husband by asking about it so much whenever we met anyone who arrived in Zambia by way of Dar Es Salam – which is where we believed the missing trunk might be found. Every time any VIPs from the company came to visit, I always asked if they could check on it for me.

The trunk never did arrive, and it was such a disappointment to Neil as he never had a chance to play with his birthday presents. More about this in another chapter.

Ex-patriates, anywhere in the world, tend to make the most of their foreign experience and organize more social events than they would “back home”. We never had a dull moment in Zambia. There were a lot of picnics, barbecues, pool parties, dinner parties, receptions and dances.

Promiscuity is rampant in these colonies - Just think of all the books and movies about Brits living in Kenya or other colonized nations – they were a promiscuous lot. I wonder what native Kenyans or Zambians or Nigerians thought of the morals of their colonizers?

I had never owned an evening gown, but I needed one now. The biggest event was “Casino Night” which was a big charity party. I didn’t realize how big this was until two strangers arrived on my doorstep offering to pay a premium price for our tickets when it had been rumoured that we might not attend due to the fact I had been badly sunburnt at a pool party the previous day.

We did not give up our tickets and did attend Casino Night with our neighbours. Jim (a pilot) was from Czechoslovakia and Vera was from Preston in England and they had three children who looked a lot like our two. Jim and I looked a lot alike and Vera was very blonde with big blue eyes like Charles.

Jim flew for Zambian Air Cargo and would fly back and forth between Ndola and Dar-Es-Salaam. He would always bring gasoline back for us as well as himself. Gasoline was very hard to come by in Ndola because of the bad roads. Oil tanker trucks would be lost on the road from the coast.

Zambian Air Cargo brought huge rubber balloons full of gasoline back to Ndola from Dar Es Salaam on the return flights to take the copper to the port.

This meant that Vera was left with no transportation, but Charles took her wherever she wanted to go. Jim was gone so much, and Vera was seen all over town with Charles so much that it looked like he had two wives.

The children all looked so much alike that added to the scene…. we were just being neighbourly.

Vera loved our little Corgi so much, but she couldn’t pronounce the dog’s name with the correct accent. Tater sounds like 'tayder' in Georgia, but Vera’s cut glass English was 'TeyTah'.

One day when I was downtown Ndola, walking in front of the Savoy Hotel to get back to my car when a young woman stopped me on the street. She asked me if I knew where she could find a “laundromat”.

I knew of very few Americans in Ndola and I could tell she was American and I also knew of no launderettes. I wondered what she was doing wandering around downtown Ndola so I asked if I could help.

I wound up bringing her home to do her laundry.

This sort of thing has happened to me quite often.

God has someone reach out to me and I respond without thinking.

Only once did the person in need turn out to be unsavoury.

One example was being approached by a ratty looking man in an alley (on my way into a posh hotel) and being asked for money - which I gave him - no I was not accosted or robbed ...the recipient was very grateful.

Another time it was a young inexperienced mother who needed help with her screaming baby on a packed flight. Me, help with a baby??? Well I did and I did very well.

Then there was the poor soul that came to me while waiting with a crowd of people going in to an unfamiliar (to me) Church. She needed help from the Pastor - why me out of all the people there? I took her arm and asked a lot of people a lot of questions and passed her on.

I can name a couple of other incidents which tells me God has a path for each of us. This is why I met and married my husband and followed him to places like Ndola Zambia where I was instrumental in helping someone.

This very young woman in Ndola had quite a story. She was from Boston, newly married and on her way to join her husband who worked for the U.S. State Department. He had been sent to Lubumbashi in the Congo and she was headed there herself. All her household goods, wedding presents, all her clothes, everything was on its way to Lubumbashi.

Her flight had been diverted to Ndola because of the mercenary killings as part of the war of independence in the Congo. She had been stuck at the Ndola Savoy Hotel for a couple of weeks. She could not seem to be able to make a phone call to the U.S. State Department and she had not been in touch with her husband. She was very worried about her husband being in a place where brutal battles were taking place. She did not have a return airline ticket, she was running out of money, she did not have the proper visas or permits to be in Zambia, she needed clean clothes, and she was very frightened.

As it happens there were some VIPs from Lockheed’s head office in the US visiting Ndola. There was always a reception/party when any dignitaries arrive in Zambia. At one of these parties I told a vice president’s wife about this young woman and her predicament. She told me she was from Boston herself and she would get in touch with family in Boston and get them to call someone at the State Department.

Well, she got on it right away and contacted all the correct people and Pamela was able to return to the USA in a couple of days. I wonder how she felt about losing all her wedding gifts in Lubumbashi.

Dar Es Salaam

We took a weekend trip to Dar Es Salam, Tanzania. We flew over on a Zambian Air Cargoes C-130 Hercules and stayed at a luxury hotel on the beach. I did a lot of shopping and enjoyed the glitzy atmosphere of this bustling coastal resort. When I got back to Ndola, I realized I had lost a newly purchased bottle of perfume. I wrote to the store where I thought I left it. I could not believe my eyes when about two weeks later a box arrived from Dar Es Salaam with the perfume! I think I still have the stamps from that package.

Dar Es Salaam, like a lot of African resorts, did not have a very good reputation, but this proved to me that there are kind, ethical people everywhere. I have had experiences like this in other countries too.

Our boys stayed with friends in Ndola while we went to Dar Es Salaam and when we returned our friends had a picnic. All the adults were inside and through the French doors in the garden all the children were playing.

We could all hear what the kids (ages 5 and 6 years old) were talking about. One little girl said, “We’re stopping in Rome for a week or two on our way back to Nana’s” (in England). Another child told of going to Cairo to see the pyramids and other children cited their various stays in exotic places, like Paris or Vienna.

My sons did not think they had been anywhere exciting and didn’t join in this repartee with talk of the Big Chicken in Marietta. I think they were the only children there that day that had travelled all through Scotland hiking and pony trekking. My youngest son did impress the group when he told of his grandfather’s farm with cows and pigs.

Kasengi School was so different from school in Georgia for the boys and they started as soon as we got there because the terms and vacation weeks are different. My oldest son was totally surprised when all the boys and girls in his class stripped and put on their swimming suits, in the classroom, before they went for swimming lessons.

Our houseboy was very formal and insisted on attending to us in the colonial fashion. We had to buy him the proper uniforms for daily wear and tunic and gloves for when he served our meals.

There was a shack in the back yard for him, but Charles forbade me from ever seeing this hut. We paid him more than the usual wage, gave him clothes, soap and linens. We did not want him to wait on us as much as he thought was correct.

He would come into the house early in the morning and wash all the floors before we got up. He would have served us tea in bed, but we nixed that.

He did walk the boys down to Kasengi Primary School every day and was there to bring them home.

We kept telling him that after our evening meal we didn’t need him anymore, but he would stand in the living room ready to get anything we night need. I wondered if he just liked being on hand …. to watch television with us.

Television broadcasts were sporadic coming from Lusaka. While we were out at the “Bioscope” (Movie theatre) one Sunday afternoon we came home to find smoke pouring out of our now smashed out picture window. Our television set had caught fire??? Fire department had been called and they had removed the burnt out TV.

Our houseboy had stationed his wife underneath the empty space where the window once was. This lady’s name was Regina and later Banda divorced her by tying up her clothes and telling her three times “I divorce you” and she had to leave.

Marriage and divorce are unique ceremonies in Zambia. We and our neighbours asked their houseboy how he married his wife and he told us all about how he had to pay the “Bride Price” for her. The price was negotiated with the bride’s family. It should be however many cows or goats, but in the city, it would be money, or “lobola”. When Jim said he didn’t pay any money for Vera, their houseboy looked Vera up and down and asked Jim, “What’s wrong with her”? In other words, if he didn’t buy her, she must be inferior.

Further to this story this same houseboy “tied his wife’s clothes”, but her parents wouldn’t take her back because they had spent all the “Bride Price” and could not refund it. The wife sat out in the backyard wailing for several nights.

The Community Pool is where everyone congregated nearly every day, it was rather like the local pub or general store. While at the pool we learned that one does not sit on wet towels and get in and out of the pool and sit on a damp towel. It seems the pu-tse fly in Zambia lay their eggs on a moist source and when the eggs are transferred to your person the eggs will hatch under your skin and produce larva, which appear like worms and ooze out of your skin. This is why the laundry we hung outside all (sheets, pillowcases, towels, underwear – every single thing) had to be ironed – to kill the eggs. Nylons, nylon bras and slips would be hung on a rack indoors to dry.

This presented another problem. We had been told of the ways our home might be burgled and one of them was where a criminal would extend a long pole into the home and “fish” for items to steal while we were out or even while we slept. The screens are on a sash like a window with window panes.

The most lucrative items they were after were wallets or car keys left on a dresser, but they would steal anything because even pens or pencils could be sold or bartered.

I got up one morning and laundry that had been drying on a clothes rack were scattered all over the floor. I immediately accused my youngest son of banging into the clothes rack and knocking everything over.

Our houseboy explained what had happened – someone had been ‘fishing’ and my beautiful Broderie Anglaise (eyelet) two-piece bathing suit with matching mini-dress was gone. I had been quite a hit in that outfit at a pool party the night before. This outfit would fetch a pretty penny in the bazaar.

On New Years day in Ndola there were bagpipers and at least five guests wearing Scottish kilts at a New Years Party – more than I ever saw in Georgia – or even in Scotland. The Kilt is much more popular in Scotland nowadays, probably because more people can now afford to buy them. There are 8 yards of worsted wool in a kilt and with all the tailoring they are very expensive. If you want to have the sporran, socks with the flashes and shoes with silver buckles you’d better have plenty of money. A set of Bagpipes is another matter.

We made a lot of friends during that year in Zambia. This was our first venture into living an international life, meeting a diverse set of people who are so interesting because they have lived in different countries and cultures. We kept in touch with several couples who, like us, moved on to other assignments.

Jim and Vera moved to South Africa, but Jim was killed when his plane crashed. Vera remarried a white supremacist and we lost touch with them. She sent us pictures from time to time of our little Corgi, Tater, which she took with her.

Others we knew retired back to the UK and we always thought we would see them when we went back to Britain, but that didn’t happen.

We did make friends with a couple of Zambian families. One white and one black. The white family were very well-to-do and we met them through the local Church of England. I know now that we must have been singled out by them because we lived in America.

They were part of a very prestigious wealthy family which had branches in various parts of Africa. These friends in Ndola owned a large chain of furniture stores, they had a home in Port Elizabeth South Africa and a mansion in Zambia.

They had one little boy about the same age as our oldest and they had two older daughters. They were very interested in how we could live in America and not have any servants. They had cooks, house maids, gardeners and nannies. How in the world did I manage? The wife was particularly interested in my automatic washing machine. I think I must have been one of the first people to buy and automatic washer - it was unique and worked with plastic data cards.

This wealthy couple approached us one day with a scheme for us to help them get all their money out of Zambia. The new Government decided to ‘Zambianize’ all businesses making the government own 50% of all companies. This was because when Zambia got their independence from Britain many wealthy business owners left the country and took all their money with them. This couple talked to us about our suing them for libel and they would fix it so we would win. We'd then take the "damages" to our bank in the USA and give it back to them when they came to America. Needless to say we did not have any part in this. I understand they paid for a world cruise, paid for college tuition in advance for all their children and bought a plane and flew it out of the country and sold it.

We kept in touch with this family and they sent their daughter to stay with us in Hawaii for two or three weeks. Isla was taking notes (I found her constantly opening the lid of the washing machine trying to see how it washed clothes) about housekeeping with no servants.

The other family, who were black, had two children a boy and a preteen girl. After we got back to the U.S.A. these people wrote to me telling me that I needed to sponsor their daughter to come and live with us so she could get her education in America. They wanted us to look after her until she graduated from college. With the kind of life we live, going on assignments to different countries, we did not think that was feasible.

Because of a terrible accident at the airport where Zambian Airways crashed one of their airplanes into another one on the ground the Lockheed contract in Zambia was terminated early so we had to return to the USA.

I was a bit nervous about our return trip to the U.S.A. because my re-entry permit was going to expire at the end of April, and we didn’t need to have any delays to be able to get back in time. There was not enough time to send the permit by mail to be renewed.

We left Ndola on Sabena (S.A.B.E.N.A. Such A Bloody Experience Never Again) and after stops in Nairobi and Adis Ababa we had to disembark in Brussels.

We were only supposed to refuel here, but our plane had a mechanical problem and Sabena had to get another plane to get us to New York. I think they must have only had 1 or 2 planes because we had to stay in Brussels for a few days until it was repaired.

My husband had been given a book of vouchers by Sabena to be used to pay the hotel, restaurants and transportation companies.

When we checked into the hotel, he did not realize he had been made surrogate “male relative” for a group of six Muslim women. When the hotel receptionist announced to the porter “Mr. Charles Kelley and party of seven wives and two children”, he found out.

Because Muslim women cannot go out in public without a male relative, Sabena had tacked them on to us to make them respectable. We were never introduced to them, and we don’t know what they looked like because they were all dressed in heavy veils with only their eyes showing. They just followed behind Charles very sedately unless they were going to their rooms.

The flight to New York was rough with turbulence and we bounced down the runway at JFK with only two hours to spare before my Re-entry permit expired on 28 April 1968.

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Another good story, Dorothy. Lots of adventure in your life!

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