Would stories of your youthful adventures set a good or bad example to your children or grandchildren? Sara Dunn talks about her decision to write Appointment in Zambia, and what she hopes her grandchildren might learn from her exploits!
Appointment in Zambia is the account of a journey through Africa in the days before Satnavs and mobile phones, but nonetheless with the political unrest and human suffering which is still associated with the continent.
In 1970 newly-weds Ross and Sara set off, with extraordinary naivety and a lack of proper preparation, to drive from Edinburgh to Zambia in a standard saloon car. This is the story of their epic car journey. Sara was 21 and couldn’t drive and Ross was 23 when they and their brand new Hillman Hunter in Golden Sand, a colour chosen before they’d opted to drive through the Sahara… started out. For eight weeks, in a trip of over 20,000 kms, they slept in the car, coped with illness and looked up the barrel of rifles from the wrong end. Apart from the car their only technology was a compass.
The reason for our journey was an unusual one. Ross had a job to go to in a Zambian copper mine and we were impatient to get there. The mode of travel was also unusual, if not foolhardy, as we had acquired a brand new Hillman Hunter bought on borrowed funds to take advantage of a scheme for export cars.
Our parents kept all of our letters
We kept a log book of our journey throughout the trip. I knew it was a good story, but never quite got round to writing it up properly. Now with time to spare I had to learn to write first, and then put the book together starting 40 years after the event! Our parents had kept all of our letters which was a help. There has been plenty of ‘can you remember when…’ which we have much enjoyed, and the internet has been a help. At the start we weren’t sure about putting it all into print because it would give such a bad example to our grandchildren.
We were unbelievably naive when we set off to drive across Africa in our pristine car. If any of our 3 daughters had wanted to undertake such a journey at the same age we would not have been so easily persuaded as my father was to fund it. In 1970 there was simply a lack of information, and what we did manage to find out about roads and borders was unreliable or uncertain, so with a high chance of it being incorrect we chose to ignore it.
There are plenty of other words to describe us at that time, including innocent, impatient, trusting, stupid, stubborn, arrogant, and ignorant, but many of these qualities are also the reason why we succeeded. So when we got stuck time and again in the sand miles from civilisation, it helped to be stubborn. In spite of our innocence we quickly learnt who to avoid, so sometimes in dangerous places like Nigeria and the Congo we put our trust in complete strangers for help, and usually received it. Many things went wrong, but so many more could have gone really badly wrong and luck played a great part in it.
How experiences change you
An experience like that changes you, makes you less risk-averse, and it is hard to quantify without knowing the person you would have become otherwise. Two obvious ways we have been affected spring to mind. Firstly we both love travel, and still in our sixties take every opportunity for new experiences in foreign lands, the more exotic the better. Now in our sixties we choose rather more sedate trips, and we’ve recently returned from a river cruise in Russia. In total we have visited 18 different countries in Africa over the years, returning several times to some. Secondly we are now enjoying the expatriate life which Cyprus has to offer, which would probably not have attracted us if we’d spent all of our working life in Britain.
As I have mentioned above, Ross and I were concerned about the message Appointment in Zambia would send to our 8 grandchildren about taking risks. On reflection we now feel that our story has some redeeming features including lessons in perseverance, resourcefulness, endurance, determination and self-belief. But we would urge them to become as informed as possible about any dangerous undertaking, and not set off as we did across the Sahara with no shovel, but with an electric sewing machine in the back of the car!
Appointment in Zambia: A Trans-African Adventure by Sara Dunn is published by Matador Publishing ISBN: 9781780882383?
eISBN: 9781780888248? £9.99
Appointment in Zambia: A Trans-African Adventure is also available from Amazon