Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

A Farmer and a Dreamer

(This is one of a series of articles I wrote dealing with memories of an African childhood. To read the first of these, click here)

Over a year ago, I posted a piece called That Good, Red Dirt which sparked some comment from readers who had experience of Africa, direct or otherwise. And the following elicited a promise from me that I have not forgotten but pondered often, as I waited for the time to be right for its fulfillment:

Hardship teaches us things that comfort never could. To be a farmer is to have to make your life, it isn't the easy life of showing up at a job with a set schedule and an expected workload. We can show up for life or we can make it happen. I met a man from Zimbabwe once. The war in his country had taken his father from him, and yet despite the tragedy in his life, he always wore the biggest smile I have ever seen. He had a determination in his spirit to choose his path and to find the joyous and to build his life upon that. I think such a spirit could grow a crop in a desert.
Date Added: 05/11/2005

Gone Away:
I knew a man in Zimbabwe who could have been the father of that son you speak of, Phil. Perhaps it is time for me to tell his story.
Date Added: 05/11/2005

Ted Wright

Ted was my father's friend, not mine. I was a young teenager when I first met him and he seemed old to me, although younger than my father. He and his wife and two young children lived on a smallholding in Helensvale, a mixed residential and farming area on the outskirts of Harare. They had a small dairy herd but the land was not extensive enough to provide more than a secondary income and Ted worked during the day for some government department in town. His heart was in farming, however.

The strange thing is that, although my sisters and I played with his children, it is Ted's face that I remember. He was a kind, soft spoken and gentle man, always smiling, and it was not until I had grown up and had a job myself that I realized how hard he must have been working, at the office in the daytime and on the smallholding at night, in pursuit of his dream. I was vaguely aware that the family were not well off, the furniture threadbare and worn, their clothes faded from constant washing, the farm vehicles ancient and rusting, but it was only years later that the reason dawned on me; they were saving to buy a farm.

After many years they reached their goal and were able to purchase a farm out near Rusape, many miles east of Harare. It was about halfway to the Eastern Highlands where we would go for a few days off occasionally and was a good place to take a break from driving and see them again. I can remember my disappointment at seeing the farm for the first time - it was dry, rocky and desolate, so different from the fertile greenery that was Helensvale.

But Ted was happy, making light of the problems in making the land profitable and speaking endlessly to my father about his plans for it. It was only when we were driving away and I saw the worried look on my father's face that I understood that he, too, had been horrified by the difficulties confronting his friend.

By Zimbabwean standards, the farm was still too small to be viable. The ground was hard and stony, there was no reliable source of water and Ted could not afford to pay a large enough workforce to overcome such problems. Over the years we watched Ted struggling to make it pay and saw only too clearly in the desperate faces of the family the fact that they were losing the battle. Yet Ted still smiled bravely and spoke quietly of how next year would be better.

Eventually my father stopped breaking our eastern journeys at the farm, preferring to drive on through, rather than suffer the agony of watching such a good family face so inevitable a future. I know that my father offered to help financially but was turned down by his friend, too proud to accept what he regarded as charity.

In time we lost touch with them completely; I left home to get married and start my own career and family, and Ted rarely entered my mind in those years. In the mid-seventies, we moved to Bulawayo in the south of the country, little knowing that we would have but two years there before leaving Zimbabwe for good.

And it was there that we heard that Ted had given up the struggle, let the bank have the farm and taken a job with the government again, this time in Mutare, near the eastern border with Mozambique. It was sad to know that Ted's dream had finally come to nothing but at least he had not been forced back into an office - his job entailed spending much time outside, driving the dirt roads of the highlands from one department to another.

We moved to England and tried to forget Africa. Then we heard that Ted had been killed in the last few days of the war that ravaged Zimbabwe for so long. His car had been ambushed in some remote spot and his life ended as he had lived it - out there in the dry, open spaces of Zimbabwe, in that good red dirt that is so fertile yet will bleed you dry without water.

There was something about Ted that made him memorable, even though no doubt he would be dismissed today as a loser, a useless dreamer who was always destined to fail in his limited ambition. Yet it is his face I remember, while others have drifted off into the haze of the distant past. That hope in the eyes through all his troubles, the smile that broke through the strain on his face, the uncomplaining, soft voice, the leathery skin tanned by years of African sun, the hands thickened and coarsened by endless thankless toil, the hospitality that gave even when there was so little to give, the love for the land that had paid him in nothing but empty dreams, these are what I remember.

My father always said that Ted was too soft to have succeeded in his dream - too soft to make hard decisions, too easy on his workers, too gentle to brave the harsh truths of farming in Africa. But that was the essence of the man; without them, he would not have been the gentleman that he was and would not have stayed in my memory as he has. In a strange way, he is the epitome of what was good in Africa, dreaming the dream, wanting to see the land give of its bounty, but beaten in the end, not by his honesty and hard work, but by the dreams of others. Unrealistic he may have been but at least he tried.

He was a good man as few are good.


A very African story, bitter sweet with a sad ending. Africa's broken many a dream and no doubt it still does now.
Date Added: 26/02/2007

Gone Away
Very true, Mad. It's a story repeated many times but, because it usually happens to the little people, it's not often reported.
Date Added: 27/02/2007

Now this struck a chord... A workmate a few years ago had an Uncle (Merfyn Temple)who was (now retired) a Methodist Minister and journeyed a lot in Africa. In the course of one of his travels - Through Africa on a Bicycle - he sent back his notes to my workmate and he in turn emlisted my help in yurning the written notes into a coherent form by way of Word Processing... It gave me a project through the long winter nights and I read through those notes and was susequently given a copy in gratitude. Some time after he wrote another - New Hope for Africa - and once again I helped type up the notes. The point is he (Merfyn) speaks of similar people. that same Bitter-Sweet that Mad mentions. Africa is full of such people. Though I have never been I have always had a strange affinity with the people who struggle against the and as they do.... If I may take the liberty I will send you via e-mail, another of Merfyns writings. - ELEPHANTS AND MILLIPEDES; The organic revolution in Zambia - I hope you find it interesting and relish in the Hope that Merfyn portrays. I Googled his name prior to writing this, interesting life he has led. Take care. AFC
Date Added: 28/02/2007

Gone Away
Thank you, Fractal, I will be most interested to read Merfyn's writing. There is something about Africa that does not release you however long you stay away and it is always good to read of another's experiences there.
Date Added: 28/02/2007

Terrific post - thank you for sharing! Still dealing with death and residual disease here. I have a day home so I am trying to say hello to my Internet friends! Hope all is well with you and you have a wonderful day!
Date Added: 28/02/2007

Gone Away
Hi Marti - good to see you. And best wishes too.
Date Added: 01/03/2007

Its a sad tale Gone and one that must be echoing around Zim nowadays. Merfyn Temple thats an awesome name! He shgould become a detective.
Date Added: 01/03/2007

Gone Away
Yes, Keef, a tale oft repeated in many parts of the world, no doubt. But Merfyn's getting a bit too old to start a new career as a detective, I think. Perhaps he could be the retired Chief Inspector that everyone goes to for advice.
Date Added: 02/03/2007

jessica freeman
Hey You have a wonderful Blog. I really enjoyed reading it. I was searching for different ways to improve my Blog and I found you Bog on blog explosion. I get a lot of free traffic hits from http://www.autosurfmonster.com if I were you I would submit this blog so thousands of others can see it. Well I wish you warm regards and continued success. I have added your blog to my favorites and I am planning to come back, so I will look forward to all the updates. Thanks again Jessica
Date Added: 03/03/2007

Take thy spam elswhere Jessica
Date Added: 03/03/2007

A bittersweet story Clive. He reminds me deeply of my father and that probably makes it all the more tear jerking for me. Your father's friend sounds noble and idealistic, God knows the world needs more people like him.
Date Added: 06/03/2007

Gone Away
Ted would have laughed to hear himself described as noble, Janus - he was the most humble man I have ever known. But you are right in that the dream made him noble, as unattainable as it was. If some did not reach for the stars, would we not still be living in caves?
Date Added: 06/03/2007

If I may? As a sort of 'follow up' to the above... http://chaoticgardening.blogspot.com/ More from Merfyn the Modern day Marvel.
Date Added: 07/03/2007

Gone Away
And a good read it is too, perhaps something anyone who wants to talk about Africa should read first. Thank you, Fractal.
Date Added: 07/03/2007

Back to the main blog

Have your say

You may use HTML in comments. A carriage return is <br />, use two for a new paragraph. For bold text use <strong></strong> and for italic text use <em></em>. If you know what you're doing feel free to use more complex mark-up but please no deprecated tags or JavaScript.

Name *

Comment *

Email *


Commenting has closed for this post


Plan your next journey with
Price Comparison UK
Copyright disclaimersXHTML 1.0CCS2RSS for news aggregators