Like a River Glorious - Sample of Style
It was just before midnight. The absence of any artificial light lent brightness to the starry sky. The African drums that had beaten incessantly at the ritual dance in the village across the river, were now silent. The cry of a wild dog and the eerie call of the night jar indicated that nocturnal creatures were on the prowl. Mosquito nets tucked in, the family slept.
A loud knocking on the door woke her. Nyakapalu lit a paraffin lantern, put on a night gown and hastened to the door.
Opening it she saw two native men standing by a crudely assembled stretcher on which lay a women bleeding and moaning in agony. The woman had been mauled by a crocodile while swimming in the Zambezi and pulling a woven fishing basket through the water to catch minnows. After some treatment from the village medicine man they had carried her the long journey to the foot of Chavuma hill and then struggled up the stony, winding footpath to Chavuma mission station.
By the light of the flickering lantern, she could see the wounds were severe and the crude herb and clay plaster applied by the traditional healer seemed likely to hasten sepsis.
She told the men to take the patient up the road to the mission dispensary. Waking five-year-old Kapalu, her eldest son, she explained the situation and followed the bearers out into the dark night carrying a hurricane lantern and her medical encyclopaedia. A number of night prowlers scuttled away into the blackness as she walked up the road. Hyenas, often around, were silent this night.
At the dispensary, NyaKapalu supplied a mild sedative, removed the medicine man’s sticky cocktail, bathed the wounds in an antiseptic liquid and applied suitable dressings. One of the round thatched huts near the dispensary served as accommodation. Further attention could wait until morning.
After offering a prayer in the Lwena language for physical and spiritual healing, the missionary walked back through the tropical night down to her house, the swinging lantern casting grotesque shadows on the pathway.
All was well and soon the household slept once more. This was not an entirely rare event as these chronicles describe.
Who was this lady they called Nyakapalu, meaning ‘mother of Kapalu’ and what was she doing in a remote and inhospitable area of tropical Africa far away from her relatives and home in Melbourne, Victoria?
As Kapalu and author of these chronicles, let me begin the story in that Australian city in the year 1898.