Che Hari was one hellova guy.
He always had a hat on his head, a rolled cigarette in his hand, a hearty cough in his chest and a twinkle in his eye.
I loved spending time with him, sitting under the mango tree outside his village, chickens scratching about our feet and scrawny puppies yipping and tumbling. His host of (mostly) devoted grandchildren close at hand.
And he would often pop in to visit us too. He’d walk to us from his village 12km or so away and, in his later years, one of his grandsons would cycle with him on the back. And we’d laugh and he would reminisce and tell jokes.
He really was a remarkable guy. I have no idea how old he was but he fought with the Kings Africa Rifles in Burma in the Second World War, so he must have had a good few years behind him! 85? 90? Can you imagine? Coming from a remote village in the middle of Africa to fight for a cause he probably didn’t care about in the middle of Burma? Amazing. I wish I’d spoken to him more about those times.
He was a Yao (serious minority where he lived), born in Malawi. I don't know how he came to be in Luangwa but worked for the game department there all the time I remember him. He worked as a game scout in safaris with my grandfather, Norman and was one of a handful of experienced escort scouts who had seen it all. He was the last one, in fact. He always told the story of crossing the river with my mother as a little girl on his back and all sleeping out in the bush (my grandfather, Che Hari, my mother) on mats on the ground with mosquito nets over them. My dad says, in his book
“He shot maneating lions and during their expeditions together [with my grandfather] he used to sleep on the ground not far from Norman. He would sometimes see elephants and lions coming close to his sleeping bag and would always hear Norman whispering ‘don’t shoot, don’t shoot’”
But it wasn’t just his achievements and nerves of steel that made him special. There was something about him. A twinkling humour that always made him such a pleasure to be around.
Most people his generation and culture there is always a respectful boundary. A certain distance, a respect for elders, ulemu, that prevents you from getting too close. Things you wouldn’t say and do. But it was different somehow with CheHari. You could be familiar with him, laugh at his jokes and him at yours. Hug him. I can't explain it and I'm not doing him justice. And I don't think I can - I've had this post in drafts for three days and I want you to know about him so here we go.
I'm glad I knew you Che Hari, and I know that you are happy where you are, in the bush in the sky with your .458 and all the big long gone elephants. Say hi to everyone up there.
All pics by Francois Delbee