Friday, May 27, 2011

Che Hari

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



Janelle said...

he was legendary...and led a long and rich life for sure...godspeed inshAllah.... x j

Mud in the City said...

Amazing pictures and an inspirational post. I think we all meet poeple throughout our lives who leave an indelible impression on us and add so much richness and so many lessons to our characters. Sounds like he was one of those.

Val said...

what an amazing person. I would love to sit under a tree and listen to his tales. It sounds as though he had a full and fascinating life. Thanks for introducing him to us all x

spacedlaw said...

A wonderful tribute. He seems an amazing man.

Amanda said...

a loving and personal tribute. i too would be intrigued to know more about his time in burma — and the story of the lions........gad — what a life. your words do him honor.

Chantal Doyle said...

A lovely tribute to a very special man who will live on in our memories

Miranda said...

Janelle - that he was, that he was

Mud - oh yes, he was definitely one of those! x

Val - and thanks for reading!

Spacedlaw - thanks!

Amanda - I should speak to my uncle, he may know more Burma stories.

Chantal - thank you, I don't think I did him justice, but glad I tried! xx

Red Dirt Lattes said...

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction.
Che Hari, nice to meet you. It sounds like you made quite an impact. That's a good life.

Anonymous said...

Ah, thanks Miranda. The last time I saw him he said I looked just like mom at my age. He was laughing, remembering how mom brought dad to the valley for the first time and how sceptical everyone was to meet this long haired hippie who wasn't from the bush. He had a good old chuckle about that. Then held Bernd's hand for a long time, looked him in the eye and told him to be good to me.

Shiny said...

Oh, he sounds just lovely x