PHARR — It was a beautiful day to take a leisurely afternoon drive along the river, admiring the scenery. But this was the Zambezi River flowing to Victoria Falls, the largest curtain of water in the world and anything could happen.
“A car was rushing by and our friend stopped briefly to tell us, ‘There’s an elephant coming! Get out of here!’” said Farzana Sardiwalla. “The African elephant can be very dangerous and you don’t mess with them. You also don’t get down wind of them because if there are 50 people it may not like one person’s smell. It’ll trumpet, their ears will flap and it’ll run toward the smell it doesn’t like.
“The road was narrow and as we moved up a bit to where the turn was we could hear the trumpeting. As we turned around we saw this African man running with a fishing rod. He’d been fishing and the elephant was chasing him.
“We started moving. I was in the passenger seat and opened the back door for him, telling him, ‘Jump in! Jump in!’ He was running alongside the car and I grabbed his t-shirt to help pull him into the car. His long fishing pole was sticking out so we couldn’t close the door and I said, ‘Break it!’”
The man broke the pole and shut the door.
“We took off like a bat out of hell because by then we could see the elephant in the rear-view mirror,” Farzana said, laughing at the memory of the scene. “What would have happened if he had caught the car? I don’t know. But I’ve often thought of that incident and wondered why I didn’t say ‘Drop it’ instead of making him break his precious pole.”
Farzana had haled from Wales, only landing in England for her birth.
“I never appreciated how beautiful Wales was until I lived in Central Canada and went back for a visit,” she said.
Just like in Harry Potter, students were assigned to “houses” during school and they competed against each other. Farzana belonged to the Nightingale House and even became Princess of the house. After school, she worked in a legal office before deciding to follow her dream.
“I knew from the get go, from as far back as I can remember, that I wanted to travel. I can remember as a child watching planes go overhead and I always wanted to be on it. I had no destination — just wanted to go,” said Farzana.
With relatives in Africa, Farzana decided to start there.
“Zambia was a fledgling county, a very new country. I fell in love with it,” she said, wistfully.
Finding work in a legal office in Lusaka, the 19-year-old began her new life. Shortly after her arrival she met her future husband.
“We went out for a while publicly and then I went back to England.”
Returning to Lusaka, eventually they married and moved to Livingstone about 400 miles away, still in Zambia.
“Life was hard in the ‘60s and early ‘70s because everything was new. We had our own legal office. My husband was a barrister and I was doing articles,” explained Farzana.
Living in a brick home (“much better built than the ones here”), the dining and living room floor was made of Mukwa, a hard African wood the termites (called white ants there) wouldn’t eat. The rest of the floors were concrete so the termites definitely didn’t eat that.
Zambia brought Farzana adventures galore. There was the time a monkey came through a dining room window, landing on the table for their rice, sending her husband (brought up in South Africa) and their servant flying out of the room. Farzana, a gutsy woman, grabbed the monkey by it’s tail and chucked it back out the window.
Then there was the baboon sitting in the drivers seat of their car when they returned from showing a visitor Victoria Falls.
“Baboons are dangerous and he was my size. We had left the equivalent of a roll of life savers on the back seat and he was opening them and popping them in his mouth,” she said. “A man from the group pretended he was going to throw something at him and he scurried off.”
Life could be difficult in Livingstone in other ways. While she contracted the dangerous cerebral malaria from a mosquito, another friend caught another form of malaria — black water fever — that took his life because he’d waited too long to ask for help.
Finally, due to political unrest, it became too difficult to stay and run an ordinary legal office.
“Everything was in short supply. If we heard in town that toilet rolls had arrived or rice, we all scrambled to line up,” she said, laughing. “Goods were in very short supply for a very long time.”
Deciding the time to leave had arrived, they traveled for a year sailing through the Suez Canal, out to the Greek Islands, visiting Australia and New Zealand.
“Finally, we flew back to Canada and settled there,” she said. “After my mother died in ‘98 my older sisters and I were going through some of her things. I picked up some of my old school exercise books where you write compositions and such. Flipping through some of the pages, I found I had written — and I don’t remember doing this — ‘When I grow up I would like to immigrate to Canada.’”
After their seven years in Zambia, Canada was a major change. Still in the legal business, they lived in such places as The Pas, Flin Flon and Hamiota in Manitoba, Canada. When her husband decided Africa was his choice of residence, Farzana stayed on in Canada, in her log home in Sandy Lake.
About two years ago she concluded Canadian winters were simply not her cup of tea and once and for all, she was getting away from them. Having visited her friend (since she was 5 years old) in Florida, the Sunshine didn’t have the appeal. But some friends told her about the Valley. Sight unseen, never having been to Texas, Farzana bought a unit at Tropic Star.
“I kept coming back to this one with the deck and fence because I have a cat,” she said. “I really bought this place for my cat! I got in the car, came down here and fell in love with the place.”
As tropical as Africa, the bougainvillea, esperanzas, and hibiscus all brought back wonderful memories of Africa and immediately helped her feel at home.
Now she has jumped into the activities of the park with gusto. Playing her first ever softball game on a team called The Babes, being the milkmaid to a singing cow, golfing every day have made her life full.
“I’ve had more fun down here in the two seasons than I’ve had in 45 years,” she said, enthusiastically. “That’s a true statement.”
Of course, she would probably count out the Toilet Flush from the first year — sit on a toilet and someone tries to hit a target which would make the toilet flush all over you — but otherwise she’s almost content.
Visiting the Galapagos Islands is still on her Bucket List as is attending the Master’s Tournament in Augusta, Ga. But listening to the birds and sounds of nature soothe her soul and she and Puff, the cat, are at peace.
“I never had the time to play when I was working,” she said, looking tan, healthy and happy. “I’m trying to make up for lost time.”
I do believe she is realizing her goal.
If you have a suggestion for a story, please email Roda Grubb at email@example.com. Am especially looking for WWII vets to capture their tales.