Leftovers from War

A helicopter is hovering over a nearby area - probably the main road a kilometre or so from here, where things tend to happen more readily than in the suburbs. We're pretty close to a light aircraft airport, and often have small planes come past low over the hill we're on. Cape Town airport is half an hour's drive away, so jet planes are regulars as they take off or land. Old double-winged aircraft and Spitfires practice their show-stoppers over our valley before annual air shows.

Up until a few moments ago I didn't know why the sound of something in the sky makes me just a little bit scared. Thoughts of "are they coming for us", "under attack?" and similar non-sensical junk pops into my head un-asked-for. Strange.

Or not. I've just figured it out. I grew up during the war years in what was then Rhodesia. First years in a rural primary school were punctuated by "terr alarms" - the school siren rung loud and long, indicating we need to get into the classrooms, on the floor under the windows (can't be seen by terrorists there), or into a doorway/passage safe from mortar fire. As a 6 year old, sometimes the sound of the siren would terrify me so that I couldn't even move, and would have to be pulled along by a friend into the classroom. We were fortunately never attacked, not while I was there at least. But nevertheless, that's what school was like for me then.

Before school, we lived in Umtali (now Mutari), on the border with Mozambique. We missed all the excitement - the year before and the year after we were there the town was bombed out - but we did get our fair share of running for the bomb shelter (the mechanic's pit in the garage, covered over with corrugated zinc sheeting) and seeing/hearing bombs fly from just over the mountain. Walks in the hills would yield treasure-troves of spent magazines or individual bullets, and if you were lucky you'd find a still-live one.

In Gwelo (Gweru now), we lived near the airforce base, up on the only decent hill in town. At night we could watch the bombers circle. Again, bushwalks yielded bullets and other interesting war paraphanalia.

Trips to grandparents in South Africa were done in armed convoy to the border, surrounded by bristling armoured vehicles.

Our final stop-over was Harare, where we saw in Independence and the first years of Mugabe's rule. Peace, but still those memories of war lingered - in everyone's minds. Families we knew had lost loved ones during the war, and the scars are still there.

Is it any wonder that a low-flying fighter jet, practising its turns for an upcoming air show, makes me want to dive under the desk? That a hovering helicopter turns my insides to jelly? That I wonder where my child is, and if he's safe, if a small plane circles this area just a little too long?

Seems not. It's just a carry-over from the past.