A reflection by ITMI's Johan Leach
Traveling through the Kafue Game Park in central Zambia, I become aware of the most beautiful lion I have ever seen.
Saying that I’m isolated in the middle of the night in the middle of the African bush, is an almost humorous understatement. I'm approaching fast. This beautiful lion is on the outer parameter of my vehicle’s headlamps.
Black-maned and still young, this full grown male is unaware or is intentionally ignoring my approach. It is intent on something on the opposite side of the road….
Let me backtrack.
I have completed my shopping in Lusaka, Zambia.
I have frozen meat in the vehicle with no fridge or freezer. The meat is in a big black crate filled with ice. To avoid the heat during the day I decide to push through the night to be home the next morning around about 0700 [7am].
At the best of times I avoid night driving. The eyes don’t take to oncoming lights so well anymore and the challenge is heightened when the approaching vehicle’s driver insists on driving with the headlamps shining bright.
To then cap it all the rural folk’s cattle and goats tend to converge onto the road in a concerted effort at being run over.
I had entered through the Kafue Game Park’s eastern gate en-route home to the dismay of the game warden, who had to open the gate at something around midnight. A friendly greeting and a obligatory coke in the old school glass bottle, seemed to satisfy him for he let me through without taking any details or asking too many questions.
We Africans understand one another’s needs. I needed to get home and he needed to get back to bed.
Night time traveling in the park is posted at 50km (31 mph). There's plenty of game, and it's not a pleasant experience to run into elephants crossing the road, or a kudu jumping in after your headlamps have passed.
100km an hour. That was the speed I was driving when I had the most incredible encounter I have had in a long time.
1:30am. I become aware of the most beautiful lion I have ever seen. I'm approaching fast. He's on the outer parameter of my vehicle’s headlamps. Black-maned and still young this full grown male is unaware or is intentionally ignoring my approach.
He is intent on something on the opposite side of the road, even though I have applied brakes and at the same time scrambling for my camera, he remains focused.
I have passed him and come to a standstill. Now I start reversing and pass him yet again. Not having been able to find my camera, I sit in anticipation.
I have witnessed lion hunting in the past and this sure looked like something was going down.
It was just a few seconds. Then lazily, the lion looked in my direction and without any further ado, stepped through the elephant grass disappearing into the dark.
Thinking that was it, I started off but to my surprise I see this very small fire and a single woman sitting next to it and it dawned on me that the lion was inquisitive as to who would be so foolish to let the fire die down that low.
Lions are not generally man-eaters.
My thinking is they still respect the first order before the fall and thus do not necessarily take advantage of man’s disobedience…yet again if opportunity allows and they are hungry…well easy prey is easy prey.
Now I can greet a person in most languages but how do I tell a woman foolishly sitting next an excuse of a fire that she was just about to be lion food and how do I get her to move? And to where?
My vehicle is packed to the full.
Maybe if I can just get her to understand, then she can climb onto my roof rack and I can take her through to the west gate where I would exit the park, another 80km drive.
I am no linguist. I can greet in most languages but how to get her to understand?
So with great urgency in my voice and with broken English, Luvale, Xhosa, Zulu and many more languages I try to warn her of the Simba (most African languages), Dumba (Luvale), Lion (English) Leeu (Afrikaans).
How do I save her from the inevitable? I mean the lion could be watching this whole episode and biding his time knowing that at some point I will have to leave.
That time arrived when I realized that besides getting out of my vehicle in the middle of the very dark African bush, which I was not really keen to do, and literally forcing her onto the roof rack, she was not going to comply. So with great haste I made off for the west gate.
My reasoning was that IF - and that is a BIG if - I can get a game ranger to come with me we could rescue this woman.
Pushing hard now and passing many buffalo and smaller deer I headed for the gate. Thirty-five minutes later, I arrived at the gate, hooting the horn as I arrive.
After what seemed a life time - maybe 60 seconds - a very irate game ranger approached my vehicle.
His body language told me that he was not pleased with my approach. Complaining and gesturing until, with again, that urgency in my voice I told my story and the need for him to come with me to rescue this woman.
‘No Bwana (boss man). That woman is “mad”. We know of her and she has been living in the bush all her life. She wonders through the park and the animals do her no harm.’
Not content with this answer as I did not believe him, I convinced him by offering him coffee and sandwiches to get into my vehicle and away we sped, another 35 minutes before arriving at the spot where this woman would be.
I’m thinking; “No way is she still alive.” I can see me and the game ranger tracking the lion. Him with his AK47 and me with this high powered torch (flashlight). But there she was, still sitting next to an excuse for a fire.
Speaking the local language he greeted her and then he explained my anxiety at seeing the lion and the danger she was in and a whole lot of other stuff. They spoke quite a while and I did not understand them.
Then, with some laughter and a goodbye wave he told me we could go.
At a much slower speed now we returned to the western gate and a grateful game ranger bid me farewell possibly thinking, “What a crazy mzungu (white man).”
Johan Leach sleeps in his vehicle.
There are many similar encounters I have witnessed, and am still astonished at just how our Heavenly Father’s grace, mercy and protection is there even for the mentally disturbed. We serve a Great God never to be underestimated.
Johan Leach loves the people of Africa. He reaches out to the forgotten people of Zambia. He needs our help to enable him to take the gospel to those that die without hearing of Jesus’ salvation.
If you are able to help John and Lesley, we will make sure that he knows and receives your love and partnership in far western Zambia.
Johan shares vehicle problems with a smile.
Johan and Lesley Leach live and minister in remote Chavuma, Zambia, equipping teams to cross the Zambezi River into the isolated and remote area between the river and the Angola border and share the gospel in the villages.
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 4 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.