When you are young not every adventure is endorsed by parents. Some places are clearly labeled “out of bounds” and a visit to such a site will earn you a spank. Hence the title of this article. But how can you stop a curious fresh mind from exploring the wonders of this world? It’s like setting a keg of gun powder on fire and expecting it not to explode. It will go kaboom, for that is its nature. The world, with its marvels, is meant to be explored, and that should be encouraged from a young age.
However, though our parents understood the need to explore the land, they also knew of the dangers posed by some of the physical features in our neighborhood. Take for instance the pool in Njamba, behind the Malawi Housing Corporation Headquarters. This is a scenic view set behind the Njamba Freedom Park, the largest park in Blantyre City, and perhaps in the country. Anyone worth their salt in swimming skills would want to prove their prowess at this pool. It was cast in rock, with jagged edges and famed to be deep. It was said there were pieces of broken glasses at the bottom. You therefore had to keep afloat and never sink to the bottom.
The sight of scrawny legs flashing in the air as young boys jumped in, not unlike frogs, caused a splash of glee in our hearts. The noisy paddling as the more older boys bravely swam across the pool were great moments of achievement unmatched by anything else in the world. Since I have properties of lead when it comes to aquatic activities, I stayed out of the water, and frankly only visited the pool once. It was an exciting adventure that could have earned me a whip if it was disclosed at home.
Later on in life, we learnt that this site was an abandoned mining site that left a gaping hole in the ground. This was filled with the surface runoff and was basically a giant puddle with stagnant water. This however, did not stop us from turning it in our little minds into an Olympic Swimming Pool with a great depth.
Another site was the official dumping site in Blantyre called Ntaya or ku Ntaya. This is where all the waste collected across the city was dumped. The people that stayed and worked there were rumored to be capable of torturing little boys, or even smothering out their little lives. We were told to never go there. However, when the appeal for locally assembled toys reached critical levels, the lure to this haven for broken engineering parts could not be resisted anymore. Once again, the older boys made a maiden voyage of discovery. We held back our breaths as we expected them not to return from the grand quest.
As the sun was setting, our heroes returned with a treasure trove of limitless worth – pieces of malleable wire, empty tins that could be turned into wheels for our cars made from the wire, and so on. Their brave stories of courage were even more captivating. It was enough to prompt me to follow them one day and see it for myself. I got a chance to meet the men who were scavenging for loot. I was told not to stare or look them in the face. Their faces were covered in soot, with bloodshot eyes. It was a menacing sight, but they looked like they were more absorbed in their world, and were totally unaware of our presence.
There was a sheer wall on one side of the dump, and at the bottom of it there was a ditch that stretched across the entire perimeter of the wall. It had green waters that looked devilish like an oblong pool of toxic chemicals. We were told that this was the deepest trench in town, and that if you slipped into it, it would take weeks before anyone could locate your corpse. Now, I wonder where the older boys googled that information from.
The maize that was growing around the dump had the greenest leaf I had ever seen. The stench though was very overpowering. However, we were warned not to be seen pinching our noses as that would attract the wrath of the scavengers. As I was new to the fine art of scavenging, I only managed to pull out an old piece of wire suffering from rust and decay. The empty tins were no better than the ones we could find home. The fabled piles of machaka (mechanical bearings) were nowhere to be seen. Apparently, we had come on the wrong day. Again, this was my last visit to the supermarket of broken toy pieces.
Later on it transpired that this was an abandoned mining site that the Blantyre City Council later adopted and turned into a dumping site. Waste Management was still a crude science, and dangerous chemicals were allowed to seep into the ground. And though the maize around the site looked deep green, I pity the souls that were eating from its harvest.
A third visit was near an active mining site on Soche Hill. A bomb would be triggered at 4 O’clock every afternoon, and we were reliably informed that the shrapnel that would be released by the explosion would fly high in the air and come raining down like a shower of miniature missiles. And if you were caught up in the shower, your body would be terribly pierced like you were a victim of a thousand bullets! There would be no chance for survival.
Our quest for catching birds, or seeking for adventure in peri-urban areas drew us to the mining site one day. Since no one was wearing a watch, we could only estimate the time. One of the older boys, having observed the setting of the sun, declared that we were dangerously close to the setting off of the mighty bomb. We took off as quickly as our little legs would carry us. Soon enough the bomb set off with a mighty boom. With nearly tears in our eyes – for the small boys – we scrambled away from the danger expecting to be engulfed with a shower of sharp life-ending missiles at any moment.
Nervous laughter later broke out once we knew we had narrowly escaped with our lives. Of course, in reality we were far away from danger, and the fabled meteor spray could not travel far from the demolition site. Though this was not an abandoned mining site, its presence fueled up our imagination and fertilized our sense for adventure – endorsed by parents or not.
As I look back, this could only have been done at this tender age, and I hope that modern management methods strongly discourage leaving behind gaping holes in the ground after a mining project, or having a dumping site without a proper waste management system. As for the sense of adventure, it has not diminished with time. My heart yearns to seek for the most amazing physical features, creatures and natural activities across the world. I hope you do too.