On my 10th birthday I was given a gun. Not an air gun or a pellet gun, but a .410 shotgun. The country I was born in was becoming ‘unstable’ and my parents wanted me to be able to protect myself should the need arise. AR15 for sale I didn’t want a gun and to be quite honest with you, my father played with it more than I did.

Being a scrawny female brat, the gun was almost as big as I was, and toting it around was no easy job. One of the first things we did when I got the.410, was to go out into the African veld where my parents set up bottles and cans for target practice. Both my parents were good shots, but I certainly needed the practice. After an hour or so, we would clean up the mess of bottle glass and metal cans and head for home. Once home, the gun was stripped, cleaned, oiled and reassembled. This whole exercise was repeated until I was a ‘good little shot’. Not once did I aim at a bird or animal, but I did aim at a threatening human being many years later!

This episode happened just after I had been judged capable of safely using the .410 shotgun on my own and being responsible enough to do so.

My family had gone to stay at a friend’s cottage just outside of Bonda Mission in the soft rolling hills and huge granite mountains and kopies or boulders of what was then known as Inyanga. We went there often at weekends or for short ‘get-aways’. Inyanga is a Zulu word that means ‘traditional herbal healer’ and the area is indeed full of old spirits, mystery and charm!

There are rivers that spew from the mountainsides and then follow along dark ferny water courses. Here you can find the remnants of old civilizations. Caves can be found in the intriguing granite fissures with glorious prehistoric wall art depicting the hunting of antelope, giraffe and lions. Not only are the granite workings and art very old, but the local vegetation is prehistoric!

Many an old granite fort, ancient stairs leading through the rocks, terraces and walled pits can be found – and not far from where we were staying. These old sites fascinated me from the first time I saw them as a very small child picnicking with my parents. I was taught to respect them and to listen to what they told us. Needless to say, I got to know this area well and often walked it alone. Just me and my gun, sometimes Duke the dog came too.

It was a different world back then. A little white girl the size of a grasshopper walking around the African bush by herself – even without the gun, was generally quite safe. The local natives I met along the way obviously knew who I was, even if I did not know them. They would smile and give a greeting, some would even talk and share a treat before continuing along on their merry way. Never did I feel threatened!

This day was glorious as only Central African days can be – day, after day, after day. I had decided to go for a walk minus Duke the dog, had taken the .410 shotgun. I headed down the drive in my shorts and ‘T’ shirt with the gun over my shoulder, the safety on, no ammunition other than the one up the spout, no hat on my head, no sunscreen and no shoes. This is how it was done! We didn’t think of skin cancer back then.

I don’t recall having any destination in mind, but just wandered around visiting the ancient pits and walking the paths that had been there for millennia. I had wandered quite a way when I decided it was time to go home. It was getting late and I had to be home before dark. In Africa, sunset is a fleeting thing and the bush gets very dark and if not interesting, down right scary.

I was approaching home from the back side of the property where there were lots of big granite boulders or kopies, some the size of towering buildings with the golden sunset in my eyes. Following the path which wound its way between the boulders I went towards Johnny the caretakers house. Johnny’s home was a well kept single dwelling with a nicely tended vegetable garden which had a fence to keep the marauding animals out. Johnny was not home at this hour as he had to light all the paraffin lamps at the cottage, get everything settled for the night and ready for the morning to come. There was no electricity and everything was run off paraffin or wood.

As the sunset started to bruise in the sky, I rounded one of the last big kopies that stood between me and home when I almost bumped into a leopard! He was big and beautiful in the twilight, his tawny eyes huge and liquid – and only a couple of feet separated us. What he was doing obviously distracted him so completely that he had not heard me coming up the path. Let me tell you that we both looked absolutely startled. For fleeting seconds we contemplated each other. He then went ‘Hummph’, turned away and ran for the hills whilst I went ‘Hummph’ and ran for home!

I ran around the kopie, up some ancient stone stairs, crossed a granite ledge, came down the other side and was home before you could spit. Why that leopard didn’t decide I was dinner is still beyond me as I played the perfect mouse. Only once I was home did I remember the shotgun still on my shoulder.

I marvel when looking back on the incident all these years later. How close I was to a gorgeous wild animal who was no more intent on doing me harm than I was it. Thank goodness it all ended as it did, and I hope that that wonderful animal with the tawny liquid eyes had a good long life in the mysterious world with old souls that was to me Inyanga, and is now known as Nyanga.