Vanessa Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe from the inside: Vanessa Farrell shares her upbringing

When I spoke to Sam Tinkler a few weeks ago, I promised it wouldn’t be the last time I was introducing a new member of the team. A man of my word, I caught up with Vanessa, who has recently overtaken Sam in her capacity as newest member of the team. Vanessa lives in Seaford, a short and beautiful train ride east of Brighton, along the coast. She has lived in England for four years, having grown up in Harare, Zimbabwe.

‘I lived in the same house my whole life, up until a few years ago when I came to England. Grade one to three I went to Portuguese school and then my parents, with the country going downhill a little bit, sent me to school at a convent in the town centre. I went with my older sister and I stayed there till I was 17. It was an all-girls school and we were taught by nuns who were lovely and met some of the most inspirational women, who have helped form who I am, here.

‘We went away lots, but very rarely outside Zimbabwe. My Dad didn’t trust anywhere outside Zimbabwe, which is funny to tell people when I hear the rest of the world’s preconceptions about the country. I remember once going to South Africa for a family holiday for example, but he refused to go! The only place he would go outside of Zimbabwe was Mozambique. So we’d go camping there a lot and have incredible memories of our time. One time I had decided I wanted to sleep on my own away from my sister, so ended up in this tiny tent. The trouble was it wasn’t even waterproof and that night there was the most incredible rainstorm – and the storms there are serious – I had water dripping through all night long.’

Vanessa went on to tell me about her first of many pets bought from this place: ‘We bought a monkey. I remember this little thing in an awful condition, tied to a pole. I asked the owner why it was there, and he said I could have it. So we took it away – my Dad, who was the biggest animal lover, was delighted – and we called it Mr. James.’ I won’t go into the ins and outs of getting Mr. James across the border back into the country, but, long story short, Mr. James – who in actual fact, years later was discovered to be female – was soon an integral member of the Farrell family. ‘She would sleep in my bed and when I was having a bath, she would come swimming. Eventually we had to take her to an animal sanctuary, where I could visit her every Friday. One day I went to visit and she wasn’t there – they had taken her away to a wild game reserve. I was distraught! I cried the whole way home and all night. It took me a while to accept that this was the best scenario for Mr. James.’ From being tied to a pole to being set free in a private reserve, Mr. James’s life seemed to have the perfect Disney ending.

‘We had a pig from Mozambique that me and my friend bought from one of the locals. My Dad told us we could keep it if we called it Tin Foil. She grew massive! That was another nightmare getting across the border. We had her for a long time, she was like a balloon when she was old, and so scary when she chased us.’ On top of this, at one time or another, Vanessa’s family house was also home to Mbudzi the goat, two sheep – a mum and baby – some guinea fowl, a turkey, intimately known as Carol, by her Dad (after her Mum, Carol) and countless chickens and dogs running around the house.

‘My Mum didn’t like cats. One time this girl at school, who lived on a farm told me she had two kittens, who needed a home urgently. I gave our maid all my pocket money to buy cat food and she’d drop them off when I knew my Mum and Dad were at work. I picked them up and took them to my room. You can never keep an animal secret from my Dad though. They found out soon enough, but instantly fell in love. The cats are still with us now. Another time we found this stray puppy in the street – there are lots of stray dogs in the country – which I took home, but later found out it was one of our neighbour’s dogs, so, my Dad went and spoke to the neighbours and when he came back told me, ‘Don’t worry. I paid them, so he’s coming to live with us now; and I bought two others as well.’ That pretty much sums up my childhood: there were lots of animals around constantly.

‘Horse riding was also a big part of my life: we all rode every Saturday, I could go along, pay $10 for a lesson and spend the rest of the day riding any of the horses, taking them out along the big rivers and into the wild countryside. Swimming was also a big part of my life – I actually learnt how to swim because my aunt pushed me in our fish pond – we used to do swimming at school and then wherever we went on safari and on holidays we’d swim in the rivers, lakes and dams. There was a big reservoir we used to go to with crocs. We’d paddle the boat out to the deepest point and my Dad would say ‘Ok, now you can jump in’. It never actually occurred to us that it was dangerous.

‘Then the country fell under really hard times. My Dad lost his business overnight when the currency crashed. Eventually I moved to Guildford in England and finally here to Seaford.’ In spite of the great presence of animals in her life, Vanessa told me her lasting memories of Zimbabwe are for the people she knew and grew to love over the years. ‘Mrs. Cheeba,’ she told me, ‘was one of the teachers at the convent. She didn’t just educate me for my exams, she taught me how to be a young woman,’ and then continued to reel off people who had made a difference in her life.

Vanessa later told me what an incredibly positive impact the families’ maid had had on her and her sister’s lives, ‘my biggest regret’, she continued, ‘is not being able to spend more time with her and her family’ and went on to talk about how some of the best times of her life were spent alongside people with whom the status quo of Zimbabwe society at the time dictated she shouldn’t.

After Guildford, Vanessa moved to Seaford and in February began working with Grant and Zuzana on the finance team at Journeys by Design. As is so often the case, there are far too many memories and stories to share in this small blog. In which case, this just leaves me to welcome Vanessa to the team. If you’re interested in learning more about our ever-growing team or fancy a trip to Zimbabwe to visit Vanessa’s old holiday haunts, do get in touch – we’d love to chat.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Travel ideas, conservation stories and the latest from our exploration team