Home / 1 : FROM STUDENT TO KENYA CIVIL SERVANT

1 : FROM STUDENT TO KENYA CIVIL SERVANT

FROM STUDENT TO KENYA CIVIL SERVANT

 East Africa, and particularly Kenya, has always occupied a special place in my heart.

The fact that I was born in Nairobi, and spent the early years of my childhood there is perhaps significant. This is why I lost no time (even before the results of my Matriculation examination were known in 1947) — in writing to my late father’s boss, Capt. R. C. M. Wood (a most lovable man, known to his friends as ‘Miti’ Wood), to ask if he would be willing to offer me employment in his office. I should explain that my father worked in the Kenya Secretariat for many years until his untimely and tragic death during the war, when he, my step-mother and three very young children (two step-sisters, one aged three and the other a babe of a few months, and a step-brother who was just one year old) were lost at sea in November 1942, when the ill-fated passenger liner, the SS Tilawa was torpedoed by the Japanese a few days after she had left Bombay for Mombasa. As far as I can recall, this was the only passenger steamer that was destroyed on the India-East Africa route during the war.

(See ‘In Memoriam’ in the Appendices to this book — a tribute to my parents composed on the second anniversary of their death).

My father was highly regarded by his superiors and colleagues alike, and friends and relatives always spoke in glowing terms of his simplicity, courtesy and unassuming manner. He was, as I was to hear on numerous occasions later, very efficient at his job, and because of his sheer dependability, always in demand. A first class stenographer (combining the role of Stenographer/Secretary/P.A. in the days before the birth of the female Secretary we now know) he was, at one time, attached to the Governor’s Conference Secretariat in Nairobi.

Being orphaned at a very early age, and having a younger brother who was still at school, I felt that it was all the more important that I should take on employment as soon as possible. My elder brother Joseph, two years my senior, had also been very patient in delaying his decision to join the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) until I had first secured gainful employment. Wilfred, my younger brother, who was three years my junior, was fully aware that as soon as I found employment, he would have to move from the school we had both attended in Goa (in the village of Aldona), to one in Bombay where he could be nearer to my elder brother and other relatives.

Within a few weeks of my writing to Capt. Wood, I received a very encouraging reply offering me employment at the Kenya Secretariat, as a temporary clerk, at a salary of £120 per annum! (For the benefit of the reader, I am reproducing the original letter I received — see Appendices). At the time, this salary sounded very decent and some of my friends in India, who were receiving a far lower wage, soon set about to calculate the amount I should be able to save on this seemingly ‘fat’ salary. I was delighted with the outcome of my application and even felt a trifle flattered!

The fact that Capt. Wood had requested the Kenya Government Agents in Bombay (Messrs. Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co) to arrange a sea passage for me helped matters no end. There were no ‘middlemen’ or a host of other obstacles for me to go through. All I had to do was find the fare. The Kenya Government had awarded my brothers and myself, and my paternal grandmother a military-type pension because of my father’s death on active service. This pension, together with other assistance provided by my maternal grandfather (a retired official of the Zanzibar Treasury), and my paternal grandmother, went a long way towards helping me in meeting the cost of the passage and other incidental expenses. An uncle from my father’s side (Ignatius Sequeira) was a great help in attending to some of the other arrangements. There were many others including my two brothers, and a host of relatives and friends who played a part in my move. Without their assistance (for which I am deeply grateful), the outcome could never have been so smooth. There is an old saying in my native tongue, Konkani, that those who are orphans have ‘a hundred mothers and fathers’. To all those who helped, in however small a way — relatives and friends, and particularly to those who were ‘mother and father’ to us during those difficult and fateful years, I would once again like to record my deep gratitude.

I set sail for Kenya in late September 1947, having spent a few weeks prior to my departure, with members of my immediate family in Goa and latterly in Bombay. Words of advice and caution were given by my grandparents and elder brother too. I was going to Africa where they all hoped I would uphold the good name of my late parents. The parting from my brothers and close relatives and friends was certainly a sad occasion. I was a deck passenger on the B. I. liner, the SS Aronda, a ship which had been converted to a passenger steamer after her previous mission as a troopship during the war.

Initial emotions melted away after we left Bombay harbour, and before very long, the impressive gateway of India had faded almost into obscurity; we were now on the high seas with nothing but an endless expanse of ocean all around us. Not another vessel in sight — just miles and miles of deep blue sea. I enjoyed the voyage immensely. I am fortunate in that I am a good sailor who rarely suffers from any form of sea-sickness. I was therefore able to do justice to the mouth-watering and tempting Mohammadan-style menu on board the ship. Being deck passengers, we were not allowed to use the main dining saloon reserved for cabin class passengers. I did not mind this in the least, especially since, as deck passengers, we had the choice of spicy vegetarian or non-vegetarian meals, both of which I enjoy. My appetite throughout the voyage was terrific; here, I must admit to being saddened by the fact that a friend of mine (who was returning to Kenya to take up an appointment as an industrial chemist), was so sick during the voyage, that he often had to spend the greater part of his time in bed. For Joe Sequeira, the very thought of food was revolting; neither could he tolerate the rich spicy aroma of the food which seemed to fill the whole area around the deck. There were times when he would find it difficult to retain even a mere Jacobs cream cracker biscuit! The poor man — I felt truly sorry for him. Late at night I would encourage him to come to the upper deck so as to take in as much of the fresh sea air as possible. Although this little exercise did him a world of good, he never felt strong enough to face a real meal. He would eat morsels of whatever suited him best, and I felt he was wise in sticking to this meagre diet.

The voyage took eight days and included a few hours stop-over en route at the delightful island of Mahe in the Seychelles. As our ship anchored at Mahe, small fishing craft raced towards it, almost submerged under the weight of the heavy loads of various curios they were bringing for sale on board the ship} With the Captain’s approval, they ran a sort of mobile shop, displaying their varied wares on hastily mounted trestles and tables on the upper deck of the ship The  curios consisted mostly of stuffed tortoises, a variety of sea shells, some very attractive curios made from tortoise shell and an assortment of walking sticks. The fisher folk also did a brisk trade during the few hours that the ship had docked in their waters. Some of the deck passengers were even able to buy fresh fish, and that evening, the whole air around the deck area was laden with the smell of fried fish!

On the 6th October 1947 we docked at Kilindini harbour, Mombasa. Here I was warmly welcomed by my cousin (Jock Sequeira and his wife Beryl). They had been in Mombasa for a year,  having made the big decision to move out of the Bombay they loved and grew up in — to start a new life and better their prospects in Africa. I felt very comfortable in their small but homely quarter situated at Ganjoni. This house was shared with another Goan family (Mr. and Mrs. Albert Pereira — the late Albert Pereira, a very likeable person, who worked for Smith Mackenzie & Co).

From the time of landing at Mombasa, I became an official of the Kenya Government — at least so I was told! Little did I appreciate the implications of this position at the time, and a friend of my father’s — a Mr.. A. B. Rego, who worked at the Government Coast Agency, felt that I should be ‘entitled’ to a free railway warrant for the onward journey to Nairobi. I knew nothing about these ‘service entitlements’. I was absolutely green from school, and it seemed as though I was entering a new world altogether. As he was not entirely certain about my entitlement himself, Mr.. Rego cabled the Secretariat in Nairobi; meanwhile, I was asked to postpone my departure from Mombasa until an official reply was received. This suited me fine, and my cousin Jock was happy that things had turned out this way, since he was busy organizing a VarietyShow in which he wanted me to take part. HMS Nelson had docked in Mombasa, and several of her Goan crew, whom Jock had previously met would also be taking part in the show. One of the songs they would be singing was Jock’s own composition in Konkani, in which he extolled the contribution made to the Merchant Navy by Goan seamen. A Goan Petty Officer from the flagship — a Mr.. Nazareth, would also be taking part.

As it so happened, despite early approval of my ·passage from Mombasa to Nairobi, I managed to spend a whole week at the coast and took part in the Variety Show which turned out to be a great success, judging by the   number of people who had packed the Goan Institute hall that evening. I could hardly believe that such a successful performance could have been staged at so short notice; where there’s a will, there is surely a way!

The next day I reported to the Government Coast Agency where I was handed a railway warrant which I later exchanged at the station for a second class ticket to Nairobi. My baggage was weighed and taken away by the railway porter to [be stored in the main brake van. I was given a receipt to enable me to reclaim the packages at the other end. My compartment had been reserved, and after quickly checking the Reservations board, I walked up to my coach and off-loaded some of my hand luggage on to the lower bunk. This would be sufficient indication to the three other passengers who would be sharing my compartment, that I had already reserved my seat! The coach itself was immaculately clean, and this impressed me greatly especially since the coaches I had been used to travelling on in India were just the opposite. Even the coach attendants here were smartly turned out and looked very impressive in their well-laundered and starched snow-white uniforms.
For a very modest charge (which I was told I would be entitled to claim), I obtained my bedding, and later found that the attendant had made my bed up very neatly for the night. I had never before experienced such luxury.

The railway station was bustling with activity. There were so  many faces to be seen — some happy, others sad (a fairly common scene at any railway station). Porters were busy running up and down the platform with loads of luggage strategically balanced. I often wondered how they remembered to collect the porterage from the various passengers. The great steam engine was hissing and puffing away, and soon I heard the whistle blow; the green flag held out by the railway guard signalled the ‘all clear’ for our departure. At this stage, and as the train pulled out of the station, three ear piercing whistles sounded,  and with a sea of hands and handkerchiefs fluttering from passengers on the platform, the mighty engine hissed her way out of Mombasa station. The sound of the steam engine pulling the long line of coaches, and belching out clouds of smoke as it raced along, gave me a wonderful feeling. As the train snaked her way, leaving the sea and the palm-fringed coast behind, we passed lush green mangrove plantations. There were brief stops at Mazeras and Mariakani — station names with so much of a coastal flavour.

Here, small but very lively crowds of the local Swahili folk would assemble, and there always seemed a festive air about. While some were welcoming home loved ones and friends, others had come to see them off.

All along our route, we often passed villagers standing outside their shambas in their colourful dresses and waving happily to the passengers in the train. Such scenes must have been a daily occurrence especially since the mail train plied between Mombasa and Nairobi every day.

The first visitor to our compartment was the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) — a European; he was later followed by a Goan steward, immaculately dressed in a white suit, and holding a pack of dining-room tickets in one hand. I booked for the first sitting and was given a card, the reverse of which showed the seating plan. One of the catering staff, dressed in a snow-white kanzu and red fez, sounded the xylophone to announce the start of each sitting. A few minutes after this signal, I walked up to the restaurant car along with some of the other passengers; here, we were greeted by the steward and shown to our respective places. Everything appeared so spick and span — from the crisp white damask table-cloth and napkin, to the polished heavy silver cutlery and china — all carrying the railway crest. Adding colour to each table was a tulip vase containing freshly cut carnations which filled the air with their fragrance. How I admired the skill of the waiters in serving piping hot food from a fast-moving and sometimes ‘jerky’ train. They certainly had a knack in the manner they dished out the food.

The meal itself was delicious — a soup as a starter, followed by roast beef and all the trimmings and finally a dessert. The freshly percolated Kenya coffee which followed was a real treat, and its rich aroma was so appealing that I couldn’t resist the temptation of having a second cup! I was not able to remain long in the dining car since passengers for the second sitting were now beginning to arrive. I returned to my compartment, and spent some time reading. Our train had now arrived at Voi station — the main junction for Tanganyika-bound traffic. We had to spend some time here while coaches were being shunted on to the right track; it was quite dark by now and therewas not much to be seen outside. Because the train was likely to remain here for some time, many of the passengers decided to alight and stretch their legs. I did the same,
and when we were all set to leave, I decided to retire to bed. I slept comfortably that night and was awakened very early the following morning by the coach attendant who had arrived with cups of early morning tea. Personally, I was used to having coffee in the mornings.
It didn’t feel right to ask for something ‘special’ just for myself.

The view of the surrounding countryside was wonderful. There were the Athi plains just before we came in to Nairobi. All along the route, we saw an assortment of game, notably giraffe and zebra.

At Nairobi station to meet me was an old family friend, Louis Borges, whose guest I was to be formanydays to come. Louis, who worked for Barclay Bank (D.C. & O), was a close friend of my parents, and had even stayed with them during his early days in Kenya. He gave me a very warm welcome, and on the very evening of my arrival, took me to visit some of the close friends and neighbours we had left behind some eleven years ago. Mr. L.Da Cruz (he was a widower whose wife had died shortly after my own mother) and his family were good friends of ours. The feeling inside me was now certainly one of great joy — it brought back many a memory of the happy days of my childhood — a childhood that was spent in our own home in Nairobi with my Mum, Dad and two brothers. I should mention here that my father had built a palatial house next door to the Da Cruz bungalow. My dear mother, who was greatly instrumental in encouraging Dad to build the house, did not have the good fortune of living long in it. She died at childbirth in 1935, leaving my father a widower at the age of 35. I was six years old when Mum died, my elder brother Joseph, eight, while my younger brother Wildred, was only three. A shattering blow this was for all of us — to be deprived of mother at such a tender age.

For reasons best known to my late father, he had sold the house with nearly an acre of land around it, for a very modest sum. To this day, none of us has recovered any money from this sale, and because of the unpleasant nature of the whole episode, I would prefer not to discuss this particular issue which must now remain a closed book. Suffice it to say that there were no documents or official papers for us to prove that Dad had not been fully paid for the house — all such documents being lost when the whole family died at sea.

At the Secretariat the following day, I was taken to meet Capt. Wood by one of the senior Goan clerks. I was very well received by him. On this first occasion, I had worn the brand new suit which I’d had specially tailored in Belgaum. The welcome and reception I received from the many friends and acquaintances, is a fitting tribute to the high esteem in which my late parents were held. All this gave me a tremendous feeling of pride, and there were moments when I longed to embrace Dad and Mum and say a big “Thank you” for all they had done for us. They were parents I was truly proud of, and my determination was to preserve their good name at all costs. In the beginning, I was attached to the DC’s (District Commissioner’s) office at Nairobi, where I was given a variety of jobs, which included, among other things, the compiling of the new Voters Rolls for the district.

One of the senior Goan clerks — I think he was the Cashier at the time, a Mr. Figueira, introduced me to the DC, an elderly gentleman by the name of J. Douglas-McKean. He struck me as a very kindly sort of person. I was told that he had not long to go before he retired. Even at the DC’s office, there were frequent words of praise for my late father — not only from the Goan colleagues, but also the two African office boys who remembered him dearly. With obvious respect, they nodded their heads and said, “Oh, oh, mtoto ya Bwana Maciel eh?” (“So this is Mr. Maciel’s son?”) I was very touched by their expressions; I may have been new to the office, but certainly didn’t feel lost. The people around me made me feel so much at ease and at home. This meant a lot to me especially when you consider that I was a mere junior clerk then.

In Nairobi, I teamed up with three other friends who were allocated a wood and iron Government quarter in the Ngara residential area. Together we shared all the household expenses. Mr. T. X. D’Cruz was the veteran among us, followed closely by the late Francis Ramos and Silvester Fernandes who I knew well from my school days in Belgaum. He was very much my senior though. All my three companions worked for the Kenya Secretariat. We had engaged a Kikuyu cook who produced average ‘bachelor-type’ midday meals for us, and in the evening, under the watchful eye of Mr. D’Cruz (who was himself a good cook); Mwangi would turn out something more interesting and palatable!

I cannot describe my `excitement on receiving my first ever salary. Never had I seen so much money in my hands before! After quickly paying off my messing charges (Mr. D’Cruz acted as a sort. of ‘general factotum’), I bought a brand new bicycle, using part of my salary, and the cash I had left over from India. The bicycle itself was a great boon since I used it daily to and from work. It provided me with some exercise and kept me fit. There was no expense for clothing as such since I had arrived with a fairly new wardrobe — all the suits having been hand-tailored in Belgaum and Bombay. Tailoring was fairly cheap in India, and this is one of the reasons I had equipped myself with sufficient clothing to last me for a few years.

After office hours, Francis Ramos and I would go along to the Goan Institute, which was then situated in Duke Street. It was here that I had my first real taste of beer. I must confess to not liking the ‘bitter stuff’ at first, and wondered how so many of the club members were able to drink several bottles of it! All I was used to in India was soft drinks, so this drinking of beer was clearly a new experience for me. As time went by I got used to this popular liquid, but even so, the most I drank then was a glassful — never a whole bottle!